Interview with Kurt Manthe of Madison’s Corpsicle and Vermillion
By Theron Moore
Kurt Manthe has been a loyal supporter of Madison’s metal scene, and metal in general, going way back to the 80’s, so it was an easy choice to include him in the second and final installment of my book series, “All My Friends Are Rock Stars, Volume II” which this interview appears in.
The Madison I knew back in the 80’s loved and catered to its punk and alternative scene. Metal was few and far between. So when a scene pops up in that town and bands emerge, it’s something to notice. Corpsicle was most certainly a band to take notice of. And I did. That’s the same thing a lot of people are doing now with Kurt’s current band, Vermillion. They’re taking notice. Because he’s still paving the way for metal in the here and now as well as the future. And Vermillion is blazing that path for other bands to follow…
Wormwood Chronicles: Take me back to days of Corpsicle...
Kurt Manthe: Corpsicle was formed in the summer of 92'. I came on board that fall when the bass player came up to me at a bar called the "Black Bear Lounge." He goes "Hey, I saw you sing at that barn show, do you want to sing with my band Corpsicle?" "Sure, when do you get together"?? And the rest is history. At that time, it was myself, Kurt Manthe on vocals, Toby Hull on drums, Rob Parkinson on lead guitar, Charlie Isbell on guitar, and Chris Bengry on Bass.
WC: And what were you listening to, what were your influences at that time?
KM: I was listening to all the classics of heavy metal at the time – Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, and thrash bands like Slayer, Metallica, Megadeth, Nuclear Assault, Testament, Sacrifice, Venom, Possessed, Kreator, Celtic Frost, Destruction to name a few. And in the late 80's up to joining Corpsicle joining it was Napalm Death, Realm, Cannibal Corpse, Morbid Angel, Obituary, Deicide, Suffocation, Immolation, and a slew of others in their early days. I saw many of these bands, live, prior to joining Corpsicle.
Back in the day I’d be hanging with friends jamming old school metal and thrash at their house, or shed, barn, garage, wherever we could play loud. I was already experimenting with singing so when I joined Corpsicle that's when it turned more Death Metal in the vein of Napalm Death, Grave, Entombed, thrash/death style. So Corpsicle was my first "official" playing out band, recording band.
WC: I’m sure Corpsicle shared the stage with many famed national touring acts of that time…
Kurt Manthe: Corpsicle was fortunate to play with some pretty good, legendary bands like Death, Voi Vod, Overkill, Malevolent Creation, Gwar, Suffocation, Crowbar, Nevermore, Morpheus Descends. To share the stage with these great bands, especially DEATH, and meeting Chuck Shuldiner for the first time, and watching them sound check to "Open Casket, " just awesome. And meeting the guys in these other bands, just as cool too. It was an early learning experience to see bands like this give a great performance, so it gave you that "pro" approach to do it like they do, and this isn't just a garage band anymore.
WC: And what about Madison’s metal scene of the 90’s, what was that like?
KM: Bands in Madison during the 90's, especially metal bands, were slim, because of the Grunge movement that everyone was jumping on the bandwagon with. A band that really stuck out, and should of stayed together, because they could of taken it to that next level, was a band called Lysergic. They were ahead of their time, and I saw them a few times prior to joining Corpsicle, and they were tight and heavy sounding like Obituary, Deicide, Morbid Angel, but in their own way. I had the privilege to fill in on vocals with Lysergic due to their vocalist / guitar player quitting the band prior to playing Milwaukee Metal Fest in 94'. That same time Corpsicle took a break for a short month. So, that for me was a step up with more challenging songs to learn in two weeks for the Milwaukee Metal Fest show, which was my first fest and biggest show I played on, and on the Eagles Ballroom stage at that.
Another band from Madison was Bongzilla, a Relapse Records recording artist, but we never played a show with them, not sure why, we just didn't cross paths I guess. Most other bands were here today, gone tomorrow. We mostly played with bands from out of town, from the Midwest, like Jungle Rot, Fleshgrind, Disinter, Gorgasm, Splattered, Cadaver, Disarray, Cyanosis, Motor Mouth, Stone Misery, to name a few.
WC: Metal was on the decline in the 90’s. Do you remember what it was like in Madison?
KM: During the 90's, and like I stated earlier, the "Grunge" scene took over metal, everywhere, not just Madison. There would be some good shows that came thru on a national and international level, but local metal bands – ten to maybe forty people if you were lucky to show up at a gig. And the punk scene was its own entity, mostly basement shows and it never interfered with metal shows, nor did each scene clash... at least I didn't have any problems with the punk scene. I went to many punk shows, and by the 90's, both scenes kind of crossed over, just like the D.R.I. album. Most of the metal population wasn't used to death metal or thrash, they were into bands like Last Crack, who I never considered metal, they just had this psychedelic style to them that didn't make them metal in my opinion. Yes, I did go see them on numerous times play at venues in the area. Everyone praised them. If you weren't Last Crack quality, you were nobody, so the Madison death metal and thrash bands made their own status, and made something for themselves.
There was a metal scene in Madison, a small one, but there was one, considering the grunge and other many styles in Madison. We played, and tried to play as much away from Madison as we could. Milwaukee and Chicago was our main focus.to get our name out and our demo tape, and later our CD. We played some other smaller cities in the Midwest and played Denver Death Fest in 95' with Malevolent Creation, Morpheus Descends, Cephalic Carnage, and Wicked Innocence. Cephalic Carnage and Wicked Innocence really stood out at that show, brutal and full of energy in their performance. I still have their early demo tapes from that fest I traded for.
WC: Any memories of clubs in Madison? Wally Gators, Headliners, etc?
KM: I used to work at Wally Gators. I saw D.R.I. on their “Crossover” tour there. Also – Vio-lence, Voi Vod, Numskull, saw The Red Hot Chili Peppers in their early club days. Vinnie Moore guitar clinic, so yeah, that club was killer. Headliners? Saw a lot of bands there too – the Raven, Metallica, Anvil tour, Megadeth, Black Flag, Helix, Blue Oyster Cult...hell, Corpsicle even played there when it was called Bullwinkles. Same stage and all, just a different name.
O'Cayz Coral!! That place was the place to play. Saw Killdozer, D.R.I., we played with Voi Vod and Overkill there. Small place, but killer vibe. We mostly played there and a place called R-N-R Station which became The Paramount, managed by Annihilator management Gary Taylor and Gary Bishop. The Paramount was where we played with Death, Nevermore, Suffocation, Crowbar, Malevolent Creation, Shank 456. There were a few others in Madison like The Shuffle Inn and The Annex where we played with Acid Bath in 96'. Club DeWash was another venue we played in Madison.
WC: Tell me about playing Milwaukee Metalfest…
KM: My first time playing Milwaukee Metalfest was 1994 with Lysergic. I attended the first five Metalfests prior to playing it in 94' so I knew what it was about, and dreamed of playing it someday, and that dream came true. Slayer, Motorhead, Morbid Angel were the main headliners that year.
As for Corpsicle playing it, 96', 98' and 2007. I met a lot of people at all the fests I played, all the bands that inspired me and the guys in Corpsicle, too many to name. But I've stayed close to many of them through the years. Some still involved in playing, and some hung it up for good. All in all, it was a great experience to meet and share the same stage with them all.
WC: Did Corpsicle release any demos or records?
KM: We released our first demo in 93' titled “Demo-Gorgon.” It was a three-song demo, and that tape is no longer available at the moment. And then we recorded a full-length EP in 95'-96' entitled “Deformation.” Corpsicle broke up for a month in 94' and again in 99'. We did a reunion show in 2006 in Madison then played Milwaukee Metalfest, the last MMF to date in 2007. And there was talk about writing another album in the past few years, and maybe play out, but that fizzled out. I was still in Vermillion and kind of wanted to keep focus on that, even though I would of did the vocals for Corpsicle. Just wasn't interested in making the comeback like so many death metal band did to make that money or whatever their decision was on it. I like the fact that bands like Jungle Rot, Disinter, Gorgasm and many others never gave up on it, and deserve more attention than the bands trying to make a comeback after a ten-year hiatus.
WC: And how did Vermillion happen?
KM: Vermillion. Well, it started out when I was doing merch and road work with bands touring the USA and Europe, missing that vibe of being on stage again, with Jungle Rot inviting me up a couple times in Europe to sing "psychotic cremation" with them. That was pretty much what it took to get back into it, but this time just playing guitar. So, prior to Vermillion, myself and a friend, Aaron Gustafson, who did some recent work with Deeds of Flesh and was a founding member in Funeral USA, decided to get together and jam, so after getting together just about everyday jamming and hanging out, we had some songs down, even had a band name. We called ourselves "GORILLATOR"!! LOL.
So, we recruited another guitar player and bassist and kept writing songs, but never played out as Gorillator. We broke off that project and parted ways with Aaron, but the guitar player, bassist, and myself stayed together, got a new drummer, and the new band was formed, with a new name, and you guessed it, Vermillion was formed.
The drummer we had was really good but had a drug problem, and we had to let him go, so we picked up Jim Kalagian, a longtime friend of mine who played with a band called Kronik. We were also looking for a vocalist so myself and the bassist decided to give it a try and it worked. So with Jim in the band we wrote some more songs and played our first show in 2010 at GOAT LORD FEST in Madison, Wisconsin at the WISCO bar.
And with a few lineup changes and a self-titled five song CD, Vermillion is still rockin' it and writing more songs. Played some really good shows that Randy Kastner has booked us on, and he's involved with the NYDM metal club that supports many bands in this difficult scene. He also has his annual Spring Bash in April that we have played on. Vermillion has played with Cannibal Corpse, Misery Index, Suffocation, Krisiun, Origin, Aeon, Soreption, Kataklysm, Dying Fetus, White Empress, Master, Ringworm, Nocturnus AD, Jungle Rot, Goat Whore, Possessed and many more.
No label interest yet, but we have had some contact with small labels or distros. We have a Facebook page, and that's about it. We believe in old school ways. Either come to our shows and buy our merch or contact us on Facebook to get stuff, send a check in the mail style. We are not into downloads as nobody buys the whole album, usually just one song. We want people to buy the full CD for the full experience of who we are, to appreciate us more that way.
WC: What about Madison’s metal scene, then and now?
KM: The 80's were a great era, everything was new and fresh, everyone wanted to be in a band. So many greats paved the way for that era of metal music. Then the 90's sucked in a way because grunge was taking over, and the not so hard core metal fans got into the likes of Nirvana, Sound Garden, Stone Temple Pilots to name a few.
It was a tough era for us smaller bands. Although the bigger names in metal music survived, many others did not. Near the end of the 90's and early 2000, extreme, brutal music was getting a lot of recognition and that kept us die hards happy. The latter 2000’s to the present, I find heavy metal getting bigger and stronger than it ever was, going back to the 80's. Bands that couldn't sell twenty tickets in the 90's are now selling out theaters and bigger concert hall venues. Not sure when that will slow again, maybe when grunge comes back around (I hope fuckin not!!!) Hahaha.
KM: Like I stated about new technology and downloading, we are not into it personally, and I wish people would buy CDs more, as unit sales for recording artists make a big difference on getting a good tour, by how many CD units they sell in their first week of the release. And I'm a huge vinyl person, and that has gotten big again, and I buy a lot of Vinyl still, new and vintage. So to the fans, go buy that CD, vinyl, or tape and keep the support alive, so that you can see that band come through your town on a tour.
WC: So where’s Vermillion at today?
KM: Vermillion is still at it, playing shows regionally, with hopes of going national and maybe Europe someday. We have new songs in the works, slowly but surely, as we all have our day jobs, and sacrificing time to play out to our fan base, that gets bigger and bigger from each show we play. So on that note, keep supporting heavy metal, and us in Vermillion. Without that support, the scene dies off, so don't let that happen!!! And a big thanks to you Theron Moore for believing in Vermillion and myself and giving me the opportunity for this interview of my musical history in the bands I was involved with. Like the AC/DC song, "It's a long ways to the top if you want to Rock and Roll"!!! Those words are so true.
WC: Final words, anything you want to say, it’s up to you…
KM: There were other members in Corpsicle that were on our “Deformation” CD. John Dolbie was on guitar on that release. Also, Shaun Williams (ex-Lysergic) played guitar with us. Bill Werner played guitar with Corpsicle too and currently in Vermillion as lead guitar. Jesse Kneebone played bass with Corpsicle for the reunion show in 06' and Milwaukee Metalfest in 07'. Our current Vermillion line up is Kurt Manthe - Vocals and Guitar Bill Werner - Guitar and backup vocals Brooks Jewel - Bass Richie Burchard - Drums The same line up besides Brooks our bassist was on our self-released titled Vermillion CD. Roger Wilberg played Bass on that release for us.
About Milwaukee Metalfest. It was the "Premier North American show to play on"!! If your band played it, it meant something, and many bands thought they would get signed to a label by playing it. Some did, many didn’t, but all that mattered was that you played the "Big show of Metal"!! It was the "One and Only show that mattered" to play. You worked hard to play it for the exposure and meeting new fans, friends, and the bands you looked up to. Vermillion has also played with some extreme metal bands like Atrocious Abnormalities, Carnal Decay (Switzerland), Kraanium (Norway), as well as Exhumed, Havok, Hour of Penance (Italy), and Rivers of Nihil.