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An Interview With Maegashira Vocalist JJ Koczan

Photo of Maegashira

Band Photo: Maegashira (?)

New Jersey area doom metal outfit Maegashira have just recently hooked up with Spare Change Records to record their full length debut album, "The Stark Arctic," which will be released in January of 2009. Maegashira's vocalist JJ Koczan took some time to answer questions about the new album and where the band is headed next.

xFiruath: Tell me about how you settled on the name Maegashira. It's a Sumo wrestler rank or something?

JJ: Yeah, it's a rank in Sumo wrestling. You know I've got to give full credit on that one to Steve Moraghan, our drummer. George (guitar) and John (bass) asked me to join and we were looking for a drummer forever. Finally we settled on Steve and after seeing him play, we couldn't go with anyone else. He pulled that name out of somewhere. I don't know where, but we were all pretty thankful that he did. It's a rank in Sumo wrestling. I think it's one below Yokozuna. We probably would have gone with that but we didn't want to get sued by the WWF or whatever.

xFiruath: How would you describe Maegashira's sound to someone who had never heard it before?

JJ: Well I guess it would probably depend on who I'm talking to. It's an easy question if you go "Well, have you ever heard of Sleep?" Usually we go with Doom and Roll. That's how we classify it. But you know we've gone through a bunch of different tags. Evil doom, doom, hate doom, all these kinds of crazy dooms. As long as the word doom is in it I think we're happy with whatever the classification is.

xFiruath: At some point all those labels get a little bit ridiculous.

JJ: It's just kind of fun to play with that sort of shit. If you are writing some little promo write up for your band and just think of the stupidest word ever and add it in. You know we're fucking cheesecake doom!

xFiruath: When did you first get into music and what made you want to be a vocalist?

JJ: I was probably like ten years old listening to my sisters CoC CDs. I started out probably just singing along with records and that sort of thing and it just went from there. I wasn't even in a band until I got to college and then I kind of fell into the doom thing and it's been good ever since. It's working out for me so far at least. I ended up meeting George in 2004 I guess it was and we hit it off really well. Everything came together to where it is now. I lucked out man. I'm lucky to be with these guys and in this band. Getting this record together has been the process of this whole year. The process and manufacturing and back and forth with Spare Change Records. I'm really happy with how it's been coming out.

xFiruath: Speaking of that, tell me about the recording process. Who did you work with and how did it go?

JJ: We worked with Lou Gourra who's with Halfway to Gone. He's got a studio called Redline Archiving down in Little Silver, New Jersey. We've been with him two or three times now, I guess this was the third time. We did one of the songs from the record called "Baggage Claim/Skin Slip" and we recorded an earlier version of it for a compilation called "Fumes From a Dead Scene" which has also got 12 Eyes which is a pretty killer band. We first hooked up with Lou through that. Geroge knew him from being in the Jersey scene. They both did time, separately at different times, in a band called Solarized. Lou had said "Hey, if you ever need anything recorded..." so we went down there and did the first version of "Baggage Claim" and we were really happy with the way that it turned out. When it came time to do the record it was pretty much a given that we would be back with Lou. He's such a super cool guy and we get some great sounds in his setup. His facilities have got a great vibe and a cool atmosphere. The sounds on the record really payed off.

xFiruath: What's different from "Stark Arctic" from the two demos you guys recorded before?

JJ: The first demo was put together four or five months after we came together as a band so the sound on that is kind of raw and the songs were really trying to get a feel for what we were doing and how we wanted to sound as a band. With the second demo the songs were a little bit more developed. Both of those demos were recorded at a place called Estate Sounds in Short Hills which is this crazy ass rich town up in the mountains with gorgeous scenery and all that. This guy had a studio built onto his house. It was a like a $250,000 Pro Tools setup and it was just this crazy facility. But the sounds he got, he didn't really know metal or specifically our kind of metal. As much as that place ruled we thought that working with Lou would pay off better. The stuff that's changed is really just time. We took a lot of time writing these songs and putting everything together to make it all cohesive album wise. Just trying to arrange the songs and get them recorded just so. Hopefully there's been some development in song writing and the approach to what we're doing. You would hope over the course of three years that some development would sneak in there even if you don't know it at the time.

xFiruath: Do you take professional voice lessons or are you self taught?

JJ: No, I don't take lessons. I thought about it and I had one when Melissa Cross put out that "Zen of Screaming" DVD. I went to her to do a feature for a magazine that I was writing at the time and I kind of snuck in a voice lesson under the auspices of writing a story about it. You kind of hear a lot of those guys who had the professional screaming lessons or the voice lessons or whatever and they sound, not really manufactured, but kind of all the same. It's all the same breathing techniques and approach and I think you kind of lose something natural if you do that sort of thing. There has to be some balance though. I'm not saying go out there and kill yourself every night, even though that's kind of how I handle it. But then obviously It's different for a band that's going out and touring for three months at a clip as opposed to us we are doing, playing a couple of shows a month where we can. So I guess it's easy for me to say that sort of thing.

I think having that natural rawness to your voice when you are screaming like an asshole really helps. It carries something across that I think you lose with that sort of thing. Whatever works for them is fine but I don't think it would sound appropriate for what we do. I think if I was going to take any sort of voice lessons I'd take actual singing lessons. These guys that are doing that are making a career out of it and I don't think Maegashira is going to be any sort of major money maker pretty soon. If I blow my throat out and get nodules and all that, well cool, at least I did it and had the chance to do it. I don't think forty years from now that Maegashira is going to be touring at giant stadiums. I don't need to do this forever as long as I get to do it now.

xFiruath: What sort of subject matter do your lyrics usually deal with? I understand that you write all of the lyrics.

JJ: Yeah I do the lyrics. I'm kind of self absorbed so all the lyrics are all pretty personal subject matter wise. Not in the sense that I'm not going to tell you what they are about. I think people who do that are just being pretentious assholes. A lot of the songs on this record wound up kind of being about escaping and the thought of running away from your problems. "Back to Muro" specifically was about an eye injury that I sustained when I tore my cornea and Muro was actually an ointment that I had to rub in my eye. It's about self destruction and drinking and fucking yourself up. A lot that kind of personal exploration stuff. There's a lot of bands out there that write about weird metal stuff like monsters and whatever. That's cool but I can't really get into that. If I'm going to be up there delivering the words I need something that I can relate to. Not that songs about Sasquatch and wildebeests aren't cool. I get down with that as much as the next guy, but I can't personally do it.

xFiruath: There is probably nothing more metal than wildebeests.

JJ: Apparently not. I think that's what the last couple of years have shown anyway.

xFiruath: What is Maegashira going to be up to know that the album is recorded and about to be released? You doing any touring?

JJ: We're looking to do the inevitable release show whenever we can. The only problem is that our guitarist George shut his hand in a garage door and fractured the tips of three of his fingers. The doctor gave him a three month recovery time and that was in October so he's out until at least January. Everything depends kind of on that recovery and when he's back. Then we can get out and do some shows. In terms of touring for three weeks at a time, we're all older and have lives and full time jobs and house and cars and things to pay for. Everyone kind of has that sort of thing going. We're happy to do whatever we can show wise. We aren't exactly the world's largest draw in terms of getting people to shows. We do what we can and when we can, but even the shitty shows are always a good memory.

xFiruath: What has been your favorite show or venue to play at so far?

JJ: We do most of our shows in New York City and there are a couple of venues that have been really good to us. There's Lit Lounge and they have a thing on Monday nights called Precious Metal and the guy who runs that has been really good to us. He's booked us a couple of times and put us on some really decent bills. We did a show in Virgina in 2006 that was back in the woods in a cabin. Some guy had a bunch of bands playing on his porch. We all just hung out and had a great time. All these killer bands playing on the porch just randomly. That was a lot of fun and probably my favorite show. I got loaded and lost my wedding ring on stage, but it was still a good time. We played with Crom not too long ago and that was a pretty good show. There's been a lot of good times. There's tense moments and people disagree. We have four pretty distinct personalities in the band and I know that in particular I can be difficult to work with. We've been really fortunate that everyone is mature and cool with each other. Hopefully it continues indefinitely.

xFiruath: What do you think is the most ridiculous thing about metal or what is the part of the metal scene today that you like the least?

JJ: The part I like least, holy shit where to start. I'll give you a couple. Irony has got to go. Emo swoops have got to go. That's just totally unnecessary. Repackaging glam with flattened black Hot Topic hair, get that out of here. There is a lot of shit. At the same time there is a lot of really great stuff out there. For every four or five really shit bands that come out of the pike that piss you off because they are on TV there are still those good bands sitting around waiting for someone to notice them. There's a lot of bad shit and a lot of good shit and the important thing is to take the time to distinguish them. In terms of the most ridiculous thing, there is just a bunch of shit, too much. So much of the mentality is "well that band did it, so let's do it." A lot of people don't think about what they are presenting as their face. Here you go, here's one. When you load up a band's MySpace page and the picture at the top takes seven minutes to load, that's got to go. The album cover plus the huge background plus all that shit. Buddy I don't want to see your pictures I just want to hear the song.

xFiruath: When you aren't playing music what's your favorite band or album to listen to?

JJ: I just got the new solo record that Wino is putting out and that's pretty fantastic. 12 Eyes and John Wilkes Booth locally. Kings of Frog Island if you've never heard them they are pretty sick. I do a lot of like stoner rock kind of stuff and I've getting into a lot of acid rock and acid folk. There's a lot of good shit out there.

xFiruath's avatar

Ty Arthur splits his time between writing dark fiction, spreading the word about underground metal bands, and bringing you the latest gaming news. His sci-fi, grimdark fantasy, and horror novels can be found at Amazon.

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