The Red Chord
xplosively mixing death metal, hardcore punk, sludgy grooves, and roaring vocals, The Red Chord aren’t for everyone. But after years of hard work and touring for little money, this Massachusetts band is playing Ozzfest this summer to thousands of people daily. Whether the meatheads and the Hot Topic set "get" The Red Chord almost doesn’t matter; the band’s latest album, Clients, has already exceeded all expectations. Clients is a crushing but varied concept album, with each song about a different societal outcast ("client"), and rich artwork by Paul Romano (Mastodon, Hate Eternal). In case you missed it last year, Metal Blade recently reissued Clients with bonus live cuts, demos, and videos.
Red Chord vocalist Guy Kozowyk also runs a record label, Blackmarket Activities, whose bands likewise defy genres and share similar work ethics. Blackmarket bands are brutal and unforgettable—this writer saw Animosity turn nearly an entire club into a moshpit, and witnessed a wild show by From a Second Story Window in which a guitarist ended up hanging upside down from the ceiling while continuing to play flawlessly. In this interview, Kozowyk talks about his label, extreme vocal techniques, and the importance of "keeping it wolf."
A year after its release, how has Clients done commercially, and how do you feel about the album?
I feel really good about the album. When we started, we were talking to all these different labels. A bunch of different labels all told me very explicitly, "You're going to have to accept the fact that your band is what it is. You're probably, if you're one of the bigger bands [doing what you do], are going to sell 15 or 20,000 records, and there's definitely a cap to what you guys are doing." Here it is, we're about to go into Ozzfest, and we've sold 30 or 40,000 records in the States. So we've almost tripled, if things go right, what labels were telling me two and three years ago what we weren't going to be able to do.
Were metal labels were the ones telling you these things?
It was any label that we were talking to. We pretty much talked to everybody. For the most part, it was accepted across the board that we were at a definite ceiling [for sales]. And we've exceeded that ceiling. So people are going to have to reassess what our ceiling is. If this record stops at 40,000 and that's it, it'd be great. But I'm not really worried about what happens. If we fuckin' blow up and sell 100,000 records, awesome. If nobody buys our CD's or whatever, that's fine. I'm prepared to go back to VFW's and basements if Ozzfest doesn't pay off. We just like doing what we're doing.
Is it true that for Ozzfest second stage, which is what you're playing, it's pay-to-play?
It's not as cut-and-dried as that. It's almost better to not know all the backing details of it, because it kind of ruins it. It's like watching a magic show from behind the curtain. There's a lot more industry stuff to it than most people would care to admit. There's a lot of marketing money, there's lots of advertising. It's definitely not a situation where we're getting up there and getting paid. It is what it is—it's Ozzfest, and we're going to be playing to 10,000 people a day. As far as we're concerned, and as far as Metal Blade is concerned, it's right where we need to be.
Do The Red Chord have day jobs?
We should. We don't, necessarily. Our drummer was working at a pizza parlor, but I think he got fired because he wasn't a very good employee. I run a record label called Blackmarket Activities—I'm actually at a show right now with two of my bands playing, From a Second Story Window and Animosity. That's what I do. That's not to say that I make enough money that I shouldn't have a job, but I don't have a job outside of that. One of the guys does roofing and stuff like that. It's just a free-for-all. It's not a very glamorous life. Between tours, it's just trying to scrounge up money however you have to whore yourself out. The band doesn't necessarily pay the bills. We make a living off it. It's not a very great living, but at least we get to play music.
Clients was based around people you met while working at a pharmacy. Can you talk about some of these characters?
OK, [about] which one would you like to know?
How about Antman?
Antman was a bright guy. His real name was Tony, and I used to talk to him every day. He had four teeth in his head, and his teeth looked like cigarette butts. He would always rant and rave about Jesus and all this other stuff. I actually got to be kind of good friends with him. He smelled bad, and he was in a mental ward most of the day. But I would talk to him, and every once in a while he'd come out with something real coherent. He was actually the guy who inspired the whole record. He had a brain tumor that made him schizophrenic. When he passed away, no one really seemed to care or notice. It got me thinking that you have all these people out there that have 60, 70, 100 year lifespans, and you start wondering what they're all about and what their story is. "Antman" and "Black Santa" and all these things are basically retellings of lost stories of these different people.
Can you talk about the "Antman" video? Was that you with the ants all over?
That was actually our bass player, Greg. I bought the ants. And they bite. I was putting the ants on Greg's face, and the ants bit the living shit out of my hand. They definitely bit the living shit out of Greg's face. It was pretty disgusting. Those [were] real ants running around in some guy's real beard. He eventually shaved both his face and his head; he found a dead ant in his hair, like, two days later. More importantly, though, have you seen the "Blue Line Cretin" video?
No, I haven't.
You gotta see that. It's the guy that's in the layout; he has an aviator-type plane helmet. That's Catbox. He's in the record, and he's in the video. [In the video] Catbox actually beats the living shit out of everyone in The Red Chord. We're trying to have a picnic and we're eating sandwiches. He destroys our sandwiches and jams them in our faces. It's the best video ever made.
I'm hearing Rush in the stop-time parts of "Upper Decker." Would you admit to this?
I was never really a big Rush fan, but some of the guys were. I definitely don’t think it was our intention, but it's not to say that Rush hasn't influenced us in some way. I never liked the guy's voice, but in my later life now, I'm starting to enjoy it a little bit.
Does that mean you might actually sing sometime?
I don't think you'll ever catch me doing that. I don't know if I'm even capable of it, because I've been ruining my vocal cords for so many years to the point that if I was to start clean singing, it wouldn't be to anybody's benefit.
Who are your vocal influences?
My biggest influence is probably Frank Mullen from Suffocation. There's what I enjoy, and then there's what's actually influenced me. I grew up around a lot of hardcore shows, and I liked the barking, yelling hardcore vocals. There was so much volume involved; you had hardcore shows that were just hollering to the back of the room, basically. It didn't matter if [the singers] had a microphone or not, you could still hear them. But I like the inhuman quality to vocalists like Frank Mullen and all these other death/grind metal vocalists. When I [came up with] my vocal style, it was death metal vocals, but with volume. Have you ever listened to the band Mortician?
Only a little.
You know how they have, like… I guess any death metal band in general that has the "secret passage vocal"… Do you remember in the first Zelda [video game], when you move the rock, and it goes "Whoaaarrrggghhh," the cave vocal, like "You're unleashing the cave!" "Whoaaarrrggghhh!"
Basically, "secret passage vocal." There's no volume to it, there's no emphasis, there's no oomph. To me, that's not real. You can go into a studio and you can put your hand over a mic and, you can be like, "Urrrggghhh." You can do all these burps and shit, but that doesn't have any balls to it. When a vocalist gets on the mic and doesn't need mic tricks, and can scream [his] fucking head off—to me, that's extreme, that's power. That means a lot more to me than someone being able to do sick [vocal] inhales in the studio, where it sounds like some weird animal, but then you see them live, and if they don't have the mic turned all the way up, and if they don't have their hand over the mic, then [they] can't emulate it.
That reminds me of Leo from Animosity—I saw him do a cool effect with the mic, where he moved it towards and away from his mouth really quickly to get a warble effect.
I just saw Animosity two hours ago, and they were crushing. Leo has a great voice—it's the same thing. What you hear in the record, he's capable of doing live. And the whole time, he's running around. It’s not like he’s just standing still and cupping a microphone and doing weird burping noises. He just rocks it out; he shouts his little head off.
For your style of vocals, do you do any exercises?
I try to warm up, but I’m not exactly Celine Dion. I do whatever to get me through a tour. When you’re doing my sort of vocal style, you end up getting a little bit hoarse and beating yourself up a bit. At one point, I talked to Melissa Cross, the vocal instructor [whose DVD applies classical singing techniques to extreme metal vocals]. One thing she told me was, "When you’re singing, don’t be running around." And I was like, "How in the fucking world am I not supposed to run around? Did you see us? That’s half of what we do." She said, "Well, you don’t want to get winded, and you don’t want to start screaming from your throat." I’ve really been meaning to visit her and check out a lesson.
You've become associated with the phrase "keeping it wolf." What does that mean?
Our guitar player (Gunface) actually coined the phrase "keeping it wolf." We were at some show, seeing a bunch of little guys with clothes that were way too small. And Gunface said, "Look at these people. I refuse to be, like, this ugly hermaphrodite. I’m just going to keep it wolf. I don’t shave my chest, I don’t shave my back, I’m a hairy dude, I got a beard, I have long hair, I smell bad, and I don’t care." It’s not to say that you can’t shower or shave or brush your teeth, because [otherwise] that’s just disgusting. But be fuckin’ real, be a man. There’s been such an emphasis on looking like a broad. I think it’s gross, and it’s just a phase. What the fuck are these people doing, showing up to shows with girls’ jeans that are painted on? There’s been this big resurgence of glam, with guys painting their fingernails and putting eyeliner on. Wolves don’t worry about that shit, and neither should we.
You also run a label, Blackmarket Activities. Can you talk about the label's history and mission?
My first releases were back in the summer of 2003. I put out Deadwater Drowning, Backstabbers Incorporated, and Found Dead Hanging all at once. The mission was to put out some of the under-appreciated, great, smaller talent in extreme music. It’s definitely grown quite a bit. It’s gotten a lot more serious. I look for bands that are willing to work like The Red Chord did, where everyone’s willing to drop everything and roll with it—go on the road, devote your life to touring, and put on a devastating, ridiculous live show. There are all these bands with great records that can’t pull it off live. And then you got bands that you’ll never forget that they played. You will never forget that you saw Animosity. The same thing with From a Second Story Window, same thing with Ed Gein, same thing with Psyopus. I basically have a roster of touring monsters that are amazing musicians and performers and that are all on the same page as far as their work ethic. It’s been awesome to watch, especially, From a Second Story Window. They’re out right now headlining a tour with Cattle Decapitation. When I signed them, they played in this place in front of, like, 12 people. And they’ve just worked their asses off. In the course of the last two or three years, they’ve become such a phenom. They’ve played hundreds and hundreds of shows, they wow people every night, they’re awesome guys, and they deserve everything they get. It’s not about labels’ marketing to give a band cred—these guys are cred.
Why is Massachusetts such a breeding ground for metal and hardcore punk?
There are a lot of kids here. We just have so many kids and such a good, thriving scene. It’s like [how] a high school that has way more people is more likely to have the best football team because they have more people to choose from. There are so many kids in the scene [in Massachusetts] that by default you’re going to come across some really amazing talent.
For someone unfamiliar with metal or hardcore punk, what would you tell them to listen for in The Red Chord?
Someone who’s listening to us for the first time, either they’re going to get it or they’re not. We’re playing extreme music, and it’s not for everybody. Let them hear it, and if they think it’s a joke and a bunch of noise, then so be it. If they see something in it [though]… There are definitely a lot of different influences, whether it’s a stoner-type thing like Black Sabbath or Crowbar with songs like "Dragon Wagon" and "Love on the Concrete," or the blazing speed… When people see us live, they’ve been like, "Wow, there’s so much energy to it! It’s such a crazy experience to see you guys live as opposed to just on disc." There are a lot of influences. People are going to catch what we’re going for, or they’re not. [With] somebody’s who’s just hearing us for the first time, I really think it’s gonna be a total crapshoot. If they listen to Ja Rule during the week, I don’t expect them necessarily to ever get what we’re going for.
The Red Chord
The Red Chord @ MySpace
Black Market Activities
Metal Blade Records
Buy Clients at Insound