GETTING OUR GROWL ON WITH KARYN CRISIS
Crisis is a band that has been horribly neglected by the popular media for far too long. Unfortunately, they fail to fit into a neat little package that can easily be digested by the casual listener. Their latest opus, Like Sheep Led to Slaughter is a hybrid of sounds punctuated by the astounding vocals of Karyn Crisis. Songs like “Waking the Dead” and the awesome “Nomad” showcase her arsenal of gravel-truck rumbles, shrieks, and amazingly pure vocal lines. antiMusic’s Morley Seaver spoke to Karyn recently by phone as the band was working on new material, prior to a fall tour with Exodus and 3 Inches of Blood. She was a great interview; friendly, forthcoming and articulate. Check out the following where Karyn discusses malevolent shepherds, throat infections and haunted churches. Then go out and buy the record, you rascals.
antiMusic: Your music defies classification. Do you set out to be purposefully adventurous in your songwriting or does your muse just wander all over the map?
Karyn Crisis: It really does wander. I mean, when we try to describe ourselves in terms of categories, it doesn’t always work so well. You kind of have to use a cross-version of this and that…because we are a metal band but we have elements of hard-core in there. We have a very punk rock spirit about the way we do things and the way we write songs is unlike a lot of metal bands. We don’t bring songs that are already written into the rehearsal space. We don’t bring parts written. We’re more like a rock and roll band. We jam things out. It’s about pure discovery and connection and opening ourselves up and communicating through the music. So especially in this day and age, that’s kind of a different thing. People tend to work on their songs and that involves a lot of space even before they get into the rehearsal space with the rest of the band. We tend to take a more naturalistic approach.
antiMusic: After you moved to LA, your drummer quit and your band was at a crossroads. You briefly changed the name of the band. Was this a turning point in the career of Crisis? A galvanizing experience that helped make everything clear, or simply another bump on the road?
Karyn Crisis: Like everything we do, it was a bump and at the same time we learned a lot about every experience. It was a set back. We had intended on showing up in L.A. and work really hard to get a new label going. Find somebody who really believed in the band for a change. And then we had the drummer situation happen. And it took quite a while to get into the scene here and get to know people and find a drummer who wasn’t just somebody who was looking for a paying gig, which is the most popular thing out in this area. So along the way, we started writing music in a very different way. We were using a drum machine and jamming in a very different way than we had before. So the music was coming out sounding different. And we just kept the music coming because we’re musicians. What were we going to do with ourselves if we’re not playing music. We had to earn a living so we had to keep that going. We ended up changing the name because we did some recording and we did a couple of shows and it didn’t sound anything like Crisis. So we didn’t feel like we could call it Crisis. We always intended on getting back to Crisis. It was a matter of finding the right drummer. Along the way we learned a whole more about ourselves and our song writing and the experiences all culminated in the CD, our newest, which we all feel is our best. So if we didn’t go through those experiences, we might not have pushed ourselves so hard or grown so much to come to this point.
antiMusic: How soon after you resumed the name Crisis, did Like Sheep Led to Slaughter take shape?
Karyn Crisis: After we decided to start the search for a drummer again, we started jamming and the songs just started coming. Crisis has been together for about 12 years now so when you’re doing something for that long…for us anyway…we sort of created our own language, our own vocabulary, our own world. And when you go back to speaking that language, so to speak, it just pours out of you. And that’s what we found happening.
antiMusic: What lyrical ideas were you trying to get across on that record?
Karyn Crisis: With every record, I’m trying to break new ground. With this one, I really came to the conclusion that I didn’t want to write such self-confessional songs…songs about what was going on in my life. I wanted to deal with concepts…things that were happening in the real world which happened to be very political. So I tended to focus on the idea of abuse of power and the idea of our government being like a malevolent shepherd leading us sheep astray. That was one of the main concepts for the whole album.
antiMusic: Did switching coasts have any effect on you lyrically?
Karyn Crisis: I don’t know if it was really a costal thing. Before we even left the east coast, I was looking for something more in my writing, in our songwriting, and the music in general. It felt like the underground was a little limiting at the point in time, and I started going back and listening to old classic rock and just sort of doing a lot of historical research. I was already, at that point, on the move to look for something even deeper, something more, some way to express myself in a more profound way. And I’m not sure it had so much to do with the coast as the events of the world. I felt like I couldn’t focus on myself any longer when so many people were suffering. I really had to look outward and express my beliefs on the way things were happening since we sort of share those beliefs in this band.
antiMusic: Now that you’ve lived with the record for a year, and have toured for several months, are you still feeling it or are you beginning to detach now?
Karyn Crisis: I just can’t get enough of this album. I just really love playing these songs live. We all do. We’re just having a great time. We just recently started working with a new drummer, Justin, on all these tours we’ve done lately so we’re just getting tightly into the grooves with him and just having a really great time with the songs. We’re going to be touring again in October with Exodus and Three Inches of Blood and Watch Them Die. We’re going to be mostly playing the new songs with a couple of the oldies mixed in. And I just can’t wait. I really love these songs…which is a good thing (laughs).
antiMusic: Tell us about the Killith Fair that just completed. How were the shows and how did you get along with MOD and Jacknife?
Karyn Crisis: That was really fun. We had known Billy for a while from the east coast and playing guitar with this guy Scott Sargent who used to be in Skinlab so we knew him from the scene and the band Jackknife who opened up, they were just sort of starting off. Their bass player had played a couple of shows in another band. And we played one show with him, Actually we drove for 24 hours straight down to New Orleans to play that show with them and we didn’t even realize that Joe was in Jackknife. So we sort of found out all that on the first day and the tour was really good. Everybody got along we had a lot of fun and we pulled some pranks on each other on the last show. It was good. It was like six weeks of pure humidity and there’s some crazy stories (laughs).
The only day it wasn’t humid, we played a show in Oklahoma City. It was like a scene out of a movie. We got out there and it was cool with gloomy skies. We found out as soon as we got to the club, which had been a church, now painted white and hot pink, that two tornadoes were coming towards us. So we were having to get everything out of the trailer really quickly because the tornadoes were coming and they were destroying towns and paths to the freeway had been closed. Also we found out that the club was actually haunted by the priest who had been at that church when it was a church. But he had killed himself in the basement because he thought he was possessed by demons. It was a real haunted house sort of show. The power went out across the street and the rain was coming down almost sideways. And as the first band was starting to play, the power went out because we got hit by lightning and you could hear this big “pow”. The power eventually came back on and the show went on and the tornadoes didn’t touch down. It was crazy but it was a pretty exciting night.
antiMusic: I heard you had a throat infection on the tour. Did it cause much of a disturbance for the shows?
Karyn Crisis: Well, we had to cancel a show in Connecticut and that’s the first time I lost my voice in 12 years…ever. A couple of us had got sick and I had to go to the emergency room and I couldn’t swallow and they said I had a really bad upper respiratory infection and they gave me some antibiotics that were way too strong and for too long a period. So, I started taking them and I started getting better. Then I started getting sick all over again. So my throat was just really dried out and I couldn’t even talk. But we had a couple of days off in New York around the time of the Connecticut show. So I just stayed in bed and did a lot of yoga and drank a lot of water and I was fine after that. But it was pretty scary.
antiMusic: With your style of singing, you must have had throat problems in the past. What precautions do you take, if any, to keep your voice healthy, both at home and on the road?
Karyn Crisis: I’ve been really lucky in the way I sing just comes naturally for me. Our style of music chose us. My style of vocal chose me as well. So I don’t have problems with it. When I’m healthy everything’s great. It’s just like exercise. After a show I hang out and talk all night with everyone and I have not problems. The only time you have to be careful is when you have a cold. Then you have phlegm and then you’re coughing. Because it can all disturb your vocal chords. But I know a few exercises I can do to stay in shape and just in general, I have a really healthy diet. I exercise and just keep myself healthy. This is my instrument. I just keep my instrument in tune and in shape. I guess I just have a good singing technique and I’m just lucky that way (laughs).
antiMusic: There is a certain Eastern influence prevalent in small doses on this record. Who is responsible for this?
Karyn Crisis: That Eastern influence has been there in small doses on all our records. We have a real international makeup in our band. Our bass player Gia is Taiwanese. He’s actually from Taiwan and has lived here about 20 years. Our guitar player is from Pakistan and our other guitar player is half Jamaican and half Puerto-Rican. Our new drummer…half of his family tree is from Iran so we have a multi-cultural heritage that we embrace. And the mid-Eastern influence surely pops its way in and out musically. I really like those moments like “Nomad”. I know it’s in there and in some of the other songs we’ve done. I’ve always liked those moments. They’ve always been there in Crisis and I think it’s something pretty different. I like reacting to it.
antiMusic: Have any ideas emerged for the next record?
Karyn Crisis: We’ve had a couple of jams. One jam we started before we hit the road. It’s a really cool, powerful, brooding kind of jam. The other one kind of came out unexpectedly. When we were on tour we played Al Rosa Villa which we’ve played many, many times before and that’s where the whole Dimebag tragedy happened. So going there, everybody felt a lot of trepidation about being on that stage again, just because it was such a heavy moment. It was a real tragedy and it just felt really strange. We all went to just give our energies and good vibes upward, towards that whole situation. We were all feeling a little depressed about it and the guys set up to do sound check and I actually stayed at the hotel to work on something to say that evening. We were all disconnected and the guys said they felt OK until they stepped on to the stage to do the sound check and then a dark mood fell on everyone. So they just started jamming and somehow they jammed for an hour and a really amazing jam piece came out of it. So that’s the second piece that we’ll be working on and pretty soon we’ll start jamming and writing the next record and that’s pretty much all we’re going to do until the Exodus tour and then afterwards until the next year….we’re going to write and record.
antiMusic: Can you please say a bit about the other guys in Crisis? And what symbiotic elements are present in your working relationship with Afzaal and Gia considering you’ve been together for 12 years.
Karyn Crisis: We’re definitely really think of each other as family. Afzaal is sort of the architect of the band in a way. He’s sort of the one that starts the riff in the jam. And everyone starts connecting with him. And for most of the time that Crisis has been around, he was the only person doing the business for the band. I mean, things have changed now. Everyone sort of has their job. But he is pretty much the founder of the band.
Gia has also been there as long. He’s also a founding member. As the bass player, he is also the back bone of the band in a way. Since Jwyanza has come into the picture, our songwriting style has changed in the sense that before Gia was doing what I would call guitar weaving. Sometimes Gia would play lines that you would think would belong to a guitar player. Very non-traditional bass player type lines. Now that Jwyanza is in the band, the guitars have more room to do both atmospheric and rhythmic stuff because Gia can hold down the backbone in a little more traditional bass player way. But nothing is ever really traditional with Crisis. And drums are always very important to me because I respond to the percussion in this band. I don’t tend to respond to the guitar notes as much. The guitars inspire me in an atmospheric type of way. But I’m really different in terms of singing because I’m a very percussive type of singer. And that’s really weird I know (laughs). And that’s sort of the dynamic of the band. Every part is really important to this band.
antiMusic: Can you let us in on any updates about your long-awaited DVD?
Karyn Crisis: Some things have happened with The End Records and they’re doing some changes so they actually wanted us to delay the release so that more people can get a hold of it. So that will be a next year thing as well.
antiMusic: Teenage boys strive to be part of a rock and roll band, mostly for the girls, followed closely by the other stuff. What or who made you first of all want to sing in a band and secondly do it for a career?
Karyn Crisis: I’ve a great, great grandfather who was a gypsy from Transylvania. I never met him but he’s the reason I got into playing violin. I grew up right around Chicago and there was a great music scene there, so I grew up playing piano and violin. I was into a lot of art and always going into art museums in Chicago and the local record shops and all of that blended into my dark mood. I was a loner. I had some guy friends. But I was a real tom-boy who would get them to lend me their instruments. And we’d jam and record on 4-tracks. That was in middle school and I always had a dark sensibility about the music and the art that I’d like to make. I guess that drove me to find darker kinds of music…you know industrial, gothic and onwards into metal. I didn’t really know a lot of metal before I joined Crisis. I had a limited metal vocabulary. So my influences are different. Chicago was an amazing place to grow up in because they had so much music going on there. So I would buy a lot imported magazines from England because they always had much more cutting-edge music and they would also review the whole indie scene in America. And that’s how I found a lot of bands. It’s just something that was always calling to me since I was younger. I always wanted to be in a band and couldn’t find anybody to work with. So I would work on my own 4-track. I almost got into one band. We had some rehearsals. But it wasn’t until I moved to New York City after graduating to go to art school…I started doing performance art and started jamming with other musicians in my college dorm. Then the next year I moved and met Afzaal, the original founding guitar player through a roommate of mine at the time. So it was a long journey but it was a lot of me singing in my bedroom, working on my vocal chords. Just singing towards different male and female singers that I liked. And a lot of record hunting and a lot of live show going.
antiMusic: It says on the liner notes that the spine sculpture was carved and built by you. What was the initial idea behind that and please explain what you carved it out of?
Karyn Crisis: It’s made out of sculpting clay which you can get at a craft store. You can sculpt it and bake it in the oven and it becomes hard. The concept came from the title, “Like Sheep Led To Slaughter”. I thought about what that meant and the idea of somebody controlling a weaker person. They may be exploiting that weaker person. And I though that sheep was a good symbol because you have the shepherd who leads the sheep. And the sheep has to trust that shepherd and I felt that with what was going on with our shepherds, being our government, were definitely malevolent and they were leading a lot of us sheep down the wrong path towards destruction. Then I thought further about that concept to the idea of control. Instead I thought the idea of using the sheep on the cover was something totally obvious, I wanted to do something more symbolic. So, for me, the spine was very symbolic because in every human being, it’s your centre of control. If you’re paralyzed, you can’t use your limbs properly. People use the concept of the spine in term of someone’s moral character. “He’s so spineless” if they’re saying something negative about someone. So the idea of the spine came out and I wanted to kind of wanted to depict that spine being ripped out of a person. So even though a lot of my lyrics are political on this record, I’m really concepts and I really feel like symbolism allows me to get a message across but at the same time, you have to go on your own journey to kind of discover what it means. And you learn your own things and you take your own things from it.
antiMusic: It seems like you’re an exceedingly creative sort. Tell us about KC Leatherworks.
Karyn Crisis: Sure. That started back in New York City. There was an underground band there called The Last Day/No Human Voice. The drummer taught me to make leather watch bands and from there I just started experimenting on my own and making cuffs and bags and things like that. I started off just doing custom work for other bands and then it became something that I did for a full-time job; wholesale orders, retail orders. There were orders from England, Canada and a lot of the U.S. But once Crisis started again, I didn’t have enough time to keep up with it on a full-time basis so what I’ve done is I’m trying to outsource the place. I haven’t found a place I like yet…to make some for me, like at a small factory. But meanwhile I’m just making everything by hand and selling them exclusively on tour. Right now I’m actually selling some artwork on Ebay, cause I’m using cash that way to raise money for other projects. I’ve always got something going on. Right now, I started a t-shirt line for girls called Exorsister. And that’s something that I can do, that I don’t have to make each piece by hand. So the people who still want the hand-made leather, they can buy everything on tour until we sell out. In terms of readily available items, there is the T-shirt line which I’m going to expand really soon and I have my blade worm belt buckles and other Crisis t-shirts that I’ve designed. My store is closed at the moment because I close it down when we go on tour. But it’ll open soon. This year is going to be an exciting year because I’ll have the gallery up. And it’s the year that I really decided I want to make a living on all the music and artwork that we do. So I’m just trying to invest a lot in all of those projects.
antiMusic: What is the status of your graphic novel? Can you give us a snapshot of the story?
Karyn Crisis: That’s something else that I want to get out this year. I really wanted to put it out myself. Cuz, I feel like every time I try to work with someone to get projects out, you can lose a lot. And it’s just quite expensive to do that. The first graphic novel, “Methodology” which has been out for a very long time. It’s about the whole idea of the human psyche and it’s a story about a serial killer and the victim and it’s really hard to describe. It’s a conceptual graphic novel. It’s a story mostly in pictures, illustrated by the lyrics. And a lot of the themes you’ll find in the early Crisis albums. There is the whole idea about how our patterns are created in human behaviour and what brings about those dark, more evil patterns. So that graphic novel explores that idea.
antiMusic: What do you anticipate from your upcoming tour with Exodus and 3 Inches of Blood? Have you toured with them in the past?
Karyn Crisis: No we’ve never toured with either of them and I’m excited because a lot of our fans have had a great response to the tour package. They’re really excited and that makes us happy. It’s always good when you go on a tour your fans are going to like and Crisis fans tend to just come out to see Crisis a lot. So it’s always good for us to play on a package where our fans like all of the bands.
antiMusic: Thank you so much for this, Karyn. Good luck on the tour.
Karyn Crisis: Thank you for your support and to everybody out there…hope to see you on tour.
Morley and antiMusic thank Karyn for taking
the time for this interview. We also thanks Adrian Bromley from The
End Records for facilitating this interview.