Band Interview: 36 Crazyfists

Matt Albers

On Monday, June 15, the Chicago Blackhawks won their sixth Stanley Cup, closing out the 2015 National Hockey League season with a victory over the Tampay Bay Lightning. Chicago got to the playoffs after beating out both the Minnesota Wild and the Anaheim Ducks, and Tampa Bay beat the New York Rangers to get to the playoffs, who in turn won over the Washington Capitals. Now, at this point, you’re probably asking yourself why you’re reading a recap of the NHL 2015 postseason on a loud rock and counterculture blog. Well, it’s because these stats were virtually the complete opposite of the predictions of 36 Crazyfists vocalist and self-proclaimed “biggest hockey fan in music,” Brock Lindow. In another one of my long-overdue band interviews, I had talked to Lindow before his show at The Firebird in St. Louis on May 7, 2015. On this off-date with local openers The Faded Truth and As Each Second Fades, we discussed the band’s now twenty year plus career, including writing style, their latest album (2015’s Time and Trauma), their recent signing with Spinefarm Records versus all of their previous labels, beer, food, and of course, hockey.

I want to start with the obvious and stereotypical topic of the 36 Crazyfists home town of Anchorage, Alaska. That certainly seems like an unlikely, non-traditional location for a metal or hard rock band. Was or there already a “scene” or music community in Anchorage at the time of your formation? If so, how did it affect you as artists and performers? Is there still a scene there now?

Yes, there’s definitely a scene now. There was a scene growing up. I always thought that we had really unique bands up there, because… Well, case in point, I didn’t really have cable TV until, like, eleventh grade. Alaska’s a little bit behind the times as far as fashion or things that nature, which is also something that we’ve often kind of laughed [at] and prided ourselves on; that we were kind of behind the times with that stuff. So with that being said, there wasn’t a lot of outer influences. Of course, we knew Bay-area thrash bands; if you were a metal fan, you were into Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, Anthrax, and all those [other] bands. But my favorite bands were the local bands. So I think the isolation definitely breeds a unique characteristic of the music up there. I mean, you would see death metal bands playing with folk bands at the same night at a club, and it wasn’t weird. And now I think about it, and it’s kind of weird [laughs].

There’s definitely a music scene now. It’s heavily supported locally. I think there may be some of these scenes in certain cities [where] maybe people are just interested in the bigger national bands and aren’t’ really following the local music scene as much – I could be wrong on that. But I feel like in Alaska, there’s… hardly any national touring bands going there. So all you have is your local scene, which is another thing that makes it unique and also cool, and the bands that are there that pack like two- to three-hundred people into a show for them… Whereas a lot of these cities, where I see local bands opening, they’re not drawing anybody, other than a few friends. But up in Alaska, I think that it’s got a great community of people wanting to support their arts, and it’s always been special that way.

Brock Lindow (left; vocals, 36 Crazyfists) and Kyle Baltus (right; drums, 36 Crazyfists) at The Firebird - May 7, 2015 [photo by Nick Licata]
Brock Lindow (left; vocals, 36 Crazyfists) and Kyle Baltus (right; drums, 36 Crazyfists) at The Firebird – May 7, 2015 [photo by Nick Licata]
Your sound has evolved over the years, but it’s always been difficult to categorize 36 Crazyfists under a subgenre (not quite nu-metal, not quite metalcore/post-hardcore, etc.). What factors have led to how you write and formulate music the way(s) that you have, particularly from album to album?

You know, when you’re so close to it, it’s really hard to step away from it and realize what the public perception of the band would be as far as genres go. So, I’ve always just thought that we were a hard rock band that loved metal. But, you know, we’ve tiptoed into a few things, and I guess that’s why it is difficult to really pin us. And I think that’s really the beauty of it, because a lot of people don’t like the band because of my voice, and some people love the band because of my voice. But either way, the [my] voice is… maybe something that makes us stick out from other bands. I mean, let’s be honest, there’s a lot of bands that sound exactly alike. And I’m not interested in that at all, we just do our thing.

We have our influences, of course; Alice In Chains, Deftones, the Bay-area thrash bands are in there for more on the metal side of things. I just think [that] when we approach a record, we just try and stay in-tuned to what makes us different than other bands. And that’s the guitar sound and the vocals, and being vague; I like to write vaguely. And that’s just so everyone can have their own interpretations of my own issues. Especially, like “Master Of Puppets,” for example; I didn’t know that song was about cocaine when I was a kid. I just knew that it pumped me up for hockey [laughs]. So I like music that’s open to interpretation, [and] I think our band is a band that makes people feel, or goes through certain things that people can relate to through their own interpretations.

So then what do you like to write about? Your song titles and use of vocabulary tends to be vivid and emotionally driven, at times poetic. Are there topics or approaches that you stick to when you put words to the music?

I think just in general, everything is always [pertaining] to my life. Very rarely do I write about worldly issues, or politics, or religion. I do actually speak a lot about spirituality and my own connection with that. But everything is vague because I just like to write that way. But it’s always about… personal situations in my life. The entire new album is basically about the passing of my mom. But in the sense of the other albums, I never have just one topic like I have on this one. So that was kind of new for me, to just continuing to write about the process of loss and things of that nature. Before, things were more askew and all over the place. But still, [it’s] life situations that I was involved in.

I’ve noticed that your album titles also seem to be similar; the cold imagery of 2004’s A Snow Capped Romance was followed up by 2006’s Rest Inside The Flames, and your last three albums have all been formatted as a conjunction of two ideas connected by the word “and” (2008’s The Tide and Its Takers, 2010’s Collisions and Castaways, and now 2015’s Time and Trauma). Are there narratives or concepts that have connected your albums in any way, or are all of these just coincidences?

I think the most honest answer is that it’s a coincidence… Before we had this record come out, the original title was “Lightless,” which is a song on the album. But the guys [in the band] just weren’t really feeling it. I could tell, but I was really into because I never just have one word [for an album title]. And I was like, “Fuck, I finally found a one-word name that really encompasses this whole feeling.” But then I thought about it more, as I could tell the boys weren’t totally in love with it. And they usually let me do my thing; that is my job in the band, to title things and write words. So they usually give me my freedom for that, but I could tell they weren’t in love with it. And I just thought “Lightless” had  really good imagery for the album art and stuff like that; I [didn’t] know exactly what I would have wanted yet. But finally, Steve (Holt, guitar) was like, “Man, I like Time and Trauma better. Why don’t you think about that?” Well, immediately [I thought] of Collisions and Castaways, Time and Trauma. So, I’m glad we went with Time and Trauma, because it kind of gives a more hopeful sense; “Lightless” was so doomy. There’s only one way to go with “Lightless,” and it’s so gloomy.

“Lightless” kind of sounds something from, like, a black metal band.

[Laughs] Yeah, right? It probably is! [Laughter] So anyway, yes. Coincidence for sure. I guess… I don’t know, it did bother me for minute that it was so similar, but I guess I’m over it now.

Steve Holt (guitar, 36 Crazyfists) at The Firebird - May 7, 2015 [photo by Nick Licata]
Steve Holt (guitar, 36 Crazyfists) at The Firebird – May 7, 2015 [photo by Nick Licata]
Just last year, 36 Crazyfists celebrated its twentieth anniversary as a band – congratulations!

Thank you.

What has been the secret to your longevity, and why is it important to you that the band continue on?

Well, the secret is… we’re stubborn and probably don’t know when to put it to bed. We love doing this, we come from a place where, for the most part, hardly anyone’s gotten to do what we’ve gotten to do through music, from where we’re from. So we’ve always loved that, we’re like, “We ARE the guys that got out of Alaska and got to see the world because of this band.” So we never took that lightly, and have always been real grateful for that. And all the guys in the band, I’ve know them my whole life. I’ve known them since high school, and now we’re approaching our twenty-first year at Christmastime. We were talking about [this] last night; it’s more fun now than it’s ever been. So I think there’s a lot of things that contribute to that, one being our new drummer [who] has brought so much to the table. Our old drummer, Thomas (Noonan, 1994 – 2012), [he’d] been in the band for eighteen years and he’s one of my best friends and still love him to death. But he hated touring, and he was a miserable dude out here. And when you have something like that in your camp, it just kind of affects everything. And once he decided to retire and we got Kyle (Baltus), it was difficult to put another guy in the band, because we had come from such a small town, and Kyle wasn’t from Alaska. But now we laugh every night on stage, and we haven’t laughed in years on stage.

So all those things contributed to us being able to continue on, because there’s not a lot of money to be made in this business, obviously. People aren’t buying physical copies of records, or some digital downloads still, but it’s not what it was. So you’ve got to really be loving this to want to stick it out. We’ve been out since, basically November, and we’re booked until, pretty much the end of next summer. So, it’s the biggest resurgence for us. We’ve never had this much touring on the calendar ahead of time, so we’ve got really great tours this year that we can’t even announce yet. But there’s a lot of really great opportunities for us. I mean, tomorrow’s our last show with Five Finger Death Punch – we just did seven shows with them, and that was a huge opportunity because their listener base is really the rock radio [base]. And we’re not on rock radio, really. So every night, we we’re playing to like, four thousand people who had never heard of us. So usually, when you sell ten to thirteen CDs a night to your fans – because most of them already have the record – we’re doing like, forty to sixty [CDs sold a night] on those shows. And that told me that people were like, “I’ve never heard of this band, I want to check it out.” And so the opportunities are huge. So we have a bunch more Five Finger-style tours coming up. So it’s going to be great, and it feels good to be in this stage of the game and be excited about stuff.

Well I can’t wait to hear more about all of that, so all the best with it! This is the longest time off in between album releases for 36 Crazyfists, at least since between your 1997 debut In the Skin and 2002’s Bitterness the Star. What do you do in your spare time, and is that what you would do if you weren’t occupied with this band?

Well, I opened a restaurant back home called Crossbar. And that was part of the reason it took a while for the new record to come out; that took a couple years [out] of my life to put together. I also have a radio show called “The Beer Show.” We do that once a week back home, it airs on three different stations locally, and I interview local brewers and brewers from around the world. And it’s an hour of drinking beer. We call it “Beer, Booze, and Music News,” so we talk about some lifestyle stuff and music, and of course the beer scene, because I love craft beer. I hear there’s a great brewery around here.

Yeah, Schlafly! Just down the street.

Yeah, so I’m going to check that out. And would I be doing that? Yeah, because I really dove into those things when music wasn’t around. Most of the reason we were off so long was because my mom and my bass player, Mick’s (Whitney) mom passed away. So it wasn’t as important as it used to be at that time, family became much more important. So when the dust settled a little bit on all that stuff, we were able to get back to the band.

Speaking of beer and food, I actually just interviewed In Flames last week. And two of their members own a restaurant in Sweden. Have you been to their restaurant by any chance?

No I haven’t, but I know that one of my best buds back home has a brewery called Anchorage Brewing Co., and they sell his beers in the 2112 [restaurant].

Cool! They also sell their vocalist, Anders Fridén’s beer there, too. Have you tried his beer?

No, not yet.

Well, I talked to both Anders and bassist Peter Iwers, who co-owns 2112 with Björn Gelotte, and we talked about how there are cultures surrounding beer and food, just as there’s cultures surrounding all different types of music. Do you feel that these cultures intersect at any point, or are there parallels?

The food and beer, for sure. I mean, I love those pairings. Originally, I knew about all of that stuff through wine and food. But it’s so cool now, there’s like beer pairings. And you know that the brewers, not only are they tremendous scientists, but they’re also really big foodies for the most part, that I’ve met. Music and beer have been going hand-in-hand forever [laughter], so there’s definitely a connection. I don’t know about music and food, but definitely music and beer.

Mick Whitney (bass, 36 Crazyfists) at The Firebird - May 7, 2015 [photo by Nick Licata]
Mick Whitney (bass, 36 Crazyfists) at The Firebird – May 7, 2015 [photo by Nick Licata]
Throughout those years, you’ve been signed to a handful of different labels. What have your experiences been like in that aspect throughout your career? What has your most recent partnership with Spinefarm Records for this new album by comparison?

Easily, Spinefarm has been the best relationship we’ve had so far with any of our labels. Ferret was really great to us, too. But then… Carl (Severson) who owned Ferret, he sold it. And it went over to Warner, I believe. So things got a little bit funky there. And I never talk bad about Roadrunner, they made my dreams come true. But there was a lot of disbelief with the people who worked at the label, on the American side of things, and the band. So that was difficult to work with, when you have people who aren’t really passionate about the band, you can tell they don’t really care to work for it. And I think we got lost in the shuffle quite often in the U.S. side of things. Outside of [this] country in Europe, Roadrunner was just amazing; I mean they were some of our favorite people in the world. And the thing is, the president of Spinefarm was the president of Roadrunner, the director of marketing was may A&R guy at Ferret, so I had these relationships with these guys.

So it’s just been wonderful. I think we shopped with seven different labels with the new album, and I just really felt that Spinefarm was the most passionate about the band, and really enjoyed the music, and appreciate the career that we’ve had. Because we have been a bit of a suitcase; we’ve been on D.R.T., and Roadrunner, and Ferret, and now Spinefarm. I don’t know what it means, but I definitely love the Universal/Spinefarm deal right now. I mean, every day they’re trying to think of something new for us to do. We’re about to do our third video; we haven’t done three videos on a record in years. So they’re great, and we can’t say enough about them. I think everybody in the band just feels really great about our label, and we haven’t felt like that for [a while]. I mean, there’s a lot of ups and downs, and they promise things and [then] they can’t do them, and budget constraints, and all this crap. And you’re not selling any records, so then they don’t want to put any more money into things – we’ve been through all that stuff. With Spinefarm, they’ve just been, “Whatever you want. Let’s do this, let’s keep it going, let’s think of other things to do.” It’s great!

In those twenty years since your formation, what has changed and what has stayed the same for you? Is there anything that you would change, keep the same, or do over again?

The whole industry has changed. I mean, in the beginning, I remember touring the band with MapQuest papers everywhere. And now, Siri tells you where to go and it’s way easier [laughs]. But, touring in general has gotten way easier, in a sense, through technology. So, for that part, I’m glad for the technology change.

I like the old days where you send in a press kit… I have this book, and it was before the internet of course, and it was called Book Your Own Fucking Life, and it was how bands toured back then. It would have every club and the promoter, and you would call the club, you’d get an address, you’d send your press kit to them, and they would call you back and say, “Yeah, we’ll give you a show. Here’s a date I’ve got,” it was totally different. That was a real D.I.Y., punk rock way to do it, and that’s the way bands toured back then. And we did it to, so I remember some of that stuff, and not having cell phones. It was weird; like, “How did we even make it?” Having to find a telephone and tell [someone] that you’re broke down, it was just different. So, I guess back then I would’ve liked to have had a cell phone [laughter].

I would’ve changed that. But yeah, it’s cool man. It’s easier to tour, for sure. It’s just harder to make a buck… There’s so many bands now. There weren’t’ that many bands in the earlier days; everybody’s in a freakin’ band now. I saw a flyer on a pole in Portland, Oregon that said, “Stop Starting Bands.” [Laughter] And I was like, “Yes! Awesome!” But anyway, the industry… has really gotten back to the D.I.Y. ethic. I mean, I’m now our tour manager. You’ve just got to do a lot on your own, because there’s just now enough revenue to go around and have all these luxuries. Unless you’re selling Five Finger Death Punch-style numbers. So, when you’re… mid-level touring like we do, you’ve got to grind and you’ve got to make sure you lower your overhead so you can function. And we all get paid weekly, we make it work for ourselves, but you’re definitely skimping by sometimes. But that’s how you make it work.

Is there also anything that you still have not done yet with 36 Crazyfists that you would still like to do?

I think just getting to South America [and] certain places in the world that we haven’t hit yet. Mostly South America, because for so many years we’ve been getting Facebook messages and MySpace messages from fans there [saying], ‘Please come to Chile! Come to Brazil!” And we haven’t gotten to be there yet. So, mostly just travel. The rest of it… I’ve played with Metallica a few times, and that was my favorite band – that’s why I’m in a band – so I’ve gotten to do a lot of great things that I’ll never forget. So, certain things, I can die a happy man. But I think, just to travel; getting to more people, connecting with them. Having the rock radio format adapt to our band and put us on there would help us, too [laughs].

36 Crazyfists at The Firebird - May 7, 2015 [photo by Nick Licata]
36 Crazyfists at The Firebird – May 7, 2015 [photo by Nick Licata]
Finally, I understand you have a weekly hockey column on MetalInsider.net (which I also freelance contribute to, on occasion) called “Snipe City.” Tell me about this, including how it came about, as well as your predictions for the remainder of the NHL postseason.

Well, it came about because – well, it’s probably self-proclaimed – but I am the biggest hockey fan that’s in the music community; I’d like to see one that’s bigger than me [laughter]. And I’m a die-hard Philadelphia Flyers fan, I’ve been my whole life. I’ve played hockey my whole life, [I] still play. In Alaska, it’s the biggest sport. And all my buds play, and we beer league any Thursday. So when I started doing press with our new publisists, which is Amy (Sciarretto) and John, they really thought outside the box to get me into things that aren’t just music-related. And when I heard about possibly doing a hockey column, I was like, “Uh, yeah!” [Laughs] I own a hockey bar, so I was like, “Absolutely.” So, I know Bram [Teitelman] from back in the day when he was at The Syndicate. So, he was like, “Man, you want to do this hockey blog?” I was like, “Absolutely!” So I started doing it midseason, and it’s been a lot of fun. It’s a lot of work, to be honest; I do it weekly, so we’re out here touring and I’m like, “Dude, Snip City’s due tomorrow!” So I’ve got to do research, and we’re not always going to hit all of the games. Especially since the Flyers didn’t make the playoffs, my attention isn’t as crazy as it usually is [laughter], but it’s playoff hockey – I don’t miss it.

My prediction is Anaheim. I think the ducks are going to come out of the West… I think they can beat the Blackhawks, but I’m going to be happy when Capitals take out the Rangers… Because I hate the Rangers [laughs]. I’m pulling for Anaheim mostly because I’ve got a buddy, Nate Thompson, that’s on the team. He’s from Alaska, so I’ve got to pull for the hometown boy. But yeah, I think the Ducks could do it, so I’ll pull for them. I was really happy about The Wild toward the end of the season, because they were just fun to watch. They rattled off, like seventeen straight wins, but it looks like they’re going home early, too. I love the playoffs, it’s the greatest game in the world, and it’s super fun to watch.

Well, maybe Brock will have better luck with his NHL postseason predictions next year. But still check out his hockey blog on Metal Insider, as well as our own Nick Licata’s photos from the show. Special thanks to Amy Sciarretto in setting up the interview. 36 Crazyfists’ latest and sixth studio release, Time and Trauma, is available now on Spinefarm Records. Be sure to catch them opening for In This Moment on their “Black Widow Tour,” along with The Defiled.

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