Chemical Burn: Back To The Fiery Forge
This past July, Los Angeles trio Chemical Burn returned to the Whisky A Go Go for a triumphant set of metal and hard rock supporting Dave Lombardo’s band PHILM. Chemical Burn brought the energy to the steadily filling club as they ripped into their grooving and shredding sound, filling the air with growling yet discernible vocals, fast and often soulful guitar riffs from Marc Pattison and drumming from Kevin Jackson that was equally agile and pummeling.
I was happy to experience in the live setting how the band had evolved from singer/bassist Mike Garnica’s Bay Area four-piece, they’ve further focused their talents into something rawer and rougher yet also more mature. Their new album Raining Anvils tears up all their influences and pieces it back together into a ransom note to die-hard fans of groove-heavy metal and stadium-rattling rock.
I’ve been to many club shows with many bands that came and went, disheartened about the music scene and business. You seem particularly grounded and upbeat whenever we’ve interacted over the years. How do you look at being in a band differently that has helped you keep your passion up?
I think the first thing is, it’s fun! It has to be. I mean there aren’t many bands making millions or even thousands, or even hundreds. So it’s that fire in the ass to get a song out of the head whether it’s lyric or riff. I mean it’s a complete outlet so as long as I’m alive, I think I will always have something that needs to be said, or vented, or exposed.
The music scene is all the background to this. To assemble people together and have fun and make it a party is where we focus. Each show we have done in the past has been a gathering and celebration to the songs. And then comes the passion for the music we created. We meticulously wrote each part with a purpose, so I have been excited to get it out there as much as possible.
So after spending over ten years building a band, you have come to expect certain things, so going into the dive bar scene, you know what you are getting into when starting from the ground up. Don’t be so demanding or make a nightmare for the promoter. Just get in there and tear it up and let the music speak for itself and represent the band as professional as possible. There are a lot of young kids out there trying to make it too. And are still sleeping and living in their dream, thinking it’s all just going to happen automatically.
I have just been lucky to meet great musicians that turned into friends and networks, that make putting up with bad venues or non existent promoters easier.
I’m listening to Raining Anvils and hearing a maturity and thoughtfulness that doesn’t detract from the headbanging.
Yeah this album took shape in parts. We originally wrote five songs to release as an EP in 2009. The songs took shape in a powerful way and this was the time John left the project and we had a madman on guitar Dave Rios. With his solos, we completed the five demo tracks and hit the scene playing up and down California, it just ignited a fire every time we performed them. The excitement of performing them before a crowd to gauge their reaction and see the energy fill the room was the driving force.
[When writing] I often imagined myself in the center of the pit with my eyes closed and listening to a band I have never heard of before. What do I want to hear and how is the song effecting me?
Writing Raining Anvils became a two-man process where I would bring in a good portion of a song and it’s basic arrangement and we begin to mold it into something. Kevin is seriously skilled and adds what we called “The Sprinkles” and accents to glue each part together. Every section of each song has been meticulously written and arranged and we would sit on it and let it cool and go back. Again, I stand there with my eyes closed and envision, what is it that would draw me in. Where is that hook?
There were times when we would go in and jam and I say, ‘I don’t like it.’ Kevin would be shocked and mention that I am the one that wrote it. And it was an important thing to express that, since I wrote it, doesn’t mean I’ll love it. I wanted the songs to last in my head in order for someone else to get into them as much.
So he and I would dive in and rip into it. This went on for a long time. But each song came from such a deep place lyrically, and I had to give them the justice due and make them sound as big as possible. And once Kevin and I played a song that finally gave the goose bumps and the blood pumping and the smile on the face. We knew we had something.
What do each of you bring to the band as an entity and in the songs?
It all basically came down to the process where I would write the music and lyrics to start a structure of the songs. Kevin would create the glue with drum fills. Creating the best possible songs we could, we became obsessed. And he even woke up one morning and called me to say he’s got the perfect guitar riff to a part, which was the outro-groove section to UnCloned. I was just locked in a dead end creatively and needed some out of the box thinking, when it came to Kevin in his sleep.
And once the album was completed, we had to find a shredding guitarist to help produce some sick solos that would be the icing to the Volcanic cake! And that didn’t happen until the day of recording the album when our Producer Juan Urteaga (Testament, Machine Head) suggested we get in touch with Bay Area Shredder Marc Pattison.
So on the spot, we contacted him and we gave him the direction of the songs and his insane skills just simply shot each song up to Epic Levels. It was after we recorded them that he got to hear everything together and felt a connection with the songs and became a part of the band.
During the making of the album when did you feel like this was the most awesome song you’ve written so far, that chills down the spine moment?
The best part about this question is that I have two of those moments. The first batch of tunes we wrote for the 2009 EP, Like a God was the key song that kept the fire for me. And I mean nuclear levels of fire. That song in demo mode got me going instantly, it was just BAM this song is HUGE. And playing it live gets me on fire to this day.
The second batch of songs were coming together and certain songs we felt needed to stay simple and straightforward, but others were just begging to add little nuances. This brought us to our most produced song We Ain’t Done Yet and the guitars ripped like chainsaws and the overlays of guitar accents and vocal overdubs that don’t distract from the overall feel of the song as well as some cleaner vocal explorations.
Those two songs alone were the driving force to keep it going for me. To push forward to completion and get them recorded on supreme levels. And when they were out of demo mode and into a real recording studio with all the effects and distortion and bass thumping .50 caliber machine gun double bass, it was immediately feeling like we had something special and powerful.
How have the new songs been received in a live setting? The true test.
The original five meant for the 2009 Demo was received with such an amazing response. We would play Like a God and see circle pits forming and heads banging and fists in the air from people we didn’t know and weren’t family members! Haha! And performing in front of a receptive crowd like that fuels the fire.
And so far we have only played the five latest tunes live in three recent shows. More recently the Whisky a Go Go in Hollywood in front of a crowd that was really diverse, and waiting to hear a wide variety of music. And right out the gate we dispensed some high energy soaked riffs and screams and the crowd lit up and reacted to each part that we specifically and meticulously hoped they would.
I could imagine a TV producer previewing a comedy to an audience, where they sit and wait and anticipate the laughs in all the exact spots they planned.
Mike, you sing and play bass. Why do you think this combo works so well in rock music? Geddy, Lemmy and Eddie Spaghetti from Supersuckers instantly come to my mind.
Yeah Geddy can sing, play bass and keys all as the same time! Haha! There is something to be said for the three-piece act. It’s got to be a tight ship. And there are no limits these days. I mean Motörhead is just as loud as most four, five or nine piece band out there! And there are solid technologies that allow you to add accents to match the production of the album. And people forget that in addition to displaying your art on stage, you are also there to entertain. So there is a lots of extra room to move about, and have fun up there and build the energy. I mean a good lighting rig can work magic.
Who are your favorite singer/bassists? Also your favorite singers and bassists seperately? What have you learned from them?
I originally started out on guitar, and it has been my passion since day one. And I had to play bass out of necessity. And it took my a while to appreciate the art that is Bass playing. We played a show with another local band from LA that are really talented musicians. And their guitarist and I had a conversation in the parking lot after a set and he was asking how I liked playing bass, because he knew I was a guitarist. He was playing guitar for his band but he was brought up as a bassist. And like this Buddhist monk described to me the Zen approach of Bass playing. He really helped me understand the instrument and appreciate the frequencies and mood it brings to the song. And most of all, not to just play it like a guitar.
Now having that said, I play with a pick, but simplified the riffs so that I wasn’t playing identical to the guitars and locked in with the drums more. So I really dove into it and researched and watched the bass players of my favorite bands and took in so much more than I ever would have thought.
And I sat in “awe” watching Steve Harris rip Maiden tunes, and Geezer Butler’s giant sausage shaped fingers play fast with pristine perfection. And the spider finger-like madness that Billy Sheehan throws down. I love Lemmy’s Distortion, Cliff Burton’s licks bringing it a little closer to guitar. Long list of amazing bassists that helped me appreciate how great that instrument can be!
Do you have a vocal coach or someone to help you get that growl and keep it?
I have been singing for a long time and never had any coaching. As a kid we had to pick an extra-curricular, so I did Chorus. They would ship us around to different local schools and we’d sing Ancient Classics like How Much is that Doggy in the Window? Haha! But never had any real training.
So I heard about this vocal coach for metal, Melissa Cross and The Zen of Screaming. I never really watched instructional videos but collected a few and just randomly watched them, but mostly kept them for reference. So I bought it, and turns out an old friend of mine Mike Ski (Brother’s Keeper, The A.K.A.s) was in the video as a testimonial. I figured that had to be a sign and tried it out.
I heard it’s pricy to get a face to face with her so the video works. I figured out the technique I was working and I use her vocal warm ups before rehearsals and shows. What I need to learn to do is after the show, I tend to talk over music and lose my voice then! Haha!
What is the Chemical Burn sound? Please describe one of your songs without using other bands’ or musicians’ names. OK, song titles are fine.
The Chemical Burn sound is simple, Heavy Metal Groove. There will be blisteringly fast parts that slip into a slow tempo and meter change, but it always comes down to a section of the groove you can lock into. Whether you know the lyrics or not, we are not here to trick you. This is music you can slam your head to every song!
Chemical Burn’s Raining Anvils is out August 7th via Amazon, ITunes and the band’s website.
(Interview and Photos by Bret Miller)