Read on to find out more about the past, present and future of this classic Chicago horde. The following interview with FUNERAL NATION's guitar player Chaz Baker originally appeared in Chile's Noise And Shit Mag # 8 but thanks to editor Huaira Herrera we can present it to you on our website as well now.
Hails Chaz! How are you today? Have you lived in Chicago all of your life? How was your childhood? Are there any significant experiences you have had that have helped to define you as person?
“I have lived in Chicago since I was about 10 years old; I lived with my grand parents as a smaller child in the hills of Kentucky. As a person I believed experiences aren’t gonna define you. You are gonna be what you are gonna be. Other people action toward me doesn’t change or influence me at all.”
How and when did your interest in devil’s music start? What did attract you more of it in the first place?
“Started playing this music at about 20-21 years. I don’t remember why. I just fell it was the right thing and a natural thing for me to play. I had a strange sense of content and being at home with it and it came natural.”
Do you remember your early influences as a guitar player? The first riffs you learned, your first guitar, first effects, etc.?
“A very cheap Sorrento guitar at age of 11 or 12 for X-mas I think. First riffs I think was ‘Smoke On The Water’ by DEEP PURPLE, as for the effects, I was never big on them, it was a couple years before I bought an amp, a stage 65 amp and I still have it. My son plays on it now.”
What do you remember about your time in FUNERAL BITCH? Was it your first band? Did you play any gigs or recorded anything under this name?
“I started ABOMINATION before FUNERAL BITCH, FUNERAL BITCH was Alex Olivera and Paul Speckmann’s band. I joined when Paul left. And Paul joined ABOMINATOR when I left, so it’s like we switched bands. I did a demo with FUNERAL BITCH also a live radio show and several gigs. I met Dave Chiarella while in FUNERAL BITCH. Which he later joined FUNERAL NATION.”
What about ABOMINATION? From what I have read Paul Speckman wasn’t the easiest guy to work with at that time?
“See, I never played with Paul in any band, he was a likeable guy but he liked to talk down about people and I really didn’t care for that, I never talk shit about others to make myself look better.”
Tell me about the early days of FUNERAL NATION. Did you walk around with an image in your mind of the band that you wanted or was something more spontaneous? From what I know the name of the band is a combination between the words FUNERAL BITCH and ABOMINATION
“Well, the name came from just that. FUNERAL BITCH and ABOMINATION; at that time we laughed our ass off about it. I remember saying: “If I’m still laughing about it tomorrow we’ll keep it” (Dave thougt ABOMABITCH was funnier) I never walk around with an image or big ego, I was like if you like the music, cool, if you don’t like it, don`t listen to it. It’s not for everyone.”
Was Dave Chiarella (USURPER) a member of the band at any time?
“I think Dave was for a couple of years. It seems longer now. I spoke to him about come aboard for STONEFACE NATION, he seemed interested but apparently wasn’t, we haven’t spoken since.”
Your first demo “State Of Insanity” was released in 1990… Tell me about the place where it was recorded, the budget, how many hours you spent, etc
“We did that on a 16 track analog recorder with not much of a budget. I think it was 5 or 6 hundred, record and mixed in 1 day. We later returned to remix it because on the first mix you hear guitar string noises and also the guitar on right. The later mix had both guitars more centered.”
I suppose the response from the underground was very strong as in 1990 it was pressed on vinyl via CCG Underground Records, isn’t it? Do you recall of any negative review?
“After it was out, no, I don’t recall any bad review.”
How did you get in contact with Turbo Records (at that time called Shithouse Records)? Who came up with the idea to re-release your demo as the “Reign Of Death” EP via this German label?
“Dave was corresponding to Roland, we agreed to work with them only if they changed their name. I wasn’t gonna be on any fucking label called “Shithouse Records”. I do have an old ad with the logo on it. Turbo’s plan was to release the “State Of Insanity” demo as an EP. Then a full length “After The Battle”, then another EP. Well, what can I say, before the last EP, everything was back on the shit-house.”
Other releases promoted along with “After The Battle” were GOATLORD “Reflections Of The Solstice” and BEHERIT “The Oath Of Black Blood”… What’s your opinion about those old label mates? Judging by your music you came from an older generation, with a more oldschool / traditional type of influences
“I wasn’t really in any of those bands; it was a different vein than what I was doing at the time.”
Turbo Records was known for being a rip off label, so did you have any problems with them?
“I never made any money off Turbo. Things were OK in the beginning with them, however while on the tour in Germany a magazine came out with an interview with Dave in it. I don’t know exactly what Dave said in it but Roland (Turbo) was furious. And basically pulled the tour so we were left hi and dry, no 2nd EP for Turbo which really posed a problem going to another label seeing the contract was not fulfilled. But you know it’s a fuck me, fuck you world, I didn’t even get paid for the shows we played when I was there.”
One year later you released your legendary debut LP. What do you recall from the photo session for the classic “After The Battle” cover?
“I remember I was tripping really heavy when the photographer did the band shot, nobody else was, just me.”
Was this an actual Black Mass or some kind of Ceremony?
“No we showed up with items for the cover and our leather and beer.”
How deep was your interest in the occult and the devil worshipping at that time or was it just an image to shock the Christians as many other bands?
“I’ve always had an interest in the arts, but I never worshiped anything, good or evil. I have done some ritual shit though and as far as image I didn’t care about, still don’t.”
There was a chaotic / anarchic feeling in your music, mainly due to the many tempo changes, wild riffage… was a time of heavy alcohol and drug abuse?
“No, alcohol and drug abuse came later. I was really into the music. If I wasn’t completely satisfied with riffs or parts I would change them. Almost all these songs were written past midnight, no amp, in candle light in my living room. I don’t recall just throwing anything together, like something to fill space or anything like that.”
Don’t you think these substances in a way can help you to have a real lucidity?
“Well I think it can possibly promote exploring different type of stuff, you know, I can’t say it did anything for me, I knew how to play a lot of different kinds of music before FUNERAL NATION and I used that in the creation of the FUNERAL NATION material. Guys in the band would tell me: “Yeah I heard your stuff and it’s cool but it’s weird”. I suppose it’s because I did it the way I wanted and not the normal way people think it should be. I looked at it like I can fucken do anything anywhere any time and I will not follow any rules in my creation.”
Was FUNERAL NATION a very active live band? Which shows do you remember as special in the history of the band? Have you saved some of this stuff on video?
“We were a somewhat active live band, we did many local shows, there were a couple that didn’t go too well, one occasion I was arrested before the show for smoking weed in the parking lot of this club. Got out of jail very quickly, got back to the club, needed a beer, Dave was pissed off at me wouldn’t spot me a beer, so people in the audience started buying me shots. I got fucking head spins on stage and could hardly keep it together. There was also several times when headlining bands didn’t want to play after us, so they would arrive earlier to get the gear on stage, so they could play before us. And yes, I do have some pretty video shot. A lot of it is recorded on hand held cameras so the audio isn’t great but it certainly doesn’t suck.”
“The Benediction” demo saw the light of the day in 1992 in a scene dominated by the Death Metal explosion from Tampa / Stockholm, so how do you think it affected your band?
“At that time Mike and me were really trying to bounce back with “Benediction”, we were working with Dean then so it was getting him used to playing our kind of music. I didn’t care too much about the Death Metal upraising. I do remember people thinking that if you weren’t playing that kind of stuff, you weren’t as heavy. I didn’t agree with that.”
Did you try to approach any bigger labels with this demo and did you get any serious offers in the end?
“I couldn’t get my foot in anybody’s door. I do believe it was all because of the Turbo deal. Thinking we’re still tied to Turbo and Dave’s interview thrashing Turbo. It was a fucked up time.”
There are some very strange single releases from the mid 90s under a label called RK Productions, including a “Best Of” compilation without your original logo… Was it your own label? Some rumors say that you have already a second album recorded but you never released it
“It was something we tried to generate some capital. We were also working with Metal Merchant, who later we found out was working against us, not with us, so it basically didn’t work out. I think Metal Merchant fucked ACHERON too later on. We had a live release recorded without Mike. I did the vocals; we recorded it live in Halloween ’93. Perhaps later on you may see this. We have done a white vinyl 45 rpm with Metal Merchants with a couple of tracks, our original plan was to do a series, but things didn’t work out.”
What do you think about the music industry?
“I think that bands-labels-managers have to be on the same page and work with each other, you know I can only comment on my experience, I’ve had guys work with me and against me, and it’s much easier to move forward if everyone’s together.”
Is there any band you want to see coming back? What about FUNERAL NATION?
“I don’t know. I’ve been working with Moolyn from Proselytism on releasing “After The Battle” and “Demo Recordings”. I honestly say I haven’t been excited about FUNERAL NATION for a long time until I started talking to this guy. So, the buzz is growing, I think this gonna be a really fucken cool thing. I really can’t say what’s in store for FUNERAL NATION, but once again it is gaining my interest again. What about FUNERAL NATION? We wait and see.”
Chicago’s scene was always one of the strongest in the States… Please give your opinion with a few words about these bands: SLAUTER XSTROYES, DEVASTATION, TROUBLE, AFTERMATH, ZOETROPE, DEATH STRIKE, CIANIDE, USURPER, MACABRE, BURNT OFFERING.
“I can say I know a lot of guys from these bands. Haven’t spoken to a lot of them in a long time. I have played 3 shows with TROUBLE in the past year with STONEFACE NATION. Played shows with CIANIDE, MACABRE, BURNT OFFERING that I can recall. These are all cool guys and good fucking bands. But unfortunately I really haven’t stayed in contact since the FUNERAL NATION days.”
There was a band also from Chicago, in my opinion very influenced by FUNERAL NATION, called SCEPTER. Have you heard them?
“Yes, I remember when they first came out. I was impressed. As a matter of fact I own John Karnes old Hondo Explorer bass; right now it’s in my closet.”
What finally killed the band?
“Well, I began to see similarities to the problem we had in the Turbo days. Which then Mike and Dave were undermining me behind my back. I began to see this with Mike and Dean now. First it was practicing taking a hit, then mastering recordings without telling me when we were doing it. Then coming to our practice Dean tells me word for word “Mike ‘s not into it anymore and I can jam 1 day a week so if you don’t like that I don’t know what to say”. Well I looked at both of them and said: “Get the fuck out of my house and take your fucking equipments with you.” Now I knew this was coming, but I would’ve preferred to sit down like adults and all agree, so like that it was done.”
Are you still in contact with Dean Olson and Mike Pahl? Do you know what these guys are doing nowadays? I know Dean is into hearses.
“No, not really, the people that I know who then tell me, they haven’t heard from them in a while. I haven’t seen or heard from Mike in 12-13 years. With Dean it’s been about 8-9 years. Dean always had one hearse or another throughout the years we were close.”
Between 1995 and 2007 you disappeared completely from the scene. So what did you do in that time? Have you been following what’s going on in the Metal scene?
“I became fed up and disgusted with the whole thing, along with anger, no fucken loyalty and depression and just knifed in the back, you know, it’s like I felt as if, what I said earlier, working against you and not with you. In March ’97 I put my axe away for 3 years, played it only 5 times, now that’s fucking sick I guess it took me 3 years to like doing it again. And yes, it did fucking hurt me. And for the 3 years I had nothing to do with the Metal scene, I didn’t even follow it.”
In 2007 you founded a new band called STONEFACE NATION. How serious and how far do you want to get with this band?
“This is a band put together to have fun again. I don’t expect to get rich or anything. My drummer Scott’s in several bands. And my bass player always has his handful, so I can’t even comment on the longevity of STONEFACE NATION.”
You are still including the word NATION, so do you see this band as some kind of continuation from your other bands… even in some tracks like ‘Medicine Man’ and ‘False Prophecies’ I can hear many similarities in your sound with FUNERAL NATION
“Well ‘False Prophecies’ was an unreleased FUNERAL NATION track. I recorded it with STONEFACE NATION, and then started talking to Moolyn so STONEFACED NATION will probably get shelved and Proselytism will release the original. ‘Medicine Man’ was a new track. But you know, I wrote the songs so you will hear similarities in my stuff from time to time. As far as the word “NATION” in the name, I guess you could say it’s a bit of continuation for me and the other bands.”
You still are using some anti Christian themes… so your convictions haven’t changed that much, right?
“I suppose I am, but I’m not directly saying anything anymore, but you know I still want it to sound cool and heavy, and as far as convictions, I’m the same fucking guy I used to be. I don’t believe anybody can change who they are.”
Thanks you very much for your interest in this interview Chaz! All the best with your new musical projects. Please finish with some words for the old and new FUNERAL NATION fans around the world
“Thank you very much Huaira. I’ve enjoyed your interview, it’s refreshing to hear from someone who has interest and knowledge of FUNERAL NATION. I honestly thought that the FUNERAL NATION interest was over. And it’s resurrecting. Wow, since working with Moolyn and yourself I fell much better and positive about everything with FUNERAL NATION. If there’s anybody into Metal out there who hasn’t heard FUNERAL NATION, you need to get it, give it one good listen. If you are a musician you need to hear it. And if you are an oldschool fan. Thanks for being there and being true. Good bye.”