Jan 2020 03

Neither dead nor gone, Stabbing Westward starts off 2020 with the band’s first new music in over 18 years, with ReGen Magazine now presenting this InterView with one of the most iconic voices of the ’90s.
 

 

An InterView with Christopher Hall of Stabbing Westward

By Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)

One of the shining stars of the ’90s, in a time when the cutting edge of underground industrial and electronic textures helped to amplify the melodic aspects of mainstream and alternative rock, was Stabbing Westward. Driven by powerful guitar and keyboard hooks, along with infectious and darkly emotive lyrics and vocals, the band went on to become one of the decade’s defining acts thanks to such hits as “What Do I Have to Do?,” “Shame,” “Save Yourself,” “Sometimes It Hurts,” and more. But then, the band dissolved after the 2001 release of a self-titled album as Stabbing Westward fell prey to the all-too-familiar perils of changing lineups, management, and the pressures of surpassing past success.
However, in 2015, founding members Walter Flakus and Christopher Hall reconnected within the ranks of the latter’s band The Dreaming, releasing Rise Again that year and embarking on a tour that began to lay the groundwork for Stabbing Westward’s return. A series of tours and appearances at ColdWaves festivals in Chicago and Los Angeles followed, leaving audiences elated at hearing many old favorites, while also wondering if there would be anything new on the horizon. Today, January 3, 2020, marked the release of the first helping of new music from Stabbing Westward in over 18 years – the ironically titled Dead and Gone EP. With three new songs and two remixes, this EP is but the first of an upcoming series that will eventually culminate in a new full-length album. ReGen Magazine is happy to present this InterView with Christopher Hall in which he discusses his working relationship with Walter Flakus and the circumstances surrounding the reformation of Stabbing Westward, along with some insights into writing and production of the new EP, riding out the changes in the music industry, and more!

 

Let’s talk about the new material, because while it’s the first new Stabbing Westward release since 2001, you’ve been writing with Walter again since he joined The Dreaming on Rise Again. How would you say the writing dynamic between the two of you has evolved from when you first got together? How do you feel the new songs represent the strong bond you two have?

Hall: This is the first time since the early days of the band that Walter and I were able to write together without any outside influence. When we worked on the Dreaming material, I know Walter was aware he was stepping into a preexisting project and he felt inclined to fit into the vibe of the band. It was a much different writing experience than starting from scratch on all new material knowing it’s going to be a Stabbing Westward album. So, while Rise Again was the first step to rebuilding SW, it was still The Dreaming. The one song that came out of that album as a fairly pure SW song was ‘Alone.’ It was Walter’s music and my vocals, just like the old days.
When we started writing these new songs, we realized that we had a lot of ghosts to deal with first. There were many conversations about what exactly constitutes a Stabbing Westward record. What would fans expect from us? Which version of Stabbing do we draw from? Ungod? Darkest Days? I know a lot of fans were nervous it would be even more pop than the self-titled (don’t worry). All the old pressures and insecurities of being on a major label and fighting for a spot on alternative radio were still lurking in the closet. All those things had become part of our subconscious writing process. I think one of the biggest hurdles for us was realizing how free we were and then learning to let go of all that baggage. We had this rare opportunity to make music purely for us. I know that sounds easy, but it was actually pretty fucking challenging. In the end, we both just looked back on what music inspired us to do this in the first place; forget all the twists and turns and detours fate had dealt us, and try to remember all the way back to the very beginning – two guys who loved early WaxTrax! industrial music and figure out how we could recapture that love and still be us.

 

 

The new EP was recorded over three years in multiple states and time zones, which I gather was due to the rigorous touring schedule the band has had over the past few years and all the members living in different cities/areas. What did you find to be the biggest challenge in working this way, and what did you find most/least enjoyable about it?

Hall: Nothing was enjoyable about it. Long distance writing sucks. Yes, technology has made it easier, but it still sucks. Walter and I have always worked best together in the same room bouncing ideas off each other. When we are alone, we work in very opposite ways. Walter will sit down at his computer and write an entire piece of music over a weekend. A finished song of Walter’s rarely sounds much different than the first demo he sends me. I, on the other hand, will write a vocal idea while I’m walking my dog and then alter this idea 100 times as I fit in new lyrics and melodies, usually just working it all out in my head. These two processes could not be more different. Walter writes in stone. My ideas are ephemeral, constantly mutating like clouds on a windy day. But when we are in a room together, ideas fly faster than we can keep up. He was usually at the controls and I would be hovering behind him asking, ‘What if you tried this? That’s cool, but what if you tried this?’ He’d reply, ‘Nope, that doesn’t work. What about this?’ It drove him nuts, but we would always come up with really cool ideas. ‘Save Yourself,’ ‘Shame,’ ‘Waking Up Beside You,’ ‘Violent Mood Swings,’ ‘So Far Away,’ ‘P.O.M.F.,’ ‘Thing I Hate,’ ‘Lies,’ ‘Television,’ and ‘Sleep’ were all written in a room together duking it out over ideas.
The long distance hovering doesn’t work as well. It took a few songs and a lot of frustration trying to find a balance and trying to learn how to communicate abstract ideas with text messages. Hopefully, we can work out a better process as we move forward.

You’ve also stated that the new EP presents the band doing away with genre categorization, radio singles, and just writing music for you. From your perspective, how has the music industry changed from when you first entered it, and how do you feel that you – both personally and in your bands (The Dreaming, Stabbing Westward) – have responded to them? Or to put it another way, in what ways do you feel your approach to songwriting was affected by the demands of the industry? How has that changed to now?

Hall: As far as radio singles, I think that we have always had a natural tendency to write more structured songs. Walter has always been in radio and has been the music director of several of the biggest alternative radio stations in the country. I have always written music with an emphasis on strong choruses and song structure. I think that natural style helped us during our time on Columbia Records, but it was never something we thought about or felt pressured to do. But I do think that after the success of ‘What Do I Have to Do?,’ we felt a pressure to follow it up with another ‘hit.’ And that kind of pressure can sometimes affect your creativity.

This time around, none of that mattered. We were still trying to write the best songs we could, but we allowed ourselves to stop worrying about all the self-imposed rules of the ’90s. If a song was better with a drum machine than live drums, then that’s what we used. Sometimes Carlton would send me 12 tracks of heavy guitar, but I only used two; we didn’t feel like we had to add guitar or drums in order to appeal to rock radio. We allowed ourselves the luxury of not caring what anyone else thought. The only rule was what sounds best. My only thought was, ‘how does this song make me feel?’. That was my guiding principle.
As far as genre, that’s a tough one. We talk about that a lot. I know what we want to be. I also know that my voice is the one thing holding us back from really ever truly belonging to the ‘industrial’ genre. I feel awful about that much of the time. I’ve learned to like my voice. It’s become an old friend by this point in my career and I can honestly say I sing better now than I ever did in the ’90s. But I know that it’s not the kind of voice that is associated with industrial music. I appreciate Walter sticking by me all these years.

You’ve been working with Carlton Bost in The Dreaming and now he’s part of Stabbing Westward, and he’s brought on Bobby Amaro to be the new drummer. Did they contribute to the writing process on the new EP, and/or will they be writing more with you and Walter on future material?

Hall: Carlton played guitar and bass on the new EP and Bobby played drums on two of the songs. But the three songs on the first EP were written by Walter and myself. But I do have to say that Carlton has been awesome about writing guitar parts that blend perfectly with the songs and never making it about him or his style. That is so rare and it’s what has made him an invaluable bandmate and friend for the last 15 years.

Do you feel this lineup presents the strongest configuration of Stabbing Westward, or at least for this time?

Hall: I would never say this is the strongest configuration of the band. Darkest Days era SW was a great band. Jim Sellers and Andy Kubiszewski were a monster rhythm section and our production back then was amazing. We played hundreds of shows together and pretty much read each other’s minds onstage.
I don’t think you can ever compare the two bands, but I can say that Bobby is a hell of a drummer and Carlton grew up loving Stabbing Westward as a fan and he plays every song with that same passion. I also feel like this group of guys understands and appreciates what a blessing it is to get up and play shows in front of great audiences. It’s not something we take for granted and I think that passion shines through.

The new EP also has remixes by Walter and Steven Archer of Stoneburner, and while Stabbing Westward has had remixes in the past (the one by Josh Wink on the Spawn soundtrack being one of the more widely heard), you’ve never had a remix-centric release. Is this something you’d be interested in pursuing? What are your thoughts on remix albums?

Hall: We did the remixes for club DJs. One aspect of SW that always bummed me out was our lack of presence at goth/industrial clubs. I would go out dancing and never hear SW. Sometimes the DJ would know I was there and try to play ‘Save Yourself’ or ‘Shame,’ but they were never mixed for the dance floor and always sounded terrible. A lot of that stems from being a hybrid rock/industrial band. So, this time around, we decided to try and create versions of the songs that can easily be played at clubs. It’s where I discovered all my favorite industrial bands in the ’80s and I hope someone hears ‘Cold’ or ‘Dead and Gone’ at a club and dances their ass off.

‘Cold’ is notable for featuring you playing trumpet, and it’s very reminiscent of your early track ‘Plastic Jesus,’ which you recently released an updated version on a ColdWaves comp and in the remastered Iwo Jesus EP. Was this an intentional connection – revisiting the past while laying down a new future, so to speak? Will we hear more trumpet in the future? I ask because it’s an unusual instrument for most rock music today, and I love the way you incorporate it into the band’s sound.

Hall: Trumpet was my first instrument. I started playing when I was five-years-old and played all through college. I played trumpet on early SW songs and even played it live when I toured with Die Warzau. As I started writing ‘Cold,’ I pictured that trumpet part in the intro. It just seemed right. And yes, maybe it’s a conscious effort to break out of the stereotypical box I constantly feel trapped in. Bobby got very upset when he saw me actually playing the trumpet in the ‘Cold’ video. ‘It’s not very Rockstar,’ he said. ‘Perfect,’ I thought.

 

 

A new song you’d recorded that is not on the EP, but was on a ColdWaves compilation, was ‘Home In You.’ What can you tell us about this song? Was it written in different circumstances from the Dead and Gone EP, or was there another reason it was not included?

Hall: That was not a new song at all. That was written for the self-titled album back in 2000, but was deemed too dark and heavy for that fluffy album and was cut by the ‘producer.’ Walter reminded me of it after we started working together again. He is a treasure trove of old tracks. When I heard it, I remembered how much I had loved the song. We recreated it and put it on the compilation.

There will be music videos for all three of the new tracks, with two of them created by Vincente Cordero of Industrialism Films, and one directed by you. What can you tell us about these videos, the concepts behind them, and the experience of creating them? Music videos seem to be more popular than ever, and it feels now like more artist are able to make them part of the overall artform rather than a commercial product or necessity (as it seemed to be back in the ’90s). What are your thoughts on this?

Hall: Vincente came up with a really cool concept for ‘Dead and Gone’ and I let him roll with it in its purest form. Due to Walter being in Seattle and Carlton being on tour with Orgy, we were unable to have the whole band in the video, so Vincente wrote a concept that worked around that. The video for ‘Crawl’ was much more vague and based on the mood the song created. We shot the two videos over the course of two days, but only spent about four hours on ‘Crawl.’ The video for ‘Cold’ started as a simple lyric video. I had decided to teach myself how to edit on Adobe Premiere. But as usual, I went way overboard. It’s in no way in the same league as the videos Industrialism Films made, but it was super fun to make. I used an Instagram Halloween filter and my phone’s camera. I had Walter shoot some footage in Seattle on his phone using the same filter and edited it together with footage I shot of Bobby and Carlton in separate locations. I added in footage of the GoGo dancers at Bar Sinister in Hollywood dancing to our song, and two weeks and several YouTube tutorials later, you have my directorial debut. For the record, Bobby hates it and takes no responsibility for its content… especially the trumpet part.

 

 

Aside from Stabbing Westward, you’d also participated in Brian Carter’s REVillusion, singing the title tracks of his two albums. Would you tell us about how you first met him and how you came to be part of REVillusion? The first track, ‘New Extinction’ seemed to me very reminiscent of Fear Factory (machines rising up to exterminate the humans that created them), while ‘Heartless’ had more of the emotional, personal vibe of Stabbing Westward (and with Tina Guo on cello). Can you tell us about your vocal/lyrical approach to these two songs? Were they dictated by Brian, or did he give you the freedom to write what you wanted? What are the chances that we’ll hear you on future REVillusion material, or perhaps in some other collaborations of this kind?

Hall: Those guys reached out to me a few years ago. At first, I thought it was strange, but I actually really enjoyed the process of writing vocals for someone else’s song. Each time, Brian would tell me what he wanted the song to be about and it was never anything that I would normally write. It was a great exercise working outside my comfort zone. And working with Tina was an honor, even though we never really collaborated. Maybe someday. Over the last year, I’ve also done two remixes for Raymond Watts and <PIG>, as well a few other indie bands.

With even more new music on the way, what’s next for you? Will Stabbing Westward tour again in 2020?

Hall: We are going to continue to tour as much as we can to support the series of EPs coming out in 2020. We are looking at doing more goth/industrial festivals as well. As far as new music, this is just the first of three EPs. We’ve found that in this age of instant gratification, it’s wiser to slowly release new music. But at the end of the year, we will release all 10-12 songs as an album. I’m really excited and nervous for the fans to finally hear what we’ve been working on for so long.
Thanks for taking the time to talk to us!

 

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