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July 2, 1999

It is a time of transition for Crisis. Since the release of 'The Hollowing', the band has left Metal Blade Records, added two new members and begun writing the album that they hope will bring them mainstream attention. The Metal Update was able to track down vocalist Karyn Crisis and guitarist Afzaal Nasiruddeen at one of many recent self-supported shows. Not surprisingly, we found out that there is a fire burning in the Crisis camp, and they are hoping it spreads

METAL UPDATE: The world hasn't heard much from Crisis lately, what is going on with the band right now?

KARYN CRISIS: We'll start back a little ways. For 'The Hollowing' we finally got to Europe. We did some European and some U.S. tours, but we were having problems getting tour support, so we parted ways with Metal Blade. We asked them to just let us go and try to find something better so we could get to the places that our fans were asking us to come. It has been about a year since then, and during that year we've made a lot of changes. As you know, from our various CDs, we've had different drummers and we have never found quite the right guy until Tony. You know, Fred was there and he was part of the birth of our sound, but as everyone left it was kind of like changing shirts and none of them felt right. Tony is finally the missing link. He is a feel drummer - we have lot of stuff going on with our music and we've had some problems with drummers doing a million different things and the groove got lost - so that was a big step. Then in December we got Jwyanza who is our new guitar player. We have been wanting to do that for a few years, but we just didn't press the issue because we felt like our options were limited in terms of finding the right person. But we really felt that need because we felt like we had taken each of our instruments to the highest level that we could. Instead of going the keyboard or sample route we wanted another organic element. So finally we' ve got our team together.

MU: And what have you been up to?

KC: We've actually been doing a lot of tours. But we've been doing, like, going out to Ohio, going down to New Orleans, going down to the Carolinas, going to Texas - a lot of those areas again and again. You know, we've actually been surprisingly crazy busy since we parted ways with Metal Blade, and we've gotten a lot of press, too, but it just hasn't been on a publicized level. Things have been going great, and our plan was, once we got the right people involved drummer-wise and guitarplayer-wise, to start concentrating on our new music and what our focus would be. So, as you know, we played three new songs tonight, and we have about 5 or 6 more written that are almost completed. Actually, July 22nd at CBGBs 9pm we're doing a record showcase for some labels because we feel like now we're ready to go for the gusto and find the right label that will take us to a bigger level. It doesn't have to be the biggest level, but we just get so much fan mail and email - hundreds of letters a week - people want us to be out there more, and it takes cooperation from business partners. So that's our main focus right now.

MU: So tell us about the new music.

KC: We've been focusing on taking our energy, which is the part that everyone loves - live is the contagious part and sonically it's the part you remember - we've been trying to take our energy and focus it in a way that all the elements of Crisis stand out, rather than a lot disparate elements. A lot of our songs are like journeys; we're trying to... The new songs are kind of groovy, there's - even know there's a lot of words going on - there' s similar melodies...

MU: There's some doom going on there, definitely.

KC: Yeah! There's a lot of weird stuff, there's some rock-n-roll, there's some doom, there's a little bit of all the elements of Crisis that have always been there that change their colors on you.

MU: Well what has changed since '8 Convulsions' came out on Too Damn Hype?

KC: Well we've gone through a lot of changes, and the easiest way to describe it is that we have never been shy about flexing our musical muscles. You know, we've never really belonged to one particular group. We play with death metal bands, hardcore bands, rock-n-roll, New Orleans acts - everything in between, but never has one group taken us in as one of their own. We've always been our own island.

MU: What do you want to be? What are you striving for?

KC: We still want to be our own island. What we're doing with the newer stuff - although there is definitely doom involved and some other things - some of the songs are really mellow, some of them are a lot more rock-n-rolly. What we're striving to do is bring out our energy which is sometimes groovier. There was a lot of groove on '8 Convulsions', but in a really raw way. When we went to 'Deathshead Extermination' it really did get death metaly, and a lot of other things in there, you know, some experimental stuff. And when we got to 'The Hollowing' we were dealing with some doomier, sadder grooves. The newer stuff is groove, but in a high-power energy way, and it's more focused. It is more like Crisis writing almost normal songs in our own way.

MU: The new material that you played tonight almost sounds like a combination of the second and third album.

KC: That's a good way to say it. We've experimented in every which way, gotten all these different things out of our system, and some of it is still there. The new stuff is very angry stuff. But it is very attitude-laden, but in a confident kind-of groovy attitude. It is all about confrontation.

MU: Are you angry now?

KC: Yeah, I am still very fucking pissed off.

MU: When were you the most angry?

KC: That's hard to say. I go through so many different... You know, I went through a very morbid, dark period starting from "The Hollowing" and it kind of extended on out. This fire has been building inside of me since about a year ago and it's getting stronger and stronger. But I want to convey my anger in a more pointed way, not just screaming, but in words, motions performance-wise, and certain melodies or certain parts of the chorus that show anger and a really strong attitude - like I am not apologizing for my anger.


MU: Have you ever felt the need to apologize for your anger?

KC: Never. (laughs) You know, its funny - we just got cable in our apartment so we've been in the dark ages - but there's a lot of those VH1 specials about rock bands, and they had The Who on last night. They were playing this very melodic rock song, and they were saying that when that song came out it was too angry. It's funny, from bands like The Who to Madonna all these different people talk about when they get slightly angry with their music that people have a problem with anger. I've never understood that. When you deny anger you start getting really fucking warped. You know, you're holding things in that naturally should come out in some sort of way. Not in an irresponsible way like killing someone, but maybe in a creative way or in the pit at a show or being the band on the stage. It really helps me. I've learned to focus my anger into music. I think it can be very powerful and cathartic at the same time. If you really own your own anger, if you really stare at it in the face - as well as things like sadness - you learn a lot about it, and you're not afraid of it. You realize that I'm not bad because I'm angry and the rest of the world would like to sing pop songs. I'm strong because I'm looking at all these things inside of me that people may not want to look at and I'm realizing that this is a part of me and I can learn from that. I think that is an important process - for me.

MU: It seems to come out in your artwork, too. Let's talk about that a little bit. What are you working on right now?

KC: A couple of different things. I'm working on a graphic novel that was supposed to be out a while ago, but I didn't have the money for publishing so I extended it and it has grown into this huge book. The characters are flat colors drawn with ink and the backgrounds are all painted. That's over 100 pages now, and once this new album is done I'm going to have the time to finish it up. The other thing is that I've been doing a lot of painted photographs, like I have a couple of those out by the T-shirts, and I actually have a couple of those out in a gallery show in Manhattan right now.

MU: Is the book made up of all images or are there words along with it?

KC: There's words along with it.

MU: Well you are talking about anger and harsh imagery, and your lyrics might not talk about killing people, but sometimes its along those lines.

KC: With Deathshead it was definitely, and then 'The Hollowing' moved into more anger at myself or violent emotions about certain things. It became more introverted with 'The Hollowing'. The newer stuff is more of an extension of that. It poses questions about myself and attitudes about other people. It asks a lot of questions about who do you think you are and what do you believe in.

MU: The music goes hand in hand with the dark lyrics, how does that all come together?

KC: Although we are all really different in our opinions and feelings, for some reason with Crisis there's a lot of synchronicity there when we are writing. We've never sat down and said we want to do this or we want to do that. As a matter of fact when we started writing the newer stuff, my attitude about what I wanted to write was the energy of Deathshead without the anger and killing and stuff like that. More of an attitude, you know, like, I went through the darkness of 'The Hollowing' and now I'm back and I' m on fire, and that's the kind of music they started writing. They've influenced me writing-wise. I'll write some lyrics, and they'll jam on things in rehearsal. Then I'll build my parts from there.

MU: What comes first? The lyrics or the music?

KC: It's been the music, although I had a lot of words written this time. Then when they start writing the songs I decide what goes where.

MU: Obviously you are writing music that is somewhat more accessible, are you looking to go to a major label?

KC: As an underground band, we feel like we've taken things to the limit on our own. We don't know any really big bands that could take us out on the road and help us out. We tried to do all that we could on Metal Blade, but we want things to be on a bigger level. We don't want to do just a couple of United States tours, we want to be doing them all the time. We want you to open up the newspaper and see not just Sevendust and Soulfly, but Crisis as well. We feel like out music is more accessible, and even more focused - some of the songs are shorter. It's all the energy that we've honed in on. It'll catch you - like some big tough guy - and make you dance. It's like Crisis in a more understandable language, and we feel like this is definitely the time to go to a bigger label. As a band that's what we need to do. This isn't a hobby for us, this is our life. Three of us live in the same house. We're on the phone all day long. This is all we do. So, living an underground lifestyle is not completely fulfilling.

(while we were chatting with Karyn, guitarist Afzaal Nasiruddeen joined us backstage)

MU: You turned some heads being on the 'Strangeland' soundtrack. Was Metal Blade involved with that?

Afzaal Nasiruddeen: It had nothing to do with Metal Blade. It had to do with Dee Snider personally taking a liking to the band.

KC: He called us at our house.

AN: We don't have any representative or somebody as a middleman that solicited us to TVT or Dee Snider. He basically cold-called us.

MU: He saw what you were doing and liked it.

AN: It had nothing to do with anybody other than Dee Snider focusing on Karyn and how she is responding to the heavy music. It also has to do with the fact that we don't really fit in with any agenda that's going on right now within heavy music. We're sort of like loose cannons within the scene - whether it's metal or hardcore or extreme music. I think people are recognizing the fact that we are loose cannons, but they're trying to see how we're going to develop. After being around for six and a half years, we 're trying to find a better way of communicating to a bigger audience without compromising our art. So what we are doing is we're really focusing on songwriting, and keeping the strange mentality that Crisis has, but taking it to the masses on our terms.

MU: Now we've got bands like Judas Priest and Iron Maiden getting signed back to major labels, how do you think that might affect you?

AN: We're totally ready for what is called a sell-out. From the first album onward, we were always dealing with melody and real abrasive musical content, so we were always stretching the whole spectrum. And now what we' ve developed over the years is a more confident approach towards melody and a real confident approach toward heaviness. We don't have problems with dealing with melody because we've been dealing with it from day one. Now it is just a matter of dealing with it on our terms, but being able to convince a bigger audience. Before a bigger audience really wasn't open to it because heavy music was thrust into the underground. Now that other bands - even other bands that I don't like, like Limp Bizkit or whatever - whether I like them or not is not the point... The point is that the masses are ready again to listen to it. We want to be able to communicate to those people, but it has to be on our terms.

MU: Are you prepared to declare yourselves a heavy metal band?

AN: We've always been a heavy metal band.

KC: We've been one of those bands who've always been proud to be called Metal. You know, when some people write and say that we're the best hardcore band, we're like, well, thanks we've never thought of ourselves as hardcore. We've never been shy about calling ourselves metal because that's been the underlying element. When I met these guys I came from a different musical background. I hadn't heard a lot of metal, and that was the music that I was searching for. And ask him (referring to Afzaal), I went haywire and listened to everything I could get my hands on. That was an important part of my expression that I was looking for. The thing is that they call us different names, and whatever we're called, I'd rather be called metal or rock-n-roll than something like hardcore.

AN: The bottom line is we come from New York City which is the fuckin' home of alternative rock. In six years we've been laughed at, and fuckin' laughed out of places. We've lived the fuckin' oppression of the alternative music scene. I mean, when we started out Nirvana was god, and we love Nirvana, but not for the same reasons that the masses love Nirvana. We love Nirvana because they were actually a real underground band. They were probably the last real underground band to ever make it in the mainstream. So we really feel like we're very similar to Nirvana - the difference is all in impressions and perceptions. One of the reasons that none of us cut our hair off was to spite everybody and say, well fuck you we are a metal band, and we don't give a flying fuck about what you think about it.


MU: But you are not a Motley Crue, and you're not a Metallica, and you're not a Korn...

AN: We're an intelligent metal band. We're not a Motley Crue because we don't have our dicks dictate what's fun and what's not, but we really believe in a lot of what Motley Crue believed in early on. Happiness is not in mainstream culture, necessarily. Happiness is in individuality and really expressing yourself and being yourself and saying screw you to everybody else. That's what Motley Crue also stood for. We do stand for partying. None of us are straight edge. None of us are purists or moral majority people. We despise all that shit. We are anything but purists.

KC: We're into purity of emotion. How could they let me in the band and not believe in that kind of a thing. We've never sat in a rehearsal and said we want to sound like this or that. At the very first rehearsal Afzaal gave me a tape of the song "Drill Me" on our first album and I wrote the lyrics and the vocal melody and I asked them to play it real fast. I just jumped around the rehearsal space that first time and we realized that we all connected. Weird as it may be, that was Crisis. We've never been afraid to try melody, or try heaviness, or try leaving a scream out here or there for the sake of not being heavy. We've never been afraid to open ourselves up emotionally musically.

AN: Yeah, but I also believe that we encapsulate the energy of really old classic rock, we encapsulate the energy of punk rock, and we also encapsulate the energy of neo-heavy-rock. The bottom line is that we've all sacrificed our entire beings for our art. So we don't really give a shit... I mean, I'm 35 and I gave up a $40,000 a year job to do this, so nobody is telling me what to do.

MU: Whether you are writing music for yourselves, or writing it for someone else, you are definitely connecting with your audience.

AN: It is a personal catharsis that everybody is trying to take on. I don' t think that most people feel the responsibility to really let the emotions in because it is really easy to follow an already written agenda. But if somebody else comes in and fucks shit up, and fucks with their head and they actually feel it - even though they are standing all tough and proud - then I think they are dealing with real emotions. They don't have any choice. And we are writing music for ourselves and that's the bottom line. Unless we're happy with what we write we never bring it out to the audience.

KC: We feel like we may have gotten to a point that's more accessible, but it is all about personal challenges. I sit home all the time thinking about how I can change - not so much change what I do, but focus it in a different way. Like, let's fuck with the mainstream, OK. Let's look at how a popular song is written - like in a formula - and do a formula sort of similar, but in my style of singing. Really fuck with their heads and bring something new to light. It's like subversion. And it's not about doing it to sell out. It's about challenging, like, let's see if we can take this expression to another level and sneak this in there and let's see what you feel then. It's kind of exciting and fun that way. It just naturally came to that point. I feel like I need to develop more. I don't want to become a dinosaur or stuck in one formula. I want to spread my wings and keep proving myself in different ways.

AN: We come from an underground scene where we're friends with a lot of deep and emotional bands. But I feel like a lot of our friends in bands are not really focusing on being subversive enough to try and attack the mainstream and change tastes on the outer peripheries of their scene. They are more concerned with their immediate scene. We are not really happy at all with the scene. I don't care whether we play in Providence or New York City or whatever; we're never happy or satisfied with a particular scene. We want to really have an impact on the mainstream.

MU: You guys are still part of the underground.

AN: By default.

MU: The scene has changed a lot since 'Deathshead Extermination'. For you guys to sell out at the time Deathshead came out, you would have had to change drastically. Now that heavy music is coming back, Crisis is a little bit closer to what is popular right now. Is there any temptation to add a little hip-hop?

KC: We have something really against that.

AN: No way.

KC: We're not afraid of melody or groove or going darker or lighter therein, but we hate that hip-hop shit - let me say for the record. That's never been a part of our expression.

AN: We never grew up with that, man. It doesn't work that way. You asked us whether we consider ourselves to be a metal band - hip-hop has no fucking relationship...

KC: They don't have anything to do with each other. Hip-hop has had nothing to do with our expression from the beginning. We've had a lot of different textures in our expression, but that has never been one of them. It would not make any sense for us to all of a sudden incorporate that because it is popular. We would look like idiots.

AN: I mean, if you jam on a song and a drummer comes up with a beat that sounds like a hip-hop beat but it has happened through an honest process - responding to a guitar line or a bass line - that has happened chemically. The way we write songs is we get into the rehearsal space without anything written. We get into the rehearsal space and just fuck around for hours. That's how we write our music. The music isn't written from a stylistic standpoint. This is what we are and this is what we stand for musically.

MU: And when you want to reach a wider audience, how do you go about doing that?

AN: I don't really know other than the fact that we keep abreast and knowledgeable of what's around and we try to let that filter through in our songwriting, but in an honest way. If you're receptive to the world then somehow there's a distillation and there's a process where all those ideas come through. For example - what's popular right now - I like elements of Kid Rock more than Limp Bizkit or Orgy or Korn or whatever. There's a certain element of Kid Rock that has a... it intersects with rock genealogy more than Limp Bizkit or Korn. I am not saying that I'm right or wrong, but I respond to it that way. I respond to the fact that Kid Rock sounds a little more old school when he deals with hip-hop. And when he deals with rock elements he deals with an older feeling of rock vs. the new school rock. The new school hip-hop - it's like they almost found out about metal or hardcore by default. They grew up on only hip-hop. The way we look at it is that we have a connection to rock through the 60s and 70s. We're the band, if things work out for us on the large scale, that we will create a bridge between the 60s and 70s into the next millenium. We feel the genealogy that none of these bands feel. In my opinion, even death metal bands - look at the last five to ten years - they don't even know what the fuck came before them.

MU: Where do you come from musically? What are your roots?

AN: The first thing I heard was Deep Purple 'Made In Japan' when I was 8 years old.

MU: Is that an influence on you today?

AN: Big time! I still listen to Deep Purple, ask her. (referring to Karyn) "Machine Head" the record. I heard Deep Purple before I heard Sabbath. I heard Sabbath right after I heard Deep Purple. 'Paranoid'. Our older shit is more progressive than Sabbath in a way because we were into jamming - almost a little too much back in the day. Now we are learning to go with just one idea. Like I was telling Karyn just yesterday, now what we are doing with our newer songs is we work with one strong idea and we piggyback a few other ideas with it. Before we were really into writing, like, litanies - way complex.

KC: He also was in England during the birth of the whole New Wave of British Heavy Metal. He saw Iron Maiden when they first started playing. And he also lived in Chicago for a while during the early wax trax days. My background was sort of like that. I grew up playing piano, violin, and classical music. Then I got into rock on the radio and I liked a lot of pop like Sugar Cubes and Bjork, Cocteau Twins, New Order. I had a lighter side. Through industrial I found heavier stuff, but my metal vocabulary at that time was just what my cousin new which was like Yngwie Malmsteen and opera kind of metal. That wasn't exactly what I was looking for until I met them (the band) - because I didn't have many friends - and then I met a whole new world of metal.

AN: Operatic vocals - I still am not into in some ways because I saw Maiden with Paul Di'Anno in England when I was in high school. After the first Maiden album and Killers I stopped listening to Maiden.

Sargeant D                      

MU: So do you care about Maiden's reunion with Dickinson?

KC: We're fans of Di'Anno.

AN: I still listen to Maiden.

KC: They've influenced more bands than you can imagine.

AN: I just got out of that. I watched Motorhead and Maiden in small clubs, man. For me, later on when they got huge, it wasn't as intense. Something did change. I am not saying that that isn't valid music, it's just that I moved on to different things.

KC: We all have some really weird elements of music that we don't all listen to. Then we have similar ones. Like, Skinny Puppy is a band that I learned a lot about performance from. We have all these older influences - some rock, some industrial - that come out in our expressions in little ways. Like you said, since before the birth of 'Eight Convulsions' things have really changed. Nirvana opened up some big opportunities, and then it has become very stylistic. A label will jump on all the Korn type of bands or whatever. It's become so fashionable, like, this style and that style. Oh, if you add a little hip-hop we can get you on commercial radio. Those people only understand what has already happened. They don't really understand the expression unless they heard it already. The challenge is, when you start getting your music out to the mainstream, to not give into the pressure of changing into those expressions that are fashionable at the moment.

MU: When we're talking about stylistic shit, we're really talking about America. Americans are basically fed whatever the powers that be want them to hear. Do you get a very different response in Europe than you do in the U.S.?

KC: We haven't been able to explore Europe enough. We only did one tour. Things are very different there in the sense that in America you have all kinds of amazing things going on in the underground, but there's a limited number of magazines. Metal Edge. Metal Maniacs. Hit Parader. Those magazines are really controlled by a small group of people who have the money to put those bands out there. This whole wide world of music isn't being shown to the people who don't know where to look for it. In Europe things are very different because there isn't really an underground. There' s tons of support for music. There's tons of magazines. The interesting thing about these magazines is that there's all kinds of music in there because they don't have an underground and a mainstream. There are bands that are a lot bigger than others, but you can open up a magazine and see a couple of New Jersey hardcore bands along with German metal bands like Gamma Ray and stuff and everything in between - Crowbar, Crisis, Leadfoot, Corrosion Of Conformity. It's just all one big melting pot. The difference is that in America you may meet people who listen to a bunch of different kinds of music, but over there it seems like people are very devoted to their own type of music. They'll only like a certain type of metal. German metal. Death metal. We thought about touring Europe with Six Feet Under, but Metal Blade in Europe said that it wouldn't work because there is a very narrow focus. Not everyone is like that but we noticed it when we went from club to club. There's much more music available, but people are really devoted to a much narrower version of what they like and they have different perceptions. Like, some people we talked to in Berlin felt like Nine Inch Nails was a real evil band and they thought there was some serious psychosis going on there that they were afraid of. In America people are like, yeah it's cool industrial, it's dark and creepy, but you're not going to be scared to go see it. You know, afraid you are going to become warped. So perceptions are very different in each place. The thing that I do like about it is that there are so many types of music widely available. The magazines have CD samplers. The thing that I like about America is that there is an underground. What we would like to do, though, is get into a position where we can take bands that we like on tour and bring some new expressions into the world.

MU: So what's the next step?

KC: We're looking for the type of label that is really passionate about what we do, and wants us to be out on the road eight months out of the year or more. We never have had a problem doing interviews or press like that, but on a bigger level. Just more of everything. More touring. More live shows because that's where the creation happens. That's what we're all about. We need to be in places more, not just on the East Coast and once in a while on the West Coast. That's the major step. We want to try to get into commercial radio even if it is just one song out of the album. If Korn and Limp Bizkit can do it, I think Crisis can do it somehow. Heavy music is coming back, our expression has become more focused without losing heaviness and it could be the right time. So what we're trying to do is finish writing all these songs and see if we can get them out to the radio with the right label. We want to be a priority. We want to test out our potential. We want to have the chance to give it a shot.

-- LINKS --




Interview: Paul Harrison, Brant Wintersteen
Editor: Brant Wintersteen (
Webmaster: WAR (
Photography: Brant Wintersteen

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