By Steve Ruff
Photos by Rick McDonough
THE MUSIC AND THE MESSAGE, THE HEAVIEST TO DATE
“I’M SCARED ABOUT THIS NEW RECORD, BECAUSE I’VE HAD TO TOTALLY
ENGULF MYSELF IN THIS SUBJECT TO MAKE IT SEEM REAL TO ME”
L.S. Underground is back. It’s been ten years since we have heard from the band that last brought us Dogfish Jones. This is no return to form however, this is Michael Knott doing what he does best, carving out new musical territory and leading the way with what he promised in 2007 would be the heaviest L.S.U. record ever made. Knott has a faithful fan base, and we have been waiting for over a decade, but as Michael says, “I really wouldn’t do a record unless it was about something, and this is definitely about something real.” This, as yet untitled, album tackles the heaviest subject that Michael has ever delved into. It brings Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, or PTSS, into the public arena in an attempt to bring attention to this seriousness of this issue, and the desperate need for help that exists in a very real way. The players on this album are many and include, Michael Knott, Josh Lory, Jim Chaffin, Matt Biggers, Daniel Sonners, Rick McDonough and for the long time fans, Brian Doidge is back! The album is due out on sometime in mid-November 2008, but for now let’s talk about the record and the catalyst that it will be to raise awareness about this sobering syndrome.
For those who are unfamiliar with PTSS, the textbook definition is “an anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to one or more terrifying events that threaten or cause grave physical harm. It is a severe and ongoing emotional reaction to an extreme psychological trauma.” PTSS can be brought on by numerous things including rape, physical and mental abuse and war trauma. Statistically 7%-8% of people in the U.S. will develop PTSS in their lifetime, with a life long occurrence in combat veterans as high as 10%-30%. The symptoms include (but are not limited to) nightmares, flashbacks and severe anxiety, and the effects are severe depression and suicide. It is a crippling problem that needs to be addressed. That is what Michael is doing on this album, bringing the attention to the front of his listeners mind. In talking Michael says, “This is not a political album, it is not a pro-war or anti-war record. This is a record about our troops returning from war in Iraq and Afghanistan. There are plenty of stories about them coming back and I wanted to do a record that got to the heart of the fact that some of these men and women are coming home and killing themselves.” He goes on, “The new word is PTSS, because it is a syndrome, not PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) which it has been called because it is not a disorder, but whatever they call it, it’s real.” Michael goes on to tell me a story about a soldier that had just returned home from service, and suffering from PTSS he tried to get help.” His family didn’t know what was going on, he left his wife and his children, he called to try and get help and was told that he would have to have his superiors call in for him. So, he did that, but then he was put on a three month waiting list, and he ends up killing himself.” “There are tons of these stories”, Michael continues, “In Newport Beach this guy with a purple heart, a purple heart, the medal for bravery, he just killed his girlfriend last week, and the government, and us as Americans, we’re not doing a damn thing about this… I knew one thing I could do, I could write a record about it, that’s what I can do.” When I told Michael I had just read a report that the Army’s suicide rate is the highest it has ever been he said, “Yeah I know and CNN is not reporting this, Fox News is not reporting this, there is no one that is going to report that. That is why I am here to make this record, and why you are here to promote this record, because people have to understand that these soldiers are completely hurting and they are killing themselves at record rates.”
There is an urgency when talking to Michael about this record, because not only are people hurting, but there is not readily available care for these soldiers either. The obstacles are many, and these soldiers are trained and conditioned to not ask for help. So asking is the first hurdle, but when asked there needs to be something in place to accommodate these men and women right away. Knott continues, “These soldiers are trained to be self reliant, you do not cower down, you suck it up and you deliver. That’s just not human nature, we are under our Creator, and we are not God, people are just not getting it. You know we still have all these veterans from Vietnam, and now there’s a whole new crop from Iraq and Afghanistan. These guys come home and it’s supposed to be all rosy? Well, it’s not! These guys gotta stand in line, get on a list and then maybe, maybe in four months someone will see them. Think about this, at least in the Marines you know that you may see your friends die, but not in the National Guard, not at all, or at least not in the beginning. These men and women serve one weekend a month, but now they are being sent to Iraq and Afghanistan, and they are watching their friends get their heads blown off, they are having to shoot people… the point is when they come home we say, “Congratulations, you made it,”… what are we thinking!? We are in complete denial about what happens to these soldiers when they return home, big time denial. I will probably be able to touch on 10% of what happens to these soldiers on this record, 10% if I’m lucky.”
This record is about the specifics of PTSS, but there are many scenarios in which the point is driven home. This is not a concept album, or a rock opera like many of L.S.U.’s previous offerings or Michael’s solo endeavors. There are many different stories in this album, different stories found in the different songs. “I have one song on the album,” Michael says, “a song that’s called ‘Child’s Prayer’… and it’s heavy, the lyrics just say, “Jesus, Jesus help my dad,” and this child just keeps repeating this because his dad has just screamed, broken stuff and then left. The little child is freaked out and he’s left wondering “what has happened to my Dad, this is not the same Dad that I had before he went to Iraq or Afghanistan, this is very bad’. That’s the idea for this album, if I can touch on several different issues so that people can hear about the guy that committed suicide, or so people can hear about the child’s prayer, or people can hear about someone who has come home and after enduring war and doesn’t understand why he still gets struck by lightning.”
As mentioned earlier, the problem that exists is not just getting these soldiers home, but also what to do once they are home. As Michael says, “You know what pisses me off the most? We bring them on home, we say ‘okay’ now you’re out of harms way. Congratulations, go back to work, go back to your family, and you know what they think when they wake up in the morning? They think GUN, AMMO, FOOD… that’s the three things they think when they walk out the door, do I have my gun, my ammo and my food. Then the reality comes back and they think, ‘Wait a minute, I’m here in America’… but they get in their car, and they drive down the middle of the road, not the left or right, but the middle, and everything on the side of the road is a potential bomb, and WE are not dealing with that.” There are not programs set up that deal specifically with PTSS. There are not treatments for these troops where they can call, and then come in and get help. Once they come to grips with their issues, they are placed on waiting lists that can last for months and months on end. Michael continues, “There are all sorts of things dealt with in the record, and it doesn’t give you a complete map to hope at the end… but, the point is that we need to find places for these people so if they call, if they work up the courage to call, or if their wife or husband call, or if their kid crying pushes them to call, then they need to get help right then, that day, period!
As you can tell, this is a heavy subject matter, and one that Michael feels very deeply about. It is a record that Michael describes as, “Not the prettiest record, it’s gonna be dark, but these people are hurting.” So, what can be done, and is there hope for a solution? It is a disturbing reality that these soldiers face, and it is something that we, as a society, have to do something about. Michael, discussing one song, says, “This one song on the album comes to this final point, where all the little children are holding hands and believing in love. If God is love, than what is love fighting for? I don’t understand why people believe that God has told them to kill somebody, I don’t get that? I understand that God is fighting for love, because God is love and He’s fighting for truth. I’m a little upset about… ya know, the radicals, and I don’t want to name religions here… but the ones that believe God has told them to wipe out America… so, if all the children, all the little children, before they were inducted into this or that, if they all held hands they would believe in love. Allot of times when we become adults and start believing in many things, we find rifts between us all, and we need to look back at the little children and how Christ said, ‘Let the little children come to me, because unless you become like a little child, you will not enter the kingdom of God’. There are so many aspects of this war, and this PTSS, that we haven’t even tapped into at all. I’m mainly singing about the troops that come back home to America. This is about one part, one angle, one vehicle that I have that I feel strongly about and that is that we need to help these soldiers here in America.”
There does seem to be a sign that maybe things are getting better, or at least social attitudes have improved. Michael relates, “It’s better than it was in Vietnam, those kids came home to people spitting at them and being called murderers, and then what, they’re supposed to just go live their lives? So, it’s better today than it was, but the problem is there is still no help.” He does want to make it clear that not everyone who returns from Iraq and Afghanistan suffers from PTSS. Again, this is just a record that deals with those who do suffer this particular syndrome. He explains, “Most of the soldiers that come back are fine, and they are not going to be having these problems. But, there are allot that are forgotten that are going to need help. So I don’t want to make a blanket statement that everyone who saw combat will suffer from PTSS, the statistics don’t show that and just because they come back from war does not mean that they are going to be affected. It’s the ones that want help… that know that they need help. So, I don’t know what the answer is… I mean I think God is one of the answers, but at the same time the mental health field needs to be setting up programs where these guys can sit down and talk about stuff together. Where they can cry, and get pissed off and break something and work their way through it. There’s just nothing like that right now, but I’m sure there will be soon. In our day and age I think something will be done because stuff like this doesn’t get swept under the rug as much as it used to. There’s allot of people that care.”
This record will drop, and drop hard sometime in November of this year. Musically it is the heaviest L.S. Underground album to date. Michael wrote most of the songs on bass and guitar, but he handles primarily just the vocals. As he describes it, “There are some ethereal moments on it, some ‘Bowie vocal moments’ in there, and some screamo vocals… it kind of runs the gamut in a lot of ways. I hooked up with Josh Lory who was a believer in L.S.U., and I had always wanted to do a heavy album with double kick, so Josh went out and found Jim Chaffin from The Crucified, and Chaffin was perfect with the double kick. Rick McDonough is also on board, who most will recognize as the other half of Michael’s other band Struck Last May. In addition, Brian Doidge is back and that will surely please the long time fans. Josh Lory describes the record this way, “This record re-defines music in a couple of ways. First, the music on the album is a meld of classic rock, punk, post-punk, metal, spacey guitars and driving rhythms. There are elements of The Ramones, Led Zepplin, The Cure, Black Sabbath, Queens Of The Stone Age, Bauhaus, etc., all intertwined without being a train wreck. Jim Chaffin’s drumming put it over the top, pulling the double kick style out of being pigeon holed to just metal. I dare you to find anything that sounds like it. Second, the lyrics are H-E-A-V-Y. Guys like Springsteen will only touch on a subject matter like this on a song or two, but a whole album!?! I’ve heard many records in my 32 years, but nothing like this.” As far as plans to tour behind the album, Michael said, “I don’t know. If we can set dates and are able to promote it I would love to, we’ll just have to see.”