Hello folks, and a happy Friday to you! Just when it felt like it would never happen, the weekend’s finally here. I’ve got a feeling this is going to be an especially good one, because there’s a ton of amazing shows and events happening! I’ll have more on that later, so stay tuned.
One of them in particular stands out, though — tomorrow night at the 31st Street Pub is the first date on the joint headlining tour between Relapse Records artists 16 and Tombs. That by itself is reason enough to get excited, but opening the show will be two of my absolute favorite local bands, the heavy doom armada that is Molasses Barge and Steel City sludgelords Vulture!
I’ve only seen Molasses Barge once before (and it was over a year ago! — read more about that here), and (believe it or not) although I’ve been listening to Vulture for a long time, I’ve never had the chance to see them play live yet! So needless to say, I’m really looking forward to this show. I’ve already got my tickets (they can be ordered here) but if you don’t, it’s just twelve bucks when you show up at the door. More info on the show itself can be found here.
Anyway, in anticipation of this event, I decided to get a couple of interviews lined up. If you’ve been reading my reviews for a while, you may have picked up on the fact that I often tend to focus on drumming while listening to music. It’s just the way I hear things, I guess — and I don’t know if it’s because I play drums (occasionally) or if I chose to play that instrument because it’s something I pay a lot of attention to.
In either case, the drumming in each of these bands’ genres is one of the main things that attracts me to those particular styles. So, it only seemed natural for me to talk to the two bands’ drummers. Here, then, are the questions and answers from Molasses Barge’s Wayne Massey and Vulture’s Kelly Gabany…
Valley of Steel: First of all, Wayne, I’m curious about something I heard — is it true that your playing style, and even the slow tempos of the band, are a direct result of a medical condition? And as part of that same story, I understand that you were one of the founding members of Molasses Barge. Would you care to discuss that?
Wayne Massey: Actually, I always have wanted to play in a slow, heavy band. Bands I have played in prior to Barge have always been more punk/metal crossover type stuff. Even a surf/garage Cramps style band. Loved them all.
It is true I do have some medical issues and it wouldn’t be too smart for me to go back to playing Misfits and Motörhead covers. Unless anyone wants a Spinal Tap exploding drummer moment.
But Barge was conceived in my head way before I got sick and decided to slow it down. When I was in Chano with [MB guitarist Justin] Gizzi, I was all about slow stoner stuff. Witchcraft, sHeavy, Kyuss, Sleep, etc…. But it wasn’t in the cards yet. Chano was more punk/metal/fast hard rock. I actually ended up in the hospital while playing for Mothra which had some stoner elements in it, thanks to Crazy Tony (now of Iron Crown) and Rachel the bassist who each wrote some heavy shit to balance out some of our speedier stuff.
So to finally answer your question, Barge and our style are not a direct result of my condition. It is a direct result of getting the right folks to play what I was into.
VOS: And Kelly, if I’ve done my homework correctly — I know that Vulture has been through two different vocalists, but to the best of my knowledge the rest of the line-up has always been the same as it is now, is that right? That would imply that you were also one of your band’s founding members. Could you tell me a little bit about how that came about? How you all ended up coming together and deciding to put together a “Steel City Sludge” band?
Kelly Gabany: Garrett Twardesky (guitar) and I used play in a band called Shipwreck I Promised, which had more of a hardcore angle. When that band dissolved in 2006 we wanted to get something else going, but different and more “us”. We knew our original singer, Buddy Smith, from around the Pittsburgh metal scene and he was looking for a new project as well.
This time around I wanted a simple, straight to the point name. With a name like Shipwreck I Promised, it was hardly ever written correctly. I was listening to A Life Once Lost‘s album The Hunter when the track “Vulture” came on. I thought, that’s it! It’s simple, dirty, grimy and pretty much impossible to misspell.
Buddy brought in Gene Fikhman (guitar), who was playing in a death metal band at the time. Buddy, Garrett and I knew Justin Bach (bass) from the days when our bands played basement shows at his house with his former band, No Room to Breathe. We played our first show ironically five years ago to the day on October 12, 2007 (I suppose technically our show this weekend with Tombs, 16 and Molasses Barge at the 31st St. Pub is our fifth anniversary then!). Shortly thereafter, we recorded a three song demo with our friend James Curl, our bass player from Shipwreck I Promised, and currently of hardcore/grind band Complete Failure.
We recorded our self-titled EP with the late Cory Smoot of GWAR in the summer of 2008 with the original line-up. As time went on, we started writing new material which was becoming darker and sludgier. We could tell Buddy wasn’t really into the direction we were headed musically and we were starting to feel that his vocals weren’t the right fit either. We parted ways in May 2009 and to make a long story short, Garrett brought Justin Erb (current singer) into the mix and it was a perfect match. He brings the aggression and hurt vocally as well as lyrically. We recorded an exclusive track in February 2011 with James again for the all-Pittsburgh metal compilation Iron Atrocity Vol. I, released by Innervenus (which can be downloaded for free here). We returned to the studio with James at the end of the summer to record our full length Oblivious to Ruin, which was officially released last March also by Innervenus. [Reviewed by VOS here.]
VOS: I’d like to learn a little about your background — what were you doing before your current band started? Can you name some of the other people or groups you’ve worked with in the past? And, have you always played in metal bands or has there been a variety of other musical styles?
WM: I am originally from New York City and played in a few types of bands. Blues rock like Zeppelin, and then it was a thrash metal band. Then a thrash/funk band. I stopped playing for a few years and even fronted a Oi! band.
As I mentioned above I have played in a few different bands in the Pgh area. I have played in Bunny Five Coat, who have started playing out again which is very cool. After that was Dammit Janets with Rachel (bass)and Erica (vocals) from BFC. Both bands were great fast punk.
After the Janets, Rachel, Erica, and I formed Mothra which was more metal/hard rock. Crazy Tony played guitar in that band, and at different points Tommy from Lady Beast and Chachi from Submachine. Mothra then became Chano, and that is where Gizzi comes in. Chano was another good band with a mix of different styles, but still heavy. Gizzi and I would jam on Sleep and Penance riffs during practice down times, and I was like YESSS!! Barge may happen. Great thing about being in Barge is playing with people whose different musical projects I was already a big fan of. [For example, Penance happens to be one of several bands that MB vocalist Brian “Butch” Balich has been a member of.]
KG: Well, dating back to the late 80’s, I played in mostly hair metal cover bands with high school friends for fun. We didn’t play out much besides the odd school assembly and local battle of the bands type things. In the early 90’s, I played in an alt-rock band with college friends and a blues band for about a minute. After that I didn’t play drums practically at all from 1994-2003. One of my friends, Mike Lavery, talked me into getting back behind the kit to start a project with him. Soon after, I bought a new kit and we started jamming together. It started out as Helmet/Unsane-influenced riffage, but evolved into something more aggressive which eventually became Shipwreck I Promised with the addition of Joe Mack on vocals (who currently fronts Complete Failure). Mike also brought in Garrett (Vulture) to play guitar after we recorded our first demo.
VOS: Taking it back a step further, what was it that originally made you decide you wanted to be a musician, and specifically, that you wanted to play the drums? Was there a certain person (a drummer or other musician perhaps) that inspired you?
WM: I have always wanted to play drums since I was 4. Banging on pots and pans, pillows. Using wooden dowels for sticks. Usual shit. Anytime I would pick up an album I would go directly to the picture of drummer and drool over his set up. We weren’t exactly rolling in dough growing up, not to mention we lived in an apartment, so a drumset was pretty much out of the question. But there was a band that played in the basement of a building in my neighborhood who looked and sounded like Santana. Bad-ass musicians with a few stacks and a huge yellow Ludwig kit. I would go down every Saturday morning and watch them jam. The drummer saw me staring at him the whole time and he let me sit behind the kit with sticks in my hands — my feet couldn’t even reach the pedals, LOL. That was when the lighting bolt hit: I was where I belonged.
KG: Even as a child I was always enamored by music. In the late 70’s it was Kiss for me. Then again, being a four- or five-year-old with my Kiss dolls in tow and not having any clue what a “Plaster Caster” was, I’m sure their image had a lot to do with it. I guess they were more like cartoon characters to me rather than musicians at the time. Then 1982 happened and I was a few years older. Duran Duran‘s single for “Hungry Like the Wolf” hit the radio and was all over MTV. That was it for me. However, I wanted to play synths originally, but I then started paying attention the rhythm section of Duran. Of course there’s something to said about their image, but they had equally effective songs.
VOS: Is there one particular drummer (living or not) whose playing you really find impressive or inspirational? Or to put it another way, if you could choose any drummer to take a lesson with, who would it be?
WM: I have my Holy Trinity of drummers who are Elvin Jones, John Bonham, and Ginger Baker. I have ripped so much shit from those three it isn’t funny.
Lessons would have to be Elvin. Because his playing is so insane, he would have to show me how he begins to approach it.
KG: That’s a tough one. I can probably really only narrow it down to four drummers: John Bonham of course, Tommy Lee, Martin Atkins (Pigface, Ministry, PIL) and Roger Taylor (Duran Duran). However, these days it seems I am more inspired by peers in local and touring bands. There’s so much talent out there, it’s amazing.
VOS: On the other hand, if you could have the opportunity to work with any band (currently active or not) — say, you got a phone call from any band, and they told you they needed a replacement drummer — who would be your ideal choice?
WM: I would have to pick two: early Zeppelin and maybe Dio-era Sabbath.
KG: Duran Duran of course, ha!
VOS: Can you remember what first drew you into heavy metal music? Is it something you’ve always been interested in, or something you discovered at some point in your life?
WM: I was drawn into heavy music just by growing up when I did. Great bands on the radio like Zep, Tull, Nugent, Alice Cooper, Aerosmith. And of course Kiss. It just went from there. One late night my favorite radio station played side one of Master of Reality. Holy shit. Changed my life forever. I must have been 10 or 11.
KG: While still into Duran Duran and other synthy new wave bands, I heard Mötley Crüe‘s single “Looks That Kill” back in 1983 and started to get into heavier music. For a 9-year-old kid, Crüe, Quiet Riot and Def Leppard was heavy stuff. In the mid to late-80’s, I became more aware of metal bands like Metallica, Queensrÿche, Testament, Slayer and the like. At the same time, I was into Dokken, Poison, Ratt, etc.
VOS: What are some of the bands, drummers, or other musicians who have been influential to the music you play?
WM: So many to mention. I am influenced by almost every drummer and band I come across. No matter what the genre. I will hear some Nigerian Highlife funk beat and find a way to fit it into a song. I think to be a good player on any instrument you have to have a open mind about music and life. You will be surprised what will spark some inspiration.
KG: I didn’t really start to play drums (not counting air drums) until about 1988 when my dad bought me a kit during the height of the hair metal movement. I’m self-taught and started out playing in bands with friends that played that stuff so that probably is the biggest culprit why I am a simple, hard hitting, groove drummer to this day. The main sludge/doom bands that have been the most influential to the music I play are Electric Wizard and Sourvein, just to name a couple.
VOS: What are some other things you like to listen to (any style, any genre) even if it isn’t something that has directly inspired you? What is in your CD player (or iPod, 8-track player, whatever you prefer to use) right now? Or, what is one band/artist that you think is really making an impact right now, that you would like to share with the people who will read this?
WM: I love old delta blues and old soul. Heavy heartfelt sounds, man. Not trying to impress anyone one or make a million. Just playing from the heart. I would dig opening a juke joint one day and have cats come by just with beat up gear and the desire to play. I also dig Black Metal — that shit is cleansing to me, clears my head like Draino! LOL. NYHC like Breakdown, Sick of it All, Gorilla Biscuits, AF, Cro Mags. Some of my favorite live shows.
That is just off top of my head.
Checking my Ipod, I see Al Green, Teddy Pendergrass, Beelzefuzz (great band out of Maryland), Wino solo stuff, Hüsker Dü, Earthride, Allman Brothers, Wounded Kings, Dokken, Church of Misery, Unida, Kyuss and a bunch of other John Garcia stuff, Immortal, Iron Man, Jex Thoth, Morrisey, Witchcraft, Sunday All Over the World, Candlemass, Wichfinder General, Cramps, Wild Flag… That is my playlist for the week. This could change by the hour. If any of these bands don’t look familiar to you, I say look them up. Youtube is your friend. You can discover some great shit that way. [Amen.]
KG: Oh man, where do I start? I’ll try to make this as short as possible. I listen to a lot on Spotify, my iPod, I buy more vinyl than CDs nowadays, and frequently check out a lot of exciting underground bands on Bandcamp. Specifically this week though, I’ve been all over the place. I’ve been listening to a lot of hardcore such as Bone Dance, Hammers, Heksed, Direwolves, Ironhorse, Protestant, Marrow and Ironside. Toss in a little black metal such as Darkthrone, Ash Borer, Chrome Waves and Wolvhammer, then a dash of IDM/electronic/post-rock type stuff like Almeeva, Maserati, Dryft, Enduser, The American Dollar, Larvae, Detritus, Bitcrush, Constants, Caspian, God is an Astronaut and Collapse Under the Empire. Honestly I could go on and on, but that’s it in a nutshell right now.
VOS: Finally, would you mind sharing a little bit about yourself outside of your band? What else do you do — whether it’s another music-related project, or your “day job”, or other hobbies? Is there anything else you feel like you’d want people to know about you, that I haven’t already asked about? Anything at all? Please feel free to add whatever you’d like to say!
WM: My normal day job is working at a movie theater. A cool old single screen joint. My abnormal day job is dialysis treatments 3x a week. Ask about it if you see me.
I am a huge trashy B movie and horror fan. If you haven’t heard of it, I have probably seen it, LOL. Spend way too much money collecting obscure movie titles.
I want to say thanks to all bands I have had honor to share stage with, all my former bandmates, my best bud Rachel; of course my fellow Barge mates Gizzi, Amy [Bianco, bass], Kenny [Houser, guitar], and Butch. Love making music with those guys. And music keeps me alive. Later.
KG: Those that have never seen us play live or know us personally may be surprised to find out that I am a woman — with a unisex name like Kelly, playing drums in a sludge/doom band with four dudes and hair obstructing my face in most live pictures. It’s hilarious when I get emails from other bands that don’t know us. It’s usually, “thanks bro” or “hey dudes”. They mean well, and I can totally understand. It’s something that we don’t market. We just let the music speak for itself.
VOS: Well, thanks to both of you for taking the time to answer these questions for me. Good luck tomorrow night, and I’ll look forward to seeing you then!
WM: Thanks for letting me ramble on.
KG: I would like to thank Valley of Steel for this opportunity and all who support Vulture.