West Virginia horror punk outfit, Blitzkid, just released what is arguably the best album of their fourteen year career (Apparitional), only to have to have the release prempted by the announcement back in March of the departure of founding member T.B. Monstrosity. Brought back together by their current tour with musical influences Face to Face and Strung Out, I caught up with the other half of Blitzkid’s song-writing and vocal duo, Argyle Goolsby, to discuss the new record, the current goings on with the Blitzkid line-up, and living the American nightmare as a DIY touring band.
You guys have been on the road for several weeks now with Strung Out and Face to Face. How’s it going so far?
AG: We’re on the last leg right now. We started the tour on the twenty-fifth of May and we’ve pretty much gone coast to coast. We’ve been playing really good venues and had a pretty good reception every night. We’ve toured long enough to where we have our own crowd established so it’s nice to see a lot of familiar faces coming out to see us in each city. We’re getting the added benefit of having a new audience seeing us every night. Hopefully when we come back on our own headlining tour we’ll see some of those faces.
It’s been a while since you’ve been out to the west coast.
AG: Yeah. The last time that we were here I believe was 2008. The last time we played San Francisco we actually played Blake’s on Telegraph in Berkeley.
I don’t think they do live music any more.
AG: Wow, that’s a shame; that was a really cool venue. Cool part of town too. You know it’s hard for us a lot of times to get out west. We do it but we’re a DIY band for the most part. The past few years we’ve accumulated some support through the label, booking agencies and we have management … all these extensions that we never had before which make us a little more mobile, give us a little more time to do things. But still it’s a process to get out to the west because you have to go across the Midwest and it’s a lot of nothing. A lot of times it’s a lot of driving. Just trying to synch up your east coast shows with your west coast shows for a band of our level is kind of hard sometimes.
And sometimes it’s easier to get to Europe. You do seem to spend a lot of time there.
AG: Yeah, one perq is we’re right on the coast. We’re in Virginia … we’re actually in West Virginia … our town is bordered on the state line of West Virginia and Virginia. It’s the same town. There’s a Bluefield West Virginia and a Bluefield Virginia and I live on the Virginia side. But it’s pretty easy to get there [Europe]. We have friends that live over here [west coast] and we’ll meet up with them on tour in Europe and we’ll be like, “how long was your flight?” For us, we’ll be on the plane for eight hours and they’re sixteen, seventeen hours with layovers.
It seems like European crowds have been receptive to Blitzkid as well. How would you compare the European crowds to the U.S. crowds?
AG: They’re all very supportive and they’re all really into it. The one thing that I have noticed is that in Europe we do have more of an expanded fan base just because we’ve been primarily focused on, as a band, the European market more so than here in the states. A lot of that is attributed to the fact that we’ve not really had until recently a U.S. label or support. We were doing everything DIY on our own as I mentioned, burning CD’s and just mailing them out blind to publications. I guess one got in the hands of Fiendforce Records and they were doing a compilation. They weren’t a label that was really releasing albums yet and they had a compilation that they were wanting to do called “This Is Horror Punk” and we submitted a track to it and it went really well and they said that the reception to our band on the CD was really good. They asked if they could license the album that the song came off of and before we knew it we were in Europe. The last tour we came home from marked our eleventh, maybe it was our twelfth, over there since 2004 and that’s really good considering the fact that it’s not advisable to play the same market a lot because people get tired of you after a while no matter how much they may like your band. It was interesting … we’ve had an interesting run with Europe. It’s kind of an anomaly that people are so supportive of us over there. I’ve felt up until recently more like an import band in our own country. People still to this day don’t really know who we are. And I don’t expect everyone in the world to know who we are … I know we’re not U2 or anything … but we’ll come to cities like San Francisco and people are like, “I’ve never heard of you guys. Have you ever played Blake’s On Telegraph, I go there all the time.” Or we’ll go to Dallas and people will say, “Hey, you guys ever played here?” I’m like, “yeah, we played here and there was no one here the past three times.”
There have been some changes in the band lineup; most significantly TB announced he was leaving the band a few months ago. Who’s actually playing in the band now?
AG: It’s a complicated situation. Everything in life hits transitional periods. The thing with TB leaving the band originally was … it wasn’t any sort of ill will or not getting along. He and I have been the primary backbone of this band since day one and between the two of us, we each have certain investments in this band. For me, I’ve put a lot of time and a lot of things such as after college I put off a career. I was teaching for a while and then I put off my job at a tattoo shop. They needed me there full time and I couldn’t be there full time if I’m touring. So I’ve kind of put a lot on hold for this band. When it came to the point that he needed to leave the band, I understood. But we talked about it and he understood my position as well. I couldn’t necessarily end it nor did I want to. But it put me in a precarious situation because he and I are the primary song writers. A lot of Blitzkid’s music we write individually … I’ll write a lot of the songs that I sing and he’ll write a lot of the songs he sings … we bring them to each other and add our own interpretations and basically create a Blitzkid song that way. It’s not a necessary element. We’re both capable songwriters on our own. He’s like, “I suggest that you go on with the band,” because he knew the situation and my attitude towards it still. And that was the plan. We had a couple of other guys who played in the band at the time and they left here recently and TB and I talked he understood the situation. We had just been offered this tour with Face To Face and they’re a huge influence on our band and that, for both of us, was a realization on an individual level … like an affirmation. Like wow, we’ve kind of reached a level that we personally feel is an accomplishment. You can’t really state what success is, you know what I mean? It’s relative to what you want so for us it was a hallmark of success to be invited on this tour. With the new album being out, we felt like the best thing for us to do is to work through our situations outside of the band. And those situations are nothing internal. He lives in Massachusetts, I live in West Virginia. He’s married, I’m engaged. I have a job, I’m a tattoo artist working more. He’s doing other things more. It doesn’t synch up as much as we’d like it to. I think the reality of us trying to split the band up the way we did kind of had time to sink in in the months following the split. And we both realized that this band is the two of us primarily and if there’s going to be a band and a Blitzkid, it should be this way.
So he’s back?
AG: Yeah. The thing with us is that we try to tour as much as possible and we’re working it out.
I think you use the word transition earlier. To me it seems like Apparitional is a transitional album for Blitzkid. Would you agree with that?
AG: I think so. From my perspective, we’ve had pretty transitional albums from album to album save the first two because we were still feeling out what we were doing … what we wanted to do. There’s nothing revolutionary about what we’re doing but we needed to find our own market for it and it took a couple of albums. For Apparitional, though, we learned a lot from our previous record, Five Cellars Below. We branched out a lot on that album. Again, in no way is it the Beatles, like the White Album or anything, it was just for Blitzkid … and what we stood for and what we did and what we interpreted our music to be … we decided to go out on a limb, in our opinion, and expose more fringe elements and influences.
Listening to it [Apparitional] for the first time I was pretty surprised but it sounded to me like what Blitzkid is supposed to sound like. Did the new label have something to do with that?
AG: They’re solely responsible for releasing it so they had a lot to do with the band over the past year, year and a half.
What about the sound, though?
AG: The last album, Five Cellars Below, we experimented with some stuff that we necessarily hadn’t tried before. Then on Apparitional we kind of, I don’t want to say got it out of our system, as much as we incorporated it into our system … decided we’re capable of that sound, let’s combine that now with what we’re more familiar with. That’s how Apparitional, the songs and the sound, came about. We took the time to go to a really good studio. The label was pushing for that. Actually we wanted that as well. If you listen to our albums in sequence, they progressively sound better in quality because when we first started there was no idea or foresight that we were ever going to do anything with this band beyond our town. We were always conscious of that as we grew and tried to expand with it. We had no real studio experience before this so this is the only band that I’ve really been in. This is first band and I’ve been in it for fourteen years. The studio we went to was SRG Studios in Hamilton Square New Jersey. We worked with the guy, Sean, the engineer on the last album we did, Anatomy of Regeneration. He understood what we wanted and he understood how we worked. We were able to go in and eliminate all of the middle ground and the feeling of everything out … just get to work.
Was there a new element brought in or did you think of advance about the sounds you were trying to merge?
AG: Yeah, we wanted basically to accentuate more of the punk element of the band. That’s why if you listen to a lot of the songs like “She Won’t Stop Bleeding” or “They’re All Dead,” we kind of brought back more what I consider our roots before Blitzkid. For me personally, I was always into everything from Bad Religion to T.S.O.L. to the Adolescents … real driving, cool music. TB was always into metal. If you listen to a song like “They’re All Dead,” you can hear both elements combined. It’s a very punk-meets-metal kind of song. We’re just more comfortable, I think, with our influences.
And you brought the sax back…
AG: The thing with the saxophone is, where we were recording, we have a friend there named Ceilidgh Madigan and he’s seriously hands-down the Jimi Hendrix of saxophone. That guy’s insane. He played in the band Cryptkeeper Five and they’re all friends of ours and it’s been really cool to have those guys in our location when we’re recording because they’re all phenomenal musicians. They’ll come in and lend viola or they’ll come in and do slide guitar, lap steel, backup vocals and all that stuff. We saw Ceilidgh and after “Starlight Decay,” that was fun, we asked him if he wanted to come do the saxophone on “Casque of Amontillado.” It’s cool the way that happened because I gave him the demo of the song two weeks prior to us getting to the studio and I just told him, “listen to this … whatever you want to do … I trust your judgment.”
How do you decide that song needs sax? Is it one of those “needs more cowbell” moments?
AG: No, for “Casque of Amontillado” that was admittedly not so much a Blitzkid song as much as it was something that was a random train of thought that turned into a song for me. My influences go out to so many branches like old new wave and I like stuff like Madness, the Specials, and all the old first wave ska. I also like new wave … all the old stuff like Thompson Twins … admittedly I just grew up on it. It was some of the first, associative music I had as a child. Like turning on MTV. When I wrote “Casque,” I had that riff and I wanted the drum beat just to be a four-on-the-floor, consistent almost like dancy song. And the more I listened to it, it was “alright, this thing needs saxophone.” It wasn’t really a plan, it wasn’t really, “okay, which song needs saxophone?” That was there and I knew that we had someone that could do it. He came in and just laid it down in two takes.
And you’ve got Doyle playing on “Mr. Sardonicus.” How did that come about? Obviously you know Doyle from Gorgeous Frankenstein.
AG: Originally I had given Doyle a bunch of songs most of which ended up being on Apparitional. When I was in Gorgeous Frankenstein, I had so many songs demoed … I gave him a whole CD full of songs and I was like, “listen to this and if there is anything that grabs you or anything that you’d like to add to the catalog of Gorgeous Frankenstein, let me know.” As you can tell with Apparitional, a lot of the stuff is more punk, I guess you’d say. Gorgeous Frankenstein kind of has a heavier edge. But surprisingly to me he really dug “Mr. Sardonicus.” We were going to do that song in Gorgeous Frankenstein and we actually traded back and forth like he was playing guitar on it and I was singing and he put drums to it. There’s a Gorgeous Frankenstein version of that song.
Will that ever see the light of day?
AG: I don’t know.
Does it have a real drummer on it?
AG: No, it’s a drum machine. The thing with that is, when I left Gorgeous Frankenstein, I was basically, “If you want to use it, you can use it.” And he’s like, “no, we kind of have a different catalog, different direction,” because they got a different singer/songwriter through Alex [Story]. It just didn’t work with my style. He said if you’re going to do that song on the Blitzkid album, just let me know. I did and we worked it out. I guess he was a fan of it.
Have you actually heard any of the new Gorgeous Frankenstein?
AG: I honestly haven’t. I have probably thirty-two songs unreleased that were the demo that when I was in the band I was singing and handing back to Doyle, back and forth, before Alex was in the band. I know the songs, but I haven’t heard them as they are now.
The other day I saw “Living the American Nightmare.”
AG: Oh you saw it? That’s awesome, I haven’t seen it yet.
You haven’t seen it? I was going to ask you about it.
AG: No, I haven’t. My friend J.V. [Bastard] from Gotham Road and Darrow Chemical Company, he texted me the other night. He saw the premier in New Jersey and he’s like, “This is awesome.” They used a lot of both of our footage between he and I. They used some of our music, too. I can’t wait to see it.
It’s a cool film. I assume you know the premise. What are your thoughts on it?
AG: Conceptually I think it’s a great idea because, as the title states, it’s how it is to tour. It’s living the American nightmare. It’s not hard to tour but it has its challenges. You do something for fourteen years like we have and it’s not like there’s a comfort zone. You’re continually trying to progress and get ahead. I actually kind of latched on to what he was trying to convey.
The film is aligned around the tightly knit New Jersey, New York horror punk scene …
AG: It’s funny because that’s how I ended up getting my spot in the documentary. The director, Pawl, was speaking with J.V. and he said, “Do you know any other musicians who fit what I’m trying to do here.” He said, “You have to talk to the guy from Blitzkid.” I’ve been neck deep in this for the past thirteen-fourteen years. It’s not been a hobby. It’s not been anything that I’ve passively let happen. It’s been a full-on driving thing for the past thirteen, fourteen years for me.
So are you still driving around in the rusty van?
AG: No, I scrapped that van for $400. That’s all I could get out of it.
I was going to ask if you had to pay someone to take it off your hands …
AG: I actually had to have someone come and tow it. We do have a van now which is awesome. We have a big box truck that we converted into an RV. We’ve stepped up a little bit in the transportation department. The van was just a complete death trap.
It is featured prominently in the documentary.
AG: It was a random moment. We were doing some interview scenes at Dingbatz and he [Pawl] was like, “Can I get some shots of your van?” I had no idea. He told me the same thing, “some of the best footage that we have is of your van. It sums up so much of what I’m trying to talk about.” It’s what people put themselves through sometimes just to play music.
Hopefully when you get home there’s a copy waiting in your mailbox for you. You guys are finishing up the tour in a few days now. What comes next?
AG: We have eight more shows on this tour; our last one is in Las Vegas and we drive home after that. Basically we’re going to take some time off, probably do some one-off shows here and there.
On the East Coast?
AG: Yeah. We’ve actually not done much on the East Coast this year save back in February-March when we did some Northeastern dates. We’ll inevitably be doing a full headlining tour this fall. I hope it will be coast to coast. Right now, I have to go back and pay some bills, work, do some tattoos … back to civilian life for a little while. We’ll be back out for sure.
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