Sincere Brutality (or Mister Ridiculous Zine? Origin questionable.) - 2001
Interview by Martin Heroin
Interview with J. Hamacher
When I bought Frodus' Conglomerate International, it should have come with a warning sticker saying, "This is going to knock you flat on your ass!" I took a sucker punch on the chin that left my jaw dragging on the floor. The artwork and lyrics had me tearing my hair out wondering what the hell was going on. I knew I would have to see them live to truly get the answers I needed, but somehow I missed the boat. The band broke up a little over a year ago, sinking the fantastic vessel to the bottom of the ocean. The complexity of their last album And We Washed Our Weapons In The Sea, inspired me to contact the band, and their drummer Jason Hamacher did his best to bring me into the light.
What exactly brought about the breakup?
Jason: A lot of different stuff. We did several tours and a lot of things happened to us in mid 1999 that sucked really bad. My fiancee, got diagnosed with cancer. Three days later our guitarist's father had a stroke and was half paralyzed. It was really heavy. And we really didn't talk for a month or two. This was in June, two years ago actually. We went into the studio of august of '99 and recorded [And We Washed Our Weapons In The Sea] for 37 days, it was a really long time. A lot of emotions, a lot of tensions were released during that recording session. The other guys got tired of doing it. It's hard for me to say because I was the one that wanted to keep the band going, and the other guys just felt satisfied.
Does that explain the feeling of this newer album versus "Conglomerate", which seemed to be a lot more corrosive, where as the new one was more diverse and had more texture?
Jason: That is the only Frodus full length that we've written with the same bass player. Nathan was on "Conglomerate", and this was the longest we've had to develop a writing style. He joined the band and six months later we recorded "Conglomerate", it was pretty quick. But over a couple of years on the road we developed a style with him that came out. A lot of intense things were going on when that happened so it had a lot of emotion. I was attending chemotherapy between recording sessions. It was super intense and we were all friends with my girlfriend, even the engineer. It was just this heavy thing, and not just that, everyone had something intense going on. That was at the time our relief for the things we were going through.
As far as the contract with Tooth & Nail, that fell apart, what was the deal with that?
Jason: It was our choice, when we signed to Tooth & Nail a guy by the name of James Morales was in charge of diversifying the label. Christian acts, non-Christian acts, and different music scenes. Frodus didn't fit in to anything that they were doing really. Except for the band Roadside Monument which we did a split record with. They were working on diversifying the label, I was kind of excited to take some flak from people and work against the norm. Work for the label's reputation, because they are a good label. Over the course of time the guy that signed us left, and a couple of other people left, and I had a talk with the owner. He was really cool about it, I said I don't know if we fit on this label. Where you're going and where we're going are two completely different things. He gave us a bunch of options and we opted to leave, which was fine with him.
Did you feel like the Christian thing wasn't something you were really into? On "F-Letter" you thanked God but on "Conglomerate" there was no mention of God, Jesus or anything Christian?
Jason: I am Christian and so is our guitarist; our bass player is not. Tooth & Nail was a two edge sword, some people didn't like the fact that we were on Tooth & Nail because they were Christian related record label, and then the Christians were kind of weird that we weren't a Christian band. We were kind of caught in the middle, but then it also worked to our advantage at some points too. But as far as trying to get away from the God thing, our spirituality doesn't have a whole lot of refection in our music. We touch on politics and business and a lot of personal issues, but as far as spirituality was concerned it didn't come into play with our lyrics or the type of shows that we played. It wasn't so much leaving the label because of that; I don't being associated with it. But it's just something that we don't do so it is awkward to some degree. If someone shows up and is expecting a certain level, like thinking we are a Christian band and we're not, by meaning preaching on stage. Have you ever seen one of those bands?
Yeah, the kids hanging out outside with the jackets that say "Property of Jesus"...
Jason: Right, that stuff's just weird to me. It wasn't so much getting away as just trying to figure out what the best decision for the band was on a musical level. All the other bands are pop punk bands, and they sound like a swing band, a rap guy. We're just like "What is that? What is going on?" The owner agreed, and we parted on good terms.
That gets us to what the band is about. There's kind of a technology thing happening, on the new album the song Awesome Machine explains a little bit. Maybe you'd like to go into detail about what the purpose of the lyrics and the base of the band was.
Jason: It basically started off with the guitar player in high school. I was a hardcore metal punk kid. And he was a punk garage kid, so the early stuff was a culmination of both. As far as lyrics and guitars and stuff we never had a full on point, like a specific message we were trying to derive. But we were heavily influenced by books like 1984, Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451, you know that whole futuristic dilemma of man and machine taking over each other. So that came across in a lot of the lyrics, but a lot of the lyrics in the newest record were a lot more personal as opposed to the technological stuff we had done. It was something we thought was semi-humorous to have the whole shtick of being big business and we weren't actually the band there was some dude named Frodus that was controlling us.
How did the term "Rock n Roll is war" come about?
Jason: It started off we were doing a bunch of crappy tours. We were on tour with this band Bluebird, which our guitarist actually plays for now. We were in El Paso, Texas in some place and the crowd was just kind of loafing. We're a pretty high-energy band and when you show up it diminishes what you're doing. Not all the time, but when you're working for so long on hard tour it gets disheartening.
You want to feed off their energy...
Jason: Yeah, so Shelby just started screaming "Rock and Roll is war!" We were on top of tables screaming it through megaphones, you know just going crazy. I think the line between the audience and crowd is far too definitive or minimal. I'm not saying I want people to get up and mosh...
You can be energetic without being destructive...
Jason: Sometimes people just seemed disinterested. And that could be our fault for not playing interesting enough music, but it was just a phrase we coined in Texas. We just agreed that rock and roll is war, so we're gonna go crazy on these people.
You mentioned Shelby is in Bluebird, what have you been up to? I know Tony mentioned you were just in Egypt and wanted me to ask about pony liberation...
Jason: (while laughing) Well I am the extreme member of Frodus, a lot of the rhythm and song structuring was kind of my addition, I don't know notes or anything like that. My strong point was arranging, I did almost all of it. And now I play in this crazy grindcore band called Combat Wounded Veteran in Florida. And they used to be just a straight fast grindcore band, but now it has more complex rhythms like Frodus did, and just real insane crazy guitars. I recorded a couple songs with them in February of 2000 and then in October of 2000 I went down and broke my foot so I had to come home. But I'm flying down in July, we're playing four shows with Locust and we're going to record a full length in September for No Idea and kind of go from there.
Do you have any previous 7"s?
Jason: Not with me on it, Combat Wounded Veteran has a lot of stuff. The have a full length on No Idea, a split with the band Scrotum Grinder and a couple other 7"s. They don't play very often especially now that I'm up here and the other guys are in Florida. I recently filled in on drums for this band Good Clean Fun, have you ever heard of them?
Jason: They're from here, they're kind of a straight edge hardcore band. They were looking for a drummer really last minute, and I had just quit my job the day before so I said sure, why not? We went to England and Israel, we played like 5 or 6 shows in England and flew to Israel and played 3 shows, flew back to England and played another 6 or 7 shows. After that I went off by myself for Egypt. I went to Egypt, Jordan, back to Israel and then to Greece. I just got home two weeks ago. It was amazing, I went to all the pyramids and saw all the temples up and down the Nile on a 3 day Nile cruise. Became a licensed scuba diver, I scuba dove a World War II wreck. I went all over Israel and saw all of the holy sites, which was cool for me. If you read the bible a lot of it seems like mythology, but to go to the places where the stories actually happened, and see the landscape and see the streets that were walked on, it's a whole different level.
Ok, so you chucked a little bit, pony liberation...?
Jason: Shelby and I and a [couple friends of ours] all did a band called Mancake, part man and part pancake. And I sang and our friend Eric put it out on Artmonk, it was like this insane band. My lyrics were completely sarcastic but really funny, and I got tired... I totally understand animal rights, I totally understand animal liberation and I think it's great, but sometimes people just do dumb stuff for it. For instance some guys I know did one of those human chains where they try to block a circus so they chain themselves up with pipe so that it's impossible to break. Do you know what I'm talking about?
Yeah, the U-locks around your neck and stuff...
Jason: Right, they did that and they were trying to block the door, and they just let the animals in through a different door, it was kind of depressing. Not only that but they took an elephant off the entrance ramp and it peed and ran all down so these people who were locked and couldn't move were standing in gallons of elephant piss. I thought all of that stuff was funny. I chose to do pony liberation, just liberate all ponies. For some reason I think ponies are funny, so it was this huge joke, we had like pony liberation stickers we would pass them out, and I would rant and rave about how ponies are treated cruelly at birthday parties as little Timmy rides on his back with cotton candy. All that kind of stuff, and it would be a good time...
So are you still in Virginia?
Jason: Yeah, I just got a new job, on Wednesday I will be the medical coordinator and buyer for a medically directed skin care facility. That was the job I quit right before I went to Egypt. I talked to them again because I got tired of looking for jobs, and they said they would work with my schedule. I never in my life thought I would work for a skin care facility. "What the hell?" It's in between a dermatologist and a day spa. So it's pretty scientific, what I'm doing is I'm coordinating and moving lasers. Laser hair removal and wrinkle reduction. The science of all that stuff is really fascinating. I can take a laser and run it over lines in your face. It's non-evasive, it doesn't hurt you, it doesn't take off skin. And over time that can actually reduce wrinkles.
I heard the hair removal thing actually hurts quite a bit...
Jason: Yeah it does, it depends. I get that stuff for free at work and it depends on the area. For guys you get it on the back of your neck usually, up near where your actual hair is, that hurts like crazy. It's thicker hair, it also depends on your pain tolerance, and how powerful they do it. I always tell them to turn it up as powerful as possible, but then I regret it afterwards. It depends, I got it done once and I could barely feel it.
In terms of pain tolerance can you compare it to a tattoo?
Jason: Probably less. Some people get it and say no big deal at all. It's the sensitivity level and the area. The back of the neck is insanely sensitive, but a lot of women get it on their underarms and it's no big deal at all.
How are things in Virginia? You've obviously toured around quite a bit and seen things but chose to stay there... (Note: Richmond sucked ass... -Martin)
Jason: I like DC. I'm like 5 minutes from DC. With DC it's nice, it's not as big as New York, it's not as pissed off as New York. But it's still a city, I like the music scene here, I like the people here. I can go where-ever I want, and when I come back have a little practice space in my basement. I can practice drums all I want. A lot of my friends live here, a friend that runs a recording studio lives here so I can go record when ever I need to. Besides, an hour and a half west of DC you can get into the mountains. (Jason gives address, but not to you) Which did you like better, "Conglomerate" or "Weapons"?
"Conglomerate" right away just blew me off my ass. Like I said it's the corrosive energy that grabbed me and shook me, and the Devo cover was totally just pretty wacko.
Jason: Have you heard the original version of that we did, the different version?
I don't think I have, the 7" version?
Jason: That's better I think, the 7" version is a lot more raw. [The "Conglomerate"] version is still crazy, but it's not as crazy as the other one.
...versus the new album, I liked it immediately. It seems to me like this would have gone over well if you would have stayed together and pushed it a lot. It's not really the same as At The Drive In, but it's got the same feel [but done much better].
Jason: Our next US tour was supposed to be with them. It was just a weird time, when we left Tooth and Nail that record was supposed to come out on Sub Pop. We didn't break up until well after the fact. That record was fully recorded, Sub Pop called, and I talked to them for a month and a half... Do you know Slowdime Records from DC? It's a branch off of Dischord, I talked to Slowdime, and it was like we could go the route of Sub Pop and tour and do that full time, or we could go laid back and go easy with Slowdime. I didn't tell Sub Pop that, but I told Slowdime, and they were just like "Yeah, whatever let us know." I went to a band meeting to tell the guys and that when they were like "We want to break up."
(1 minute left on the calling card) Any closing comments?
Jason: Go see the world.