Interview with guitarist Chaz Baker
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: July 27, 2013
Chicago's underground Death/Thrash squad Funeral Nation had a turbulent beginning to their career when it came to dealing with labels. First, they signed to Germany's Turbo Music, a label that ripped them off, along with several other bands. After struggling to overcome some additional bad decisions, Funeral Nation decided to call it quits in 1997.
10 years passed and Funeral Nation came back, making new music and playing shows whenever the opportunity presents itself.
Founding member, guitarist Chaz Baker, fills us in, via the following interview, as to what happened to Funeral Nation before they split up and why they have decided to give the band another shot. Read on...
Luxi: How's life been treating you since your band Funeral Nation ceased to exist back in early/mid 1997?
Chaz: The band actually split towards the end of 1997. I've been okay, a few medical issues, but my head is clear, focused and looking forward to new music.
Luxi: What eventually killed the band? Was it a lack of motivation to carry on with the band, regrettable choices (i.e. getting ripped off by Turbo Music), or a combination of things?
Chaz: You answered that one. It was like the band was just nonstop with setbacks and bad choices and I think everyone was tired. What we probably needed was a vacation, a rest, because actually we never took any time off.
Luxi: When did you decide to reform Funeral Nation? What kinds of things lead to this decision?
Chaz: I spoke to Proselytism, an indie label in Chile that wanted to release After the Battle and some other material. That prompted a meeting with Dean, one thing led to another and here we are. That label proved to be all talk and they didn't do anything.
Luxi: Did you miss the band over the years? Did you feel like the band was ended too soon?
Chaz: Yes, of course I wanted to do more. I didn't want to stop, but that's what happened. I wish things would have taken a different direction, however they didn't. I think the whole band has regrets regarding that decision.
Luxi: What bands heavily influenced you back then? Is there one band you would give a lot of credit to for the way Funeral Nation sounded in the beginning?
Chaz: I was into Slayer, Venom, Sabbath, etc. at the time. I don't know what defined the Funeral Nation sound. All I wanted was a good sound and I think we achieved that. Raw, fresh and clear.
Luxi: Before Funeral Nation, you played in both Abomination and Funeral Bitch. What can you tell us about your involvement with those acts?
Chaz: The original Abomination was formed by myself, Mike on bass and Aaron on drums. Aaron began playing with Paul Speckmann on the side and then tried to dictate to me and Mike on how Abomination should sound. So, fuck that shit, we parted ways. Mike and I left and I began playing with Funeral Bitch, until I grew tired of that band, which didn't take long. So Dave left Funeral Bitch to play with me and Mike in Funeral Nation (parts taken from both names; FUNERAL bitch, abomiNATION = FUNERAL NATION).
Luxi: Did you use some of your own songs that were originally intended for either Abomination or Funeral Bitch, for Funeral Nation?
Chaz: Some of the songs from the original Abomination became Funeral Nation songs. Why not, they were good songs and needed justice from Aaron's playing anyway.
Luxi: Let's get back to Funeral Nation, which is the focus of this interview. Funeral Nation's debut demo, State of Insanity, was recorded in 1989. You played all guitars, Mike (Pahl) did vocals and bass, and Dave Chiarella played drums. Was it a combined effort with each of you bringing ideas for the songs or was there any drama involved in the songwriting process?
Chaz: Well "State of Insanity" was the new track for the demo. The other songs were written prior. I don't recall any drama; we were focused and wanted a demo out quickly. As soon as we had five songs to record, we went into the studio. There were no compromises from anyone, everything was smooth. I think 500 copies is all we did.
Luxi: The State of Insanity demo was engineered by Brian Deck. Was he a close friend of yours back in the day and is that how he ended up engineering the demo? Had he impressed you with his past work and did that lead to choosing him?
Chaz: Mike and Dave were more familiar with him than I was. I hadn't heard anything negative about him. We ended up with a unique and heavy sounding recording.
Luxi: The cover for this demo was created by Mike Muscarello and it's very plain and simple; just the Funeral Nation logo and that's all. Did you feel like you had to make the band's logo known first as part of your promotional strategy to break Funeral Nation out of the Chicago underground Metal scene? Or did you simply not have suitable cover artwork available when it was time to get the demo out?
Chaz: It was simple and cheap. We didn't have a lot of money for a better and more suitable cover, but we also wanted it done quickly. Mike Muscarello was Mike's friend and I think he did it for free. I think promptness was a big factor then.
Luxi: Like many other Metal bands back in the day, Funeral Nation chose to use a PO Box address, instead of someone's home addresses, for band related mail. Did you all want to get involved with band promotion, in one way or another?
Chaz: Well, we were limited because we didn't have the internet, computer age, social media and shit like that. It was mostly all mail with some phone contacts. The P.O. Box worked better than something just showing up at your home. And we didn't want everyone to know where we lived.
Luxi: The State of Insanity demo also got you signed to Turbo Music, which you undoubtedly regretted afterwards because the band never made a dime from this deal with Roland's label. What were the signs that the label was not being honest or reliable? How badly did the label cheat the band?
Chaz: There is still a bitter pissed off feeling about that whole situation. Turbo didn't deliver shit. We were promised a tour, which was cancelled after 2 shows. We produced After the Battle and never saw any capital, not a penny. They never fulfilled any agreement on their end. So fuck those fuckin' fucks. I never realized, at the time of that shit, what a domino effect it had. Nobody would touch Funeral Nation because of fuckin' Turbo.
Luxi: Ronald, the "boss" behind Turbo, should have stuck to the original name of the label, Shithouse Records, because that's exactly what that label turned out to be; a house full of shit.
Chaz: We told him he had to change the name from Shithouse Records to something else, or we wouldn't work with him. Once a shithouse, always a shithouse, I guess. That whole experience played a huge role in F.N.'s demise in the 90's. I have nothing positive to say about Shithouse Turbo.
Luxi: Despite getting ripped off by the label, you still must have been happy with After the Battle, which represented what Funeral Nation was all about musically at that time; a vicious Death/Thrash combo that wouldn't to kiss anyone's ass, rather kick them as hard as possible, right? ;o)
Chaz: Yes, I always thought it was a great Metal album. I used to think we made it too long, but I don't feel that way anymore. Honestly, I am back to feeling about it the same way I did after recording it.
Luxi: The State of Insanity demo was also re-released on the same label. Was it remixed before it found its way to vinyl or was it basically just a transfer of the master tape?
Chaz: I think they had done something to it. It did lose a bit of clarity on the vinyl. A lot of small labels try to make a band's recording better by fucking with it before they press it. But most of the time they just fuck it up in one way or another. They should just leave it alone; when it's done it's done.
Luxi: Despite all the setbacks, Funeral Nation eventually recorded a second demo, called The Benediction, in 1992. It featured five songs and had Dean Olson on drums. Was it a blow for Funeral Nation to lose your previous drummer Dave Chiarella and have to bring Dean up to speed on Funeral Nation's material?
Chaz: It was a transition. Dave was done with Funeral Nation. He wasn't going to continue with us. Turbo obviously played a role in that, too. And there were conflicts in songs though I've never looked at that as a setback. Finding a drummer was a setback, but fortunately it didn't take long.
Luxi: When your second demo, The Benediction, was released back in 1992, do you feel the musical direction that Funeral Nation took was the direction you wanted going forward? Was Dean a factor in how the band sounded on The Benediction?
Chaz: We write what we write. It wasn't planned to go in any particular direction, just like now. Those were the songs that came to us then just like now. Funeral Nation was never a trend band and we never tried to play music that sounded like what was selling at the time. That's just the way the songs came to us. Nothing should be the same, but it's the essence that makes it Funeral Nation.
Luxi: After the second demo would you say you did everything you could to get the band signed to a real label that would have given you all the support that you needed and deserved? Do you believe the huge explosion of Death Metal bands back then had anything to do with Funeral Nation not getting a record deal? To me it looked like all the labels were focused on Stockholm, Sweden and Florida, in the USA back in those days.
Chaz: Yes, but you need to understand that labels would not touch us because of the Turbo shit. I couldn't get a foot in the door anywhere. Everyone was like "you're signed to Turbo." And it was like that for a long time. It was very fuckin' frustrating man (I can only imagine how frustrating it must have been for you guys at that time - Luxi).
Luxi: Funeral Nation's first single, called All Hallows Evil, contained two songs, "Deceiver" and "All Hallows Evil," and was released in 1994. What was the main reason for recording those two songs? Was it just to keep the band's name out there or part of a longer-term promotional strategy?
Chaz: It was pretty much like that, to get something out that was new and different. The original plan was to have a series of 7-inch vinyls via Casey Keramenas of Metal Merchant. He proved to be a bigger fucking idiot than the Turbo turds. I don't think words can describe my disgust and hatred for those motherfuckers (I could probably say I have had a "circus" experience; dealing with one clown after another). These people said they wanted to work with us, and they dig the music, but they don't give a fuck about Metal, just money.
Luxi: Metal Merchant laid their eyes on Funeral Nation but it didn't work out either. What happened between the band and the label? What kinds of things caused the biggest disagreements with the label?
Chaz: Metal Merchant was too pussy to push forward. We had interest from SPV after Keramenas spoke to them but he was like a deer in the headlights. Besides that he was saying shit about Funeral Nation in interviews while we were working with him. He should have changed the name from Metal Merchant to Pussy Merchant.
Luxi: In 1995, there was this compilation of old Funeral Nation songs released on RK Productions titled Come Kingdom Thy, which was your own label, right? Why did you choose to put out a compilation instead of putting all of your energy into songs for a second Funeral Nation album?
Chaz: The idea was to fund a second album off the sales of Come Kingdom Thy. Mike was gone by that time. I had the original music from After the Battle, which Turbo had not fucked with, and some demo material from The Benediction, plus the unreleased "Satan's Prey." Part of the decision lay in the reality of not having enough money to do a new recording plus put it out. And label interest was like "you're has beens now" and what about Turbo? FUCK 'EM ALL. Now RK Productions is all about Funeral Nation again but stronger.
Luxi: I guess the same thing goes for this second collection of Funeral Nation songs, titled Second Coming; to send a clear message out that Funeral Nation is back in the biz. I'm sure there's been a continuous demand for some of your past material as well, and that was a big part of the reason behind Second Coming, correct?
Chaz: Second Coming was, and is, the last two demos before the split. It was either put this material out, or don't release it. I think all Funeral Nation fans should have the option in having those songs. We were not going to re-record them. We also released a live radio show, Devil's Radio, which does not have Mike on it. It has Ron Holstein on bass, me on guitar and vocals and Dean on drums. The point has been to get the old stuff out as well as Wicked, an EP of new tracks recorded in 2013.
Luxi: I was wondering what happened with the potential cooperation with Chilean label Proselytism to re-release After the Battle and your demos? Is this project just postponed for time being?
Chaz: That deal is null and void. Moolyn told me he wanted to put out all this stuff. After he received the material he stopped responding to my emails and would not contact me. Fuck him and his label. He's right up there on my list with Shithouse Turbo and Pussy Merchant.
Luxi: Back to the present for the last few questions. Funeral Nation reformed sometime in 2010. Who are the official members of Funeral Nation as of 2013?
Chaz: Myself, "Chaz," on guitar, Dean Olson on drums, Chris Baker on guitar and Mike Pahl has just recently returned on bass and vocals (see I have been busy).
Luxi: Your gig at McGee's in Chicago on May 18th, 2013 was your first show since 1996. Were you a bit nervous about it beforehand? Were you the headlining band?
Chaz: We weren't nervous and Macabre was the headliner. They've been friends for a long time. We played with them back in 1990. They also shared a practice building with us back then. There's also a band called Of Wolves and they are cool guys. It's cool because it was Macabre's show and we just had to show up and play, so it was pretty much hassle-free.
Luxi: I also understand you are trying to bring Funeral Nation to Europe. Has there been any interest from European organizers trying to make that happen? I imagine you'd like to play some of the huge European summer metal festivals, too, correct?
Chaz: We will return to Germany, on February 6th, 7th, 8th for some shows. One of them is the Metal Assault Festival in Wurzburg. We also have a show in Dresden. We are looking forward to conquering Germany. Fuck yeah!
Luxi: I must believe now that Funeral Nation is back you are aiming to record new material and not just play a bunch of gigs, right? Are you going to re-record the unreleased Funeral Nation song "False Prophecies" that you recorded with another band of yours, Stonefaced Nation?
Chaz: That's on Second Coming and yes, there are new songs in the works as we speak. Funeral Nation is back and we are moving forward. The new release will have Mike back (where he belongs), Chris, Dean and me. We are fucking excited about our new material.
Luxi: What are your hoping to achieve with the second coming of Funeral Nation, besides the "fame and fortune" thing of course, haha!!
Chaz: It's what we do; we create, we write, we play. Funeral Nation is my baby and my master. I don't need achievements. I want my brothers and sisters who are faithful to Funeral Nation to know that Funeral Nation is faithful in return. I want them to feel that. I don't ever want to throw any bullshit their way. Funeral Nation never has and never will.
Luxi: I think that is it. I want to thank you Chaz for taking time with my question marathon and I wish you all the best with your future endeavors with Funeral Nation. Any closing words, perhaps?
Chaz: Thank you Luxi. My apologies for the delayed response, I have been busy. Thank you for your interest and time, and to be a part of your publication. If it's real Metal, it's always real Metal! Thanks again.
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