interview by Matt Crosslin, photo courtesy of Joshua Lory
Some may not know how much of a veteran you are. What is your background in the music scene?
So for me it started in 1991, I went to my first show and saw the Crucified at the Omni in Oakland, Ca. I was hooked after that and tried to make every show I could. A few months after that I saw Veil of Ashes, Dead Artist Syndrome, The 77’s, and The Choir at the same venue. During those years it was rare to see any Christian bands play in Northern California. So Cal was blowing up with great bands. Aside from the Christian shows the Bay Area had an incredible local scene with bands like Green Day, Rancid, AFI, Samiam, Jawbreaker, The Donnas, the list goes on and on. I used to watch all those bands for around $6.00 at either 924 Gilman or the Berkeley Square. Bands like Deftones, No Doubt, and Weezer used to be the opening acts, crazy!
The first time I saw LSU play was in the Las Angeles area 3 days after the Rodney King riots. The show was LSU, The Choir, Altar Boys, and Undercover! Spectacular show, Knott wrapped himself in duct tape and was rolling around on the floor screaming, great set, just to short. When The Choir came on Steve Hindalong came out and wrapped masking tape around his legs in jest of Michael, that was pretty fun.
Around 1992 a place called The Screem started up in Concord, Ca and threw some great shows. Frank Tate was running it. He later went on to manage The Prayer Chain and The 77’s and later started 5 Minute Walk Records. The Screem lasted for quit some time. I was in a local band that played there a couple of times. That’s back when I met Masaki Liu, I recorded at One Way Studio a few times and used to hang out in the background learning as much as I could gather. I also used to roadie for Dime Store Prophets here and there. Masaki taught me so much about music, writing, playing, recording, the business side, and I’m forever grateful for this.
To you, what is the difference between today’s music scene and the way it used to be?
This is a tough question, I could rant for hours on this one. Overall with the state of “Christian” music, I don’t feel the spirit moving the bands like I used to. Everyone is to concerned with image, worst of all worried about being sexy. It sickens me, it really does. Look at the pictures in the album sleeves and magazine adds, pouty lips and all. I think the message is very skewed to Christians and non alike. The bands I grew up on focused more on the music, art, and spirit, not MTV and magazines. It seems like image takes priority over beliefs, I guess. The passion is almost gone, music and art in general is pointless without passion. It also seems like people just gave up on singing and being different, with the exception of underground bands. Also the older bands get little to no respect and that’s sad, Daniel Amos, The Choir, The 77’s, Scaterd Few, The Crucified, LSU, these bands should be bigger than ever. They were the pioneers, I mean The Cure can still pack out venues, and not that these bands were ever that big, but the Cure is still gaining new fans all the time. All the bands I grew up on are all but forgotten. There would be no POD or Underoath without them, but would those bands ever take someone like Scaterd Few on tour now that they’re huge? I doubt it. It’s all business, It’s all very frustrating.
What or who got you interested in music in the first place?
Four things got me interested in music, seeing live shows, hearing the Ramones for the first time, my older brother being in a band, and being the weird kid wanting to fit in. That last one was the biggest, I never fit in with the kids at church, I was a little different, but I loved God all the same and as much as anyone. God used the rock n’ roll in my life to give me the sense of belonging that I was wanting. I finally fit in and had friends, I was the total loner/quiet kid and now I have a purpose and I’m still an individual. I hope that makes sense.
Can you give us a run down of the projects that you are working on?
Aside from the new L.S.Underground, I have a band with my friend Jason Groff. It’s called Western Grace, we play melodic punk in the vein of Hot Water Music and Rise Against. Knott and I are also working on a new Lifesavers album that’s going to be a real fun in the sun kind of record. Andy Verdecchio from Five Iron Frenzy is drumming on that one. Andy and I had a short lived band together while I lived in Denver for a couple of years, so I’m real excited to work with him again.
How did you get connected with L.S.Underground?
I commissioned Michael to do a painting of the Ramones because I knew he was a big fan and he was stoked to do it. In the email I mentioned that I had a home studio and that I wanted to record him someday. We started talking and became friends and he mentioned he wanted to do a real heavy L.S.U. album and I was like “I’m your man!”. He asked if I knew any drummers that were good at double kick and I really didn’t know anybody, though I never told Mike that. I asked Masaki if he knew anybody and he said “what about Jim Chaffin?”….brilliant idea. I got on Myspace (the greatest networking tool ever if your in a band), found Jim, sent a message, he was down, and that was that. So the lesson is never be afraid to ask, but be tactful at the same time, no matter how big of a fan you are, don’t act crazy and scare off the artist, you may get to work with your favorite artist someday. God played the biggest part in bringing this together, answered many, many prayers.
What is it like working with Michael Knott in the studio?
Mike in the studio is very casual, but down to business, he knows what he wants, but also wants to capture the moment. I’m sure he approaches every record different though. He would lay a temporary bass track down to a click and then guide Jim through his ideas for drums. Jim went above and beyond, blew us away with tasteful fills and beats. A few songs were written on the spot at the studio and turned out amazing. We never rehearsed any of these songs as a band. It’s like a freestyle album, no one knew what the finished product would really sound like.
Are you part of the song writing process for the L.S.U. material? If so, how does that or just the whole band thing work with the distance factor?
I did get to do some writing on this album and that dropped my jaw. During a break I was outside the studio strumming away on an acoustic and Mike was like “that’s really cool, do you want to lay that down for the album?”, heck yeah I do. I worked out the one he heard and in the process came up with another song. I told Knott I had two songs, ran them both by him and Jim, they liked them, then we put ’em on tape…or computer I guess.
As far as the distance thing goes, most of this album was done by sending disc’s back and forth via mail and email. Once the drums were finished Michael trusted me and left it in my hands to do as I please, I had some direction, but a lot was up to me. I recorded guitars and bass in Northern California while Knott was in SoCal. Casey Prestwood recorded his own guitar tracks out in Denver. I recorded Matt Biggers guitars in the bay area. Michael came back up to record a few vocal tracks a few months later, then went back home with a set of masters to finish up the record with Rick McDonough.Back in the analog tape days that would have been very hard to pull off, ProTools rules!
There are some pretty high caliber people working on the new L.S.U. project. How did they get involved?
Well, like I said, I found Chaffin on Myspace, by the way Jim is the coolest guy alive, so kind and loving. Casey Prestwood, who is best known for his guitar work in the band Hot Rod Circuit, was my across the street neighbor when I lived in Denver. One of my old bands opened for Hot Rod years before we became neighbors, small world indeed. I’ve known Masaki for a long time. Matt Biggers is an old friend of mine since our teen years. When I get the chance to do studio albums, I try to get all my favorite musician friends involved.
Any future plans for any of the projects you are working on?
Future plans for these projects is to get them in the hands of the people. I’m not out to make a bunch of cash, I’m in it for the art, but I do want the art to be the best it can be, and a little cash is never a bad thing. I’m dying to play some live gigs with Knott, I really hope he wants to do Cornerstone 09, that would be a dream come true. I want to play a lot of live shows with Western Grace as well. We have one album finished and another ready to record. If you want to check us out go to www.myspace.com/westerngracemusic.
Aside from that I want to work with Allan Aguirre someday.