?! Maybe you’ve had the same experiences with this band that I had back in the underground’s past. You’ve read the name lots of times in old zines etc. and the band had been praised as a cult-act by various musicians and scene personalities. But sadly I never got to hear their stuff. It wasn’t until their split 7" with NUNSLAUGHTER, that was put out last year. DR. SHRINKER, who already broke up years before, were featured with an unreleased tune on that EP. After that I quickly searched for their other stuff and simply got blown away by it. This, their unique morbid Death Metal, their cult status and also their coming re-release of their admired demos on CD via Necroharmonic Productions led me to the decision to do an interview with Matt to postmortally enlighten the myth that is the doctor…
Matt: “Well, let me first say thanks a lot to you, John, for taking the time for this interview and interest in the band. The questions you have asked go back to 1987 up to the current, and my answers may overlap at times. I asked Chad Hensel to answer some questions as well. He did. Thanks again, here it goes.”
Matt, please give us info on the beginning of DR. SHRINKER. When, who and how? Were any of you members active in other bands prior to the Doc? The name derives from some sort of TV show, doesn’t it?
Matt: “Yeah. Dr. Shrinker was part of a sitcom series aimed at the teens of American t.v. culture during the late 70’s, early 80’s. I met Rich Noonan (vocals) through mutual friends that I had been jamming with sometime in ’86. As we got to know each other, we decided to start a band a bit heavier and darker than what was happening. We were listening to a lot of the same music, such as; the German trinity of Sodom, Destruction, Kreator and Hardcore like Septic Death, Attitude Adjustment, AccÜsed. Of course we were also into Voivod, Sacrifice and demo bands recently signed Autopsy, Incantation, Immolation, Unleashed, Entombed, Grave, Necrophagia, Paradise Lost, I could go on… Some of these bands we had started corresponding with as fans before we were a band. The line up went through some changes in the first six months or so. Eventually we ended up as a four piece, myself, Rich, Jim Potter on guitar and Dave Priem on drums. A strange cast to be certain… average age was 18. This put all of us in our first ‘real’ band. The scene in Milwaukee was fair at best, some good local acts inspiring us would’ve been 10-96, die kreuzen, Realm and Blacklist to name a few. As we were youngsters we would play friends houses and some all age shows wherever we could set up. All pretty central to Milwaukee, a very much do it yourself scene.”
The first release seems to be the “Recognition” tape. My copy tells that it is a ‘pre-Demo’. Was it officially released? Tell us any facts about this output! How many copies in circa did you spread of it?
Matt: “In comparison to what was happening around us and as we had been collecting tapes for years, we felt we had material worthy enough of a demo. I think the reason for the title was some sarcastic humor on our part, expecting some respect. Having a demo made you an official band, helped you get shows and we also traded quite a few. The studio we recorded at was across the street from Dave’s house where we had practiced. Our first time in the studio… it shows. This is where we recorded "Wedding The Grotesque" as well. I suppose the circulation that we sent out could’ve been no more than 400 or so.”
The next release in line is the “Wedding The Grotesque” Demo 1989. It features a lot of tracks and it must have been THE tape that got SHRINKER ‘famous’ in the scene. You must have been spreading a lot of those tapes and done a lot of trading, right? Which bands were musical influences?
Matt: “After that demo came out we played some more shows and met Chad Hensel who became our second guitarist and significant contributor. Rich had been sending / trading "Recognition" and a live tape from October of ´88 to a lot of folks. Feedback from these efforts were inspiring us. Then bands like Dead Conspiracy, Nun Slaughter, Regurgitation and simply following the bands we were into and listening to them change. Voivod was most influential at this point, then Carcass and Godflesh arrived. Devastating. A really great time for music. Chris from Autopsy turned me onto the Residents and King Crimson. Of course Horror and Avantgarde films were a healthy part of the diet. Reading E.A. Poe, Clive Barker and real life crime accounts would make our grim perspectives on reality that much more enjoyable.”
What was the gig situation like back then? How many live shows did DR. SHRINKER play and with what bands? I guess, there was quite a good gig scene then. When I read old interviews of US Death Metal bands there’s always a wide list of ‘bands we played with’, so how did your band fit in there? How were those SHRINKER gigs and the reactions from the crowd?
Matt: “The gig scene at the time was fair. Not a whole lot of underground bands came through. Jack Koschick of Metal Fest fame had a club in Milwaukee. The Odd Rock cafe. We did lots of shows there. Saw some great ones like Death, Sacrifice and Whiplash. Not all together, unfortunately. The biggest shows we played would be opening for Kreator and Coroner on the Extreme Aggression tour, and some R/C showcase with Sepultura, Obituary and Sadus. The smaller shows were always the best. Sadly we never toured.”
Posterior to the “Wedding…” tape there must have been interest from labels!? Were there ever different plans at that moment before returning to the demo tape path later? And the band also faced line-up problems (for the 1st time?)!
Matt: “We were used to what is now called DIY. With the "Wedding…" recording, we knew it was albums length but just wanted to get another tape out. We did not expect great returns or an album deal. Jeff and Bill of Carcass had started Necrosis Records (Repulsion!!!) and we had spoken to them a couple of times but nothing came out of it. So we kept on forging our own path. As we close out the 80’s we all are starting to get a taste of freedom in our lives as well as our music. Our drummer Dave was the first to go, I believe it was mutual but can not recall. Rich and I were quite deep into murder and death (as ways of life) and he started conceptual ideas here. I was starting to branch off and tried to fill the drum vacancy. In hindsight my fathers suicide coincides with some changes here.”
You were one of the members leaving the band at this moment! Why? Was there a drastic change in the band climate? There was also a wide evolution in the direction the music took! Could you still watch those changes from the outside or was this even the cause for tension and the line-up problems? A new chapter for DR. SHRINKER definitely began
Matt: “As I was trying the drums out I hooked up with an old friend and started Feck. This was at first an alcoholic rock mess, which I will elaborate on later, but provided a nice contrast to the dark and ominous path the Doctor was heading down. Eventually I opted to play bass with Feck as Chad and Rich were getting started with some new material. I suppose we felt that we had reached a level of success that we were happy with and did not push any aspect of the band. Not too much desire to play live at this time, mainly because of a ho-hum scene and most of the band in college. Our fan base was so spread out that we probably had more fans in Ohio or Poland than in Milwaukee.”
Although you were not in the recording line-up, I hope that you can give me some info on the next demo tape in 1990 called “Eponym”. It was recorded with session members from the band PHANTASM on the rhythm section. The music had definitely changed, the band became more and more original. The demo only features 2 tracks. Was this tape widely spread?
Matt: “This recording was put together by a manager / promoter dickhead from the area. While he did have good production techniques and ideas, he was too greedy and ended up fucking shit up for a few bands besides ourselves. I think we distributed about 500 by our hands.”
Chad: “The climate of the band after Matt left was strange. I felt a bit forced into using the Phantasm cats. The community in Milwaukee was small, it did not support itself and was dysfunctional, as most things are in the Midwestern U.S.. I felt we had a lot of momentum going though so we had to continue, whatever that meant. Tony and Scott did a good job on "The Eponym", but I never felt they took it at all serious, that is why I was so pleased to regain Matt and James.”
So, after that the line-up changes once more. You return to the band! How did “Eponym” change the way people did look upon SHRINKER? Different reactions? Did any new musical influences evolve during this period? Hopes for a fine deal are getting closer to fullfillment!? Were there other interested labels apart from Earache?
Matt: “I remember hearing "The Eponym" in a record store and was blown away by the progressions made since I had left. I promptly got in touch with Rich and Chad and mentioned a new drummer I was playing with in FECK (James Mayer) and we were reunited. I do not remember any major reviews or critiques of that tape, let alone any label interest. As I mentioned, it was not a burning desire to be signed, we were still playing strictly for ourselves. I do want to mention how important zines were, especially prior to "The Eponym". The underground zine phenomenon is amazing. It was so crucial for bands of that era. I can recall old issues of Metal Forces and Aardschock, with those leading to Kick Ass and Blackthorn, and those leading to Uniforce and A Taste Of Bile to name only a few. We really owe a lot to the great underground press, then as well as now. Thanks.”
Chad: “The influences on "The Eponym" varied from member to member, for me it was the musical and conceptual complexity, and diversity of bands such as Voivod, the Residents and Zappa, mixed with the emotional climate of bands like Autopsy, early Carcass, early Paradise Lost, Swans, Big Black and Grave. This recording also corresponded with early hallucinogenic experimentation for most of us. It was a time of an expanding openness to our perception of the universe. It was at this point that the glorification of evil seemed unnecessary to me. The duality of the physical is just a small component of a gigantic ever-expanding event. Hallucinogens started to hint at those kinds of possibilities and change our criteria and aesthetic for audio experience. At least it did for me!”
So the next recording was a demo recording for Earache! When was that exactly? Did you only record that one track during this session? I read that it should have been featured on a label compilation. Were there ever plans for an album after this or did Earache loose or never had more interest? The band more or less broke up shortly after that. Which were the driving forces for this demise?
Chad: “Rich had been the one discussing the compilation with Earache and we were sent money for the recording. I think it was a successful two sessions. The second put the finishing touches on the most cohesive of the Shrinker recordings, in my opinion. The band was heading for some interesting territory, it’s too bad it all ended. And it is also too bad the compilation omitted us, it may have saved the band. Why it was never to be was not explained to us and all correspondence ended.”
Matt: “I think this was the last straw so to speak. Looking back on these events, it was simply not enough to be self fulfilling. We really did need to take the next step and as modest as we were, we were not about to go around licking peoples asses for a break. We did have an albums worth of material that roughly exists on a rehearsal tape, but was developed further undocumented. Also, for me, FECK was existing at the same time on quite another astral plane. Jim Potter was getting itchy fingers to freak out and started jamming with us. Chad was in art school creating other worlds on canvas and paper, and Rich was deep into his studies as well. Rich mentioned he wanted a break, perhaps permanent, and all of us agreed.”
Chad adds…”The line-up on "Our Necropsy" was the apex of the band, the most efficient, the tightest. The tunes for the album that was never made were pretty jagged time-wise, difficult in part, you had to be paying attention. I enjoyed writing and rehearsing those pieces very much. Rich, Matt, James and myself, that was the best we ever sounded, it was a short but great time.”
The track from this mentioned session, ‘Our Necropsy’, was lately released on a split 7” with NUNSLAUGHTER by German Revenge Productions. How did this come about?
Matt: “The 7" came about as a result of my good friend Mike Jung from Milwaukee introducing me to Jim, the current drummer of Nun Slaughter, back at the 97 or 98 Metal Fest. Jim knew of the song, and as Nun’s laughter are kings of the underground, and as we are mutual fans of each others efforts, they felt it would be groovy to do a split. I got the best version I could find and that was it. Earache supposedly has a DAT copy of the song, directly from the studio. Dig tells me they have ‘three warehouses full of demos’, so with no effort it remains lost. The studio we recorded it with went bankrupt and I believe lost everything.”
Years later, there was surprisingly another (last) DR. SHRINKER recording session in 1998! Sounds strange? In the split 7”es liner notes you describe the stuff as “dark, aggressive, way underground”! Please give us some more info! Could it still be compared to your previous "Eponym" / ‘Our Necropsy’ style of twisted morbid Death Metal? Again a different line-up? Was this recording an almost spontaneous ‘one-off’ session thing or was the Doctor really about to breathe again?
Matt: “Yes, well let me fill in a little bit of the gap of time between ’91 and ’98. After Rich left, Jim, James and myself were still rolling with the FECK. Chad, while mostly in art school, also messed around with some other bands and learned some other instruments. He would freak out with us occasionally. Eventually, Chad left the black city of Milwaukee (’96) and headed west like so many other "Americans" and ended up in Portland, Oregon. This is about 2,000 miles away and is a considerable improvement to just about anyone that can afford to leave the vortex of complacency. We still have our own delusional problems and probably a couple more. The climate of not only the atmosphere, but of the general population, is pretty laid back and the current of forward thought is a bit more alive. This city (Portland) can be as negative, if not more, than any of them, but the support of live music and the variety of nature blows away the midwestern United States. Regardless, I followed a couple of years later (’98) after FECK called it a day, and have been here for five years. Within this time Jim, Chad and myself overdosed on music. Chad was almost exclusively into avantgarde Jazz and Classical, while Jim and I, also into the free Jazz, got pretty deep into the Progressive Rock of bands like Magma, Shub Niggurath (France), Van Der Graf Generator, Xaal, Univers Zero, Present and plenty others. Always digging to find new sounds that still resembled the originality and darkness of our roots, but went beyond what we could ever imagine or create ourselves. This was quite satisfying to me for about six years. Then, ’round ’97, a friend of mine turned me on to what had been happening in the Metal scene and I was back for good. This is certainly not to say that I ‘gave up’ on Metal… but I was craving a wider variety of moods and sounds. Instrumentation alone was a key element to my curiosity. After hearing Bethlehem’s "Dictus…" and some of the horror that Abruptum unleashed, I had to see what I was missing. There is certainly a lot of crap out there in the stores that calls itself Metal, and also a lot of bands that have been around for some time that are playing not one interesting note that I would ever give my attention to. (Their loss, of course.) In short, I was blown away by some of the ’90’s Black Metal and truly inspired by its intensity. Anyway… to make a short story long, I arrived out here in the west in the fall of ’98. Chad and I hooked up quickly, and under the influence of new surroundings, sounds and spirit, we created some truly horrific ‘music’. This is on 4-track and clocks in at less than a hour. Chad and I ‘played’ keyboards, drums, guitar, clarinets and some vocal regurgitations. It remains ‘way underground’ simply because it barely exists. We opted to call this effort, "Schrumpfen Einlaufen". I think this is supposed to translate into ‘to shrink that which has already been shrunk’. Please help my German. I apologize if this is off the mark. We would like to call further projects by this name as well. We feel good about that recording and I would like to see it surface someday. As for now, the doctor is again in a coma and hopes to breathe his bastardly breath upon you soon.”
After that the members did concentrate on other projects. THE FECK was a ‘band’ that some of the SHRINKERs already did when the DOC was still alive. FECK seems to be a very session-like almost improvised “experimental noise rock”, like you call it. Surely for the open minded! You released a CD in 1996! Were there any other official releases and did you also perform gigs with this experimental formation?
Matt: “FECK originated as a rock band which slowly devolved to an experiment in improvisation loosely based upon the tracks of mentioned C.D. Being influenced by MC5, T.Rex, the Replacements, early P.Floyd, Mudhoney, Tad, Skin Yard, Sun Ra, Blue Cheer, Hendrix and early efforts by Soundgarden, Nirvana and MonsterMagnet as well as any mind altering substance that we could find, made for an interesting ride. We lived for the live experience, played hundreds of shows and didn’t really care too much about recording or touring. My friend since before Shrinker formed, Dan Duchaine, introduced me to Nick Reynolds and John Horst. These guys were Thievin’ Hippie, respectively. This was 1990. Playing this music and letting yourself go so completely came quite naturally. I had grown somewhat restless within the confines of the Metal scene and this band provided a very enticing path to stumble down. Dan ended up doing time with Impulse Manslaughter for a couple of years and it was in this lapse that we found James Mayer. Then I rejoined Shrinker and brought James with me. We all shared a practice space (a crucial element to any band) and soon thereafter Jim Potter replaced John Horst. The doctor was at rest as a new monster had been created. So, we repeatedly raped and pillaged our hometown for a couple of years. This stuff being acid laced cannabis flavored rock and roll drowning in alcohol. James then decided to leave the fine city of Milwaukee for the coziness of Alaska. Well, Dan was back from the Impulse camp, a little beat up, but as always, ready to destroy and we needed him. Now older and even more cynical, we were losing our interest in anything too structured or predictable and changed our music to really pull the shit out of us that we were not willing to say. Ambiguity reigned supreme. Noise was soothing. There was a lot of live material recorded, by a number of different folks. Most of it is gone, that may be good. This was definitely something to be experienced and does not translate as well in the recorded work. We also had inane managerial problems and plenty of tragedy within our lives that ended up getting the best of us. For now this monster is at rest.”
Were there ever any other bands including former DR. SHRINKER members that got something ‘known’ out? The only thing I remember is that Jim (guitar) did guitars and vocals in a band called BLACKWATER and they even performed a few gigs in Germany anno 2000. You were travelling with them! How would you describe BLACKWATER’s sound and what do they do nowadays?
Matt: “Blackwater is great. Jim wrote a lot of the earlier Shrinker songs and the heaviest stuff for Feck. Punishing.” email@example.com
Chad: “As of late, I’ve been playing bass clarinet. I haven’t touched a guitar for a long time. Towards the end of Shrinker I began listening to a lot of free Jazz. Late Coltrane, electric Miles, Ornette Coleman, Sun Ra, which opened a door to music, that to me, blew away the Metal that I was listening to, in the sense of intensity, and the pure "Gut" of it. Metal had temporarily gotten boring to me, and I was sick of the glammed out ego outbursts of bands within our local scene… Anyway, I needed a change, and it was free Jazz that caught my attention first. It wasn’t about playing a tune over and over until you got it right. It was about continously reinventing the piece. I was addicted to improvisation. I then began learning to play bass clarinet, and since then have practiced my ass off and have written a fair amount of material using standard notation as well as some diagram scores. I put together "the inquisition ensemble", which is anywhere between 4 and 12 instruments. A CD should be recorded this winter. The group is basically an ‘avantgarde" Jazz ensemble, though I dislike that title. I’ve also been fascinated by contemporary classical music as well, Messiaen, Gibadulina, Crumb, Branca. I enjoy bands that refer to a large amount of influences: Naked City, any Zorn project, Mr. Bungle. I also enjoy the combining of electric and acoustic instruments, Doctor Nerve, Univers Zero. I tend to be less interested in music that feels formulated and limited to a ‘style’.”
Matt returns to add: “Upon hearing the "Schrumpfen Einlaufen" stuff, my friend Dave Becker, whom I knew from Milwaukee, came out to Portland as well. The both of us, under the heavy influence of total free will, initiated Zettilmeyer. Angels were torn from the heavens by beasts entombed under oceans… or, something like that. The first couple of months were painful. Clobbering. Irritating beyond all thresholds, for better and for worse. I was behind the drum kit, and Dave was molesting the guitar and keys of death. He is a bit of a recording enthusiast (check out Fornicator), luckily, and we recorded some material. This inhuman black mass went on to create about five finished songs with the help of ourselves dubbing bass and guitar parts. Ben Vargas (ex-Engorged) does the vocal duties on one song, Dave and I the rest. The music started extremely chaotic and eventually got structured in the period of ’98-’00. Not offically released, but someday maybe. It is the most unholy and heaviest thing I have discharged.”
Necroharmonic Productions, who already re-released AUTOPSY’s demos and have bold re-release plans in mind (DERKETA, CORPSE MOLESTATION…), announce a CD ("Grotesque Wedlock") containing DR. SHRINKER’s demos! Sounds great! So, which demos will be featured? Any bonus tracks, liner notes, photos, demo covers??? When will the thing finally be released?
Matt: “Yes! Roy, that SICKO is presenting our efforts onto a compact disc. Roy has been awesome. A true gift to the underground. A very patient man as well. It will contain all three studio demos. "Wedding…" was put first mainly of the intro and that it is the most well known, then "The Eponym", and finally the "Recognition" demo. It will have new artwork, all lyrics and was remastered by Roger from Mortician. John McEntee, from the godly Incantation, was the one that hooked me up with Roy. He was playing with Immolation (hello Ross!) on one tour that swung through Portland and told me Roy was interested and trying to track us down. It is what it was and I am amazed and quite honored that people even remember the doctor. It should be released soon. Spring 2003 I hope.”
As DR. SHRINKER were unique in their sound even over 10 years ago, I’m curious how your personal musical taste developed during the years and what is your actual playlist now. When listening to your later recordings, with such a special mood and original riffing, I ask myself what you think of an odd scene behaviour that hails the return of old legends doing a ‘honest’ reprise of their old days with their "Hell’s Unleashed"’s and their "Back From The Grave"’s and also the pseudo-rebirth of the German Thrash with all of them doing heavy albums all of a sudden. People don’t seem to be looking for real moods in sound anymore but more like a ‘style’ music and imagewise which they want to focus on. I guess, also if DR. SHRINKER would have had albums released on a big label and been touring etc. it would in a way still be a ‘secret’ recommendment, a ‘cult’ for a few… "Eponym" / ‘Our Necropsy’ prove to me that it’s not music for the Death Metal masses!
Matt: “What a great statement / question. I recently saw Destruction and Kreator here in town. While I really didn’t care too much for the new material of either band, I have to say Destruction are one of the best live Metal bands ever. Their music and what they put into it is unparalleled by most. The new stuff is just not good enough. I expect more. Not more in your face and heavier than shit, just more realistic. Bethlehem sounds real to me. Not Meshuggah or these other full throttle type of bands. Relax and get to know, or at least question yourself a bit. I think this is where mood comes in. None of the music or musicians I have been involved with would have a career like Cannibal Corpse. I do not understand such satisfaction. I think, looking back, we always tried to play the music we wanted to hear. We reached the goals we set for ourselves and surpassed others. We had the luxury (or curse) of working at our own pace. This says a lot of the combined personalities. I believe I covered a lot of the influences of the past, most of these carry on to the present as well. I can remember being enhanced by mushrooms and listening to Cathedral "Forest Of Equilibrium" and Miles Davis ‘Jack Johnson’ back to back, over and over again, just listening to the spaciousness of it and how great they sounded one after the other. The moods they created were very powerful. I listen to DarkThrone just as often as Coltrane these days. I think some new bands / musicians worthy of mentioning or in the playlist would be Nebelnest (France), Charles Gayle, One Shot, Ruins, Heldon, some good Norwegian blackness and Ludicra. I love being able to drop these names as so many have done for me. I got more out of researching what my favorite bands and friends were listening to than any other source. This is important as word of mouth is mighty. To comment on the last part of number 15… I do not know what kind of territory or fan base Shrinker would have ended up with. I can tell you Feck played a couple of MetalFest’s and opened for a couple of ‘Metal’ shows in which half the crowd didn’t know what to think. With all due respect to the average hardcore Metalhead, if it is too different, some people will just not get it, or even give it a chance. I feel I am a Metalhead for life but I know I will never see the crossovers I would like to see due to the ignorance of the majority. This is too bad.”
Coming to the end… What is your most notable memory of your days with DR. SHRINKER? A special moment, a gig, a recording…, be it funny, bad, tragic etc.? Was the feeling you put in music back then a unique ‘moment of time’ or do you still hold this all inside and you could think about playing such sinister tunes again? I thank you very much for answering this questionaire. All the best!
Matt: “I think for me it would have to be the local shows we did. Bands like SpeedFreaks, 911 and Diseased… these shows were the best. No more than a hundred kids, but everyone was into it and the bands were friends. A great outlet for us.”
Chad remembers; “The most memorable Shrinker moment would be very difficult to limit to one, so here are a couple. Prior to being in the band, I drove to see them with my friend Tony, in Sheboygan, I was blown away by their set. At that gig I decided I needed to be in the band. Another would have to be an evening I spent with Potter and Priem, it was an early weed experience for me. Jim coughed into the pipe as he lit it, and it ‘volcanoed’ all over the room. I was pretty sure it wasn’t supposed to work like that. The rehearsals at the end were very memorable for me because we sounded quite good, I thought.”
Matt concludes; “Yes, I agree the music and practices at the end (’91) were the best we ever sounded. I will definitely create music with Chad again shortly. Incise To Excise Productions had been in contact with us about a year ago regarding the Repulsion tribute they are compiling. I am not sure what is up with them, but I am having some trouble getting a space to rehearse and recording operations up and running. This would be first on my priority list if I did not have serious financial difficulties. I am also very interested in doing a reunion show with the doctor. There are some problems with this but all have agreed to do it if I can somehow put it together. This would not be a reformed Shrinker with new clothes and shit, I just want to play the old stuff. Maybe at a MetalFest in Milwaukee or similar type event. The main problem is that we are scattered across the U.S. right now and would need about a month straight to rehearse. Not too out of reach, y’know?”
Matt: “Thanks again for your interest, patience and great questions. This was like writing my life story, half of it anyway. The line up on the picture is from left to right: James Mayer (d), Jim Potter (g), Dr. Rich Noonan (v), Matt Grassberger (b) and Chad Hensel (g). Cheers!!”
The “Wedding The Grotesque” and “The Eponym” democovers were taken from the recommendable democover-site www.metalprovider.com/demoarchives
Matt Grassberger (the Doctor) – firstname.lastname@example.org, Necroharmonic Productions – email@example.com, www.necroharmonic.com, Revenge Productions – firstname.lastname@example.org, www.revengeproductions.com
Interview: John Grumptmann
Pic: F. Fischer