Gwar's Corey Smoot: 'We Try To Make Music As Kick-Ass As The Stage Show'

artist: GWAR date: 08/28/2006 category: interviews
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Gwar's Corey Smoot: 'We Try To Make Music As Kick-Ass As The Stage Show'
Gwar is an over-the-top, bigger than life parody with liquid-spurting characters spewing various body fluids all over the stage and audience alike. Lead singer Oderus Urungus dresses like a combat lizard while all about him the mayhem and sacrilegious antics of his band take place. One of those participants is guitarist Flattus Maximus, a longstanding figure who goes back to the band's inception at the Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia, over 20 years ago. Many musicians have worn the Maximus guise but the most recent - and certainly most accomplished - player is Corey Smoot. Gwar's new album, Beyond Hell, is a kill-level, driving ball of frenzied and ferocious heavy metal. Nothing new there. But on closer listening there is an element of more orchestrated guitars, more varied tones, and some of the most engaging and inspired guitarspitting to ever seep out the grooves of a Gwar record. Corey, quite rightly, is proud of his performance on the CD and here he describes the making of that album and what he hopes is the slow transition of the band from purely a shock-rock band into one with a real musical sensibility. Ultimate-Guitar: You've obviously spent a lot of time learning your instrument because there's an amazing array of sounds you've created on the new album. Do you think your playing gets overshadowed by the Gwar image? Corey Smoot: It really doesn't bother me much. That's one of our focal points. The last couple albums and this future album has been to bring music and bringing Gwar back into the metal genre a little more seriously. The stage show, of course, is pretty crazy and phenomenal. It's always, for years, seemed to be the main thing. That's what we're starting to focus on now: bringing the music more to the forefront so that the music is just as good as the show and taking us back to our metal roots. Just trying to step it up a notch. Who were some of the people that you listened to that inspired your guitar playing? My father was a musician back in the day. He hand-made me my first guitar when I was like three years old. Some cool little cute, little mini Flying V with the Eddie Van Halen red and white stripes on it. He was a drummer in a band as far back as I can remember. You know how in kick drums they would have pillows inside of them? As a kid, I would crawl inside of his kick drum and fall asleep in there. I remember being a little weenie and just looking up at a Marshall stack. To me, that was God. Definitely my influences would be, of course, Iommi from Sabbath, Blackmore. I love Ace Frehley. More current guitarists, you know, Dimebag Darrel - rest in peace - he's definitely a huge, huge influence of mine. Anything within the metal rock genre's that were ever innovative, that stood out and wasn't caught in the conveyor belt of what was popular at the time. Oh yeah, especially the guitarists on the Sounds Of The Underground Tour. It's a real pleasure, even to get to jam with some other pretty cool shredders. I'm a big fan of the dive bombs, the traditional Darrell Abbott Dimebag dive bombs. I noticed one of the guys in Trivium, he's pretty good at that. So it's just cool to hear somebody else doing that other than Flattus. I've been digging Behemoth, of course, Cannibal Corpse, In Flames definitely. I've been really getting into a lot of bands and it's just weird that they're all from Sweden. Meshuggah, to me, hasn't even been touched in the genre of metal. To me, they're like the Pink Floyd of death metal.
"That's what we're focusng on now: bringing the music more to the forefront so that the music is just as good as the show."
What about a band like Children of Bodom? Yeah, Children of Bodom's pretty cool. I did a signing a couple years ago at the ESP booth at the NAMM show and met Alexi briefly. He seemed like a pretty cool guy from what I've seen and heard somewhat, I really dig his style. Buckethead, he's really unorthodox. I really dig his techniques. What about older bands or guitarists like Hendrix and Page? Oh, yeah. You've got to respect the guys who pretty much put us all on the map. They're the creators. They're the guys who made it possible to make us where we are today. You talked about dive bombs. Were you always a whammy bar guy? Yeah. In the band Gwar, when I joined, a lot of the stuff that was done, a lot of the previous leads from the other member or members or whatever, they were more just kind of stuck in a blues pentatonic scale lead. I still kind of incorporated those styles because it's always been kind of a Flattus thing, but I just try to add some different techniques along the way. Along with some just cool, little effects - dive bombs, more harmonies, just trying to get out of the box of the traditional kind of noodleheads, I guess. What was that first experience like when you recorded War Party? It was cool. I didn't know what I was getting into. I didn't know if I was getting into a band that was gonna be like, "This is what you're playing and this is what you're doing!" In Gwar, there's a lot of artistic freedom with everybody and they've let me do a lot of writing. I was very pleased for that. War Party, for me, was more or less an album where when I was writing music, I was thinking more or less, "What would a Gwar fan want to hear next?" Or, "What would sound like good Gwar songs?" It was a really cool experience when it happened and it seemed that it kind of was coming up a little better. And then this newest album, Beyond Hell, which will be out August 29, this one I was kind of given the same amount of freedom to write musically. I just kind of did what I thought - not really thinking, "Oh, would this be considered a song that Gwar would like." This album we got to really spend our time on and it's more of what we like to do. What I had to contribute on the album was strictly what I wanted to write, not thinking, "Oh, is this what Gwar fans would like?" So you'll come up with guitar ideas at home and then present them to the band? That's pretty much how it would go. Whatever songs that I would have a part in doing, I would just sit down and create rough drafts, dummy templates, I guess, of the song. Run a guitar into my laptop or some FruityLoops (software) or something just to kind of give them an idea. Then everybody puts in their thoughts and arrangement ideas and makes it totally more kick-ass. You co-produced the album with Devin Townsend? Devin Townsend (guitarist for Strapping Young Lad), he was mainly part of the vocal process of the recording. I own a recording studio back at home called Karma Productions/Slave Pit Studios. In the last Sounds of the Underground Tour, we were playing and having some lunch with Devin. He was just telling us how he's always been a huge fan of Gwar. Of course, he's a super dude and a hard worker. I love some of the work that he's done in the past. And somehow we were able to make it happen. He flew out for a few days just to kind of see and listen to what we were doing. We were just tracking everything. Our singer, Oderus, flew out there with Devin to Vancouver and they did vocals. And then I flew out there with Devin and we mixed the album. It was a great experience. He's a great guy, super dude to work with. So I don't know if you would call that a co-produce or what. So you actually had a hand in the mixing of the album and the way the guitars were going to sound. The first time we really hear your guitar is on the opening track, "War Is All We Know." Is that a good example of the Corey Smooth guitar tone? That was exactly the guitar tone. We did a lot of swapping. Me and Devin kind of sat around and compared the rigs. Basically, it's my rig. We did my rig for all the rhythms and then we did Mike Derks - Balsac, our other guitarist - we used his rig for like leads and effects and cool stuff like that. Describe your rig. It's pretty simple, but it's taken me years. I've gone through it all. I've tried all the heads and all the Mesas and all ARTSGXT 2000 Expresses. I've gone through it all throughout the years. It boils down to a simple solution: Marshall JMP 1 and the Marshall VS 120/20 Pro, which you can't get anymore. It really sucks. But I've managed to just kind of stock up on Ebay with them. I found that out years ago. I was doing sound at a club. I was just kind of like, "Wow!" I heard this guy do his line check and I just didn't have to touch the board and was pretty impressed with the sound he had. That's all he had and I had to steal his recipe. Of course, I've made some alterations. I run a Maxcom, a BBE Maxcom for the noisegate and the Sonic Maximizer effect just to kind of give it a slight scoot. Then of course, just the wireless and a wah. I use the Morley Bad Horsie II. We use some Crank. We use Crank for our backup. We presently use Crate cabinets, the Dimebag Eminence Texas Heat Cabs, which I guess would be the Frankenstein cabs. We use the Crate with the vintage 30's also. I'm actually in the middle of talking to this new cool company called Madison. They supposedly started loading their cabs with Celestions also. For some reason I'm a huge Celestion fan, especially the G12s. You know, what come in the JCM 900 cabs. I've tried the 9-inch 30s and all that stuff. And just the G12s for some reason, in my opinion, are more of a meatier, oomph-y speaker, especially with the JMP1 and the ES120. What kind of guitars do you use? ESP exclusively. They rock. They treat their musicians like family. They're really great guys. And at the present moment, I use the Horizon Custom. And then for backup, I'll use like an MH Series.
"Dimebag Darrel - rest in peace - is definitely a huge, huge influence of mine."
You mentioned you use Mike's rig for the lead stuff. Balsac, Mike Derks, my brethren in metal madness. Mike's actually one of the closest to an original member. He's a really cool guy. Like I said earlier, I'm super-stoked that they give me the artistic freedom to help write music in this band. Derks is really good with helping me arrange. Besides me and Beefcake, the other guys, they've been around. They've got their own system of doing things. So it's really cool to see their language and how they do it. Sometimes you've just got to put yourself in neutral and take your riffs and music and just lay it out. Then let them do whatever they've got to do to it and jump back in when it's been molded and ready to fly. He uses the Mesa Boogie TriAxis and the old Mesa amps. I believe it's the tube amp - it's called a 295, I believe. He's the only one I know who has one. Then he runs through the Lexicon; I don't recall the model name, though. It's the really popular one; it doesn't effect your EQ in any way though your preamp. It's like a P4000 (note: Lexicon does not make a P4000 and it's difficult to pinpoint exactly what model Corey is referring to) or some shit. So that's the rig you used for all the solos? Not for all of them, but whenever we want effects. 'Cause like I said, I just want drive. I don't really use effects on my rig. Balsac, he's got a lot of really cool sounds. He's more able to manipulate a Midi board than my big-ass monster feet. Even though looking at his hooves, you kind of wonder how he can even do it. But he pulls it off. There is a little lyrical solo in "War Is All We Know" that is pretty musical. I'm starting to want to - rather than the old, traditional way of "dubba-dubba-dubba" and real noodle-y - I'm trying to get a little more involved in melody and, of course, harmonies. Just getting out of that box that every guitarist always seems to be in. I felt like I was becoming it. So this album I really kind of stepped myself away. Of course, you're always going to hear the traditional Flattus leads in there. I think I know what you're talking about, like that more droned-out, slower part. Instead of having that lead that's, "Hey, this is how fast I am," more of a heartfelt, yet hateful melodic guitar singing - instead of a bunch of noodling or a bunch of wo-wo's. Are you playing the harmony parts during your solos? In the studio I did them, but we're trying to incorporate them live. We're slowly working them out. We're trying to throw some new songs here and there on this Sounds tour. When we do our headlining tour in the fall, we want to do the whole album in its entirety because it's kind of conceptual in a weird, Oderus sense. He's the mastermind behind the story and all that fun stuff and the characters. So we're just kind of trying to work out the bugs right now. We didn't necessarily write in the studio, but some of the leads that I ended up doing, initially I wasn't going to put a harmony to. Somehow I just ended up doing it. Or what I did was, in pretty much every lead, I did a harmony to it just so that when we got to mixing, if we wanted it there, we had it. If we didn't need it, then we just got rid of it. One cool thing that I pulled off that I thought was pretty cool was harmonizing an actual dive bomb. Was that on "Tormentor"? It might be. It might be. "Tormentor" - yeah, I think that's the one! How would you do that? I'd play back the song, set up my next track and I'd pull the bar. I would just find a different harmonic and then when I pulled it, I would make sure my starting point at the pull and my ending point at the pull would be precise with the original track. Which sounds pretty cool, but of course, live it's kind of hard to pull off. Like I said, I don't use effects and I'm trying not to have to rely on a harmonizer or anything to do it. But you never know. My theory is, as long as you're in the studio, you're not cheating. You do what you've got to do live sometimes to establish that feel and that sound. Sometimes you've got to rely on a sample because Balsac doesn't really use a tremelo system. So it would be really cool if we could both harmonize little shit like that together. Where did the riffs and intro in "Tormentor" come from? The slow droning, "dah-dah-dah-dah" - that's actually a Beefcake riff. Supposedly, I don't know if it's that song or not, but that's riff he said he's been playing around back in 1984. You had mentioned that the wah-wah is a big part of your soloing style. It is actually. I remember seeing a previous Flattus who would always use a wah. And he was the only one I saw using the wah. I thought it sounded really cool. I ended up trying it out. And of course, when I joined the band I had to learn the styles of three different Flattuses. You had to study the previous Flattus styles? Oh, yeah. When I joined the band, I originally auditioned in 1999 during the We Kill Everything era. And then I got the full-time gig finally in 2002. By the time I was in there, I had to learn three guys' different styles (including, variously, Dewey Rowell, Peter Lee, Tim Harriss, and Zach Blair) of technique. When I found out that I would actually start touring, I found out on like a two-week notice. I just kind of got like 30 songs under my belt, just so that when it was time to come up with the set list and time to go, I was ready. Not only that, but I learned both sides of the stereo when I was rehearsing on my own in preparation for the tour. I didn't know who's leads were what. So I ended up learning everybody's leads. On each stereo side of the album, I would literally mute out one side and say, "Well, this guy's doing this." And then mute out the other, "This guy's doing this." Then I would just learn both. So that when it came down to it, it was like, "Okay, so this is the one I'm doing. Excellent." On that same track, "Tormentor," after the solo there is sort of an orchestrated section. That's quite a complex section sounding more like a prog riff than any metal stuff. Like I said, that was the whole idea on this album, was to just step it up. Our goal was to try to make the music just as kick-ass as the stage show. Of course, the music has always been good and always held its own. Of course, without the music you'd have a silly puppet show. But that's what we were really trying to focus on these last couple albums. Obviously metal is where Gwar belongs. We've tried the comedy punk rock; we've tried all genres. And of course, Gwar is never serious about anything. Even when we do "metal," we're not making fun of metal. We're just kind of saying, "Hey, we could do this." Or if we do our little bluegrass or cheesy spot. Yeah, just listening back to all the albums, Gwar is just a huge artistic nightmare and we're just gonna totally do whatever we feel like. But we did want to sit down some of the funny and up the scary and just make it more metal, more heavy. A song like "I Love The Pigs" - that guitar riff in there is pretty insane. How did the parts come together? Yeah, when I presented that part, those parts were presented together as a piece. Those pieces were meant to be together since the beginning.
"On the newest album, Beyond Hell, I was kind of given the same amount of freedom to write musically."
In "Eight Lock," there is a breakdown section. Is that a guitar or a keyboard? That's Balsac's lead on his cool little processor he uses. It's kind of like a wah swell. He actually uses that quite a bit. That was his debut lead on the new album. It was cool. The riff in "Destroyed" is a pretty fast lick. The picking technique is flawless. Can you talk about your right hand and how that speed developed? I was really impressed, especially when Devin was like, "Man, you're so chunky and tight." And to me, coming from Devin Townsend, that was just awesome. Like I said, I've always loved the guitarist's right hand being right with the drummer's feet and just becoming one there. It's just the love of music and just trying to be as tight as possible. Is that a one-take performance? Some of it is. Coming to a live show, you can still tell it's pretty on there. It's kind of a hard question to answer. Did I do it in one take? I'd probably say out of the whole song, there's definitely a few punch-ins, but yeah, it ain't like you need to punch every dah-dah-dah-dah. You recorded digitally then? Sort of. Half and half. We ran through some cool preamps. We ended up tracking through a ProTools HD system to a Control 24. That's pretty much what my studio consists of. So you actually recorded at your studio? Yes. We recorded this album at my studio and Slave Pit Studios because that's where we rehearse and pretty much anything musically is done there. Devin was really interested in working with Oderus with vocals. Dave flew out there for a week to Vancouver and they did a really kick-ass job. Then I flew out there for the next week, and me and Devin mixed it and got it all ready to go. On the intro to "Back in Crack," there are like washed-out guitars or something. Yeah, it's a synth swell we used running through Balsac's rig. It's just some really cool syth swell. It almost sounds like it's a harmonized keyboard part. You'd be surprised. There's like no keyboards in this album. We used a couple samples. Anything that sounded like a keyboard on this album was actually done through like a guitar synth-type effect or a harmonized guitar with some crazy post-stuff done to it. Your version of "School's Out" is great. In making the song, was the intent to have people take your music a little more seriously? The "School's Out" idea was actually a management idea. We sat down and had a meeting, and our label rep just told us, "You guys are growing pretty fast. The kids are loving you guys. You guys seems to be the cool thing right now." And he was like, "Gwar has always been definitely a live band." We do decent in album sales, but the way we pack shows - we've seen gold-selling bands not even pack as well as Gwar will at a show. He brought it up and, of course, our integrity sat strong there. We were just contemplating it forever, just trying to decide what would be a good cover song. What would we do? And our manager's idea was "School's Out." And who better to cover a song than (from) the godfather of theatrical rock himself? Not to mention a total, I'm sure, marketing scheme as far as school was letting out and all that stuff. We just shot a really cool video for it. Hopefully MTV plays it. We're trying to make sure nothing's too out of hand. We went out to Brooklyn to some old school and got a bunch of hot girls, ex-strippers, and of course, our goofy-looking asses. We went to this school and did this crazy, cheesy, hilarious, but awesome video for "School's Out," which hopefully should be out soon. Can you comment on the DVD Bloodbath and Beyond? Bloodbath and Beyond, it's just sort of a collection of old stuff that we had laying around that anybody who was curious as to how Gwar started and there's still some updated stuff in the special features. Like if you look in the special features section, me and Mike Derks, we did our own video for a song. We did a Hello Medley like a year ago and the venue actually had a ProTools setup there and would record live shows. So we went ahead and did that. And with video camera, of course, I captured pretty much every show that tour and grabbed everything I had from previous tours, and we made a video called The Hello Medley. It was pretty cool. I've been kind of getting into doing video and editing and stuff. That was a pretty fun project. You did all the sound for the DVD, right? Well, I did all the mastering, which of course, I'm not too proud of just because that was a rushed job. We had a deadline on this project and trying to take old, old reel-to-reels and cassette tapes, and convert them to digital quality - not to mention just try to bring them to industry standard to where they could be pleasing to the ear. It was kind of a challenge, especially by the time I got started on the project. I didn't even have a day to do it because we had to like send everything out the next day. But once we got it all in and watched it, it was totally authentic-sounding and it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. How do you rehearse the live show? It's always kind of weird. Sounds of the Underground, because it is a plug-and-play show, it's so hustle-bustle, we'll go and rent a little warehouse space and just set up. We wouldn't do it in costume, but we'd say, "Okay, then this guy comes out here and this, this, this." But as far as our normal tours, because we've been doing it so long, so many times, it's kind of routine. It's like any tour for any band. The first week is working out the bugs and figuring out everything. That's always the big soap opera episodes. But that's pretty much how we do it because we're kind of spread apart right now. We used to have one really big, nice fortress. We've kind of spread out a little bit in search of a new Slave Pit. The studio's ran through me and then the merch is run through another guy. Then we have our own fabrication shop and we have our own storage space, where we store all the props. Hopefully soon we'll get to consolidate all that. You guys actually design and make all the costumes? Oh, yeah. Everything from start to finish. We're a huge production. Does the costume get in the way of your playing at all? I was just talking to my drummer the other night about that. We were just talking about, "Ah, we need to work on this spot a little better, just blah, blah, blah." And I was like, "Yeah, you know, it ain't like we're writing easier songs either." We're stepping it up. We're definitely fucking getting ourselves writing better music. The costume makes it a little harder, but we've just got to push ourselves a little harder and kick its ass.
"When we do our headlining tour in the fall, we want to do the whole album in its entirety"
Gwar had a keyboard player back in the day. We have a guy right now. That's what he does. It's actually our soundman. For our lives shows, what he'll do is he'll play all the intros. And when the characters hit the stage and start talking, he just runs a little keyboard through his laptop, and his laptop has all the samples stored. But what we do in the studio, we just export that sample track and then we'll just create a cool little playlist of samples. Then we bring them on the road with us and try to use them. It's obvious that you guys have plenty of talent behind the stage show. Your bass player is scary good. Yeah, Beefcake, or Todd, he's the dude. Me and him actually joined the band at the same time. It was just crazy that we were kind of like from the same place, around the Michigan, Toledo, Ohio area. He's definitely come a long way. One of the main things in mixing this album, he was telling me, "In War Party, I was doing all kinds of crazy stuff and you can't even hear them." So I was like, "I'll make it a point to make sure we get you out on this new album so people can hear how kick-ass you are." One of the comments I've heard about your album Live From Mt. Fuji was that the guitar was too loud and the vocals weren't loud enough. I didn't get to mix that one. I wish I would have. What do you think of that live album as a representation of where the band was? I think it's a good presentation of live, just because it's gritty. With live, you're not going to get a perfect mix. You can't take a live album and say, "Oh, God, everything is just mixed perfectly." Well, you can, but we're Gwar. Everything's kind of just gritty. So as far as Live From Mt. Fuji goes, I think I've only listened to that album once. And it was just enough to say, "Shit, it will do. I don't hear any major fuck-ups. Go ahead and do whatever you want." At that time, we were just so busy. I didn't really get to have my hands in on the mix of that. But hopefully this new album will raise some brows and hopefully allow me to start mixing more in the future. Would you like to do outside projects? I have, actually. I've produced Municipal Waste's new album, Hazardous Mutation. I've actually done some engineering work for The Dave Brockie Experience. That was done in my studio. Of course, a lot of Gwar stuff. The Kids Next Door cartoon that we did, that was all done in the studio. Now I'm to the point where I've got to be more picky-choosy with the bands I do now because they're wanting to put my name no it. I've even seen people go as far as putting "mixed by Flattus Maximus of Gwar." You can't blame them, you know, high school bands that think that's gonna help them get their step up - which I hope it does. But it just kind of taught me, "Hey, you can't just be doing this for money. You've gotta do it because you love this band. And this band is trusting you to give them a kick-ass recording." I'm starting to get into that a little bit more, when Gwar is not eating me up. Of course, I'm in two other bands. I'm just constantly trying to stay busy and do what I love to do, which is play my music. 2006 Steven Rosen
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