an interview with New Brunswick punk band Stormshadow who are reuniting for Don Giovanni showcase, reissuing LP (MP3)
by Andrew Sacher
DOWNLOAD: Stormshadow - "Watson Brake" (MP3)
The New Brunswick, NJ punk/DIY scene is one that has been thriving for years, and while some of its bands have achieved widespread recognition, it goes without saying that many others never leave New Jersey and eventually fade out. One of those bands that has gone unfairly overlooked is Stormshadow, who were around from 1995 to 2000. As mentioned, they're reissuing their 1999 album, Set On Destroy, via Don Giovanni Records on February 9, the same day they play the Don Giovanni showcase at Music Hall of Williamsburg (tickets). Don Giovanni label head Joe Steinhardt calls the band the reason he co-founded the label ten years ago and though they've been unknown to most people outside of New Brunswick, he describes them as an important influence to all the bands in the scene. That's the album's cover art above and the tracklist is below.
Stormshadow's influence can certainly be heard in the Don Giovanni bands of today and it makes a lot of sense that a label that picked up bands like Lemuria, Black Wine, and Screaming Females are fans of Stormshadow. Their lead vocal duties are split between the Cali hardcore growls of Matty King and the much cleaner Breeders-esque vocals from Sue Werner. It's not unlike the male/female split vocals in Fucked Up's "The Other Shoe," but while Fucked Up often brings in guests to achieve those sounds, Stormshadow are constantly delivering a yin and yang of the clean and the dirty. The band isn't just schizophrenic when it comes to vocals though -- the songs go through tons of ups and downs in their short timespans (most are under two minutes) in the manic manner of The Minutemen, who the band cite as an influence. The record will be available at the Don Giovanni showcase, but until then, you can download the track "Watson Brake," which is making its premiere in this post, at the top of this post, or stream it below, along with another album cut, "Switched On."
We also just spoke to Matty King about the band's reunion, their history, and the New Brunswick scene. Head below to check out the interview and listen to those song streams.
Stormshadow - "Watson Brake"
What made you decide to give 'Set On Destroy' a wide release and start playing again after all these years?
We didn't actually have anything to do with the record getting a wide release. That was something that Joe and our friend Fid always talked about and they kind of kept that dream alive. Joe had been saying he wanted to release it for years. Then Joe and Zach at Don Gio decided to go ahead and actually do it which is awesome. We're obviously really grateful. I mean I've known Joe since he was a teenager coming to shows and we've been friends since then so it means a lot that he loved our band and the record so much and wanted to do it and blow all that loot. As to why we decided to play again it was mainly because we didn't want them to lose too much money. Seriously. Also with the record coming out if we were ever going to do it this was the time. So why not? Also 13 as in 13 years later is a nice number. Good luck. Bad luck. Whatever.
Has it felt natural playing together again? I assume any reunited band has their kinks to work out.
Oh yeah. That's never been a problem - the musical chemistry - even when we ended. I mean we're all still friends. That never stopped. Actually 4/5ths of us play in another band called The Match & The Moth. Everyone except Sue. That band has been on and off for like 13 years. Mostly off. The longest time being 5 years. But yeah these people are some of my best friends and playing these songs again has been a lot of fun. Not easy though. Going back and figuring everything out has been a challenge. I mean I'm not going to pretend we wrote complex symphonies but there's a lot to most of our songs. Lots of parts. Lots of notes. Lots of odd changes. I mean that was always part of the idea of the band to do wild changes and play crazy shit that would make people say, "What the hell?" The jam you guys are premiering today, 'Watson Brake', is actually one of our most straightforward traditionally structured songs.
How does the New Brunswick scene now compare to when you guys were starting out?
You know I don't really feel comfortable commenting too much on that. I was living in California until about a year ago. I lived there like 7 years. So you know I was much more involved in the New Brunswick scene back from like 1994-2004. I mean I try to make as many shows as I can now but I don't live there. I live at the Jersey Shore where I grew up. Like an hour away. That said things seem great. You know good bands, good people. In some ways it's easier to get the word out about shows because of social media. But then on the other hand it's harder because New Brunswick police monitor social media looking for where the shows are so they can shut them down. So back in Stormshadow's heyday we'd refer to the place where the show was by the address, 331 Somerset Street or 171 Hamilton Street for example. It was easy. Now all the houses have weird names and to get the address you have to "ask a punk." It's funny because even though I've been to say The Alamo a bunch of times I can never remember the address and always have to ask someone.
Don Giovanni always seems to be doing great things for the scene. How has it been working with them?
Awesome. I've been a little disappointed with the budget for drugs. It's a little small but other than that it's been great. Nah, just kidding. Like I said it's been awesome. I mostly deal with Joe and we've been buds for a long while so it's easy. I'm real happy for him and Zach that they've been going 10 years and are celebrating that milestone.
The way you guys mix screamed vocals and clean vocals is pretty unique to your band, and you sometimes sound like two bands at once, but it works so well. How'd you come up with the idea to mix those sounds?
I wouldn't say screamed more just raw. But you know that's just my voice. My dad says I used to sound like Godzilla meets Tom Waits but now he thinks it's more Tom Waits meets Godzilla. So I guess it's gotten better. Who knows? But the contrast in me and Sue's voices was kind of always the idea. It's one of the main reasons I wanted Sue in the band. We were a band for like a year before she joined. We only played like 2 shows though. Before she joined my oldest bud Brian played guitar but he lived in D.C. which made it real hard. The song 'Forty Ounces & The King of Smoke' on 'Set on Destroy' is actually about our friendship. But yeah when Sue joined I really encouraged her to sing because I wanted that dynamic. With 'Set on Destroy' we tried to really highlight that difference. Like all Sue's vocals were doubled and we tried to make them sound as nice and pretty as we could. Mine... well it was the opposite. The guy we recorded with said to me, "I always think there's something wrong with the mics when you guys come here, like they're distorting for some reason, but then I realized it was your voice."
Stormshadow - "Switched On"
Like many of the bands on Don Giovanni today, Stormshadow sounds like it embodies punk and DIY ethics. I'm not sure how you define yourselves, but how do you think those terms apply to you as people and as musicians?
Well I'll speak only for myself. I don't want to speak for the others because maybe they feel different and this is obviously a very personal thing. But me I'll be a punk rocker for life. This band will end soon. The other band will probably end soon. And I'll start another one. So it goes. Sharks keep moving. I mean it's awesome that people like our music. I won't pretend that I don't care or don't want people to like it. One of the best things about doing this reunion has been realizing how many people loved and cared about our music and that we had some impact on their lives even if it was just to make them feel better. But being honest I make music because I love it. Sometimes it's real hard, especially writing lyrics, but ultimately it's the best. To get together with your friends and make this amazing something out of nothing is rad. Well not nothing. I mean there's lot of hard work, ideas, emotions, logistics, and physicality that go into it. But before there is a black void. Then you come together and create this beautiful thing. You're part of the hum of the universe. That's amazing. So why stop? Something else I wanted to talk about too is like I'm 36 and the idea that this is old to be into punk. I get that from some younger kids and see it in reviews my friends' bands get. But the people saying this are younger so maybe they don't get it yet. But once you hit say 30 you kind of know age doesn't mean anything. Like at 36 I feel younger and more free now than I ever did in my 20's. You just know yourself and who you are. So yeah why would you ever stop being a punk? Punk rock changed my life, helped me see the world with open eyes, and gave me a million friends. I won't ever give that up or stop.
What was one of your favorite moments as a band from back in the day?
That's hard. It's weird but my memory of shows we played versus shows I was just at is kind of blurry. Like I just saw a flyer for a show we played way back when and it was like us, Rye Coalition, The (Fucking) Champs, and Dalek. I was like this happened? It sounds awesome! Then it started coming back to me in flashes. Some other shows that stick out... We played with Dillinger Four at The Melody. That was the first time I just sang and that was really great. Zak played bass. We were totally fucking gone. It was a lot of fun. The first 2 shows we played when Brian was on guitar were very cool. At the first Brian pretended to play his guitar with his teeth and burst a blood capsule he had hidden in his mouth. The shocked look on people's faces when it appeared that he was bleeding all over the place was great. The second one I had devil makeup and Brian and Jamie had black metal corpsepaint. Ridiculous. The first show we played with Sue we opened with this song 'Orson' which has this real long swing intro. We were wearing these gold devil masks and when that part ended and it was time to kick into the more hardcore shit in the song we tore them off. Mainly because they were so damn hot. But it was very dramatic. We also played a freakshow on Coney Island with Pedro on bass at that point. We started playing and all this dust from the ancient carpet on stage started shooting into the air. I remember wondering how many freak skin cells I was sucking down into my lungs. The tattooed man was really nice. The dwarf was a dick. But mostly my favorite thing about being in the band and punk rock in general has been all the friendships that I've gotten out of it. That's really been the best part.
What other unfairly overlooked bands have you guys played with or are friends with that we should be listening to?
Another hard one. You don't want to forget a friend's band. But bands that we've had great friendships with the people in them - past and present - have included Fortunato, Fanshen, The Ratchets, Detournement, Instil, Kamikaze, Plastic Cross, The Measure (SA), The New Dress, Scarlet Letter, Try.Fail.Try, Heidnik Stew, Zegota, You & I, The Multi-Purpose Solution, Cable Car Theory, Mirrors & Wires, The Grains, The Sirs, Immaculate Abortion, Miss TK & The Revenge, Lisa Doll & The Rock n Roll Romance, The Ergs, Black Wine, Night Birds, Kicking Spit, Pity Party, An Albatross, Crispus Attucks, World/Inferno, and others I'm sure I'm forgetting. Two bands that we were always really super tight with were The Degenerics and Worthless United. They were our brothers in our sister bands. The Degenerics always pushed us to play wilder and Worthless always made us want to be catchier.
You guys have been a pretty influential band on New Jersey bands that followed in your path. Who was influencing you when you were writing 'Set on Destroy'?
Influential? Really? I don't know. Maybe. Hard to say. When we were doing 'Set on Destroy' we were of course influenced by all our friends' bands. We were also always into classic metal bands especially Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden. They were big in our sound. Classic punk bands like The Clash and Fugazi obviously. The working title of 'Who Watches The Watchmen?' was actually 'Metal-gazi'. The Minutemen which I'm sure people have picked up a lot on in our sound. Human Remains was a metal band from the Jersey Shore that Dave Witte from Municpal Waste was in that really influenced me personally. When I first head The Minutemen and Human Remains when I was young it made me realize music can be totally free. It can be whatever you want it to be. You're only limited by your imagination. 'Set on Destroy' was also influenced a lot by bands that were newer at the time but are considered classic now like Avail, American Steel, and Dillinger Four. 'Midwestern Songs of the Americas' is just a game changer that everyone should have in their collection. Two of the best bands I've ever seen live have been Rocket From The Crypt and Los Crudos so we tried to bring some of their power and intensity into what we were doing. Also Weezer's 'Pinkerton' and The Rentals' 'Seven More Minutes' especially on the poppier stuff and with the bass tone. Tom Waits. All sorts of music.
Now that you're back together, does the band have any future plans?
No. Not really. Logistically doing this has been difficult. Most of us live at the Jersey Shore but Pedro's in Brooklyn and it's real expensive for him to get here and Sue's in Baltimore so it's really hard on her to get to New Jersey to practice. Also as I've gotten older I've learned that it's just kind of foolish to make all sorts of plans especially in situations that rely on other people, relationships, and feelings that may change. So no, none as of now. Never say never. But don't make promises you might not be able to keep either. So yeah 2/9/13 Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn. Be there. That may be it. Who knows?
Is there anything else you'd like people to know about the band?
Please come say hello to us at the show. I'll be the really handsome one on stage during our set. My name's Matty King and I like making new friends. You can follow us on Twitter and there you can hear all the scoop going on with us. Also we're on Facebook, YouTube, SoundCloud, Bandcamp. All those places. We're everywhere. We're always with you. When you look back on the journey of your life and you see all the footsteps in the sand you'll say Stormshadow was with me. But then in your hardest times you'll see that there was only one set of footprints. Well they're your own because we were riding on your back. Thanks for the conversating BrooklynVegan.
Stormshadow - Set on Destroy Tracklist:
1. Switched On
2. Forty Ounces & the King of Smoke
3. Watson Brake
4. My Mellow & My Ace
6. Catch You On The Flip
7. Who Watches the Watchmen?
8. Stainless Stealing & the Wage Gap
10. Black Power For Human Liberation
11. War In The Gulf Between Us
12. Ponce de Leon & the Fountain of Slaves
13. It's The Passion
14. Summer To Summer
16. Dylan Thomas