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Metal Roundtable

| July 30, 2008 | 0 Comments

The Coast Is Here:
Chicago Metal’s Rising Tide

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When Illinois Entertainer decided to put together a Chicago heavy metal roundtable, we had no illusions it would be easy. Getting five people (four of them important, busy musicians; one of them a lowly, lazy writer) to agree on a time and location to talk about our city’s resurgent heavy music scene sounded daunting, to say the least.

So imagine our surprise when it turned out to be rather easy to get Minsk bassist and metal-guru producer Sanford Parker, Yakuza frontman Bruce Lamont, Indian bassist Ron Defries, and Sweet Cobra guitarist Matt Arluck together at Empty Bottle (where Lamont also works, it should be noted) on a hot-as-balls Sunday afternoon in June.

IE: Metal and heavy music in Chicago have really gained momentum in the last couple years. As four people involved in the scene, what are your thoughts?

Bruce Lamont: There’s a lot of good bands coming out of here. And I think there’s a real sense of, I can only speak from what I have witnessed, but I think in the past couple years there’s a sense of some sort of community going on here. Almost any band we can name off during this interview, somebody knows somebody. I would say on a friendship level, the four of us would say we’re more than just compadres as far as in the music-scene sense. I think we’re all buds.
Matt Arluck: I agree that the diversity of all the bands is really cool. You wouldn’t refer to one Chicago band and say “Oh, Sweet Cobra sounds like Indian” . . .
Sanford Parker: The “Chicago Sound” or whatever.
Ron Defries: None of our bands sound like one another at all, but I’d have to say I think everybody in the scene, all the bands, at some point the intensity is always there regardless of audience size or whatever reason. It’s a general love of the music, you know?

IE: Was there a point for you guys where you realized the scene was picking up steam?

SP: When Empty Bottle started doing heavy shows.
MA: I was thinking the same thing.
BL: I was gonna say, I was thinking back to when it started here at least, because 2000 was kind of like a pretty bleak time for a lot of . . . especially the heavy music scene because there weren’t a whole lot of options. You had Double Door. We had Fireside still, but those [shows] were hit and miss.
SP: When Behold! The Living Corpse [ed note: Parker played in Behold!] was playing out, man, we could never get a show. And whenever Empty Bottle would get mentioned everyone would be like, “Oh, heavy bands don’t play Empty Bottle. Are you crazy?”
BL: June 23rd, 2002: Behold! The Living Corpse, Bible Of The Devil, and Yakuza. I remember bugging Bottle for years to do a heavy show, and they didn’t seem real receptive. Anyway, Bottle had no expectations. They just said let’s pacify these three heavy bands and give them a show, and about 100 people showed up. They were like, “Whoa, what’s going on here?”

IE: Does it feel like a scene to you guys?

SP: It’s definitely a hell of a lot easier to get a show now.
RD: Doesn’t mean anyone is going to be there.
SP: It’s getting better, though. Referring back to when Behold! did shows, it was fuckin’ terrible. Nobody gave two shits about anything; nobody was into heavy music back then. It seemed like overnight all the hipsters were like “Ah dude, fuckin’ Indian’s awesome!”

IE: What’s the good and bad of being a Chicago band?

RD: We’re kind of screwed for not being on either coast.
SP: I think it’s a huge benefit. For people on the East Coast to play the West Coast, you’ve got to do a full month of touring just to make it worthwhile.
BL: West is still difficult for us regardless, because there’s a whole lot of space there.
RD: I was talkin’ exposure wise, not ease of touring.
SP: Well that’s what I was saying, though. Ultimately you can get, I think, more exposure by being able to actually go out and . . . it’s not as taxing trying to do two-week tours here and there than it is trying to do a full month.
MA: I think the benefits are like, little fish in a big pond. If you’re in New York or on the West Coast, how many bands are there now that are doing heavy music, whether it’s heavy or it’s metal or whatever, but in the Midwest, especially in Chicago, there aren’t, I mean the concentration is great for talent. There aren’t that many bands and the ones that are here are awesome.
RD: You’ve got something to prove here. There’s no fucking PR, no A&R. So whatever we do, you’ve got to go out there and rip people’s fucking faces off. How many bands in, let’s say, the Bay Area, sound like High On Fire? There’s fucking a dozen of ’em, and they’re getting press, and guarantees, and booking agents and shit, and they’ve been around for 10 minutes, doin’ the same old shit.
BL: None of our bands are satisfied with doing the same old shit, that’s the best thing. I don’t know. I mean we’re talking about the scene thing, but I don’t think there’s some conscious effort to create something. Is there a recognition? Sure. Yeah, there’s something happening and it’s cool and it’s great and I think we should continue on doing what we do, but it just happened — naturally, organically, it just kind of came together. But once a “scene” is established then things can start to get weird.

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