In the Belgian magazine Rock Tribune, I have a column where I write from time to time about a demo which really had a lot of impact on me. The second demo of the cult band DR SHRINKER – “Wedding The Grotesque” (1989) – is such a tape. You can find twelve tracks on that demo with very fast, really unique Death Metal and quite outrageous vocals – comparable to the debut of SADUS or MORBID SAINT – which totally stood the test of time and are just as fresh and charming twenty-five years later. DR SHRINKER only existed from 1987 until 1991 and never released a ‘real’ album, but was quite famous and loved in the blooming tapetrading-scene. Since spring 2013, DR SHRINKER is active again and plays a gig from time to time. I travelled twenty-five years back in time, together with vocalist and frontman Rich Noonan.
As far as I know, “Wedding The Grotesque” was your first recording at the Sound Palette studio. What kind of a studio was that? What was it that made you decide to try this studio out back then?
“We actually had one demo before “Wedding The Grotesque”, it was called “Recognition”. “Wedding The Grotesque” was the second demo that was recorded at Sound Palette studio, it may not have been called Sound Palette studio at the time we recorded “Recognition”. Our drummer at the time – Dave Priem – lived across the street from the guy – Keith – who ran Sound Palette. The studio was very small and was down in his basement. From what I remember, it had just enough for what we needed to record. It definitely was nothing high tech, but the place was nice and convenient for us since Dave lived right across the street from it. The main reason we used it, is because we were teenagers. I was twenty – as was Jim – but the other guys were teenagers. Actually Dave may have been older, I do not remember. But we didn’t have a lot of money. I am pretty sure the recording cost us somewhere between one hundred and two hundred dollars, probably closer to one hundred dollars. I remember we were not charged anything for the first demo, but for “Wedding The Grotesque” we were charged. In retrospect, we got a pretty damn amazing deal on the recording.”
“Wedding The Grotesque” was recorded in May / June 1989. So, did you record most of the time in very small sessions in the evenings or maybe during weekends, because 2 months is a rather long period?
“We must have recorded at the very end of May into June 1989. It is possible we started one weekend and then completed it on the next weekend. What I remember for sure, is that the main recordings where we were all in the studio took two days. We did not really have much time beyond those two days, the guy at the studio said that we had to be done in two days. I am not one hundred percent certain on that, I am going to have to ask Jim to tell me again. I do know that Chad, Jim and Dave did end up putting a little bit extra time on a third next weekend. The last song they recorded was the instrumental ‘Wedding The Grotesque’. I remember that we recorded the last weekend of May and then the next weekend, the guys finished it up. I think that last day, Keith also added that whole ‘wave sound’ that is at the beginning of the song ‘Pronounced Dead’.”
Were you satisfied with the result? Would you say that you progressed a lot as a band when you compare “Recognition” (1988) to “Wedding The Grotesque” (1989)?
“I am pretty sure all the guys were satisfied with the result, I know I was and still am. I feel we progressed light years comparing “Recognition” to “Wedding The Grotesque”. “Wedding The Grotesque” showed more of a Death Metal / Thrash Metal direction and it got away from the more Punk sound that we still had on “Recognition”. I still think it is pretty cool how ‘raw’ “Wedding The Grotesque” sounds and that it is far from a ‘polished / clean’ sound.”
“Wedding The Grotesque” is probably your most known and most popular demo. There are twelve tracks on it and the total length is over forty-five minutes, so you could almost regard it as an album. What’s the main reason do you think why especially this DR SHRINKER demo is so known and loved? Did you promote it a lot back in the days?
“I promoted it a LOT back in those days. I sent the demo to every fanzine I knew and traded it with a whole bunch of other bands. Probably traded twice as many demos as we sold. I know I had a similar question in the past few years, and I think I stated we sold maybe only about one hundred copies of “Wedding The Grotesque”. As I already said, I traded or sent copies to fanzines about twice as many. The reason it is known more than “The Eponym” – I would assume – is that there was a lot more time to send out the demo. Plus at the time of doing “The Eponym”, we all thought that those two songs on it were going to be something that would appear on something with Earache.”
“Wedding The Grotesque” has a very heavy sound, with the bass very much up front in the mix which really suits the material. Also your vocals were really extreme to say the least for that time. Was this the sound that you also had in mind as a band, when you entered the studio?
“Hmmm. I wish I knew this answer a bit more for sure. I can say that I am sure both Jim and Chad would have preferred to have more guitar in the mix, but I know that everyone was happy with the final result. I actually think my vocals were toned down a bit, so maybe that is what happened. We recorded for two days and then came back. I actually laugh at some of the stuff on the first demo and just think it’s absolutely ridiculous what I am doing there. When I sit and listen to “Wedding The Grotesque”, I wonder how the heck I did that and how much of it is me or a small addition of some special affects, done to my voice. I think a lot of it was natural, which definitely is interesting to me because it is kind of a ‘scary sound’. I have a buddy who I used to work with, who told me if he ever walked into a room and his kids were listening to us, he would really be worried (laughs). Basically he is the one who told me my voice is ‘scary’ more than anything. I owe my vocals pretty much to Blaine from THE ACCÜSED. When I heard those vocals, I thought that is what I wanted to do. It also helps that I have absolutely no real talent in regular singing. I just suck at trying to hold an actual tune.”
“Wedding The Grotesque” opens with an intro taken from “Hellraiser 2”. On the demo, there are also 2 songs about rather famous horror movies – “Rawhead Rex” and “Evil Dead” – and there’s also a sample from an interview with Charles Manson in the instrumental titletrack. So, I guess that you were all very big horror fans back in the days and that you watched a shitload of those movies? Would you say “Evil Dead” and “Rawhead Rex” were among your favourites? Do you think that the horror movies of today still have the same charm as the stuff that came out in the eighties?
“Most definitely we were heavily influenced by horror movies and novels! There is a live recording of us from back in 1988, where I say something along the lines that “Rawhead Rex” the novel is much better than the movie. I do not think I ever really liked the movie, it did not seem to do the novel justice. All of the “Books Of Blood” written by Clive Barker absolutely ruled, I found them again recently at the house of my parents and plan on reading them again. I re-read the “Rawhead Rex” graphic novel about a month ago. I am sure the reason I ended up reading the Barker books was the heavy influence and love for the first two “Hellraiser” movies. I do not quite know the sequence… if I watched the movies first or started reading his books first. But Barker all around was just a massive influence. ‘Tools Of The Trade’ – the first track on “Wedding The Grotesque” – is also a Clive Barker influenced track. It is based on “The Midnight Meat Train”. “Midnight Meat Train” also became a movie many years later. I know a lot of people who are much more into horror than I am. But my opinion is that horror movies today can still be very cool. There is good and bad stuff from the eighties, and also good and bad stuff nowadays. As for Charles Manson, that was back in the days when he was being interviewed by Geraldo. His insanity was in full bloom at that time. As much of a horrible person that guy really was, his lunatic ramblings still made us laugh.”
Would you say that there were certain songs on “Wedding The Grotesque” that were a sort of ‘hit’ back in the old days. Songs to which the audience really responded to or asked / cheered for?
“I just saw someone recently post online that ‘Chunk Blower’ was our hit. That made me laugh, just because it is funny to state we had any ‘hits’. If the current day response is like the old days, then the songs that people mainly enjoyed / enjoy are ‘Chunk Blower’, ‘Rawhead Rex’ and ‘Mesmirization Of A Corpse’. My memory is so foggy in trying to remember all of what went on back then. And I can not even blame that on alcohol or drugs, because I have never really took part too much in that. But I do know that even just the name ‘Chunk Blower’ intrigued people as much as the song may have. By the way, ‘Chunk Blower’ is based on a scene from “Gates Of Hell”. And ‘Mesmirization Of A Corpse’ is based on an Edgar Allen Poe story. So, more horror based influences.”
Did you sell most of the demo yourself? Or through mail or at gigs? Or did you work a lot with distributors in other countries who sold the tape for you?
“By the time “Wedding The Grotesque” was recorded, we were still selling the “Recognition” demo. Of course in those days, it took much longer to get the word out that a new demo / recording existed. So it was probably not until late 1989 / early 1990 before word may started spreading about “Wedding The Grotesque”. I want to say that we sold about one hundred demos, but that is a complete guess. Most of the demos were sold locally, through some record-stores and by myself / us at the few shows we did play after that. There were definitely a good amount sold through the mail. The reason though, as also stated above, that “Wedding The Grotesque” spread through the scene was the tape-trading that I did with other bands and fanzines, and of course the demo being re-traded throughout the underground. I am certain that it is pretty much ninety-five percent how our name and the demo got out to the masses. Through tape-trading and help of fanzines.”
Did you actually play a lot of gigs to promote “Wedding The Grotesque” back in the days? Would you say that you were a good live-band back then? What were the highlights of these gigs for you, would you say?
“After initially seeing this interview, I would have responded with a ‘yes’. But after I actually looked at our old flyers, I realized we did not. I am not sure why, but we played a lot more shows in 1988 and early 1989 and not so much anymore from the summer of 1989 through 1990. We played a few local gigs after “Wedding The Grotesque” was recorded. One of them was at a local club where most of our shows were held. One was a basement gig at Matt’s house. But we also played a show with CORONER and KREATOR in September 1989. Then, unless I forgot and lost some of the old flyers, we did not play another show until June 1990. I think the hiatus may have had to do with line-up changes. Since we recorded “The Eponym”, we had a new bassist and a new drummer, who were replaced for the ‘Our Necropsy’ recording later on. I really am not sure if we were exciting on stage, but I do know we had some pretty packed shows in 1988. I just recently was given a VHS tape of a 1988 show, but I still have to watch it. I plan on having it transferred to DVD. I found out that another guy I know also has a DVD of a show from 1989. The 1988 gigs were great, for some reason that must have just been the year where everyone decided to go to shows. I remember how blazing hot it was in the club when we did those shows. I think that may have been a summer were we had many days of ninety plus degrees. When I actually watch the old recordings, I will be able to see just exactly what we were all about back then.”
In 1990, you recorded the demo “The Eponym” together with Eric Greif who produced albums of CYCLONE, MORBID SAINT, NUM SKULL and INVOCATOR. Did you have the feeling back then that all your efforts were finally starting to pay off and that things were getting serious?
“Yes! We definitely thought we would actually see ourselves on an album / CD. I am not sure if any of those bands you mentioned had yet had albums / CDs, I do not remember. But I do know that when we entered the studio to record “The Eponym”, the goal was that those tracks were going to be released on a compilation on Earache. But as we now know, that never happened.”
I always thought that you were an excellent band. But just like that other great U.S. band – SINDROME – you never got a record-deal. I remember that Bill and Jeff – the guys from CARCASS – were interested in signing you for their label Necrosis Records.
“The songs ‘Germ Farm’ and ‘Tighten The Tourniquet’ were recorded for the sole purpose of being included on a compilation with Earache. I believe Dig payed for the recording, but I do not remember. Not sure when we decided to just convert our thoughts so that they became “The Eponym”. But I am sure it was not in our immediate thoughts that they would be part of a third demo. ‘Our Necropsy’ was recorded with the goal of it appearing on something Bill and Jeff from CARCASS were working on. We recorded ‘Our Necropsy’ in November 1990. That goal never became reality either. So basically, that is why many years later – 2003 I think – ‘Our Necropsy’ was released on a 7” split-single with NUNSLAUGHTER.”
There’s a compilation out there called “Grotesque Wedlock”, which is a compilation of all your demo-material. Are you satisfied with this compilation? And what goes through your mind when you listen to your old songs?
“When I walked away from the band in early January 1991, I pretty much walked away from the scene completely. I went back to college and concentrated on that and work later on, all the way through to 2012. When “Grotesque Wedlock” came out, I was sent a few copies. I thought it was cool, but I did not really listen to it at all, except for a few occasional spins here and there. I basically thought that it was really cool that our demos were now on a single CD. And I thought it was a good thing that anyone who was not in the scene back then would have an easier access to hear DR SHRINKER. I am very happy with it. When I listen to it, I can definitely feel the different phases of the band that we went through and it’s a great archive of December 1987 – January 1991. I have to admit that I hardly ever listen to the stuff of “Recogintion”, except for the two songs (‘The Command’ and ‘Graphic Violence’) which we played at a couple of shows the past few years. I mainly listened to the songs of “The Eponym”, but once DR SHRINKER was getting back together I did listen to the “Wedding The Grotesque” stuff much more. Just as a side note, in August 2013 the CD was repressed and it now includes ‘Our Necropsy’ right after ‘Germ Farm’. It is a hidden track though, so there is no indication on the booklet that the song is included. So, it’s even a bit cooler that every single one of our studio recordings is now on “Grotesque Wedlock”.”
In January 2013, you guys re-united and you have been playing gigs now and then in the U.S. since then. What was the main reason to get back together? How have these reunion-gigs been going? And do you have certain plans for the future as a band or not really?
“In November 2012, I was sitting down with Jim, watching a football game. I had just recently – probably two weeks before that – stated that I had no intention in ever getting back together. I just thought to let it all be something in the past. Plus I felt there was no way I could do vocals like I used to. There were a couple of different variables and people that started to change my mind. But the major decision was basically made, after one weekend of jamming again. The only goal was to see how things worked out and then play a re-union gig. Long before we had a few months of practice in, we played an initial basement show and then set up our ‘return show’ (September 2013) and even before that ‘return show’ occurred, we committed to a couple of local mini-festivals (November 2013 and April 2014). I think the shows have went well, we feel we are performing much better than the first couple in 2013. The out of state shows have been a blast, there have only been a few (a couple in and around Chicago, one in New York and one in Cleveland), but the reception has been great. The thing I most enjoy is talking with people who said they have been waiting to see us since 1988, as well as other old school fans and new fans. The gigs have made the whole getting back together worth it. Right now, we have a show planned for early October in New Jersey. After that, I am not certain what’s going to happen, since there’s nothing else scheduled or planned. At the most recent gigs, we included a ‘new’ old song in our setlist, it is called ‘Repulsive Habits’. So a goal would probably be recording it and hopefully some other new songs, plus also maybe re-recording a few of the old ones since they have a new 2013 / 2014 flavor to them that I think people would really dig. We shall see. No matter what, it has been fun thus far. And feel it has been one thousand percent worth it!"
Update (January 11, 2015):
Dread Records just released a cassette of a rehearsal from 1990 with the title “Dr. Shrinker – ‘The Practice Sessions – August 1990”. Due to the raw nature of these recordings, the recording is released as a cassette. The tracklist reads like this: ‘In Body And Soul’, ‘Our Necropsy’, ‘Tracheotomy’, ‘‘Germ Farm’, ‘Repulsive Habits’, ‘Bacterial Encroachment’, ‘Grotesque Wedlock’ and ‘Tighten The Tourniquet’.
Here’s what Rich Noonan had to say about it:
"Dread Records is doing a cassette release because the old practice session recordings fit the sounds / style of the late eighties. There will be 8 songs on it, I believe 4 of them are unreleased stuff (including ‘Repulsive Habits’). There’s a different version of ‘Bacterial Encroachment’ (a post “Wedding The Grotesque” version) and an earlier version of ‘Our Necropsy’. I put a lot of these songs already on YouTube about 3 years ago, and I think those recordings made their way through the tapetrading network, because I would put those songs on tapes that I sent to people or who I traded with. The people who are playing on the rehearsal was the line-up from “The Eponym” (Jim, Chad, Tony Brandt, Scott McKillop and myself)."