Thursday, November 12, 2009

Interview with an Emotional Vampire: The Jesus Chainsaw Massacre - 11/20 - Crofoot with Carjack, Marco Polio, goLab!

Through being the asshole, -jr says, he (still) wound up with a strong sense of community and a lot of great acquaintances.


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Through the first half of the year, I rarely read the Jesus and Chainsaw Massacre blog, not entirely because I didn’t care...but, because, frankly, I didn’t have to…I would hear about it...

I would hear about it almost weekly, from a new friend-(-in-a-band), a band they likely ripped on... (Over the last 5 years, the percentage of my friends—who are also –in-bands has reached and probably exceeded the 80-85% mark. But who’s counting?) My point is, a scourge was sweeping across the electronic lands, particularly the local scene, via the smoggy winds of the blogosphere; and to hear a new singer/guitarist/bassist/drummer from whatever-wherever recount the seemingly pestilent rain and bellicose boil that the JCM seemed to be bringing down upon the heretofore mostly-good-vibes of the scene would make me slightly queasy just by hearing it over phone conversations – so I didn’t really want to go to the source, be it their site or the stir-up-of-comments on other sites and have some last-scene-of-Raiders-of-the-Lost-Ark esque face melt from taking in too much of their screeds.

Whether it was good or bad, people were, to say the least, intrigued. Bits and pieces filtered to me through bar side chats; some people actually weren’t sure if they were bloggers who just claimed they were also a band... (This perception was aided by the period of time when JCM was rising in the blog conscience through their various hecklings on music blogs like motorcityrocks.com and soon after on the snarky-er more gossipy culture sites like eat this city—during which they did not play out live, or if so, rarely).

“That guy…JR?” they’d say. Or “that Bry-an Met-ro?” the pronunciation would be spaced out like it was the name of some hard-to-pronounce dinosaur stalking the herbivores of the pop/rock scene.

“Early on, we most definitely, were a band,” said Metro, which is a stage name for the man otherwise known as Robby Starr. “The blog didn't even exist at that point.” Metro said that no one “paid a lick of attention to us” the first year out. “That changed once -jr set up the Lavender Blog. We occasionally posted commentaries on current local events or did record reviews. After a few months of immersing ourselves in other blogs and the culture of that time...well that's when we decided to attack. We're both narcissists and we wanted everyone to know that we were out there.” “

Detroit’s music scene always been a bit catty and competitive, sometimes further hampered with veiled jealousy or even delusion – but most disputes or grumbles were usually muffled by the apartment wall…you heard the yelling but your radio and the car engine and the street-set bustling about outside drowned it out.

Well, JCM sort of embodied that repulsing yet hypnotic display of the unsightly, screeching couple where the girlfriend is yelling emasculating cut downs from a fire escape down to her shrugging and hair-yanking boyfriend who returns the verbal barbs as best he can as she drops all his dirty laundry, comic books and rarely-played electric guitar down at his feet on the street below. You walked by and knew you shouldn’t watch, knew you shouldn’t listen…but you couldn’t help it.

“People love controversy…” admits –jr, (also known as Michael Charles Patrick Jr).

With all the hyperbolic hoo-hah swirling around these two (who are sometimes joined by founding member, bassist Tony Dethridge on stage), I thought I’d might never write an article about them because they just seemed so hated. Why would you?, some of those hurt by their slings might prod me… Well,…it didn’t take long to counter, how could I not?

As -jr said in my lead off quote… “by being the asshole…” the keyword isn’t ‘asshole,’ it’s ‘the.’

The. Where were the other assholes?, was their question.

The matter, for these two, was that the scene, firstly, lacked a healthy bit of bias – maybe something close to it being too much of an arm and arm support-fest? Who knows? But the bigger issue was the perpetuation through the dominant channels, Metro Times and Real Detroit, covering the same old “pop” bands, -jr said. While this initially would resemble/make them guilty of- the catty jealousy of old Detroit music scene ways, they quickly counter by not even pointing to themselves but pointing to all of the underground/noise/no-wave/psychedelic bands with whom they’ve befriended over the last three years – noting that there is a rift growing between the big pops and the shadowed psychedelics.

So they got in the middle of both sides and started a big food fight.

“It makes for a good story…” JR admits.

The Jesus Chainsaw Massacre – The Deep Cutz Interview








The Backstory

-jr has been playing music most of his life, classically trained on piano at a young age and eventually doing the band thing later in high school. He played guitar and bass in some groups and eventually fronted another group on vocals through college days at Hillsdale. Through the mid-00’s he started what was essentially a one-man band called The Pin-Ups – where he switched off bass and guitar duties with sequenced beats and a keyboard, while “this girl danced.” Just him, doing everything and a girl dancing for the entire set. But that eventually imploded.

Before it did though, -jr recruited friend and day-job co-worker Tony, “the Asian bass player” to try to attempt some musical creation. This would become the Jesus Chainsaw Massacre. To blow off steam, the pair would go to karaoke “at a bar that’s no longer in existence,” where they found this blond-haired bespectacled jester type, in a French maid outfit, singing whatever cover he’d chosen but also antagonizing the audience.

Essentially, a “primitive take on the Bryan Metro antics.”

“Well, this kid, has got the showmanship,” –jr recalls saying to himself upon seeing/meeting him (a maid outfit being only one of many examples of his early antics). “He needs to be in a band.”

Given their demos, Metro was invited to one of their shows. “I showed up and the entire place cleared by the third song, which I’d never seen before; such hatred, not indifference, but hatred. Afterwards, they asked if I wanted to join. I joined on the spot. I hated the name though. I still do, but it does catch more eyes than something like, ‘The Librarians.’”

Metro/Starr’s performing personas have evolved over the years, having once named himself for an allegorical Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas villain “Savage Henry,” and doing a “marriage of Iggy Pop and Dick Valentine.” Bryan Metro, as a character, “has no musical talent, but his purpose is to see how far he can take it.”

While neither of them initially list Suicide when they rattle off influences, certain resemblances are unavoidable. Like that 70’s NY punk band’s Martin Rev and Alan Vega respectively, JCM’s similar make-up has –jr handling all of the music and Metro handling the singing and ostentatious live show.

They are, no doubt, what would be considered more of an arty band, (also like Suicide), despite their often rough and wavering delivery (not unlike –jr’s reverence for Velvet Underground) with a sense of humor both dry and biting as well as tweaked (not unlike Metro’s reverence for Andy Kaufman). They bend and twist along a path of noisy punk and freak-fried new-wave into deconstructed doo-wop and sinister metal territory…and, um, somewhat danceable, …maybe, at times. It’s minimalist, rigid rock, caustic guitars, drum machines, some synth and a bass, with crazy yowling vocals.

Last year they released the End of the World LP, on iTunes and at their myspace for free. –jr recalls submitting this for consideration at the Detroit Music Awards (more on that later). They also released a handful of singles as well as collaborated with Mike Hayes on the experimental-rock comp Blood Everywhere.

Thirty songs are cached for a forthcoming follow up LP. But then, something else to boost the attention upon these mischief makers was that their first record helped them win a DMA for Best Electronic Dance Group, which, said Metro, is “now a big hooha,” but was “legitimately a shock. I still don’t understand it, but it is something we have to defend in 2010.

Personal/Impersonal

The biting started harmless enough, when the blog was used to promote shows, but it grew into a commentary to combat the stated lack of bias and re-run pop coverage, “…with us being the enemy or the villain…” –jr said, noting their amp up through spring. “And then we finally shot our mouth off too much and people honed in on us. Out of that we got more popular, more people started coming out and more doors got open to us, so we came steamrollin’…”

“If we’re on the evil end of it, it doesn’t matter, as long as people are talking,” –jr said when asked if they’d ever felt they had ‘created a monster.’

“I just want to be entertaining, good or bad,” says Metro. “The Hills is one of the most despised shows on television, yet it thrives when it is morally bankrupt. Sound familiar? We are The Hills of the local Detroit television scene. It’s like a social experiment for me. How far can I go? Where’s the edge of the world? Starting out, I never expected to play Blowout, or Fucking Awesome Fest or win a freaking DMA.”

It becomes a subtle act of psychiatry, to unpack these characters, even if Metro is more so a card, it’s still there for both, because they’re cartoony-jpeg-faces constantly pop up on blog comment boards. “I guess I’m the more brash of the two,” says –jr, “(Metro)’s more likeable, but I stick to my guns, unless I’m overtly wrong. I consider it: I’m a critic and people don’t like it. I guess it got personal with some of the groups…”

Indeed. Tensions rose and crashed between this pair and numerous established pop/rock groups – including a few ugly and awkward encounters involving –jr and some of those addressed/or/attacked, either directly or indirectly by the JCM blog or those anonymous barb-throwing commenters further inspired by JCM.

“Every time we get into a fight with a band,” –jr says, casually (and, this can mean electronically heated in the trading of words or more nose-to-nose cut downs at the bar), “…it’s funny, because traffic increases, our downloads increase, people listen to the music more and people come out to our shows. Especially a week before our show, if we really get into a tussle with somebody, we’ll have a great turn-out. So, it is self serving, I want people to listen to us. But, the controversy? It doesn’t really matter, as long as people listen one way or another.”

Metro admits, often that their hunt is not personal, but mostly (or at least originally) inspired by who’s hogging the hype, deserved or undeserved. “Basically, other people’s fortune or misfortune inspires us,” said Metro, then adding his characteristic quip, “…we tend to be awful human beings.”

Next

The forthcoming full length is their main priority now, “because,” said Metro, “we know a lot of eyes will be on us because of our rampant antics. Sonically, it’s like Crystal Castles meets The Stooges...For myself, I am working on a novel based on the events of the past year.” (Chapters of which are occasionally posted). The band hopes to release both the album and writing around the same time, early next year.

The music’s link to their controversy hasn’t, as –jr puts it, “become debilitating in any way.” Besides, “it’s not an act on my part. You tell me a band, I’ll say I like ‘em or I don’t…” Most of the fuel for the controversy, says –jr, is ego…ostensibly, the ego of whoever comes into their crosshairs.

“My stance,” said Metro, “is that all musicians are narcissists in one way or another. If someone on XXXXXXX.com posts a diatribe about me, saying how worthless blah-blah-blah I am, my first reaction would be: ‘Huh, Someone out there is thinking about me. Neat!’ Of course, I could be totally wrong and one day end up shot.”

So…it got personal.

But, as –jr sees it, “now, it’s more an impersonal thing. If I don’t like your music—I don’t like your music. A lot of people don’t like our music, but we still don’t take offense to it like a lot of other people will…”

At the end of the day, they’re both thankful for all the friends they’ve made, particularly in the psychedelic, punk and no-wave side of the scene. “It’s too bad there’s a rift,” –jr says, looking over at the big pop thing. “But it makes for a good story I guess…”

After a pause, “…a good fight.”
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