Serve As Thou Wilt! CVLT NATION interviews THE VATICAN

Give me a brief history of THE VATICAN. What other bands have you guys played in, and how did this one get started?

I suck at being brief, but here goes:  if memory serves, we did our first show at the end of March 2012.  So that means we’re a three-piece band, about to turn three years old, after having spent that third year pushing our third release, TV3, so… is there significance to the synchronicity? You do the math, man!  You don’t have to be a Quabbalistic Numerologist to understand that it’s some pretty cool timing and we’re totally going to take credit for it like everything else we do, we do it all on purpose.  The Vatican doesn’t make mistakes.  Nothing is an accident. However, our history does go back a bit further than that.

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Lincoln and I had known each other about ten years before T.V. started, and we’ve both known Kris for more than half that time, jamming together  and playing shows with each others’ bands, sharing the same spaces, etc.  But none of those bands were getting the kind of exposure we wanted, so we started this big supergroup that no one cares about, in hopes someone would finally ask us about our bands.  At last!  In the immortal words of George Bush II, “MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.”  We’re just so much more into this band than we ever were into our old shit that it’s really hard to imagine ever having done things differently.  We enjoyed a lot of those times, but a lot of that shit was really silly and irritating.  We’re honestly not that into talking about our old bands, quite the opposite in fact…

Chances are, unless you’re Botch, your first band’s not going to be great.  You’ll be lucky if it’s good at all, most people’s first bands are pretty awful.  I think all of our first bands were… pretty good.  But so much of that experience is figuring out your instrument, your craft, and what kind of noise you want to make; you’re figuring out who you are.  Ultimately, I think the biggest lesson of that experience is getting a feel for what you are NOT into, what you do NOT want to do.  In the end, all the crap we were sick of, and the bad attitudes we’d developed about it served as a really good point to begin again.

Lincoln is a goddamn mutant.  He bleeds music.  I don’t even think he’s got any control over it.  Music pours out of his eyes and genitals like in the late stages of Ebola… what ever happened with Ebola, anyway? He played guitar in Somnomballistic for a long time; then started Chemical Castration, as the drummer, ended up the singer, and they’re still active.  He’s been doing his solo electronic stuff, Subliminal Genocide, for years as well.  (Not to mention Pumpkin Padlock, which totally deserves this honorable mention… but let’s not mention it again.  Let’s also not talk about Flower Smasher either, because we don’t want to make anyone jealous, but some bands are so good they don’t even need to have songs, just cool names like Robo-Dendron, The Semi-Auto-Erotic Asphyxiator.) In fact, Lincoln and I briefly had a half electronic, half jam project with two other friends, where no more than any two of us at a time wrote each song. I played drums on one of them, haha.  It’s probably still out there in the bowels of the internet. It was called Worship the Sun, and that was probably the fertile soil that was laid far in advance, that allowed the seed of the idea I had for The Vatican to flourish.

Worship the Sun were the times and the jams where I realized Lincoln was the first, and until T.V, the only guitar player that could actually decipher my mouth noises and weird references into actual riffs that were either exactly what I was looking for, or damn close.  In fact, Lincoln was the other person I considered talking to about playing guitar on this project, but I felt firstly he was probably too damn busy, and secondly that he may want to do something weirder and proggier than I really wanted to do.  I asked Kris because we’d jammed together and had a LOT of conversations about bands that we were into, that nobody else in our little community (except maybe Lincoln) really cared about, and it seemed like a perfect fit because he was working on a project called PigSeed,  some solid stoner shit…  I knew he’d probably jump right on the idea of a fast, grindy, punk-type project on the side. Little did I know, he was raised Catholic too!  He loved the idea of a weird grind band called The Vatican.

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So this is where I out myself as a huge poser in the crust/grind scene: my dad is Nicolas Cage…

No, but I was in a really Deftones and Vision of Disorder-influenced, ‘hardcore-with-a-groove’ type band called Underdose for just shy of ten years. Those were our two main influences and made us a little bit of an oddball/black sheep in whatever little scenes we’d play shows in.  It was kind of silly, but for a first band it was pretty damn good; it was a lot of fun.  The Dillinger Escape Plan really changed the game for Underdose, and became one of my favorite bands. Influences like that made us step up our game quite a bit, our songs got pretty decent toward the end.  We were really into a band called Apiary, which went through a bunch of lineup and stylistic changes and became Early Graves. Those dudes were all from the Oakland/SF/Bay Area area.  We played with them once as Apiary and once as Early Graves.

Now, we all dug E.G, but I was REALLY into it.  It was a metal sound but with simple and stripped down punk songwriting and just really reignited my love of that stuff. It seemed that a lot of the music I was into was being technical for the sake of being technical, and it was starting to feel pretty tired.

This is where my course started to change, and this is where my answer to your previous question will start to bleed into the next.  I was starting to get an itch.  I was starting to think about side projects, side projects where I could just yell over some fast shit, and not try to be dynamic or find a balance between yells and singing.  At that time I found myself to be an island in my own band.  I got really into ISIS between Oceanic and In the Absence of Truth, and none of the other dudes were into it. So this whole world of music, small labels like Hydra Head and Neurot, and cool art and DIY stuff was blowing me away, and the rest of my band didn’t seem to be digging anything new or different.  Musically I got weirder, and I think maybe they got a little jaded, I guess.  It felt like a rut at times.

That summer Early Graves put out Goner and I found out about Narrows within days of each other.  I still remember playing the NRWS EP tracks for the first time, back when Myspace was a thing, and going “Hmm, I wonder which guy from Botch is in this band?” And then hearing the vocals come in and thinking I was going to piss myself, and they were playing the following Wednesday, in less than a week!  The singer from Botch in a stripped down punk/hardcore band, are you fucking kidding me?  No way in hell I was going to miss it!  But before that show, my buddies Early Graves were coming to the Morgue in Georgetown with their new record, and the tracks they had up were fucking blistering.  These dudes had always been heavy, but GODDAMN their new shit hit hard, and it was awesome to see them in one of the rawest DIY spots I’d ever been to at the time.  It was really special.

I was at the end of my paycheck and had spent the only spare cash I had on gas to get down there and cover to get in, and I really wanted to get a copy of the new one.  But I had made some art for the dudes, and their singer Makh hooked me up with a CD.  Dude gave me a hug, I said thanks to all of them for coming up, and they took off from Seattle… and a couple days later they got in a van accident and Makh was gone.  That loss hit me really fucking hard.  Though we weren’t close friends, we were buddies from playing shows and shooting the shit about music, and that dude inspired the hell out of me.  I loved his vocal style and his lyrics, and he had so much fucking energy when they played, and we’d never see him do that shit or get to talk to him again.  He also just put out one of my favorite albums I’d ever fucking heard, one of the best vocals on a hardcore album fucking ever.  I got really depressed…

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Was there a sound or vibe you were going for from the beginning, or particular bands that were inspirational?

For me, particular bands and records!  Especially in the formative moments.  For probably three or four months Goner and Narrows’ New Distances were about all I listened to.  Those two records were pissed, I was pissed, and my itch became a need to get something like that going.  But in that time or shortly after, Underdose came to an end, so it didn’t have to be a side project.  I had plenty of time; it could be whatever I wanted if I found the right people.  Those two bands, and the Goner record in particular, are what really lit a fire under my ass to do something fast and noisy, crusty and grindy.  That’s what made me pick up the phone and ask Kris if he wanted to jam, since the ‘Dose (Underdose will henceforth be referred to as ‘the ‘Dose’) was over.  It might sound like exaggeration or hyperbole, but I’m really not sure it is, when I say that record is a huge part of why we’re a band at all.

At around the same time, two other records came out that solidified my mind state, and continued the theme of people moving from technical, prog-sounding bands to a more bare-bones punk vibe, and releasing them somewhat under the radar.  One was a project from Aaron Turner of ISIS called Split Cranium, the other was a project from Jeff Tuttle called Old Gods, who at the time of the release was in the Dillinger Escape Plan and left shortly after… to go to film school!  The self-titled releases from both those bands were super fun and like I said, it was just more affirmation of what I was feeling.  Wanna scream, wanna play fast.   Fuck the audience, fuck the old projects, I hope everyone hates it, this is for me. Other than those two, and eventually four records, I was also listening to Botch.

For the most part, and for influence on what I wanted to DO musically in particular, that’s where my ears and the rest of my head were at.  However, as I’ve said before, it’s all the influences from Kris and Lincoln that make this project better than a tribute or rip-off of a bunch of stuff I was feeling at the time.  Lincoln showed me Skarp WAY back in the day, and I thought they were awesome. But I never really was a grind kid, I just happened to be into a lot of stuff that had a grind influence.  Kris and Lincoln, those dudes KNOW their grind; they’re educating me every day, but frankly they show me so many bands that I can’t even keep it all straight. It definitely gave me a way bigger appreciation for the genre as a whole.  Power-violence as well, I recall Kris telling me about that stuff way before T.V. was an idea.  He’s always a step ahead with every crusty, spazzy, sleazy punk band, and Lincoln is a walking encyclopedia of all things harsh: metal, black metal, noise, hardcore, you name it!  He’s always been one of the first people to show me something, or the first person who knows what band I’m talking about, especially when it comes to weird or extreme stuff: D.E.P, Cephalic Carnage, B.T.B.A.M, Skarp, Wolves In the Throne Room, RuKut, Leftover Crack, and a million others, all sorts of shit.  He’s heard it bruh, he’s been listening to it way longer than you. Like I said, I’m the poser in this outfit.  It’s cool, whatever, I’m just gonna listen to The Smiths.  ALL. DAY.  That shit’s not even a joke.

What also may sound like a joke or a cliche but really isn’t, is the way this band has always been framed by loss, by death and destruction.  That should sound like a silly as fuck thing to say about your “heavy band” to anyone reading, but the fact is we weren’t just refugees from our previous bands, and it wasn’t just being inspired by an album put out by a friend who was now gone.  At the time we started talking, Kris had just gone through losing his gear in a band shed fire, and the reason he had a good set up to play, is it had been replaced because he’s one of the only musicians I’ve met who’s smart enough to purchase renter’s insurance. Lincoln’s drum set started as a Frankenstein monster made mostly out of drums that had been sitting in my closet for 8 years, that were salvaged from another band shed fire (I swear, we’re NOT arsonists, or Unabombers).  Plus we’re all at that age where if your friends haven’t been taking care of themselves and aren’t about to start, they start dying.  We’ve lost more along the way.  And unfortunately that’s just part of the territory.

We also completely alienated any potential fan base we might have had from our old bands, just by the very nature of it being such a ‘fuck you’ to everything that came before it.  We kind of wanted people to hate it, including our friends and previous fans.  The few people that were interested in our first show, in Everett, missed it because we only played for eleven minutes.  Most of them were stuck in traffic and came through the door as we were loading the gear off stage.  It was different than anything we’d done up there, a few strangers liked it, but nobody that knew us was actually there for our new band, and none of them knew what to think.  We scorched the earth before we even started tilling it.  Classic!

That really shaped the ethic for the band:  In and out, short and sweet, fuck you if you weren’t paying attention; fuck it either way.  It doesn’t matter.  Purge!  Release! Jump out of your skin real quick and then it’s over, put it back on.  We were done wasting time, with a lot of things.  Don’t sell tickets, especially to a show you wouldn’t pay in advance to see.  Don’t talk to shitty bookers and “promoters.”  Don’t play every shitty show every “friend” in Everett offers you.  Don’t book shows with bands we don’t actually like, even if they’re cool people and we’re all friends, even if they get real upset and it makes us total assholes, embrace it.  Don’t get your picture taken, don’t “get the name out there,” don’t send it to the radio or to labels, don’t call and text all your friends and relatives about your show.  Fuck it, that shit doesn’t work and no one cares anyway; we certainly don’t.  Let’s just do the shit we want and not do the shit we don’t want.  Simple.

It didn’t cost a thing so we had nothing to lose.  At the time it was the most honest representation of what we felt, some High Art level of expression, regardless of how crude the noise was.  It was pretty liberating.  Be the serpent.  Eat yourself and start over, over and over again. This band was quite literally forged by fire and garbage, and hate-everything bad attitudes… But somehow it feeds the sound.  T.V. is like a mushroom, feeding off of death and decay, laying fertile soil for something new.

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How was the band name chosen? Seems like there are significant tie-ins with the song titles and lyrics, Cortile de Pigna, for example.

The ‘Dose broke up around Thanksgiving, with a last show scheduled in February, and we practiced a couple times shortly before the show… so I had a short gap of a couple months where I had a band, but got to know what it was like to not have one again after nearly 10 years.  I did a lot of drawing in that time. I was never really satisfied with anything I drew for the ‘Dose, so at a point I had basically stopped drawing, even though all my life I’ve been the weird “good draw-er” kid.  I don’t remember a time when I didn’t draw.  And I don’t know, the juices were just flowing again.  I started catching on to the subculture of gig posters (Flatstock at Bumbershoot, and meeting artists like Justin Kamerer and John Baizley totally blew my mind!) and just started trying to figure out how I could do my style of that.  I’d really come into a process that worked for me and I started making posters, and for the first time I became satisfied with what I was drawing.

It was in that time that the phrase “The Vatican” popped into my head as a “Hey, that would be a cool band name.” Maybe a little generic but who really cares, a lot of good names are…  And I basically just saw the logo, or something close to it, in my head and I thought it at least had potential. At the time I didn’t necessarily think it was my next band name, just a cool one.  But I liked the way the words looked and a lot of qualities about it.  It’s a jab at religion, but without a direct reference to God, or Mary, or Jesus, or Christians, or any specific bible symbolism, which I personally think has been done to death.  A God Or An Other just grabbed up what has got to be one of the last good names with the word God in it, haha.

So The Vatican as a phrase is great, because it alienates religious folks right off the bat without even trying. What’s not to love?  But bigger than that is, the Vatican used to be a very real power in the world. At one time that was THE empire, even though these days they are far less of a military or political power.  The religion they spread in the old world still controls minds in our world today; it’s ingrained into culture around the world, and its history is rife with dirty deeds, power grabs, war… all good stuff for writing aggressive music, in our opinion.  Indulgences, buying your way into heaven, and the refining of the idea of Divine Rite into the more sophisticated forms, like you see in Calvinism somewhat, I think the term was “Justified Sinning.” As well as the whole feudal system more generally, the idea is that God plans all things including appointing rulers.  If the king commits mortal sins like murder, it’s forgiven, that’s just part of his divinely appointed duty; just as if you’re born into servitude you should serve like you’re serving the Lord.  NEVER challenge the social order.

Today “the Vatican” is still a headline in the news, for guns, coke, sex-offenders, human trafficking, and all sorts of the kinds of filth you’d expect from the last vestiges of any (mostly) fallen empire.  The state within a state, the old buildings, arcane rituals, secrets and symbols… that’s the stuff people think of when they hear the name, and it’s a good starting point for talking about the stuff I want to talk about.  And yeah, the ‘Court of the Pinecone.’ Is that not one of the trippiest, weirdest, occult things you’d ever (or never?) expect to see in the Vatican?  An Egyptian sarcophagus flanked by peacocks and a 6 foot statue of a pinecone over a fountain with Zeus or some other Greco-Roman character on it?  That song is just a free write, a musing on what kind of psychedelic death cult and/or cannibalism ritual (because let’s face it, if you don’t see cannibalism in the Jesus motif, you’re blind… “This is my body, eat it…”) could be going on in that place. Is that where the Illuminati drop acid after their meetings about how to penetrate our tin foil hats with their CommuNazi propaganda?  Probably not, but to think something like that was built entirely without purpose seems just as silly, especially seeing how many people in power seem to have at the very least a fascination or pre-occupation, and some even full blown affiliations, to occult orders and secret fraternities.  Does it change the way I live day-to-day?  No.  Does it make for fun songwriting that will make people think and ponder, and add more color and flavor to the overall theme/message/idea of the band, if there even is one?  Absolutely.

It was just me crapping out some stuff for fun rather than trying to point at anything specific.  I think I tend to do that with our longer, trippier stuff, while the grind stuff tends to be a little more direct, as I think it should be.  RATS, one of our first songs, was about the “Rat Lines” and other activities usually summed up under Operation Paperclip, the moving out of Nazi officers into other parts of Europe, Africa, and the Americas.  A collaboration of the US government, the Vatican, and the Red Cross, and I’m sure a lot of blue-blood Ivy-League money, tied together nicely with a little occult symbolism since so much of that ilk seem to be really into Nazis and the occult. History and the concept of empire, authority and rulers is fascinating, and at times infuriating, and it’s easy organic songwriting for me. Believe it or not, I had the lyrics to RATS before we’d even jammed, possibly before even talking to Kris.  He was all for sticking it to the Catholic Church, even if he wasn’t a “conspiracy guy,” and either way, he was familiar with a lot of the concepts I was into and I think he trusted me not to go off the deep end or beat any dead horses.  And frankly, I’m not an 18-year-old kid exploring the internet anymore, and I don’t know when the last time I listened to an Alex Jones broadcast was. I’m an adult, with books!  I think a good Mafia movie will probably teach you more about how the world works than a Youtube video from David Icke or some other hairbrained “researcher.”

I’m familiar with damn near every conspiracy theory there is. At a point I’d listen to anything once… but I take what’s useful to me, leave the rest and move on.  I may have gone down some rabbit holes or whatever, but I came out the other side with my sense of reality intact. I was just curious, I’m proud to say I didn’t blow a bunch of money or end up with a guru, or an unhealthy amount of paranoia, or any of that shit.  These days I’m a little less tolerant, but it’s because I’ve usually already heard it, and if it ends in Lizards, or Aliens, or Satan, or “The Jews,” or “Masons,” or even the Vatican, controlling the whole enchilada from the top down in secret, I’m NOT fucking interested.  Shit isn’t that complicated, and I don’t need a boogie man or anything supernatural to explain any of it away.  Man’s own inhumanity to man is enough.  The overlapping interests and strategies of people in real power throughout history, the wealth gap, the knowledge gap, widespread superstition, and a dash of behaviorism and Social Darwinism, and the core notion that some are fit to rule while others are fit to serve is MORE than enough.

The other thing I noticed after the fact, that I thought was fun:  I’ve always kind of seen an aspect in shows, especially hardcore or just aggressive music generally, of a tribal or communal ritual.  Even more I’ve always described performing that kind of music, especially those kind of vocals and just flailing and wringing your body out, as an exorcism… and who performs exorcisms? The Vatican. We also run the world.  DUH.  We hold semi-regular meetings where we conspire to infiltrate your minds and make music without your permission.  Sleep tight.

So like I said, it just popped into my head as a phrase that looked cool and I knew what I wanted the logo to look like.  All the thoughts and imagery were just more reason to go with it, even if nothing ever came out of it.  I had the logo completely done by the time we were talking about jamming. You know how weird it is to have a totally finished logo made for ‘your’ band that doesn’t even fucking exist?  I felt like a huge dork. But a collection of “what if” ideas was the best way for me to channel the energy I used to put into a band, while I was drawing instead of being in a band, and the two things fed off each other.  I had a pretty damn solid idea for the concept and the aesthetic by the time I brought it up to anyone. Black and white, hand drawn, photocopied, grainy, collaged together, like a bad ransom letter in a movie, or a bad horror comic book, a pulp fiction sci-fi graphic novel, a DIY punk zine, a smut mag, the escort ads section of The Stranger, or whatever hometown paper you consult for shows. With themes of how and why, or maybe who and what is at play with the movements through history of people exercising force over other people, and some philosophical/conspiratorial musing, because that’s more interesting to me than just a bunch of dark, satanic, scare your mom stuff.  The name and logo and art are quite enough to make your parents uncomfortable already.  And that’s just the first layer of the onion, so to speak, the first wave of folks we’d like to make uncomfortable.  Catholics, Christians and religious folks generally, cops, homophobic metal bros, New Age hippies… The list goes on and on, is constantly updated, and will probably never end.  If we ever run out of groups or institutions, we’ll just start putting names of people we know on it.  We’re horrible people.

So when I called Kris I kind of pitched the idea of either jamming on whatever, or if you think you could get with this idea I’ve got, I’ll show it to you, but there’s some really specific ideas and imagery and sound I’m going for and I’m not willing to share it if it’s not the right scenario… He trusted my vision and had a lot of input on it, and was willing to be an anchor.  It very quickly went from the ‘Dose’s last show, to “Hey, Lincoln’s our drummer, and we have a space,” to “We have a show in two weeks.”  I think we’ve just all known each other for long enough to have a real trust in each other’s ideas, and really figure them out before judging, and not to be territorial about it.  I think grind and punk writing helps with that. If you didn’t get your way in this song, it’s only 45 seconds; you can get your way on the next one. I’ve heard musicians talk about a cool dynamic that can happen playing in a three piece. It keeps things simple, that it’s easier to share the songwriting but still have each member contribute a strong presence individually, and I definitely feel like that notion is true for us.  Even truer since we’re all long-time friends and in a similar headspace, we speak our own language.  I think a lot of people are after that in a band, and feel it from time to time, but I feel like this level of communication is rare.  It’s precious to me.  I love these boys!  They facilitate me getting the music I’m after out of my head and into reality, that shit is magic(k). I have a level of input and influence that every vocalist wishes they had, almost none deserve, and even fewer get.  I wouldn’t trade it for anything, and I hope I’m doing a decent job at it.

So far I feel like it’s going alright.  We reap what I feel has been a massive artistic satisfaction and a surprising amount of support for very minimal effort.  If you were constantly rewarded for being lazy and having a bad attitude, would you stop?  If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!  We’re laughing all the way to the bank.  We’ll probably be laughed right back out of the bank promptly upon our arrival, because there’s no money in any of this shit.  It’s the Journey…  don’t stop believin.’

VATICAN- VOL III- ALBUM COVER

As of this writing, you have three killer releases under your belt, appropriately named TVI, TVII and TVIII. Tell me about how they came together and what you think’s changed about your sound since the beginning.

Haha.  Uh… Not much. All the material from I & II are from the same time, so was nearly half the shit from III.  It’s real easy to write twenty songs in no time when you’re a grind band.  It’s just as easy to string a dozen of them together with samples and weird shit and call it an album when you’re a noise band…

III just took WAY longer than it should have.  Without getting to into the drama around that record, it became a nightmare, and was ultimately saved, and we’re happy with it. But we learned a lot about what to do and not to do with recording in general and recording specifically with other people, and sticking to our fucking guns when we’re in doubt. People turn on us sometimes.  Not everyone is down, and sometimes they get real excited about us at first, and sometimes those people want to record your band… and then decide you suck and that they hate you, and hand you a bunch of work you have to fix that you basically already paid for, even though you didn’t want or need it, and that they want absolutely NOTHING to do with the record or your band. And that’s cool.  Haha, we were able to get what we needed out of it and we’ll gladly accept all the credit.  I and II were all done ourselves, and had we done more or all of III ourselves, I think we’d be just as satisfied, if not more.  There’s a really even distribution of non-musical work in addition to making our noise,  I do the visual art, Lincoln does the recording, and Kris does all the booking, and it works really fucking good that way. Keeps outsiders on the outside.

As far as sound goes, I think the heat is just turned up, we’re a little better at what we do. The fast is faster, the slow is slower, the tripped out stuff is trippier.  We’ve shared a lot of music with each other and gotten into bands (or gotten into them all over again) together.  The slower trippy stuff that has expanded slightly is from a lot of Melvins and Old Man Gloom worship, followed closely on its heels by a ton of Neurosis.  There’s a band called Gnaw Their Tongues that Lincoln has been into for a while when it comes to the noise side as well.  The faster, spazzy stuff that we started writing right after starting to record III probably has a much more recognizable Botch influence.  I think our Botch worship reached a new level with our song F.F.B., which I named after Kris’s side project with Scotty from Numb, called Fucked From Birth.  All of that’s been a lot of fun, even if it doesn’t feel like a major development in our sound.

The content is a little broader maybe… a little less of the conspira-noia and the “Hey look at this, it’s fucked up,” and a little more of the introspection, the ‘how did we get here in this fucked up world,’ ‘how do we enslave ourselves,’ type questions.  The main theme with present stuff being how dogma, superstitious or religious thinking, has become ubiquitous, so many people don’t see it.  But they feel it, every time the status quo is enforced in the world around them.  Dennis Reynolds, in an episode of Always Sunny, mentioned something called his “God Hole,” this empty space that most people try to fill with religion, but he doesn’t believe in God so he’s trying to fill it with pussy… anyway, a silly joke, but it’s close to a concept I think about a lot.  People, for whatever reason, have a hole, a feeling of lack, and historically making it a God Hole worked real well to keep the social order together. These days we’d at least like to think we’re more sophisticated and evolved than that, but people exercise that same feeling of filling the God Hole by other forms of religious thinking.  If they don’t feel it in church, they’ll feel it when they pay their taxes, when they cast a vote for the party, when they root for the home team, when they listen to classic rock, or pretend to understand scientific material that they really don’t understand, when they join the military, or get a job as a cop; basically any time the status quo or group-think is invoked.  To me it’s everywhere… it’s been fun to write about.

There are some clear conceptual veins running through all three albums – religious control, downfall of humanity, corruption of power… Can you tell me in-depth what messages you try to project?

Oh fuck, well I guess I already answered that a couple times over!  Maybe the one thing I could add would be that as a young man, at least for a brief time, I was a “conspiracy guy,” hopefully not to a degree that annoyed anyone too much, but I spent a lot of time entertaining some ideas that were interesting at best and really fucking silly at worst. I never took anything too seriously, it’s a weird world out there.  As I’ve grown up I’ve become a little more open-minded and close-minded at the same time, I don’t know any other way to describe it…

I just try to exercise that old adage that the mark of an intelligent man is to be able to consider and entertain any idea, but to do so without necessarily accepting it as the truth or adopting it as part of your system of belief.  That’s a bad paraphrase and I don’t recall if it’s Plato, or Aristotle, or Socrates, but I think to strive for that ideal is a good way to approach any information.  I think “endless possibilities” and speculative musings are fun, but you have to be able to trust your five senses and have some sense of reality.  Be rational instead of throwing your hands up and staring at your navel, cross-legged on a pillow telling yourself life is a just a dream, or thinking that you can’t know everything and under the world is a giant turtle on top of a smaller turtle and it’s just turtles all the way down.

I’ve become less the conspiracy buff, and more interested in general movements of history and the psychology that puts us at each others’ throats and at the end of each others’ whips, chains, swords, and the barrels of each others’ guns; how we got to be in such a fucked up world, and how some people benefit from that.  I don’t think any one group or cabal controls everything, because how could it?

I’m less interested in the “New World Order” and more interested in the Old World dominion and the changing shape of Empire, and of the very concept of rulers and the master-slave dynamic. If there is some Grand Conspiracy, that’s the swamp it’s buried in.  If there’s a common strategy that benefits every person who’s ever sought to rule over others, it’s the science of how to break the will of a man.  It’s an old technology, but it’s reliable, and it’s updated constantly and endlessly.  It’s a line of thought that’s gone back a long time, and I don’t think it requires super geniuses and cutting-edge technology to pull off if you’re ruthless enough, and have good strategies and more resources than your opponent.  If you were emperor, and your biggest goal in life was to be the tallest person in the world, and you were already pretty tall, and self-preservation was your highest moral value, and time/money/personnel were all at your disposal, you wouldn’t get shin implants.  You would round up all the peasants and have every one of them cut off at the ankles.  You’d pay to have them do it to each other… maybe afterward you’d challenge them all to a foot race so you can be the fastest, too.

There’s a somewhat famous teacher and author by the name of John Taylor Gatto, who quit his job as a teacher after winning some prestigious awards for his work and then spent his retirement speaking out and writing some pretty scathing books about the origins of compulsory Public Schooling.  He once said, “Genius is as common as dirt,” and sometimes I can’t stop thinking about that statement.  That’s a hard fucking pill to swallow for most of us, since we don’t run into geniuses every day and we spend so much time at work and at home feeling outsmarted by our phones and computers, staring at them asking, “Am I an idiot?” And so much of the rest of our time fighting traffic, maneuvering through the world cursing it for being full of… “Idiots!” But we all know the truth, if we stop to think about it:  unless your parents had some money and clout, or other resources to offer something better, the VAST majority of us all went through the same meat grinder, the same fifteen-thousand hours of education and indoctrination that is public school.  Sure, we learned to read and write, add and subtract, but that’s done pretty early on.  The bulk of what we do in school seems to be “learning” a whole bunch disjointed subjects that feel outdated, if not completely irrelevant, and almost none of which we retain.  Adulthood is filled with all these awkward moments of trying to re-learn the stuff that was useful.  What we were really being taught all those years is to do what we’re told.  It doesn’t matter what you know, just do the work.  It’s not about proficiency, it’s all busy work; it’s how to please a boss… and we should constantly compare ourselves to our peers and compete for tokens of recognition from the boss.  We’re taught the lesson of that old proverb about how the tallest nail is the one that gets hammered down first; I think we just added to it that the only worthy aspiration for any nail that wants to stand tall is to become a hammer.  But that’s the business, making nails, interchangeable units. We’re turned over at a young age to be mashed and molded into mechanical men, machine parts for a factory society. Just smart enough to follow directions and complete tasks, and just dumb enough to not ask questions or challenge our betters.  When would we ever get the fucking chance to discover anything unique about ourselves, to pursue it to the point of greatness, or to every realize genius in ourselves or anyone else?  Summer vacation, duh.  When it’s over wash that genius dirt off, then it’s back to work, kid!

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The work of Gatto and others shows quite clearly that this program has an origin in what’s called the Prussian education system, which I will try to sum up in an oversimplified manner instead of going on a boring tangent about. Basically, Germany wasn’t always a country.  What is likely the single biggest force that unified them into a nation and made them an amazing industrial power, right before marching them right off into the sunset of the Third Reich, was their system of compulsory education developed after Napoleon’s armies devastated the kingdoms of Prussia, who up until that point were considered to be the military badasses of the world.  The generals and other leaders were pissed and did a lot of writing to each other and basically decided that the problem was that soldiers cared too much about their own lives, hindering their ability to follow orders from time to time, and a system needed to be put in place to correct that.

A very scientific design was begun for the proper education system for a militaristic society, one that would turn out a loyal citizenry of soldiers and factory workers.  The design was impressive; it caught on, and was adopted here at home and in much of the rest of the world too…  I just think it’s got a slightly softer hand and is a little slicker with its programming, that’s all.  It’s not that public school is evil and designed by Nazis, but the system generally, and a lot of the weird quirks and things that teachers, parents, and most people that went through it see as ‘flaws’ are actually by design and inherited from a time where the idea of engineering society in a way that makes people as mechanical and loyal as possible was a REALLY popular idea among people of wealth and power.

We act like public school is something magical, a vessel fashioned by the Gods on Mount Olympus to rain down “Education” on the mortals so we’ll stop eating each other.  It’s a sacred cow, a long-held pillar of society that keeps us from slipping back into the Dark Ages. That’s what we tell ourselves, but we all know the reason our parents sent us: because they didn’t have money, clout, other resources, or better ideas.  Most of them simply couldn’t afford to turn down the free babysitter.  I’m sure some who maybe didn’t need the babysitter just felt they weren’t capable of educating their kids themselves, which is interesting to me, that so many people can spend 15,000 hours learning things and somehow still not have the rhetorical skill of imparting any of it to another person.

People act like there’s no possible better solution for educating each other, and that we’d all be savages if it weren’t for school, which they use as a synonym for education when it clearly isn’t.  But seriously, how many spelling bees did Tesla win?  What high school did Ben Franklin go to?  What was Newton’s score on the SAT?  Oh, but those are “Great Men” of history, they’re super rare; you and I can’t be one.  Besides, how could we possibly develop a work ethic if we don’t jump through all the same hoops our parents did?  Debt and depression notwithstanding, they turned out just fine!  You have a God-given right, you’re entitled to be every bit as dumb as your parents and their parents before them, maybe even dumber!

That’s the real one, the conspiracy to make you feel like less than your potential, to feel a constant lack; to seek answers, fathers, leaders, saviors, and snake-oil salesmen.  To breed a culture completely numb and apathetic, that LOVES its servitude but hates and fears its fellows, that’s always ready to sacrifice a little more for the greater good, a better tomorrow, a place in heaven, or a world safe for democracy.  Worship authority.  The truth is whatever the strongest man says it is.  Serve proudly.  Cast stones at the non-believers.  Feed your children to the God!

I see an elaborate and sophisticated pageantry based on the age-old competition for resources that we seem to have inherited by way of evolving from pack animals.  Ain’t nothin’ changed, except maybe my perspective over the years.  We give away power over our own lives, and worse, we encourage the taking away of others’ power in their lives.  We’re supposed to vote about what complete strangers can and can’t do with their own bodies, and to be proud of whatever side of that issue we fall on, as if it’s our fucking business in the first place.  We live in neighborhoods full of people whose names we don’t know and we’re too afraid to speak to, but if they’re making too much noise too late at night, or their dog runs in your yard and nips at your ankles, you’re supposed to call ‘the cops’:  a completely different group of total strangers with loud cars and flashing lights, who carry guns and shiny badges, wear costumes, and speak official sounding language to solve the problem for us.  We fear to contest a portion of all our money stolen to fund extortion at home and murder abroad, and tell ourselves it’s totally OK, because “that’s how schools and hospitals and roads are built!”  Frankly, I thought roads and buildings were built by construction workers, but I’m not a doctor… But seriously, what the fuck are we doing?!  Why do we live this way and why do we think it’s OK to live this way?

We call on all sorts of arbitrary authorities the same way we used to cry out and pray to the old man in the sky.  We call on them to solve “problems” that probably wouldn’t be problems if we were more cooperative and maybe a little more empathetic, if we more resourceful, more assertive, more patient, and more reasonable.  We may not be the smartest people in history, but in my opinion there’s never been a more level playing field for the common man to learn things, to communicate, and to collaborate on anything.   ALL the great things that are achieved in any society have always been grass-roots in nature, they come about from real people working together to meet common needs, not from edicts on high.

Now, I realize there are a LOT of other countries in the world misled by nutjobs that are every bit as corrupt, if not more, than the misleaders we have at home. But as it stands, contrary to what I hear any time “the news” is on, I personally feel that the threat to my life and the lives of anyone I know are slim to nil, and I think a lot of those evil empires would be a lot less of a threat to anyone if our government would STOP FUNDING THEM.  At the end of the day, it’s the same superstition, group-think and irrationality going on in those places too; one man’s Muhammad is another man’s Jesus.  It’s all trash… But like I said, I’m no doctor, or senator, hell, I didn’t even graduate high school.

If you had asked me 5 or 10 years ago if I was an Anarchist, I’d have probably giggled and said no, but these days, looking around and seeing what I see, the way I see it… if I’m honest with myself, how could I not be?  At least philosophically?  Shouldn’t all interactions between people be voluntary?  Shouldn’t everyone be able to be in charge of their own body and their own choices, and be able to live their life however they see fit as long as they’re not taking those things away from anyone else, or harming anyone?   Couldn’t that be something to strive for as kind of a universal moral principal?   Sure beats the old man in the sky and blood sacrifice, and the sin and damnation racket!

As impossible as that kind of a world might sound, I think the less superstition in the world, the more that world could be possible.  I don’t think I’ll ever see it in my lifetime, but I’m excited to be alive at a time where I can discuss it without having my neck promptly on the chopping block, and anything I can do to keep that conversation rolling or to inspire any kind of proactive, positive action that improves real lives is a little victory as far as I’m concerned.  At the end of the day, it’s just a band, but this shit is a huge part of what drives me as an artist.

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You’re playing under the name S*L*A*V*E*S at an upcoming gig. Why the alter ego? Have you used different names before?

We’ve been working out a lot so we can really fill out these sweet Tapout shirts we picked up for our new Bro-Down band, it’s called Fistfight At A Funeral.  It’s gonna be sick, Bruh! We don’t have any songs yet, but that’s not really our focus…

Anyway, SLAVES is just more of us polarizing, and fucking with you.  It’s still us, but it’s us painting with a different brush and pallet. If The Vatican was grindcore on acid and coke, SLAVES is hardcore on opiates, shrooms, and booze.

Presently, it’s still in its writing stages, with one song done, called House Of Bread, and two or three still getting worked out, but we thought it would be fun to start playing with it a bit now… so for the time being it’s a showcase set of all the slower, longer, doomy shit The Vatican has done over the three albums, with jammed out endings and a bunch of noise and samples in between. Along with one or two brand new, exclusively SLAVES tunes.  As we have more written as SLAVES, we’ll rely less on T.V. songs for those sets.  As of right now, if you wanted to hear all our longest and slowest tunes that we never play more than two of in any set, if you want to hear Bowl of Wrath, Toil, Indulgences, and Cortile De Pigna and the like all in the same set, now is the time, haha.

It’s just our “other side.” It is a release valve that allows The Vatican to stay weird and grindy, but still have the freedom to do whatever we want in a broader sense. It makes it easier for booking and just more interesting for everyone in general, we can be either, or both, and pull the rug out any time.  Either way, we win. It’s the Old Hegelian Dialectic routine.  This is why we meet semi-regularly to conspire! I’ve had to slowly convince the others, but they’re on board with it now… and somehow it’s working, because people are asking me about it left and right and we’ve only done it once.  It’s super fun.

What are your thoughts on the current metal scene in Seattle and the Pacific Northwest?  Namedrop some favorite locals.

Great Falls is the shit!  They are hands down my favorite local right now, and I think the other two guys would agree on that.  In fact, even if they don’t, they do now, it’s in print! There’s this frantic and awkward quality to their music that is lacking in a lot of heavy music in my opinion, it’s hard to describe… but I hear it in their tone and in their songwriting.  I hear it in Demian’s scream, and see it in the way that Shane is a danger to anyone in the crowd not paying attention.  It’s too easy for people to be apathetic, pathetic, and boring at shows, and those dudes make it impossible.

There are so many other great bands that we’ve played with and that support us and I know it’s inevitable that I’m going to forget someone, and anyone who belongs on this list knows who they are, they’re all the cute boys and rad ladies that we all hang out with and give huge hugs to at all our shows, we love you! But here goes:

Theories, The Drip, Skarp, A God Or An Other, Exogorth, Czar and all their little side bands, Dispara, Bell Witch, Numb, Mercy Ties.  We totally miss Negative Hole!!! It’s been WAY too long since we played with 7 Year Old Blind Girl, WILT are awesome.  We miss Jorge, both he and Barefoot Barnacle are irreplaceable to the local music community.  Too many folks, I know I’m forgetting people.

As far as the “scene” as a whole goes, we have felt a lot of support from the DIY and punk community as well as some really good bars, and we think it’s great.  I know a lot of them get shut down, but there are more being put together all the time and even the ones that have passed are worth mentioning.  We’ve been shown a lot of love from the Kraken, the Josephine, the Morgue, the Doppelganger, the Victory, the Black Lodge, the FBK and many others inside and just outside of Seattle.  I think there’s SO much going on, and so many different communities interacting with each other, that it’s hard to take the word ‘scene’ seriously when being so broad, but we are really lucky to have so much shit.  You can find a good band playing on any given night if you’re paying attention. That should not be taken for granted, it’s really fucking special.  Every good touring band mentions it, and there are millions of places across the country that are nothing like this, places where kids are dying for good art and music while we sip from an overflowing cup.  There’s nothing like playing a house show, in a basement packed full of people just going nuts, oftentimes people I’ve never met.  Strangers digging your stuff that much is always a rush, it feels like you’re doing the right thing with you art.

I think shows at clubs and bars are always toned down a bit in comparison and I think it frustrates a lot of people that play aggressive music.  You hear a lot of rants about people with folded arms, or people standing still, people not wanting to be bumped into… and while I can agree that that last one is pretty damn silly for anyone going to that kind of a show, I think it’s ridiculous to complain about.  I personally think most of the bands complaining about it aren’t plugged into that kind of scene, and thus rarely get the kind of powerful, visceral reaction that you see in that kind of space.  Some people are afraid to get into that scene because “the cops might show up!” or someone might be using “hard drugs” or “my gear might get damaged.”  All of which probably happen far less often than you’d think. To me, those are things that seem like they should be accepted risks of playing harsh music… you should probably face harsh reality.  If you don’t want to get your hands dirty, don’t be a gardener, if you don’t want to cut bait, don’t be a fisherman, if you work in the kitchen, it’s going to get hot, make up your fucking mind what you’re doing.  Some people want to get their bands into that scene and can’t seem to break into it, and I hate to break it to ya, but it’s probably because they don’t know you OR your music doesn’t appeal to them, or both.  Getting mad about it is a waste of your time.

I don’t recall if it was part of an interview or just a random Facebook post, but Joe from Skarp/Theories wrote something recently about that sentiment that hit home.  It boiled down to the fact that people are different and people rock out in different ways, and it’s pointless to complain about it. Not everyone wants to mosh all night; some people rock out with their arms crossed, and maybe it’s worth considering that YOUR MUSIC makes people want to cross their arms.  Maybe that foot tapping, head bobbing, arms folded dude is listening and watching your band intently and loving it, but that’s the way your crowd rocks out to your music… Maybe you should be ok with that… Maybe you should also consider the possibility that your band sucks and isn’t worth rocking out to.  I totally agree with that; it’s been one of my main ethics when it comes to music and has been more and more as time goes on.  You are responsible for your place in “the scene” and the reaction you get, just like you are responsible for the content and quality of your sound.  If your sound doesn’t illicit the kind of response you’re looking for, that’s on you, don’t blame the audience.   You can’t control other people and shouldn’t try to, so you can either adjust your expectations, or your art, or both.

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I see bands trying to provoke a reaction when they can’t evoke one, making demands for attention instead of commanding attention.  Toddlers make demands, grow up!  Can’t you let people do what they want?  Can’t you just do well the one thing you came to do, and kick ass and rock out to your own shit without telling people what to do?  Nothing strikes me more as desperate, or turns me right off during a band’s set than being told what to do, whether it’s to “come up front, guys,” to “get in the pit,” “stop standing there,” show you some “movement”, or some “blood”, or to break my fuckin’ neck. I think it’s pretty pathetic, and I don’t like taking directions… but that’s just me, and I suppose there’s some metal bros out there that appreciate “a good front man” who can “pump the crowd up” but I think it’s tacky.  That shit is old and tired!  Accept the fact that you aren’t Phil Anselmo, and you never will be.  Admit that you aren’t Henry Rollins or GG Allin, and that you don’t want to be, none of us fucking do.  Be happy that your fans don’t appreciate your sound by trying to break your fucking face, tough guy.  Put your ego back in your pants… or maybe just lose the pants, play naked, make a spectacle!  I don’t know, just BE THE SHOW you want to see in the world.

Seriously, book shows worth playing, write songs worth hearing, and perform them in a way that’s worth watching.  That’s the best you can do, and it’s the best reaction you’re going to get.  It’s the one you deserve.  Accept it, deal with it, learn from it and get on with your life.  Use the experience as fuel for better art.  The “scene” is exactly what it’s supposed to be.  And I think it’s great.  You can call it a meditation, or a ritual, hell you can call it a bunch of bullshit, but I always take the approach that the audience might as well not exist.  They aren’t fucking real.  Their reaction and your performance of your songs are the same act; they are a mirror and nothing more.  The audience only gives you back what you’ve given them.  But like I said, that’s just my opinion, I’m wrong about stuff all the time.

 

This interview originally published in Issue 3 of THE SENTINEL, your print-only source for extreme music from the Cascadian underground. Get a free copy at Northwest record stores or order online at sentinelzine.bigcartel.com.

Photos courtesy of The Vatican and Northwrest Photography

 

 

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The Author

Sam H.S.

Sam H.S.

Sam resides in Seattle, Washington. He is the founder and editor of the Pacific Northwest metal zine The Sentinel.