We at Blow The Scene are pleased to bring you an interview with Cleveland’s leading sons of d-beat-infused metal, Masakari. Formed in 2006, the band quickly garnered the attention of the Midwest music community with a potent blend of d-beat laden frameworks and grind-infused crust that gives nod to bands like His Hero is Gone and Discharge with a modern spin and unique interpretations. With lyrical motifs that range from denouncing animal abuse to the ills of organized religion, the band garnered global attention with the 2008 release of Eden Compromised on Halo of Flies and subsequent release of The Prophet Feeds of Southern Lord Recordings in 2010. Since then, Masakari has thundered out several split and EP releases and continues to forge a path as one of the leading crust bands in the US.
We sit down with guitarist and founding member Joe Yanick, as he takes us through the formation of the band in 2006 all the way up to the Masakari‘s current tour and release plans in 2012. Joe touches on everything from lyrical contexts, running a booking collective, to favorite stops in Eastern Europe on tour.
Without further ado, lets hear from Joe.
Joshua BTS: To kick things off- For any of our readers here at Blow The Scene that might not be familiar with Masakari could you take back the formative stage? How did you meet up and come together to form the band?
Joe Yanick: We had all been bouncing around the music scene and my brother and I have always been in bands together since we started playing. Our first and second bands were together and then we started Masakari. It was a group of our friends who had all been playing music for a while. We formed in 2006 but didn’t really do much of anything for about two years until we recorded our 7-inch. Our first two years were filled with writing songs, recording them, hating them, throwing them away, member changes, and then writing new songs.
By 2008 we had almost our current lineup, except our bassist, and we decided to hit the studio. Until this point we had consistently been recording and throwing away because we didn’t like the product. Finally we decided to do it right, we went to Mars and recorded four songs that turned into the Eden Compromised 7″. The point was to take what we had been doing strip it down and make it heavier and faster. I didn’t think it was going to get released, I was proud of it but we didn’t really have any name for ourselves at the time. We really just wanted to record it for ourselves and it was probably going to be just a demo, but we sent to Halo of Flies and he said he would put it on a 7-inch.
Everything kind of clicked into place at once. That’s when the band started progressing.
Joshua BTS: I have seen several themes throughout your discography, but one of the more notable themes is that you delineate the majority of songs by Roman numeral. How did that theme come about? And is that a motif you plan on progressing into the later releases?
Joe Yanick: It definitely looks goofier as we go on, as they get bigger and bigger. It wasn’t an intended thing. It wasn’t planned. When we were writing songs, we had a bad tendency to refer to them by the number until we got into double-digits, where we started referring to them by attributes. So like “Greg d-beat,” or something like that. In the beginning it was always ‘1’,’2′,’3′,’4′, ‘song 5′, ‘song 6′, so as we writing them, we would just write Roman numerals for the songs in a set list and that’s how we all knew them. When we decided to do the 7-inch, we kept the Roman numerals in front of the song titles and thought aesthetically- it looked nice.
We came out with the first 7-inch and have decided to keep it since then. But as far as theme, it really is for visual aspect in nature only, it doesn’t tie into any belief of ours. It was just a funny thing that stuck.
Joshua BTS: I got you, cool. So do you have a particular studio- I know you mentioned Mars– Is that where you have recorded all of your releases since your 7-inch?
Joe Yanick: Ya, everything has been recorded at Mars except for the Sleep//Rot 7-inch, which we knew we were going to re-record the song “Sleep” for our work with Alpinist. We decided to go to a different studio so that it sounded worse. As far as I am concerned, and won’t speak for the rest of the band- I don’t like when bands rerecord songs very often unless there is a reason to rerecord it. It always seems odd to me to release a song and then release again on an album if it really didn’t change much. We wanted it to sound really un-produced and raw on the 7-inch and then to sound really flushed out and pieced together on the album. That was recorded at Audio Alchemy Studio. Everything else has been recorded at Mars and as far as we are concerned, we are probably going to continue to stay there. We’re at a point where we work really well with him, he’s pretty infamous for Cleveland, he’s recorded tons and tons of good Cleveland hardcore bands. He knows what he is doing and we like working with him, so I don’t see us going with anyone else.
Joe Yanick: Bill Korecky. He owns and runs the studio.
Joshua BTS: Cool. So is the studio located in Cleveland proper?
Joe Yanick: It used to be in the 90’s, but since then it has moved out to Streetsboro, which is like a little farm community outside of Cleveland about 45 minutes from downtown.
Joshua BTS: On your previous releases you have obviously worked with Halo of Flies and Southern Lord. As you progress into the future- Do see those as the labels you are going to stick with or are you planing on venturing into new waters? Any new material where you have that in mind or are you more focused on touring at this point?
Joe Yanick: I think we are focused on different things, from my perspective- I’ve been trying to write an album, to write a second full-length. But we’ve been really hesitant to admit that we are writing a full-length. On our first album- definitely, and on our split- a little bit.. We found ourselves kind of forcing material out to get the records going. We didn’t sacrifice anything, we’ve never written a song we don’t like- with some of the members being a little lukewarm on some of the tracks. But overall, I think we’re pretty proud of what we’ve worked on, we just want the new album to be a vast improvement on the old stuff. So we are very hesitant to put any dates to anything.
Joshua BTS: Ok. So with this new material- Are you looking to go back to your prior labels or test the water with someone new?
Joe Yanick: We’re pretty content with who we are working with, we like our relationship with all of our labels. I jumped the gun on full-length, as we have 3-slated releases before we get into that. One is a 7-inch that is releasing old recordings of songs that were on the first album that is going to be a benefit 7-inch. Also, the first split I should say- is actually a split with the band Tempest. Both songs were surrounding dogs, so they are both going to be benefits for dog shelters. The second is going to be another benefit 7-inch that we are doing with the band out of PA called Peregrine, who are a metal band. That’s going to be for Survival International. Then we are doing a split with a Cleveland band Grin and Bear It.
As far as labels go, we really love Halo of Flies and Southern Lord has been great to us. We’re pretty comfortable where we are and we’re not really looking to find any other labels. We’re open to work with other people but probably don’t need it.
Joshua BTS: I think it’s cool that you guys are doing benefits and know in some of your lyrical themes in the past have focused on on animal abuse and specifically the culture of pit bull fighting. What would you say are some of the prevailing themes in your music are? And do you consider yourselves a political band? I know the band is obviously rooted in punk history, which has it’s foundation in political commentary- Where would you say Masakari draws the majority of your lyrical inspiration?
Joe Yanick: Probably a question for Tony, but I would say from talking to him about lyrics and stuff, Tony is a really well read guy and super into philosophy and obviously being into punk bands our whole life, we’ve always been into the political aspects of it. The bands that drew us into it were always political, I mean Discharge, and even they can be kind of goofy politically, people often question how political their lyrics are, but I love them. They are short, to the point, and for that time- it is amazing. To me, music is about more than just playing songs that people enjoy. I like to have some type of message, whether it a be a personal or political one. I think we’ve always steered more towards the political aspect and I think as Tony is writing more songs, he’s incorporating more personal aspects into it.
Our first 7-inch was largely about religion and since then we’ve backed off of that a lot. We haven’t backed off of the views, but we’ve backed off of only writing about that. This has included a wide variety of topics from social commentary to political commentary as well.
Joshua BTS: As far as the actual music writing, I know you play guitar. Where would you say you pull the majority of your musical influence? Do you look at other bands or do you try to keep a clear head when you go in to write a song?
Joe Yanick: I am not ashamed to admit and I think a lot of bands would like to say they just write everything from their own, but no, I find things about the bands that I love and find how I can make them my own without ripping them off. I’ve never been interested in being in a band that is going to change the way people look at music, I want to write songs that I like. Our influences are pretty obvious in regards to His Hero is Gone, Discharge, Death Side, bands like that, but they range. It not just those bands. We all pull influences from a wide range of music, but it comes together. The nice thing about our band is that it is not just one person writing the music, we are all part of the process. As much as “Rapid Dominance” was almost completely written musically by our drummer. He wrote all the riffs and Tony comes in and he helps us piece together things. So for us, it’s rare that any one person writes a whole song. It’s nice that we all write. If you know the personalities, you can hear who writes what songs after a while. I think what masks that is how much we work on songs as a whole band, we all bring songs in and figure out how to make them better. Sometimes it’s a long process. The first track on the split I think took us six or seven months to complete. I started writing that song while we were in Europe and it was the second to last song we finished before recording. We’re all our own worst critics, but I think it’s really what unifies our band. Everyone has input and it’s not just one person creating.
Joshua BTS: Now that we are getting into Springtime 2012- Do you guys have a game plan laid out for the year as far as what you are going to do with touring? I know you guys do a lot booking bands in your own neighborhood. What do have on your plate?
Joe Yanick: Fuck. Booking bands I am pretty much overloaded for the time being. Me and Adam have been booking for a while and it’s still a work in progress. We’re trying to get better, but we’re both so busy! We started Root of Evil Collective. We try to use that to route bands through Pittsburgh and Cleveland. We can’t take every show we get offered, but for a while a lot of bands wouldn’t hit Cleveland or Pittsburgh or they would hit one and not the other. A lot of times, we’re like ‘Hey we’ll do both shows.’ A lot of time we help bands and it’s a new contact in these areas that will help them route their tours and give them a couple contacts rather than just one show. That was kind of the goal in mind- to make life easier. We have standards for the shows we do, which is the reason we take on so few shows. We make sure we pay bands. We cook for bands and have places to stay. We’ve modeled it a lot off of how we were treated in Europe because it’s like nothing else touring there.
As far as Masakari‘s plans- Unfortunately we are never able to tour as much as we want. Greg works full time, me and Tony are still taking classes. Tony is getting a second masters, and I am about to finish my second bachelors. John is about to start his masters program and Adam works three jobs and is in two touring bands. Our time is really thinned out, so that’s why we try to do one really solid tour every six to seven months. Next thing is in Europe and after that we have no solid plans but I hope to hit the East Coast again in the winter.
Joshua BTS: Cool. When do you leave for Europe?
Joe Yanick: July 5th is our first show.
Joshua BTS: Cool. How long are you guys going to be over there?
Joe Yanick: Little over five weeks.
Joe Yanick: We’re doing a lot of Germany again, which is both a positive and a negative. I think we spent a little too much in Germany last year, which was kind of necessary because we both started and ended in Germany, which I understood. We were really excited to do Sweden and I think maybe Finland this year, but it ended up getting canceled and routed to more Eastern Europe, which is just as good because the little amount of shows we did in Eastern Europe were the best shows we played on tour. We have much more this year. I can’t remember the exact dates but I am really excited to go back to Eastern Europe.
Joshua BTS: We really appreciate you taking a minute with Blow The Scene readers. Masakari is a band we’ve had our eye on for sometime and it was great to catch you on your last tour with Rise and Fall when in came through Philly. We look forward to keep up with the band’s future endeavors. Any final thoughts before we close out the interview?
Joe Yanick: Not really. Happy you asked us to do this, phone interview is always nice. We did a lot of interviews for a while and we kind of backed off because we got overloaded. But I appreciate the phone interview cause it’s so much better than the typical email interview we got so many of. We fall into a method of kind of responding in the same ways when we are typing them out, so a phone interview is much more rewarding. I feel like my answers are more spur of the moment, which can be both good an bad [laughs]. But it’s nice just to do that.
Interview by Joshua T. Cohen
Pictures by James Seibert featured in Blow The Scene Rise and Fall Masakari Tour Gallery