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Ringworm Front Man Human Furnace Finds New Resolve On Relapse Records

Human Furnace, a.ka. James Bulloch, says he's been using this moniker since ninth grade. It was a thing he used to sign his pictures with, like a Pushead signature. He used that nickname even before he even got into the band. These sketched images proved a precursor to his verbal art in Ringworm. When thinking of the band's latest opus "Hammer of the Witch," images bubble to the surface like an eyeball in a witch's cauldron.

"Hammer of the Witch" was just one of the topics we discussed with the front man after his performance at the Metal Sucks Showcase at SXSW. The album is the first to include the words "Relapse Records" on the back cover. This may be the band's first on Relapse, but they have a history dating back 25 years. Human Furnace feels much of their time wasn't promoted properly before signing to Relapse.

Distractions were minimal in the alley behind Dirty Dog Bar. Cops wondered shone their flash lights on us to see if we were packing heat or smoking pot. Austin had raised their level of security after the tragic events from the prior day . For this reason and the multitudes of drunk SXSW attendees passing by, it was not the ideal setting for an interview, but that didn't stop Human Furnace from fully speaking his mind as we discussed the above-mentioned topics.

Rex_84: Is this your only show at South By this week?

Human Furnace: It is, yes. This is the first time playing SXSW. We've played here a bunch of times, but since this is a sanctioned SXSW show, we can only do one. Last time we were here, a couple of years ago, we did three. This time we're doing well, and that's ok. As long as it's a really good one, we're fine with that. It was a good one!

Rex_84: Where were you at before tonight?

HF: We played in Little Rock, Arkansas last night. It was pretty fucking good. We played tonight and then we go to Oklahoma City tomorrow. Long drives, but we're used to that.

Rex_84: How is the new album, "Hammer of the Witch," doing so far? Have you been premiering new material to the crowd?

HF: We played four new songs tonight. The record is not even out yet, but Relapse has done a rad job of premiering songs and letting a song at a time leak. The response has been fucking awesome, more than we're used to because the way they handle their business is awesome. They care about their bands and really get behind them. It shows because the record is not even out yet, but our fans already know the songs. That's awesome! That's totally cool. We're psyched!

Rex_84: I see you're doing premieres all over the world at international sites like Fuze and Terrorizer.

HF: That's another Relapse thing. Their PR department gets you interviews and gets your stuff to websites to review. It's kind of strange because I'm doing, like 3 interviews a day, from England to Belgium to Finland. I'm doing phone interviews. It's cool because they're really getting behind us and doing something that was never done before for us. We've been playing the same music forever. We stand behind this record just like we've stood behind everyone of our records. The difference is Relapse is really taking it out there so people can hear it. That's made all the difference. People are finally hearing us for the first time. People ask, "are you guys a new band?" "Noooo. No. No. We've been around for twenty-five years." It's cool and it's strange at the same time.

Rex_84: What is the difference in promotion that you see from Relapse as opposed to Victory Records?

HF: I think with Victory, when we first signed with them in 2001 it was a totally different agenda for them.

Rex_84: They were changing then.

HF: They were changing then. At that time, they still had Hatebreed, All Out War, The Hoods, Strife so we had a lot more in common with that label. After we signed, everyone defected or left or ended up suing them and we had a contract we had to fulfill. You sign a contract then you have to finish it. We felt like a fish out of water there because their metal is not our metal. Their metal is Beatle-shag haircuts, skin-tight pants and giant fucking earplugs. We're old dudes who grew up on Slayer, Exodus, Bolt Thrower, Agnostic Front, Crumbsuckers and Cro-Mags. We really had nothing in common with them anymore and they didn't know what to do with us. We have way more in common with Relapse because they know where we are coming from. All it took was to put it in the right hands and the right ears. We're playing in front of different audiences and it has made all the difference. We grew up in the hardcore scene, but I think we have way more to offer to someone who is into Slayer who doesn't like hardcore, but we're not a regular hardcore band. They may not listen to us because we're a hardcore band on Victory. But, if we're a crossover band or something weird on Relapse they might give us the time of day.

Rex_84: I first heard the term "metalcore" in the late '90s with Victory bands like Earth Crisis, Integrity (and bands HF mentioned). That label changed a lot.

HF: Music changed in general. We've been doing the same thing forever because we are old dudes, but we've been borrowing, influenced by, ripping off Slayer, Exodus and Voivod and then we come out to "For Fans of Madball" or Terror or all that shit, which are good bands, but I think we are more akin to those bands than modern hardcore bands because metal is a prerequisite for any hardcore band today. What they are doing is ripping off metal riffs from the early '80s. They don't know what they are ripping off. We know what we're ripping off; we're true enthusiasts of that music because we grew up listening to it. We are all in our '40s. When we grew up, hardcore wasn't the same. We came from D.R.I., Crumbsuckers, The Accused and stuff like that. We wanted to play like Slayer and The Accused, but we weren't good enough. Musically, we weren't good enough, but we wanted to be in a band. Our first record was great, and stands as it is, but that was our attempt to try to do that. We were all like nineteen or eighteen-years old and just weren't good enough. As we got older, we all got better at our instruments and then we could actually play what we wanted to play. Our sound morphed into what it is, but after all of those years, we are still labeled a hardcore band. It's a tricky thing. Not that I care about labels, but I don't want to be labeled a hardcore band if it means people who don't like hardcore won't listen because of the label.

Rex_84: Some of the parts on the new record reminded me of The Haunted. Are you a fan of The Haunted?

HF: That's cool. I like their first record a lot. If you ask me, the first The Haunted record was in the spirit of hardcore as well. It has thrashy riffs, but it also has catchy hooks. The vocals and the vocal content is a lot different from many metal bands. To me, it's a very personal record. The vocals are very personal. For me, that's kind of a crossover record as well. That's cool. I can dig that analogy....I'm into all kinds of stuff. Not all of it is stuff that we play. I'm into Foo Fighters, weird acoustic shit, I'm into Joy Division and Killing Joke, but I don't play that in this and I would never try to turn them into that. If I want to do something weird like that, I'll do it in another band. Ringworm needs to stay the way it is. No one wants to hear us do some weird shit. You know what I mean?

Rex_84: If you did something like that, would you want your fans to follow you into it?

HF: Yeah, that's cool. I like all types of music. My tastes in music is so eclectic. That's a whole other story. I grew up on all types of stuff, but I do this and I do other stuff over there. You know what I mean?

Rex_84: The title of your new record "Hammer of the Witch" makes me think you like to watch horror movies and like to read books on the occult. Is this reference to the Malleus Maleficarum?

HF: It is. Absolutely. I'm a huge horror movie fan. When I first started the band, I was more aligned with metal's fantasy lyrics. Metal could be experimental in its lyrics, more visual. You can put your own meaning to it. To me, they all mean something personal, but I am an artists so I like to paint a picture with words. Tons of metaphors, but I like to think every song is a horror movie put to words. I like to be blunt at some point, but also keep it vague. People can get their own meaning from it. It has to be entertaining and mysterious. Those guys get to play their guitars and come up with something creative. I like to do the same thing, but it still has to mean something or there is no point in doing it. I'm a huge fan of the occult. I'm a huge fan of horror movies and movies in general, so I bring that in. I grew up on Alice Cooper and King Diamond. That kind of stuff paints a picture when you listen to it. It may not be the same thing he's talking about, but you can paint your own picture in your head.

Rex_84: Integrity, another metalcore band from Cleveland, also writes horror-film type lyrics. Did Ringworm and Integrity influence each other?

HF: They came out before we did, a few years, but I grew up watching them. I love that fucking band! Integrity is great. Musically, we went a different direction. They went for a steady, heavy, Slayer grooves and beats. We like to incorporate '80s thrash and grindcore like early Earache shit. We did different stuff. I was inspired vocally by it because, at the time it showed me you didn't have to sound like Judge to be in a band. I was never straight edge so it showed me I could have a band and not sing about unity or being straight edge because I wasn't straight edge. I didn't give a fuck about unity. I always thought it was stupid to sing about something you didn't understand. I never sang about how hard it is to grow up on the streets. I sang about shit I could relate to, how hard my life was or the things I saw around me, so Integrity really inspired me. They are heavy with Slayer and shit, but it was different from everything else. It showed us we could be different too. We never tried to copy them. We always did our own thing, but we are influenced by the spirit of it. I love that band, I grew up on it. We always get compared to them. That's inevitable because it always seems like there are two bands from Cleveland--us and them. Someone outside of the genre might think we sound the same. If that is the way, then that's cool for us. We've just been consistently doing our own thing.

Rex_84: Where does Ringworm go from here? What's next?

Ringworm: Tomorrow we go to Oklahoma City, then Saint Louis, then we head home. We'll be home for about a week-and-a-half. We get home on the 16th, then it's Saint Patrick's day and we all get fucking hammered! Then the record comes out. We'll regroup a little. Everyone has to deal with real life shit--your fucking jobs, your fucking money, your wives, your girlfriends, your pets. Get reconnected for a minute and then we go out for about three weeks on a co-headlining tour with our buddies Death Before Dishonor. That takes us down to Florida. We do the whole thing. We go all the way around. We play the West Coast, Salt Lake City, Denver, Texas. We do a circle. We come home and are here for a week-and-a-half and then we go to New Zealand for four days and then Australia for a week-and-a-half. Then we come back and have a couple of shows in between there in August. Then we go to Europe to play a few fests. It started out as one, turned into two fests and then people heard they were going to be over there and it's just built. We're playing Finland now, too. This is all because of the hype of the new record. I can't stress enough how much Relapse has done for us. It's something we've needed for so long, but now, finally, they are doing it!

Rex_84's avatar

An avid metal head for over twenty years, Darren Cowan has written for several metal publications and attended concerts throughout various regions of the U.S.

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