Talking Grindcore and Grindhouse With Trap Them Axeman
The trappings of extreme music and extreme cinema are inextricably intertwined. Whether intentional or not, the influence of genre movies litters the landscape of metal, punk, noise, industrial, techno, synthwave … you name it. Take bands like the Misfits, White Zombie, Necrophagia and Hooded Menace: If the tunes are ominous, if the imagery is visceral or violent or haunting or is intended to provoke a degree of shock, often the source material can be traced back to horror and exploitation flicks. You can see it in album and T-shirt art, lyrical content and astutely placed samples. (The undisputed heavyweight champions of the horror movie sample will forever be Skinny Puppy. If you wanna take a dip into the goddamn void, you can find reference for most of them here ).
This all goes double for the influence that horror soundtracks have on underground music. For instance, take Entombed’s use of the Phantasm score in “Left Hand Path.” It sits perfectly nestled in the song, a great riff to the uninitiated with the deepest wink to those who know. Take the influence of Goblin’s film work and Fabio Frizzi on contemporary heavy synth acts such as Zombi and Umberto. Fuck, take the resurgence of John Carpenter; he's finally receiving his due as an accomplished composer of deep influence, on top of his already esteemed notoriety as one of the greatest genre directors of all time. As for techno, one can look toward Demdike Stare’s live accompaniment of Benjamin Christensen’s silent opus Haxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages.
Someone who understands the importance of this dynamic better than most is Brian Izzi, As a founder of long-standing thrash / grind outfit Trap Them, he began subtly employing elements of horror into the band’s output right from the beginning. If you know a bit about Izzi’s pedigree, this makes perfect sense. He is an avid, lifelong horror fan with an encyclopedic knowledge of genre cinema, and an intimidating film and memorabilia collection to boot. Izzi also runs the impressive cinema blog VideoCult. Crafted with true love and depth, it is well worth the time of any horror fan to check it out. For Izzi, extreme music and cinema are passions of equal import, and I wanted to know more about that.
I originally interviewed Izzi via telephone a few weeks ago, but the new app I was using shit the bed sporadically throughout our conversation without my knowledge (hey, TapeACall for Android: I fucking hate you. Word is that you work great for iPhone, but for Android you are more disappointing than The Wicker Man remake. You are a rotting mound of dog shit and failure. Go to hell). Fortunately enough, Brian is a next-level kind dude and was willing to redo the interview with me via email. Here is the culmination of our two sessions.
So, the name Trap Them is a reference to Joe D’Amato’s Trap Them and Kill Them, which is an alternate title for Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals. Was this all your doing, or is [vocalist] Ryan [McKenney] a genre fan as well?
Yeah, Ryan is also a genre fan. He’s been into cult films for as long as I’ve known him, but I think I may have suggested the name back in 2001. It’s not really a reference to the content of the movie itself as much as it’s just such a brutal title. It was a fitting name for the band when we were first writing music — which was balls-to-the-wall grind the whole time. We’re not really fans of long-ass band names, so we cut it down to Trap Them by the time we recorded the first full-length in 2006. Fun story is that I actually met Joe D’Amato before he died.
Oh shit! What was he like?
He was really sweet. I mean, I’m half Italian, and he kind of looked like my uncle. He was really nice. It was kind of weird: In the early 2000s, I was at a porn convention, surprisingly. I was only there because I worked with a company that randomly sold some porn. We were walking down one of the aisles and I was like, “Holy shit, that’s Joe D’Amato!” He was there to sell his porn. So I walked over, and he couldn’t speak English very well, but I started talking to him about Anthropophagous and Tough to Kill, and he was like really happy that I knew about it. I got his autograph and stuff. It was funny: His handlers at the porn company were finally like, “All right, enough about that. This isn’t about his horror movies,” and they made me leave. But it was cool; he’s an awesome dude. He’s got a pretty vast filmography, and I just wanted to meet him.
Do you often make reference to horror and genre cinema at large in your music?
I watch way too much cult cinema for it not to. Good horror soundtracks definitely influence my riffs. There’s some stuff on Crown Feral that references Fabio Frizzi’s style, and a lot of the reverbed-out stuff is influenced by Howard Shore’s creepy guitar-driven Crash soundtrack [the David Cronenberg film]. Visually as well, especially with the new album cover, we wanted it to look like a book cover by H.P. Lovecraft, Clive Barker or Stephen King.
Much like those who discover punk, hardcore and metal, and then dive headfirst into those worlds, most people I know with a certain affinity for horror have some kind of story about discovering it, identifying with it, falling in love and dedicating themselves to it. What’s yours?
I’m an '80s kid. My parents divorced when I was very young, and I was a video store junkie. Mom would work long shifts and horror movies were my babysitter. I rented everything I could get my hands on. How could any kid resist all those amazing VHS covers? So much of it has held up, and it’s been a part of my life for a long time. There’s no turning back now; I’ll be into it until I’m dead and buried, I’m sure.
Not all things are intertwined, but do you feel like some of the emotions elicited by genre cinema can be reflected in the way you write songs, or is that something totally separate? This kind of thing is more obvious within a lot of contemporary synth music with direct nods to soundtracks, but I’m curious about how it is incorporated in metal as a sonic aesthetic instead of a visual or lyrical one.
Yeah, I love the dark melodies in horror soundtracks, and it makes total sense to fit that aesthetic within our songs. I absolutely take influence from them. In addition, Ryan devours horror / thriller / crime books, and I know that influences his lyrical style. Sometimes I’m inspired for completely different reasons ... for example, I’ll see an excellent movie that was made for little money, but with a lot of passion, and that is incredibly inspiring. Making a movie is way more of an undertaking than doing a band, so I have a lot of respect for that.
What is your preferred medium for home viewing? Do you have any strong feelings about Blu-rays and DVDs as opposed to the uptick in VHS tape collecting?
Nowadays I prefer Blu-ray. If you have your TV set up properly, a good Blu-ray will look very close to what film looks like. It's just like with music: If you wanna listen to a new song from a band on a cassette that has been recorded a few times, go ahead. I’m not gonna listen to it on that. I’m gonna listen to it from the CD or the vinyl. There’s a lot of great titles coming out every month; it's kind of insane. Visually, I still think VHS is the coolest-looking format to have hanging around the house. I have a lot of VHS tapes, but I don’t watch a lot of movies like that anymore, unless it’s the only way I can. What I don’t back is the culture of complaining that many newer horror collectors have been spewing in regard to these mostly incredible releases. It’s embarrassing stuff to read. Luckily, the people I’m friends with are levelheaded, and are psyched that for $20 you can have a nearly flawless edition of a underground film shipped to your doorstep to watch as many times as you want.
Let’s get real dark: What are your opinions on streaming and torrenting? I know that it is not always as simple as “bad” vs. “good” when it comes to certain titles that don’t even exist in a physical format, or that fetch triple-digit price tags when they do.
As far as torrenting, I don’t back that unless it’s for a film that has not been released, is some weird fan edit, or is way out of print. You gotta support the creators and companies pouring love and money into these releases. Just seeing the hard work Jesse [Nelson] and Joe [Gervasi, both of Exhumed Films] put into the Diabolik DVD is inspiring.
What is your favorite style and time period of genre flick? If you had to pick a handful of movies that best illustrate your cinematic interests, what would they be?
It’s hard for me to pick one genre, but the '70s by far. Everything from Halloween, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Deep Red, Lone Wolf and Cub, Don’t Torture a Duckling and Yakuza Papers, to name some of the very best. That just scratches the surface, though. It’s an untouchable era of film. Everything touches back to the '70s for what I love, for a lot of the directors. Brian De Palma’s output in the '70s are some of the best movies ever made, and a lot of those are essentially genre films, although some of them are more critically acclaimed than others. I mean movies like Blow Out, and even into the '80s with Body Double, which messed with my mind as a young kid when it used to be on HBO and Cinemax during the day.
Also, I can’t forget the Japanese cinema of the '70s. All the Kinji Fukasaku stuff and Lone Wolf and Cub, Female Convict Scorpion … it’s some of the best shit ever. I feel like it all comes back to that area for me. One favorite movie of all time, off the top of my head, I can definitely say is Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the '70s one. That was definitely a huge, huge thing for me. Around Thanksgiving, I was never into sports that much and people would be watching football, so I’d go to the other room and watch Invasion of the Body Snatchers, which was somehow played every year. A lot of movies that I rewatch from when I was a little kid aren’t that great now, I realize. So, when I revisit the ones that are still great and I understand them even more, it’s really special. Invasion of the Body Snatchers is one of those movies for me; it’s just one of the greatest movies of all time. When you are into all of the niche stuff about the genre and you know the subgenres, you know that when it comes down to what the best movies of time are, it’s still Invasion of the Body Snatchers, it’s The Thing. A lot of the best movies of all time are known by a lot of people as the best movies of all time.
What have you been watching lately? Anything new or old that currently has your attention?
I’ve been watching the usual amount of old stuff that’s been reissued: The Blob '88 on Blu-ray was a revelation, but as far as newer movies: I’ve been catching up with the films of Eduardo Sanchez [co-director of The Blair Witch Project]: Altered, Lovely Molly, Exists. Exists might be his best one. It’s his Bigfoot movie, and it’s fucking great. That might be his best one. The thing about that one is that with every Bigfoot movie or documentary or piece of Bigfoot lore, you never see Bigfoot. In this movie, I’m not spoiling anything, but Bigfoot is there. That is the movie. It's like Assault on Precinct 13, but with a Yeti. It doesn’t let up and it’s really entertaining.
I like Adam Wingard. He’s really good for modern movies. I really liked The Guest and You’re Next. He’s actually doing that new Blair Witch, and if anyone else was doing it I wouldn’t care, but I really think Adam and his writing partner kinda get where modern horror should be. They have enough retro in their stuff to where it's cool, but it’s not in your face or done just for fan service. I also really enjoyed Neon Demon, The Wailing, Don’t Breathe. Anyone that wants to get super nerdy, I do keep track of most of the stuff I watch here. I just saw Suspiria, Eyeball, The Black Cat and Torso at the Exhumed Italian screening. Even though I’d seen them before, it was really fun to catch them on 35mm.
How does The Black Cat hold up? I haven’t seen it in a long time.
I think it’s really good. I mean, there’s that Arrow Blu-ray that just came out fairly recently. I like it, it’s Fulci being a little more subdued. It feels more like a British film, based on the atmosphere; it has kind of a Hammer Horror-type feel to it. There are a few standout gore scenes like you’d expect, but it’s a cool subdued movie that he pretty much made right alongside City of the Living Dead and Zombi in '81, so it was right in there when he was really at his peak.
How do you feel about the general state of cinema today, both independent and mainstream?
It’s interesting. There are either low-budget movies with a lot of passion behind them that are at least good to great, or these huge productions that are usually shit. There doesn’t seem to be much of a middle ground anymore. Well, maybe TV is the new middle ground. I want to make a movie someday. I’ve been working out ideas for a good story that can be done on a very low budget, but I don’t want to make something that sucks. I mean, why even bother?
Desert Island type shit: If you were locked away and had the choice between having a turntable and your records or a television with a Blu-ray player and your movies, which one would you choose and why?
Wait … no one will bother me? Then the answer is neither. I’ll just enjoy the peace and quiet. I can make up music and movies in my head.