Tuesday, April 20, 2010

RELEASE THE SPORES: Illogical (Team!) Interview With Slough Feg's Mike Scalzi

I am sure you're all familiar with Patrick Swayze's character "Dalton" from the 1989 film Road House (right). Loved by women and feared by men, Dalton packs not only a punch but also a degree in philosophy from NYU -- a thinking man's warrior, of sorts. He is the Ultimate Bouncer, a deadly blend of strength, brains, agility, and mysticism.
Mike Scalzi is basically the Dalton of heavy metal, right down to the degree in philosophy. Singer, lyricist, and guitarist for the mindbendingly shredderiffic (Lord Weird) Slough Feg (read a super lengthy IC post about them here), Scalzi has been successfully marrying folklore and metal for over 20 years now, and showing no signs of fatigue. Dude is a champ.
So imagine my unbridled giddiness when homeboy agreed to an interview with IC. Sweet!

But this ain't your "average" interview. No less than four members of the IC Team contributed to this post, making it a virtual CROSSFIRE OF Q&A BRUTALITY. Watch as Scalzi strikes us down, one by one, into the raging fires of Hades. The horror!

(These first three questions come courtesy of Brother Seanford AKA Seanu Reeves, whose band, Professor, recently shared the stage with Slough Feg in L.A.)

1) When I saw you last Saturday in Los Angeles, I noticed that there were a considerable amount of hot girls in the audience. Was that an anomaly for a Slough Feg show? Did it make you nervous?

Was it strange to have girls in the audience? Not in San Francisco, we usually get a few girls around here. But in somewhere like Arizona of Chicago it would be weird, unfortunately. Why the hell would it make me nervous? I get nervous when there’s nothing but a bunch of overweight fan-boys in the audience with tattoos of my face on their calves, that makes me nervous!!!

2) I noticed Adrian (Maestas, Slough Feg bassist) was wearing a spandex leopard print shirt. Is this something you often fight about?

Left: The dudes in question.

This is a stupid question. Of course we don’t fight about it. Adrian dresses like a queer, that’s good. That’s what skinny little rockers are supposed to do. You see the shit I wear on stage, well, sometimes people try to ask me stupid questions about it, as if I actually take all of this seriously. Well, I do take it seriously, I’m serious about putting on a show and keeping people’s attention, my wearing gay looking clothes does just that-----if you haven’t noticed musicians have been doing that since before we were both born. Its called performing, wearing a flashy costume----not putting on baggy jeans and a Cannibal Corpse t-shirt with your hair in a pony tail and staring at the floor for the whole show because you mommy and daddy didn’t have the sense to make you watch Mr. Rogers and learn to look people in the eye with confidence when you address them----particularly when you’re performing on a stage for them. 99% of the bands you see these days have no business being put on a stage for a “performance”----they can’t perform their way out a paper bag. No wonder shows are so poorly attended and people seem so bored, because the bands are never holding up their end of the bargain and putting on a show. If I want to see a bunch of insecure phony punks scowl and roll their eyes and act like fourteen year olds I can go teach philosophy classes!!

3) You have a considerable cult following, however your fans are in need of branding ala the kiss army, dead heads, and juggalos. Do you prefer Sloughdiers or perhaps simply Trekkies?

This is a actually a decent question, and a decent proposal (want to be in charge of our fan-club!?!?). There was one guy on our message board who started addressing everyone as “Feggots”, which I thought was rather appropriate, seeing as there are maybe three Slough Feg fans who have ever seen a naked woman (besides their mother)------sometimes I do feel like I’m at a Star Trek convention when I’m doing a show. Ever seen the 1985 Saturday night Live that William Shatner hosted: “get a life you guys!! Move out of your parents’ basement and get a job!! You ever kissed as girl?!?!” I’ll have to work on a good fan-club name, but I’d prefer someone else came up with it. Now that we have more female fans, perhaps we can call it the “feg hags”, or something.

(The next two questions come courtesy of Manslaughter, who has boozed down with Mr. Scalzi at his place of employment -- The Attic in SF -- on several occasions.)

1) So it's pretty obvious that you pump metal, but it seems that you pump iron as well. What do you listen to while pumping said iron? I know I personally like to listen to a lot of German Thrash while getting totally torqued. Can you give us a Scalzi workout playlist?

I usually don’t talk in public about pumping things, but this is an interesting question-----very evocative. I’ve never thought of myself as “torqued”, but I have been called “yoked” before. I don’t pump much Iron, as much as I used to, but you’re right, I do go to a gym when I can get there. Often I’m too tired for weeks, and that bothers me, because if I don’t exercise I get angry and irritated and depressed. I just went yesterday for the first time in almost a month. Unfortunately I don’t have much of a choice of what I listen to there, because I go to a very ghetto gym. Its right across the street from my house, and it’s a free community center, meaning lots of ex-cons and halfway house guys go there. Its more like a prison weight room of an outpatient prison!! The guys in there can’t afford gym memberships and all came up lifting in gyms. They taught me how to lift a lot when I was younger because I had to lift the weight they were working with, but now I find it annoying. I don’t say this to sound tough or anything, it’s just inexpensive and it's across the street from my house so it's hard to imagine going anywhere else. They listen to a boom box in there on some horrible hip-hop/R&B station. It’s annoying, I actually prefer silence when I’m working out.

2) I heard a rumor that you have a love for the Piano Man. Billy Joel. Can you tell us how that came about and what your favorite Billy Joel album is?

I grew up with Billy Joel. I’m from central Pennsylvania, and I’m old enough to remember his AM radio hits when they came out in seventies. Billy was the shite on the east coast back then, especially if you were in grade school. My older sister’s first 45 was “Moving Out”. I remember before we knew who he was that song kept coming on the radio (back then a lot of cheaper radios were AM only), and the line about “trading in his Chevy for a Cadillac-ac-ac-ac-ac-ac” sounded really wild to us. It was the most gritty thing we’d heard at that point (at about age 7). So she bought it , and I remember thinking this was the most “realistic”, street-wise type of music I’d ever heard (we’re talking about the height of the disco era, and as a 7 year old I hated disco----I though the bee gee’s were sissies). So, like every other kid I knew, we got really into Billy Joel----we kinda felt like his records were about us, about our lives, all the stuff on those late seventies albums sounded believable. They were stories about regular people. When I was ten he put out “Glass Houses” and I played that record until the grooves wore out, and lent it to every other 10 year old on my block. When I listen to it now I still get distinct memory-flashes of playing football, or playing with Legos, or whatever I was doing and age 10. At the time my parents forced me to take piano lessons, which I didn’t like at the time, but the redeeming factor is that it makes me more like Billy. He was a man’s man in a small, pug little package. Try to tell me he wasn’t bad-ass when you consider a short, poor, ugly Jewish guy from Long Island who really can’t sing scoring the no. 1 super model of the seventies, and then dumping her because she bored him. Holy hell, what a role-model.

(Nad-pumpingest song ever?)

(The next four questions were contributed by yours truly, Shelby Cobras.)

1) I have heard a couple different accounts now of your signature stage maneuver, which I like to call The Scalzi Axe-Toss. Although I've never witnessed this complex ritual myself, I have confirmation of its occurrence in at least two locations, with two separate people. Once, toward the end of a Slough Feg set at Slim's in SF, you took your guitar off mid-song, jumped off stage, and threw it to Josh from The Fucking Champs who improvised a solo on the spot. The second time it occurred at The Alibi in Arcata, where you once again removed your guitar and chucked it at Blake from Professor, who also shredded accordingly.
My question is this: How do I end up on the business end of a Scalzi Axe-Toss? Do you think you could spot me in a crowd, and if so, is there anything I can do to make the Axe-Tossing easier for you (placement in regards to the stage, protective padding, etc.)? I wail pretty hard, what are my chances?

I’ve certainly never heard of this before. I never thought much of it, or thought of giving it a name. I suppose I’ve done it plenty of times, without any forethought whatsoever. I suppose you could simply ask for it. It usually happens during the cheesy “guitar solo” section of “Warriors Dawn”. But I don’t think I’ve done it in over a year. I think those two events you described occurred on the same tour, and then I was doing it a lot. I suppose maybe I should start again. Last week at the Parkside would have been an ideal occasion, I do admit, it just never crossed my mind. I’ll keep that in mind. If you’re ever around when we’re doing “Warrior’s Dawn”, I guess get up towards the front and be ready.

(This is the song I will be playing lead axe on at the next Slough Feg show:)

2) I know you read the semi-obsessive post I wrote about your band here on IC recently. Adrian said I got most of the details right, but were there any glaring errors you'd like to correct? I think I've figured out the mythology and storylines behind most of your albums, with the one exception being Atavism. There's some crazy Greek mythology shit going on in there, does that all relate back to the Slaine stuff or is it a whole other tangent altogether? Lay it out for us.
PS I've decided to name my next born son "Eumaeus The Swineherd".

Well, I skimmed over most of that article to be honest with you. I liked what I read but didn’t have time to go over it thoroughly, but it looked pretty great, and it was long. Thanks!! I think a common problem with writing about our band (and perhaps other bands as well) is that the writer assumes that everything about the music is totally pre-meditated. It’s not. A lot of the lyrics are somewhat random and just sound good (in my opinion) over the music. Don’t try to get too particular about their content, because often I don’t-----I just pick a general theme and add details that sound interesting. But actually “Eumaeus” is an exception. It’s about Homer’s Odyssey. All the references in that song, and “Curse of Athena” are quite specific to that book. Also, Slaine is not the inspiration to very many of my lyrics. Slaine is based on an old Irish Epic about a cattle raid called the Tain. This is where most of the ideas for the Celtic lyrics come from. But you’re in the right general area. Also, some of the lines in “Hiberno Latin Invasion” are taken directly from the surviving versions of Brutus’ (the guy who murdered Julius Caesar) war diaries, as the first Roman general to enter Albany (England) and encounter the Celts.

3) I've noticed at the last two (local) Slough Feg shows, you perform a quick costume change before the epic "Baltech's Lament". At the DNA Lounge, you changed from a leather vest into a long-sleeve silk shirt, and at Thee Parkside, it was some sort of silky vest OVER your leather vest. Is it something about the song itself that demands silkiness and comfort? Or is it just that, at that point in your set, you need to work with a garment that breathes a little easier?

Right: The garment in question.

Neither. I just like to put something else on when that songs comes up. First of all the guitar comes off so it gives room to put something else on. Also, it just adds to the performance atmosphere (painfully missing from most metal shows) at that point in the set, when the mood gets a little more dramatic. People seem to enjoy it, as I do as well. In any real performance that last for more than twenty-five minutes, like a real theatre production of any sort, there’s always costume changes, set changes etc. It keeps things interesting. God knows there are so many opportunities to get BORED during you average rock band’s performance these days (mostly because the band usually just plain stinks!)----I try to minimize these opportunities. It doesn’t always work, but I’m getting better at it. But at the Parkside I kinda failed. The two vested thing doesn’t really come off---it's just all I had around to put on at the time. I prefer the silk shirts, or something a little more showy.

(The jam in question: )

4) 2010 is the 20th year of Slough Feg's existence. What are a couple highlights and/or lowlights the band has seen in the last two decades?

Well, all twenty years were sort of a low-light (heheh……) No. That’s not true. Getting a record deal in Italy and being able to tour Europe in the late nineties after years of abject failure was the first real high point. Before that, I guess the real significant event (besides moving the band from Central Pennsylvania to the Bay Area eight months after its inception) of the early nineties was the decision and success of the whole band putting on war-paint and dressing like savages, and throwing bamboo spears and chicken and pig guts into the audience. This happened in ’92 as an act of desperation to get a rise out of the audience. I remember the conversation when we came up with it. It was after a practice in our basement of Haze and Webster Streets, in SF, when I told the band that if we didn’t do something drastic, that they audience had never seen before, we could go on playing forever around SF and no one would give a flying shit. So for the next show we put on grease-paint and burned tiki-torches in the club, and threw cow bones and silly shit at the audience and it totally worked. Best show we’d ever done, and people suddenly talked about us. So that really was an early high point. Then years later the European thing happened. Twilight of the Idols and Down Among the Deadmen were a big deal, made a real underground splash in Europe, and metal heads knew us. The shows over there became great and talked about. That was around 2000. Then we were able to tour America a few years later, and things kept growing in baby steps from there, and still are. Baby steps. We’ve never had BIG steps or successes, just gradual, steady progress. It’s all just hard work, but I’ts perpetual to some extent by now, and won’t easily be stopped.

(The next three questions are from Illogical Brother Number One, RPG, metal, and comic book master Helm.)

1) Do you prefer Glen Fabry's rendering of Slaine to the more popular Simon Bisley version? I've always found the Fabry renditions to be more human and nuanced whereas Bisley took him in his characteristic hypermuscular idiom. Pat Mills' writing keeps it continuous but everytime I sit down to read the Slaine comics chronologically I tend to give up when I reach the Bisley era. Am I missing out on much?

I don’t know who Glen Fabry is. I never liked Simon Bisley’s art much. That graphic novel stuff is all too cheesy for me, I’m not a big Fantasy guy. The only Slaine comics I was inspired by were the original “quality comics” that came out in the eighties. The art was by Mike McMahon, and was a totally different style. His style was sketchy and rough, really barbaric. That’s what inspired me about Slaine, the rough and chaotic pen and ink art of McMahon. He only did like the first four or five issues. To me, comic books should look like comic books-----sketchy and quickly done, with maximum emphasis on action----like the old Jack Kirby stuff, quickly and roughly done, but with totally action style. The later Slain of the graphic novels reminds me too much of slick metal, it's like comparing the first Iron Maiden album to Queensryche or something. Way too processed and cheesy. The MacMahon artwork reminds me of early Slough Feg riffs----tough and fast and chaotic, but catchy and full of aggressive energy.

2) A lot of Heavy Metal bands subscribe to a roughly Nietzsche-inspired philosophy where free willpower is the initial force that sets destiny in motion. Unless I've misunderstood the aesthetics of the band, The Lord Weird Slough Feg are informed of this but also of more deterministic points of view where Freewill and notions of metaphysical willpower do not belong. A heroic ontology against the base inescapable "anatomy is destiny". Are these facets reconciled somehow? Perhaps there is no need?

What the hell are you talking about? You seem to be implying that the free will vs. determinism debate has something to do with the ideas behind Slough Feg songs. If you want to go there, first of all as you know I’m sure, heavy metal bands who claim to be Nietzschean never know what the hell they’re talking about. I suppose I’m playing right into your hand by saying this, or even engaging in this kind of debate, but what the hell. You caught me during the interview off-season (I haven’t done one for a while because we haven’t had an album come out for awhile) so I have the patience to engage. First of all Nietzsche does NOT stand of the free-will side of the debate. He’s much more of a biological determinist----his Will To Power as the sole motivation for all human action and thought is almost the antithesis of “free will”. There is not free will! Only the will to Power------which mankind cannot help.

Secondly, I don’t know what the hell “metaphysical will power” is suppose to mean, or for that matter what you mean by the “anatomy of destiny”-----but if you want to understand the true relationship between the experience of deliberation or “free will” and the seemingly casual character of all objects of human thought or observation (from which the empirical character of all of our quantitative sciences are built----with the incorrect assumption that all “being” must be quantifiable), then read Schopenhauer---the pre-cursor and inspiration for any of Nietzsche’s brief sojourns into metaphysics. All observed phenomena (data, scientific or otherwise) appears to us in the forms of (Kantian) intuition, which are space, time and causality----and under such conditions, all events are explainable by antecedent causes, i.e. the principle of sufficient reason. But this is only half of the ontology----the will, or “thing in itself”----the internal, subjective form of all observed phenomena (even in the case of the human mind observing its own content) is not subject to this causal interpretation-----free will and determinism are two sides of the same coin (read Spinoza!!!)-----the will in itself (as the necessary subject, or necessary ground for all objective experience) is free of antecedent causes, and thus is experienced as free, or capable of pursuing any number of alternative actions. The free subject is a necessary foundation for all observation or experience of the object----just as the object of consciousness, necessary quantifiable and ensconced in the forms of intuition--- space, time and causality, is always determined by antecedent causes. You can’t have one without the other, but it all seems mysterious to us, like a “Philosophical Problem” because we refuse to acknowledge that the mind itself, human consciousness can never be quantified, for it is the necessary condition for quantification. You can’t see into your own eyes for the very same reason. But because we are so couched (eternally) in Platonic philosophical problems (which we now call “science”) which in reality simply boiled down to an unhealthy, decadent worship or “reason” (thanks to the ever-decadent Socrates) that we attempt to reduce our innate subjectivity to just another “object” of our consequences, which is the most two-bit error in the book----and one any pre-Socratic Indian or Arab mystic could have explained away in 800 BC. Okay. So that’s the problem with our society!! Seriously.
And by the way, there is not one Slough Feg song that has even remotely anything to do with all of this!! (but I’ll give you one thing, you sure knew how to push my buttons----)

3) You rolled snake eyes. Should the referee let you apply DMs or should that be considered a natural fumble always?

Snake eyes?! What the hell kind of fairy-weapon uses six-sided damage rolls?!?!

Well said, sir. My thanks to the three interviewers and ESPECIALLY the one interviewee who took part in this barbaric melee. That shit was EPIC.

Now go HERE and buy all of Slough Feg's stuff.


atanamar said...

Best interview ever.
Thanks to the IC crew for getting for getting this together and subjecting yourselves to, um, complete ridicule.

Helm said...

That was great! Big thank you to Mike Scalzi and in the case he's reading the comment thread, "Anatomy is destiny" is a Sigmund Freud position on that our biological makeover determines to an extent our lives. Also about 'playing into my hand' or me pushing your buttons, I intended no such thing, my philosophical question was honest and I really appreciate the answer (I will read more Spinoza). About 'metaphysical free will' I was talking about the often encountered philosophical argument of a dualist body-soul where the latter stands 'outside the body' and makes decisions for it. Excuse my awkward terminology, I am Greek and not certain how some of these things translate.

"but it all seems mysterious to us, like a “Philosophical Problem” because we refuse to acknowledge that the mind itself, human consciousness can never be quantified, for it is the necessary condition for quantification. You can’t see into your own eyes for the very same reason."

I agree completely.


I'm surprised at the choice of Mick McMahon as favorite Slaine artist but in retrospect it makes sense.

Brian said...

awesome interview! i have only had the pleasure of seeing THE LORD once, in albuquerque at a small, shitty bar and they kicked everyone's ass that night! thanks for the interview, truly epic and it made my morning here at work much more enjoyable!

SEANFORD said...

mikes the best. he'll probably never offer me a show again but i love that guy.

Nekromantis said...

Amazing interview! Thanks for everyone involved.

Invisible Oranges said...

Great stuff, guys. Thanks for doing the work.