Slough Feg – Mike Scalzi (vocals)
With their seventh album, Ape Uprising!, receiving excellent feedback from metal fans and critics alike, Slough Feg is still kicking and screaming after almost two decades together. Vocalist/guitarist/founder Mike Scalzi has been through countless line-up changes and the nu-metal movement in the late 90s, but through it all, the band has never compromised their sound for a quick buck. Scalzi spoke to SMNnews about the new album, the current music scene, the popularity of the band, his fascination with apes, and much more!
Can you tell me, in your opinion, the band’s high point and low point?
The low point is right now (laughs). No, the low point was 1996; the year the first album came out. Nobody cared about metal; nobody cared about Slough Feg. We couldn’t get any good gigs and we didn’t have a bass player. It was basically the two of us. It wouldn’t have mattered if we had broken up. There was like two people in the world that cared, not including the band (laughs).
The high point, to tell you the truth, is last year and this year. We’re getting some appreciation, getting flown around to festivals, stuff on video games, and publishing.
So the band, in your opinion, is riding a wave of momentum?
Well, we are in a national and international sense. Locally, we just played a show that was poorly attended. We though we were on the up-and-up; we just had an article in Decibel, we’ve had a ton of attention in the last few months since our album came out, publishing, t-shirt, and video game companies wanting to do our stuff. To play a gig and 40 people show up, we’re like ‘what the hell?’ Anyway, I don’t know what’s going on, to tell you the truth. There are people out there who tell us or write about us as the true premier metal band. Yet, at the same time, on another day, it’s like nobody knows who we are or cares. That’s the nature of this new millennium of internet and cyber recognition.
Do you think that the Internet has helped the band to gain a wider audience?
I don’t know if we’re gaining ground because of the Internet; I’m not sure. I do know that a lot of the attention you do get is on the Internet. Whether we have gotten more popular because of the Internet, I don’t think we can really tell. We were around for a few years before the Internet was really big as far as putting records out and we got attention. It’s hard to isolate the band’s success or lack of success from the growing Internet. However, underground music in general has benefited from the Internet.
The band has a new album out called Ape Uprising. What is the significance of the title and the lyrics, which seem to show a deep fascination for monkeys?
I like great apes. I don’t know any personally (laughs). When I was a kid, I had posters of them in my room. I was really into King Kong and Planet Of The Apes. I feel some kind of affinity for apes. Gorillas in particular; I don’t know why. I thought it was a fun idea. I got excited when I heard about these apes freaking out at the zoo and attacking people. I got interested in the story. I guess, in a way, it’s a good metaphor for how I feel about things a lot of the time. It’s an idea throughout history, people feeling caged up, enraged and wanting to go nuts on people…the music says it all. It’s one of those things you talk about that seems kind of silly because it is rather silly (laughs). That’s the basic idea; to have something to think about that’s entertaining.
Before you started to write the album, musically, was there a clear direction Slough Feg wanted to take?
I would have to say no, there wasn’t. As we wrote the record, we were a little more open to the long instrumental passages where we sort of wank. Some of the songs, that isn’t true, like “White Cousin” and “Simian Manifesto;” we spent months and months rearranging the parts and really fix things that sounded awkward. We tried to make things sound smooth, sound right to Slough Feg. We come up with riffs that we think are exciting and we try to make arrangements that are exciting. To me, heavy metal these days is very boring. Most of the stuff that comes out bores me to tears because it’s a rehash of something else, with tired, old riffs. It’s an ordeal listening to it, and live, it’s often an ordeal as well. I love the first Black Sabbath album and I love the early years of Led Zeppelin, but do we have to keep having new bands redoing these same ideas at a third-rate version over and over? That’s the foundation that Slough Feg grows from; the frustration with what is going on.
Desperately, we’re trying to do something that is more explosive. I love that style and I can’t seem to break out of that style of the Iommi-esque riffs. I’m not saying I’m completely entrenched and confined in sort of that box. That’s where, musically, I completely and totally come from: the early Sabbath, early Maiden, early Priest. I can’t seem to give it up; I try. I say I want to write an album that sounds more like Rainbow or an album that sounds like something not metal, like new wave-ish. I can’t seem to break out of that Iommi songwriting style. So the best I can do is try to really write the most creative, exciting riffs I can in that style and try desperately not to sound unoriginal. If I do sound like Black Sabbath or Maiden, I want to do the very best job I can to make it sound like a good Sabbath or Maiden song, like the one they never did on Killers or Master of Reality (laughs).
Going into the studio and writing songs, our number one priority was to try at least not to fall into that by arranging things over and over again in order to get an exciting song. On this record, we did that for about half the record; the other half, we did go into freaky stuff, where I let things go and didn’t worry so much.
Speaking of Master of Reality, the first song on the album is obviously “The Hunchback Of Notre Doom,” one of the best songs titles of all time…
It’s funny, because the original title of that was going to be “Ozzymodo” (laughs). We were going to call it that, but we decided to call it “The Hunchback Of Notre Doom.”
The song is interesting because it sets a tone for the album that is different than everything else on the album. When did the decision come have it not only as a track on the album, but the opening track?
The day I wrote it. That was the first song I wrote for the record. I try to be original, but that song is pretty much a whole-sale Saint Vitus rip-off. The vocal line is a little different, because I have a different style, but pretty much trying to sound just like Saint Vitus. That’s my effort to make the doom song; not a doom song, but the doom song to end all doom songs. I’m not saying I succeeded, but I tried. The minute I wrote it, that was my decision. My original idea was that this was going to be a doom album; most of it was going to be doom. It didn’t work out that way and that’s fine. To be honest, when I wrote that song, I wasn’t sure about the ape uprising concept. I just wrote “The Hunchback Of Notre Doom” because I thought that nobody has ever written a metal song about “The Hunchback Of Notre Dame” before and that is the ultimate doom story; a hunchback doomed to a bell tower and totally miserable.
I want to talk briefly about the title track, which is ten minutes long and a throwback to the late 70s/early 80s, with extended instrumentals and harmonies abound. How did the song come about? Was it a spur of the moment type of thing or did you have an idea of having an epic track like that?
The same as anything else. I had some riffs, put them together, and thought to call it “Ape Uprising” and write a song about apes uprising. I knew I wanted to do a song like that. It was two different songs together. We sat with that one, the first half of the song, for months and months trying to get the right arrangement. Then the second half of the song was some sort of Celtic-sounding instrumental. It’s a totally different song, where the singing ends and it goes into the instrumental portion, so its just two songs that happen to be one track on the record. Before we put it out, I said that these two songs connect, that one goes right into the other, but it should be two tracks with two separate names. At that point, my band goes, ‘No no, make it the same song; it sort of has a continuity to it.’ So I said ‘Ok, we’ll make it into one track.’ I was going to call the second song like something about the jungle. So now it’s a ten-minute epic song.
One more thing about the title track. I know it was the third song on the album; was that your decision to put it there, because it seems like a perfect closing track?
Yeah it does. We tried to arrange the album a bunch of different ways, but to be honest… we did it in two different studios. I think you can hear the difference in production. When we put “Ape Uprising” towards the end, it sounded weird to me. I put in the middle; I thought it would be a good centerpiece.
With all the line-up changes over the years, do you think this is the best line-up the band has ever had and do you think this line-up will last?
Right now, I think it actually is. We’ve had a lot of talented musicians in the band before and we do now too, but as far as raw talent, I don’t even know. Maybe it’s the best line-up; maybe it’s not. We’ve had some really good players, but that’s not as important as the creative energy, that a lot of which is due to personalities. We have, right now, the best sounding band we’ve ever had because everybody is 100% totally into it. We all want the same thing and we all get along really well. There’s no friction. Years ago, it was very different, a lot of trouble with that kind of thing. So, yeah, it’s really nice. We can all hang out in the same room and have a good time. That’s rare for a lot of bands. I sort of honed it that way.
I have a lot more choice now than I used to because people like heavy metal now, people know about Slough Feg, and people want to play with Slough Feg. Ten years ago, it was very hard to find people to play with. Now, it’s not hard to find people really. So there’s a big list of people who want to play with us, so I can choose the person with the right style, the right taste, the right personality. It’s pretty good, as far as that goes. We can produce music really quickly now and come off as if we’re having fun in everything we do on stage and in the studio, which is really rare.
What are the band’s current touring plans in support of Ape Uprising?
In about three weeks, in August, we’re going to fly over to the Midwest and play a handful of gigs, about five, in Chicago, Minneapolis, Detroit; that area. Those should be good, because the local shows aren’t as good sometimes, because we set them up with a friend’s band in a bar and we don’t have our booking agents do it. People don’t get as excited because they see us several times a year. In the Midwest, we seem to do pretty well. So we going to do that handful of shows, then we’re going to come back, and keep writing music through August and September for a new album or EP. In October, we’re going to go to Canada to do some festival in Calgary. Then in late October, we’re going to Portland, Seattle, and Northern California for a week. That’s it until January, when we’re going to Norway and England. We have about ten or thirteen shows spread out over the next few months, all over the place. So I guess, in a way, it’s a tour. The way we need to tour is sparsely, rather than getting into a van and touring the country. We just hit so many dead spots when we do that.
After seven albums, do the musical ideas still flow strong?
Surprisingly, they do. Three albums ago, on Traveller, I was having trouble with that. I had done three heavy metal albums with tons of riffs and I thought ‘I’ve probably said everything I got to say in this epic metal genre.’ I felt that way when I wrote Traveller. I thought some of that stuff was sort of rehash. I was like, ‘Ok, after this, I don’t know if I can do much more.’ I did Atavism and I thought, ‘That’s it. I finally did another album that does sound pretty original.’ I like the album a lot. I though Atavism was, to me when I did it, the ultimate Slough Feg album. So I thought, ‘Ok, this is the most honest and personal album I’m going to do, maybe that should be it. Five Slough Feg albums are enough.’ As soon as it came out, I needed to do something else.
Now, I feel that I can go on forever, as long as the stuff excites me. The new thing I have is going to sound Slough Feg-ish, there’s no way around that, but it’s going to look different. I think I’m going to do the artwork myself. It’s going to have a totally different subject matter and its going to go way down to the roots of the sound we have; what makes Slough Feg unique. There’s a whole bunch of metal coming out now and it’s so easy to get lost in the fray. I want to make that statement that, ‘Wow, I know who this is, I know this is a trademark sound,’ that kind of thing, because it’s the most valuable thing you can do at this point. Otherwise, you’ll get lost in the rabble, you know what I mean? No one would pay any attention; just say, ‘Oh, there’s another epic metal band.’
If there was one band you could tour with, past, present, or future, who would it be and why?
The Henry Rollins-era of Black Flag, with Damaged and My War. That might be the best band I’ve ever seen live. Of course, people would say ‘oh, that’s punk rock,’ but they don’t know what the fuck they are talking about. The version of Black Flag I’m talking about is sort of punk and sort of hardcore, but they are a King Crimson, Sabbath type of band. At that point, their songs became doom songs, with Sabbath lyrics. A lot of lyrics were introspective; going insane, depressed, pissed off, fucked up, and not fitting in. In 1986, I saw them live at their last tour. Not as far as musical aficionado stuff, but as far as putting on a show and making a statement live, it was really the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen, with the possible exception of Iron Maiden live.
What’s the one thing that you want to be remembered for as a musician, when the band is long and gone?
I want to be remembered for making exciting music and doing something nobody else did. I like to be remembered for putting on exciting, live shows, definitely. I like to be known as that band when you go see them, it’s an experience you’re not going to get seeing any other band and you’ll never get bored; something new will always come up to surprise you. I like people to think that way about the records too; something no one else did. I think that’s the point of making a musical statement or an artistic statement; to do something new that no one else did. It’s the whole point of doing it. I understand saying that I love so and so band so much that if I sound half as good as them on a record, that’s okay. I feel that way too about certain Sabbath records. If I could do something like Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, that’s good enough for me. I feel that way also about early Maiden albums. If I do something that sounds like Number Of The Beast, that’s cool, that’s good enough…but not anymore, because I’ve done enough stuff to where I’m satisfied with my replication of those things. I want to do something no one else has ever done.
By Dan Marsicano