FeaturesBelushi Speed Ball – Always Be Crushing

Belushi Speed Ball – Always Be Crushing

Crossover thrash operates on easy-to-understand principles – most of which include active engagement from the band to its fans on record as well as on stage. Many of you may be discovering this Kentucky act recently as Belushi Speed Ball released a killer new album in Stellkira. Garnering plenty of social media buzz as well as active rotation on Sirius XM’s Liquid Metal channel, their infectious songs contain all the ideal gang chants, energetic rhythms, humorous song titles, and intensity that put acts like Municipal Waste, Toxic Holocaust, and Gama Bomb on the map. We reached out to vocalist Vinny Castellano to bring us up to speed with the evolution of the band from project to active live touring status, thoughts on the creation of the new record, their live show philosophy plus memorable moments including pirates and hay, their creative merch ideas, as well as if they plan on staying DIY or possibly broadening their horizons.

Dead Rhetoric: Belushi Speed Ball started as a project in 2013. What were the original intentions behind this project – and at what point did you make the decision to expand into a full band, touring outfit?

Vinny Castellano: In 2013 what I did was… it is the same advice I give to any band, or any musician who is starting off in writing music. I’ve been playing music since I was 13 years old. I was in a deathcore band for a couple of years when I was 18, I got further in college and then I started teaching, so I got away from music. After I got done teaching, my dad passed, I missed playing in a band. I would join a band, all gung-ho to go full force and then a member would quit, the project will fold up. I’m a big Joel Grind fan from Toxic Holocaust, and I saw that he basically did everything himself in the studio, with the exception of drums. He drums on the new stuff, but on tours he would hire people or have his friends. I didn’t know that was an option. Growing up you think that music is a collaborative effort. You could do your own thing and then when it comes to playing live, find your own musicians.

I wrote one song – I recorded all the bass and guitars myself; I had my buddy do the drums; another do the lead guitar work. On the first demo, I sent it off to a buddy whose name is Mario, and he did the vocals on it. I made a song – it’s rough, it’s out there for historical purposes. Had the song, had the project, had a name, had everything rolling. After that, I made an EP, using the same method. Then once the EP was made, I talked to the buddies that worked on it and asked if they wanted to play it live. We did a one-off, and I asked my friend Beau… my favorite bands of all-time are Gwar, ICP, Ghoul, I saw them back in 2011 and this triggered this style. They are always doing more than just playing live, they add theatrical elements to the show, and I like incorporating that to see an actual show. My buddy Beau is a character actor and a film director, I asked him to be a part of the live shows to have him doing all the theatrics. It was well received, and it started snowballing from there. It kept growing and I kept pushing this thing.

I always started this with the intention of, I always wanted to make music and I want people to listen to my art. I feel that intention is still there. I have always wanted to push this thing as far as I can, I want to get as many people as I can to listen to this, to appreciate the music, as much as possible.

Dead Rhetoric: Stellkira is the group’s third full-length record. What can you tell us about the development of this material – and how did the songwriting and recording process go this time around? Were there any specific surprises, obstacles, or challenges to work through on this effort?

Castellano: Man, good question! It’s better than when people ask, ‘what is your name all about?’. Thank you. With Stellkira, quite a few of the songs were written around when COVID-19 happened. I went in the studio, Chase Bensing produces us, I go in and lay down the scratch tracks with the guitar riffs for the songs. In 2020 I did that for 20-25 songs. Chase was getting his basement studio redone, so I decided I better go in and knock this out with this pandemic. Chase will go in, he’s a better guitarist than me so he’ll go in and re-record all the rhythm guitars with the correct timing and way more finite with the chugs, things are way clearer. He will harmonize things too. After that we get that done, Daniel goes in and lays down the drums, I will lay down the bass, I’ll listen to the tracks to lay down the vocals. And we’ll add any solos at the end of it. Before What, Us Worry? came out, my daughter was born a week after that album dropped. I called Chase up and wanted to get the ball rolling on Stellkira. We went in and took some of the songs I recorded during the pandemic, we added a couple, and at that point Jamison Land became a full member on guitar. This is where things got different because it’s usually just me, Chase, and Daniel writing all the music, and Chase writing the lead guitar and harmonies.

For this album now that we got Jamison, he wanted to collaborate more on it. I sat down with the songs, we worked in some extra things. Jamison wrote two songs completely on this album, and I helped finalize those. Daniel has a really good ear for the recording of the drums. He wanted the sound to be more like Stella 1 and Stella 2, with aspects of What, Us Worry? So, we took our time to make sure that Daniel was really happy with the drum recordings, everyone was happy with the mix, as we had more ears on it. The earlier albums, I would listen to it, and let’s just get it out. This one we took our time a little bit more.

Part of the challenge is slowing down, it’s hard. Making sure it’s right. But also, Chase who produces us, he was expecting a child in October. We had a deal that fell through as we were shopping to labels, one was really interested in us. They were asking to get the masters in October, so we said Chase, you have to finish this before your baby comes. He pulled it off a week before his daughter was born, we sent it over, and the label ended up passing. This album as a result is fully independent.

Dead Rhetoric: Andrei Bouzikov did the cover art once again – as you’ve worked with him since the 2019 “Mr. Krabs” single. How did the concept come about and what do you enjoy most about his work and style for the group?

Castellano: He is the best! We got ahold of Andrei through Head in a Jar, an Australian thrash band. It’s a small world. He has done Municipal Waste, Toxic Holocaust, a slew of other thrash bands. I wanted to work with that guy. Head In a Jar had originally tried to get the artist who did Goosebumps Tim Jacobus, they told me he was really expensive pricewise. Andrei was perfect, he shot me a very reasonable price, not what I was expecting. He is super professional, quick, he can do sketches and make sure that everything is right. I have an alternate cover for this album, I spent two times the price for this, because I love his work so much. So, we have an alternate piece that we are going to use when we release the vinyl down the road after the CD.

Dead Rhetoric: You obviously draw from a mixture of influences across cartoons, movies, and other media while injecting your sense of humor through the lyrical content. How much of a challenge is it to inject the right words and delivery in a convincing fashion to go hand in hand with the crossover thrash metal you display?

Castellano: I don’t think about it that much. If I get writers block, I watch an episode of SpongeBob SquarePants. Our bassist Tony, he catches some of the deeper stuff that I say in our songs. I talk about my anxiety; I talk about my father passing away. There are a lot of things I interject there. I have to be true to myself, I love satire and humor. I keep a positive attitude on life because I find so much joy in humor, comedy, laughing, the nostalgia from my childhood. The cartoons, I remember being 10-11 and my grandmother saying I would grow out of watching cartoons – and I never did! (laughs). I love watching animated stuff. One of the biggest struggles is I don’t swear in my music. In Stellkira, we do swear on that one time. That is hard, to fill the bar with the right amount of syllables where you can’t say fuck or shit! That part is the challenge, that’s tough.

Dead Rhetoric: Describe Belushi Speed Ball when it comes to your live performance philosophy and what you hope to get across to the audiences? What have been some of the more memorable performances to date for the band?

Castellano: We are still in the learning process. We want everyone to be enjoying themselves and engaged in having fun with this. The crowd is part of Belushi Speed Ball, they are in the band when we are playing, it’s all unified. Every show would have a different theme. Once we started touring more and being on the road, you can’t do that. You do Ghostbusters one night, what are we going to do today? We would have an overarching theme now when we go through a touring cycle. Every quarter there was a theme – the last quarter we did Dune. We’ve adopted this from Jamison, he told us about his time in Gwar, every tour cycle they would have a new theme, every city would be brand new to them. Keeping some sort of theme, and crowds to get lost in the playing with us.

Most memorable. My favorite one was years ago, before who we are now. We got asked by this band called Limestone to do a festival. They weren’t a band together that long, but they wanted to put on a festival. The Citrus fest – so we could do a pirate theme. Friday was supposed to be the rock day, Saturday the hip hop day. The turnout for the hip hop night wasn’t the greatest, so they put us on that night. They stuck us on this bill, hoping we could bring a crowd out. Everyone was watching, they don’t know what to expect, but 50-60 people in the middle were there for us, so we turned them all into pirates. I was like a Pittsburgh Pirate, from the baseball team – Beau was a swashbuckling pirate, the drummer was a computer hacker pirate, and we hired an accordion player to play that show with us. He did all the leads for guitar on accordion. It was the weirdest set ever. One time we played at a really small venue here in Louisville, Kentucky, and we filled it full of hay. I didn’t realize there was a difference between straw and hay, and we all got hay fever, people were breaking out in hives, it was really bad. That was one of the worst.

Dead Rhetoric: In viewing a recent small reel video through your Facebook page, I remember seeing your unique merchandise offerings – including a Teddy Ruxpin bear plus comic books and other outside the box materials. How does the band come up with unique offerings, does it create even more of a buzz about the band as a result?

Castellano: Oh yeah, absolutely. I do all the merch myself, anything I can’t make would be the t-shirts, the patches, the CD’s. Maybe 65% of the merch that you see up there, I tend to make it myself. It’s a creative outlet for me. It helps me find another creative outlet with all this energy that I have. I go into my rabbit hole sometimes. The video game albums, I wanted to see if I could do it. I used to play around with Nintendo games as a kid and hack my own stuff. I kept pushing to see what I could make. The wheels keep turning, I keep thinking about all these different things that I could do. As far as the buzz, it’s one more thing to just set us apart. You have the live shows, the theatrics, the humor, the music, the song titles, and this off the wall merch. It’s just one more thing.

Dead Rhetoric: You’ve been receiving great airplay on Sirius XM satellite radio – featured extensively on Liquid Metal. How did you get this opportunity as a DIY, self-released band – and do you believe it’s helped you elevate the band’s profile beyond expectations?

Castellano: Yeah (laughs). Austin my publicist, he’s good. That’s all I can say. He sent it in, they picked us up, and when he told me I almost cried, I was so excited. I teach high school, but while I taught high school early on, I also worked at a car dealership. At 18 I put myself through college by working at this car dealership – I worked there for 13 years. I love cars, it’s a fun job. Every single one of those cars had Sirius XM. Manifestation, one day I’ll be on there and I got the chance to be on there. Jose, Shawn the Butcher, Ian Christe are talking about my band. As far as elevating – you go to the YouTube channel, and you’ll see. People found out about us through Sirius XM, it’s opened up a lot of new doors for us.

Dead Rhetoric: How do you feel about the state of the metal scene locally in your part of Kentucky in addition to things in the USA versus other parts of the globe?

Castellano: The metal scene in Louisville is incredible. Tony, our bass player has been in the scene since 1998-99, he has seen it become cyclical and to him it’s the strongest its ever been. We have a strong DIY scene, that’s because of No Comply we had people put together a 1,500-capacity festival at a skate park with all local bands, local support, got all the permits and it sets a precedent for all the younger musicians in Louisville that we can do this ourselves. We don’t need a promoter necessarily, or only hoping to be on opening slots for bigger touring bands. It’s another avenue, and it’s phenomenal. Being on the road, we see really strong communities in a lot of different cities. Detroit is very strong, in South Carolina, they are strongly connected. There are these tight knit, local strong scenes in a lot of cities.

Dead Rhetoric: Naming yourselves after the late, great John Belushi, I’m curious to know if within the band there’s a debate regarding what your favorite skit of his that he did during his time on Saturday Night Live as well as what you think his premiere acting role was in his movie career?

Castellano: John Belushi is the man. I met his cousin one time, up in Canton, Ohio. He told us that John had introduced him to Fear and all these punk bands, and he had to come see us. He does photography for a magazine up there. After our set he said, man – John would have loved the hell out of what we did. He’s legendary. Animal House is the greatest of all time – I love the Blues Brothers too. Saturday Night Live stuff, I watched it, but it was before my time. I would see that with John, but it doesn’t resonate with me the way that it did with my father. The samurai chef, it’s funny – but it’s not like the SNL that I grew up with David Spade, Adam Sandler, and so on. Animal House is one of my top five movies of all time.

Dead Rhetoric: If you had the opportunity as a high school teacher to create your own course on any subject of your own choosing, what would you create as a course – and why do you think it’s important for people to learn at that age?

Castellano: I love my subjects – biology and robotics. I do a video game club; it would be really cool to have a class on the history of video games. I have such nostalgia for the older games – I grew up watching it transform into what it is now. It would be cool to have a course like that. I’m 34, and I am still learning new stuff. It’s crucial and important for everyone to be lifelong learners. It applies to band merch – I taught myself how to pour resin, I made my own action figures, figuring out things to make molds. How to program things too.

Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the agenda for Belushi Speed Ball over the next twelve months or so? Are you intent on remaining an independent band, or is the time ripe for the band to sign to a bigger label?

Castellano: (laughs). Well, we were shopping this. We had some offers from some small, independent labels. I’m not throwing shade, I’m at a point where I can afford my own vinyl, I can afford my own merchandise and it also sells. The last album sold about 1,000 units, it’s over that now. We are moving stuff on our own. I would love for a big label – Metal Blade, Century Media, Nuclear Blast – for them to come knocking. They could elevate things exponentially to grow more than what we are into now. We are touring with Joe Buck, a small run with Death Ray Vision, we are working on the next album, writing songs for that. Continue doing what we are doing, release off the wall merch, do shows, and releasing music.

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