Interview With Erik Ulrich Of I.R.A.T.E.
Los Angeles, California's hardcore metal act I.R.A.T.E. has seen more than its fair share of adversity this year, including a name ownership battle with NYC counterparts who seemed to want to see this band crash and burn under outrageous 'character assassination' attempts and even literal 'death threats', yet still managing to even hold its own against the other enemy that needs to be worried about: a stiff wall of competition coming from countless hordes of other upcoming rock acts making their rounds on the most famous music scene of them all, Hollywood's Sunset Strip. Sure, this band has been touring the lights out across this great nation of ours with The Project Independent Tour and doing a great job at making friends and fans with their music from one city to the next, but I think what is most compelling about I.R.A.T.E. is their abiity to take all the good and bad in stride and never forget what they intended to be in the first place, a powerful and important rock n roll band. I got a chance inbetween the band's recent touring break to conduct a fresh round of Q&A with their always entertaining frontman, Erik Ulrich.
Rocket: Erik, it’s been a few months since the last time we chatted. Since then you’ve been out touring your asses off with Project Independent. Has that experience shaped you into a more mature performer?
Erik: I think that there is always room for growth, both as an individual and as a band. Being out on the road and playing each and every night definitely has it’s advantages. The more you play the better you get… period! I don’t know if “matured” is the word that I’d use, although if I have, I don’t think that would be a bad thing. I’d like to think that with each and every show, I gain a new level of confidence.
Rocket: How has the Project Independent Tour compared to past tours in regard to the workload that’s involved?
Erik: As far as the tour routes and actual performances are concerned, nothing has changed much. We’ve been touring consistently now for about 5 years, and we all understand what touring is all about. Long days, lots of travel, late nights and a ton of debauchery. The one thing that makes the Project Independent shows more demanding is the promotional schedule and all of the little extras that we do to kind of support the shows and the project as a whole. Now, instead of rolling into town and fucking off for a couple of hours before the show, that time is spent doing on-airs and in-stores. It doesn’t allow us much personal time, but like I said, we all go into these month stretches knowing that we are going to be working our asses off. If we’re going to be out on the road for a month, then we want to get the most out of it. If that means playing every night and then traveling 8 hours to the next town, then that’s what we do.
Rocket: Let’s talk briefly about your new album “Brothers of the Same Struggle”. From your standpoint, how do you feel about the overall critical reaction that this LP has been receiving since it’s release?
Erik: I think that the overall reaction has been great. You know… critics are critics and we respect that too. I listen to what each and every person has to say… good or bad. But I do it for the sheer entertainment value, and nothing else. If I allowed a critic to get into my head, then I’d start writing for the critics. Fuck that! I don’t even write for the fans, so why in hell would I write for the critics? The lyrics that I write, I write for me first and foremost, and in doing so, I hope that the fans can relate. Music is my therapy, but I’m smart enough to realize that I’m no different than the thousands of kids cranking my shit. Sometimes life can be confusing and downright overwhelming, and I’m constantly contemplating mine. I just put my thoughts down on paper as they pertain to me. If I’m helping a kid find the right words or thoughts to apply to their situations, then I’ve done my job.
Rocket: What matters more to you…mainstream success, or just making your mark musically as an anti-establishment sort of entity and doing what you want artistically?
Erik: WOW… why you gotta be such a fucker? You know damn well that’s a loaded question.
Rocket: Yah think? Haha.
Erik: Certainly a double-edged sword so to speak. Each and every artist gets into “the Biz” for one reason or another, and I’m sure that in a perfect world we’d all say that we got into the business for our own individual love of music. In that regard, I’m no different. My manager told me a long time ago.
Rocket; You're speaking of Jeff Totten, who is the man behind The Project Independent Tour and manager for I.R.A.T.E., just so everyone is well aware.
Erik: He said, “Erik… I encourage everyone on the planet to get involved in music. Play an instrument, bang a drum, crank a radio, whatever.” But then he went on to say that he wasn’t about to encourage anyone to get involved in the “music business”. He wanted to make sure that we knew the difference, and he wasn’t about to get into a management deal with us until he was confident that we knew the difference. That being said, It’s all about business for me and the rest of I.R.A.T.E.. We’re just lucky enough to have a job that we love, and one that allows us to be who we are. Yes, we’re defiant. Yes, we’re anti-establishment. But again, that’s just the way we are. Our fans don’t dictate our personalities, they either relate to us or they don’t… simple as that. As far as mainstream success is concerned, I really don’t have an opinion, because I don’t think that I.R.A.T.E. has received any of this so-called “mainstream success”. Yeah we have some radio stations that play us and whatnot, but again, I don’t write for the masses, I write for me… so if we have received some degree of mainstream success, then that’s nothing more than a “cherry on top”.
Rocket: Is your album still selling at Tower Records?
Erik: It’s there but I don’t know what the fuck is going on with it. You know that Tower Records is bankrupt right?
Rocket: Yeah, I’ve heard, but has that affected you at all?
Erik: I don’t think so. I mean… it’s retail. Does anybody still buy their shit at a record store? The industry has known for a long time that the sale of cds and shit like that was going to take a hit. Digital downloads and I-pods, baby… that’s the future of our industry.
Rocket: Totally. So how can people actually get their hands on your newest disc?
Erik: We encourage everyone to come out and experience our live show and pick up a cd there. Aside from that, the best way to get a copy is through our website. www.irate4life.com We actually prefer this to in-store sales. Granted it’s a lot harder to prove how many copies we’ve sold without the help of record stores and soundscan, but remember, we’re not the ones who are trying to prove anything here, so whenever possible…fuck the middle man.
Rocket: This band has always put their emphasis on their live show. Tell me about your very last stage performance. What city were you in and how do you think you did?
Erik: Our last show was in Reno at the Club Underground and I’d say that we tore the roof off of the place.
Rocket: I’m not asking how I.R.A.T.E. faired. I’m asking how Erik did. You know how much I love your band, but I want to know how you feel about “your” performance. Are you on top of you game every single night as you want or expect to be?
Erik: I give 110% each and every time that I set foot on the stage, whether or not there are 5 or 500 people in the crowd, it makes no difference. Now keep in mind, that Reno show was the last show on a run of 22 days straight, but I was up for it. We have a lot of love in Reno thanks to KDOT and The James show. They have been so fucking awesome to us! Man… I could be on my deathbed and I’d get up for a show in Reno. Of course, certain things can drag me down, a cold, the flu, fatigue or whatever, but I just try to put those things behind me long enough to get through the show. Sometimes I have to pass on the after party, which totally sucks ass, but I always manage to find a way to just keep on keeping on.
Rocket: I’ve seen your last two shows at the Whisky and I know that you take a lot of pride in your work. Take me back to the beginning. When did you first decide that you wanted to be a rock singer?
Erik: What the fuck is this? Hit Parader or something? Teen Beat? Ain’t no fucking Danny Partridge here.
Rocket: 'Teen Beat' is fighting words. Let's go... hahaha… come on, bro… take us back to your very first garage band experience. What was that like?
Erik: Man, I still practice in a garage!
Rocket: Haha. Now that's the 'real' kinda answer I was looking for in the first place!
Erik: It’s my mom’s garage and it’s the same garage that I practiced in when I was in high school. We tried moving into a “real” rehearsal studio, but it just wasn’t the same. The spiders, the rats, the smell of a sweaty garage filled with trash… these things inspire us and dictate my mood as I write. I wouldn’t change that for the world.
Rocket: That's one of the most interesting things I've ever heard said in my young rock journalist career. Is it too early to talk about the next I.R.A.T.E. album?
Erik: No man… It’s never too early. What did you want to talk about?
Rocket: I know that some bands write on the road, but seeing as how your last tour saw very little free time, I’m assuming that you haven’t even begun to write new material, right?
Erik: Actually, we did write some new material on our last tour, which is a first for this band. Although we didn’t have a lot of free time, we did spend a lot of time traveling from town to town and that’s when we’d put our ideas together. Aside from that, we’ve been spending most of our rehearsals working on some new ideas. This band doesn’t have any problems coming up with fresh material. These guys are always coming to me with new songs in need of lyrics. If there are any problems at all, it’s that I can’t write lyrics fast enough. I have to be inspired. I’m not going to write about something just for the sake of doing it. There has to be some meaning or why bother. In regard to a new album… my main goal is to make sure that it persuades the listener to throw up the middle finger just as much as “Brothers of the Same Struggle” has.
Rocket: Speaking of middle fingers… I know that it’s way behind us now, but I just wanted to say that I commend you for the way that you stood your ground in regard to the infamous IRATE name controversy. What have you taken from the fallout and all of the threats?
Erik: You’re right… It’s behind us now.
Rocket: I don’t mean to stir up the kettle because I think that you handled the situation professionally. That’s why I’m curious as to how you’re feeling now. If I’m beating a dead horse with this one, let me know.
Erik: It was an unpleasant situation with no winners. It’s over, so I just don’t think about it.
Rocket: Fair enough. On the lighter side… when you are totally unwinding and chilling, what are some of the bands that you listen to?
Erik: The Abominable Iron Sloth. They’re so fucking unbelievable. But as far as everything else is concerned, it really depends on my mood. Most of my listening comes while I’m in my car and I listen to everything from Frank Sinatra to Cypress Hill… Howard Stern… whatever.
Rocket: This is totally off topic and a bit more serious, but I’m fascinated to hear what you think about club security. I know that it’s been sometime since Dimebag was shot to death while performing, but I think that club security is still shady and spotty. I’ve not been patted down in a long time. What do you think about that?
Erik: Club security is a touchy issue, especially in the metal scene where everybody is just so pissed off all the time. What can 4 or 5 security guards do against a few hundred pissed off kids? Nothing! But what options do we have? We don’t want to create a police state and we definitely don’t want our fans to have their rights infringed upon. We want people to come out and have a good time without having to worry about bullshit. I don’t have a solution to the ongoing club security problems so I’ll leave that to the pros. I don’t look to security to entertain. Don’t look at me to provide security. To be honest, I’m more concerned about other venue issues… like can everyone get out alive if there’s a fire.
Rocket: Dude, I’m real stoked to have my own autographed copy of “Brothers of the Same Struggle”. Thank you very much for giving me one. But what can a fan do to get their own autographed copy?
Erik: Well… if you’ve gotten a hold of one at a show, then it’s a done deal because we’re there to sign it. If you plan on purchasing one through our website, then I’m sure that we can make arrangements there as well. Just send us an e-mail or a message on our myspace page with your request. We’ll hook it up.
Rocket: Your next show is November 12 at the Whisky and It’s your homecoming show. Are you ready to rip the lid off that place?
Erik: This show is very special to us. First of all, it’s at the Whisky, so that in itself is special. We take great pride in touring the country and telling the other bands that our home venue is the Whisky a Go-Go. They always treat us like a million bucks and that’s very rare these days… So yeah… anytime we play at the Whisky it’s a good time, but what makes this show so special, is the meaning behind it. We’re doing this show with Project Independent and a bunch of bands that just straight up kick ass… Cheva, Purity, Sindolor and the recently added Project Steiger. But most of all this show is about taking Hollywood back. There is some shady, fucked up shit that bands are having to deal with in Hollywood. A lot of is has to do with the promoters and the way that they’ve been fucking over bands. This show is dedicated to “a better way”. It’s a very political situation, so I’m not going to say much about it. Just know this… things are about to change, and we’re just glad to be a part of it.
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