A Conversation With Richard Hoak

Richard Hoak is the lightspeed drummer for grindcore legends Brutal Truth, in addition to perfecting his unique style of snare abuse with his own band Total Fucking Destruction, and other projects like hyperactive hard rockers Old Head. M3 caught up with Rich for a discussion about touring, free music, those mysterious Caveman demos, Oscar Mayer wieners, records only dogs can hear and much, much more…

“It’s perfect timing dude, at 10AM I head down to the grind labs for my daily workout and drumming rehearsals!” M3 has caught Mr Hoak at just the right time, as the wild eyed sticksman makes his morning preparations for today’s blastbeat research. It’s all in a day’s work for Hoak, who made himself known to the world’s metal community at large after beating the skins on Brutal Truth’s seminal grindcore classic ‘Need To Control’ in 1994. Rich hasn’t really ever stopped grinding since, starting his own project Total Fucking Destruction when Brutal Truth eventually parted ways. “It started up around 1999, 98, pretty while much having drinks at a bar! Within a very short time after Brutal Truth broke up, I had a flash of inspiration for Total Fucking Destruction, so it started real quick after that. And it was always idea based, y’know, so it was like ‘Oh! I can have a band called Total Fucking Destruction!’ Okay, I have a band called Total Fucking Destruction! Hey dude, my bands called Total Fucking Destruction, you wanna play guitar in it?”

Rich hit the ground running with this new project, and TFD built up a name for themselves in the grindcore underground through relentless touring and a free demo policy. “When Brutal Truth broke up I wanted to keep touring and playing shows and get that all started up as soon as possible, and I had never really made any money, quote unquote, from royalties for record sales y’know, so my reasoning was just lets fucking get the music out there and then we can tour!” enthuses Rich.  “Back then I don’t think we even had the bandwidth to send like a 12 song demo or CDs worth. I remember sending out a lot of CDRs, or I would do it one song at a time with MP3s or something like that, but the idea was anybody that wanted to, could take the TFD demos and repress them however they wanted to in their country, wherever they’re at and it was copyright free! Send us something if you want, but whatever, just put ’em out! A couple of guys in Japan put out like 75 or 100, couple guys in England did the same thing and there was a guy in the Ukraine, kids all in South East Asia, a guy in Australia put out 2 editions of 50 copies…”

Ignoring royalties and spreading TFD’s sounds throughout the global grindcore network payed off, and within a year of forming the band Rich was impressing grindfreaks the world over with his frenzied snare attack. “We did Europe and Britan over and over, we toured Canada, played all over the States, we did a South American tour of Brazil and Paraguay” says Rich, barely pausing for breath. “I think that really jumpstarted it so we could get on that tour and people knew about TFD in the underground or whatever that much faster. As opposed to if we had followed the traditional model of going to a studio, recording a high quality full length album and having it released on a label – for Total Fucking Destruction that might have taken years, y’know! In fact it still does when we try and put out a CD, there’s years between them even now.”

The band released their third full-length ‘Hater’ last year, and Brutal Truth have recently released their second post-reunion record, ‘End Time’. But is Rich worried that in today’s high-tech, information hungry world, people may not find the time to enjoy these records to the fullest? “Well no, I don’t think so. I mean pop music has always had a history of the hit song, so theres always been people listening to singles, like 7inch singles and now people just listen to a song, or actually watch a video of the song that’s a hit, but I think theres a lot of inertia from the album format. The Old Head album is definitely an album, the ‘Hater’ album is definitely an album, we planned them that way I guess. Brutal Truth still makes albums y’know? And especially with the availability of the vinyl format, even with bands as small as TFD and Old Head we know that there’s at least a possibility that somebodys gonna release this CD on vinyl and I guess we’re just old enough to think of that.” Rich pauses for a second, before adding “Well, maybe old’s not the right word, maybe we’re just that much more in tune with the vinyl format” with a chuckle.

Speaking of old, Rich’s newest release, Old Head’s ‘Maximum Rock’ may suprise those who are accustomed to the ferocious grind of his other projects. Old Head is equally as energetic but takes more of a good-time 80’s thrash approach – imagine if Dave Mustaine had never gone to rehab and had recruited Adrenalin O.D. as his backing band and you may have some kind of idea of the glorious hard rockin’ lunacy that awaits you on this record, which also includes covers of Jethro Tull, Black Sabbath and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young classics, and of course the unique vocals of a certain MegaDan Tumolo. “Well, for a long time MegaDan was a driver and road crew or merchandise guy for TFD and Rumpelstiltskin Grinder, and I think even Brutal Truth once or twice for a couple of short runs. He was always like ‘oh I wanna start a band that’s like this, I’m gonna start a band that’s thrash and we’re gonna cover this’ and y’know, all that. So we actually got together and over the course of a year or two wrote up those tunes, we played live a couple times and all but mostly we got it down on recording. And its all MegaDan, mega thrash, y’know! We would get together, and if we would have a TFD rehearsal afterwards MegaDan would come around, he would blaze us up and we would blaze through the Old Head songs.” One wonders how Hoak manages to catch his breath inbetween Brutal Truth and TFD tours, let alone find the time to start another band. “Old Head’s going full steam ahead, but none of the people that are on the album are in the live act anymore. It’s pretty much MegaDan’s project, and its not a thing that would ever tour or whatever I don’t think, mostly our gigs are around Philadelphia and, quite frankly, between my schedule with Brutal Truth and Dan O’Hare (Old Head & TFD bassist)’s complicated schedule for his dayjob, MegaDan just couldn’t play the live gigs that he wanted to play. And that’s fine y’know, as I say that’s a total fun project and whatever. We’re totally psyched with that, the album came out great I think, that’s Dan O’Hare’s production skills once again!”

Old Head – Dan O’Hare, MegaDan Tumolo, Ryan Moll, Rich Hoak (L-R)

Rich’s touring duties have been steadily increasing over the years, especially with Total Fucking Destruction gaining more leverage after their first full-length ‘Zen and the Art of Total Fucking Destruction’ back in 2007. “It wasn’t until we had full length CDs out that we were able to tour Japan, and even then that was a pretty skin of the teeth sorta thing for TFD!” recalls Rich. “Brutal Truth is actually a pretty big band in Japan, I mean bigger than one might expect from our profile on the rest of the planet so when we go there it’s like… it’s not DIY at all! I mean it’s still all cool people, and it’s independent, it’s not major label or whatever like that but…” Hoak muses for a second. “It’s pretty smooth sailing, y’know! But with the TFD tour there… I mean, when all’s said and done, we covered all our expenses and came home with like 100 bucks each or whatever but it was a pretty rippin’ fuckin’ 7 or 8 day tour!” laughs Hoak. “It was different to the Brutal Truth tour in that with BT you fly in, you fly out! I mean with any band that’s on Relapse or Earache, or Metal Blade or whatever, big and small, they go to Japan, you fly in, the next day you play a show, get on the train, take that somewhere, play a show, get on the train, take that somewhere, play a show, get on the train, take that somewhere else, play another show, fly out, y’know! But with TFD, we drove from Tokyo to Osaka which is like an 8 or 10 hour drive. I’ve done it before but never with a band though, just driving around and hanging out with regular people as opposed to just being in train stations, hotels, venues and close by those things.”

Rich is evidently no stranger to life on the road, so what does he make of the notion that the days of record sales are over? Is touring is the only real way for a band to sustain themselves financially these days? “That’s a common theme that’s going been on music industry literature.” Rich sighs. “That’s the rule of thumb these days, y’know, ‘oh a band has to go on tour, sell tshirts and records ‘cos they’re not getting paid anything!’ But I think that only applies to bands that were making tonnes of money off royalties before. Its been my experience with Brutal Truth sized bands, and those smaller and sort of not that much larger I guess, that touring and merch sales have always outdone your record royalties regardless. That’s been my experience. So yeah, if all the record labels go bust and bankrupt and die that’s just too fucking bad y’know!” Rich delivers this last line with relish and a gleeful cackle. “I mean, that’s my take on it, some record label wants to sign Total Fucking Destruction and put it out, more power to them! If all the other record labels drop over dead I don’t think that would affect me travelling around and playing the kind of music I wanna play.”

Whilst many record labels do indeed seem to be struggling or in the process of dropping over dead (as Rich put it), some of them seem to be employing new tactics to keep themselves afloat in the digital age. One of the most suprising in recent years is Scion A/V, an in-house record label that has put out free EPs by bands like Magrudergrind, Wormrot, Immolation & the Melvins. Many have praised the company’s initiative, but there has also been a backlash from certain figures within the underground. Rich, however, is not one of them. “Any sort of fuckin’ corporate sponsorship that some corporation wants to give me I’ll fucking take it man, I think that’s fuckin’ hilarious! Of course if you’ve been anti-corporate for years and years and then you take money from a corporation and then there were fans that were into you for that reason then they’re gonna have something to say about it! That’s the way is it, y’know. It’s not really any of my business what other bands or corporations do as long as they don’t fuckin’ bother me, so more power to those guys, whatever.” Rich pauses before adding “And yeah, like I say, any corporations that are reading this interview, please get in touch. Y’know, theres the Total Fucking Destruction tour van, if they wanna put some sort of underpants advertisement on the outside of it, we’ll drive it around man. Actually I’d like to get a deal where Total Fucking Destruction is sponsored by Oscar Mayer wieners and we can go on tour in the wiener mobile, how about that? Now that’s fuckin’ corporate sponsorship man!”

Even if Rich was hitting the road in the Official Total Fucking Destruction Oscar Mayer Wiener Mobile™, it would be difficult for even the most zealous keyboard warrior to call ‘sell-out’ given Hoak’s continued interest in free releases. Some of Rich’s other projects like Peacemaker and the Caveman demos have been given a free digital release through Jay Randall (Agoraphobic Nosebleed)’s net-based label Grindcore Karaoke, and there’s more to come. There are some very interesting projects in the Peacemaker pipeline, even if we may have to wait a little longer for those. “A lot of times the Peacemaker songs are so long, they’re like 15, or 25 minutes, that even just taking an hour to sit down with them, you only get two passes through it. There’s gonna be a sequel to the Peacemaker / Actuary Hotfuckactiontothemaxx CD set, so I’m working on that and I’m actually getting a bunch of source material of this guy Aaron Gonzalez from Spain, he’s like an arbsurdist artist. He wrote a book in that old school absurdist, dada sorta tradition, y’know. He sent me some source material of him playing some traditional instruments like the tambouri, so that’s one of the things that’s coming together.” explains Hoak, before adding with a grin “I’m also putting together a Peacemaker song that’s gonna be in the upper ranges of frequencies, and hopefully even above where humans can hear. I’m gonna try and freak out people’s dogs with that one! People will be like ‘oh there’s nothing here but a little beep’ and meanwhile their dogs will be freaking out!”

Perhaps the most obscure of Rich’s Grindcore Karaoke releases are the Caveman/Rich Hoak demos, containing a prehistoric tribal freakout on one half and some home-made free jazz voyages on the other. “That’s pretty old music.” says Rich with a smile. “The Caveman part of it I made on Dan Lilker (Brutal Truth bassist)’s Fostex 4, or maybe 8 track cassette machine and it was when I was staying at a rehearsal room that BT was using up in New London, Connecticut. So I would be living in the jam room while the other dudes were off doing stuff and I made the Caveman stuff there. And then the other part, the sort of Hoak saxophone project, I had a 4 track recorder at a house I was living at, maybe in 1988, 89 or something like that, and I was just fooling around and made that demo, recorded that in a couple days. It’s me playing saxophone and some weird drums through effects. I made it in like a tiny little apartment sorta house, y’know, so it was all done at like low volume in a bedroom, that kinda thing.” laughs Rich. “The Caveman side first came out as a cassette demo and then I would put the Hoak saxophone project on the other side and I’ve always sent that out to people for free or sold them for like 2 dollars each or whatever.” With the increase in internet technology, and the initiative of Jay Randall, Rich saw fit to give these buried treasures an official digital release. “That stuff and Peacemaker, a lot of that music has always been copyright free, download it if you can or whatever, so when Grindcore Karaoke came along that was fucking awesome because they posted it with high quality music files and also high quality art and set it up so that its easily downloadable. I don’t have to do any work to get that music around, I just send them the Grindcore Karaoke link now thanks to them.” It seems this fruitful partnership is far from over too, as Rich reveals “I’m gonna be involved with more stuff coming out on Grindcore Karaoke sooner or later. I don’t know exactly what yet but I’m sure it’ll happen y’know, Jay Randall has a good thing going there!”

With these recordings and the early TFD demos being made copyright free, it’s tempting to conclude that Rich may be of the opinion that traditional concepts of copyright are no longer relevant, but this isn’t a view that Rich completely subscribes to. “It’s more of a thing that I just choose not to participate in that for the music that I do. If I just take it out of the copyright system for instance, it gets around a lot more, y’know. I mean the chances of somebody picking up a Peacemaker riff and putting it into their hit song and making a lot of money off it are pretty slim, but if they do, worst case scenario is I sue them and get in the National Enquirer or some kinda scandalous magazine or whatever and cash in that way!” Rich laughs. “So since that’s so unlikely that that would happen then why not just put it out there as much as possible?”

But with the increasing shift in digitised music, does Rich ever worry that making these releases so readily available online will make their physical counterparts obsolete? “Life is change and shit happens, y’know. Traditionalists can fuckin’ cry about everything that goes away but that’s the way it is. I mean, boohoo! What about all the 8 track companies that went out of business? What about all the cassette companies? ‘Oh, there used to be whole stores that just sold cassettes!’” Rich chuckles. But did the young Hoak of yesteryear never develop any kind of sentimental attachment to places like record stores? “I went to record stores and got a lot of cool records man, but ah, I think theyre all gone now” Rich ponders before launching into another healthy chortle. “I don’t know dude, people are still putting out records, I guess they’re all through mail order. A lot of the stuff I got I had to buy through the mail as well y’know, when I got more into the underground. The heyday of record stores for me was probably in the mid to late 80s, at that time I was buying a lot of records and you’d have to go to the record store early to get your SubPop shit when it first came out or whatever, y’know!”

Mail order and tape trading was responsible for establishing a world wide metal community before the easy access of the internet, and with many record stores going under it seems mail order is becoming equally as important to a generation of kids who hunger for physical music. Rich is sceptical of a full-blown tape trading comeback however. “Well there’s tonnes of mail order and then there’s all that eBay shit man, y’know instead of trading stuff like they did back in the day, like a shirt for a shirt, theyre just buying one, buying another. I think music flies over the internet fast and free man, and so more power to that!” Evidently times are changing, and even Rich doesn’t trade as much as he used to. “I don’t run a distro so I don’t trade stuff in any great quantities, and I don’t really trade stuff just because. It’s more the kinda thing where I’m in touch with certain friends I guess and when the new TFD comes out I’ll send a copy of it to the people who I think have to hear it. And there are other people who send me crap and are like ‘dude this is out, you gotta hear it’, y’know. I guess I trade certain vinyls, like ‘hey man, I gotta have that, trade me one!’ But dude, I don’t get the time to collect records like I used to, plus I got like 8 billion of ’em sitting around already” says Hoak before erupting into laughter.

It’s easy to believe Rich when he says his free time is sparse. With the Old Head album in the bag, Rich is currently gearing up for a US tour with Brutal Truth as part of a mouth-wateringly good bill that also includes powerviolence luminaries Dropdead and grind heroes Nasum, briefly reunited for a memorial tour. Taking this and those mysterious forthcoming Grindcore Karaoke releases into account, surely there can’t be time for much of anything else? “I’m working on the continuous project of my fuckin’ life man, it’s what I do! I’m involved in setting up temporary autonomous zones where fuckin’ crazy grindcore, noise loving freaks can come and party together in the spirit of true metal sister and brotherhood!” laughs Hoak, before elaborating, “so anybody that’s up for a party should get in touch, and no matter what – please live loud!” Wise words, Rich, wise words indeed…

Interview by Kez Whelan

You can listen to Old Head’s ‘Maximum Rock’  now through their Bandcamp page. For more information on Total Fucking Destruction, you can visit their official website, or follow them and Brutal Truth on their Facebook pages.

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About M3 Event

The music industry is rapidly changing. The internet has enabled widespread piracy, as well as a variety of new business and distribution models. We want to offer an engaged audience in and around the Euregion an opportunity to develop a coherent and detailed picture of the future of music distribution. On the 31st of May 2012 a music conference in Maastricht, consisting of oppositional debates, creative workshops and lectures, will provoke opportunities for intellectual stimulation, debate, as well as networking. We hope to utilise the skills and ideas of some of most forward thinking minds and operators in the industry in order to highlight some promising new ideas and areas which can be improved upon.

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