Brutally Heavy, Brutally Beautiful

Akimbo pic #2
(l to r) Aaron Walters, Nat Damm, & Jon Weisnewski.
Photo by Charlie Schuck.
THE MINK --10/7/2008: Seattle. Heavy. Brutal. Think early Soundgarden. Think Tad. This is Akimbo. Three that sound like ten. All with sledgehammers. Sledgehammers pounding on large, jagged chunks of steel. Smashing this steel. Smashing it into something brutally beautiful. They can stretch this metal. They can make it move like taffy. Taffy made of rebar. Rebar that is bent and folded back on itself. Folded like the steel in a blade. A blade that cuts through you. You, who stand there listening to the onslaught. The onslaught of Bonham fucking reincarnated on drums. Drums that give you whiplash when you hear them at soundcheck. A check with no pretense, only the bare minimum needed. Like the industrial floodlights on stage. Blinding lights that cleave the songs into chunks. Chunks of sound so bolted together that every instrument reinforces the other like scaffolding. Crushing bass and guitar locked together. Sum greater than the whole. A whole that makes you stand in front of them with your ears plugged. Plugged into the onslaught. You and them.

SCR: Who is Akimbo? How long has Akimbo been around? Give us a brief history of the band.
Jon Weisnewski: We have been around for a decade now. Kind of crazy to think about doing anything for that long, but the fact remains... There's no real way to give a brief history, so I'll do my best to summarize. Nat and I got together for the sole purpose of making brutal music that speaks to brutal people and throwing together a killer live show to top it off. I think we've succeeded in that. We've had a lot of people come in and out of the band, but I think our current incarnation is the best and I hope it doesn't change.
What label are you on currently? I seem to remember you were on Jello Biafra's label for awhile. What happened with that, and are you happy with the support you are getting now?
The latest album is on Neurot Recordings, but we've been fortunate enough to never be tied into any contract for any labels. Because of that, we've always been free to take whatever opportunities come our way, which is how we switched it up for the latest album. Alternative Tentacles has always been great, and Jello has been immensely supportive, but the offer from Neurot came along, and we figured "why not explore that for a record and see how it goes?" So far they've been great people to work with.
Akimbo is from Seattle (you knew it was coming), part of the second generation (or third or fourth, depending on your level of cynicism) of bands from the Northwest. How do you fit in with both the history of the Seattle explosion, and how do you think you are both carrying on and extending that sound?
I think the Seattle explosion is long gone, and for the most part people consider it a fad that dried up in the late '90s, which is sad for me, because a lot of great music came out of it that was an important part of my own growth as a musician. It's fun to entertain grandiose notions of "carrying the torch" of heavy music, but really we're just playing the music we like to play. If there's one band that needs credit as truly keeping the northwest spirit alive, it would be The Melvins. For one reason, they were actually a part of that scene when it was vibrant and are still playing now, and two, people actually buy their records and go see them play. We're still working on that part.

Your new album, Jersey Shores, is a concept album. Concept albums are difficult in the sense that you have to carry a specific thread through the entire album. Some argue that the individual songs have to strictly adhere to the conceptual inspiration of the album, while others believe that the songs can have at best tangential relationship to that inspiration. Where is Akimbo in this argument, and where do you think Jersey Shores falls on this continuum?
I don't really think a concept album needs to adhere to any set of rules other than what the song writers decide for it. My goal with writing Jersey Shores was to create a single piece of music that was meant to be heard from start to finish and had thematic elements throughout, so that's what we did.
Was the Jersey Shores title inspired by a particular experience, or did the music conjure an image of that place? In other words, did experience inform the music, or did the music inspire the story?
The events and history definitely inspired the music. Some of the material was written before we set out to tie it all together, but once we decided on the theme, it took off and the songs started coming together really easily. The record is about a series of bizarre shark attacks that happened on the New Jersey coast line in 1916. One of the things that makes the story so intriguing is the fact that marine biology didn't exist at the time of the attacks. No one knew what to do. People were dying or getting mauled in the water, and there wasn't any kind of protocol or actual information people could get to make decisions (like close the beaches...duh). I wanted to capture that kind of unsure ambiguity in the title, so I went with something that doesn't really have any hint at what the record is about until you open it up and experience it.
In your current live show, you play Jersey Shores front to back, without a break. How difficult was this to put together, and how do you think it helps or hinders fans' understanding or enjoyment of Akimbo's live show?
It was pretty easy to put together, but I intentionally wrote something that we'd be able to pull off live. I'm not really a fan of recording things that can't be replicated in a live setting, and playing the entire record at shows was always something I was working towards. For the most part, the feedback has been great, but I'm sure there are a good amount of people who don't want to see a bunch hairy dudes try and get artsy and would rather us just kick out the jams in our usual fashion. Part of our releasing this album is playing it for the people who want to see it, so that's what we'll continue to do on this tour and the next one in Europe.
Akimbo record cover
(Music courtesy of Akimbo and Neurot Recordings.)

Musically, the band seems to identify with the luminaries of classic rock (Zeppelin, Floyd, and so forth) to a greater extent than many contemporaries in the metal scene. How did these influences shape the bands' approach to executing a concept album?
I wouldn't say they particularly influenced the concept album, but they definitely enabled it.
I noticed a number of unstructured (in the sense that they evolve in concert with the energy of the show), nearly psychedelic, long-form jams both within and between the songs. However, they aren't prog-rock wank-fests, but are "ebb and flow" bridges between parts and songs. I don't remember this during your last tour. What purpose do they serve, and are they representative of a new direction with the band, or are they specific to Jersey Shores?
Everything on the record is deliberate and representative of a part in the story, so for example on "Lester Stillwell," the brooding intro to the song is the shark swimming upstream towards the town of Matawan where Lester was attacked. Later in the song, the relaxed blues part is after Lester has been attacked, and Stanley Fisher is diving through the muddy water looking for his body in front of a crowd that has gathered at the river bank. Both of those sections aren't really typical to our music, but when put into the context of the record they help illustrate the elements of the story. Every part of every song has an event or idea behind it.
I've never told a story through music like this before. It was a really fun project to work on, and I feel like we accomplished something special. I doubt this will be a new direction for the band, but I wouldn't be surprised if some of these elements creep into future albums.
Who are your influences now? And of all of your current influences, who are you listening to that really lights a fire under your asses?
My biggest influence has always been Nomeansno. Every time I listen to them I get ideas; yes, I am a hack. Lately, I've been listening to U.S. Christmas, Helm's Alee, Torche, and Young Widows. Those bands aren't so much influences but inspirations. Seeing peers put out fantastic records pushes us to work harder and keep writing. I also just listened to the new Harvey Milk album yesterday, and I'm kicking myself for missing their show in Seattle a month back.
Nat, your drum sound is sourced from the '70s, specifically John Bonham's heavy bass drum and minimalist kit. I also noticed (I think) that you moved to a much larger ride. How do you define your individual sound, and how does it fit in with Akimbo? Describe your rig.
Nat Damm: I'm a huge fan of drummers like John Bonham, Mitch Mitchell, Bill Ward, and Keith Moon. I grew up listening to the music of the '50s, '60s and '70s. Later, getting into punk and metal, I think I just naturally emulated the classic rock and soul that I grew up with and still love. I'm a big fan of drummers that have swing, balls, and soul. Being technically proficient is great and all, but its not my cup of tea if the drummer doesnt play with balls. With Akimbo, my current setup works like a charm. I do have to compete with the volume we play at live, though. The big drums have a lot of boom, warmth, and air to them that contributes to the girth of what we're doing and still has definition within the songs.
Alright, now I'll nerd out for a sec here. A few years ago I decided to refinish an old drum set. I enjoyed it so much I decided to do another, which is the kit that I currently play. I bought all of the shells separately and chiseled off the outer ply and sanded them down to the ply below. I then did the bearing edges and then wrapped them in maple veneer. I finished her off with seven coats of varnish. The bass drum is a 1954 WFL 28x14 marching bass drum that I put spurs on. The rack tom is a 1964 WFL marching snare, it's a little weird because it's 10 lugs instead of 8. The floor tom is an early '70s 18x16 Ludwig. For my snare drum, I have an amazing mid-'70s Ludwig Suprasensitive which I got for a steal. And finally, I play a 24" Paiste 2002 ride on my right side, a 20" Paiste Giant Beat crash on my left, and a pair of 15" Zildjian hi-hats. Phew!
Akimbo pic #1
(l to r) Aaron Walters, Nat Damm, & Jon Weisnewski. Photo by Jean-Marc.
Jon, yours is one of the heaviest bass sound I've heard in awhile. [Fellow fan] Brad mentioned a clear influence of Roger Waters (Pink Floyd), and I know that your dad is musician, with his roots in the '60s and '70s. Is Waters an influence, and if so, how has he informed your playing? If not, who are your influences? Describe your bass rig.
Jon: I play a Music Man Stingray with a Boss Bass Overdrive pedal going into a Sunn Coliseum that is pushing an old Ampeg 8x10 and old Sunn 2x15. The Sunn amp is the true work horse of the bunch and largely responsible for my bass tone. Roger Waters has never been a big influence on my playing, but if I had to choose one of his peers, I'd go with John Entwhistle. My true bass playing hero is Rob Wright from the aforementioned Nomeansno. He plays with so much character and control. He's the reason I bought a bass when I was 17, and I taught myself to play by doing my best to replicate his style.
Aaron, you add a seriousness to the guitar in Akimbo, both in terms of chops (interesting string skipping and sweeps) and atmospherics/effects-driven soundscapes. However, you adhere to the Milton Berle school of exposing your talents (you only pull out as much as you need to get the job done). Who are your influences, what is your musical education, and how did your sound evolve? Also, describe your live setup.
Aaron Walters: When I was five, I saw Eddie Van Halen on TV and immediately knew what I wanted to do with my life. So I've played guitar since I was nine -- geeking out on every little thing I could learn. Jimi Hendrix was my first major influence. I decided that if I was going to play as emotively as he did, I'd have to eliminate any technical barriers that stood in my way. So I became a major shred dork in high school. I've had a lot of musical phases though -- I've never felt like a musician who belonged with one particular genre.
I've had a classical education. I play the violin (well, used to.) Studied classical guitar and jazz for a bit. Bass and drums, too. I make a living teaching music lessons on those instruments, which is great.
As far as playing with Akimbo goes, when it comes to writing parts, I've just always played what I thought I should be hearing. So influences don't really figure in on a conscious level.
I just got a custom First Act guitar. They're a great company that's mostly known for their budget, beginners' guitars from Target and whatnot. But their custom shop has made guitars for Converge, Mastodon, High On Fire, and a lot more great bands. We played with Converge a while ago, and Kurt Ballou hooked me up with an endorsement. Quite awesome.
It's a weird-shaped guitar made of a wood called Korina (like old Gibson Flying-V's and Explorers.) It's everything I wanted in a guitar. I also have a Fret-King made of the same wood. I like that stuff.
My amps are a Soldano 50w head through an old Marshall 4x12" cabinet with greenback speakers and an Ampeg V-4 head through a newer Marshall cab. The Soldano is a really bright, clear, distorted Marshall sound, and the Ampeg is set up super dark, muddy, bassy, gritty. So when the two mix together, it sounds ridiculously heavy. I also use a Fulltone Clyde wah, an old Ibanez AD-80 analog delay, and a few other effects here and there.
With how heavy your sound is, most people would be surprised that you tune to standard E. Have you experimented with down-tuning? Where does the heaviness come from?
Not to sound totally cheeseball, but true heaviness comes from the player, not the gear. Quality vintage amps also help a great deal. I've played around in other projects that have down-tuning, and while I think it sounds great with other bands, that sound is just not for me. Also, it's awesome to play a show and have some guy come up all punished and ask "What do you guys tune to?" Being able to look that dude in the eye and say, "E Standard, motherfucker," will never get old.
How did the recording process go? Did you use your same live rigs in the studio? Record to tape? Protools? Tell us anything interesting or informative about the recording process.
Never trust a hard drive. This was our first time relying solely on a computer for recording, and while it was efficient and fast, the hard drive crashed after eight days of drum tracking, and we had to start over from scratch. I'll never stray away from tape ever again. As far as the process goes, we did scratch tracks to get isolated drums, and then recorded everything else on our live rigs on top of the drums when they were done. It was tricky, considering the amount of instrumental cues on the album and the fact that we never would have finished it if we were trying to record the whole record in one take. A lot of it had to be pieced together during mixing and mastering. I was kind of the mastermind directing Nat a lot of the time. I'd be like, "Hey, man, you need to play along with this for eight measures. I know it doesn't make sense, but you just have to trust me." (whispered like Jack Bauer)
Have you heard the mess that is the new Metallica album? Do you have an opinion on "brick-wall" limiting and the loudness wars? By the way, MNFootball is using songs from Death Magnetic during their telecast.
Metallica's credibility died with Cliff Burton. I'm a fan of the black album and Justice, but it just wasn't the same after Ride the Lightning. Those guys are so obviously in a mid-life crisis, trying to recapture their youth, figuring "if we just play Load with some fast parts, then we'll fool everyone into thinking we've gone back to our roots," or some bullshit. The thing that blows me away about them is that I don't know a single person who likes new Metallica -- everyone agrees that they have been polishing a long dead turd for decades now -- yet they continue to sell records! Who is buying those albums? As far as the loudness wars go, I feel like it's entirely up to the artist how their record should sound. If Lars wants to replace his snare drum with the distorted slap of a baby's ass, then let him. It's his drumming, and he can do whatever he wants with it.
Finally, everyone give me a band (or bands) that fans in Houston might not have heard of but would like if they like Akimbo. Are there any band we would be surprised that Akimbo digs? Also, what bands that you have toured with can match you in beer consumption? Do you think that reviewers that drink vodka tonics at metal shows are pussies?
Some bands I would definitely recommend fans of Akimbo to check out would be Helm's Alee, Torche, Nomeansno, Lords, The Ruby Doe, Saviours, 400 Blows, Harkonen, Big Business, and Patrol. I would say we have a lot of zingers that people wouldn't assume we like. I'm a huge fan of early synth bands like Sparks, Devo, Kraftwerk, and Gary Numan. I also love ABBA, but those are the only ones that I'd say come out of left field. Bands we've toured with that can match us in our beers-per-dude ratio would definitely be Saviours, Lords, The Assailant, and, of course, Trainwreck. But they're Germans, so they have a home court advantage. Reviewers that drink vodka tonics at metal shows are only pussies if they don't actually like metal. END