Slough Feg – Cerebral Neanderthals

Sunday, 23rd February 2014

A new Slough Feg album – genuine, well-researched, and coupled with darn good songs – is a prospect worth clutching on to, especially in this day of carbon-copy releases and retro cop-outs. None of that here with the Mike Scalzi-led quartet. After dropping “The Lord Weird” text in front of their name before 2005’s fantastic breakthrough Atavism, Slough Feg has become one of America’s pure metal touchstones, but don’t be fooled by the “pure” tag – there’s nary a droplet of male bravado brouhaha or clichés to be found. Rather, this is earnest, well-composed hard(er) metal/rock, supplemented by the charming, storyteller-laced vocals of Scalzi.

The band’s excellent, top-10 of 2014 worthy Digital Resistance album was supposed to be the topic of choice for this particular discussion with the frontman, but being that Scalzi is a philosophy professor by trade, therefore a master conversationalist, our chat went from the band’s album release schedule, their 2013 Lord Weigh Slough Feg reissues, kids and their darn cell phones, and the natural grind that comes from being in a metal band for 25 years. Lots to digest, so out of the way we go…

Dead Rhetoric: You’re no longer on that album-every-other-year schedule. What prompted the four-year break between album releases?

Mike Scalzi: I don’t know. [laughs] Nothing. I don’t remember being on an album-every-other-year schedule, to be honest with you. It feels no different to me. When we were on that?

Dead Rhetoric: Let’s see…Traveler was 2003. Atavism, was 2005, Hardworlder 2007, then Ape Uprising was ’09, but then you did The Animal Spirits the year after that. So I’m pretty close.

Scalzi: I guess you’re right. Traveler was done in 2001, it was finished in 2001, but didn’t come out until 2003, so that was a big gap there. It doesn’t feel any different to me. I don’t know…I feel like this one is right on schedule. Maybe after The Animal Spirits, I had nothing to say, like, “Eh, maybe I don’t have anything to say for heavy metal.” Maybe I did have something to say once I got into it. I could say a bunch of stuff to fill the air, but I don’t know…I wanted to continue to have with fun with this, and I didn’t urgently have anything to say. But then I noticed was talking about stuff…I had something to say about the world, technology and what’s going on. Maybe I don’t have much musically to say, other than I want to try different instruments like piano, so I did that, and things came up.

Dead Rhetoric: What is the band to you now, then? You have a job as a teacher, so is the band just a part-time thing? Or a very serious part-time thing?

Scalzi: [pauses] To call it a “part-time thing” is realistic, but that’s not how I look at it. What would be full-time? Touring nine months out of the year?

Dead Rhetoric: Right, touring nine or ten months out of the year, then the label will want another album once that particular cycle is completed.

Scalzi: I don’t know if we could do that at this point. I’d tour, but I’m getting [too] old for that. I’d do it anyway, but there isn’t a lot of opportunity for us to tour nine months out of the year. Unless we were doing really shitty stuff, and I wouldn’t do that. There are bands still doing it – pissing around the globe for a few years, playing shitholes, thinking they’re going to get somewhere, and we did that years ago, only to find out it doesn’t get you anywhere.

Dead Rhetoric: Like the bar scene, basically.

Scalzi: If we were to tour six months out of the year, it would be a lot of shitty bars. The other thing is to skip that, and do better shows, like festivals, and maybe do shitty bars along the way. [laughs]

Dead Rhetoric:  The reissues last year – nice to have your old catalog properly released?

Scalzi: I was all for [it]. We talked a lot about these coming back out and that people would be able to get them, and maybe they did, but that’s the last I heard about them, that they’re coming out – and they did come out. But I never heard anything about how much they sold or anything. I saw any fans go, “Now we can get those and it will be great!” I suppose I haven’t been paying attention, but we’ve always had a lot of people bitching about not being able to get them, which is ridiculous, because there were plenty of places people could get them.

Dead Rhetoric: Some of those, like Traveler, were going for quite a bit on Ebay and other mail-order platforms.

Scalzi: They were always available on our website.

Dead Rhetoric: Maybe that says something about me and my record-finding pursuits.

Scalzi: I think people were bitching was because the only place to get the album besides us was Dragon Heart, and they were charging a ridiculous amount of money. Shipping from Italy is a lot.

Dead Rhetoric: In the bio that accompanied the Digital Resistance, a line stuck out about kids: “I can’t say that they’re becoming noticeably smarter with the advent of technology at their fingertips.” You see people, or “kids,” rather, on a daily basis glued to their phones. Was that part of the impetus for the lyrical concept?

Scalzi: Yes, exactly. This could be spurious, it could be people are becoming more ignorant and technology is exponentially growing and that these two things aren’t even related. But they seem to be traveling very rapidly, at the same pace. It would be a very strange coincidence if they weren’t related. I can’t tell you exactly how technology is causing this…

Dead Rhetoric: Maybe because it’s made people lazier. Everything is at their fingertips, so there’s no need to delve deep into things.

Scalzi: It’s use it or lose it, as far as your memory goes. And if you don’t need to remember anything, you may stop being interested in something because you don’t need to research something – it’s all right there. Which is sad, because that’s how people got into underground music, and bizarre concepts and ideas, weird writers, and weird artists. It’s different. We have to adapt to it. There’s no going back.

Dead Rhetoric: When you really want to learn more about something, you want to dig deeper, and find the obscure stuff, or the hidden gems. So with you being a teacher, is this type of thing where you walk into class and your front row of students have their heads down, totally glued to their phones?

Scalzi: It would be that way if I didn’t do anything about. I say on the first day, “If you want to be in this class – I take out my phone in front of them – turn it off!”

Dead Rhetoric: Have you had anyone rebel against you?

Scalzi: Yes.

Dead Rhetoric: What did you do?

Scalzi: I kicked them out of the class. I said “Get out of here!” I tell them – and it’s in the syllabus – if I catch you text messaging in class, I’m going to ask you to leave the class. It’s nothing personal, and you’re free to come back the next day, but it won’t happen if you do it again. I said to one kid “I give you one warning and then I’m going to kick you out of the class. Don’t ever do that again.” He ended up doing it again, so I kicked him out of the class, and he hasn’t come back. The other day, I said that to the class, “Everybody turn your phone off now.” And some kid, who is actually pretty good and is always participating, and he’s text messaging under the desk, and I said, “What are you doing?” And he goes, “Oh, I’m sorry! Blah blah blah.” I didn’t kick him out, but I told him not to ever do it again. He came up and apologized. I’m pretty strict about it. It’s horrible.

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