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Teen Cthulhu    
Teen Cthulhu
Metal vs. hardcore: Better friends than ever, still warring, boundaries blurring, good / bad debates at an all-time high. . . whatever. It's rather ironic, then, that one of this year's most scathing black metal albums comes courtesy of the hardcore scene: Teen Cthulhu's debut full-length 'Ride the Blade'. Granted, it's hardly a post-ironic pastiche of black metal gestures, but rather those long-dormant roots of chaos given an amphetaminized injection of crusty, Voorhees-styled 'core. It's no small wonder that no one beat the Seattle quintet to the punch - that is, combining black metal and hardcore - but even if that was the case, the intensity, urgency, and just-plain-bloody chaos on display here would be unrivalled, thereby raising the high-bar mark for all to follow in their stead. Still, questions lingered as to who was putting whose chocolate in whose peanut butter - or, in this case, whose knife in whose blood. Heeding the call, all the Cthulhus - bassist Brandon Nakamura, guitarist/vocalist TJ Cowgill, drummer Travis Nakamura, guitarist Dustin Brown, and ubiquitous keyboardist Hank - convened in one place and divulged their cosmic keys to their creations and times.

METAL UPDATE: Like, where the hell did Teen Cthulhu come from?!? (I know, Washington State.) Seriously, though, this menacing noise can't just come from nowhere!?

TRAVIS NAKAMURA: It started out as just Brandon and I. Neither one of us knew how to play our instruments. All we knew is that we wanted to play something heavy.

BRANDON NAKAMURA: I've always listened to a lot of metal and decided to give it a shot, so I gave Travis a cruddy drum kit and told him to learn it while I was gone for the summer and when I got back, we would start band. So, we did and we soon realized that weren't gonna be able to do it ourselves, so we started asking around to our friends to see if anyone wanted to be in a band, and through this, we found TJ.

TJ COWGILL: My friend Mark gave me Brandon's and Travis' numbers because I told him I wanted play guitar in a hardcore band, so I called these dudes up and left a bunch of riffs on the answering machine, and it's been peaches ever since. I also introduced these guys to Hank, who wanted to play keyboards - we needed keyboard player.

HANK: After 10 years of classical training, I wanted a challenge, so I joined Teen Cthulhu.

BN: That's bullshit! Hank said to me at a show that he'd been practicing keyboard by himself. . .

TN: Like Mortiis. . .

BN: Dude, he wasn't Mortiis yet, but we could see a diamond in the rough, so Hank was in.

DUSTIN BROWN: Teen Cthulhu had been playing shows and putting out records for a while when I met them. I replaced someone who left the band.

BN: In answer to your question, Cthulhu comes from outer space - somewhere in the solar system, around Betelgeuse.

MU: What were your goals when you first started Teen Cthulhu, both musically and ideologically? And really, how / why did you think to combine crusty, Voorhees-styled hardcore with grim symphonic black metal?

BN: Musically, we wanted to do something we weren't hearing.

TJC: We wanted to play heavy music, but we didn't know how and we didn't know what is should sound like.

TN: Our sound is kind of an accident. We all play what we want to play, and fortunately, it seems to work together.

BN: We did a ton of experimenting.

TJC: Evident from our early recordings.

BN: We were all just listening to all the records we could to see if there was anything that struck a chord with us, and we started out liking a lot of the more offbeat hardcore.

Teen Cthulhu

H: For a long while, all I listened to was black metal.

BN: Yes, Hank is definitely the black metal dude.

TJC: But seriously, at no point did we decide to mix black metal and hardcore. We just wanted to play heavy music - we drew a lot of influences from black metal, but we are hardcore dudes at heart.

BN: Hank was the one that introduced us to black metal - it was really new to him, and he turned us on to it. By no means was it new music to the metal community, but to the five of us holed up in Washington, it was untouched pastures. The same goes for awesome hardcore bands, though - I just started getting into stuff that's been around forever. After touring with this rad band Iron Lung, I got addicted to old hardcore and underground grind stuff that was going on in California in the '90s. Getting into all that stuff will affect anyone's music.

TN: Personally, I hated black metal! I couldn't stand it at first - it sounded like carnival music. Hank made me a mix tape with lots of Emperor, Cradle of Filth, and Hecate Enthroned. It was the only tape I had in my car for a 10-hour road trip by myself - by the end, I finally understood what they were doing. And it was good.

BN: We are a hardcore band first and foremost! There's a small group of bands around here that are unique and without a built-in following. We struggle to get people to listen, but the people who do are the people who don't want the same boring shit stuffed into the same boring categories.

MU: Leading up to and beyond the debut album, how have your goals changed? And what, if any, will they be for the future?

BN: They are the same goals, just grander in scope.

TJC: Write good songs, record, go on tour. . .

H: Split wigs.

BN: Before we wanted to tour out of our state, now we want to tour out of our country. Nothing's changed.

MU: As a band moniker, how fitting is Teen Cthulhu? Specifically, is it more an apt description of your sound? A modus operandi? Or perhaps both?

TJC: At first, I thought it was truly fitting as our band name, and then for about a year and a half I didn't think it fit at all, but now I like it more that ever. It's cryptic, it's difficult to pronounce. It makes people uncomfortable, like our music.

BN: I think it's funny. It's an inside joke for all the other booknerds like me who play D&D, read Sci-Fi, and have a bad sense of humor.

TN: But it keeps that cryptic feel.

MU: Is there a knowing sense of irony and or sarcasm to Teen Cthulhu and your debut LP? Or, are you guys just too smart for your own good?


MU: Be that as it may, do both the hardcore and black metal scenes take themselves too seriously? If so, is Teen Cthulhu the mutually inclusive antidote?

BN: All the "scenes" take themselves too fucking seriously! How important is a piece of wood and six strings and some vacuum tubes? Music is great and it is great to be able to identify with people, but sometimes it just gets absurd. And on that same note, we're not an antidote for anything. I hope we present a healthy attitude about the whole thing. We love the music, but we don't care about any of the bullshit. People need to branch out.

MU: However, having a sense of humor in a musical context is a thorny pasture - ever worry that people aren't "in" on your jokes? Or, more so, that potential listeners would mistake this as insincerity?

TN: We take the music seriously. . .

DB: . . .but not ourselves.

BN: If you don't understand that metal and hardcore - fuck, music in general - is a very funny thing if viewed from a distance, then you need some perspective. If I can't laugh when I play, or intersperse some humor - inside joke or otherwise - it's time to quit. So, we have a sense of humor. We still kill - I am dead serious about that.

TJC: If anybody mistakes us as being insincere, it's his or her loss. They are missing out on good music. In my opinion, having a sense of humor doesn' t have anything to do with making good music.

H: Word!

MU: So, then, the big question: Is 'Ride the Blade' indeed the creepiest record to come from the hardcore scene? Or, the most just-plain-nuts one from the black metal scene?

TJC: I'd like to think that we are just putting out a good record and not deal with the genre labels. If anything, I'd hope dudes who are into hardcore and dudes that are into black metal would be able to appreciate 'Ride the Blade' without any pretense or concern for that kind of shit. I just want all those different dudes out there that like heavy shit to check us out, and if they like it, write us so we can come play a show at their house.

TN: I think it's just a good heavy fucking record. I don't think about what genre I'm gonna appeal to when I write shit. I think just think, Damn! That' s heavy as FUCK!

BN: When we write this stuff, we don't ask ourselves if the metal dudes and chicks will be pitting to this shit. We just like it.

MU: What are your live shows like - chaotic as fuck? (I mean that is the best possible way.) Hypothetically, then, what would the ideal show be like, in terms of setting / location, other bands you'd play with, stage-show, audience participation, etc.?

TJC: Our best live shows have always been in cramped houses, or smaller venues where dudes can get in the shit with us. Some past shows have been pretty nuts. I remember this one show we played at a house in Olympia, and we brought all these foam bats and gave them to everybody in the crowd right before we played. Well, we started playing, and immediately dudes start going crazy, just beating the shit out of each other with these foam bats, and there's no stage or anything, so people were flying into the drum kit and smashing into shit. Calvin Johnson, the owner of K Records, was there and he got blasted in the face with a bat by our pal Dave. At another show, we played a show on our last tour at a house in San Jose, and these metal dudes were in the front, headbanging and shit, and all these different dudes are dancing behind them, and the whole place is going crazy when, all of a sudden, one of the headbangers gets shoved headfirst into my guitar and just drops to the ground. He had a golf-ball-sized bloody lump on his forehead where he hit my guitar, but he was way into it - he had a blast. That's the kind of shit we love - just a whole bunch of different dudes getting into it and going crazy - although I think my ideal show would probably have to be in the woods somewhere with Ulver.

TN: Basement shows are where it's fucking at! People go fucking nuts when you get them in tight and hot places! Chaotic and evil as fuck! We played outside once, and that fucking sucked. There is a direct correlation between lack of space and insanity.

BN: Word. Living rooms and basements. Turn out the lights, break out the knives.

MU: That said, is an altered state requisite to play / write Teen Cthulhu's music? I mean, c'mon - drink and drugs have to be involved.

TN: No way, dude - that shit just slows down the grind.



"Burning Fields" from 'Ride The Blade'






Interview: Nathan T. Birk [ ]
Editor: Brant Wintersteen [ ]
Webmaster: WAR [ ]

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