By Rick Polo (Editor-in-Chief)
It’s been quite a busy 12 months for Youngstown-based Doom Metal juggernauts, Cvttcnmvvth. Following the release of their debut EP, Toughsnake, in 2013, the band have been hard at work solidifying their lineup and making a splash on the local scene. With explosive performances across the area alongside top-notch acts like Album and Resinaut, as well as a handful of high-profile performances lined up, Cvttvnmvvth have firmly established themselves as the must-see ticket in the area in 2015.
The Raw Alternative recently spoke to the band’s founding members, guitarist Sam (Javier) Bowlin and drummer Kenny Halbert to discuss a number of topics including the band’s creative influences, their thoughts on the local scene, dividing their time between side-project Wild Wings and their upcoming performance opening for Columbus, Ohio Sludge legends Lo-Pan on Jan. 17.
Give us a brief history of the band from it’s formation up to now. Have you been involved with any past projects or worked with anyone previously which led to Cvttvnmvvth? How did the current lineup come together?
Sam: Kenny and I had originally began our musical collaboration when we met in high school, some 20-plus years ago. Ken had rented a practice space out in the middle of a crumbling junkyard on the outskirts of New Springfield, (Ohio) and it was there that we started version 1.0 of Cvttvnmvvth (then spelled Cottonmouth, without all the V’s, those came later). We strived to create unpleasant, virulent music that reflected our grim surroundings. Things eventually fell apart, as things often do, and after high school we went our separate ways for nearly two decades; I headed out east, while Kenny continued his adventures, musical and otherwise, between here and the west coast. I moved back to Youngstown in 2012 and reconnected with my old friend. It didn’t take long before we found ourselves in a new musical collaboration, the band Railings. Things ran their course with that act, and with some downtime on our hands we had the urge to resurrect our first band, a new version where Ken switched from bass to drums, but with all of the original intentions in place: To create something ugly. We recorded our debut, Toughsnake, in mid 2013. We tried a few select heads out on bass before Eric Tharp joined up with us in early 2014.
You made a pretty big splash on the scene last year. What are your plans for 2015?
Sam: We plan on recording material for our follow-up, working title Total Possession (Soundtrack to the Blackest of Masses), but Kenny’s not crazy about parentheses in album titles, so we’ll see how that one flies. Also, we will play cool shows and weird out squares.
Kenny: What do you think about the title? When you set a precedent like that it brings a lot of crazies out of the woodwork…plus, with the clandestine nature of these affairs, it’s hard to know for sure if it’s really the “blackest.” Someone will have to come up with a Scoville Unit-type ranking system, or something.
What’s your take on the current local scene right now? What do you like most about it? How can it improve?
Sam: I see both good and bad in the local scene. There’s a seeming trend of “acoustic” nights, which doesn’t do much for me personally, but it must be popular because you get so much of it around here. I like a bit of a spectacle if I’m going to see a band, I want something loud and different and if it can catch me off my guard then I’m into it. If I wanted to be bored and content I’d sit at home watching Criminal Minds reruns. If I know I’m going to have my mind blown, I’m much more likely to leave the house.
Kenny: It’s reflective of itself. If people start more relevant bands, there will be a scene with more bands that are relevant. If people want to go to art shows they can go support those things, and then there will be a boon there. Organic food stuff trading will be on the rise.
How can fans, and other musicians perhaps, benefit from getting out and diving into the local scene?
Sam: Well, it’s certainly something to do in a city where you don’t always have a ton of options for entertainment that doesn’t involve something illegal or immoral. Sometimes seeing a terrible band can be just a fulfilling as seeing one that rages, depending on your mood. Apathy tends to be the general consensus about town, which pairs well with the blight and despair, and while you might not have the ability to make someone care, at the very least you can try and make them uncomfortable.
Kenny: While watching a band, if you’re thinking, “This band is shit,” start a band. It might sound like a pile of shit, but it will be yours.
What’s your opinion of the current state of the music industry? Do you think it’s easier or more difficult to reach a mass audience? Are tactics like U2 giving away their entire album for free a good thing, or a sign of the end of old business model? How do you distribute your music?
Sam: There might as well not even be a music industry. There’s no money in putting out challenging or innovative music on a grand scale like it may have been in days past. Everything is subject to entropy, and when dinosaurs like U2 attempt such marketing schemes, one realizes the whole business model is dead on the table. Bono can afford to give his work away for free because he’s already made millions from the machine. It’s become a prerequisite that one distributes music in some digital format; there’s no escaping it. But it sure helps to get your work out there to a growing populace who may not own a CD player or tape deck or turntable.
Kenny: The music industry is a pile of shit. And Bono got paid for that. So did Thom Yorke. And don’t get me started on this new $1,000 Neil Young Walkman—what shit. We distribute at shows, online, and through physical distributors.
There seems to be a strong resurgence in the Doom/Stoner/Sludge scene. How does Cvttvnmvvth fit into that? What sets you apart?
Sam: Doom Metal has always seemed to work in odd cycles of obscurity and relevance. It’s a genre I have been a fan of since childhood, whether it was coveting my older brother’s Black Sabbath records, or going out and discovering bands like Saint Vitus and Candlemass as a teenager. For me, the best doom has a deep emotional resonance, which I hope translates in Cvttvnmvvth, whether it be abject desolation or world-weary pessimism. What sets us apart, I think, is approaching the material with a wider palate of ideas and approximations in regards to sounding the way we want, rather than a pastiche of our influences, which is hardly interesting.
Kenny: I don’t necessarily agree. It’s always around. If there was a recent peak, the peak happened a while back when Josh Homme was hanging out with Anthony Bourdain, nationally anyway. Metal itself is always there, but the various sub-genre flavors that are in vogue at the time change. But if any bands are into tube amplification and fuzz and a “give ‘em hell” attitude, we can fit in. No wimps. What sets us aside is that we have never set out to sound like _____________, nor set any rules governing the shaping of our sound. Although it should be noted Javier would probably play every song solo on the organ if left to his own devices. We try to encourage him away from “the Devil’s Showtunes”.
Songs like “Hideous Witness,” although heavy, seem to maintain a strange balance between Goth and psychedelic rock. Elaborate on your sound as much as you can (or are willing to). Why do you think it is important to show diversity and stand out?
Sam: Gothic and psychedelic music are a definite influence on our work, almost as much as punk or metal in the mix. I like thick, lumbering sounds; anything that comes across as suffocating or oppressive pleases me. At the end of the day, standing out or seeming diverse isn’t as important as it is to tweak some sort of emotional reaction out of the listener, even if its discomfort or disgust.
Kenny: The “psychedelic” part must come from Stoner Rock. The “Goth” part comes to Javier late at night after teasing his hair, while drinking iced tea and playing Bananagrams by the glow of a space heater.
What kinds of artists are you listening to currently? Have they or will they influence your sound? Any influences that fans may not expect?
Sam: I listen to a lot of older metal, stuff like Hellhammer, Bathory, and Beherit, 70’s hard rock, a lot of contemporary black metal; I’m pretty obsessive over certain region and era specific styles and genres of metal, but I fancy quite a bit of the 80’s gothic and post-punk racket as well. I think everything one likes ends up an influence, whether or not the influence is immediately apparent.
Kenny: Mainliner, Rakta, Coneheads, EYEHATEGOD, Greenleaf, Horn Of The Rhino. Absolutely. I love Steely Dan.
You have a pretty high-profile gig with Lo-Pan coming up; are you guys excited to be opening for them? Do you think having them perform in Youngstown is good for the local scene?
Sam: We are very delighted to be opening for Lo-Pan. It’s a great opportunity to expose our work to music fans who may have not had the pleasure to see our live show or hear our music before. I left Ohio in the mid-90’s so I missed the halcyon days of the Nyabinghi when heavier bands made Youngstown a regular stop on their touring circuits, but if the stories are to be believed, there are people who reside in our fair city who enjoy aggressive music but might not be aware that there are still bands who play in that style. We’ll see how the 17th goes. At the very minimum, we’ll have a good time and get to watch those guys devastate.
Kenny: Yes, I hope people come to the show. If not, that can become a bummer, and then what’s the point? A lot of those “glory dayz” memories people have about Nya, Cedar’s, Penguin Pub, etc., were often shows attended by eight people. The numbers in attendance swell as time passes. But that’s all gone now, so why not come out now and make some fantastic memories you can embellish later? And create something new instead of trying to become what things were. And you’ll be able to say you saw us “back in the day” when we were young; like, in our 30’s.
What’s in store for future recordings/releases? How can fans get a hold of your music?
Sam: We plan on doing some recording at some point this year. Ken and I split our time between Cvttvnmvvth and our other band, Wild Wings, so amidst playing out with both bands we’ll eventually get some work done in the Animal Dojo and have something new to offer before the year’s over. Expect more songs about sex and death. We have work by both bands available on our website www.lionscarerecordings.com as well as our Bandcamp page, cvttvnmvvth.bandcamp.com.