The Red Chord - Heavy is Heavy

By Dr. Abner Mality

I'm a lot more optimistic about the future of extreme music after encountering the Red Chord. Not only do they put on one of the most intense live shows in the business (see my review elsewhere for the brutal details), but they seem to totally have their heads screwed on straight. I had the pleasure of speaking to lead vocalist Guy Kozowyk recently. If there is a such a thing as a poster boy for extreme metal, Guy fits the bill. At 24 years of age, he is good-looking, articulate and manages to be both self-assured and humble at the same time. He knows exactly what he wants out of the Red Chord and is completely aware of their place in the music business. It's rare to find someone at this stage of the game who is so seasoned and yet not cynical.

"Clients" is the latest effort from The Red Chord and I would heartily recommend it to anybody who likes a lot of both brutality and brains in their music. It's technical and unpredictable, but not pretentious and it stays within the basic extreme metal framework while expanding the parameters at the same time. As tight as these guys are on record, I can tell you with absolute confidence that they maintain that tightness on stage as well. They are indeed the future of extremity.

What follows is probably the most intense, technical and deepest discussion I've ever had with anyone about the nature of the metal scene itself...

WORMWOOD CHRONICLES: In my earlier conversation with If Hope Dies, I mentioned that this seems to be a kind of "dream tour" for this kind of music. What's your opinion of how it has gone?

GUY KOZOWYK: This has been one of the bigger tours that we've ever done. What's been nice about this one is that even when we had to play last after well-known groups like Bury Your Dead and A Life Once Lost, everybody would stick around to see us. It was cool because it's not like going on tour with another band and playing to their fanbase. It's more like showing up in a town that you may or may not have been to and the kids know the words to your songs and buy your merch. They're there to see you and not like "Oh, well, I happened to see you because you were playing with the other band I came to see".

WC: This is the longest, most wide ranging tour you've done so far?

GK: Yeah, 8 weeks and we are going into the eighth week right now. Our longest tour before that was for 5 weeks. Before, we'd go on tour for five weeks, go home for a week or two, then do another 3 weeks...that sort of schedule. This time around, we left our homes on March 30th (interview takes place on May 20--Dr. Mality), we recorded a video for the track "Antman" off the new record and then the day after we immediately did the first show. There was one day off. Well, there were actually a bunch of days off but it was partially my fault they got scratched because I saw those days off and I went "well, I'll just book some more shows!"

WC: So you had enough time to kiss the girlfriend goodbye and head back out again.

GK: Yeah, that's about it.

WC: Turning to your new album "Clients", what exactly did you want to accomplish with this album, what was the main objective?

GK: We're basically a death metal/grindcore band. Production-wise, there's not really that many well-produced grindcore or death metal records. Even though we have a lot of elements and a lot of styles in our music, with any band that starts getting real "tech", things can get lost in the mix. Maybe you can't hear the kick drum correctly or maybe the kick drum sounds mechanical because you trigger the shit out of it or maybe you miss the snare drum or the guitar tone sounds weird or the vocals are too low or too high in the mix. No matter what, any recording I've ever heard from the really extreme bands , the bands that really push the limits, something always gets lost in the mix. Production-wise, we wanted "Clients" to be a grind/hardcore release but we wanted it to be really clear so everybody could hear all the little nuances and details of our music. So hopefully the listener could go "Wow! The drummer's doing something cool wit h the snare, the guitar player's doing that little "doodly" thing on his solo". As far as the last record "Fused Together In Revolving Doors" went, people never really caught on to everything that was going on because of the production.

WC: Some would say that raw production is part of the charm of grindcore.

GK: I would agree with that . If you're gonna hear a "crusty" type band, a lot of what you want out of it is that real gritty feeling. A lot of these bands are not really relying on their instruments or relying on their playing as much as they are relying on the image of "wow, we're a crusty band". Or you get into gory death metal, where the bass sound is so distorted it sounds like you're playing it through a grunge pedal. There's not anything wrong with that. I enjoy that, I think different kinds of production work for different bands. But I think that when you put a lot of emphasis on your songs and you're serious about your craft as all of us are, you want something that shines a light on your abilities. I don't play any instruments, I just sing and I wanna do whatever sounds the best. But the other guys in the band are real deal musicians, they are lifetime musicians. Whether they know all the ins and outs of music theory...some of them do, some of them don' turn around and say that we're gonna put a real crusty production on their music, that really loses the point of what we are playing and what we are trying to do.

WC: To me, the archetype of a band that had it both ways was Carcass. They defined messy, really distorted music and then they were equally good at the cleaner, more technical material.

GK: Yeah, on their first four albums, it was a lot dirtier. By the time they got to "Heartwork" and "Swansong", it was a lot cleaner. You said part of the charm of Carcass was the messy, dirty production. The production on those early CDs wouldn't have worked at all on their newer ones and the cleaner production on the later records wouldn't have worked on the earlier CD's. It would have wiped out the beauty of what those records were.

WC: Who exactly are the "Clients" you refer to on the new album?

GK: I work at an old school pharmacy type store. It's got a soda fountain and it's kind of a pharmacy-slash-liquor store-slash-lottery and keno joint. It's directly across from a train station, two blocks away from an assisted living mental care facility, a block away from a hair school and two blocks away from a halfway house for rehabilitating criminals and drug addicts. All day long, I'm pretty much a people watcher. I'll sit there and watch all these people coming in, whether they're picking up their medication or coming in to buy liquor or maybe they're just randomly coming in off the train. Sometimes when I was in college, I'd ride the train around and just talk to people and write down a lot of the conversations I had. I'd take the people I met and turn them into these characters and write these five or six page stories on them. These stories were just a way to document the experiences I had. It would basically be like "here's my story about the Antman" or "here's my story about Black Santa" or "here's my story about the Blue Line Cretin" . I had all these characters who were based on real people but then really fabricated and exaggerated. I tried to take these "Clients", so to speak, and turn them and their adventures into these superhero/supervillain , Godzilla-Mothra type larger than life characters. Over the course of the record, Black Santa and Antman kind of overlap. The "Black Santa" song mentions Antman and vice versa. They were both real people, they both knew each other and they were either the best of friends or the worst of enemies. They were schizophrenic guys. Depending on when you'd talk to them, it would be totally outrageous. Sometimes they'd be fistfighting and spitting on each other, the next time they'd be hugging each other. When I was writing the album, I wanted to capture the larger than life aspects of these characters.

WC: That has got to be one of the most unique lyrical takes I have ever heard of!

GK: I found with Red Chord, that the band is so unique and they are all so talented that, as a vocalist, as a performer and as a lyricist, I have to step up. I think I'm blessed to be able to work with such amazing musicians. They bring these songs to the table and it's like, wow! What am I going to do with this? Well, I've got all these stories laying around and I never want Red Chord to be a typical band. I don't want it to be typical either conceptually or musically. There are too many bands out there right now, there's too much competition, there's an oversaturation. There's so many hardcore bands, so many death metal bands. How many of them are going to say stuff like "this is what I have in my heart" and "I'm keeping this real"? Outside of the originators of that sort of thing, what is distinct about it? Let's say you got a tough guy hardcore band...

WC: Agnostic Front...

GK: Agnostic Front, right. You have them and a contemporary version of Agnostic Front like, let's say, Hatebreed, and these bands have been around forever doing their thing. And now there are all these kids coming out who are second, third, fourth generation who are influenced by these bands. They turn around and spew out the same things Agnostic Front and Hatebreed are spewing out. The new kids don't come from the same background, they weren't out living on the streets. They are regurgitating the experiences of somebody else. Most 16 year old kids don't have that hard of a life. They will say things like "I need this to survive, hardcore got me through." Well, I understand, music definitely helps you along but to me, hardcore and metal is all about creativity. It's all about catharsis and emotion. How much creativity is there in walking into 58 towns across the country and seeing kids dressed the same way, acting the same way and usually playing with the same opening band but the band has a different name? A lot of these kids heard Killswitch Engage and so they go out and form a band like Killswitch Engage. The themes deal with the same things Killswitch Engage talks about...

WC: Five years before, they were trying to be like Limp Bizkit, and five years before that, Alice In Chains.

GK: Metalcore and hardcore in a lot of ways has become the new nu-metal. I've heard that comparison tossed around a lot lately and I believe it now more than ever. You used to walk through a mall and all the T-shirts were Slipknot and Korn. Now it's all like Killswitch Engage.

WC: Bleeding Through...

GK: Yeah, Bleeding Through! They're a heavy band, they're great people, I like them a lot.

WC: The injection of keyboard into their sound took a lot of nerve, I thought.

GK: We hung out with them in California, they are really awesome people. But now you've got a band like Bleeding Through who have been playing for a long time and are really competent musicians. But now you have bands that are influenced by Bleeding Through playing and then other bands that are influenced by the bands that were originally influenced by Bleeding Through or by From Autumn to Ashes and they are spewing out the same lyrical concepts, the same musical stylings. There's such an oversaturation. I feel it's such an easy way out. You can go and rewrite a record that other bands have done 10 times, now knowing that you're gonna have a certain amount of success based on the fact that the scene is so big. It's crazy. I wouldn't change the scene's popularity for the world because that definitely helps us out. At the same time, if I form a death metal band that has the same sort of goregrind concept that Cannibal Corpse and Suffocation have, that's just as unoriginal as everything else.

WC: I've heard a lot of BS from these black metal projects where the head guy will say "I am influenced by nothing but the mountains and the wind". (laughter)

GK: Alright, you're influenced by nothing but the mountains and the wind, you're 21 years old, you look like you're in Cradle of Filth. You're influenced by winds and mountains but you're dressed up like Cradle of Filth, who dressed up like Venom, who dressed up like Rob Halford back in the day. Once again, lyrically speaking, you're talking about sacrificing virgins and the like. Where did you get that? Have you ever sacrificed a virgin, have you ever killed a fucking chicken in your back yard? If you're going to take it a step further, do you really believe in any of that Satanic garbage?

WC: I noticed a young kid in the crowd here who is obviously in high school and he's wearing a Rush "2112" T-shirt. I wonder if he even owns the album?

GK: You don't know! I would honestly rather see that than the same Slipknot and Hatebreed T-shirts.

WC: But there's a lot of phony "irony" in the scene now and I personally do not like that at all.

GK: As far as younger kids go, a lot of them will say they are influenced by whatever. Two years down the road, they will say they were never into it. But whether it's Rush or Pearl Jam or Pantera, it's like, hey, I own all those records. For me to turn around and say that at no point in time I was ever into Korn is wrong. I'm 24 years old. In 1994, the first Korn CD came out...

WC: It was unlike anything ever heard before.

GK: Yeah! I was into grunge at the time, stuff like Stone Temple Pilots, Pearl Jam and Alice In Chains. Then all of a sudden I hear Pantera. Then I hear Napalm Death. Then I hear Korn, which is a good medium. For the 14 or 15 year old mindset, they are really easy to latch on to conceptually and artistically. The production sounds good ,it's sleek and nice, it sounds better on your stereo. So in 94, at the same time I'm into all of this, I start going to the early Cave In shows and to see hardcore like Cast Iron Hike and Blood for Blood. I'm not really making a big distinction. Heavy is heavy. And for a lot of these new kids getting into it, heavy is also heavy. So when they start wearing Slipknot shirts, I don't knock it. For bands like them and Mudvayne, whether I like them or not, they are "gateway" bands. The same way Stone Temple Pilots was the first step for me to get to Pantera and then to Napalm Death.

WC: I'm 42 years old. I first got into metal about 1973. I still love stuff like the first Boston LP and from there, I got into Judas Priest, then to Motorhead and then Venom was like a huge revelation to me.

GK: For certain people such as ourselves, we will keep going deeper and deeper into the scene.

WC: A lot of my high school friends, their musical development stopped about 1983.

GK: You stay with what you're comfortable with. Once again, most of the stuff I listen to, I'm jaded to a certain degree. I like a lot of the stuff that I like and I'm a lot less accepting of these newer bands. But at the same time, I understand the appeal. I'm trying to make it so Red Chord is progressing and maturing and writing better songs. I'm trying to make sure we do something that is definitely different. But at the same time, I don't want to get totally out of touch. I don't want us to get artsy to the point where we're going to lose everyone's attention. The premise of this band was to be extremely heavy, extremely loud and the culmination of a lot of different influences such as grind, hardcore, death metal and now even stuff like Crowbar. Intense is intense, heavy is heavy. We appreciate everything. When we were forming the Red Chord, we liked all these different genres. Why bother picking just one genre, why not put them all together and just do it?

WC: It's very obvious to me that the Red Chord will never release the same album twice. How do you see yourself changing over time?

GK: There was a lot of time between the last record and this one. We're going to get a certain amount of shit automatically because we didn't rewrite the first record. That's the case for any band that tries to change their style. We're still going to be a heavy band. I think personally that with a lot of bands becoming lighter and lighter, we are more inclined to go heavier, because if all these bands are mellowing out their sound, who needs another singalong type band? You don't need another Soilwork or Killswitch Engage or any of that stuff. There's plenty of people doing that. However, I felt with this record, given that the scene is getting really big, that our band definitely has a buzz. There hasn't been a band since Carcass or Suffocation to all of a sudden go and sell hundreds of thousands of records. I felt like "Clients" was going to be big. I don't know exactly how might sell 20,000, it might do 10,000, it might do 200,000, I have no clue...but it was our obligation to our roots and our obligation to our fans to write a record that was going to be heavier than the first one, that was going to have more blast beats and more diversity. We definitely wanted to mature as musicians and songwriters and define what the Red Chord was. I feel it is our obligation to the whole grindcore/death metal genre to do what we're doing.

WC: A lot of heavy bands now use clean vocals and it's getting really overdone.

GK: I have a lot of respect for Slipknot for including blast beats on their newest record. Those guys are coming from death metal and hardcore backgrounds. Even though they kind of sell out somewhat and write these big radio hits, they took an extra step and put blast beats on their record. That's cool, the Red Chord doesn't do the choruses. We're going to use three times as many blast parts and stay just as heavy and just as crazy.

WC: Slipknot must certainly be the biggest "gateway" band.

GK: I'll definitely give 'em that. I enjoy some of their stuff. I believe the drummer at one point was in Anal Blast. I like the fact that he's coming from that background. You know he's a sick drummer who can do all the crazy fast stuff. Percussion wise, they're a great band. Energy wise, they're a great band. More than anything, they are expanding the potential for bands like mine. I'm not making a good living doing this, but at least I'm making a living. I can at least tour and get gas money to make it from show to show. There's so many times in the past where we'd have to work and work and work to save money just to go on tour.

WC: When I talked to Keith Bergman of PB Army recently, he had the opinion that there will never again be just five or six big metal bands that everybody is going to get. Things are going to be a lot more diffuse.

GK: What we're trying to do is be the band for people who like everything in extreme music. Certain people are just gonna enjoy certain components. There are some kids who come to our shows that just want the mosh parts and then there are others who wish we'd skip the mosh parts and just play the technical stuff. I'm a guy that listens to Mars Volta and Muse and then I'll put on Suffocation, Hatebreed, Buried Alive. I'll go back and forth. I'll listen to something like Cave In or Killswitch Engage or Soilwork or any of that stuff. I find appeal in everything. I like the idea of having a band that can appeal in some capacity to everybody without having to sell out stylistically. I'm not looking to rehash anything. There are bands who come out and say "Oh, we're jazz/death/grind and we throw in some ska, too". I hate it when bands go that extra mile to have songs that are completely whacked. A song needs to flow.

WC: It doesn't seem natural.

GK: There's nothing natural to it. When you have 50 different parts in a song that don't repeat, even if they're in different genres, it's cool you can do that, but at the same time, it's not a song. Our main objective with "Clients" and also with "Fused Together" was to write good songs. We wanted to intertwine all of our influences.

WC: You've covered things supremely well.(laughter) Do have any kind of last statement for the fans?

GK: We've got tours booked until Thanksgiving. We'll be coming through with a lot of different types of genres. We're going to the U.K. after this and then we go out on the Sounds of the Underground tour and then we follow that up with a tour that includes Between the Buried and Me, Premonitions of War, From A Second Story Window. The Acacia Strain will be with us for part of that last one. Then we go out on tour again with Every Time I Die, High On Fire and then we head back to Europe with Bury Your Dead. That will take us up to Thanksgiving. We want to hit up open minded people and we'll play with whoever will have us. We're definitely hell bent on making this thing happen. We've put too much mileage into this to watch ourselves fall on our face. Hopefully I will be seeing you a few times this year with all these tours going on.

The Red Chord's Official Website