A few of our readers have asked me over the last few months to try and get an interview with today's guest. I thought what the hell. I'm also doing this as this dude is one of my main influences in starting Sludgelord. He's single-handedly created or influenced the whole Sludge/Doom/Stoner Webzine/Blogging Culture that is currently going on today.
He's responsible for one of the best Doom/Sludge/Stoner Webzines on the net – The Obelisk – which he operates by himself on a daily basis. His articles, reviews and features are always brilliantly well written and hugely entertaining where he is admired by fans, critics and bands alike.
I'm talking about the legend that is HP Taskmaster or as we known him by as JJ Koczan. JJ has kindly agreed to an interview with me and I'm really honoured to be doing this as I'm a huge fan of his work and the dedication he gives to the music that we all know and love.
Ladies and Gentlemen – JJ Koczan.
Hi JJ. Thanks for doing this interview. Really appreciate and I know how busy you are. How are things with you today?
Doing alright, thanks. I appreciate the kind words in the intro up there. I’m sure there are plenty of people who’d argue against stuff like “brilliantly well written” and “hugely entertaining,” and I don’t think I’d go anywhere near “legend” so much as “guy who posts things on the internet,” but very nice of you to say in any case. I get complaints sometimes about walls of text and things like that, so I know there’s no way to please everybody, but I’m very fortunate that there seem to be people who dig on what I do with the site. And thank you for taking the time to put together this interview.
Obviously most people know about your website – The Obelisk. How did the idea for The Obelisk come about?
The Obelisk was an extension of a column I used to write for the magazine Metal Maniacs called “Feast of the Obelisk,” which was kind of my answer title-wise to Emissions from the Monolith – something that said “stoner rock” without actually saying it. A kind of dogwhistle to those who’d get it. An obelisk also being traditionally phallic, there’s an entire level that’s just a big joke, and I think that’s pretty appropriate as well. Metal Maniacs was a pretty extreme metal publication.
I worked as the Associate Editor under Liz Ciavarella, whom I continue to respect and admire, and we’d get complaints about dedicating space to heavy rock and doom – this was circa 2007-2008 – and I recall ending the last column with “Eat a dick,” which was about as plain as I could say it. When that magazine tanked early in 2009 following the US economic collapse in late-’08, I started The Obelisk as an outlet for all the reviews I wasn’t yet caught up on, so at least the people who took the time to send me stuff to write about would have something to show for their effort. That was the last weekend of Jan. 2009. I recall thinking I’d just put up one post every other day or something like that, no big deal. It’s kind of snowballed since into what it is now since that time.
Was it a struggle at first to get The Obelisk known amongst the Doom/Sludge/Stoner Metal community? How did you get The Obelisk known amongst readers and bands?
After Metal Maniacs went down, I used to double-post my reviews on StonerRock.com, and I think that turned some eyes onto what I was doing, and then when that site went down late in 2010 and I put up the forum (with the gotta-mention assistance of Slevin, a good, kind, patient friend who has helped me with technical stuff since we registered the domain and installed Wordpress), that brought it to an entirely different level. People have been supportive of the project all along, though. I don’t think it’s the biggest site in the world, but it’s very important to me, and my hope is that carries over into the actual execution of things like reviews and interviews, special features, podcasts, the radio stream, and so on. I suck at self-promotion.
I post links on Facebook and Twitter, but I’ve never been a salesman. I’d rather keep my head down and keep writing, so that’s what I’ve always concentrated on. Again, I’m fortunate that people have been so open to my project and that it’s found an audience at all. It wasn’t something I thought would happen, and it’s not really something I was shooting for like, “I’m gonna start a blog and people are going to read it and it’s going to be awesome.” I just wanted to write and didn’t have another outlet anymore. I don’t want to say it was a panic, because I don’t really remember it that way, but I was newly unemployed in 2009 and needed an outlet, so that’s what The Obelisk became. I feel lucky that it has whatever reputation it has, but honestly that’s something outside of me that I can’t really do much to control. I just want to keep writing.
Did you have any struggles/setbacks when you first started The Obelisk?
Well, when I first started, I hosted the site through Yahoo and it was a god damned mess. It would crash all the time for no reason and it was just shoddy hosting. I switched companies (again, with the help of Slevin) pretty early on and it’s been much better since. But conceptually, I never had a set idea of what it was supposed to be, so it’s not like there was a goal I was worried about hitting. I remember being really, really stoked when I had 700 people view the site in a month. More than anything I’ve ever done, I’ve approached The Obelisk as a work in progress and let it develop over time. It’s not something I’ve tried to force. I’ve said, “Okay, I’m going to try this and see what happens,” a lot, but never, “I want it to be this thing and it’s not.” I’m a pretty systematic person generally. I like organization. So for me to step back and let it become its own thing over time is rare and special to me on a personal level.
I think it allows me to be prouder of what it is now because it wasn’t part of a master plan. Of course, I wanted readers all along and I’ve worked to spread the word on what I’m doing – I still do that, and I’m still thrilled when new readers check in or say hi or comment on a post, whatever it might be – but I like to think the shape of the site is still changing and what it is now on a day-to-day level might not be what it is a year or two from now, if I’m still fortunate enough to keep it going at that point. In terms of setbacks and struggles, being open to letting it evolve on its own avoided a lot of those kinds of problems. At least that’s how I feel about it. For me, it’s always just been about writing and music. So long as I’ve got that, the rest can and will work itself out over time.
You run The Obelisk as a One-Man Operation. Was that an easy decision to make? Would you ever be open to the possibility of people joining The Obelisk?
At the time I made it, it was about the easiest decision I ever made. I had spent five or six years working in print media in one capacity or another and was fed up with the declining state of the industry, writers behaving like children, egos other than my own, mismanagement, crap money, on and on and on. I knew I wanted The Obelisk to be my thing. Very early on, I took a lot of cues from what MetalSucks was doing – that kind of internet-brand snark – but the tone of The Obelisk changed over time became what I feel is a lot truer to my own voice and how I think about music and how I relate to it. I’ve had offers from writers around the world who’d like to come aboard, some of them friends I’ve made over the years, but I’ve never really taken on anyone else because ultimately I don’t want to rely on anyone or change the voice or tone of the site. I don’t want to say I’d never do it.
A couple years back, I hit up a few artists I respect – Tim Catz, Mario Lalli, Ben Ward, Tommy Southard, Ben Hogg, Chris “Woody” MacDermott from Mighty High – to do columns for the site about things other than music. Ben Hogg wrote about growing up in the South, Tim Catz about ‘70s heavy, Tommy Southard about craft beer, Mario Lalli about whatever the hell he wanted. It worked for a while, but gradually people sort of faded out of doing it. Woody still turns in a piece every now and then and I’m happy to run it when he does, because he’s a fantastic writer and his take on ‘80s metal is second to none, but I don’t think it would really be fair for me to expect anyone else – anyone – to be as dedicated to the site as I am. It’s not theirs, and it would never be. Someone that passionate about it probably would’ve started their own thing already and (rightly) told me to screw off. Never say never in rock and roll, but for the last six-plus years and for the foreseeable future, I’m happy to keep it to myself.
What I admire most about The Obelisk is your in-depth reviews and articles on a daily basis. You must be a machine cranking out all those articles. Where do you find the time? As they're all so brilliantly written and well researched.
I feel like every time I go back and look at something I wrote earlier, all I do is find typos and run-on sentences and things needing correction, but again, thanks. As for finding the time, that’s just something that’s evolved over the last few years. The site’s become a bigger and bigger part of my day, and now it’s basically a full-time job that makes no money. I’ve been unemployed for the last 13 months, and I have no children, so other than the odd bit of housework or an errand for my wife or something I need to do that day whatever it might be, I’m able to focus a lot of my attention on the site. Kind of like when I started it, it’s all I’ve got. Learning to research and try to get things right the first time is something I’ve had to train myself into doing.
I’ve been wrong so many times about things like lineups, where a band’s from, whether it’s their first or second album, this kind of thing, that I’ve learned to check my impulses, to stop and go back and ask myself if I’m really sure about that and is there a way to check before I actually write it? A lot of it at this point is also down to experience. I usually have a pretty good sense of how I want to frame a review or a given article before I go into it, and I think about it in terms of what there is to say about a given record, what’s the story of that record, how does it relate to the band’s past work if there is any, what’s different and what’s the same, what’s working, what’s not working.
A major criteria I use for whether or not I’m going to cover a band is if I think there’s something to say about them, and I don’t have nearly enough time to keep up with everything I’d like to cover – for years now that’s been my biggest argument with myself in terms of taking on a staff, actually – so that’s an immediate, natural kind of filter that has been very useful for me over time.
Does The Obelisk ever interfere with your personal life where you think – I need a break from this before I go insane? I do at times with The Sludgelord.
My wife could probably give you a better answer to this question. Monday through Friday, most of my day is accounted for, and that doesn’t count going to shows, traveling to fests, things like that, so yeah, it eats up a good amount of my time and I can think of numerous instances where that’s put it into conflict with other aspects of my life, but it’s a big part of who I am. Something I never anticipated when I started the site was how much of my identity it would consume. There are bummer days, of course. I have a tendency toward the negative anyway, particularly as regards myself and my work, so absolutely I get bogged down and what the hell am I doing this for, etc.
The last year as I’ve been out of work has been particularly hard. Money is tight, I’ve got bill collectors calling me every day and what am I doing? I’m sitting here worrying about when I’m going to have time to review the Lamp of the Universe record. It’s absurd. But one thing leads to the next, as it has all along, so my answer is always just to keep plugging away at it, doing the work, and seeing where it ends up later. Most days I’m running at a deficit – viciously behind on this news story, that review, whatever it is – so I’m constantly playing catchup with myself. It’s exhausting, but it’s important to me and it’s a big piece of who I am as a person, so I don’t really have a choice but to keep it going as long as I can. I know nothing’s forever, but if I didn’t feel the need to do The Obelisk in the way I do, I wouldn’t be doing it. It’s a reason to get out of bed in the morning.
It’s put me in touch with people all around the world, from New York to the West Coast to Europe to Southern Africa to China and Japan and Australia and New Zealand. On the occasion I’m actually able to step back and realize that – and that’s not necessarily every day while I’m sitting on the couch trying to grab links to go with a press release feeling like every professional decision I’ve made in the last decade and a half has been wrong – I can’t really see myself doing anything else with my time.
When did your writing career begin? Did you write for other publications before starting The Obelisk?
I always wrote. For as long as I’ve been able to write, I’ve been writing. I wrote as a kid, an adolescent and as an adult. It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do, and more, it’s all I’ve ever been able to do. I’m completely useless at nearly everything else. Even things an average person has no trouble doing – holding conversations, simple tasks – I’m an absolute wreck. I watch other people go about their lives and I’m in awe. Writing is the one thing that I’ve been able to carry through years of miserable failure at everything else, and writing about music came around first when I was in high school, writing for the paper.
I remember I wrote like a 500-word review I’d been assigned about the Van Halen record with Gary Cherone from Extreme singing on it and went on about how bad it was. That was probably the first time I wrote about music, rather than stories or poems or essays. I did college radio at WSOU in New Jersey, and got an internship from there at The Aquarian, a local alt-weekly. Took over as editor of The Aquarian in 2004, full-time while I was still finishing school, got married that same year. I had a weekly column for metal and other heavy stuff – I remember reviewing YOB’s Catharsis after having my mind utterly blown by it in 2003 – and developed my process through that, then went to Metal Maniacs in 2007, which sort of refined my niche style-wise to where it is now as I found I wasn’t nearly as qualified to write about death metal as the death metal writers, nor was I as into black metal as the black metal writers.
It just happened to be that what was really speaking to me was the heavy rock and doom stuff – way less “metal,” in the traditional sense. I wound up back at The Aquarian from 2010 until 2013, while also doing The Obelisk on the side, so I always had other places I wrote for. I’ve thought about trying to get back into print, but time’s limited and there don’t seem to be any shortage these days of people writing about the stuff I’d want to cover.
You are considered a pioneer amongst the Doom/Sludge/Stoner Blogging/Webzine Community. Do you take notice of accolades like that or do you just focus on your own work?
Am I? I was hardly the first. StonerRock.com was before me, and The Sleeping Shaman and Hellride Music, among others. Chris Barnes, Lee Edwards, Rob Wrong, El Danno, Johnny Arzgarth, numerous others, and there are people who’ve come since who I think make a bigger impact than I do. I hear from people every now and again who say they enjoy the site, or better, have gotten some use out of it, and I really appreciate that, but I’m way too close to it as a project to see it in some larger context as having an impact.
I don’t know if it has or hasn’t or how that kind of thing might be quantified. I appreciate it when people comment on something or share links and help me spread the word that way, but I have no idea of what the general perception is of the site since mine is so different. I’m centered on what’s coming next, what needs to go up tomorrow and that kind of thing. If people are into it, that’s amazing – I’m continually astounded anyone might give the remotest crap about anything I have to say about anything – but for me it’s the work. I put my head down, keep working.
The Doom/Sludge/Stoner Blog/Zine culture has exploded over the last few years. Tons of great sites starting to appear and promote the world of Doom, Stoner and Sludge. Do you feel there's enough room for all of us or that it's becoming a bit of a crowded scene?
No question it’s bigger than it’s ever been, at least in terms of reputation and people who are into it. It’s not like the internet is going to be full or hit a quota of heavy rock and doom blogs, but there are ebbs and flows to just about everything, and things will get bigger and thin out over time as trends and tastes change and people move onto other activities in their lives and so forth. I see things people post on social networks and what comes in as part of press releases and what makes a given band’s press quotes and so on, but don’t really have much time to keep up with what’s out there since I’m working on my own thing.
If there’s five minutes I can spend reading someone else’s review or working on my own, I’m going to write every time. But if someone feels passionate enough about underground heavy of whatever sort it might be to start a blog with the intent of promoting or helping to spread the word about it, I don’t really see why that would be something to complain about. It used to be fanzines, now it’s this. It doesn’t always result in the best critique – not that a more established, “major” publication does – but it never did. Again, I put my head down, keep working. Ultimately, how many sites there are covering the same bands has very little to do with me, and sometimes if I see something getting really hyped up, it’ll dissuade me from checking it out.
I missed the boat on Uncle Acid’s Blood Lust that way, since I tend to figure if everyone and their mother is talking about something, I don’t need to. Truth be told, what little objectivity I have, I’d rather hold onto than be up on what everybody else is doing. That said, if there’s a community of like-minded people that can develop over international borders and other cultural concerns to find common interest in a kind of music or expression, the only person I can see complaining about that kind of thing is a complete asshole. I don’t know that I’ll ever feel like I’m a part of that community, but I wouldn’t argue against its development.
How do you feel about sites such as Cvlt Nation and Noisey starting to make a name for themselves amongst the Doom/Sludge/Stoner Metal community? Some say it's a good thing and some say it's a bad thing. I think it's a good thing as more publicity the better for the bands that we love.
I feel like fans of underground music, who’ve sort of made the effort to dig into a style and its practitioners, come to feel a sense of ownership over that particular piece of aesthetic real estate, and so when someone else comes along, notices something cool happening and steps in to spread the word about it, there’s a bit of, “Well who’s this Jonny Comelately on my lawn?” You saw it in black metal perhaps most strikingly in the last decade, first with the ascent of Nachtmystium, then with Liturgy and Deafheaven. What other sites do ultimately has little to do with me.
I’ll admit I laughed when NPR started doing track premieres and that kind of thing and people were all like, “isn’t it amazing that National Public Radio is supporting underground music?” since they’re the biggest public network of AM/FM communication in the US and it would’ve been hilarious to have Robert Siegel or Michele Norris on All Things Considered introduce a review of the new Electric Wizard album on the drive-time news. I actively try not to pay attention to what other people are doing. If Noisey or CvltNation or whoever want to support doom and sludge, right on. I don’t really know anyone at CvltNation, but I’ve worked with Fred Pessaro, who’s now at Noisey and used to be at BrooklynVegan, and he’s a solid dude who’s passionate about music, so I have a hard time begrudging his having an outlet to expose a more mainstream audience to underground artists, even if Rupert Murdoch owns five percent stake of Vice. Good for Fred, and good for the bands if it helps the bands. Pitchfork, Noisey, NPR, whoever. Go get ‘em. There’s plenty of doom for everyone. I don’t own that shit and neither does anyone else.
We all have a musical history or journey to the bands we love and respect now. What was your musical journey? Which bands got you involved with your love of music?
When I was about 10, I stole a handful of CDs from my older sister. One was C.O.C.’s Blind, one was Alice in Chains’ Dirt, and I’d say those two were pretty pivotal. One of the first CDs I owned (not stolen) was Master of Puppets. I dug Primus early on, and a lot of the stuff in the ‘90s that was kind of between rock and metal but didn’t really have a place as “heavy rock” yet. I’ll 100 percent admit I missed the boat on Kyuss early, and Sleep too. I didn’t get into them until I was in college, but in high school I found stuff like Amorphis, Anathema, Sabbath, and that started me exploring underground metal and rock until I wound up where I did.
I didn’t have parents who were super-into rock and roll, playing me bands from the ‘70s and that kind of thing. I was born in 1981, so I’m old enough to remember life before anything and everything was right there on the internet to be discovered. I’m jealous of kids now who, even if they’re vaguely interested, can type a band’s name in and listen – mostly legally – to everything they’ve ever recorded. My journey was much clumsier. Maybe more organic in an analog sense – that is, it wasn’t like I turned 15 and said “I fucking love stoner rock and that’s the end of it” – but my tastes shifted naturally over time. In college, in 2003, I decided to start what was called at the time a “specialty show” focused on heavy rock and doom. I had been getting into heavy stuff both from the area like Puny Human and Atomic Number 76 and from around the world like Colour Haze, Dozer and Los Natas, Orange Goblin, Acid King, as well as Kyuss, Sleep, the stuff Man’s Ruin put out, the stuff Tee Pee and Small Stone were putting out, Wino’s bands and so on, so it made sense, and it gave me an avenue each week to share that exploration with an audience. I miss doing that sometimes, but in a way, the site is an extension of that same idea. The ground covered has broadened, but it’s still a matter of sharing that exploration, and I’m just lucky anybody bothers to check in on where it’s going.
You go to a lot of gigs and music festivals at home and abroad. What have been your favourite gigs and festivals you've been to over the last number of years?
I see it’s in the next question as well, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t immediately note Roadburn first here and the genuinely profound effect it’s had on how I experience music. The last seven years, I’ve been lucky enough to travel to the Netherlands for the fest and what I’ve seen and experienced there has quite seriously changed me as a person. But generally I try to go to as many shows as time and money will allow. My wife and I moved to Massachusetts about two years ago, and not as many tours come up here as hit, say, the Saint Vitus Bar in Brooklyn, but I manage to keep busy. I went to Desertfest in London twice and that was also pretty amazing and I’m itching to get to Germany to cover Freak Valley one of these years if they’ll have me. I’ve seen some amazing shows, but I think what has had the biggest effect on me, at least in a non-fest setting, was being able to go on tour.
I did some time in bands and stuff and never really got out for more than a weekender, but twice in 2014, the guys from Kings Destroy were kind and generous enough to invite me along with them. I did two tours last year: 10 shows in the Spring on the West Coast with Kings Destroy, Pentagram and Radio Moscow, and a counterpart Fall run on the East Coast with Kings Destroy, Pentagram, Radio Moscow and Bang, and both were amazing. They each had their ups and downs – I remember being so sick in Pittsburgh on the fall tour that I actually left the show and went to lay down in the van – but I love the idea of traveling, and the chance to make being on the road a part of my life was something truly amazing and I was incredibly thankful to be there for the ride.
There was some talk of my doing another run this spring with a different band in Europe that didn’t pan out logistics-wise, but I hope to do more of that kind of thing in the future one way or another. If it’s writing and music at the top of my passions, travel isn’t far behind, but money is of course a major constraint. Hard to justify booking a plane ticket to Berlin when Natty Grid is calling threatening to turn the lights off and the student loan people are filling buckets for cement shoes.
You've been heavily involved reporting on Roadburn the last couple of years. What was that experience like reporting on such a prestigious festival? How did you get involved reporting on Roadburn?
Again, Roadburn is like nothing else I’ve experienced. I started in 2009, right around the time the site got going, though at that point I covered it for BrooklynVegan rather than myself. From 2010 on, I wrote reviews of Roadburn for The Obelisk and it’s grown into the highlight of my year each year. This year and 2014 have been even more special for me personally because the fest started the daily fanzine, the Weirdo Canyon Dispatch, and I’ve been able to work as the editor with Lee Edwards from The Sleeping Shaman, and been able to see more of the inner workings of how it comes together while it’s happening and the amazing people who make it happen, Walter and Jurgen, the crew at the 013 venue in Tilburg, and of course the artists themselves.
One doesn’t always think of a festival as a creative act, but Roadburn brings an idea of artistry to the event. Each year progresses from the last, so that to look at it six years down the line, it might seem strange, but year to year it makes sense. It’s a creative progression like one might observe with bands from one album on, and I take great inspiration from Walter and how he’s been able to change the conversation about what underground music encompasses, expanding the reach of his fest while also remaining true to its roots. It’s an incredible, generational achievement, and I’m humbled and so fortunate to have been there the last seven years to see it continue to unfold. People ask me all the time what’s it’s like and I tell them, “Roadburn will change your life,” because it absolutely will. My process covering it has become somewhat harrowing. What I’ve done at least the last four or five years each day at Roadburn is write the review that night. So, for example, this year, I took notes on bands and took pictures all day, and then at night when back to my hotel room, sorted through that and put together the review itself, got it all organized and posted before the next day started. I might finish at five or six in the morning, and have to get up at nine to go work on the ‘zine, but it’s done.
Not something I’d be able to do every weekend, but Roadburn is special and I’m more than willing to give up sleep in order to put everything I have into covering it. I see people socializing at Roadburn, hanging out outside and all that and it’s awesome, and I’m happy to say hi and whatnot, but for me, I’m usually running on my way somewhere else, to see something or try to get to a given stage early so I can get up front to get pictures of a band. It’s become part of the ritual for me, going from one place to the next like that. That and massive, embarrassing, heart-palpitating amounts of coffee. That’s definitely part of the ritual as well.
We got to talk about Vinyl Records which plays an important part in the bands that we love to promote. Are you a vinyl fan yourself? I am. Spend way too much on WAX!!! - Still got about 12 records on pre-order.
I’m probably not as huge a vinyl guy as one might expect. LPs are expensive, and I feel like people enjoy owning the vinyl but still do even more listening to the digital versions that are usually included anyway. When someone sends me vinyl to review, I give it priority, but it’s more out of respect for the increased cost of producing and shipping an actual record as opposed to sending a link through email or even a CD through the mail, rather than an actual preference for the format.
Record sleeve corners are easily bent, the vinyl itself is fragile, and I don’t really have $500 to kick out for a cool hi-fi system. I have kind of a dinky turntable that I use to listen to stuff that’s sent to me for review, but I’m not a vinyl hound by any means. For the volume of music I’m interested in purchasing, for me to spend $25 on this or that special edition of each one would put me out on the street, and then I still wouldn’t be able to listen to that in a car without plugging in an iPod. I’m definitely a physical media guy, and I’ll take vinyl over “here’s my Bandcamp” any day of the week, but as a general policy, I don’t chase down LPs because I wouldn’t be able to live.
If I can get something on CD, I’m happy with that. I dig the vinyl aesthetic, and I think it makes a lot of sense for the heavier end of rock, which is rooted in a modern update of a traditional ‘70s sound, tapping into that era and filtering it through current production, etc., but if the merch table’s set up, the LP is $20, the CD is $10 and the tape is $5, I’ll buy the CD and the tape. I’ve managed to amass what I’d consider a respectable amount of vinyl anyway – a few shelves – and I’m the kind of obsessive jerk who, if I said, “Okay, now I’m going to have a real vinyl collection,” would have to go and re-buy everything I already owned on CD, just to also have it on LP, so between room to store it, money to buy it and time to listen to it, I’m better off trying to avoid it when I can. It’s become the format of record for heavy rock and doom, though, so sometimes there’s just no getting around it, and that’s fine. That’s probably a lame answer.
The cool thing would be to be like, “Hell yeah, I love it and get as much as I can!” but on some level too, I feel like it’s really special when a band or a label thinks enough of what I do to send me their wax, and if I was to chase down every little thing that came out on vinyl, I’d almost be cheapening that expression. I don’t have a ton of vinyl, but what I’ve managed to get is important to me, because I feel like it was sent out of respect for the efforts I’ve made and because someone thought enough of my work to want to let me have the richest experience of their own.
What is your verdict on the indie vinyl labels starting to appear? Ripple Music, STB Records, Pink Tank Records, Helmet Lady Records, Lay Bare Recordings, RidingEasy Records and a whole ton of other fantastic labels that are starting to appear?
I don’t really see how it could be a bad thing if more people are stepping up and helping to give bands an opportunity to reach a wider audience. I’ve worked directly with all the labels you listed and found them to be passionate individuals interested in supporting quality music to as many ears as possible. The sort of boom that the last couple years has seen internationally in terms of the labels really only indicates how much of a market there is for this kind of thing right now. That will change over time – ebbs and flows in everything, again – but at the moment there’s so much coming out that it’s impossible to keep up with all of it, and if being able to find something new and/or exciting to listen to every day of the week is a problem, then it’s a good problem to have.
When I was doing research on this interview, I came across your page on the Metal Archives Page. Nice. I didn't know that existed. Not many people get their own page on that site as they can be quite strict on what’s defined as Metal. So if you're on that website you’re definitely classed as Metal. I didn't know you used to be part of a band – Maegashira. Do you still participate in performing and writing music at all?
Yeah, I guess that settles it: I’m metal. I don’t know who put that page up there, but thanks. If I’ve got nothing else going for me, I’m on Metal Archives, which is more than a lot of bands can say – though if the people running that site see this, they might take me down, so maybe I should just shut up about it. They’re kind of on the fence in terms of what heavy rock stuff they let on, but Maegashira was pretty sludged out and my vocals sort of ran a gamut from cleaner stuff to screams and growls, so yeah, I can see where you might hear it and say it was metal.
I was in that band from 2005 until late in 2010 when we broke up – guitarist George Pierro and bassist John Eager have a new band going called Tarpit Boogie, who are definitely worth checking out – and there are a lot of really good times I remember from making music together with them and the two drummers we had during that time, Steve Moraghan and Joe Wood, the latter of whom also plays in Long Island’s Borgo Pass. I was in other bands for a while after that ended, one with Joe and Ken-E Bones from Negative Reaction, and a band from Long Island called Moth Eater, but nothing really panned out. If we were making that Maegashira record today, I’d probably advocate for making it shorter than it was (it was over 50 minutes), but beyond that, I stand by everything we did during our time together.
We had a second full-length in progress at the time we called it quits and I still have the unfinished tracks on my hard drive, but I don’t think a reunion’s in the cards. Good dudes, but everyone’s kind of moved onto different things. Since I moved to the Boston area, and especially being out of work, I’ve given some real thought to getting back into a band and trying to make music as part of a collective unit again in whatever style it might be – part of me would love to do a grindcore band, just because it’s so not doom – but the time and the people would have to be right and I don’t think anyone I know up here even knows I was ever in a band, so it hasn’t been a priority compared to working on the site.
If you could provide any helpful advice to someone wanting to start a Doom/Sludge/Stoner website. What would it be?
“Don’t?” I don’t know. I guess just make sure it’s something you really want to do, and try to do it with some manner of perspective. Most of the advice I’d have to give someone looking to start a site would probably be more about developing a critical voice, from a writing aspect, rather than covering doom or stoner rock or whatever, since I think that’s more important than just finding a style of music and working to promote it blindly because it fits in that category rather than thinking about it critically, trying to put it in context of what’s come before and might come after and really getting to the narrative heart of a given record.
It makes much more sense to me to try to find things that really speak to you and explore why that is and what they’re saying than to hop on something because someone else says it’s cool or because it’s new. Maybe that’s not doom at all. Maybe it’s covering a comic book convention or something, but if it’s honest to what hits you on a deep level, that’s more important than what style of music it is or where the trend happens to be at the moment. If there’s someone passionate enough about starting a website covering heavy stuff that they feel like they’re actually going to do it anyway, they probably don’t want to listen to my advice anyhow, because they probably have their own ideas about how they want to do that, and those ideas are probably a better fit for them than anything I might be able to offer. I guess just stay away from needless hyperbole or any kind of “scene drama” and write as much as humanly possible and you’ll be fine. Let the rest shake itself out as it will.
Well JJ – Thanks for doing this. Really appreciate the time. Do you have anything to say to your legion of fans out there?
Man, it would be awesome if I had a legion of fans to address, like if I could tell a legion of people it was time to rise up and start throwing Molotov cocktails at everything in sight because the revolution is on, but I don’t. If there are people who appreciate what I do in any number at all, that’s amazing, but I don’t see myself as somebody who’s an opinion leader or who has throngs out there hanging on my words. I’m 33 years old, and most days, I sit in my pajamas on my couch in front of a laptop screen and take way too seriously the act of posting on the internet reviews, videos, press releases, etc., about bands I do or don’t dig.
I don’t imagine that if I stopped doing that tomorrow anyone would blink or think twice about it, they’d just go find one of the other 10,000 sites out there doing pretty much the same thing and see what they had to say about the new Electric Wizard instead. Most days I’m too busy kicking myself for being a defeated wretch of a human being to think about having fans or anything like that. I’m just trying to keep working, and I’m going to continue doing that for as long as I can. I deeply appreciate the time you took to put together these questions, all the kind words through the whole thing and the opportunity you’ve given me to run my mouth. To any and everyone who takes minutes out of their day and bothers to check out my site, thank you. It means more to me than I can properly express, and it’s the reason I bother to get up in the morning, even late as I do. Thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you. That’s what I have to say.
Words by Steve Howe and JJ Koczan
I want to thank JJ for his time and his valuable and honest insight with this interview. Thanks JJ. Keep up the great work my friend.
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