So, a bit over a year ago, I sat down with two thirds of The Koffin Kats, Zac and John in a surprisingly comfy back room of The Louisiana, shortly before they went out and killed it. At the time, John had recently joined the band, and this was his first tour. Then I promptly lost the recording when a hard drive went bad. So the story went..........
I found it again last week though. Somehow, via icloud, Capo had it, stoked!
Typed up, edited a bit (you've no idea how often people say "like" and "so") and threw in a bunch of links to stuff we mentioned. You'll be missing out if you don't hit the links, some of them are pretty damn funny, even if I do say so myself.
Set aside some time and enjoy:
Kick off with the musical history stuff. What did, what kind of shit did you listen to growing up?
Vic: I initially got into like punk rock music like around the age of eleven. Ten or eleven, and that was with getting into Bad Religion, Green Day, Offspring, those bands were all really popular around that time. It was like the second, in the States, I’m sure it was worldwide but it was like the second boom of punk rock in the early nineties, it killed off grunge.
Beforehand I’d always just listened to whatever was on the radio or whatever my parents were playing in the car and what not. And it was right around that age where I started developing my own taste and what I wanted to listen to. And also, I picked up very early on Psychobilly, via Beavis and Butthead, Reverend Horton Heat and they had other psychobilly videos on there as well. I always thought that was such a cool band and that started my wanting to get into learning about other bands with upright basses and stuff like that. So, it’s just a slow progression.
Yeah. That seems to be the way most people go. It’s like, punk rock and then just kind of work their way backwards in time and then merge it all together.
Vic: Yeah! I mean, it was at that age where I heard something that I really liked and I got in, I got really deep into those bands but then once you get into bands you start reading about bands that they listen to or you know, what inspires them so you go back. So like by the age of like fourteen I had like the whole Clash collection and all that because everyone talked about the Clash and all that. And I was always more about a Clash fan than I was like a Ramones fan or Misfits) fan. because you know, like everyone picks their big, you know, the forefathers of punk rock, they talk about Ramones, Misfits, and Clash and what not. I was always into The Clash. And a band like The Clash, when I started having, when I started making bands, a band like The Clash was one of those bands where it was like, yeah they’re a punk band but they have so many other things to them so that really opened up my mind into thinking like “Wow. Just because you have a band doesn’t mean it needs to be this one pigeon hole of music.”
Yeah, The Clash have got, some of their later albums are pretty weird, but then they did a mean brand new cadillac as well…
Vic: Yeah. I mean, it’s cool. It doesn’t mean it always works out for the best but that’s being a musician and being your own musical project. You’re allowed, you should be allowed to do whatever you want and experiment with those things. That’s the only way that music progresses. Same thing with the psychobilly scene where if it only stayed to a blues progression and playing fast, it wouldn’t have gone anywhere.
Yeah because there’s the whole “Only The Meteors Are Pure Psychobilly” thing, and to me psychobilly has always been a combination of different things anyway, so it's good for that. Especially, I think The Peacocks were like the first band that I ever saw with the upright bass, and they've got a pretty big ska influence going on, like The Long Tall Texans too.
Vic: Yeah, for me it was The Living End. Living End had a radio hit in the States. That opened up my mind to more like the punk rock. Like, “Oh you can totally have a punk band and have an upright bass and everything.”
John: What year was that around?
Vic: That was ninety eight, I think.
John: Wow. Okay.
Vic: Yeah. That was the Prisoner of Society song. That was all over the radio. It was the coolest thing ever! It was like the coolest thing to hear on the radio.
Cool. I remember one time when we were driving somewhere and I'd konked out and my wife was like “Wake up, wake up.” because there was that Imelda May song, Johnny Got a Boom Boom playing.
Vic: You wake up and there's slap bass on the radio!
She was like “There’s a song!".
Much laughter ensues
What about John? It’s hard finding stuff out about you because you’ve got the same name as the guy from Steppenwolf...
John: Yeah, yeah
So you google "John Kay guitarist" and it’s like all about him soing his solo shit.
Vic: Yeah. So we share that and also Bill Haley.
John: Bill Haley and the Comets, John Kay was his guitarist.
I first got into punk rock, I’m two years older than him so he says ten or eleven, I was twelve or thirteen. Same thing when Green Day hit and they were on MTV it was like “That’s cool. The guy’s got stickers all over his guitar”, you know, so we really got into that. The band that I was in at that time, we had been playing like Metallica covers, and Mötley Crüe covers, and Pantera, and Megadeth, and metal stuff but then when grunge hit with Nirvana and Soundgarden and Pearl Jam and then Green Day followed suit and then you have Rancid in the mix there on MTV for a bit, started going that route, and at that time I’d been, from thirteen until like twenty five, I was doing punk bands. I actually still have a pop punk band back home. We do shows very, very sporadic, very, you know, every so often.
Prior to that it was like classical music and Beatles and oldies and like pop music like Michael Jackson and stuff like that.
I used to watch that Thriller video so much as a kid. Dancing behind the sofa n stuff.
John: Right on, right on.
Yeah the punk thing seems like common ground.
John: Yeah then with Koffin Kats, I mean, I’ve been working with them since ’07, recording and producing singles and albums and what not. And they have introduced me into the psychobilly scene, so they were really my first taste. I mean, just like him I've seen the Psychobilly Freakout video on Beavis and Butthead too. You know it’s really funny when he talks about this stuff and I'm like ”I’ve seen this stuff!”, but it wasn’t until I started to work with them that I started to see more artists and hear more artists.
Nifty. How did the Koffin Kats get started? with the whole instrument swap thing, you're obviously pretty good on a guitar too, so did you always play bass or did you start off as a guitarist?
Vic: No. I was, my dad gave me a guitar when I was like ten and then I just, I was a guitar player first and still kind of a guitar player sometimes. I can play the shit out of the one part I play in the set!
Yeah I know a few solos from songs I like and anything I can play on bass I can blag on guitar because its power chords and root notes.
Vic: It was, when Koffin Kats first started, I wrote all the material and I had a lot of material established before Koffin Kats existed. I wrote it all on guitar and then I teamed up with the first guitar player, Tommy, and actually showed Tommy like the rockabilly guitar playing techniques and all that shit and he had no idea. It’s funny because at that time I also showed him the Bryan Setzer video and we both sat there like “Yeah, that’s like the most impossible thing to learn from” but it’s fun to watch.
Throughout the history of Koffin Kats, the songs I would generally start with something I figured out on guitar and then whoever's playing guitar, I would show it to them and say, “Capitalize on this. Do something with it.” you know?
Were you in other bands before Koffin Kats or was it-
Vic: Yeah. I was in like, bunch of local Detroit bands but never really anything that got out of Detroit and that was the biggest influence for wanting to do something like Koffin Kats was to get together with two other guys that could actually go hit the road. I was sick of just playing the same shitty bars all the time and was sick of not going anywhere. I was turning twenty and I was like "I really want to do music" but I’m not going to be able to do it if I just stick around here.
SO, I got together with Tommy and we got an old friend of ours, Damien. We got together, we started practicing and said, Damien actually said, that was the summer of 2003 “One year from now let’s be out in California.” And in summer of 2004 that’s where we were touring.
Nice! So, nerdy bass talk! You've got your bass in The States, do you use the same one live that you use for recording or do you have a road one and a "nice" bass?
Vic: I don’t have like a plethora of basses! At one time I had like five upright basses!
I’ve got two, I don't think there's room for any more...
Vic: But they fell apart or I sold them all but yeah, in the States, I use the same bass all around. I’m getting a new one at the end of the year. That’s going to be neat!
Cool, where from?
Vic: Knight string bass. That’s a company out of Florida.
I've seen some of their stuff, yea.
Vic: Yeah. It’s supposed to have a Koffin Kat head, headstock on it.
Vic: That’s awesome. Yeah. They’re supposed to be carving it.
John: That’s badass as fuck.
Vic: I got plans to wire it up with my pickups and everything. Do all the wiring and channeling internally and all that.
Cool, you gonna have a door in the side?
Vic: Yeah, yeah.
You've got the wireless so you're not getting tangled up?
Vic: Yeah it has to be wireless. I’ve been running wireless now for like, probably eight years.
And your pickups that you make yourself, and The Deuce Bridge?
Vic: I use Roto Sound strings. I use them bumped over so what I do is, there’s Roto Sound RS4000 is the name of the set but I buy the five string set.
And run the C as the G, etc?
Cool. Nerdy. That part is gonna have a limited audience!
Vic: Yeah. There’s like three people reading this that have any idea what we’re talking about!
So, and the bass you got over here is like is the same as mine, just a cheap chinese one from Thomann? It looks like it’s taken a bit of a pounding!
Vic: Yeah, The Quakes toured over here with it about four years ago, three years ago, and then I bought it off of them and they left it over here for me. I got it and then within like two shows, my first two shows of playing it, it fell over and the neck broke off of it so I had to go and put the neck back on and everything and it wasn’t a clean break either, it snapped above the joint. So if you ever see it, it’s got brackets. It wouldn’t be a bass of mine if it didn’t have all kinds of shit screwed together on it!
Yeah, mine’s got a metal plate glued to the back from where we were recording a while ago and the engineer guy tripped over the bass and landed on it and ended up sitting on it, putting a nice crack in the back where the soundpost tried to escape. I was like shaking fist
Vic: My bass back home, my soundpost is a drumstick!
Yea, I saw that, cos Nekroman was posting his weird adjustable one..... They should definitely have character, they need to take a bit of a pounding or you might as well be in an orchestra or some shit. Screws and tape. Spray paint.
You've got a pretty individual vocal style going on. Did you practice that? It reminds me a little bit of Faith No More, the contrast between the "singy" operatic almost parts, and the shoutier stuff.
Vic: That all came like trial by fire. I never set out to be a vocalist and it was one of those things where we weren’t finding any, Tommy couldn’t sing. We’d sit down there in the basement and be like "we're gonna have to sing." and I just kind of took the reigns with it because it was just easier that way. As far as any type of training, I never sang in school or anything like that, people ask me “You must've had vocal lessons.” and I’m like “No, no." I’m just learning how to not do it wrong, I guess. Over enough shows, you know, you just, you ask me to sing anything else other than Koffin Kats, it’s barely going to happen but as long as it’s in the realm of what I know, I can do it.
It’s like the punk thing again, just get on with it. What was the transition like from being a band and having jobs and then being able to be like "Kill this, we're doing the band full time now."?
Vic: It was very gradual. It used to be we'd go off for a couple months a year on tour but that’s all we could get away from our jobs. We were fortunate in that Tommy and I worked at the same place and Eric worked for the post office, but we always busted ass when we were working so we’d be able to suck up and go “Hey, can I have three months off next year?” “Hey, can I have four months off?” and then finally it got to the point where our jobs were like “Hey, you guys are gone for half the year, we’re going to have to knock you down to part-time.” We were doing that for a while but then we decided with being able to tour in Europe and tour North America, we could tour all year round! So we eventually made the decision to go “Okay, well we’re going to have to let our jobs go and we’ll focus mainly on just touring.” and that’s why we do so many shows a year because it’s not like we’re getting rich doing this! We play for three months and we’ll take like couple weeks off and then we go hit the road again because all the savings have been used up.
Nice, just like a gradual thing, you got to the point where it made sense.
Vic: It was, yeah, we go out a little bit longer, go a little bit longer. And the other thing too is we were always very fortunate where we never took any major hits to put us behind so we had to go back to work and remake all the money.
We actually would come out, we'd break even on the tours. So, we saw this, we break even and then sometimes we even have a little pocket money afterwards. But we saw this as a good thing and that pushed us to keep going out more and more too. We’re like, “We must be doing something right here because we’re not losing money doing this.”
Are there major differences between touring the States compared to coming over to Europe, and is the UK different to the rest?
John: Yeah. Yes, yes, and yes, and yes to all those questions. This is the first touring band that I’ve been a part of. I quit my job though in early 2008 and I moved across the United States to get my degree in audio-engineering. My whole thing was I’m going to be a freelance audio-engineer, focus on that because it was getting to the point with my job where I was turning down clients to record because I had to go work in a store and make less money than I would be making in the studio. So it’s like, “Okay I quit my job.” I did that right before the economic downturn in the States so I was like, “Ah!”.
But anyway, I went out, got my degree, came back to Detroit and I’ve been a freelance engineer since. You know, we come out here. We tour the States, it’s cool, everything’s good, I'm finding my rhythm as a guitarist and we get over here and it’s like, bang, there’s a whole new world with a whole new set of challenges and learning experiences and not only that but, the languages are different, food’s different, the culture’s different, it is a different experience. But it’s not bad, it’s good.
Lufthansa broke my pedal board, so the first show over here, we found out an hour before we go on and it’s like "shit crap!" so then we're scrambling to get an effects pedal, and then the next day, we have another show so we go to the music store and buy another effects pedal and it’s faulty right out of the box and it's like "Arg, what are we gonna do!?". So, other than gear issues, everything’s been pretty smooth. He (Vic) had a horn blow in his speaker cab, we had to replace that. Other than gear it’s just been pretty smooth but really the crowds are just as big, they just react a little differently here than in the States.
Yhen again, as I say it out loud, I feel like the crowds that are our age, they’re just hip to just stand there and nod their head and drink their beers, but the younger crowds, well I guess it depends on how many beers they have in them because the more beers you get in you start getting wild! One of the things over here is that a lot more venues made of stone, vs when we're over in the states.
Yea, we've got more old buildings than you guys.
John: Yeah but the thing is we play small places, we play big places, we play big stages, we play small stages, and we’re going to put on the same show every night regardless. So, you know, people ask me, “What do you think of Europe?” I’m like, "You know what? I’m sitting in the backseat of the van and we get to the place and I load in and I play the show just like I do over in the States", so it ends up kinda evening out, but the biggest difference coming from Europe to over here is I grew up watching a lot of British TV, I got my little killer rabbit......... I watched a lot of British stuff and like I’m really into British humour and comedy and what not. And so it’s refreshing to hear some of the jokes, everything translates like "Yeah, just like that, in the movies I've seen!", So, that’s pretty cool. And then, driving on the left side of the road isn’t as much of a trip as I thought it would be. It’s nothing.
Do you find it weird, I’ve heard other bands complain about how even when they’re touring Europe or Japan or wherever, it’s like it’s still being in America because there’s McDonald’s and KFC and etc everywhere?
John: We don’t really do fastfood.
Vic: One good session of shitting your pants and “Oh yeah that’s why we don’t do that.”
John: Yeah. I haven’t eaten fastfood in almost two years now and it’s like, I feel like now with the internet, you have all this information out there about what’s bad for you and what’s good for you and if you’re not using it, it’s like being ignorant, I guess. We try to eat healthy. Though we’re kebab crazy over here. Magnum bars have changed my life.
John: Yes. They’re fantastic!
Don't go for the silver ones! They've got some anniversary thing going on.
John: Yeah. I bought the silver one, the champagne one, it’s not good. I’m looking for the elusive double caramel. I’ve had one of them and it’s my favorite. And I haven’t been able to find one since.
Yeah, they’re around somewhere, someone's stockpiling em.
John: And mint, also very good.
Vic: He's becoming a Magnum connoisseur!
Vic: Back to that original question though, the biggest difference between touring the States and here, we go coast to coast in the States, and you’re always going to have pretty much the same culture. And you drive two hours in Europe and you’re in a completely different culture, different customs and everything. And where people that hear rock and roll no matter what it is, in some of these countries that we go to, they just go nuts for it, whereas in the States a lot of times the crowd’s are just kind of jaded. It seems. I mean, for us we’re very fortunate, we have a really awesome fanbase and we have a crowd that consistently comes back to our shows. So, it’s always gotten better and better for us in the States but I can definitely see a huge difference though with how people appreciate music in Europe compared to how they do in the States. Just having live music, it seems much more appreciated. That and the arts in general over here there’s just more appreciation.
Yeah I think we go through fits and starts. At certain points we kind of push live music and art and stuff and then it kinda dies downagain.
There’s a few all ages shows on your tour list, do you find kids go a bit more nuts than "grownups" do?
John: It depends how much alcohol is served!
Vic: If I had my way every show would be an all ages show. I mean I love to play for a young fan base because those are the people that are going to spread the word and tell all their friends and all that.
John: They're the future.
Vic: Yeah. And they’re going to be there fifteen years later coming to the shows still.
Yea, these are the kids that are going to be in the bands that you go see in a few years.
Vic: Growing up it was always the worst, especially being into Reverend Horton Heat and stuff like that, to be looking through the papers when I was a kid and I was like, it felt like I was under eighteen forever. Because all the bands I wanted to see were like eighteen and over shows or twenty one and over shows. Because in the States you have to be twenty one to drink and especially a Reverend Horton Heat show, it seemed like it was never an all ages show. So I had to wait a long time to see the bands I wanted.
How have you seen things change? It's been ten years since Koffin Kats kicked off. It seems the whole music industry is still in a process of change with record sales vs merch and distribution and the internet-
Vic: The record sale thing doesn’t really affect us because we’re one of those bands that most of our sales are done on the road. Our distribution has always been delivered from our hands to your hands. I mean we would have CDs go out through distributors and all that, but we’ve always been able to just offer our CDs at our shows and things like that, so we never really felt the huge shift of everything going over to digital. Though it does suck, but it’s a double edged sword because with everything being digital now, it’s way more accessible for a band like us that doesn’t get huge distribution, it was hard to get any of our material and now you can get it on iTunes. At the end of the day I think it’s actually better for us.
Good! This seems to be like a bit of a thing now with everyone doing vinyl.
Vic: Yeah and we’ve started pressing vinyl again.
Yea, you've got that limited edition aluminium one!
John: To that point, at this point in time we’ve had over a hundred years of recorded music. And over half of that time was dominated by vinyl because it was essentially the only option. And then you have the cassettes, eight tracks and obviously those went the way of the dodo. Cassettes you know, for portability, you can play it on the car and then the car started to become where people listened to music, you know, instead of on their hi-fi system. Then CD's, then you got the portable digital MP3 players and whatever now and people are realizing that we’ve had MP3 players for a decade or what have you, or more, and people are realizing “Okay, I like the portability of this but I like the quality, the sound quality of vinyl.” And so what I've seen, vinyl sales are up this year fourteen percent over last year and what we’re seeing now is the trend of artists that they don’t make CDs anymore. They'll just make vinyl and then include a coupon in it for a digital download of the album in any format you want. So it’s like, I get my quality and I get my portability, you know what I mean? And plus with the vinyl you get the artwork and what not.
Vic: It’s like why am I going to pay twelve bucks to download an album when I can pay like fifteen to get the actual vinyl record, you know?
And you get a thing to hold. I remember buying CD's and getting home, one of the first albums I bought was Guns n Roses, Use Your Illusion 2, and you get home and you put it in, and you sit there with the little book and you read along-
Vic: That’s the one sad thing is, I think. When I was thirteen, fourteen, I’d save like ten bucks up and ride my bike to the CD shop and get a used punk rock CD. I'd just go and pick one that had a cool cover just to find new bands and stuff but I would, for that whole month, I would just sit there and check the liner notes out. It was generally, if it was an Epitaph band, I would buy it. If it was a Fat Wreck Chords band, I would buy it. You actually had to put the CD in, you had to listen to it, you couldn’t skip through everything. I mean, you could but not like the way you can now. So I think that’s one big issue today is a lot of kids don’t understand the whole format of listening to an album from front to back and taking the time to appreciate the album.
Yea, people don't sit down with headphones on and just listen.
Vic: Yeah because a lot of my favorite records weren’t my favorite records right off the first listen. It took a while for it to soak in but I think when you have things on your iPod, I’m guilty of it now, I have a lot of good shit on my iPod but I skip over it or haven’t even had the time to really listen to it because it’s always on shuffle. It’s on shuffle. Bouncing from one genre or artist to the next.
John: It’s hard to stay committed.
I often just go ->Koffin Kats and play everything on random, or whatever, I just want to listen to this band.
Vic: Yeah. It’s weird like I just got that new Morrissey album came out, and it used to be if I got a new album like that, that I’ve been waiting to hear, I would sit down and listen to the whole thing. I haven’t even like listened to it front to back yet. I’ve had it for like two weeks.
Your last one, I got that, I think I probably put it on while I was pottering about, doing the dishes or whatever, and I was like "No, you need to actually sit down and listen to this at some point." And that took until just a few weeks ago, not doing anything else, just that.
Vic: That’s the beauty of vinyl is that you’re committed to it and you actually have to go over and flip it over.
It's like committing to the process of listening to music rather than just having some background noise going.
John: Oh, radio changed the way we listen to music too because my dad was a DJ for twenty five years and right in the mid nineties, radio flipped over when a company called Clear Channel started buying all the radio stations out, or the broadcast companies out, and they switched from having DJs that would find music in records stores themselves and play stuff, and that stuff they like or they picked, maybe they wouldn’t play the hit single from the album, maybe they'd play one of the deep cuts or whatever. After the song they talk about the song or talk about like the concept of it. It wasn’t just “Hey, so and so’s coming out with this tune” or whatever. You know, like it is now, it is very formatted. They have a playlist. You can only play these songs, you have to play this one every two hours...
Yea, like you can listen to twenty different radio stations and hear the same forty songs.
John: Exactly. That, you know, in the seventies and eighties and early nineties, it wasn’t like that, man. You can play whatever you wanted and if you were good... DJs were rockstars, you know. And now, DJs are just personalities that are on the radio.
Pressing play and doing some talking.
John: Yup. Exactly.
I think it was a bit different over here, because we are like this big Making pinchy gesture with fingers, and America's huge, so we had, in the fifties, sixties, we just had FM radio, so you could sit in your little studio in London and reach the whole country. So I think we didn’t have such a range of radio stations and personalities and stuff.
Vic: Yeah there’s a lot of different markets in the States.
I spose we had the pirate radio thing, people in little boats, broadcasting from international waters or whatever.
Vic: Yeah. It was that pirate radio, the movie?
So, yeah. I think our radio's a bit different over here.
Vic: You feel me though?
I get the general idea, yeah. Now there are very few shows that run on the actual radio that are worth listening to. With the internet, internet radio is a big thing now. I think it tends to be very specialized, like if you know what you’re looking for, you can just go and be like "I just want to listen to psychobilly" or whatever. And that’s all you'll get and you won't get that random song I guess. You lose some of that chance discoverability.
Anyway, John, how are you fitting into the band?
John: I think, I feel good and, really, my feedback on that is I know how I feel, but my feedback on that comes from him and Eric and then the fans and our friends. Really, it’s the people that I’m concerned with what they think of me and how I’m settling in are the people that have been seeing Koffin Kats for years and years and have been through the change from Tommy to Ian and now from Ian to me.
My biggest thing is, I just want to honor their legacies, bring all their good stuff to the table. We get along great. We’ve been working together for seven years already, so we knew we could work together. At first it was just a question of “Can I handle being on the road? Can we get along on the road? Am I going to annoy them?”. Which I do. All the time, all the time.
That’s what people do! There’s a difference between getting along with someone to talk to for like half an hour...
John: You know, you're married. It’s close quarters all the time. Can you stand being around each other for extended periods of time? Yeah, we’re good. I think we’re doing just fine. At this point, you know, Europe has been different for me in a sense that, we did the States tour, where you got the flow of the show, you know, you’re settled in. Now, let’s work on your guitar more. Let’s get you more versed on the guitar, like what we just talked about with Tommy, showing show them the Bryan Setzer stuff. He’s downloaded a few videos for me to watch on the rockabilly style and stuff like that, and I’m working on different fingerings.
Vic: Yeah actually staying true to the Koffin Kat model of "get a guitar player who really isn’t versed in anything that has to do with the 'billy world".
John: Right, yeah! It’s like musical background I’ve got it, but 'billy background, not so much. The thing is though to that point I’m not bringing preconceived notions into the group. I’m coming in with the open mind of “No matter what I know, what I don’t know, or what I think I know, I can learn.”
That could be really cool though, because you'll always have different influences from someone that's a "psychobilly guitarist".
John: Yes. One hundred percent.
When we're at these shows, I’m picking their brains, you know. Asking "How long have you played guitar, I like that lick you did, how do you do that?” stuff like that. I’m all about learning new stuff and that's not a problem. It’s challenging for me, certain things because I’ve always used the guitar as a tool for songwriting because I have been drumming for over thirty years. So guitar has always been a songwriting tool. Kind of like the way he uses the guitar now in Koffin Kats it’s “Okay, here’s the idea, make it better, guitarist.” I’m going back to my bass.
Vic: Yeah, that's exactly how it is. I’m done with this, your turn!
John: And that was the way it was with me. I would write all the songs for my bands and it started on guitar, then when I got to those sick lead solos, I'd defer to the lead guitarist. “Here, take the guitar, I'm getting behind my kit”.
So now, it's a three piece band, I’m the only guitarist, I don’t have a second guitarist to lean on and you’re not just playing rhythm, you’re playing leads so..... I busted my ass getting these songs down before the first tour. I holed up in the basement and just over and over just practicing and getting my fingers working on it, getting the calluses and all that stuff. You know, I’m not a novice by any means, but at the same time I know my limits and so I’m pushing my limits every single day. When we ride in the van, that guy is a companion, and I’m warming up and stretching and you know, working out fingering techniques, and all that stuff and tremolo picking.
Are you still practicing everyday or have you got it down to the point-
John: I go through all of the lead solos before we go on stage. Like tonight, I had to change the strings on both my guitars here in a hot minute and then, stretch them out and all that stuff and then I’ll do my stretches and my warm-ups and then I go through every single lead solo or any part that is new to my skill set in the songs, if that makes sense? I have a certain way that I play but there are certain parts in certain songs where it’s like “I’ve never played guitar like that.” So I just get it in my muscle memory. Seriously it’s just the way it is. He was looking at me the other day and he's like “You don’t do power chords with your ring finger, you do it with your pinky?” and I’m like “Yeah.” He’s like “That’s weird.” And I’m like “I know!” So now I’m breaking old habits and creating new ones. So that’s good.
That reminds me of a podcast with John Roderick, from The Long Winters, Decemberists.... He played bass for Harvey Danger for a while. I think he blagged his way in because their bass player got pneumonia and they were supposed to go and play on some TV show and so he learnt that one song they were going to play.
Vic: Flagpole Sitter? That was probably that song.
Yeah, probably, and then he said the first time he ever played through an amp was on that show. They got there, the stage manager was like “Your amp is over there” and he went and plugged in, hit a few notes to test it out, then the guy is like "we're live in five, four...." (seriously, click that link if only for the unspoken conversation just after the 2 minute mark. "You're playing bass!"--"I know!")
Vic: That's amazing!
And he plays the song, doing proper backing vocals and everything! After that they were on tour and he was running through the set every night after the gig, and work on it in the day time before the gig, and after a couple weeks he’s like "I know what I'm doing now, I don't need to practice it today." and then that night just sucked! He didn't have a clue what to play.
John: I’m going through these solos and stuff, it’s not like I’m practicing them but it’s like I got to warm up. What better way to warm up than playing what I’m about to play, you know? Get it up in here ahead of time.
And you’ve got the solo album coming up or something, right?
John: Hopefully. Eventually. I don’t know when it’s going to come out. It really all depends on money because I spent quite a deal of money to get it mixed and I’m going to do the same to get it mastered and then I have a couple people that I’m talking to. Not management-wise but I’m talking to a couple people about what’s the next step. Should I shop it, should I put a group together and do some mini-weekenders when we’re not on tour, you know? I don’t know how to approach it and quite honestly, my focus right now is on Koffin Kats. That’s something that I will handle when we’re not on the road. But yeah, I’ve got a ten song album that’s mixed and ready to be mastered.
Did you have other people playing on it or is it like a Nine Inch Nails/Foo Fighters job where you're doing everything?
John: Everything in the album is just me. I had a female come in to do some high harmonies on one particular tune and then I had a few buddies of mine who I have recorded in my studio before do drums, bass, and lap steel on the first two cuts but other than that, the whole album is me, drums, bass, guitar.
Cool, I'm looking forward to it.
Stage show, because you guys put on one hell of a show, do you have to practice that a lot too?
Vic: No that’s just get it right or else you’ll get hurt.
John: Yeah, pretty much!
We did two weeks in rehearsal before the first tour. I went out on tour for about three weeks with them when Ian was still in the group so he could teach me the songs and then there was two weeks between then and the next tour and I just, the first week was rehearsing together and just getting the songs and the set down and then the second week was “Alright. Now, we’re going to start incorporating the show as part of it.”, so we did that. The first tour was only two weeks and by the end of the second week we were all very happy with where I was sitting. because they’ve gone through other guitarists before, even, when Ian got sick, they had another guitarist fill in too. Relative to everybody else, they were very happy with how I was doing.
Vic: As far as the stage show goes, there’s like two rules:
Don’t stand in one spot and watch out for the bass.
John: So on the small stage, I never even told you this, but when you lift it up I can feel the wind!
Vic: That's the thing, with Tommy and Ian, we always joked about like no matter how drunk we were, you develop this Matrix-like thing where it’s like, you just knew like to lean back or, duck. Then I would see footage and I’m like “Holy fuck!” like it’s way closer than I ever thought. And it’s just, you just naturally know when to move or you have this thud
Like last year, when we played at the Lady Luck, Ian nearly got the bass in his face a few times. He's just casually turning his head as a big lump of wood passes through the air his face was occupying a split second ago.
Vic: For the hour that we’re playing there’s no resting back. It’s like always paying attention to something whether it’s a microphone coming and smashing in your face or, you know, just make sure you don’t fall over shit or fall off the stage.
Are there good and bad places to play at? What’s the best and worst experience you've had?
John: I don’t really ever like to think that there are bad places to play at. I mean, any place that’s hiring us to come and play a show is a good place in my book.
Vic: It could be the biggest city, it could be the smallest town, every night’s a surprise. We always have our expectations right in the middle and we never go and say “This is gonna be huge tonight” and we never go and say “It’s going to suck tonight.” I mean, we don’t ever say "it’s going to suck tonight" anyway. It’s just not the attitude to have. I always get the question of “What’s your favorite city to play in?” or what not. I’m like, “Honestly, it always changes.” I have certain places I like to visit because they’re pretty. Like Denver, Colorado or Austin, Texas, Bozeman, Montana, you know. I like to go to those places not because of what the show is. Basically we have equal respect for every city we go to, every town we go to, every venue we’re at. Yeah, there are some really shitty venues though. Yeah, that’s always going to be a constant.
John: Any stage that has a big pole in the middle of it.
Vic: There’s going to be the clubs where you know the sound guy doesn’t even give a shit and it’s like, there’s always those little things here and there.
Do you still get the sound guy saying "there’s a weird clicking sound coming from the bass"?
Vic: Oh yeah, oh yeah!
John: "No, that's supposed to be there!"
It’s like “No that’s fine....."
Cheesy interview question alert! If you were stuck on a desert island-
Vic: What was it?
You're stuck on the island, you have to choose one kind of food and one kind of drink and like an album and book or something, what are you going to bring?
John: Now this is saying that water is already plentiful?
Plenty of water. There's a river or something.
Vic: Okay. I would have spinny kebab meat.
An old lady’s leg?
Vic: And cider and I’ll be happy.
What would you have to read and listen to?
Vic: Oh. Read....
John: Getting off this island for dummies!
Vic: I just recently getting started into reading Stephen King books so I guess you could plop me down there with the Stephen King collection and that would last me a while.
Have you read The Dark Tower )?
Vic: I’ve just finished the first one, The Gunslinger.
A couple of months ago I finished the last one, it takes a while!
Vic: Yeah, yeah. I mean, those are books you can lose yourself in, so you don't have to think about being stuck on the desert island! When it comes to music, it’s always a hard one. Your favorite album changes with your mood, you know?
Vic: But I’d have to always go back to one of my first favorite albums ever was Bad Religion’s Stranger Than Fiction. So, I’ll be good with that one.
John, same thing.
John: Food, probably be loaded pizza from Albert’s. which is a joint in our hometown. Drink would be bourbon.
John: Music would be the Beethoven collection and my book would be, aaaaaaaahhahahahaaaahhhhhhh, it’s so hard, I love to read.
Vic: He can read, I've seen him!
John: Probably, it’s so tough, you guys. The entire collection of James Clavell books. He wrote Shogun, Taipan, and it’s called the Asian Saga. It’s like my favorite fiction work of art.
Oh, I read one of those I think, Gai-jin?
John: Yes! Gai-jin, that’s the third in the series it’s fantastic.
Vic: Behind the Paint.
John: Behind the Paint, ICP Behind the Paint. Yes. That’s sitting on my bookshelf too.
Sorted. You’re always like super busy, any nerdy computer stuff you do to keep organized? Or do you leave that to the man downstairs with the beard?
Vic: I hate computers, I hate looking at screens if I don’t have to. If I’m at home I barely get on the thing but when we’re out here, we’re always doing business. The whole world revolves around computers now. It’s not like a pick-up-the-phone-and-make-something-happen world, it’s a send-an-email-and-make-something-happen. So yeah, we’re always using the computers for business purposes. I don’t really play video games. I do have Sim City.
Vic: I got that from my computer. I nerd out with that sometimes but mostly we’re buried in our phones when we’re just killing time, phone games or what not. The thing about being on tour, there’s a lot of downtime. A lot of time to do nothing.
Kinda almost like being on a desert island....
When's the next album out? Is the next album like you three?
Vic: Yea, it will be.
John: Haha, unless something catastrophic happens.
Vic: We’re just now starting to write new material and we’re hoping to be in the studio early next year working on it.
Squeezing in time between shows.
John: Yeah. He’s been backstage and in the hotel rooms a couple times laying down riffs or the bass line, and I’ve got riffs in my head that I've got ideas for, I was actually just jamming one earlier before sound check while I was checking my tone. I’ve never written like this before but this is the way Koffin Kats have always done it so everybody has their own ideas.
Vic: Get a bunch of shit together and then go down in the basement and just jam.
John: And just jam. Jam and see where it leads to and then we demo it out and then we listen to it. If we do it like we did the last album because it was very successful. The recording process was so smooth because everything was planned in the pre-production phase, and this is when Ian was still in the group. They demoed everything out while they were on the road and then they sent it to me and I listened to it and then I had notes and they had notes and we got together and listened to all the stuff, we talked about it and made new notes, and then they went and rehearsed the whole album for a week on their own, then came into the studio and recorded. So, it wasn’t “Let’s try this, let’s do this.” It was "onto the next one”. We just had a big board with a checklist, done, done, done. That’s the way the major artists do it, you know?
A lot of bands they go into the studio and they’re unprepared or the drummer doesn’t know that the bassist plays this or one guitarist doesn’t know that the other guitarist is playing the chord with a different fingering and “I’ve always played it like that. I didn’t know it’s not like that. It’s like this. Screw that, I’m playing it like this because that’s how I’ve always played it.” and I’ve seen bands get in fights about it. So, no.
It's not the sixties with The Beatles, where they can just like have six months studio time.
Vic: Yeah, you know, it’s different now. I never wanted to have that opportunity because that’s how you make a shitty album because you have too much time to dwell on it.
John: Too many defferred decisions.
You think about it too much.
John: There’s like “Oh let’s add this in, let’s add this in, let’s add this in.”
Vic: I like going in, every album except the first album has been written under the gun. Where we have a time frame to do it and that’s how we’ve gotten some of our best songs, under pressure. Now, when I’m writing stuff, I have a time frame that I want to get everything done by, so that helps weed out a lot of the bullshit where if I think it’s too weak of a song or sounds too generic, I’m just “No. Scrap it”, you know? Just move on until I get something I really like. That’s always how we’ve done it because otherwise, I always have this thought that if we spend more than five minutes trying to write a chord progression and match it up with the chorus, then we’re thinking way too hard about this stuff. Some of the most memorable Koffin Kats songs were literally written in like a couple of minutes. So, I always like to stick with that formula. It worked in the past, it will work in the future.
Some of my favorite bands, you can tell like that they had a lot of time to write their later albums. It loses that magic if you don’t have that sense of urgency, you know, get the song done!
Yea, that's quite a common theme. People will say a bands' first album is really raw and then by their third album it's all over produced. I guess that can happen, better to bash it out and get it done.
Anything else you want people to know?
John: You can find us, everything Koffin Kats is at koffinkatsrock.com. That’s home base for us. We do all the social media and stuff but if people want the most up to date and current information, tours, merch, etc.
Yea, it seems to be getting updated more now, you're the nerdy one?
John: Haha, yes. I'm the nerdy one. Thing is when I came into the group I’m like “What can I take off your plate?” and it was social media. Do the Facebook, do the Twitter, do the Instagram thing so we don’t have to worry about it. Eric focuses on the website, he focuses on the reverbnation so it’s like we get a tour date, BANG!, he’s on it, you know. He’s on it putting it on the website and I’m on all the other stuff.
That's the other thing too, at the end of this tour, we'll have merch leftover and so we’re going to be able to put it up on our website for people to grab over here in Europe. It’s like if people want something Koffin Kats it’s all at koffinkatsrock.com. And then of course they can find us on all the other social media platforms as well, but not linkedIn, screw that.
Yeah that’s like business jerks n that.
John: So, yeah. That and we look forward to seeing you.
Cool. Cheers guys. I think that’s about it!
Vic: Thank you.
That was nice!
John: It was more like talking.
I didn't really know what I was doing, but that wasn't too bad!
Vic: That’s always kind of my favorite interviews. The ones that just kind of go.