DEATHWISH “Intelligent Animals” 

By Dr. Abner Mality

Deathwish is a Wisconsin band that has thrashed out some of the most violent music to ever come from the Dairy State.  Despite the intensity of their music, they identify themselves simply as a “rock n roll” band.  So says their volatile and vocal bass player Bitty.

Bitty is one of the most interesting characters I’ve talked to in a while. He’s as punk as punk can be and has been living the life since the age of 15…a life that’s included some pretty hair-raising incidents, as you will soon find out. I was also very surprised that he also goes by the name of Eric Hammers, which he uses as a pro wrestler on the independent scene.  I actually talked to him for a good long time about wrestling, but we are concerned with his band Deathwish here.

If you’re looking for ripping metallic hardcore in the vein of Cro-Mags, Crumbsuckers and Merauder,  look no further than Deathwish. Their new album “Unleash Hell” is brimming with the fury of thrash and the attitude of hardcore punk. Bitty is a dude with a lot to say, so find out where all the piss and vinegar comes from and read on…

WC: Deathwish is still going to be a new name to our readers. What’s the band background? Is this your first outfit or are you pretty experienced musicians?

BITTY: We all come from different places. Me and Guinea Pig Champion the rhythm guitar player are from the band Wartorn. We’re on Southern Lord Records and are a kind of epic crust punk unit like Wolfbrigade, maybe a little more metal. The guitar player Jimmy comes from In Defence and False, which is like a black metal band and In Defence is a killer thrash metal band that’s been around forever. So we’ve all got previous experience. S.W. McCloud our drummer has been in different bands that tour, I can’t remember the names, but he’s toured before.  We’ve been out with a lot of bands so now we’ve done a shitload of touring.

WC: It’s not anybody’s first rodeo, then.

B: Right He was more of a local guy who was in a couple of different bands I saw that were amazing, like Good News Everyone. We watched him drum and went, that dude is fuckin’ amazing. We eventually hooked up with him.

WC: It feels now like you’ve assembled the unit at last.

B: Yeah. I think we went through 4 guitar players before we found the correct person, Jimmy.

WC: You’re from Northern Wisconsin, right?

B: More like Eastern Wisconsin.

WC: What are some of the advantages and disadvantages in being a band from that area?

B: Well, the disadvantage is you don’t have a giant scene like if you were from LA or from Portland or some hub like Boston, New York, you name it. They all have universal gigantic scenes. Some of us are from the Appleton, Wisconsin scene. I live up in Green Bay, Wisconsin, one lives in Minneapolis and one lives in Neenah. We usually say we’re from Appleton, that’s where we play out of. So those are the disadvantages. You don’t have a built-in scene, you don’t have a built-in audience. If you’re gonna play, you’re gonna drive anywhere from 3 to 5 hours to reach a big scene. You’re on your own in a way. There is a really strong local scene here that totally kicks ass but it’s nothing compared to those big city scenes.

That’s the disadvantage. You really have to prove yourself. If you’re from Nowheresville , promoters and record companies don’t give a fuck.

WC: It sounds like you have turned the disadvantage into an advantage then.

B: Well, we do our best. My name is Bitty because I’m also pretty small. That’s the kind of life I’m expected to live. You’re never expected to pull anything off being from here. I was born with something like Tourette’s Syndrome, it’s just not as extreme. I’ve always come from the underdog perspective where I’ve always been expected to lose. It doesn’t bother me. It just gives you even more drive, makes you more hungry. It makes you push harder. I’m not going to let anybody hold my goals back or make me think I’m incapable. (laughs) My shortcomings are my shortcomings but you gotta do what you gotta do when you wanna rock n roll.

WC: I’ve heard Deathwish’s music described in several ways. I’ve heard it called thrash metal, hardcore, punk or even just hard rock n roll. Do you bother to put a label on it? How would you describe it?

B: I just say we’re rock and roll. But the listener can decide. We’re not one of those bands that you need to be telling people what it is, I guess.  They’ll figure it out. And I’ve seen reviews that describe it in totally different ways. A metal magazine reviews us and says we sound like The Dwarves! Oh? What record would that be? I have no idea, but if that’s what they’re hearing, who am I to tell them that we don’t sound like The Dwarves?  Then the next review says we’re like the MC5 if they were on crack! (chuckles) And downtuned to heavy. OK, now we’re the MC5 on crack and downtuned to heavy. And the next review says it’s great thrash metal like Motorhead meets Discharge. I hear more of the Motorhead influence than the Discharge myself. I mean, if they’re going to put us in a category, I would say Zeke is fair but I also would say Disfear is fair. But is Zeke like Disfear? Not really. Motorhead is fair enough, Inepsy is fair enough, Midnight is fair enough. Those bands are fair enough to compare us to.

WC: I don’t know if you’ll think this is crazy or not, but I thought you had a strong resemblance to the Cro-Mags.

B: Oh, I am seriously so stoked to hear that! I’ve heard that from other people. There’s a big promoter up here named Time Bomb Tom who’s doing like a 50th birthday part with all sorts of bands like the New Bomb Turks, the Humpers…all these big rock n roll bands. Boris the Sprinkler is reuniting for that show. We’re playing with all these rock n roll type bands. When he saw us play, he said dude, you’re the Motor-mags! (laughs)  I was like, what?! He said you’re like Motorhead with Cro-mags tossed in. Like “The Age of Quarrel” meets “The Ace of Spades”. That’s a pretty good compliment, I like that!

WC: In my review, I thought “Unleash Hell” was the inheritor of the “Best Wishes” album from the Cro-Mags.

B: Oh yeah, OK!  That’s a little more heavy metal than we are, but fair enough. Maybe like their song “Death Camps” or something? For me, I prefer John Joseph’s version of the Cro-Mags over Harley’s so I’m biased.

WC: You talk about some pretty heavy subjects. Do you see yourself as a political band or a social comment band?

B: No, not at all.  Oddly enough, I try to get away from that but at the same time, I still think about what I think about. I’m not gonna hold that back so it’s just going to come out. You get all the dynamics of me so I’m not held back lyrically or content-wise.

WC: With the times we live in being so crazy, what would you say is the biggest issue facing us today?

B: I guess the issue that I think is important is the ability to control technology is ahead of the curve of technology itself.  Humans are instinctually competitive.  Some people have this “happy happy, joy joy” mindset of “we’re gonna make this world great and kumbayah”. It’s not gonna happen because you’re not going to wire competitiveness out of humans. That’s been there since we were cave people. That’s just built into us. And although we are intelligent, we are intelligent animals. Nature is savage, it really is.

So now you got this highly intelligent animal that’s got this competitive instinct built into it but it has high technology. On even a simple level, you can go on the internet and just see how fuckin’ mean people can be to each other. They can hide behind a screen and have anonymity and the next thing you know, they’re just firing off all this shit. You know if they are face to face with the person they’re talking about, they’d have to ask themselves “can I get away with saying this”?

WC: I agree. I think we are the last generation that will experience “true nature”. After this, nature is basically going to be a managed park ecosystem. The technology is ahead of our morality.

B: It’s fucking insane. If things are on a small scale, with cavemen whipping spears at each other it’s OK but once you’re to the point of hydrogen bombs that can be dropped on spots the size of a fucking nickel…what?! That power is at the end of people’s fingertips. If people get too pissed off, well, then it’s all gone. I would say, though…and it may sound crazy…but nuclear deterrence has worked. The day it stops working, we’re all in trouble.

WC: You’ll know when it stops, that’s for sure! (laughter) It may take a hundred years, two hundred, three hundred but something is eventually going to happen with it.

B: Yeah, something is going to give. Also, this is a little different opinion of mine. Remember those videos where they made the kids sit under these stupid wooden desks if there’s atom bombs? If this shit goes off, we’re all gonna be fuckin’ dead. Who wants to sit in a bunker or a bomb shelter for two years, eating shitty food while everybody else is evaporated? Honestly, if the shit’s gonna go down, put me at Ground Zero, just evaporate me so I don’t have to deal with it!

WC: The dead will be the lucky ones. I don’t know if you’re familiar with it, but the BBC did a show about nuclear war and its aftermath called “Threads”.  I’ve watched tons of movies, some of them very gory and depressing, but that movie was the scariest thing that I’ve seen. There was an American movie like it called “The Day After”  but it was a walk in the park next to “Threads”.  Once you see the real aftermath of nuclear warfare like that, you wonder how anybody sane can even consider the concept.

B: Here’s a weird fact about “The Day After”. What people don’t know is when it aired in America, Russia actually had phantom blips on their radar indicated we had launched on them. The guy over there was literally about to make the call and turn the two keys to launch ICBMs on us. The people had no idea…and this is an actual event, not a conspiracy theory. I’m not a conspiracy person. But this is documented, it almost happened. And literally because some guy in Russia just went “I’ll bet you this is not correct”. Then the blips disappeared and he thought, oh, these were just phantom blips. He realized it was a glitch in the system. Man! It almost fuckin’ happened.

WC: There’s one song on your new album that really struck me with it’s title…”When God has No Mercy”. What’s the meaning behind that?

B: There’s a clinic where they perform abortions about a block and a half from where I live. They are always having protests there and shit going on. I drive over there, I drive my van into the parking lot and all these people run up to my van. I roll down my window and ask what’s going on? Oh, it’s a big protest, don’t kill the babies, blah blah blah. I go, oh, right on and then I said you know, if God is real and God wanted every fetus to be born, there would be no such thing as a miscarriage. So not only is God the biggest abortion doctor that ever existed, but God has no mercy.(laughs) And it just came out of my mouth and you could tell it took a few moments for it to register with these protesters. Then they flipped out and tried to flip my van over! (laughs) They started punching my windows and I’m trying to get them rolled up electronically. I drove off trying my best not to hurt anyone. Even if I completely disagree with these people, I’m not gonna hurt them. A Nazi, I’d punch that motherfucker right in the mouth. But these folks are just misguided. I drove and drove and drove and finally got around the corner with them banging on my van and trying to flip it. They really cared about life. Until that life got older and disagreed with them. Then they’re out for blood, no pun intended.

WC: They are basically an American Taliban.

B: They are an oxymoron just based on logic.

WC: Logic doesn’t have much to do with religion.

B: Yeah, yeah, it’s just devoid of logic. It always has been.  I can understand people using religion to justify their bigotry and intolerance of other opinions. They don’t like people that are different. Or whatever the fuck their shit is. Even if religion didn’t exist, that person would still probably harbor those ideas. They just wouldn’t have a way to justify it. Does that make sense? I think a lot of religion is really cherry-picked. I’ll be honest. I work with the public. There are a majority of good people in every religion I’ve ever come across. But the loudest ones that are always shitty to people, I don’t put them in the same category with the people that are nice and caring and use it to deal with their own mortality that they can’t cope with. Whatever they are using it for, as long as it keeps them sober and decent, more power to them. If you’re turning it around and saying you’re fucked if you’re not like me, well, you’re close minded and just using it to control people.

WC: It seems people are kind of hard wired to divide and subdivide, not to unite.Look how the Christian religion is broken into so many sub-sects.

B: Yeah, I think that has to do with competition again. Hey, we need things to be this biased way to make us superior. Then the other people say no, it must be this biased way. (laughs) That’s when all the fractioning begins to happen. I’ve been a punk forever and a day, probably since the mid-80’s. That was when everybody was together at shows but shows were a thousand times more violent because you had people on extreme opposite sides. For example, I had a guy try to stab me. He was calling me names. He was basically a Nazi and I’m a Jewish Ukrainian. We don’t mix well together. (chuckles). I’ve been in fights, I’ve had bones broken in my face, I’ve been attacked a boot parties. I’ve gone face to face with the Klan. Once I even had a Klan cop pull out a .45, put it up to my face and ask me if I thought it was funny. He was drunk, he was off duty. I leaned forward into the barrel and said no. Then I made sure I got him fired from his second job. He put the gun away because he said he wasn’t going to be able to explain a body in this room.

WC: Can’t have any witnesses.

B: It was during his part time job as a security. Fuck this guy! 

WC: You’ve been through some tough stuff.

B: Yeah. Being a skins punk in the 80’s  makes you a little thicker skinned. I agree with the millennials on this. People rail on the millennials but what are they mad about? Racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia. They usually talk about those 4 topics. Well, who can’t get aboard on that? That’s the end of that topic. On the other hand, I go back to 1986 or 87 when I had a blue Mohawk and both my ears pierced, I got called homophobic slurs. One car would yell at me, a bunch of “normal” people. The next time it was two cars boxing me in and the next thing I know, I wake up in the fuckin’ hospital. This one dude was a Marine…no, he joined the Marines a year later. He was a popular jock and I was maybe in 10th grade. He literally punched the fuck out of me. I was laying in the road and the dude did a running double stomp to my chest. I was amazed he didn’t kill me. He was yelling all kinds of fucked up shit to me that would put any person’s ears on fire. The difference between then and now is that shit’s recorded now. Sometimes I tell folks, no, it was way more violent back then. Normal people were offended that your hairdo is weird. Then Nirvana broke and you could buy hair color at the mall. People would be, why the fuck does that asshole have blue hair?! Why does he have 2 earrings?  We had some assholes run us off the road because they were pissed at my hairdo! (laughs)  I’m also from a small town. That makes it a little bit different. There’s an endless supply of rednecks in a small Midwestern town. 

That’s why I have a different take when people say millennials are offended by everything. No, they’re offended by four things. Those are pretty solid arguments, those are fine. On the other hand,  the general public in 1985 was offended by fuckin’ EVERYTHING!

WC: I grew up in the middle of a cornfield myself. I was always a weirdo but I escaped by using a sense of humor  I made everything into a joke. I’m fortunate, I have pretty good memories of growing up in rural Northern Illinois in the late 70’s. It sounds like you been through the wars, though, so kudos to you.

B: Thanks. A lot of it has to do with the time period I came from. It was my experience. I don’t expect anybody else to understand it. Nothing wrong with that, it’s cool. I sometimes get miffed when people are so hard on the newest generation. Come on! (laughs) I offended a lot of baby boomers when I wore a Dead Kennedys shirt because you damn well know they were around when the Kennedys were still alive. People now just think, oh, what a great band. Back then, it was what the fuck are you wearing? I remember that. It’s just the time period. It was new back then, it was still new. I remember when they had TV shows where they would send us away to reprogramming camps if we were metal or punk. They thought we were worshipping Satan and doing crime.

WC: I recall that Geraldo Rivera special in 86 or 87 on that. I told the guy I was with that in the first 15 minutes, they’ll have Venom and King Diamond on the show. And sure enough, he had King Diamond and Ozzy Osbourne. Just mindless yellow journalism. Which is now much worse. Anybody can say anything and say they’re a journalist. A pundit. What the hell is a pundit? Do you go to a pundit school, get a degree in punditry? Let me switch gears now. I heard you guys were gonna have a tour with D.R.I. and also M.D.C.  Is that still planned or did it already take place or both?

B: It’s both. We have already toured with D.R.I., they were fuckin’ awesome, we did a Great Lakes tour with them.  We toured with Millions of Dead Cops multiple times. We toured with Raw Power from Italy, we toured with Hosac from Portland Oregon.  The thing about it is, D.R.I. liked us, M.D.C. liked us, Raw Power was happy with us.  So Spike from D.R.I hit me up again and we’re doing two tours this year with D.R.I.  They’re both in the fall. We’ll also be touring Europe this year by ourselves and then we’ll be  doing a West Coast tour by ourselves also. M.D.C. also talked about another tour with us, so we’ll wait until they’re ready and we’ll be touring again with us also.

WC: Sounds like things are really starting to click for you…

B  Yeah! I love touring with all those bands. Everything’s worked out great with those bands, we’ve never had a bad time.

WC: The response to “Unleash Hell” has been pretty positive so far.

B: Yeah, it’s been very positive. 

WC As of right now, it’s one of my top 5 of the year so far!

B: Thank you, that’s very gracious!

WC: I did a review of  your debut “Out For Blood” as well and that really surprised me. With “Unleash Hell”, I think it did exactly what a follow-up should do. It improved upon the previous album. It wasn’t treading water or stepping back. That’s not easy to do.

B: Well, we want it to be “all thriller, no filler”.  We want to be this band that gives you rock n roll. That’s our objective. And even though we deal with heavy subjects sometimes and we don’t hold back…most of it’s just shit I’m irate about…it’s also like “Rock and Roll Is One Hell of a Drug”. What am I doing? I’m fucking touring, I’m hitting the road. I’m addicted to this. I’ve been doing this shit since I’ve been 15 years old and I’m not gonna quit. I’ve sacrificed a ton of shit for it. Now it’s starting to pay off. Beer City is really behind us. I just got endorsed by Lace Pickups this year and Jimmy Claypool got endorsed by them last year. The whole band came together. Guinea Pig Champion writes almost all the riffs and the music,  I help with the lyrics and concepts, the drummer throws his ideas in. Jimmy is now starting to throw stuff in. Jimmy’s the new guitar player for the new record. He’s so much more of a pro. The last dude was not a pro. Jimmy’s the guy, he’s the final piece of the puzzle.

WC: If you could ask any three people from history to dinner, who would they be?

B: Hmmm, that’s a pretty interesting one. Let’s say Gandhi. Hitler. And let me see who the third person would be. Vlad the Impaler, maybe?

WC: That would be a hoppin’ affair.

B: I guess the question for them would be why? What the fuck was going on with you guys? I’d ask Gandhi why he was a racist. Although he did so much good, why the bad shit? I know his good shit overshadows his bad shit, but you know, you coulda been a little taller. Hitler I would to ask more about his propaganda and how he pulled the shit he did. And also if I invite him to dinner, I could beat the fuck out of him.(laughs) How could you not feel good after that? Maybe I’d get Hitler and Vlad the Impaler in a fight and Gandhi would watch them kick the shit out of each other.

WC: That’s one of the more unique answers we’ve had! Now, what was the last release you picked up just because you wanted to hear it?

B: We’ll go with two things. I did download Cro-Mags “Age of Quarrel” not too long ago so I could have it on my iPod. Let me think of a new band that blew me away. I’ll say it was Hellbomber. 

WC: Are they similar to your style?

B: Yeah, they tore the house down, they’re fucking great. I’m not even sure if they’re a band anymore but they’re great.

WC: Any last words for the fans out there?

B: Rock and Roll is one hell of a drug! Don’t ever stop having fun.