Graf Orlock's Jason Schmidt
Published Jan 27, 2011Graf Orlock guitarist Jason Schmidt ― Justin Smith to his parents ― is an industrious man. Some might even call him insane. Apart from running revered independent label Vitriol Records, the Los Angeles native is a prime contributor/guitarist/vocalist to various cult-status acts including explosive hardcore outfit Dangers, grinding thrashers Ghostlimb and most notoriously pioneer hard/grindcore brigade Graf Orlock, who have just issued their latest work, the Doombox EP. Somewhere in there, he also finds time to work the usual day job which funds all of these projects. Therefore, despite striving to focus on Graf Orlock (aka Gorlock, completed by fresh vocalist Karl Bournze, bassist Sven Calhoun and drummer Alan Hunter) and the modus behind Doombox, a, "diatribe concerning the urban issues of our own maladjusted city ― authoritarian power, gang violence, race and capitalism," it's near-impossible not to cross threads, bands, tours and releases overlap so heavily. Delving into Gorlock's latest slab of self-proclaimed "cinema-grind," a genre that takes much of its inspiration from big budget Hollywood films, pilfering samples from their most memorable moments, Schmidt divulges tales of co-tours with Dangers, Ghostlimb's latest endeavours and Vitrol's Do It Yourself mission statement.
At that, he still admits just how ambitious the Doombox outing is. While the ten-inch vinyl EP itself is another exciting conglomeration of Gorlock's hardcore, grindcore and thrash metal influences twisted into barbaric, frenzied attacks, with only six tracks clocking in an ephemeral 12 minutes, it's seemingly over before it begins. Fleshed out with impressive amenities such as a CD version of the Destination Time Trilogy (the band's last three full-lengths, bringing the total Doombox track count to 42) and packaging that folds out into a 30" x 10" x 10" card-stock "boombox" though, few can argue with the band's latest motto: "Doombox or die." Schmidt discusses life in too many bands, keeping Vitriol Records competitive and the impetus behind Doombox.
Long time, no speak.
Jason Schmidt: Yeah, I think it was a year ago when we put out the last Dangers record.
Exactly. What have you been up to in that time?
The usual: menial jobs to make ends meet, a lot of ok shows. We got up to Canada in August with Ghostlimb.
Any fantastic parts about that tour?
I guess getting to Winnipeg and seeing the Propagandhi/G-7 Welcoming Committee guys was one of them. All of us in Gorlock and my other bands grew up listening to them and admiring how DIY they were. You looked up to them, read their inserts and things like that. It's cool they're still around doing what they want and not being co-opted into bullshit. I kind of model the way I run Vitriol Records after them.
I take it you heard that split they did?
With Sacrifice? Yeah! I'm a speed metal fan. It's awesome they did an old Corrosion Of Conformity song instead of the Pepper Keenan stuff. It's thrashier and way better.
It was a bummer that Sacrifice released the Rush tune, though. They had that on the Canadian release of their last album so it was old news.
Yeah, I hate Rush. I like progressive speed metal but not the progressive asshole metal where people try to put a thousand notes into everything. Metal is punk but way faster in some ways. Even with Gorlock, I wanted to write speed metal riffs. I just recorded a new Ghostlimb record and it's faster; a bit newer style. I can appreciate that stuff but I hate the prog stuff like Rush, or "progressive tech metal." You can't have any attachment to the music because it's so annoying.
There are the dudes with overly-conditioned hair, noses in the air going, "Look how fast I can play. Look how prodigious I am." It's showboating.
That's why I've always been involved in some form of metal-ish stuff, preferring or erring towards things with an underground punk or hardcore element. There's momentum to the music that lets you have that emotional attachment. It can be the music, a harmony or whatever. You know what I mean. Pissed off stuff is always the way to go. That element that is completely devoid in metal is there. When I was younger, I got out of the metal scene because I hated the people in it. Kind of like those guys in Dangers...
Seriously though, somehow we've been lumped into the group of 14 year-old kids who love Bridge Nine stuff and are mad at their parents. When we toured Australia ― Dangers and Gorlock together ― the crowds were disparate. There was some overlap because of the label but at a show, you'd know who was there for who. The older guys wanted to see Gorlock while the kids with Ceremony shirts would watch Dangers and leave. It was completely aggravating.
They obviously had no clue as to how closely tied the bands are.
Yeah, I would literally play one set, stand there while the other guys came up and do the next set. Whatever. We all practice in my garage.
I guess it's 'cause kids don't have that inlay card/liner notes anymore thanks to downloading over tangible albums. They can't make connections between bands.
That's why the new Ghostlimb is a proper full-length. The last album's songs were really short, even if they had a lot of effort put into them, especially the lyrics, unlike Gorlock ones, which are technically about nothing. This time around, the songs are longer and each song has a proper explanation. There's more text to read, which I value 'cause you can read along and understand what's being said.
One of the most exciting parts of a new album is ingraining the art and lyrics into your head while listening.
Yeah. I always hated getting cheated. I still remember riding my bike to the mall and buying the Misfits' Evilive on tape. There was one panel with nothing on it. I was like, "Dammit!"
I hear you. It was worse with CDs, since it seemed like such a great format and was so expensive. You'd feel ripped off.
What's crazy, is that I stay away from "thank you" lists 'cause I typically think they're bullshit but as a kid, I'd read them and find out about bands I didn't know before. It was an avenue to discover bands but it doesn't matter anymore. You can go online and everything says: Sounds Like: This Band, even if they really don't. One intent of the label is to push things back to inherent value instead of disposable product... which it probably is anyway.
Is this why you've always had such crazy packaging like the fold-out Doombox or the facehugger/chestburster from Alien with Destination Time Tomorrow? You don't want feeling ripped-off Evilive-style?
Yeah. We're always trying to one-up ourselves, too. Since everything is being downloaded, why not make something worth having? For me, the purpose of doing vinyl is that you have a large format that's interesting. The medium is better than some shitty CD. We push it, doing some crazy stuff. Level Plane didn't want to do crazy shit when we were with them, 'cause they didn't know how it would sell, which I understand. After that, we wanted to go for the gold with the chestburster and facehugger for the ten-inch. I don't care... I want, not a novelty, but something worthwhile that a lot of effort went into. But it still costs the same as something with just a glued-jacket. Some album shouldn't cost what they do. I know what it costs to make a double-album with a gatefold. It's nowhere near $30.
So, you like the idea of Vitriol stuff being collectible in some ways.
Yeah. I also want to see people get value. There are 42 songs altogether with the ten-inch and the last three albums. I didn't even put the last one out on CD, 'cause I didn't care. We were also hoping to see Doombox in peoples' houses and just laugh. It's funny, we like it and if the label's known for anything, it should be for integrity, packaging and care for the records.
Is that why you've got all that stuff packed together? I mean, the EP is six songs at 12 minutes but there's still a shit-ton of stuff here for an "EP."
If it was just the EP, it'd be different but since Destination Time Today was never out on CD and the other two of that trilogy haven't been in print for a while, we added them. People can obviously find them online but that'll be a shitty copy made on a computer. This way, you get it all at once with a super-'90s gangsta rap package.
As for the EP itself, why only six songs after two years?
Well, in 2009 we did a big tour with Ghostlimb and Gorlock. I started the label to put out those two bands because Level Plane didn't want to invest. We did that and then went to Europe. We were gone all summer. The real problem is that our bassist lives in San Francisco, our singer lives in West Hollywood and the drummer and I live over by Disneyland. Long story short: we did the tour, came back and wrote a couple of songs. Then Ghostlimb went on tour, Gorlock toured and stuff like that. By the time we got our shit together, we were in Australia for June. Between that, with a new Dangers record, other shit, playing and starting on a new Ghostlimb record, it's crazy. There's not enough time but I don't just want to push stuff out. People have made that point about it being brief but in that period of time, there have been a lot of [Vitriol] releases. I've got 16 with the label and more are coming. I dunno, I don't feel bad about it. There are some bands that don't put anything out for five years. The last full-length took so long. By the time you're done, you don't like the first songs you wrote 'cause of the process. By the time we got to the 13th song on the last album, I didn't care anymore. This time, I didn't want it to be like that. I feel good about all of these song and the flow.
Yeah, if you take too long, it can be a drag.
Not only that, but our old singer in Gorlock that's dead now [as per the band's unique sense of humour, Kalvin Kristoff's departure post-Destination Time Tomorrow has been attributed to a "car accident" and "being run over by a dump truck"] had a lot of trouble with timing. Recording used to take forever and I hated it. I'd have to play guitar for the drum tracks, do both guitars, I'd usually do bass and then my vocal part and samples, then sit there while he'd do his vocals, having to correct his timing. Now, with the new singer, he's better and we also recorded live which is easier.
Well, it's done now. How do you feel?
I really like the songs, 'cause they cut the fat and are really aggro. Recording live helped and it feels in-your-face. It's only 12 minutes but we get in and hit 'em instead of them getting bored. These songs are a tad longer overall, too. They're still concise and tight, even if they're a bit longer than our usual minute and 45 seconds.
Will Graf Orlock turn heads with this album?
If people didn't like us before, this won't change their minds. Sometimes you get reviewed and people say it's stupid or it sucks. That's fine. People who do like us might appreciate this somehow. The people that get it, get it. The ones that don't never will but that's par for the course. They won't be all, "Oh, I get it! It's cinema-grind and the songs really aren't about anything but they really are about something!" If I was a normal person, I don't think I'd get that either but that's also what keeps it funny...at least for us.