Spellcaster Comments on SXSW Appearance, Tours and The Retro Metal Movement
As part of the ongoing series of interviews promoting Motorbreath Entertainment's South By Southwest (SXSW) Showcase, which Metal Underground proudly sponsors, we bring you a chat with Portland, Oregon’s Spellcaster. This Heavy Artillery recording artist has youth and determination on its side. The “retro metal” movement is comprised of young artists, but most of these bands have released several albums and embarked on numerous tours opening for premier acts. With only three years under their bullet belts, one full-length recording, “Under The Spell” and a couple of tours, Spellcaster is a newcomer to a new scene.
The metal throwback movement is on the verge of becoming an old scene, and needs bands such as Spellcaster to infuse the scene with vibrancy and keep the fad rolling. However, the group understands the need to find its own voice or become a ghost of the fad. In the following interview, Spellcaster bassist Gabe Franco relates how his group’s diligent work ethic and superb musicianship will carry the band to a sound where tired-ass metal acronyms no longer apply. While waiting for his broken-toed guitarist to pick him up for their tour, Franco expressed his thoughts on the SXSW show and tour and the increasing potency of Spellcaster’s metal magic.
Darren Cowan (Rex_84): Is today the second day of your tour?
Gabe Franco: Yes, we’re still in Portland right now. Our guitarist is getting a cast on his foot because he broke his toe last week at one of our shows. He dropped his cabinet on his foot. I’m sitting here waiting for him to come pick me up. Then, we’re going to drive down to Medford for our next show. This will be our second or third time playing down there. Shows there are a little bit smaller because it’s a smaller town, but it’s always fun. We like the dedicated fans down there.
Cowan: How will his broken toe effect his playing?
Franco: Not very much because he doesn’t play with his feet [laughs]. He’s not going to be jumping around as much, I’m sure. He was standing outside, unloading his amp. He dropped it, CRACK, and he knew something was broken the rest of the night. He was in excruciating pain. This was last Monday before the show, so he had to sit around the bar with a broken toe for about four hours before we started playing. He broke his left foot, so he should be able to drive the van, but mostly me, Corey [Boyd], and sometimes Tyler [Loney] do all the driving. Thomas [Adams] and Chad, our singer and drummer, don’t do much of the driving.
Cowan: On Friday the 16th, you play the Metal Underground-sponsored Motorbreath Showcase at SXSW. Is this your first appearance at SXSW?
Franco: Yes, this is our first one. Tristan [Spears] from Motorbreath Entertainment emailed us back in December when we got back from our last tour, and then all the shows just started falling into place. It’s looking like a good one. We have brand-new t-shirts made. There are only eighty of them, but they are nice, double-sided t-shirts with seven colors. They are definitely the most professional-looking shirts we’ve made so far, so we are pretty stoked about that.
Cowan: How do you feel about the lineup at that show?
Franco: It’s pretty tight, especially SXSW. Havok, they are obviously the choice headliner right now. They seemed to have been blowing up lately. They’ve been touring their asses off so they totally deserve it. I just saw those guys, actually, two weeks ago in Portland opening for Toxic Holocaust and Wild Dogs. They blew every single band off the stage. I think it’s their young energy. It’s tight about them being at the top. We’ve played with Witchaven and Exmortus in Portland a few times. They’re always cool dudes. Bonded By Blood is a trip. I’m only twenty-one right now, but I remember when I was sixteen/seventeen back in high school and their first album came out, “Feed The Beast.” Me and my drummer, Chad were totally all over it. We hadn’t even started Spellcaster at that point. Now, it’s weird because we’re going to be playing with them and we were totally into them in high school. They seem to not be doing much lately (Bonded By Blood is currently working on a new album) , but I’m still excited to see them. I’m also stoked to see Speedwolf. I know they planned the whole tour around this fest (read our interview with Speedwolf). I thought it was really rad of Tristan to invite us down. Getting invited to a festival like this is a first for us.
Cowan: Are you playing a couple of shows with Witchhaven, Bonded By Blood and Exmortus outside of the Motorbreath Entertainment SXSW Showcase?
Franco: We’re playing two shows outside of SXSW. The L.A. show is this Saturday. The lineup is Witchhaven, Bonded By Blood, Exmortus, Hexen us and the opening bands. And then we are playing the day after in San Antonio at The Ten Eleven with the same lineup except Hexen. Speedwolf is playing instead. That should be a good one.
Cowan: In February, Metal Underground reported the departure of your drummer...
Franco: That was like a two-day ordeal. Basically, we were practicing for a show. We were opening for Vektor that day. We were trying to get a hold of Chad all day. He wasn’t answering his phone. Finally, about two hours before we were supposed to go to the show he called and said that he didn’t want to do it. He had some issues with this and that, so we gave him the option of either playing the show or quit. He said, “I’m not playing the show.” We said we needed a drummer. He called us the next day and we talked it over. He’s back in the band, and things are running smoothly. It was a minor glitch. We probably should have waited a few days before posting anything on our Facebook, but we were in dire need because the tour was coming up quick. That’s taken care of. We still have the same lineup. We’re doing fine now.
Cowan: Metal Underground reviewed Spellcaster's "Spells of Speed". You released it as free download. Artists are increasingly offering free downloads hoping to get more exposure for live gigs. Did this marketing strategy lead to a larger fan base and more concert ticket sales?
Franco: I don’t know what kind of impact it had, but it was definitely what we needed at the time. At that time, we were basically unknown. We went on our first tour right after that. All we were touring with was a demo (laughs). That first tour was really hit-and-miss. The first half of the tour was pretty good. Some shows were great. Some shows were horrible; we had no clue how it would end up each night. It all depended on the opening bands we had there with us. It got us out there and taught us a lot about being on the road. Not everything turns out the way you want it to, but I think it definitely helped. We went on a West Coast tour back in November, and that went great! On our first tour, we came back and lost a couple hundred bucks. On the last tour, we came back with a few hundred. This tour we hope to come back with even more. We hope to get some work done on our van and buy some new t-shirts. It’s looking pretty good so far. All the shows have good RSVP attendance. We’ve got good guarantees.
Cowan: Spellcaster has been compared to Metal Church for its style and location. How do you feel about that assessment? Did Metal Church figure into your heavy metal education, especially since they’re from your region?
Franco: We all listen to different bands from out here in the Pacific Northwest. I’m not a huge Metal Church fan, but I hear a lot of people saying Wild Dogs, Metal Church, Queensryche—stuff like that. I’m a HUGE Queensryche fan. It does factor into some of our music. We jam that shit when we’re all hanging out, but songwriting wise…I don’t know. I don’t think Metal Church has too much of an influence, but people are saying that because they’re one of the only metal bands to come out of this area. We have a lot of black metal and a lot of dark, ambient music. There is a lot of stoner, doom and punk.
Cowan: Isn’t Yob from that area?
Franco: Yeah, Yob is from here. Most of the bands up here are trying to be as original as possible. Sometimes we hear, “You’re just an Eighties rip-off cover band.” I feel like we play our music well and we spend a lot of time on it. Even though it is 80s influenced—sort of old school metal sounding, we do have our own sound. The more we play, the more we’ll develop our own sound as we continue making albums, so I’m not really concerned with what those people have to say. You’ve got to give a band time. Usually, a band’s first album is their first product. As the years go on, they will become more seasoned musicians. If they don’t, then those are the bands that fade away. People quit paying attention because they figure the last album will sound like the new album.
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