Underneath The Toxic Jungle: An Interview With Power Violence Legends GASP
When it comes to the original West Coast Power Violence scene, one band has always managed to stay as a truly outsider group – that band is GASP (if you didn’t guess already from the title). They’ve been a favorite of mine since I first heard their classic Drome Triler Of Puzzle Zoo People LP years ago, and have appeared quite a bit in my writing as a reference point for other freak bands. They’re the band I always wanted to get recognition for being one of the best of their time, but seemed to be ignored by most people who claimed they were “so into powerviolence, dude.” So imagine my surprise when I heard they’re playing MDF and a gig in the Bay Area/Oakland with BASTARD NOISE, CROM, CAPITALIST CASUALTIES, and others; and then when I discovered they truly are back with new material and everything. For the truly fucked up, GASP is everything. And so I contacted them to help spread their deranged minds and infect impressionable readers with the true power violence fever.
There are so many things I’d love to know, but it probably makes the most sense to start at the beginning (right?) – what’s the story behind GASP’s formation; what was the moment you all decided to get together, and what ignited that flame that drove you to create the frightening, psychedelic, and (power) violent sounds that have made you legends in your own rights?
MIKE/GASP: GASP started as kind of a Fear of God (Swiss) tribute band. That band really fucked our heads up at the time. I wasn’t even part of the very first line up of GASP. It was a group of friends that I knew and I would just show up into the living room where they would jam at and hang out, drink beer, smoke weed, haha. At some point, those guys decided to ask me to join the fray and also help them write some original material, to go along with the FoG covers. This was as far back as 1992. I jumped around with different bands over the next couple of years. In 1994, I ran into Mitch Brown, a local drummer, asked him if he wanted to jam out some death/grind/doom/sludge/hardcore punk/psych type stuff. Even then, we were influenced by EVERYTHING. It was just mostly the “heavier” end of the music spectrum at that point. As we moved forward and started to take GASP on a more serious level, we kept getting more and more spacey and out there. Throw drugs and booze into the mix and we started really branching out to different places musically. It wasn’t unheard of for Mitch and I to get loaded and listen to all kinds of madness. We did have help with getting our minds to push us to the far reaches of our psyche to create the noise that we did/are doing now, but I think from the outset, we decided to be different than most. We might not be “the best” band out there, but we definitely have our own sound and style (IF that word applies! haha). We had a few people come and go as far as bass players, even singers trying out. Cynthia was a local friend from the death metal scene that was coming on board to sing, possibly play some guitar. But we asked her to play bass, so we could start playing shows and get recording as a 3 piece. This was the first 100% set line up that began what we like to call the “Sore for Days” era. Shortly before we were to go into the studio to record the “Sore for Days” demo, Reggie came over to interview us for his fanzine that he was doing at the time with Maus/Dystopia. We hit it off and found out that he had a guitar and an amp. We asked him to join the band and crammed the demo songs into his head and the rest is history.
You’ve covered a handful of artists on your releases (including criminally underrated art punkers STRETCHHEADS, and the always crucial noisecore masters FEAR OF GOD) each of which has clearly had an influence on you. What role did those artists, and others whose influences may or may not be quite as obvious, play in shaping your sound?
MIKE/GASP: FoG was obviously a HUGE influence on GASP, one of our biggest influences for sure. Stretchheads were simply mind blowing. We felt connected to them! Ever since we heard them on the legendary Pathological Compilation LP, we were hooked. We also loved and were influenced by everything around us (I’ll give you a wide range of bands/artists) like: Autopsy, Mob 47, Hawkwind, Venom, Brian Eno, Geto Boys, Crossed Out, Devo, Impaled Nazarene, Spacemen 3, Crass, Black Sabbath, Napalm Death, Mazzy Star, Dead Infection, Larm, Wu-Tang Clan, Skullflower, D.R.I., Nirvana, Codeine, Sodom, Circle Jerks, Sonny Rollins, Cripple Bastards, Eyehategod, Doom, 13th Floor Elevators, Amebix, Ice Cube, Negative Approach, Impetigo, Engine Kid, Misfits, Windy and Carl, Asocial, Grief, Sonic Youth, Terrorizer, Howard Shore, Swans, My Bloody Valentine, Extreme Noise Terror, Nurse With Wound, Minutemen, Slint, Agathocles, Mogwai, Bad Brains, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Sore Throat, Ornette Coleman, Voivod, Nihilist/Entombed, Joy Division, Flipper, Darkthrone, Electro Hippies, Blue Cheer, Can, Repulsion, Talk Talk, Ripcord, MC5, Immolation, Iron Maiden, Lush, Unwound, Johnny Cash, Husker Du, Immortal, Heresy and obviously a shit ton more!!!!! We are total music nerds and without this stuff, there would be no GASP. Even if we didn’t do that great of a job trying to mix all of this shit together, we most certainly had a ton of fun doing it and still do! hahaha.
Although it may be an ostensibly simple question, what did (does) your writing process look like – how do things come together for you as a band?
MIKE/GASP: We actually do the same exact thing that we have done since the beginning of this band, just now on a more structured and “professional”(what’s that?) level, haha. It is a mix of someone coming in with a song, riff, note/notes, music ideas and concepts and we go from there. Sometimes we play it as is, sometimes we change it up, sometimes we layer it with different arrangements from each instrument. We also have our infamous “jam sessions” where we just start playing some improvisational arrangements on the spot. Whatever comes out, comes out. Some of our most known material was made this way. We love doing it and it’s just fun as all hell. It’s much like the psych bands of the 60s/70s and the jazz legends of yore.
Was there usually much of a difference between your live performances and recording in studio? Obviously, there are organic inconsistencies in all performances, but I’ve often wondered what limitations were placed on you in those two different worlds.
MIKE/GASP: We had a few shows where everything fell into place, came together and the planets aligned where we had a good live set. But also some shows where we were a mess and everything seemed to go wrong, haha. To be honest, we were often bombed out of our minds one way or another. Drunk, stoned or both! Straight Edge kids, very sorry, we might not be your band! haha (but if you still dig us that’s AWESOME!) So that led to sloppy live performances, but we did try our best! We used to practice our asses off during the week or on weekends and for the most part, I think we were pretty good. The studio stuff was always more mellow and a bit easier, if not a little boring and tedious. We were mostly able to re-create the crazy sounds heard on our recordings. Not ALWAYS, but for the most part we were able to. Mitch was a sample/sound scape master and is even better now. I think we are more focused now, older and wiser. We aren’t taking things for granted like we did back then. I think that it’s SUPER important to be able to re-create the noise heard on recordings, into the live environment.
What was it like being one of the odd bands out in the whole west coast power violence scene; how were you received when you played? Obviously, there were other bizzarro bands such as (CHARRED REMAINS A.K.A.) MAN IS THE BASTARD/NOISE and SUFFERING LUNA who were creating similarly confusing music, but it seems as though the majority of the bands took a similar approach as was seen with NEANDERTHAL, LACK OF INTEREST, and PETER MANGALORE among others. And, was there a level of comradery with MITB/N and SL because of the total weirdness you all produced?
MIKE/GASP: It was all one big and happy dysfunctional family and still very much is in that sense. Most of us felt like we didn’t fit into the standard “scenes” at the time. Too punk for the metal scene and too metal for the punk scene. Too weird for the rock scene, not weird enough and too fast/heavy for the noise scene. So we helped to make our own fucking “scene”. Honestly, back then, it was great as far as how different the bands all were. Not all of the bands were “power violence” in the style category, but they were often very much family and a big part of what was going on out there. Bands like Excruciating Terror, Noothgrush, Dystopia. They also stood out. I was childhood friends with Messe/Suffering Luna and a few of us spent time jamming in Suffering Luna as well. Shit, we practiced in their rehearsal room for a bit back in 1994. We were definitely connected with them as brothers. I think we both pushed each other to crazier spaces and styles and were influential on each other. We also did a bit of mind altering substances with them dudes over the years. After listening to the Gasp/Suffering Luna split, is that a surprise? hahaha. Man is the Bastard were HUGE for us. Those guys, along with Dystopia early on in our time as a band, really took us under their wings and gave us so much love and support. Being that they are not only one of the godfathers of “power violence”, they were also very much into the bizzarro style that you speak of. They really pushed the boundaries of traditional hardcore music. We most definitely had a kinship and brotherhood with SL and MITB!!!!!! It has been said that GASP had the “courage” to be different with our music. I guess that is true in a way, but also not really that big of a deal. More of just going about things in a different way. I also feel that everyone has a different thought process. Some decided to take the more “traditional” path and follow the template set by the fastcore bands and hyperspeed hardcore bands. Those are just as awesome and crucial. The energy alone with those bands is unreal! It is just that we decided, much like SL and MITB, to take a different path. Shake things up and scramble brains. I think that a lot of people prefered the more straight forward, fast style of power violence. Yet many also had more of an open mind, compared to other “scenes.” So being an “odd ball” really didn’t mean as much as it would in other music styles. Both younger kids AND older people who were at the shows would thank us for doing something different than the usual method of playing hardcore/metal/punk.
I’ve heard all sorts of wild stories about the artists involved with your scene; are there any that you were a part of, or any that have stuck with you over the years that you’d be willing to share?
MIKE/GASP: There are WAAAAAAAAYYYYYY too many to mention. Real quick, off the top of my head: 1. Jamming GASP songs in a garage practice space behind a car wash, having random people waiting for their car to be cleaned come over to the garage to meet us and smoke weed, after hearing our noise coming out of the garage. 2. Having some local friends at a backyard show we were playing, take us to the store to get more beer, armed with guns, because we were in Watts and the local Crip gang was brutal to those who didn’t belong in the area. 3. Pulling all nighter benders with the Excruciating Terror boys. 4. Messe/Suffering Luna RUNNING OVER a bully asshole security guard with his car, who was roughing up a crusty kid in the parking lot of the show we were all at. 5. Trevor from Scalplock/Peter Mangalore/Lack of Interest singing in the nude and putting a lit cigarette out on his ball sack. 6. EVERY fucking Crom show having complete fucking madness going on (the best being Phil Crom harassing Drew Barrymore, who was in the crowd randomly for Crom’s set one night) 7. Various run ins with the cops and avoiding neighborhood gang bangers and stray bullets. 8. BARELY avoiding a massive accident pile up on the infamous Grapevine/5 Fwy because of the horrendous and thick fog on the way home from a Bakersfield, California show with Excruciating Terror, GASP and Lack of Interest. 9. The crazy ass Fiesta Grande/Slap a Ham Festivals that we played (they were both total insanity the whole weekend!) Also, so much madness taking place at the the legendary “shit hole” DIY venues that we had and loved so much like PCH Club, The Impala Café aka “Death Metal Coffee Shop”, The Sketa, The Van Nuys Warehouse. Just so many memories and stories. There isn’t enough room here! haha. We had a bunch of impromptu shows happen in some wild places, such as back yards (a big thing here in L.A.), living rooms, abandoned warehouses, art spaces and what not. This tradition continued with the next wave of bands and still happens today. It was rare that we actually played a real venue! Haha. But we wouldn’t have it any other way! There were so many awesome and different personalities in the scene back then. We really couldn’t have done it without all of them. Plus it wouldn’t have been as fun without all of those crazy fucks! Haha.
A recent session
Now that you’re back, what are your plans? You’ve already put out one new release, are there more in the works? And what about performing? There was the show last month, and you’ve got your appearance at Maryland Deathfest next year, but will there be more? And are there any newer bands who have popped up in the past few years that you’d love to play with if given the chance?
MIKE/GASP: We do indeed have some more stuff planned for new releases. The response for the “Ghost in Scow Out” CDR/Digital EP has been INSANE! We truly appreciate everyone being so stoked on it and it has been doing very well as far as getting out there. We will continue putting out new material every few months for a bit. We have to strike while the iron is hot so to speak and we are overflowing with creative energy at this time. We are in talks with some very cool friends that have labels and want to do some vinyl releases with us. Expect some 7 inch, 12 inch and split album action soon (more info to follow!) At some point, we hope to find a label that might want to do a full length, push us back out there a bit more. Anyone else that wants to work with us, get in contact. We can’t make any promises, but we would love to try and spread our noise out there as much as possible. Whatever label, big or small, as long as they are honest and believes in us, has passion for spread our noise, we are down to work with ya. Our Los Angeles “Home Coming/Welcome Back” show will be Saturday January 20th 2018 at Union in L.A. We have 2-3 other things that are in the talking stages at this time. Once we finalize the booking and what not, we will let everyone know. We would like to try and schedule some extra dates around our MDF 2018 appearance, so we shall also see about that. It would be amazing to finally make it out east to play for the maniacs over there. We are TALKING about possibly getting over to Europe at some point soon, as well as Japan, BOTH of those trips would be amazing! There has also been some interest about doing a couple of other festivals around the U.S., but nothing confirmed yet. We are also interested in doing some more shows out there, so get in contact if anyone has any plans/ideas they want to share/possibly hook up. As far as bands that have popped up the last few years, there have been a few that have really blown me the fuck away and these bands reminded me of the good ol days, that I would love to play a show with. Cloud Rat, Extortion, Daughters, Chest Pain, Spaceslug, Redacted, Infernal Coil, Full of Hell, Noisem, Trappist, Wake, The Dark, Fractured, Sex Prisoner, Deadbeat and crazy awesome shit like that, as well as some different, weird noise stuff and mellow type/spacey stuff like There is Nothing Wrong With Your Television Set, Belong, Deerhoof, Amps for Christ, Grouper, Dalek, Eight Bells, Destroy Judas, Umbra Vita.
Below are some links you can check out if you want to support these maniacs:
The new Ghost in Scow Out EP:
Sore for Days 1996 demo tape re-release:
Official GASP store: