You haven’t heard of the raging American three-piece BONES yet, but somehow the member names Joe "Apocalyptic Warlord" Schaeffer (drums), "Carcass" Chris (guitars) and Jon "Necromancer" Woodring (bass and vocals) sound familiar to your ears? Well, you bet! All three of them have been active in Chicago’s blackened Thrashers USURPER for quite a few years and released several albums with them until they unfortunately called the quits in 2007. But luckily this unholy trinity got back together again and in the meantime already released two amazing full length albums as BONES (the self-titled debut in 2011 and "Sons Of Sleaze" in 2013). If you like your Metal extremely raw’n’dirty, you have to check them out, cause BONES is one of the strongest forces in this department at the moment. In order to get more first hand information, we contacted Mr. Necromancer for the following interview…
Greetings Jon and welcome back to Voices From The Darkside. The last time you guys were featured in our zine was still with your previous band USURPER, so maybe you could start this interview by telling us what exactly caused the USURPER split-up back in 2007?
"Hails, Frank. It’s cool to be back in Voices… again. Thanks! A lot of different things added up to help push USURPER to the breaking point. Some of the bigger reasons were probably line-up issues, getting dropped by Earache, drug and booze influences, and we were starting to be so stressed about the band that we weren’t getting along as well as we once did. We lost our original singer, Diabolical Slaughter, in ‘03 and we soldiered on with someone else. He was good but it wasn’t the same. We went through several drummers over the years before Apocalyptic Warlord came back in ‘03, and then the we found ourselves without a singer again by the middle of ‘06. Rick and I tried taking over vocal duties but the magic was gone. In the middle of this Earache dropped us due to poor record sales. We spent a bunch of their money recording the two albums they released and they weren’t seeing enough of a return on their investment to want to keep us around. We tried generating label interest from other companies but no one, including some smaller underground labels, seemed interested. It was depressing. Also, we were all pretty fucked up all the time, so we weren’t really making good choices about how to handle the situation. We were still setting up out of state shows and weekend trips to stay busy and had a new album written, but we didn’t feel we were getting to where we were trying to go. The band just wasn’t fun anymore to be honest. I think by the beginning of ‘07 we were all basically done. By the middle of the year it was official."
From what I’ve read Chris, Joe and yourself got back together in 2009 when you formed BONES. What have you all been done in-between? Did you quit playing music completely for a while?
"I don’t think any of us are capable of quitting playing music completely. It’ll never happen. We were all still playing in other bands to try to see what would be next in our arsenal of Metal bands so-to-speak and looking for new opportunities. Joe Warlord was playing drums in a technical Metal band with his old friends. It was killer, but very complicated! Haha. Chris played with a few different local bands but he hadnt’t found the right fit yet. I was in KOMMANDANT at that time and I was touring with NACHTMYSTIUM and filling in on bass for them. None of us were doing anything that we had the same spirit and passion for that we did when we were in USURPER. Joe and I were sick of it and he moved his drums in my basement in the middle of ‘09 and we started putting the first of the songs together. The songs clicked right away and we instantly felt the magic. Chris stopped by once just to drink beer and hang out. We hadn’t seen each other for a long time. We got drunk and I think he picked up a guitar or something and the next thing you know, we had a band!"
I was actually pretty surprised that BONES exclusively consists of former USURPER members, so it seems to me that you all still get along pretty well, don’t you? Have you ever asked Rick to re-join you as well?
"No, we never have. He has his own band, SCYTHE, and we have ours. It’s no big deal. We’re not pissed at each other or anything, but we have our own bands. If we played with Rick it would turn into a USURPER reunion and totally different thing than BONES. If we jam with Rick in the future it would probably be a USURPER reunion project that would leave the integrity of both BONES and SCYTHE intact. As far a USURPER reunion is concerned, that too is unclear. It’s come up a few times in the past but I don’t think everyone was ready at the time. But, the SCYTHE band recently moved in to a rehearsal room down the hall from us so we see each other in the hallways from time to time. Now that we’re in the same building together I’m sure we’ll have a jam session at least once. Never say never…"
When you started out with BONES, was it clear for you right from the start that it had to differ musically quite a bit from what you were doing with USURPER or did that happen naturally?
"That’s funny because the last interview I finished the other day they asked if we thought we could ever get rid of the USURPER influence in our sound or if we were just stuck with it forever. Haha. We had no preconceived idea of what we wanted to sound like or what we thought we “should” sound like. Joe and I just started writing and it came out the way it did. Chris brought ideas to the table or came up with ideas spontaneously at rehearsal and everything just sounded like we wanted it to. There’s never been an attempt to sound like, or not to sound like USURPER. We’re just bashing it out the way we always do."
The style you’re playing in BONES is very dirty, raw and straight in your face, so what kind of stuff were you listening to that fueled your fire again?
"Well, the fire has always been burning for decades now! I think that in BONES we just have the chance to do whatever the fuck we feel like. USURPER was very regimented and Rick was the primary songwriter. USURPER was pretty much his vision by the end. We all added our share and contributed our playing nuances or whatever, but Rick was writing 98% of the material and it all sounded uniform. BONES is a little more all over the place. We all contribute to the songwriting. Obviously the Metal is what’s happening, but our other influences are coming through more so there’s a mixture of more Punk and Rock’n’Roll elements combined with all those old Metal metal influences that have left so many scars. Plus, our attitude is that this kind of music should be very raw, in your face, and as dangerous as possible. We’re not interested in writing and playing wimpy shit. This is a Metal band. If you don’t want to get your ass kicked then get the fuck out of here…"
You’ve already been labeled as Crust / Death Metal and Punk / Thrash Metal… can you live with those descriptions or would you personally chose a different description for your style of music?
"I don’t know. I hate trying to describe what we’re doing. In the end it doesn’t matter what it’s called anyway. We’re clearly influenced by those sounds so it’s something we can live with I suppose. The one thing that we don’t share is the political, and often politically correct, view of some Punk and Crust bands. BONES is about music, delivery and aggression and not about having any kind of agenda beyond that."
Is it possible that old VENOM had a strong impact on you as well again? I don’t know why, but the overall atmosphere / sound of the song ’13’ really reminds me of the early VENOM relesases…
"Ha! I never really thought it was a particularly “Venomy” type song until you just brought it up. I mean, VENOM is one of those bands, like CELTIC FROST or IRON MAIDEN, where they’re just burned into you soul. I don’t even need to listen to them any more because those songs and great albums are constantly playing in my head anyway. So, in that spirit it makes complete sense that ’13’ can come out that way, but its not like I just got done listening to the “Welcome To Hell” album and picked up a guitar and wrote ’13’. But in this kind of music I think things like that happen all the time. How many times have listened to a song from any random band that went from a killer Martin Ain bass line into a part with a Dave Lombardo drum beat and then the John Tardy scream kicks in? We would never purposely lift a riff or a song, but we‘re also not concerned with being the most original either. We’re not trying to break any new ground here and we make no BONES about wearing our influences on our sleeves."
Somehow it’s kinda weird that a band name as simple and effective as BONES hadn’t been taken before already by any of the zillions of Metal bands out there, but it seems that only you and another band from Belgium went for this monicker so far… So, please tell us a little bit about how you ended up with BONES as a band name and what other name options (if any) you also had in mind…
"I think the worst part of starting a new band is coming up with a name. Especially this late into the genre and all the best Metal band names are taken! I hate how all these newer hipster bands have a sentence or a almost a whole paragraph for their band name, but I can almost sympathize. We wanted a “one-word” band name. We didn’t want a name like “And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Blood Through The Wolves’ Throneroom Of Lucifer’s Shadow” or some nonsense. Most of the best band names are only one word: MOTÖRHEAD, VENOM, SLAYER, RAMONES, VOIVOD, DISCHARGE, AUTOPSY, and the list goes on and on. We had a list of names but most of them were really gay and didn’t have a good ring to them. We kept putting the decision off over and over again. Finally, the first album had been recorded and we needed to pull the trigger. Not having a band name was holding up the artwork process, we couldn’t draw up a contract with the label or anything, it sucked. We’re not name and lyric people, you know what I mean? We like to play music, not come up with names for it. I think the top contenders at the time were BONES and NECROHOLIC (ouch!). Chris was totally against NECROHOLIC so that left BONES. We did a quick online search and to our amazement no one had it yet that we could find so that’s what we settled on. We didn’t see the Belgian band until a couple of years later. Oh well. I’ve never heard their music but I hope they’re good. At first the name sounded weird to me, but now it’s grown on us and I can’t imagine us with another name. I fucking hope I never have to go through the process of picking another band name for another band again. It sucks…"
Unlike so many other bands you didn’t record a demo that you shopped around in order to get signed. So, how did you hook up with Planet Metal exactly? Did they check you out live or at a rehearsal? How many songs did you have at the time!
"I think we only had 5 or 6 songs at the time we agreed on signing with Planet Metal. We didn’t want to go through all the bullshit of recording a demo and shopping it around like in the old days. We decided early that we wanted to work with friends as much as possible with BONES. We’re from Chicago and there are lots of options here: good musicians, studios, artists, producers and engineers and a few labels. Planet Metal is run by Chris Maycock who has been in a few bands like SUPERCHRIST and HIGH SPIRITS. We’ve known him for years and he’s completely trustworthy. We wanted to sign with Planet Metal right in the beginning, so I ran into him at a HOOKERS show in Chicago and I told him I had a new band with Joe and Chris and asked him if he wanted to release it. He said he was into it and we shook hands on it. I don’t think he heard any of the music before agreeing to it."
Until your self-titled debut album got released by Planet Metal in 2011 I hadn’t really have heard of that label, so they still seem to be pretty small. This can of course be an advantage, when a band gets the label’s full attention, but at the same time it can also be a disadvantage when they still lack in experiences in the promotion and / or distributional department. So, what kind of experiences have you made with Planet Metal so far and how is it working with a label like them in comparison to your former label, Earache Records?
"It’s way better being on Planet Metal. The one thing that we did plan on from the beginning of the band was that we had no interest in being signed to a bigger label like Earache or Nuclear Blast or whatever. There’s no point. We’re old and have nothing to prove by signing to a “marquis” label and trying to sell a ton of records. BONES is an underground band and we feel more comfortable working deeply underground. The underground is where the real people are, if you know what I mean. Most of us freaks don’t do this for a living, it’s something that we do because there’s something diseased in our brains that make us either play in a band, or run an underground label / distro, or do cover art, or print a zine. When it comes to things like music, and the “business” of music, we would rather work with someone whose brain is as diseased as ours, and in Planet Metal we found the perfect candidate. Chris Maycock gets the job done for us. He doesn’t make promises he can’t keep. His contract is less than a page long. And perhaps the most important thing is that Chris is in several underground Metal bands so he understands what’s going on. He’s not a “label type” of person who sits an office and calls you on speakerphone. Do you know what I mean? (absolutely! – Frank)"
Both of your albums have been recorded at Electrical Audio in Chicago and both have a really “live” sound to them, so tell us a little bit more about the studio and the recording process. You obviously were extremely well rehearsed when you recorded your debut album, since it only took you 3 days to nail down the songs! Did you record them basically live with a couple of overdubs here and there or how did you manage to achieve this raw, authentic sound?
"That’s exactly what we did. We set up our gear, the engineer Sanford Parker started miking everything while we went to the bar and started “warming up”. We stumbled back a couple hours later and just started bashing it out. Today, most bands multitrack which means they don’t all play at the same time. They record one track at a time and they’ll double, triple, quadruple, etc their parts and it sounds really clean and slick. That has its place I suppose but we didn’t want that kind of “produced” sound. We wanted it to sound like it does when we rehearse or play a show. So we played “live” recording the drums, guitar and bass all at once. We didn’t add any additional guitar tracks or layer the vocals or anything at all. What we played was what you got. Once we nailed the music part the vocals were recorded separately. The studio itself is pretty nice. It’s owned by Steve Albini who is a pretty “big” producer. We didn’t use him for the album or anything, but we rented his studio. It has a 2 story drum room that sounds great and they have great gear to help us facilitate recording everything so quickly."
Just out of curiosity: how long did it take you to record the songs for the second album, “Sons of Sleaze”?
"We gave ourselves 4 days for that one. We had more songs and we didn’t want to rush."
To me “Sons of Sleaze” sounds even more live, even though it was recorded at the same studio. So, what did you change and do you consider that as improvements or are there certain things that you aren’t too pleased with in retrospect, when it comes to the production of the new album?
"We wanted the guitars to be a little bit more up front on “Sons Of Sleaze” and we didn’t want the bass frequency to clash with the guitar sound. So, we messed with that a little bit. We also mixed everything up the middle this time. On the first album we did it old school where the guitars come out of the left speaker and the bass out of the right. In general we like the way it came out, but it has just a little bit too much low end rumble for my tastes. That was what we wanted to add to this album, but we might have added a bit too much. We were trying to get a more raw sound, and we definitely got it! But we’re still proud of it and stand behind the album, and the sound, 100%."
Your debut album was still co-produced by Sanford Parker, who only did the mix on “Sons Of Sleaze”, so weren’t you satisfied with is work on your debut?
"In hindsight, not giving him a co-producer credit was probably a mistake. But, for what we do we don’t really have any use for a producer. We had all of the songs written before we got to the studio (lyrics are a different story). He pretty much set up the mics and then got out of the way while we bashed it out. What we like about working with him is that he’s extremely confident and he can work very quickly. A producer drives the ship. Sanford made sure the ship was seaworthy and he kept everything running smoothly. He just makes things very easy for us."
How important are the lyrics to BONES and what kind of topics do you write about in general? Weren’t the lyrics included in the CD booklets due to financial reasons?
"The label actually encouraged us to have a more extensive layout. We just didn’t feel comfortable with it. Lyrics are the least important element to BONES as a band. For us it’s more about the vocal delivery. The lyrics are just a means to achieve the ends. For us to print our juvenile lyrics in the booklet would be a waste of space. BONES is about efficiency both musically and visually. We don’t try to cultivate an audience by relying on image, gimmicks, or extras. It wouldn’t make sense for us to write a bunch of 3 minute songs that are very primitive and then have a 16 page booklet that gave more details than necessary to enjoy the record. Its just not our style. Some of the lyrics on “Sons Of Sleaze” are about being a dirtbag loser, having your personality serve as a cancer to others, having terrible luck, and about being clinically insane. Basic day to day stuff."
You’ve got a very cool looking band logo, which was created by XNA Casperson, who’s a stranger to me, I gotta confess… So, could you tell us more about him and if he’s already done other stuff or ever since the BONES logo?
"Actually “XNA” stands for “Christina”. XNA is a woman also located here in Chicago and she does great work. Before she drew our logo she had done some album covers and t shirts for other underground bands like: DAWNBRINGER, NOCTURNAL BLOOD, ZUUL, 2 DESTROYER 666 shirts, a border for the Slayer Magazine book, cover art for the VON / BLACK ANVIL split and artwork for ORGAN magazine and NECRONOS zine. I knew I wanted her to do our logo before we even formed the band."
Equally impressive as your logo is the cover art on both albums, courtesy of the one and only Matthew “Putrid” Carr. How did you get together with him and how much of your own ideas got incorporated in his artwork pieces? Will you continue to work with him on future releases?
"We’ve known Matt for a while. He actually lives a few blocks from me. The wife and I had him over for beers and food last weekend. Even if we weren’t neighbors we see each other at local shows and bars all the time. Like I mentioned earlier, BONES decided early on that we wanted to work locally as much as possible. Matt is local, and his drawing style fits our music style perfectly. Both he and XNA worked on the debut album cover. We had them both over to our rehearsal, we all got nice and stoned and we played them the songs for the new album. For the first album we wanted a graveyard theme but we didn’t give them any details about what should be in there. That’s the artist’s department. They should have the freedom to do their thing without too much interference. For “Sons Of Sleaze” we only used Matt for the cover. We did the same thing and had him over to one of our practices and got wasted all night. We had some terrible, disjointed ideas that we gave to Matt. Fortunately, he ignored them all and came up with the cover concept on his own. It’s disgusting. We love it. I don’t see why we wouldn’t use him in the future. I think our styles compliment each other."
On both of your albums you’ve also had very cool cover songs so far: DEVASTATION’s ‘Apocalyptic Warrior’ on your debut and TERRORIZER’s ‘Fear Of Napalm’ on “Sons Of Sleaze”. Will you continue to include a cover song on each of your releases in the future? Do you play any other cover songs during rehearsals or at live shows? Was it difficult to agree that all three of you really liked or did one or another simply had to compromise?
"Haha. That’s a great question. Believe it or not… we all agreed. USURPER used to cover ‘Apocalyptic Warrior’ and we were going to record it. We had an entire album written that was never recorded and that song was going to be on it but of course, USURPER broke up before we could do it. When BONES started we didn’t have very much material written, and since we all knew ‘Apocalyptic Warrior’ from the USURPER days we decided to play it again just to keep rehearsal fresh. We thought it sounded good so we put it on the album. The TERRORIZER song was another that we all agreed on, but we were fucking around with a few covers at practice and that was the one that stuck. We don’t play any other covers live, but if you catch us at practice you might find us drunk and stumbling through VAN HALEN’s ‘Somebody Get Me A Doctor’, UFO’s ‘Rock Bottom’, BLACK SABBATH’s ‘Warning’, or THE WHO’s ‘Heaven And Hell’."
Talking of TERRORIZER: what’s your opinion about the band that’s currently playing shows as TERRORIZER and also on the albums that followed the classic “World Downfall”?
"The only one I’ve heard after “World Downfall” is “Darker Days Ahead”. I think it’s a good record but I do miss Oscar’s vocals (same here – Frank). I thought he was able to really make a mark alongside the other “rockstars” in the band if you know what I mean. But hey, bands change their line-up all the time. I haven’t heard anything post Jesse, but only because I’m lazy and haven’t searched it out. I hope it’s good. If they were playing here live I would definitely check them out. I’m not one of the “purists”. If the new line-up sounds kick ass then I’ll buy the album and support. But, if it sucks I’ll definitely call it out."
In “Sons Of Sleaze” there’s a pic of Joe’s hands. What is the meaning of those tattoos?
"The letters on his hands represent a basic drum rudiment. It’s called a “paradiddle”. The definition of a paradiddle is: “a quick succession of drumbeats slower than a roll and alternating left- and right-hand strokes in a typical L-R-L-L, R-L-R-R pattern”. It’s a bit of an inside joke dating back to when USURPER was recording our first album, “Diabolosis…”. We were in the studio and Joe was warming up his feet on the kick drums. The engineer, Brian Eaton who is also a drummer, looked at Joe in amazement and asked “are you doing paradiddles with your feet?” He was blown away because normally they can only be done by hand because it’s too hard to do them very quickly with your feet. Joe was doing this to warm up! Of course the rest of us had no idea what the fuck a paradiddle was, we just thought it sounded funny. So it’s been kind of a joke between all of us ever since. “Are you playing paradiddles with your feet?????"
Last year a band (I guess they were from Mexico), that named themselves TRUE METAL BONES, came up with a heavy rip off of your band logo… Would you tell us more about that and what happened to them?
"I have no idea what happened to them. Someone found them on facebook and pointed them out to us. It’s a complete rip off of our logo. But, the band seems really harmless. Just a couple of kids from Mexico who are apparently really into newer METALLICA. They must have seen our logo, thought it was really cool and just re-used it. Honestly, these guys are so harmless that I actually think that it’s kind of cool. I just wish they would credit the logo to XNA Casperson since she did such a great job drawing it for them!"
In the meantime you already must have played quite a bunch of shows as BONES, so have there been an ones that really stuck out? At least I saw flyers of shows that you played with PERVERSION, FUNERAL NATION and WITCHTRAP, as well as with NUNSLAUGHTER, ACID WITCH and ABSCONDER, so would you like to comment a little bit on them maybe?
"We haven’t played a lot of shows. Maybe 6 and all have been in Chicago. We’ve been really fortunate and have played some great shows with some amazing bands. Most have been local but several are from out of town. WITCHTRAP had to postpone their show here as the guitarist was in the hospital with a strange arm infection, but we still soldiered on with great sets from PERVERSION and the legendary FUNERAL NATION. 2 years ago my wife and I set up a show with AUTOPSY, CIANIDE, BONES, CARDIAC ARREST, and REIGN INFERNO. That was a great night. We played well, and we got to party with some great bands. The hangover was brilliant! This May we’ll finally play some shows outside of Chicago when we leave for our first mini tour opening up for COFFINS on some shows before they play Maryland Death Fest this year. We’re chomping at the bit to get out of Chicago and play other places. We’d love to get on a couple of the smaller, underground fests eventually."
You’re now a three-piece band… has that already caused you any problems during live situations, for example when you’re playing a solo or something? Or have you written your songs for one guitar only anyway, right from the start?
"BONES was meant to be a three-piece. The beauty of making simple albums and recording live as a three-piece is that nothing is missing when you play the same way live at a show."
The Chicago Metal scene has alway been very healthy in the past, with bands like MASTER, DEATH STRIKE, DEVASTATION, SINDROME, FUNERAL NATION, SCEPTER, USURPER, etc. etc. How about today: any new hopefuls that you can recommend?
"There are definitely some good newer bands playing around here all the time. My current favorite is TERMINATE. They have the Swedish Death Metal sound but the riffs are really outstanding. These guys are young but they really have a feel for that old style, which is rare I’m afraid. Some other notable newer bands are SONS OF FAMINE and IMPERIAL SAVAGERY. Even though the bands are newer, they feature some grizzly veterans of the Chicago Metal scene. They’re all top notch."
Ok Jon, that should be enough for now… all the best and tell the other guys I said hello, ok? The last words are yours!
"Thanks again, Frank. We’ve been fans of your work for many many years now. I hope we can meet and enjoy a good beer together some day. Cheers!"
Interview: Frank Stöver
Live pics (last 6): John Mourlas Photography
Joe Schaeffer pic: Sean Costin