Rich Hoak Talks Extreme Music & Extreme Cooking

Rich Hoak Talks Extreme Music & Extreme Cooking

Rich Hoak is a busy man. As drummer for Brutal Truth, Total Fucking Destruction and Old Head, as well as sole mastermind of Peacemaker, it was perhaps with some luck that we caught him away from the road and with a bit of free time to chat with us from his Philadelphia home.

- Joe Smith

posted July 12, 2010

Rich Hoak is a busy man. As drummer for Brutal Truth, Total Fucking Destruction and Old Head, as well as sole mastermind of Peacemaker, it was perhaps with some luck that we caught him away from the road and with a bit of free time to chat with us from his Philadelphia home. Ever perfecting the art of imperfect timing, we managed to catch him in the middle of seeing his wife off for the day. After some apologies on our part, and fighting through the vagaries of cell phone reception, we spoke with the master blaster about his dizzying array of projects, what makes his music extreme, and his love for gunpowder-rubbed pig's head. No, really.

How are you doing?

I'm alright, man. I'm just sweating it out.

Let's start out with some Brutal Truth stuff, that's probably what most people would recognize you for. After "Evolution through Revolution" came out last year, there was some speculation and internet chit-chat going around that that might be it for the band. You guys are clearly still playing shows now, but what's the future of the band at this point?

We've got five new songs written so far. I think we're planning to record another album or CD or whatever it is that they have these days, later this year. December this year or January next year, something like that.

Oh, cool. You guys are clearly still into doing the Brutal Truth thing.

Oh, yeah. We just played four shows with Eyehategod a few weeks ago. It felt good, man. We've actually been touring kinda heavily since "Evolution through Revolution" came out. That's why, this summer, we're sort of chilling out a little bit and trying to focus on writing some tunes.

And in the middle of all that touring, you released "Evolution in One Take," which is "Evolution through Revolution" front to back, no breaks, in the studio.

Yeah, the guy who plays guitar in Total Fucking Destruction, Dan O'Hare, he also has a small, sorta pro studio in the basement of his house in Jersey, just over the bridge from Philadelphia. And he's recorded Rumpelstiltskin Grinder, XXX Maniak, Old Head, TFD, and other bands. So when Brutal Truth was doing shows last year in the summer, we just jumped over to Dan's for the afternoon because there was a Philly show. Everyone crashed at my house in Philly, and then we went over to Dan's and he had everything set up, so we just sort of sat down and busted out the set.

Now did you go into that planning to release it, or was it just a rehearsal for the tour?

Well it wasn't a rehearsal; we were thinking that maybe we could get a couple songs out of it, maybe put out a split 7" or something like that. But it came out so well, sound quality-wise, partly due to the fact that Brutal Truth had been playing a lot and we were totally warmed up and chilled out. So we just sat down and busted through it, and it came out really good, and then it sort of got a life of its own. No, it wasn't really planned but it turned out really good.

Well, I think that a lot of people are glad that Brutal Truth is still active, and especially now that you're putting out something next year. I think that regardless of whether you did do anything else, the band's place in extreme music is pretty much assured. You have to be aware of how influential the band is, right?

Yeah...I guess so.

I mean I think a lot of bands, grind bands especially, would consider you an influence. Is it odd knowing you've had an impact on people that way?

Yeah, I don't know. I don't know that I really think of it that way. I mean, there's a lot of people out there that are fans of Brutal Truth, and that's cool. I party with those kinds of people all the time. But I don't really think of it as being an influence. I mean, there's plenty of people whose music I really dig, and not necessarily grind. A lot of times music's just a big feedback loop, sort of. I look at it more that way. Brutal Truth is what it is.

I want to ask you something about the video you shot for "Sugar Daddy." At the end of it, you nail Danny (Lilker, Brutal Truth bassist) pretty hard in the head with a drumstick. Was that scripted for the video, or did you just go ahead and peg him with a drumstick?

There was no damage done. I don't know how it actually looked in the video. I did really wing that drumstick, but I think more hit his hair, and not actually his head.

Well that is a lot of protection.

I think it's more that the stick just got caught up as it was flying by, if he was a skinhead it wouldn't have touched him.

Let's talk a little Total Fucking Destruction.

Sure.

You've got new material recorded, right?

Yeah, there's actually a song or two up on the MySpace now, but that's part of what's going to be the next full-length album, and that's gonna be out January 2011. It's gonna be I think 27 or 28 songs, a little over thirty minutes or so, all new tunes.

And there're going to be some songs with Jane (Vincent) from Abiku on there?

Jane and I do a duet on the song "Lovegrinder." And then she also did sort of some backup, well backup's not really the right word, some extra vocals on a couple other songs, maybe three other songs. And that was the same kind of thing (as "Evolution in One Take"), we recorded that over at Mark-It-Zero studios with Dan O'Hare. Jane and Abiku live in Baltimore but they're from Philly. So she was visiting her mom and I was like, "if you've got some time, we're gonna be at the studio this afternoon." And she came by and busted out the vocals for "Lovegrinder," which is what I asked her to come do, in about twenty minutes and they were amazing. So I was like, "well, if you've got the time to hang around, that would be awesome." And she just busted out three or four other tunes, it was great.

The two songs that are up on the MySpace sound, well, cleaner's not the right word, but I guess a little less skuzzy than some of the old stuff.

[Laughs] So you're saying our old stuff is skuzzy, huh?

Yeah, not in a bad way at all. Skuzz is good, man.

It's a little more tuneful, a little more well-produced. For (2008 full-length) "Peace, Love, and Total Fucking Destruction," we recorded the music tracks sort of in our jam room, and then we did the vocals and mixing and stuff at the studio. But the newest recording, which is what you're hearing on "Lovegrinder," we did all of the recording and mixing at Dan (O'Hare)'s studio. So it's the first time we've ever had a studio to relax in, and just treat like a studio, you know?

So it's like a more professional type-approach then?

Right, it's more professional than TFD is used to, but it's still DIY. It's Dan's hobby...not hobby, that's not the right word, but it's not his main gig. It's a studio that he put together in his basement, but it's shit-hot. You can hear the new stuff, it sounds good.

I have to agree. One last note about TDF, you handle most of the vocals. I can't think of many other extreme metal drummers that do. Is that at all a pain in the ass?

I'm playing songs, more than I am playing drums and singing. For TFD, since I do a lot of the songwriting, it's easier for me because I learn the vocals and the drum parts and the music all at the same time. It's not like I'm playing drums and then I have to learn some other vocals on that. And I've learned how to do it, I've been doing it for ten years or so now since TFD first started. I definitely had to figure it out and practice it, but since Dan O'Hare joined the band he's helped out a lot with the vocals. And Ryan (Moll) from Rumpelstiltskin Grinder as well, he been the bass player for the Japanese tour and Maryland Deathfest and bunch of other gigs we did this year. Both of those dude can fucking play and totally rock and hit all the notes, and do killer vocals at the same time. So live, we try to take it over the top, where all three dudes are screaming our heads off and going wild with grind. And at Maryland Deathfest, Jane from Abiku did a couple of songs live with us, and we did one song with no drums, just all four of us screaming and making noise. And with TFD I have more liberty than with, say, Brutal Truth to bring people out. Like with Total Fucking Destruction, if we just want to set our amps on fire and not even play, we could fucking do that, because it's TFD and anything can happen.

You could probably get away with that too, without seeming too out of character for the band.

Right. It's whatever art comes by way of TFD. And I've been trying to get TFD into more arty or noisy areas, and playing at museums and art galleries and shit like that. I haven't had much luck with it yet. A lot of people who are into metal, like death metal, overlook TFD. And a lot of kids who are into punk or whatever you want to call it, think TFD is a metal band, because the guy from Brutal Truth's in it. So we're kind of pigeonholed in a couple ways that TFD really isn't. I'm just trying work it, you know.

Speaking of noisy type stuff, you also do Peacemaker, which is just you, doing ambient/noise kind of thing.

The music is sort of ambient noise; it's supposed to be transformational harsh noise. I use certain sound waves, and once you get away from the stuff that's posted online the songs are actually like thirty or forty minutes long, and you listen to them with headphones and it changes the alpha and beta waves of your brain, that kind of thing. Live, it's more of a performance art, sort of spoken work thing. I've got a lot of, not really lyrics, but spoken word pieces or written pieces that I read, and that's how I approach it live.

That's got to be a good change of pace from all the grind work you do.

Oh yeah. And also, in a band like Brutal Truth, it's a lot of hurry up and wait where you drive to some city and sit there for eight hours before you play. So the past year or so I've set up Peacemaker gigs where Brutal Truth might be but have down time. If Brutal Truth plays a show, I can go do a late-night Peacemaker show at one in the morning or a coffee house gig in the afternoon, after sound check or before the show. Peace is the victory, man.

If all that weren't enough to keep you busy, Eleventh Key Records is digitally releasing some Caveman jams from like the mid and late ‘90s.

Ah, the Caveman stuff. Dude, I made Caveman just over a weekend when I was trapped in a rehearsal room, I think it was with like an 8-track cassette machine. So I decided to make this thing called Caveman, where it would be like music that cavemen made. So there're vocals, but there's no words, just grunts and groans. And then it's just various percussion and drums, it's pretty minimal.

Yeah, there's a tribal type feel to it.

Yeah, I used to sell that on cassette, just as the Caveman demo, and there are some splits, and I put some on CD-R. I don't really know how the guys from Eleventh Key got a hold of it, maybe it got posted on his favorite website or whatever. But that's the way it is, huh?

So with all the bands you're involved in, are you still booking shows and tour managing and stuff?

Absolutely not. I don't have anything to do with music except for playing drums. I do certain parts of Brutal Truth's business and most of TFD's business, but I used to work full time, and it really lessens the enjoyment of playing and listening to music when you're working it all day. And that kind of job is 24/7. So I'm happily retired from the music industry, I'm now strictly a musician.

I think that's a good thing. The more music you're making, the better.

And speaking of that, if I was working a music industry job, I would never have had time to play drums in Brutal Truth. I had to get in and rehearse and learn songs, I still have to rehearse. I play however many hours a week I need to, to keep my chops up. And you can't do that when you're working 60 hours.

On top of everything else, you drum for Old Head, which is like an old-school thrash band.

People say it's like old Megadeth, I think that's because of Dan's vocals. There's a full-length Old Head recording that just got finished up, and we're looking for a label to release that. But some of the newer songs are more rock.

Well that has to be a bit of a different playing style; you don't have to blast all the way through, right?

I totally dig playing rock as opposed to grind, it definitely gives me the chance to stretch out. And one of the things about playing in different bands, I set up my drums a little differently in each one of them, and I play a little bit of a different style in each one of them. I don't want to get into a rut, physically, with my playing.

Let me ask you one last grind-related question: you've been into it now for almost twenty years...

Fuck! [laughs] Well...maybe fifteen! I joined Brutal in the last months of '93...

That's still a damn long time. What do you think about grind today, like how it's progressed since you've gotten into it? Or hasn't progressed, because it seems like it could be a style that's resistant to change. But even if you look at Brutal Truth, you can't really say that "Evolution through Revolution" is the same as "Extreme Conditions Demand Extreme Responses."

I see what you're saying. From one perspective, sort of a meta-cultural perspective, grind hasn't progressed at all. To the average person on planet Earth, grind is pretty much grind. For those strange people that for whatever reason focus intently on grind and the grind scene, whatever that is, be it just a marketing scheme of pseudo-corporate, pseudo DIY record labels, or be it a true form of art; for them extreme can tend to be the same thing over and over. For Brutal Truth, it's not so much that we're making grind, we want to make crazy music and play crazy parties together. And crazy music to us is extreme, be it incredibly fast, incredibly slow, incredibly heavy, whatever. But one thing that you can't do, at least we've always felt, is that you can't do extreme music if it's exactly the same thing over and over. It becomes less extreme, and you just get used to it. Repetition defies extremity. So what we've always tried to do when we're writing new songs or writing the next album, if something is musical to us - even in the sense that you can whistle it in the shower and it sounds like a cool tune - and something is also Brutal Truth, over the top extreme in some way, than we massage it from there. As for other bands in the grind scene, I can't really speak to their music. There's so much music. I guess one thing that's different between now and back in the day is that there are so many bands, so many more people making music as opposed to just being a fan and listening to music. Which is totally cool, but its information overload. I tend to really dig bands that I'm on tour with or are my friends, that's the first thing that attracts me to bands, be they grind or whatever.

So I've just got a couple non-music questions then.

Okay.

A while back on the Deciblog, you posted a recipe for gunpowder-rubbed pig's head...

Yeah, totally man! I've been trying to get that on Eli (Shaika) from Relapse Records' heavy metal cooking show (Contaminated Cooking feature on Metalsucks.net). And I submitted that recipe to him to be on the show and I haven't heard back from him yet. I'd like to get it out there. I mean, the recipe's already been posted, but I want to do a video.

I don't think I'd be alone in saying I'd very much like to see that.

The reason I posted it on the Decibel blog is because two different heavy metal cookbooks got in touch with me and were like "do you want to submit a recipe," and I was like "Fuck yeah, man! Total Fucking Destruction, Brutal Truth, pig's head rubbed with gunpowder!" And then these heavy metal cookbooks said "oh, no," and one said that their publisher didn't like it because it was too extreme.

Too extreme for a heavy metal cookbook?

I got turned down by two heavy metal cookbooks! That's why I was like, "Albert (Mudrian, Decibel Editor-in-Chief), I already have this thing typed up, I gotta have it published. These other people are too lame to publish it, do you want to put it up on your blog?" But I'm trying to get on that Relapse cooking show, put in a good word for me if you know Eli.

I have no pull, but we can definitely throw a link up on the site and encourage people to check it out (see above).

Cool.

So I've got one more thing I feel compelled to ask about. The drum faces, the famous drum faces: stage presence or involuntary grind reaction?

It's a combination of stage presence and the physicality of playing drums. What happened was, when I wasn't playing drums, I was doing a lot of yoga. And then I applied that to sitting properly so that I could sing and play drums with Total Fucking Destruction. And then when Brutal Truth started up again full-on, we were doing 75 and 80 minute sets, so I had to condition my body, and I also used the stuff I learned about doing vocals in TFD to help me breathe better for Brutal Truth. So a lot of it is breathing exercise for me, and as I've learned to be able to play Brutal Truth music for a full set and breathe and stay calm throughout, that's allowed me to goof around. And my drumming is real muscle memory, sort of intuitive. I practice the songs before we go on tour, but when I go up on stage I drink beer, and watch for the guy in the cowboy hat (Brutal Truth vocalist Kevin Sharp) to start yelling, and then I just go for it.

Well, that's all I've got. Is there anything you'd like to add?

Thanks to everyone who supports Brutal Truth and Total Fucking Destruction, and look out for new music from Old Head, TFD, Brutal Truth and Peacemaker coming soon.

Rich, thanks a lot for taking the time.

Thank you. Rock on!

To find out more about any of Rich's numerous projects, please visit:
http://www.myspace.com/brutalfuckingtruth
http://www.myspace.com/totalfuckingdestruction
http://www.myspace.com/peaceisthevictory