Aside from having one of the best band names in all of music, Philadelphia’s Rumpelstiltskin Grinder is one of the most unrelenting and aggressive bands you’ll hear. On top of that, vocalist and bassist Shawn Riley is a pretty funny dude. He talked with our resident metal guy, James Whelan, about the band’s new album Ghostmaker, album artist Mike Hrubovcak, and dealing with negative criticism on the Internet. Read all about it here and then do yourself a favor and buy Ghostmaker, out now on Candlelight Records, so the band can afford to go on tour.
James Whelan: Ghostmaker was louder and heavier than any of your previous releases, and the vocals came out sounding almost possessed or demonic. What did you do with your vocals on this?
Shawn Riley: It’s kind of a little trick I do where I just record two vocal tracks at the same time. It’s not like an extremely low and extremely high vocal, which is typical of a lot of extreme metal bands, and for a while every band had vocals like that. This is more right in the middle, just really harsh and aggressive. One vocal is just a little lower and one is a little higher and it sounds like what you said, kind of possessed. I’ve been able to do lots of different types of vocals for a while, and just wasn’t really focused and able to pinpoint what I really wanted my vocals to sound like on the last album. Plus we had a singer on the first album, Eli, and his vocals were way different from mine, and I wanted to stick with that sound on the second album. But on the third album I wanted to do something different. I don’t know if you hear your voice recorded sometimes and go like “Oh, that’s what I sound like?” Every time I hear it on our second album I’m like “Ahh, who is this?”, so this time I wanted to go all out and make it sound really, really cool.
JW: When you went in to record Ghostmaker, did you have anything in mind that you really wanted to achieve?
SR: We’ve known what we wanted to do for quite a while, but I think this particular group of four guys has been playing together for almost ten years now. We’ve always known the goal we’ve wanted to go for, but now it’s just been easier to do what we want to do and part of that was actually taking a step back and listening to the first two albums and saying to ourselves “Alright, let’s not jump all over the place and make everything sound completely different” like with the second album where every song is a different genre almost. We wanted to take the feel of the first and second album and put it together so that people who like our band won’t listen to it and think “Ahh, this sounds totally different.”
JW: How’s the fan reaction been? It’s been out, what, a month now?
SR: Yeah, it came out exactly a month ago. Everybody that’s heard it has said it’s probably their favorite one so far. The first three songs alone are probably the three best songs we’ve ever written I think, and we want people to enjoy listening to our stuff. That’s really all it is. We’re kind of our own biggest fans too, like if we like it, we figure everybody else will like it, so we just wanted to write stuff that we thought was good. In the long run it turned out that we finally got where we want to be as a band and create something we’re really proud of.
JW: So Mike Hrubovcak has done art for all three albums and a couple of you play in bands with him. How does the relationship go with him as far as the art he creates? Do you let him do his thing and go with that or do you give him ideas?
SR: We give him a basic idea and he goes “Uh, are you kidding me?”, and then he goes “There’s no way this is possible”, and then he just does it, and it’s awesome. We’ve come up with so many different ideas trying to come up with album covers that didn’t happen where we tried to work with him and he was just “That’s not possible”, so for this we just came up with a really simple idea and there’s no way any of us could have imagined how this was going to look. Basically we came up with the name ‘Ghostmaker’ and we wanted Rumpelstiltskin to be pulling someone’s ghost out of them with some sort of magical lasso (see here). I don’t know if you’ve checked out his website, but he’s got a lot of cool stuff on there.
JW: I was looking at his portfolio and he’s got some great work. I recognized a few more album covers he did.
SR: Yeah, he’s done some pretty big bands, like Sinister, Mortician, and Cattle Decapitation.
JW: I really enjoy the album cover. It’s got a good mix of gore and humor.
SR: We scaled it down a little bit from last time. Last time there was a cyclops, a merman with a trident, a guy with a harpoon, there’s ninjas, samurais, and a helicopter (click here for cyclops, merman etc.).
JW: You guys play in a lot of different bands, like Absu, Woe, and Total F***ing Destruction. How do you balance different bands, your day jobs, and family life?
SR: As far as balancing stuff out, I don’t have any other main bands. I’m not doing Woe anymore; I’m just doing a couple smaller bands that haven’t really done much yet. I’ve got a thing called Ashencult; the album’s online and you can listen to it, but no touring or anything yet. Just a couple things here and there, but we’re in the process of working and saving money now for the next Rumpelstiltskin Grinder tour. As far as balancing stuff out, at one point you’ve got to make a decision, like “Do I want my girlfriend to hate me?”, or “Do I want my job to think I don’t give a sh*t?” I’d never make any more money. But I just turned 31 recently and finally made the decision that I’ve got to make time for stuff other than music, especially since I ran out of money. As far as balancing stuff out, it can be pretty hectic. If it wasn’t for my Google calendar I think my head would explode. I have to plan everything out. If you look at my schedule, it’s “band practice for this band one day, band practice for that band the next” and barely any time for personal stuff.
JW: Do you prefer touring or is it better sticking around Philadelphia and that scene?
SR: Our local shows are pretty good. As far as touring, a band like us is pretty hit or miss when it comes to different areas. We’ve played in different places before where we’re really well known, and it’s like this for anyone, but maybe more so for our band. I’ve toured with other bands before and seen it’s a little more consistent where they go. But for us, we’ll be one of the most known metal bands in particular areas, and we’ll go to other areas where there’s no draw, and people see us and they go “You guys are kinda clowns.”, and then go back to the bar. The consistency isn’t really there, but as far as touring, it’s really worth it when you get to those towns where you have some of the best shows that you’ve ever done.
JW: What would you say are your favorite cities to play?
SR: We’ve done pretty well in Toronto and various parts of Canada. I don’t know, I love playing in New York, Philly, and Texas is really fun. We don’t seem to have a really big draw in Texas, but I just like it. I don’t know what it is about Texas, but we did one tour where we did three or four shows in Texas and they were awesome. And California, if I’m ever going to move somewhere it’s going to be California. That’s one of my favorite places to go and play as well. We played two shows in a row there, one day in Hollywood and the next day in Anaheim which is 20 minutes away, and both shows were totally packed and two of the best shows we’ve ever played. And all other parts of California are good places to go on tours. If you’re an American metal band, and you want to go somewhere in America to play, that’s it.
JW: Kind of a minor question, but one thing I noticed is an issue for me is typing Rumpelstiltskin. Do you guys still have trouble with that? I stumble right in the middle every time.
SR: Yeah, I have to type it very slowly. A lot of people type it ‘ple’ which I believe is the Gaelic spelling of Rumpelstiltskin, I don’t know. It’s ‘pel’. I think the German one should be ‘ple’ but I think it’s actually ‘pel’. I can’t remember where we got that spelling from, but that’s what it is.
JW: How do you feel about where metal is right now? Is it in a good place? Is there stuff you’d like to see go away, or some new stuff going on you’d like to see progress further?
SR: It’s not fast enough. Not heavy enough, not angry enough, not fast enough. There are a lot of good bands, and I prefer grindcore, just as far as the attitude. I mean, we’re not a grind band, although some people think we are because it says ‘Grinder’ in our name. But I don’t know, as far as the state of metal now, I hear a lot of bands going for a European sound, or too many breakdowns that aren’t innovative enough, and people kind of fall into this groove, sounding like everybody else to me, and I just want to see more bands do their own thing and do it fast and aggressively, and write some heavy music that catches you off guard. I don’t want to see the next part coming, you know what I mean?
JW: What are some bands you’d say are doing that well?
SR: Phobia’s one of my favorite bands. I mean, they’re not a newer band, but they just had a new record come out and they’re touring. Revocation is pretty good. We get compared to them a lot; I don’t really see the parity other than the fact that we’re both good and do our own style. We actually get compared to a lot of bands that we don’t sound like. I’ve seen a lot of reviews like, “Yeah, they sound exactly like Bathory or Dark Funeral” and we sound absolutely nothing like them. It’s like, “Oh well, I’m glad they think we sound like that, I guess that means they like us?”
JW: You guys seem like the kind of band where you could take it or leave it whether critics or people on the internet have good or bad things to say about you. Do you follow any of that stuff?
SR: Yeah, I’m a pretty petty person. So anyone who leaves a negative comment on the internet I have tracked down and kicked the ass of, so beware. No, but actually it’s good to get fired up when people talk sh*t, so that is only going to make you want to make it better.
JW: Good, I hate when people are passive aggressive about that.
SR: I’m definitely the Jay and Silent Bob of the band. Everyone else is like “Don’t let that stuff get to you” and I’m like “Nah, I’m going to”. But yeah, I’m not so much of a hothead anymore. I’m 31 now, so I’m focused on other things now.
JW: Can you pinpoint a moment or a musician you listened to that made it so you had to play music?
SR: I’m not sure. I’ve been playing music since I was a kid. I was 10 or 11 and taking piano lessons, so I knew the scales and the chords and all that, and I wanted to play guitar because I listened to Soundgarden and Nirvana and stuff like that. Someone made me a Metallica tape and I started learning how to play that on my acoustic, and then got my first electric guitar. And after that, I went on to Sepultura which was my favorite thing for a while, and then progressed to Napalm Death and Morbid Angel, and kept listening to heavier and heavier stuff and playing along to it. Before you know it I’ve gotta meet up with some other guys that could play and try to do something, which was kind of hard where I grew up. I grew up in the DC area, and I didn’t really get a serious band going there, so I moved up to Philly when I was 18 and met up with a bunch of guys. Matt (Moore) and I met up and he, Ryan (Moll) and Pat (Battaglia) had written four songs together, and we wrote four more with me, and the first album came out. The guy that records us, Dan O’Hare, was a friend of mine when I first moved up, and he’s kind of right now the 5th band member as much as he contributes in the studio. We all have our preferences as far as gear and everything, but he’s helped shape our sound. He’s done two albums with us now, so it’s awesome to have been working with the same group of people for so long.
JW: I like that you guys don’t seem to have the ego problems that some bands do.
SR: Well, the thing is, every group of people doing anything has ego problems, and I guess we’re just good enough at communicating that we can deal with it and move on with it. When people are in their early 20s, that’s when their ego is just, I mean, you’ll punch somebody just for being in the same room with you. I guess if you can get beyond that point where you can simmer down and get used to people’s personalities and talk to people and say “Hey, sorry I was being a jerk” and just move on, that only makes you better friends with people if you can just forgive and move on. That way, ego problems won’t get in the way the longer you know people.
JW: Do you have anything else going on with Rumpelstiltskin Grinder you wanted to talk about?
SR: I don’t know, right now we’re just basking in the glory of the new album. Soaking in the fame, driving around in our luxury automobiles, and just enjoying the fame and fortune. No, but really, we want to make big plans for the next tour because the tours we’ve done have been good but we want to do a lot more planning and aim a little higher this time and make it out to Europe. So we’re actually saving up and starting to plan now for probably sometime next year touring.
– Submitted by James Whelan, Music Design