Thursday, March 13, 2014

Interview: Chris Dodge Of Spazz / Slap A Ham Records

This interview took place on August 5th, 2012 for the first edition of our Funhouse zine series (Now sold out). So most of the material pertaining the Infest reunion has already happened/been announced. Regardless I hope those of you who missed out on getting a copy of the zine enjoy. 
I would like to start off by thanking you for taking the time out of your schedule to do this interview with us. Can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself and what projects you are involved with (past and/or present)?

Thanks for the interest & taking the time to contact me. I grew up in San Jose, moved to San Francisco, and 11 years ago relocated to LA. I’m 43 and I’ve been playing in punk bands since I was about 13. I was a rabid fan of hardcore bands as a kid, so I did everything possible to get involved with “the scene”. It’s hard to get a serious band going when you’re that young, so I spent a lot of my time contributing whatever I could to zines, and drawing artwork & flyers for local bands. I wrote for Maximum RockNRoll & Flipside, and published my own zine called “Broccoli Makes Me Sad”. Later I started a record label called Slap A Ham, and eventually published another zine called “Short, Fast + Loud”. Over the years I’ve played in a lot of bands. In the 80s, I was in Legion Of Doom, Stikky, and No Use For A Name. In the 90s, I was mainly in Spazz, and did a couple side things, including a tour and an album with Hellnation. In the 2000s, I started out the decade in Jesus Philbin, Burn Your Bridges, and East West Blast Test, then in 2006 joined Despise You and Bacteria Cult, and in 2007 joined Lack Of Interest. In the 2010s so far, I joined Low Threat Profile and To The Point. So I’m basically a fat, bald middle-aged guy who still acts like a kid.

As stated in my original message, this interview will be pertaining mainly on the Spazz/Slap A Ham years of your life. We will start off with Spazz. How did the band start out and did you expect the project to get as big of a reaction as it has?

After Stikky stopped playing, which I think was around ’89 or ’90, I wanted to be in another fast band. Hardcore, thrash, anything extreme wasn’t “cool” at the time in the Bay Area, so I didn’t have any luck. The only harsh band I knew in the area was Capitalist Casualties, and nobody liked them either. I played off & on in No Use For A Name, which was fun, but it really wasn’t my thing. NUFAN started out as Black Flag worship but eventually morphed into melodic hardcore and more like Bad Religion worship, which was boring to me. So I lived vicariously through the bands on my label for a while, and spent those years being the “thrash guy” for MRR. I was pretty lucky, because 90% of all of the fast & extreme releases all went to me for review, which helped me meet a lot of like-minded people worldwide. At Slap A Ham Fiesta Grande #1 I got word that Max from Plutocracy and Dan from Sheep Squeeze were jamming some power violence style tunes, and they needed a bass player. This was seriously the only opportunity I had heard about in years in the Bay Area. I contacted them, and they had practiced for two months under the name Gash. They sent me a practice cassette, I learned the 10 songs, we practiced together once, and then went to House Of Faith to record. We weren’t sure who was doing vocals, so off the cuff in the studio we all traded parts, and that basically became our “sound”. There was already a Gash from Australia, so we decided to change the name; one suggestion was Spasm, then it became Spazz. That recording became our 1st 7”, and we were off & running. We broke up in 2000 because I was moving to LA, but at that point, we also felt like we had done all we could do, so it was good to call it quits at the top of our game. If Spazz kept going, we would have just kept releasing the same record over & over, so I think the timing was good. Funny thing is it seems like Spazz is more popular now than ever. When we broke up, we had a decent following, but I never expected it to continue, let alone grow. By the beginning of the millennium, power violence had fizzled out, and the key players faded away. Then around 2006, I got on MySpace and was surprised to be contacted by a new generation of kids who were into Spazz and earlier bands like Capitalist Casualties, Crossed Out, and MITB. It’s very flattering. I still can’t believe how many Spazz shirts I see out there.

As a band, Spazz always seemed to be doing something new including releasing endless splits with random acts from around the world. One of those splits being with the infamous 25 Ta Life, how did that split in particular come about and how was working with that band?

That was actually something that Max set up. I don’t remember much about it, other than it was sort of a weird combo, but that’s what we liked about it & why we wanted to do it. Rick from 25 Ta Life was always a huge supporter of the West Coast Power Violence scene. He used to mailorder all of the Slap A Ham releases from me, from the very beginning, way before 25 Ta Life even started. But we never played a show with them. Overall their fans were different than ours, and a live show never happened although we would have been into it. The weirdest thing about that release was how long it took to come out. I think the label sat on it for something like 7 or 8 years. In some past interviews I’ve noticed you mentioning that Spazz will be re-releasing some old material. Are there any plans to ever release a complete discography for the band? Not yet. We’ve talked about every conceivable combination of stuff for reissues. But we also don’t need to bankrupt 625 with how much of an investment it would be to try releasing everything in one package. For now, we’re just concentrating on getting all of the albums re-issued and available. “Crush Kill Destroy” and “La Revancha” are in print, and they look & sound great. “Dwarf Jester Rising” is the next one scheduled. We’re all just busy and haven’t made time to finalize artwork yet. Now onto Slap A Ham, what pushed you into starting the label itself? In the 80s, it was a really big deal to put out a record. There weren’t that many hardcore labels, and not everyone had the easy accessibility, finances, or the knowledge to put out their own records. One of my first bands, Legion Of Doom, got a track on a compilation LP in 1986 and it felt like we hit the jackpot to be on that release. So, there were a ton of bands I loved, and listened to their demos constantly, but I couldn’t figure out why they weren’t putting out tons of records. They had very little or no label interest. I didn’t really know what I was doing, but I wanted to help put out music by bands I liked who weren’t getting help elsewhere. I knew the guys in PHC & Infest and knew they were talking about wanting to put out a split release, so I offered to do it for them, and it became an 8” flexi. At that time, which was around 1989, the Melvins had moved to San Francisco, and I became good friends with them. Most people won’t believe it, but they had very little interest as well. They liked the Infest/PHC flexi and wanted to do one, too. So my second release was the Melvins 8”. No Use For A Name was a band I was in & out of since 1987, and no one wanted to release a record for them, so it became my third release. Then I was visiting Eric Wood in SoCal, he played me some Neanderthal rough mixes, and asked if I’d be into releasing a 7”. And it just kept going from there. Personally what is your favorite Slap A Ham release? Also, what are some releases you feel have been overlooked in the labels catalog? I have a lot of favorites, but I’ve always chosen the No Comment “Downsided” 7” as my all-time favorite. When I released it, I thought it was an instant classic. I still feel like it’s one of the best hardcore records ever. As far as overlooked, it’s funny because in retrospect a lot of the most popular releases were not popular at the time they came out. Only over time did they eventually become “popular”. Like Neanderthal, Crossed Out, Fu Manchu, No Comment, Burning Witch… none of them were huge, runaway successes. In fact, most of these records took years just to sell the initial pressings of only 1,000-2,000 copies. I think the most overlooked, underrated releases would be the Gasp LP, Burned Up Bled Dry 7”, and to an extent the Iabhorher 7”.

In 1993, your label held "Fiesta Grande #1" which took place at 924 Gilman. How difficult was booking shows which included bands from all over the world pre “internet age”? 

Setting up shows took a lot more time in the pre-internet & pre-cell phone world, because you were constantly trading phone calls, leaving messages, even writing letters back and forth, and it took a lot longer to confirm things. So, it wasn’t uncommon to show up in a town, and be surprised to find out your show had been moved or cancelled. Although the Fiesta Grande shows weren’t that difficult to set up. After they really got going, by Year 3, my biggest problem was deciding which bands would NOT play, because everyone wanted to play. And I the event had a stable home at 924 Gilman, although Ken Sanderson who was booking Gilman in 1992 was the reason the first Fiesta Grande got started. Gilman, and the rest of the Bay Area, were focused on pop punk, and hardcore/thrash/grind wasn't “in”, so it was difficult for bands like Capitalist Casualties and Plutocracy to book decent shows anywhere aside from friend’s houses. But after the first Fiesta, things got a little easier. These shows were all about dedication & love for the music. The bands paid their own way to travel to Berkeley to play Fiesta Grande. I never flew anybody out because I didn’t have the money to do that, and I never took any door money from those shows. In fact, I remember talking to Jon from Discordance Axis about them playing Fiesta Grande, and he said “If you want to fly us out, we’ll do it.” I remember laughing at him. Back in those days, that sort of thing was unheard of, at least for someone like me who was a one-man operation. Needless to say, they bought their plane tickets & ended up coming out to play anyway. I wasn’t a “promoter”. All money was split directly between the club & the bands. So the fact that so many bands & fans paid to travel from all over the US, and all over the world (a few bands came over from Japan, too) really says something about how much we were all mutual fans of each other, and how it was an extended family of sorts.

How do you feel labels differ today compared to when Slap A Ham was active?

Well, everything about hardcore is different now. Mainly, instant communication & instant accessibility to everything you need, whether it’s pressing plant information or the bands sending you their songs & artwork via email or file upload. I used to hire someone to layout my LP and CD releases, but all of my 7” records, ads, catalogs, T-shirts were put together using a Xerox machine, Exacto knife, and glue stick. Also the culture now is different. When I started Slap A Ham, and when it established it’s identity as the “power violence” label with Neanderthal, MITB, Crossed Out, Capitalist Casualties, No Comment, I was the only guy releasing these records. And that was really the main objective of the label when I started it, to help out bands who I really liked that weren’t getting label interest elsewhere. That’s one of the main reasons I stopped doing Slap A Ham & why it wouldn’t come back. There are endless labels releasing this type of music now, and bands have many more resources to do it themselves, which is really how it should be anyway.

Will we ever see another collaboration album with Dave Witte?

Not sure. We’ve talked about it. But I also know Dave needs to avoid playing a lot of blast beats these days. I forget the name of the condition, but he has something going on with his wrists (and no, it’s not carpal tunnel) that hurts him to play super fast. He joined Pig Destroyer & was excited about playing blast beats again, but he was really hurting, so he had to quit. But considering how weird the last EWBT album came out, maybe we’ll end up doing something that doesn’t require anything blazing fast.

Now onto something more current, as someone who has been around the scene for a long time what suggestions do you have for young musicians coming into the scene?

That’s a tough one, only because I think the climate is so much different now. With the internet & cell phones, bands have a greater chance at successfully setting up shows/tours, releasing music, selling merch, promotion. If anything, young musicians should probably give ME advice on what to do these days. Otherwise, there’s a lot of things you just learn through experience, and you either develop the right social skills to deal with it or not. Being in a band is like being in a marriage, and every band gets “divorced” at some point.

Since you're still very much involved in the "powerviolence" scene today with acts like Despise You/Low Threat Profile, do any current bands stick out to you or do you think the time has passed and people are missing the point?

I don’t think anyone’s missing the point, but the music is noticeably different now. That’s neither a good nor bad thing. It just “is”. And considering how much time has passed, it’s natural for any type of music or definition of music to morph into something a bit different. I have to say, being involved with the earlier bands, there is a lot of respect given by the newer bands, which is very humbling & flattering.

What can we expect from Chris Dodge in 2012 and beyond? Will the rest of the Low Threat Profile (including the Joe D tracks) see the light of day?

I dunno. I didn’t really think I’d be playing hardcore at this age, yet somehow I’m more active than I’ve ever been. I’m not sure how much LTP stuff Joe will do vocals on. There’s some songs that Matt & I did vocals on, and I think that will come out as a 7”. That said, there are still a good 30-40 or more songs that are recorded & sitting in the vaults. Aside from possible release of recordings, I think LTP is mostly dead. We’ll see. We played live twice, but I doubt we’ll ever play again, even with Joe. However, I’ll probably be playing some shows with another not-so-secret “top secret” band which involves Joe as well. In the near future, I think most of my musical output will be with To The Point. We’re recording a lot of songs on our own at Bob’s house, and Bob is releasing a series of limited one-sided 7”ers on Deep Six. I actually just stepped down from by duties in Despise You. They want to do stuff like tour Europe, and I’d rather spend that time at home with my family. I still love going out & playing shows, but I just don’t like to do it that often. I have a wife & 8 year old boy & I value time with them a lot more. Not that I’ll never play another out of town show again, because I will, but family time takes priority over band time.

Photo by Matt Average