Saturday, November 7, 2009

You've Got A Doom Friend In PA - The ARGUS interview!

If you’ve been reading this site for awhile, you already know about the lavish mounds of praise I’ve slathered upon the debut release from Pennsylvania’s ARGUS earlier this year. If not, read as noted (it’s the 2nd one down in this review section below The Mishaps), then rejoin us to the right of the below link. Point is, if you dig heavy long songs, harmony guitar leads for the ages and vocals awash in all ranges of emotions, not to mention thought-provoking lyrics, ARGUS are for you…despite their somewhat hard-to-take-for-a-Ravens-fan NFL allegiances. But more on that later. You’ll just have to read the interview. So do it. Now.

RAY - Butch, I know you were in PENANCE previously. That aside, I’m honestly not aware of the whole history behind ARGUS in general or you in particular. Can you give us a run-down of your career in music and how it all culminated (so far!) in this band?

BUTCH - I began singing in bands at age 17. First band was a band called DRUID. Had a lot of fun with that band – short lived as it was – maybe 1 year. That was the building block for all the followed. Played in a few bands in the Pittsburgh area – Lights Out and Child of Fire. When Child of Fire split I found an ad that PENANCE was looking for a singer. I auditioned and at the time it did not work out but we remained friends and eventually we started jamming for fun and from there began writing and that led to 7-8 years, 3 albums, a bunch of gigs and a short European tour. PENANCE finally came to a end/fell apart and I met the ARGUS guys. Erik Johnson is a fraternity bro of mine and I’d get these e-mails from him saying come see his band, ARGUS. Well, I never got out. Finally I get this e-mail – “Come see Erik’s last show with ARGUS”. Now I gotta go since I missed all the others. First things first – I was blown away by Andy’s bass playing. And the rest of the band was great too. I got to talking with Kevin when they were done and we stayed in touch via e-mail. We decided I’d come out and audition and if that worked out we’d work out a rehearsal schedule where I came out every other weekend etc since they were 1.5 – 2 hours drive from me. It ended up working quite well as 3 years, a bunch of shows and 1 album later will testify. That’s the short version. Every band was like a building block for the next. And I learned something new in every situation. I believe ARGUS is the best band I’ve been a part of and this album is the culmination of all my years in music so far. I am very proud of it.

RAY - What are your influences in music? Did you come up in a musical family? If so, how did that steer you toward your involvement in music today? Also, if so, how has your family felt about the heavier end of the music you’ve produced, have they liked it or have they recoiled in horror?

BUTCH - My folks liked music but not like I do. None of them were musical performers – I was the music nut of the family who decided he wanted to be in bands. My father died when I was young but my mother and stepfather were always very indulgent of my hobby as a music collector and very supportive of my musical activities be it chorus, choir, theater and later on my bands. They came to all my school performances and I think a concert or two when I started in rock bands. So, it was good to have folks who were on my side and kind of understood me LOL I’m not aware of how much of my recorded work they’ve heard. I know they heard some Penance because my mother and sister are aware that the song “Drown Me In A Sea of Empty” was about my father’s death. I’m sure the music isn’t up my family’s alley but I never really asked I guess.

My influences ? KISS was the most important. KISS was the band that made me want to be a musician. From the time I was 5 and my buddy and I would play “I Want You” over and over and laugh when Paul would stammer “buh-buh-buh-buh Babe I Want You !” to when I bought “Creatures of the Night” until today, they’ve been a constant in my life and have been a huge influence on me. I’m a KISS apologist – I’m the guy that will try to convince you that “music from The Elder” is a good album and that 80’s KISS is worth exploring. By the way – SONIC BOOM is one of their best albums ever. 2009 album of the year for me.

Beyond KISS I’d have to say The Beatles, Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Angel, Starz, Trouble, Saxon, Savatage, Metallica, Rainbow, Celtic Frost….. I don’t have enough time to list everyone. Metal, hard rock, 70s rock, old school R&B (Marvin Gaye, Funkadelic, James Brown, etc)…. I am a music nut – Johnny Cash…. Been on a big Southern Rock kick lately especially the Marshall Tucker Band…. I’m all over the map. And that’s just the old stuff. I’m surrounded by bands and musicians within this scene and otherwise that inspire me – Revelation/Against Nature, Orodruin, The Gates of Slumber, Pale Divine, Valkyrie, Earthride, While Heaven Wept, Slough Feg, Pharaoh, Apostle of Solitude….

If we’re talking vocalists – the biggest influences on me, or more accurately – my favorite vocalists are: Ronnie James Dio – he’s the tops, greatest metal vocalist ever. The complete package of power, range and charisma. Rob Halford, Bruce Dickinson, Bobby Liebling, Frank DiMino, Robin Zander, Paul Rodgers, Steve Marriot, James Hetfield, Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons, Peter Steele, Biff Byford, Ian Gillan, Brad Delp, Marvin Gaye, Barry White, Johnny Cash, Freddie Mercury, Paul McCartney, Lars Goran Petrov….again, I could be here until next week listing singers I love. I don’t think I sound like any of those guys but that’s a sampling of singers that have really inspired me over the years and made me want to do this.

RAY - I know that ARGUS did a previous work that was released by John Brenner’s Bland Hand Records. How did that go and how did you hook up with Shadow Kingdom for this new self-titled release?

BUTCH - We recorded a 5 song demo and made copies of it which we sold at shows for cheap. In fact the first time we sold them was at the Doom or Be Doomed Festival in 2007 and we charged like $2-$3 and gave every dollar to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. But John agreed to put the demo up on the Bland Hand site for download because we wanted people to be able to get it for free and hopefully dig it and spread the word. So, we’re definitely grateful to John and Bland Hand for giving us that platform. I’m hoping to give him some live stuff one of these days as well.

SHADOW KINGDOM came into the picture when our agreement with Tyrannusshit the bed. We knew Tim, had met him previously and it just so happened that as we relieved ourselves of a whole lotta nonsense he liked the band and was willing to release it for us. It was a no brainer – the label is already known for its great releases, it’s up and coming so we can grow with it, and Tim is a Pittsburgh guy so having our label in our back yard so to speak is a big plus. We are very happy things worked out the way they did.

RAY - What is the inspiration behind the band name ARGUS? I know that it is a many-eyed giant from Greek mythology and yet an old geezer like me from the musical ‘70’s can’t help but think of the legendary Wishbone Ash album from ’72 when he hears the name. Actually, the opening guitar piece at the beginning of “Devils, Devils” has that awesome, timeless dual harmony lead feel…yet it then explodes into something completely different. Comments?

BUTCH - Erik picked the name based on the mythological character. Obviously we hear the Wishbone Ash thing all the time and sharing the name of their biggest album plus utilizing guitar harmonies like we do – we’re always going to get asked that. The truth is that the band was named before I joined and before all the guitar harmony stuff really came into play in the band. When I first saw the band they had one song that had a killer double guitar section. That impressed the shit out of me. I eat that stuff up. I put mustard on it and eat it I tell ya ! When I joined and we began writing it was something we all wanted much more of and I’d have to say our influence there was a lot of Maiden and Thin Lizzy.

The intro to “Devils” was actually written initially as a way to start the album and it ended up that “Devils” would be the first song so the two were going to be side by side. Initially that intro was going to be given its own track # on the disc and be title….but we never came up with a title so we banded it with “Devils…” and there you have it. I like the majestic nature of the intro and then how it slams into “Devils, Devils” – I always loved when bands had these cool intros that were linked to their songs – like Judas Priest “Hellion/Electric Eye”…. Big, dramatic intro into that pounding song. Magnifique !

RAY - The “Argus” album certainly has doom metal overtones and yet, to me as a listener, it’s far from restricted to that area alone. There are, of course, those melodic harmony guitar parts and also is very aggressive, up-tempo & progressive at times as well, calling to mind bands like Slough Feg, early Maiden and, at times, even things like Confessor and Helstar, in the guitar dept. Commentary?

BUTCH - For sure, our influences are many and varied among us. It just so happens that they happened to overlap/intersect when it comes to the music we want to write, play and record. One thing we all love are guitar harmonies – Maiden, Slough Feg, Thin Lizzy, Valkyrie….so we look to add them where we can. We definitely also like to mix up the tempos and have some time changes. We don’t really set out to write a particular type of song but each person brings in a certain style and it just gels well. I’m sure if you asked any one person in the band there are things they’d like more of – me, I’d like to be a bit doomier at times…Jay would probably like to be more progressive….in the end, because we work so well together everyone gets some of what they want. It’s what makes us sound like we do and helps us fit in yet stand out with doom metal bands, true metal bands etc – we have a little of all of that working.

RAY - As far as Pennsylvania goes, you guys are from up near the Pittsburgh area, aren’t you? How does it feel to know you’re being questioned by a Ravens fan at this very moment? Does it increase your propensity to lie or simply to say “Your football team sucks!”

BUTCH - I’m a uniter, not a divider, Ray. I say “Love your Ravens fan as yourself”….because no one else will.

I do enjoy smack talk though but it is so much more enjoyable to do it in person when under the influence of many alcoholic beverages tempers can flare and fisticuffs can be threatened and perhaps utilized.

My wife’s sister married a Ravens fan. Imagine the shock in our family. He’s a good guy but…jeez.

RAY - Mike Wisniewski left the band since the recording of the album and was replaced by Erik Johnson. How has that transition worked out? I would think the intricacy of the guitar parts in these songs would call for a lot of practice in this regard? Am I right in that Erik was previously a singer? Did he hear Eric Johnson’s “Ah Via Musicom” album at some point and realize that, with a name like “Erik Johnson,” he oughta start playing the axe?

BUTCH - Erik was actually named after a serial kamikaze cunnilinguist, Erich Schwantz-Johnson. Erik has played guitar for years and he was the singer that preceded me in ARGUS. The transition was very smooth, we haven’t missed a step musically and personally he fits us to a T. The fact that he grew up with these dudes was a huge bonus. We couldn’t have made a better decision than the one to bring him back in.

RAY - Butch, you’re vocals are very melodic and yet quite powerful at the same time. That combination reminds me of, not style-wise, but in assuredness of Robert Plant. Also, Solitude Aeturnus/Candlemass singer Robert Lowe comes to mind. What kind of, if any, training do you have vocally? Do you do any special sort of vocal exercises?

BUTCH - I’ve sung since grade school – chorus, choir, drama, honor chorus/ensemble…. I have had some formal lessons but truthfully I have long been a very lazy student so I have learned some things but mostly what I do is untutored…. But when you have 4 different vocal coaches plus years of singing in school or bands you pick some things up….even some good habits amid the bad ones ! I am flattered by your comparisons – I would hesitate to even mention myself in the same breath as those guys.

For exercises – for years I used a warm-up CD that was a combination of some lip and tongue trills (via Seth Riggs Speech Level Singing course which is what a prior coach, Tim Aymar, used as his base teaching course) and some scales/vocalizes that I had on tape from a voice school I attended at one point. I just bought a warm-up CD by a jazz singer named Ellen Johnson. About a half hour- 45 minutes before I go on stage I do these warm-ups…which means I always miss bands I like that play before us L It does help prepare me to sing…doesn’t guarantee a flaw-free evening but it definitely helps. Otherwise I don’t have any exercises I follow – just superstition and habit – lots of water, trying not to talk before I show (inevitably I bump into someone I’d really like to talk to ….murphy’s law), no smoking pre-show, no alcohol leading up to the show, drinking throat coat tea…… There’s a health-food store in Squirrel Hill that sells these lozenges that I love (name escapes me…but I know them on sight).

RAY - How about lyrics? I know some singers don’t like to delve into their lyrics but if you don’t mind, could you take, say, 3 songs from the album and talk a little about them lyrically?

BUTCH - Yeah – I’m not a huge fan of trying to explain my lyrics because I feel like I know what they mean to me but I like that others can, and have, interpreted them to their own experience. But for you, a fellow traveler in the world of ANGEL, I’ll talk about a few……

“Devils, Devils” deals with the darker side inside us all. We all have traits that we are cognizant of that are not pleasant be it selfishness, jealousy, narcissism… SO basically “I’m a phantom, my demeanor – facade” is basically “Look, you are seeing one thing, the good person but inside there’s this ugliness that might make you feel differently about me…”

“The Damnation of John Faustus” is based on Christopher Marlowe’s EXCELLENT “Doctor Faustus”. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a good read. The story follows Doctor John Faustus who has sold his soul to the Devil in exchange for power on Earth given him by demons who do his bidding for 24 years (for 4 years and 20 as servants we lay at your feet). Of course the catch is at the end of this period its time to pay up – his soul. And how he is taken is not pleasant – being torn limb from limb. It’s the classic tale that’s been told many ways over the years and this is our version of it. For this one I adapted some of Marlowe’s wording directly into the song itself. I think it came out great and is one of the first things I’ve done based on literature. It won’t be the last.

“None Shall Know The Hour” is based upon the case of the Millerites who were a Baptist group led by William Miller. Miller convinced them that the Second Coming of Christ would be October 22, 1844. Many of them gave up their possessions. There are stories of people digging graves and lying in them waiting for the Lord to take them. They waited on hill tops, dressed in white. When Christ did NOT come it became known as “The Great Disappointment”. The story itself was very interesting to me but so is the other context of the song which is the eternal debate of belief and unbelief and the fact that no matter what side you fall down on no one knows…. No one.

RAY - Can you picture ARGUS ever doing a song about a huge…er…entertaining woman like “Whole Lotta Rosie?”

BUTCH - Somewhere there’s a song about a woman named Bertha, a big sack of flour and a young lad aiming for the wet spot.

RAY - Does ARGUS get a lot of female fans? I mean, hey, even if a chick is a Steeler’s fan, if she’s hot, she’s hot, right?

BUTCH - Have you taken a good look at our band photos ? Other than our wives/girlfriends, who all wear glasses, ain’t no woman-folk throwing their panties on the stage at an ARGUS show. I think the length of our…..songs is not stripper pole friendly enough or something. It inspires sweaty young males with bad skin, worse hair and beer bellies to get drunk and proclaim “I love you man !” or “wooooo!!! METAL !! Fuck yeah !!”

Just as an aside – I take it as a personal insult to my masculinity and birthright as a lead singer that in 21 years of fronting bands not once have a had female undergarments thrown my way. It’s a sad day when a singer, even an ugly one, can’t even come home with a soiled pair of granny panties with the Ravens logo emblazoned on the arse.

RAY - RED LIGHT CHALLENGE: If you had the choice of one of the following, which would you pick:a. An audience with the Popeb. A chance to give Angelina Jolie private vocal lessonsc. An opportunity to join the southern rock band of your choice

BUTCH - By “give Angelina Jolie private vocal lessons” do you mean showing her my oral skills ? If so, answer B. Otherwise – plunk me down in a Southern Rock Band…so long as the set list includes “Blue Ridge Mountain Sky” by the Marshall Tucker Band.

RAY - What’s up with ARGUS as far as gigging goes? I know you’re playing the fest in Frederick MD in early September. Any long-term touring plans or gigs closer to Baltimore? What about overseas? If you have a steady job & family, how does this impact the touring decisions?

BUTCH - Having families and serious, full time jobs puts the brakes on any idea of ARGUS ever being a touring band beyond some weekend warrior type stuff and the possibility of a very short 1-2 week tour once every couple of years. The fact that at this point the costs for that stuff comes out of our pocket also hinders what we can do easily. I’ve got 4 little kids. Jay has one. Andy has one. And Jay and I are the only guys in the band who actually get paid vacation so that aspect makes it really hard for us as well.

That being said – places like Maryland, Eastern PA, Ohio, New York, Virginia, Indiana, Illinois….these are all places we can easily hit on weekend trips so hopefully we can squeeze several road trips in over the course of a year.

As far as overseas – we have our fingers crossed for 2010. Unfortunately nothing solid yet but we’re exploring the possibility of a short European tour. I would love to go to Japan as well but not sure how to go about making that a reality.

RAY - I know it’s awfully early on, so I don’t expect you to be awake…no…I mean, the album has just come out, but is there anything new on the agenda as far as new ARGUS material? Do you see Shadow Kingdom as a long-term home for you guys?

BUTCH - We’re writing the next abum now. It’s coming in in bits and pieces but we have many bits and pieces. The challenge is to write an album that we can honestly look at each other and say it is better than the debut. That’s going to take some time and some brutally frank talk at rehearsal but I think it will be worth it to be very open and picky when called for.

We’re happy with Shadow Kingdom so far. We’ll have to see how the CD sells and how he feels about it when the time comes to talk album 2.

RAY - What do you think of the whole “download” vs. “hard copy” (CD, vinyl) presentation of music these days?

BUTCH - You can’t stop technology so there’s not much sense in fighting against it. It would be like folks who read by candlelight bitching about the light bulb. That being said I am still awfully enamored with LPs and CDs. I think the whole download thing really takes away from the whole experience of listening to the music and reading the liner notes, looking at the album art etc…. I love to have the whole thing. The music is the most important thing so as long as it gets out there – great…but it just isn’t as much fun to simply download something as opposed to spending hours in record stores flipping through LPs and studying the art and band pics and trying to guess what they sounded like. This was how I bought a lot of good albums back in the day. “Hey – who’s this band, Fates Warning? This one is called Awaken the Guardian…look at that cover….it’s gotta be metal. I’m buying it.” Ditto “Run To The Light” by Trouble, “The Warning” by Queensryche…. Just to name a few.

I’m glad vinyl seems to be making a bit of a comeback. And a lot of the labels taking the time and risk on vinyl are really doing a great job with it quality-wise – heavier vinyl. Nice packaging. Extras.

RAY - RED LIGHT CHALLENGE: If a meerkat were to mate with a Gibson Flying V, what kinds of effects would it sound best plugged into if the radius of China is temperate?

BUTCH - Aisha Tyler naked is the obvious answer.

RAY - Always a favourite around the Realm, this one: Tell us a crazy, wild, obscene or just plain grotesque story from the annals (anals?) of ARGUS, either on the road, in the studio, etc.

BUTCH - Honestly dude, we’re pretty boring. We’re pretty well known for our gas, in the van and at practice. Some of it is joke stuff like me whipping Erik in the face with my sweaty underpants or me sitting a short and curly on the toilet paper roll in our hotel room for the next guy to find. But mostly, lots of farts.

RAY – Any final comments?

BUTCH - Thanks so much for the honor of this interview ! It means a lot to us. And to the folks reading – thanks for your continued support and interest – we hope to see all of you in 2010 !

Oh, and….. GO STEELERS !!!

Anyway…. Do me a favour! I don’t care which NFL team you support or hate, if you’re a metal fan you simply cannot afford to go without immediately ordering the massive debut CD by ARGUS. Besides easily being one of 2009’s standout releases (it is Godly!), it is also much cheaper than a Steelers PSL and won’t cause you nearly the heartache this season.


Mark said...

Shame...I was totally behind them until "go steelers" was uttered.

Brian said...

ARGUS bleeds black and gold !

raysrealm said...

And I'll be the first to admit the Ravens bleed shit-brown after yesterday. What a full-blown embarassment from the home team. The lack of effort on many of their parts was terrible.

J.B. said...

Great interview. Thanks, Ray! Butch forgot to mention the time I threw my panties onto the stage while Argus was playing. Butch threw them back at me. Ungrateful SOB.


raysrealm said...

And to think, I was going to throw mine when I see them, just so I could say I was the first!