Interview with bassist and vocalist Jon Woodring
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: July 20, 2013
Are you in to frenzied, ragged Death Metal dripping with the filth and swagger of Punk? That's how Bones' self-titled debut album has been described and that truly hits the nail on the head.
Bones features three former members of one of Chicago's most respected underground Metal forces, Usurper. When Rick Scythe parted ways with the rest of Usurper in 2007, to form his own band simply named Scythe, the remaining members, Joe, Chris and Jon, got together in 2009 and formed Bones. Since then they have been unleashing some hellish, raw and pleasingly filthy noise and haven't looked back.
Bassist and vocalist Jon tells the readers of The Metal Crypt what Bones is truly all about. The band has already raised a big middle finger to everyone who thinks downloading music from the Internet for free is cool. They ruthlessly piss on the so-called "rock stars" who only show up for concerts in order to boost their social status and visibility and Bones waves the flag for the true underground attitude and spirit that the Metal community had 20 years ago. Care to know more about this vicious and mean Chicago Metal bunch? If so, you have come to the right place...
Luxi: First of all, my sincere congratulations for unleashing this monster of an album called Bones. You must feel darn satisfied with it, correct?
Jon: Thanks, Luxi! When we finished recording it and when it came it out it was very satisfying. I think we felt a little justified for sticking it out and playing in this crazy scene for so long and finally doing something that we all were able to contribute to, and we felt it came out the way we wanted. But, that was a long time ago. We're more concentrated on working on getting the new album recorded!
Luxi: Bones isn't new; it's been in the works for several years actually. It started when Usurper was still making noise and releasing albums. What made you start Bones? Did you feel like the music you wanted to create didn't fit into Usurper, which was basically Rick Scythe's baby?
Jon: Usurper broke up in '07 and Bones started in '09. Joe (drums), Chris (guitar) and I were in Usurper together with Rick Scythe until the end, but we weren't thinking of starting a new band back then. It's true that Rick was the one that called most of the shots in Usurper. He wrote pretty much all the music and most of the lyrics. In the beginning it was Rick, Dave (Vokillz) and Joe (drums) who created it. But, you're absolutely correct that Usurper was Rick's baby. He would demo all the songs by himself with a drum machine and show us what was expected. We would put a little influence on it, but it never strayed too far from Rick's vision. Musically, this wasn't a big problem for us. We knew what the deal was and we were all old friends who had been playing music together for a long time, so who was "in charge" wasn't a big concern. I contributed only two songs to Usurper, but it wasn't because I wasn't allowed to. Rick was writing good songs and like the old saying goes "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." After a while, personalities clashed and Rick quit the band causing us to break up. After we all played in separate bands for a few years post-Usurper, I think Joe, Chris and I just realized that we like playing Metal together and we have a musical connection that we don't have with other people. We put Bones together in '09 and haven't looked back. Bones is more interesting for us than Usurper because we all contribute and mold each other's songs. It takes forever for us to work "democratically" since we argue and fight for every riff and arrangement in a song, but I think it's worth it in the end. There's quite a sense of accomplishment when we combine forces to make something sound as sick and diseased as possible.
Luxi: I need to ask, was it not always that easy to work with Rick during the Usurper days? He was kind of a "dictating force" in the band, telling everyone how Usurper should sound, what they should look like and so on, correct?
Jon: Keep in mind that we were all friends from high school before we joined Usurper. Joe, Rick, and singer Dave formed Usurper in '93. I joined in '95. In the early days it was the three of them that called the shots. Joe had to leave in '96 and then it was basically Rick and Dave's band. After Dave quit, a few years later, it was pretty much Rick's baby from there on out. A lot happened between '93 and '07 when we fell apart. It wasn't a situation where Rick sat around and dictated what we were going to look like and sound like. We were like-minded Metal freaks who wanted to take over the world with over the top riffing, drumming, singing and delivery. Anyone could have quit at any time, and sometimes we did. Joe quit in '96 and rejoined from '03-'07. Dave quit in '03. We went through several drummers. Rick quit in '07 breaking up the band. We've known each other for decades, and we didn't always get along. We're not afraid to fight for a point or to get what we want. But, at the end of the day, we were all in it together. I think it's fair to say that we have all been difficult to work with at different times, not just one of us. That is true to this day.
Luxi: Usurper had gained quite a lot of respect in the Metal community so was it easy to say goodbye when the band decided to call it quits?
Jon: In hindsight, we probably should have broken up a few years before we did. Personally, I think we strayed too far from our original vision and sound. So, I don't think it was that hard to let the band go. At the end we were looking at dealing with another line-up change that didn't make sense. We moved our gear out of our rehearsal room for a few months and I didn't really stay in touch with the other guys. Then I read on Blabbermouth that Rick had folded the band. It was a relief, to be honest with you. It wasn't a matter of respect in the scene or the "name" we put together. Our label had dropped us the year before and we couldn't even get bedroom labels to release another album. Our new songs didn't have the fire we used to have and, most importantly, we weren't getting along with each other anymore. It didn't really feel like we had gained respect from anyone. It felt like it was time to move on to bigger and better things, if not financially then at least creatively.
Luxi: Back to Bones now. You have one album out, simply titled Bones, featuring nine tracks of Crust, Speed, and even Punk Rock. Hey, the album sounds fucking awesome, in my honest opinion; groovy, raw, dirty and heavy as hell. Most importantly, it has lots of live feeling to it. Could you reveal more about the creative process for that album for the readers of The Metal Crypt?
Jon: Yeah, it was pretty simple. When we are well rehearsed and on fire musically it sounds great to us. The sound when we rehearse is exactly what we're trying to replicate. We're a three piece on purpose. The idea is to make as much noise and play as loud, rough and raw as possible. We didn't want to take this great energy we had during rehearsal and ruin it by multi-tracking our parts in the studio and overdubbing everything, or play to a click track, or quantize the drums, or use autotune on the vocals or any of that shit. We're not trying to sound like a "professional" Metal band. We're a bunch of dirt bag losers who drink way too much, smoke too much pot and whatever else, who wrote songs to fit our mood. Why would we want to misrepresent ourselves and try to hide behind the smoke and mirrors of a "fancy" recording? So, we recorded the music live and added the vocals after. What you see is what you get; dirty, scummy, fecal, gross, sloppy, shit. Fuck polished recordings.
Luxi: What were some of your inspirations when you created Bones?
Jon: I think we were more interested in not letting each other down when we started jamming together and stepped up our game. We've been listening to Metal for so fucking long (because we're so fucking old!) that it's impossible to cite one or two influences that inspired us to create the band or our sound. The three of us are different people and we listen to different music. We're strange dudes and we don't always get along with each other. I think the conflicts we have with each other, at times, influences the music as much as any other bands we're listening to at any given time. At the end of the day we just do what we do and we sound how we sound. It's not like the Celtic Frost worship that early Usurper sounded like or anything like that. It's much more pissed off.
Luxi: How did you end up signing to Chris Black's Planet Metal? Were there any other labels that showed interest in Bones?
Jon: We actually approached Chris and Planet Metal. We didn't want to waste time and money recording a demo and then send it out "shopping" for a record label. We decided right away that we had no interest in signing with a "bigger" label like Earache, Century Media, etc, etc. Not that we had a chance with those bigger labels, but that's not a scene we want to be a part of anymore. Usurper was on Earache and it sucked. They pay for your recording, but then you owe the label money and you have to get their permission for everything. It's lame and in the end you're still broke! Who cares if you're on a big label? That's bragging rights. Let the kids have it. We wanted someone we could trust to release it. We've known Chris for years and have a lot of respect for him, so it worked out well. I saw him at a Hookers show and asked him if he was interested in putting out our new band. He was. We're happy with it. Planet Metal is a small label without a lot of resources, but we don't need a lot. For us, it's worth it. We don't have to worry about getting fucked over, we paid for the recording so we don't owe anyone anything, and Chris is local so we can just meet at a show if there's any business to discuss. We're going to release the next album on Planet Metal as well.
Luxi: Were there more songs than the 9 songs that ended up on the album and do you have any plans for any 'leftover' songs?
Jon: No, we recorded every song we had for the debut album. We were still writing lyrics in the studio as we were recording them. We probably should have been a little more prepared than we were, but we're the kind of losers who need a deadline to get anything done. If we don't have a deadline we'll just fuck off and get wasted and accomplish nothing. I'd rather be unprepared for something that to be over-prepared for nothing! Right now we're about to lock down studio time, in September, for the next album. We had some bullshit that forced us to delay the album by a few months but now we're back on track. If all goes as planned we'll have some extra tracks from this album that we'll use on a future release. We are also working on some rare tracks for a split with Cardiac Arrest, Malas, and Deathcult and some different tracks for a split 12" with Krieg and Wolvhammer.
Luxi: You covered "Apocalyptic Warrior," from Chicago's Devastation, for this record. Was that a tribute to the legendary underground Thrash/Death Metal band? I suppose this is simply your pure admiration and respect toward some home town heroes plus a way to remind the new generation of metalheads of some great Metal acts that Chicago had to offer back in the day, like Devastation, correct?
Jon: I like this interview. You ask the question and then answer it for me so I don't have to think or do any work!!! THANKS! Ha-ha! The only thing of interest I can really add to this is that this is the only song we rehearsed as Usurper that Bones will play. Covering "Apocalyptic Warrior" was Joe's idea back in the Usurper days. Joe and I met in the rehearsal room one night with a large pile of cocaine and started trying to figure it out. That song is fucking hard to play, man! It's definitely the hardest song I've ever tried to play. Usurper struggled with it and never really got it right. When Bones started rehearsing we had a bit of a problem: we didn't have many new songs to play! We decided right away that we never wanted to play any Usurper songs, even the ones that Rick didn't write. Usurper was over and good riddance. But that didn't leave us many options in the early days before we had written many songs. We only had about 15 minutes of material. We thought, let's dust off the old Devastation cover and give it another shot. It actually came together right away so we left it in our set. We played it at a show a week ago and it was the first song the crowd went absolutely nuts for, which is cool! Erv, the guitarist from Devastation, was headbanging in the front row. How cool is it for a metalhead to see an older metalhead headbanging in the front row to a song that he wrote and you're playing for him live?? Weird and awesome at the same time.
Luxi: Were there other choices you had in mind that you may well have wanted to cover, if you had skipped the Devastation song?
Jon: We have a ton of other tunes that we want to cover. We could do a box set of covers, if we wanted to. It's cool because we all listen to slightly different kinds of music so the songs to choose from are unusual for a regular Metal band. We were working on a Van Halen song that we might record, I want to cover a Dead Boys song and, last week, we did a pretty convincing cover of Black Sabbath's "Warning." We're also working on a cover to record on the next album but I don't want to spill the beans on what it is yet.
Luxi: You have already booked studio time for this June and have 11 songs ready for your follow-up record. What can you tell us about this new Bones stuff? Will the songs follow the same musical recipe that you used on your self-titled debut or will there be some surprises?
Jon: Unfortunately, we had to push the studio date to early September. But, we're recording at the same studio were we recorded the debut with producer Sanford Parker at the helm again. We're going for a similar sound but we want to bring out the guitars a little bit more on the next album. Carcass Chris is a killer guitarist and we want him to cut through the mix a little more. We haven't changed much so the music will still be as bad as the first album was. Some of it is heavier than ever, some of it has a great Rock & Roll vibe to it, and some of it is super-fast and evil sounding. We're into playing raw Metal, not re-inventing the wheel.
Luxi: What about the lyrics for Bones' second assault; what kind of stories there will be behind your songs on this forthcoming opus? Lots of tongue-in-cheek, black humor, obviously?
Jon: We're not the kind of band that has anything to prove. We're not Satanic or political, we don't believe in dragons, or UFOs or any of that garbage. We're bitter old men and our lyrics are usually based on some kind of reality with a gallows humor angle on it. The new album has songs about suicide, drug abuse, mental illness, mutated wolves overexposed to radiation, and plain old bad luck; everyday life basically.
Luxi: I was just wondering where all the furious energy in your music comes from? Is it the older you get, the angrier you become?
Jon: Maybe. Life does not get more fun as you age. When I was younger I used to fantasize about what it would be like to be rich and be in a band that toured the world and all the great drugs and money that would come along with all that. But, the reality is that life can grind you down sometimes. Now, I fantasize about going on a shooting spree and killing as many "people" as I can before I turn the gun on myself. I see a school bus full of children and I laugh to myself as I imagine it going off a bridge and bursting into flames.
Luxi: People always tend to talk about a specific "Chicago Metal Sound" and, for people like me that live outside of that community, it can never be as fully understood in the same way as the locals who actually live there. Could you go deeper under the skin of this "Chicago Metal Sound" and tell us what it is all about; what ingredients make it sound so unique?
Jon: I disagree with people that say there is a "sound" to bands from Chicago. Chicago does have a pretty big Metal scene compared to some of the other cities I've visited. We have a lot of bands, but more importantly we have die-hard freaks here that are totally into Metal and who aren't in bands. Plus, we have a couple of promoters here from Utterly Somber Productions, Sempiternal and RIP Records, who bring great bands here that don't always play in other cities, so we're lucky to be exposed to more than whatever lame Century Media band is touring the area at the time. We're lucky and there are a lot of bands here but I don't think many of them sound the same or have the same local "sound." Death Metal, Black Metal, Thrash (old and new school), Punk, Crust, hipster garbage, experimental, etc, etc, are all represented here. I think what is cool about Chicago is that so many bands sound DIFFERENT from each other, not the same. A lot of this "pro-Chicago" scene stuff is actually getting pretty annoying lately even though I've been guilty of it for quite a few years myself.
Luxi: Is there any particular Chicago Metal band that, from your point of view, is the epitome or godfather of this sound? Paul Speckmann's Master, perhaps?
Jon: It's hard to say. Again, I think there is no "Chicago sound," so it's hard to answer the question accurately. Speckmann's projects have influenced all of Death Metal, not just Chicago bands. Trouble has influenced lots of Doom bands all over the world, not just here. And there are some great classic bands here like Cianide, Macabre, etc. who influence bands from beyond Chicago's borders arguably more than they influence bands that are actually from Chicago.
Luxi: Chicago does indeed have a great history as far as its underground metal scene is concerned. I could start name-dropping all those Metal bands from Chicago that have made some impressions on people from all over the world. Instead, I'd like to ask you how you think the Chicago underground Metal scene has managed to maintain its true spirit and vibe for all these years. What has changed for the worse and what has changed for the better?
Jon: The bands I mentioned above, along with several others, I feel qualify for what you're talking about. I'm not sure why Chicago has this overall attitude. I think a big factor is that this is a working class city. If you want to survive here you have to work hard and get it done yourself. No one is going to help you here. Also, this isn't a cosmopolitan city like LA or NYC. People don't go to shows to "be seen" or improve their social status (at least not my shitty friends). We go to shows because WE LOVE MUSIC. We're also a drinker's city, so it's killer to meet with some old, and often new, friends and put down some drinks while we bang away drunkenly at whichever band we came to see. Some locals also organize "record store days" in a local bar. People DJ, some sell CDs, shirts, local Metal artists sell their wares, whatever and everyone gets loaded and has a blast and goes home with something killer. The scene here is way beyond the bands that are from here. Everyone is involved, and only some play instruments. I think that's the coolest part of the scene here. The only down side to all this is that people are starting to take notice of what's happening here and I'm afraid it might ruin it. I like it just like it is right now. Everyone works hard and does what they want, but there are no real rock stars here.
Luxi: How about the club scene in Chicago; does the city have some great venues to offer for people that might be hungry for see some Metal bands playing live?
Jon: There are lots of clubs, bars and small theaters that have no problem having metal shows. They love it. Metalheads are fucking alcoholics, for the most part. If you have a Metal show that only sells out 50% of the place, a venue can make more money at the bar than if they had a sold out "regular music" show.
Luxi: Bones has done a nice amount of gigging thus far and, undoubtedly, there's more to come for you guys. I have to believe that you would like to try and break Bones out of the Chicago area a bit. Is the any concrete news available yet related to that matter?
Jon: We would love to play out more but we haven't had many offers. After the next album, I'd like to play some other states in the Midwest like Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, etc. who also have strong metal scenes of their own. We'll have to see. We've all played live a ton over the years in all of our other bands from the past and present. The idea of "living the dream" (traveling around the country/world, playing shows and paying for it out of our own pocket) is over for us. But, under the right circumstances we'd love to get out there and make some eardrums bleed.
Luxi: Do the big European summer Metal festivals tempt you to work your asses off? ;o)
Jon: Yeah, that's like the gold ring, as far as I'm concerned and not even the "big" ones. The European festivals like Hell's Pleasure Fest, Metal Magic, etc. are like the Holy Grail for a band like us. I've been lucky enough to be in two bands that have played a few fests in Europe and they were some of the best times of my life. But, that's not why we work hard and rehearse several times a week and all that shit. We're just diseased in our brains and don't know what else to do.
Luxi: Well, now it's your turn to make a tiny commercial about Bones and say why people should check Bones out. Go ahead...
Jon: Bones isn't about reinventing the wheel or being the most "talented." We have nothing to prove to anyone. We'll never be popular and we don't care. We don't wear costumes. The longer we play, the drunker we get. We're old. We don't give a fuck. If that sounds like you then you might want to check it out. If not, then you wasted your time reading this interview.
Luxi: I want to sincerely thank you for taking time to get this interview done for The Metal Crypt and lastly wish you all the best with all of your future endeavors. May your road be full of surprising rewards. Any closing comments perhaps?
Jon: Just thanks for the support, Luxi. Your questions were well thought out. We appreciate it. This was a fun interview to answer. And thanks to anyone else who has supported Bones.
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