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