by Jeff Niesel
When Spineshake emerged from Southern California some 15 years ago, the metal scene was thriving. Ozzfest had just launched, and the Family Values touring festival would emerge just two years after Ozzfest. Spineshank, a band that played heavy industrial metal, established itself as a major player with the release of its 1998 debut, Strictly Diesel. The band toured and recorded for nearly a decade when singer Jonny Santos left the group in 2004 and effectively put the guys on hiatus. Now, however, the band has emerged with a new album (Anger Denial Acceptance) and is on its first headlining tour in years. The group plays Peabody’s at 7 p.m. on Thursday. Tickets are $10 advance, $13 day of show. Guitarist Mike Sarkisyan recently spoke about the turmoil the band has faced in the last several years.
How is the tour going?
Good. We’re having a good time playing these new sogns and meeting people and talking to them about our new record and all that good stuff.
Is this really your first headlining tour in six years?
It’s longer than six years. It’s since 2003. We’ve done quite a bit of touring. It was hard touring in between records when we didn’t have a new record out. We would draw one or two new songs but people didn’t know them. It’s always a good feeling to come out and play shows when the catalogue is readily available. It’s a better feeling. Sometimes you play a song that people haven’t heard and you want to see their reaction. That can tell you a lot about where you’re at in your writing process.
I don’t know if most people know the band’s formation goes back all the way to 1996. Talk about what brought you guys together in the first place.
I was 16 then. We were all kids and a few of us went to high school together. Our singer and drummer met each other through this paper called The Recycler in L.A. One of them was 11 and the other was 14. We’re a product of that era. We would just get together and jam our favorite songs, whether they were Motley Crue or Guns N Roses. One thing leads to another and you start writing your own and next thing you know you’re out playing shows and you get a record deal. When I look back on it, we accomplished a whole hell of a lot. It’s been such a slow and steady process that we never reflected on it.
I have a mental journal. I’m like a vault. I can remember every show we’ve ever played.
You should write the Spineshank book.
Would anyone buy it? Let’s sell some records first.
Back then, Ozzfest still going on and the metal scene going strong; that must have been a great time for the band.
Absolutely. By the time we put out our second record, we were a decent sized band. We were touring for two years straight. I think the most amount of time we had off was probably a week. The downloading thing hadn’t caught on and Napster barely came out and got shut down. Record sales were in record numbers. It was a different time. I think that it’s cool we went through that and that we understand that, but you now have to adapt to the times. We’re not interested in living in the past.
What caused the split with Jonny? Was it creative differences?
It was a little bit of that. In retrospect, it had to do with us being burned out. We did record, tour, record tour cycle three times in a row without a single week of thinking about the band. The record came out and did it okay and we toured a bit on it. At that point, our label wasn’t showing any support. We were burned out and arguing and we just needed a break. It got overblown. In reality, that’s all it was. We needed to chill for a second and we went our separate ways.
Did you initially think things would work out with a new singer?
No. This is something that’s been overblown. We never ever ever intended to do a Spineshank album with a different vocalist. Me and [drummer] Tommy [Decker] started writing some songs and we tried out a few different singers and wrote some music. That’s all it was. It was never a case that we were going to do a Spineshank record. That was never the plan. Spineshank is the four of us, for better or worse.
What got the band back together?
We started talking. We had some stuff written already that could fit the Spinehshank mold. We hung out and started to get vocal ideas down in the studio. One of the things that was really important to us was that if we can’t do better than what we did before, there is no point in doing it. Before we committed a record or anything that resembled a reunion, we wrote some songs and thought we could do better than we’ve ever done. Artistically, we hadn’t peaked yet. So started the long and drawn out process of making Anger. It was hellish making it. It was the most involved record I’ve ever been a part of, but at the end of the day, I felt so proud that through all the bullshit and setbacks we actually made a record that defines the band.
Why was it so hard to make?
We had so much personal bullshit going on. It’s all there on the record. It’s borderline suicidal. It’s a very dark, depressing record, but it’s real. It’s a story about things ending and death and bullshit and the shit you go through with your relationships with people whether it’s your girlfriend or wife. That was a huge part of it. Another huge part is that we got our equipment stolen when we were on tour. It was one thing after another. I don’t want to sit here and sound like a bitch. It was fucking hard but that’s not what it’s all about. It’s about persevering and getting through all that and making all that into a positive. Hopefully, someone going through something similar can find some perspective here and see there is some light at the end of the tunnel.
Are you into psychology?
Yeah, we read books about it. We’re interested in how the mind works. You want to find out why you feel a certain way about something and why it shouldn’t matter. Some bullshit that happened when you were four years old can subconsciously affect you when you are 40.
Talk about Jonny’s vocal performance on the album.
I think it’s the most intimate, most upfront he’s sounded. There’s a trick to doing that and there is a trick to doing that. It has more to do with how we made the record. In the past, it was all about getting it in key. This time around, I just gave him a mic and I said, “go.” He sang and sang and sang; we took the best pieces and made it into a personal performance rather than having it sound robotic or contrived. The emotional comes through more than it does in the past. That was the important part — not a whole hell of a lot of crazy studio tricks. It’s a pretty raw record. There’s some editing and underlying electronic elements. It’s a loud fucking record. It’s there to bash your head in.