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26/03/2007 – Interview with TWISTED TOWER DIRE

US Heavy Metal band TWISTED TOWER DIRE (official website) released its fourth full album "Netherworlds" little more than a month ago. Since this band is quite unknown to a lot of people, I decided to interview them, since I think this is an interesting group of people. And judging by the back-and-forth emailing and their replies below, TTD is one of those underground bands that still make Metal with passion. It's great to see that Scott and Dave enjoy talking about the band and other related things, so you don't have to drag the words out of them.

You can read my findings on "Netherworlds" at this location.

Twisted Tower dire logo

I have the impression that many, like me, don't know who TWISTED TOWER DIRE is, although you have been around since 1995. Could you give a brief introduction on the band, what the main characteristics are and the reason for the name TWISTED TOWER DIRE?

DAVE: Well, you're correct, we're definitely a little known, struggling, underground metal band! TTD began circa 1995 like many other bands, just a group of guys playing riffs and trying to write something that sounds good. The line up changed a lot over the first few years. Tom Phillips (WHILE HEAVEN WEPT) sang on one of the original demos, as did Janit Rubin. Back then TTD was 50% doom metal, 50% traditional metal. Scott did a lot of work promoting the band in the underground by tape trading and doing interviews old school style. This was before the internet and MySpace. Tony and (me) Dave joined the band in 1998 and we soon recorded "The Curse of Twisted Tower" on Miskatonic Foundation. Rich Walker recruited us as one of his fledgling bands and we recorded "The Isle of Hydra" a few years after "Curse". Somehow we managed to acquire a modest but dedicated fanbase in Europe and we did a European tour and Wacken in 2000 with SLOUGH FEG. We signed to Remedy Records a few years later and recorded "Crest of the Martyrs". Wacken again in 2003 and another tour or two, lots of US festival dates. "Netherworlds" was just released and we're finishing the writing of the fifth album. That's our history in a nutshell. The name came from a song written by the band of a former member called THOKK.

SCOTT: And I'll add: THOKK was the side project of our first guitarist Nick Mertaugh. It was him and the singer from GRAND BELIAL'S KEY / ANCIENT. "A Twisted Tower Dire" was a lyric from one of THOKK's ultra Lovecraftian inspired stories. We liked it because it had a weird sound to it and at the time we were a bunch of stoner high school kids and we thought it was cool so today it sticks. We never wanted to be a 'normal' band. I've never been a 'normal' person so there you have it. I think though in all, most bands would have called it quits by now, referring back to the beginning of your question. The reason TTD has been able to tread on for so many years with moderate success is that we're a really tight knit group. We've kept it going because we enjoy it and we're like a gang. We just enjoy writing music and getting on stage together.

Twisted Tower Dire - guitaristsIs everyone in the band a self-taught musician, or did some of you take lessons to have a good basis and then learn to evolve by yourselves?

DAVE: We all have some training through private lessons. Marc studied music business and did some theory/performance training in school. We all had enough to get us in trouble! It helps in writing harmonies and guitar leads in key, but we all know that the inspiration to write metal doesn't come from formal lessons and music degrees. We pull energy from drinking too much, acting like idiots and hanging out in scummy clubs with people our parents would hate. An appreciation for certain bands certainly contributes to the energy and our sound as a band.

SCOTT: And if I may interject, I think the best we you learn is by actually playing together. I think we're all a lot better than we were 9 years ago when we started the recording of "Curse". My brother showed me the basics. He taught me "Smoke on the Water" and "House of the Rising Sun" (which actually came in handy at a German whore house open mich session). Anyway, my only formal lessons where with a hippy guy that taught me RUSH's "The Trees" and some other more intricate classic rock songs and a neighborhood metal guy that was in a band here called SILENCE. This guy Loui, who was an amazing shredder, you'd never be able to tell I took lessons from this guy listening to a TTD album, ha ha ha. Anyway, that's kind of where TTD's sound comes from... everything Dave and I just mentioned. Particularly the beer and moronic stuff - those are the bits I like.

How do songs get born in the band? Does everyone come together and brainstorm or does it start with you or Dave playing some riffs and melodies, after which the rest is added?

DAVE: Scott has always been the main songwriter in the band, but we all contribute riffs, ideas on organization, and exclude ideas that suck. Every band writes sucky riffs now and again, you just have to filter them out! We have all written songs, but the ideas always get picked apart and improved by the group. That's what a 'real band' does in my opinion. Anything else is a musician surrounded by a bunch of monkeys with instruments.

SCOTT: Ideas that suck? Fuck You, buddy. Yeah, we have a great situation with the way we write. I think TTD is truly one of the bands with awesome synergy. A lot of bands claim to have it but we really do. I think it comes from being like a band of brothers and developing as musicians together. We're not amazing musicians or virtuosos by any stretch but we all listen to everything from THE BEATLES to BOLT THROWER and we know how we like to arrange a good song.

"Netherworlds" recently came out and like I said, you are taking your time to release new stuff. I like the album, musically, but Tony's vocals are the least attractive aspect, for I think someone with a rougher voice would do the songs more good. How satisfied are you with the overall result and would you have changed anything if you still had some more time?

DAVE: We took plenty of time recording "Netherworlds", too much time. What we didn't have is a big budget and a singer that was in the right frame of mind to sing his best. Tony was going through a rough time and I don't think he tracked as well as he could have. This process also took a long time and delayed the release of the album by almost two years. Our new singer has a very different style, more raw. I think a lot of people will really like it, and I'm sure some people wouldn't like it. We didn't want to find a 'Tony clone' and just wanted the best person for the job - that's Johnny.

SCOTT: Hold up, Dave, we also gotta tell 'm this: We (the musicians in the band) only took a few months to record our parts. The rest of the time was spent on trying to get Tony to get in the studio or even trying to get him to return our calls. It was a rough 3 years and we were trying to be patient with Tony while he worked through stuff. Towards the end of everything was when we discovered he had a bad drug problem and it all started to make more sense. Believe me, this is not how we wanted it! I was rallying right after "Crest" was out to throw "Netherworlds" together and release it in 6 months. Everybody else was behind me and worked towards it but Tony pretty much poo-pooed that idea and let us sit around with our thumbs in our asses the entire time. We had the demos for "Netherworlds" recorded for 2 and a half years before the album came out. Tony never put vocals to it. Instead, the first time we heard half his vocals were in the studio. The other times were on the stage hearing his lyrics for the new songs because he almost never came to practice. You think it's not embarrassing for us to put out a half-assed album after 3 years? SHIT! We know it's not the best we can do. We just wanted to get it past us! Since "Crest" this band has endured broken bones, drug addictions, DUI's, burned down houses, you name it. It was a very dark time for us. Now we've got a new singer who is eager to work hard and a fresh catalog of new songs which I think are our best ever. We're just ready to move the fuck oooooooooooon!

"Netherworlds" is the last album with Tony Taylor on vocals, and he's been replaced recently by Johnny Aune. What exactly caused this change in the vocal department and why and how was Johnny the best choice? Also, is Johnny's voice in the same league as Tony's or was Tony's rougher?

DAVE: Johnnys voice is rougher, kind of like Rob Halford vs. Bruce Dickinson. Halford has a much more rough overtone to his style, so does Johnny. He can also hit some high notes and I think the style works well with TTD. Johnny has been a friend of the band for some time and his other band VIPER is really good.

SCOTT: BUT ALSO: Well I think everybody knows by now how the change in vocalists occurred. As for Johnny I can guarantee t the fans that we've replaced Tony with someone of equal caliber but NOT a clone. It will indefinitely change our sound. Some will like 'the new' TTD, others will not. But the important part is that we're forging on and we're in good moods. Because TTD in bad moods isn't cool. We do bad things like pee in the ice trays in hotels, pinch the opening band's girlfriends' butts and barf on old black ladies. All true.

Netherworlds coverIs there a concept or story behind the title "Netherworlds" or do the songs stand on themselves without being connected via a theme?

DAVE: A lot of the songs have to do with Tony's depression during this phase of his life. "Fortress" is definitely about the mental barriers people create as a defense mechanism when they can't cope with life around them. This is a very unique and kind of strange album for us, but it definitely documents us as a band during this time period. It's not just another album we cranked out using old songs under the couch cushions.

SCOTT: Yea I'm gonna have to agree with Mr Dave. Pretty much from start to finish every song deals with Tony's psychosis except for the two songs I wrote lyrics for: "Dire Wolf" and "Casualty of Cruel Times". "Casualty" was actually Tony's song title, but he never was able to think of lyrics for it so I wrote it for him. It deals with the same sort of situations as the rest of the lyrics on "Netherworlds" as does "Dire Wolf". My songs are moreless about being a misfit that's socially estranged from the rest of the world. Funny, we really should have taken Tony's lyrics as a cry for help when we heard them the first time and as he started adding them one by one. Tony puts up such a tough guy image ("Fortress") that you never want to question him. The dude had a lot to lose by his addiction, he has a wonderful family and a good life. It's no wonder he was going crazy. Well there's his life like an open book (not quote Vince Neil, damn that sounded gay, but I won't press the delete button).

Twisted Tower Dire - guitaristsThe limited edition of the new album will contain a bonus CD. Can you tell what this will contain and in addition, how do you feel about Limited Editions?

DAVE: The limited addition CD includes demo tracks from "Crest", a few covers (DIO, BLACK SABBATH, SLAYER), and "Beyond the Gate" from HYDRA and one of the old demos. The demo tracks show what the songs sounded like before "Crest", there's a big difference I think. I like the covers too, we did them justice.

SCOTT: How do I feel about limited editions? I think you can take your limited editions and shove them up your ass!!!

How would you compare the four records you released so far? Has there been some kind of evolution throughout the years? I read that the previous album, "Crest of the Martyrs", was more Power Metal, while now you went back to classic Heavy Metal.

DAVE: The material on "Crest" was written a little more in a Power Metal style, but the production made it a Power Metal album. I didn't like the production at first because of this, but it does sound like a well recorded album. We're known as a Power Metal band now, but that album was really the odd-ball for us. We like decent production but "Crest" sounds like a German Power Metal band. That's great for them, but not for us. We want our own sound and that's what we got with "Netherworlds".

SCOTT: Yea, I think people where expecting us to evolve into EDGUY after "Crest" and we did the opposite. Sure seemed to piss off those frogs in France. On our first two records we were jus trying to write some pure epic heavy metal. Obscure IRON MAIDEN songs meets psychedelic. That sort of thing. You, know take you into a land of demons, wizards, trolls, faeries, unicorns, dragons, goblins, mermaids, clowns, the hamburgler, whatever. We wanted it to be rough and believable. Not typical slick production QUEENSRYCHE reads The Hobbit sort of shit. Then Tony noticed we had a lot of the same fans as HAMMERFALL and he got on a kick about writing stuff to cater to them. That's when he wrote stuff like "To Be A Champion" and "Some Other Time". He heard PARAGON's "Law of the Blade" and was absolutely enamored with the production so we wound up going to Piet. We've always tried new things for each album and have taken the lesson from Madonna to re-invent ourselves on every album (oh fuck, did I just type that?). So that was our Power Metal album. I'm sure there will be a group of people that only like that album from us. But it doesn't seem we have an entirely loyal fanbase anyway. I think there are just groups of fans for each album, ha ha ha. It's like, common, we're not fucking ANTHRAX or something. I promise we'll never have an album inspired by Flava Flave.

For the previous album you had IRON SAVIOR mainman Piet Sielck behind the buttons. Now you appealed to Matt Crooks, Wayne Mitzen (and Marc Stauffer). Was Piet too busy with SAVAGE CIRCUS and other bands to fulfill your needs + what was it like working with him?

DAVE: We didn't entertain the idea of using Piet again for the reasons above. He's a great producer, but he basically pushed bands through a 'Power Metal meat grinder' and the end product always sounds like another Powerhouse recording. Recording with Piet wasn't bad, but I definitely didn't feel he cared much for what we wanted the album to sound like. Things were changed that made certain songs less heavy - it could have been worse I'm sure.

SCOTT: Yeah, I don't dislike "Crest" at all. I'm proud of it and had a great time recording and getting to meet Piet. It was a cool experiment as all our albums have been. With our fifth album we're going to go to a new studio. The guy we're looking at is actually a country producer so it should be quite interesting. An no, no one's to busy working with SAVAGE CIRCUS to help TTD, damnit.

You're under the wings of Remedy Records. How was this deal set up and what did you know about this label before signing with them? Were the talks with other labels too?

DAVE: Remedy was the first to approach us when we were shopping for labels and we thought it was a good move for the band. We had a great run with Miskatonic but he understood that we wanted to try and get bigger distribution, etc. I feel that Rich Walker is the reason that TTD is on the heavy metal map!

SCOTT: Fuck no, Remedy were the only ones who would have us! Ha ha ha. Have you HEARD our music? They're fucking crazy.

Twisted Tower Dire - guitaristsWhat's your opinion on illegal downloading in general and does it have any effect on TWISTED TOWER DIRE?

DAVE: Everyone wants something for free and I understand this. I like the idea of people hearing my band that wouldn't normally consider buying it - it helps generate a larger fanbase. BUT, our recording budget relies on the sale of CD's. If anyone complains about the production of "Netherworlds" I ask them if the have "Crest" and if they actually paid for it. Then I explain that our budget this time was 25% of what we had for "Crest". So, I think it's really hurts the smaller bands more. It's also a big deal for Remedy records and other smaller labels. Many of them are barely in existence and they're the only hope for less known bands like us to record and get decent distribution. If you want to hear TTD recorded through a 4-track and buy it off of eBay then there's no problem downloading free music! If you're metal fan it's kind of like pissing in your beer an drinking it.

SCOTT: Yeah, I fucking love these little worms that go on message boards and complain about the production of the TTD CD they just downloaded for free. It's like, bitch, you realize someone has to pay for this shit, right? Ragging on someone's production is like ragging on them for being poor (I guess both are funny), but that's not the point. Musicians are poor by their very nature. Take away the labels and you're going to have a generation of bands recording shit on their own. Then what's going to happen? The reviewers are going to critique the band's pro-tools techniques and not the songs themselves. This is what you get from the video game generation. A bunch of nerdy homos concerned with the digital craft as opposed to the truly intellectual and artistic process of producing a song that moves someone emotional. It's a cold, geeky, computerized world we live in and you know what... I'll never write a song about. Fuck music pirates. They're the same thing as butt pirates. That's why I primarily enjoy playing live compared to releasing albums. That's an art the computer cannot generate. That's why I collect vinyl. You can't pirate vinyl (easily). Man, fuck the internet. Nothing but a bunch of dorky music downloaders and pedophiles anyway.

Are you planning on touring or will you remain in the States?

SCOTT: We're playing in Europe this April: Keep It True in Germany, two shows with OLD SEASON in Ireland, and Up the Hammers in Greece. We play in Germany as often as possible. We all have jobs and we can only tour so much every year, so we have to pick and choose. We've never done a real US tour, because it's a lot of territory to cover and the shows would suck in most places. We tend to do festivals and local shows in the US.

SCOTT: Also if I may interject, we just want "Netherworlds" behind us. We're going to do a quick week in Europe supporting this album and that's it. The second we get back home we're digging right into the new album and we're going to start getting the 'new' new stuff tight live prior to recording.

How easy is it to divide the time over the different bands you or the other members are in? Have there been agreements about when who will play where? For example, you're working a new record, but one of the others also has to fulfill certain obligations with their other band for a gig or recordings as well.

DAVE: This is sometimes an issue, but I think we know how to deal with it fairly. There have been situations where one band couldn't do something because another one was doing something else. Usually it's not a problem.

SCOTT: Fortunately most of the other bands the guys play in don't do too much except for VIPER but some of those guys are still in high school so we have some time before they get famous and we have to look for a singer again, ha ha ha.

How would you compare the American with the European scene? How well-known are you on both continents? In addition: the US has some great bands, in every genre (from Power to Doom), but what mostly pops up in news messages is the rise of 1) nu-metal (which has died nowadays, or almost at least) and 2) (scr)e(a)mo bands. Are these trends a matter of "want but can't" or the other way around ("can but don't want to"), that they don't want to play it properly, like so many have shown them in the past?

DAVE: We're definitely better known in Europe. We have a following in the US too, but it's very spread out. This makes it hard to have decent shows. Newer styles of metal are more popular in the US - it's always about the new, bigger, better thing. Americans have no attention span and have no idea how to evaluate a band if they don't hear them on the radio and therefore know it's considered good by someone. You see kids running around with IRON MAIDEN shirts on as a fashion statement, but they never come to any live shows?? Playing live in general usually sucks, people stare at you with their arms folded and then tell you how good you were after the shows??? It's weird. The US metal scene hasn't been like Europe since the 80's. Things were much better back then for some reason. I guess for that brief time it was the newest, greatest thing to listen to.

SCOTT: I think the younger generation scream-o and all that just take old metal to be a joke. I think their praise of it is very tongue-in-cheek. To them it's a goofy retro thing. There isn't an underground here like there is there.

Twisted Tower Dire - bandCan you live off the music you make with TWISTED TOWER DIRE (and other bands) or do you still depend on a daytime job?

DAVE: We make ZERO money on this band and in fact spend money to keep it running. We have been lucky to have festival promoters and bands help with plane fare this April and we really appreciate that! Other than that we have full-time jobs like anyone else. If we didn't work we could get a lot more done.

SCOTT: Well not really, because if we didn't work this band would be broke and we wouldn't do shit. Having played in a metal band my entire adult life I find it laughable that anyone can make a living doing this.

Do you listen to other music besides Metal? If so, which bands/artists/genres? Or is Metal thé kind of music for you?

DAVE: We all like Progressive Rock: everything from YES, to BOC, THIN LIZZY, PINK LFOYD, etc. This and blues is really where metal came from so it's like listening to heavy metal's grandfather tell a story about the the 60's and 70's.

SCOTT: If it's good I listen to it. And what are my criteria for good? Still not sure about that because there's shit in my collection that would horrify most self-respecting metalheads, But the fact is, most metalheads have those 'momentary distraction from the metal' albums lying around. In most cases if you're listening to metal than you're on the fringes going against the grain because you have a passion for the music and lifestyle. So if you're pledging (consciously or unconsciously) to make your life evolve around music chances are you love music in-general. I know I do! When you're an adolescent metal is a very important part of your image and a lot of kid-o's will feign allegiance to a particular elite niche of metal or whatever. I know when I was Death Metal/Thrash boy "Shout at the Devil" was hidden under my bed. But that's just silly. Music is art and art is what you take it to be; Michelangelo or shit drawings on the bathroom wall. So if you have DEICIDE and ABBA side by side on your CD shelf, it's okay.

What does the future hold in store for TTD? Or what would you still like to accomplish?

DAVE: We will keep plugging along as long as we are alive and anyone cares! Hopefully the new album will be released in about a year - it's basically already written! We're hoping to do a more detailed production next time around, depending on cost. A few European shows in April and then back to our jobs in the sucky States!

SCOTT: Yea, by new album Dave Is talking about our fifth album tentatively titled "Make if Dark".

Well, that's it for me... so far. ;-) Thanks for taking the time to reply and all the best with the new line-up, the gigs and future albums. I'll leave it to you to add some last words.

DAVE: Support your local bands and live music. Keep the heavy metal torch burning! Cheers!

SCOTT: Stop playing video games and start banging your head. Eventually the oil will all run out and you'll have no viable skills! Start going to TTD shows and you'll be better off! Also, send naked photos of your girlfriends to us. Thank you for the interview. ROCK ON!!!!

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