[Khanate] felt evil even when we weren’t playing, we could be just hanging out at a bar after practice and there’d be some kind of aura in the air, there was just something grim and fucked up about the whole thing.
If you have ever heard ALAN DUBIN perform with any of his bands – Gnaw, currently, with the legendary Khanate and Old Lady Drivers/Old in the past, sort of (hang on, we’ll get there!) – , whether on stage or on record, you will probably agree never, ever forget it. Mr. Dubin possesses some of the most heart-wrenching, disturbingly intense vocal capabilities anyone’s ever unleashed upon mankind’s unsuspecting ears. Taking advantage of the fact that Gnaw have their third record, ‘Cutting Pieces’, in the bag, waiting to come out on October 27th, The Devil’s Mouth sought out, appropriately, this devil-mouthed gentleman, who also happens to not be a hellspawned cacodaemon plotting the demise of humanity (well, not during work hours anyway), but a hilarious and multi-talented dude with a ton of great stories to tell. And a great taste in mugs, too.
Let’s pretend this is a regular interview for a magazine and talk about your new thing. Because your new thing really deserves being talked about. Tell us more about ‘Cutting Pieces’ please. It does seem like a bigger leap from the previous album than ‘Horrible Chamber’ did from ‘This Face’.
I think the production on this one is a little better. We definitely didn’t repeat ourselves. I think all of our three albums are different. This one… maybe the songs have even more structure than previously, overall. I don’t know if we had different influences, per se, but there are different comparisons you can make to other bands on this one, I think. We had a few sort of Butthole Surfers moments, with some of the guitar solos and even some of the vocals, like in ‘Triptych’, that whole middle part, there’s a lot of Gibby Haynes love in there. [laughs]
I can hear that, in a twisted way.
In a twisted way, yeah! But it just turned out that way. I hear some of it in there, but it wasn’t intentional.
The wonderful Dana Schechter [Insect Ark] is now part of Gnaw too. Did she become part of the band on time to still have an effect on this album?
She came on board when the album was pretty much recorded. It wasn’t fully mixed though, so there was still room for more elements. We sent her all the recordings and she just went crazy with it. She played some traditional lap steel… no, you know what, not traditional, I take that back completely. Everything she did was pretty wacky! It’s hard to describe what she did, not only did she play lap steel on top of the songs, but she made crazy noise and sound effects too, stuff that you wouldn’t even know is a lap steel guitar. For instance, there’s one moment during the beginning of ‘Extended Suicide’, where it sounds like this really loud rattling noise, it’s like a ship sinking, like if you were stuck in the Titanic as it sunk and all the metal walls started shaking… I don’t know how she made that, but I love that moment in the song, it really defines it. Great stuff.
What about the rest of you guys, did you work in any different way than you had before?
Sort of. Different band members came in with different pieces of music, or fully written songs, skeletal versions of them and then we added on top of them. For instance, ‘Rat’, we were at rehearsal and Brian [Beatrice, guitars/bass/manipulation/processing] had the music pretty much all together, we played through it and it became that song. ‘Septic’ was Carter’s [Thornton, guitars/bass/manipulation/other instruments], there were originally five more pieces of music attached to that song. It was ridiculously big, it was a huge epic! We had to cut it down. Some of the simpler songs, I had the ideas for, too. I usually make the most simplistic riffs, I like repetition. Stuff like ‘Fire’, that started off as one of those ideas, the song called ‘Wrong’, those are my riffs too, or rather the one repeated riff that goes on forever. [laughs]
Your voice is quite different in places. Dude, you’re almost singing sometimes!
It just felt right that there should be a little “clean” singing in some of the songs. I mean, it’s still not straightforward clean singing, but it’s something that just fit well. The screaming didn’t go along with all of these songs, some of them are more quiet and creepy and it just felt more natural to sing them, or vocalise with a cleaner approach. The album feels a lot more varied to us, there are a lot more different styles, I think, to the songs. Although they all have ferocity, I would say. I’ll tell you this – I enjoy listening to it myself.
Is that a usual thing for you? Do you listen to records you’ve been a part of?
I do, yeah. The most recent thing is usually my favourite, so right now this album is my favourite thing that I’ve worked on. It always changes, but I really do think this one is fantastic.
Do you hope more people can become aware of Gnaw? All these years, and sometimes it still seems like you guys are a sort of a well kept secret for weirdoes.
I have no expectations, certainly less people couldn’t hear it! For whatever reason, I’m not sure if it’s our record label or circumstances or something, but Gnaw isn’t that well-known. Khanate got somewhat popular, but Gnaw, not really. We’re building momentum, more and more people are hearing about us, but I often get people asking “so, are you still in a band?” And I’m like, yeah, I’ve been doing Gnaw for years and years. And they’re like, “Gnaw, what’s that?? My god, the guy from Khanate is in a new band!” Well, we formed in 2006, it’s not exactly new. [laughs] But whatever. we’re certainly not doing it for the fame.
“I was really into thrash metal, and for some reason I really took to the higher pitched screechy vocals.”
What’s your relationship with the other guys in the band like? From the outside, you seem like a really great, tight-knit group.
We’re all really busy with careers and all that kind of stuff, but we’re all really great friends, and that’s cool. We hang out whenever we can. In our minds, we rehearse regularly, although it hasn’t really turned out that way. [laughs] We’re actually rehearsing next weekend. We plan to rehearse every week, but it doesn’t always happen.
It’s amazing how you’re still doing unheard things with your voice on this record. When did you first realise you had a voice that could channel demons from other dimensions and stuff like that, do you remember?
I guess my vocals and what I like to do started in the 80s. I was really into thrash metal, and for some reason I really took to the higher pitched screechy vocals, like early Mille from Kreator. I really loved Blaine from The Accüsed too, the first Sacrifice album, oh, and Pushead from Septic Death too… those were some of my favourite bands of that time, right there. I had friends into metal, we would all tape trade and everything, so what do you do? You form a band, of course. The first band I joined I was actually a guitar player, and I sucked! [laughs] I thought I’d try vocals, and I did, and it just worked. I started shredding, and I pretty much discovered vocals. Early on I tried to emulate Blaine Cook, but I eventually figured out I had my own style and took it from there.
Was that band where you played guitar anything serious? Would you count it as your first band?
No, the first “real” band I was in was called Vile Stench. Tom Stevens, who used to play in Savage Death, and was also in Nokturnel later on, was in that band. Vile Stench had a bunch of songs, a couple of them ended up sort of turning into Old Lady Drivers songs actually. I was friends with James Plotkin back then, and Vile Stench started to, basically, not go anywhere, I always wanted to record and the other guys were slow with it, so Jim [James Plotkin] and I formed Old Lady Drivers, and that’s how that band started. He was sick of Regurgitation, kind of, I was sick of Vile Stench, BAM!, Old Lady Drivers. [laughs]
Did you feel the impact Old Lady Drivers had on people? There weren’t a lot of bands like you guys at the time, and it was much easier to shock people back then, you must have turned some heads.
Right away, I think we tormented a lot of people. [laughs] It was a way different time, a lot of people were shocked. A lot of people thought it was very silly but they really loved it too… I guess for the time we were one of the fastest bands out there. Those were totally different times, fanzines were spreading the word, and even without internet, we got really good press. We were totally unique, no one really sounded like that, it was very humorous and it was a joke, but not a joke, you know? But Old Lady Drivers basically put out one album. Then we reformed and sort of regrouped and shortened the band name just to Old. It was just so weird, that it went over people’s heads a lot. It wasn’t as far-reaching a band as it could have been, I think.
“I have vivid memories of [James Plotkin] swinging a guitar at a bunch of skinheads who were rushing towards the stage trying to kill us, or people dropping the curtains on us during the very first song because I was saying some not very nice things.”
Did you feel like a “proper” musician, did it feel like something you could make a career out of? Or was it just young people having fun in a silly band for you?
Old Lady Drivers was young people having fun. We were in high school and stuff, so it didn’t feel like anything besides that. But when we changed and reformed and became Old, yeah, I did think that maybe that was the path I was going to take, being a musician full time. We did a lot of touring, we played with The Young Gods all over the United States, so we had that moment of what felt like fame and rock star life. Little did we know that when the touring was over we probably owed thousands of dollars to Earache Records, but yeah. [laughs] Who the hell knows, we didn’t give a shit. After that, I realised that being a full time musician like that wasn’t really for me, that whole lifestyle. I put that aside… well, not aside, but just not as my main focus for life, as it were.
(they were allowed to play all the way through on this one)
There are a few videos of early Old Lady Drivers shows and they all seem insane.
There were lots of fights, lots of getting thrown out of clubs… I have vivid memories of Jim swinging a guitar at a bunch of skinheads who were rushing towards the stage trying to kill us at L’Amour, or people dropping the curtains on us during the very first song because I was saying some not very nice things through the PA that was on a delay repeating over and over again. It offended everyone there, so we got attacked. Fun times! [laughs]
In a way, you kind of helped set the stage for what Seth Putnam would do for his entire life.
Sure, we appeared more or less at the same time. He wrote a couple of songs about us, we’re mentioned a few times. Same with Sore Throat, they wrote shit about us too. They had a song called ‘O.L.D. D.I.E.’. I think it’s because they were offended by one of our songs, we had a song called ‘Special Olympics’ and I heard they were offended by that, being very PC. Sore Throat being PC is kind of funny, I probably don’t know the real reasons, maybe they just hated us. I’m sort of proud of that! [laughs]
Was there any rivalry with Anal Cunt, or any other band of that kind, back then?
No, there wasn’t anything like that. It was all good fun. I remember Seth sent us an Anal Cunt 7″ really early on, Jim and I were in his room listening to music, we put it on and we were like, “this sucks!” Jim threw it against the wall and it exploded. It was just funny, you know? We had a record release party for one of our albums once, I think it was for ‘Lo Flux Tube’, it was at a bar in the city, Earache put it on, and we saw him and we were like, holy shit, Seth Putnam’s here! He came to the party, and he pulled his pants down and he was just walking around like that. He knew all the words, he was singing all the old songs… He was really funny, that dude. That one video of him playing live outdoors…
You can’t really unsee or unhear anything from that video.
Exactly! [laughs] It’s so hilarious.
There’s a little gap between the ending of Old and the beginning of Khanate. Were you away from music during those years?
I did record some stuff for myself and I dabbled in some music and playing with a few people, but I mostly concentrated on my career as a video and film editor. I edited TV commercials, TV shows, promos, that kind of thing. I was always super into music, I became a crazy, rabid collector, bought hundreds and hundreds of albums on vinyl and CD, I guess like we all do, guys like us. [laughs] I listened to music of all kinds, I’ve always been obsessed with doom metal, even early on when I was doing all the thrash and hardcore stuff, and Trouble was one of my favourite bands around that time, for example. I always hung out with Jim, he was one of my best friends, I kept trying to force doom metal on him, and I think he started liking a lot of it. He ended up doing a small project with Jason Corley who was in –(16)- at the time, called Shadowcast, they recorded some music, and Jim told me, hey, this is really doomy and experimental, it’s right up your alley, do you want to try some vocals on it? So I did, and I think there was a sort of pre-Khanate feeling to it already. Maybe a little more electronic, it was almost like Atomsmasher meets Khanate back then. That fizzled out, Jason was living on the other side of the country. We could have pushed it, but we didn’t, and we ended up just doing Khanate when that came along.
Do those recordings still exist? They’ve become a sort of a holy grail in several internet message boards.
There are three songs that are complete, and I think there’s some other music that was never mixed together. They live on hard drives somewhere, hopefully. But those three songs are pretty unique. Have you heard them?
Alas, no! Do you have them?
I have that, yeah. Jim and I talk sometimes, about maybe someday doing something with it. Maybe I’ll bring it up again. The songs should be out there. I think I played one of them once on WFMU when I was interviewed there. So one of those is out there! [it is, and we’ve found it here – scroll down and you can even play ‘Nest Perimeter’ on its own. Do listen to the whole interview though, it’s worth it!]
So Khanate basically built on what Shadowcast had started?
I think what happened was that Jim happened to meet Stephen [O’Malley, guitars] at some show, a mutual friend introduced them, and they started talking. Jim asked him to jam out some stuff, it went well, he told Stephen he knew a drummer and a vocalist, and BAM! Khanate!
According to legend, it was at an Isis show. The mutual friend was Dave Witte. Yes, I am a bit of a Khanate fan.
Thank you for telling me! [laughs] Now I remember. I was not at that Isis show. [laughs]
“One day after doing vocals I looked in the mirror and it looked like someone had stabbed me with a knife in the eye.”
How did that music turn into what it is? Did you ever talk about it, or was that horror what happened when the four of you started playing?
Basically we got together and started rehearsing, jamming out and making different sections of music. For the first few times I was just listening, trying to get inspiration. I would go home, try to make lyrics, and get an idea of where they could go in the song. I’d write lyrics, keep going to rehearsals, and after a while there were some recordings. Hours and hours of recordings. Before they were edited to almost final songs, I would get lengthy rough mixes to finish my lyrics, and then I’d just record my vocals. I think that for that first record, all my vocals were recorded in Jim’s apartment, in his hot, dingy, little apartment. We set up the microphone in his closet, so that it would absorb the audio from my voice and would suppress any sound from the outside – he was kind of on a highway and we didn’t want any of those noises to bleed in. But it was so fucking hot inside that closet, I remember I was dying, I was drenched like I had just walked across the desert. I passed out a few times from the screaming. I broke a few blood vessels in my eyes, too – one day after doing vocals I looked in the mirror and it looked like someone had stabbed me with a knife in the eye, it was completely bloody.
Well, that seems appropriate!
Yeah, it was after recording ‘Skin Coat’ that the blood vessels popped, in my right eye. It looked kind of cool in a way, but it was freaky. It didn’t hurt though! It looked scary but it didn’t hurt.
What state of mind do you have to be in to write your lyrics? I’m speaking in the present tense because your Gnaw lyrics are as sick as the Khanate ones ever were, too.
For some reason, and I don’t know how it came about, maybe because of my work in film and video editing, my lyrics have become progressively more visual. When I’m writing them, I’m thinking about how it would feel to be in the actual song. That’s what I try to convey, for myself, really. Other people can take them differently, but that’s the way I feel. With Khanate, the music was so sluggish but so powerful at the same time, that it just felt I was in the song when I was writing the lyrics. Pretty much all of Khanate was that way. Previously, for bands before that, I don’t know – I suppose I had a crazy way of thinking, a vivid imagination.
What was the feeling of wading through all that musical mud on stage?
The feeling was, Stephen, turn your fucking amps down, no one can hear my vocals. [laughs]
That ruins a bit of the magic, but it’s so funny that it’s okay. Do go on!
Sometimes Stephen would get so much into his guitar playing that he was facing away from the amps and everything, that someone might have wandered across to his amps and turned them down just a little bit. Allegedly! [laughs]No, but seriously, Khanate required a lot of concentration. A lot of signals going back and forth between us, all of us had to signal each other depending on what part of the song it was, just to keep time and make sure everything was in its correct place. There was lots of improv, little nuances… The structure was always there, but yeah, lots of space for improv, always, even vocally, with little delays, effects. Tim [Wyskida, drums] would always do different stuff, too.
Over the years, the band has become legendary in its own way. But while it was active, did you feel that kind of special aura around it too?
I think popularity-wise it has grown quite a lot, but I always felt, even in the beginning when there were twenty people showing up in New York City to see us before our first album was released, that it was a part of my personality. So it felt huge. It felt huge to me. I felt like I was in the middle of this giant thing no one had experienced before. And also, especially in the beginning, it always felt really evil, for some reason. Well, I guess I know the reason…
Evil is such an overused word and concept in extreme music. A million bands claim to be evil, writers like me call them that out of sheer adjective exhaustion sometimes, but only a handful of them do actually exhale that true evil vibe. And yeah, Khanate are in the top 5 of evil-sounding music for me.
I’m glad somebody else feels that way! And it’s true. It felt evil even when we weren’t playing, we could be just hanging out at a bar after practice and there’d be some kind of aura in the air, there was just something grim and fucked up about the whole thing. It was great!
So what was the reason?
I think it had to do with all our personalities and senses of humour when we got together. Even if there was tension between us, we still got along and we appreciated each other’s really fucked up senses of humour and individual music aesthetic of course.
“I’ll just say it right now: I consider [Khanate] an open-ended thing, still. You never know!”
That’s something really precious you guys had. Makes you wonder – was the ending of the band an absolute necessity at the time? Could you have just left it kind of open, doing an album every now and then?
In my mind, that’s the way we left it, really. There were a lot of things said at the end, that it was over and all that, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s open.
That’ll make a lot of people happy, but also probably harbouring unreal expectations. Tread lightly, sir.
Yeah, I mean, I eventually said that I quit and that it’s over too, but I didn’t really quit. What I really meant was that if it’s not all four of us, I’m not really too interested. And there were talks, of replacing whoever quit with other band members, but it just wouldn’t have been the same. So, I’ll just say it right now: I consider it an open-ended thing, still. You never know!
Was Gnaw a reaction to the end of Khanate, so that you’d keep having an outlet for music?
There was a little bit of an overlap, so Gnaw started happening before Khanate broke up, like six months before. I started just jamming and making stuff with the guys. So when Khanate ended, I probably didn’t feel as empty as I would have, if I wasn’t doing something else. When Khanate toured, towards the end, there was a lot of fucking tension between all of us. Doing tours, one person’s away, another person can’t do a tour here and there, and we just started to not get along as much as we used to. So, the fighting was kind of always there, but it turned into not fun fighting. [laughs] You know? We could probably have rode it out, and it would have turned back to normal, but people just got sick of what was happening.
You seem to have avoided such pitfalls with Gnaw.
Yeah, so far! It’s a different group of people. I was going to say we’re more mature, up to a point, but not really! Maybe physically mature. [laughs] Most of us have full-time steady careers, and two of us, not me, have families with kids and everything, so there’s a little less shenanigans going on. Collectively, we’re a little more mellow than Khanate was. There’s no beer bottles being thrown across the room, nothing like that. But I’ll tell you, pretty much everyone in the band is a whack job also! Myself included. Eclectic weirdoes.
You’ve mentioned how your work in video editing has made your lyrics feel different, do you think the careers of Gnaw members have also had similar effects on the band? Is that a good explanation as to why the music feels so textural?
Brian, who besides playing guitar also mixed the album, that’s what he does, he’s an audio mixer for TV and film. I guess that has to influence the way he mixes and records music too. Jun Mizumachi is a sound designer, and that’s what he does in Gnaw too, he creates sounds from scratch. He records banging things and oscillators and all that stuff and he just turns them into these little sound effect tracks that are edited in. Dana being a graphic artist, maybe that affects the way she plays too. The sounds she makes certainly are cinematic. Carter is a licensed music therapist and has dealt with a lot criminals and insane patients so that obviously makes its way into his Gnaw writing.
Can you explain a little more what your job actually consists of? What does an editor and colourist really do, and what have you worked on so far?
I started off as an assistant video editor. My father was a video editor back in the 70s and 80s, I would go to his work, and he would have film canisters, and film strips hanging from the ceiling all over the place. He’d be looking into this big green machine called a moviola and he’d be cranking it, snipping the film, and I always thought that was amazing. So later on in life, like I said, when Old started doing all these tours and I realised I wasn’t going to make any money from that, that I’d just be sitting there drinking and killing myself slowly – while having fun! – I figured I needed a career. So I ended up becoming an assistant video editor at a post-production house, and I worked my way up and became an editor. I’ve worked on a few high-end TV commercials, like shampoo and car commercials and stuff. Years went by, I became freelance, and I’ve always had a knack for colour. So for the last five years, I’ve been doing a lot of colouring, so I’m also a colourist. I take these TV shows, they’re shot with five or six different cameras, and I have to make them all match and look beautiful. I also do a lot of retouching, like if there’s a TV host with bags under their eyes, for example, I have to rotoscope to get rid of them, or if they have a booger on their nose, I’ll paint out the booger. [laughs] I do a lot of special effects. I work on a lot of TV shows and it’s interesting, it’s always different. Because I’m freelance, I work all over the place, for several production companies, I work at MTV, at Nickelodeon, all that kind of stuff.
“When the series was over, [Dan Harmon] bought me an Apple TV! I have that in my kitchen.“
Do you actually get to meet the “stars”, or are you just involved in the technical side?
I do sometimes, yeah! But the funny thing that happens, like on MTV, where I’ll work on MTV News and I’ll edit little snippets, sometimes I have ten minutes to do something before it goes on the air. I have to edit those really fast, and sometimes I’m editing these videos they’ve just shot in the other room, and there’s also other videos of them at a stadium with millions of people and everyone’s going nuts and I’m putting everything together. Usually it’s some rapper I’ve never heard of, and they’ll bring him in so I can show it to them. I’ll show it, he’ll approve it, I’ll shake his hand, he’ll walk out and the producer will be like, can you believe you’ve just met DJ Wizzy Wizzle or some other name like that?! [laughs] And I’m like, what, who? Who the hell is that? It’s the guy in the video with millions of people going nuts about him! And I’m like, I don’t know, I never heard of him! [laughs]
You’re one of the few artists I know who has equally interesting Discogs and IMDB pages. And dude, you’ve worked on Great Minds with Dan Harmon!
Oh, that was hilarious! I never met him, but when the series was over he bought me an Apple TV! I have that in my kitchen, it was really cool. He’s an amazing guy. I’ve met a bunch of famous people over the years, like Jerry Seinfeld, Martin Short, guys like that.
So, I guess you will keep being a big shot video editor/colourist. And would you say you’re fully satisfied with your musical career right now too?
Right now, yes. Especially with this new album, which is fantastic. I do wish we’d be able to go on a few more tours, but we have to be a bit picky about them because obviously it’s hard for several of us to be away for a long time. But as far as actual recordings, yeah, this is the album we all wanted to do. I’m glad we did it, now we’re on to the next one! Ten years from now we will have it! [laughs]