They may just be rising to the surface of the local and national metal scenes, but don’t let their fresh emergence fool you. TOOTHGRINDER isn’t exactly new to the music business. The Jersey-based fearsome five have been shredding up the metal arena since 2010, and have even been compared to music legends like Metallica. But, even with their immense talent and a seemingly endless list of tours, they still remain as humble as ever. I recall only a month or so ago when their merchandise salesman, tour management assistant, and very close friend, Pat Cusack, sent me a flyer for their previous headlining U.S. tour, and after listening to a few tracks from their last album, Schizophrenic Jubilee, I was beyond curious to find out more about these guys.
After many hours of research and countless iTunes downloads later, you can imagine my eagerness to meet one of my fellow Jerseyans to chat about their current tour, pending the release of their new album. So far, they’ve released two tracks off of Nocturnal Masquerade, and all the metalheads are super psyched as the guys venture around the U.S. on their sixth nationwide tour. Check out what TOOTHGRINDER’s rad drummer, Wills Weller, had to say below!
Prior to your current tour, you guys just got back from a whole month of touring with Reflections, Yuth Forever, and Exalt. How was it?
It was fun! Those guys are good friends of ours, so it was cool getting to hang out with them every day, and basically all of us were getting inspired all day long (laughs). We knew each other beforehand, so once touring with them, I realized that it’s such a small world once you start venturing out there. The world just keeps getting smaller and smaller.
Oh, trust me I find that to be very true (laughs). You guys have your new full-length album coming out as well, called Nocturnal Masquerade, that’s set to be released in January. That’s really exciting to hear.
Yes it is! January 29 is the date.
Awesome! Well, it’s probably going to be hard to wait.
Oh, believe me I know. I’m crazy psyched about it.
I’ll bet. Love the album title, by the way. That underlying gothic sort of gothic vibe is very interesting.
I also really love the album artwork, which I’m assuming is like an elephant hybrid kind of creature, right? (Laughs)
Yeah! Yeah (laughs). So, before we were signed, we released two DIY demos, and the second one was called Variation/Colour/Frequency. The art for it is like an elephant with deer antlers and wolf eyes. So, Vibration/Colour/Frequency—by the way, I’m about to get super nerdy about this—if you think about it, colors are vibrating particles, frequency is vibrations, and so it’s all cohesive in one solid thing. We kind of built this super animal, with all of these cool vital parts. I mean, an elephant is this huge and monstrous being, and with deer, I was thinking something like money and royalty, because sometimes you see a pair of huge antlers sticking out of someone’s wall, and you’re able to associate that pretty quickly. Then wolf eyes are just meant to be very intimidating and scary.
All of that together is just a cool and interesting mixture. And the single is about 18 minutes long, so basically the backstory to all of that craziness is that the EP that we put out earlier in our career, I always enjoyed the imagery of the elephant, and just thought of it as a really cool logo. We kind of just took that idea and made it more mature looking and older, because, as a band we’ve grown from that, so we kind of took it and made it look settled. We even added feathers just because we wanted to add on more artistic elements to the original.
I also get the feeling that you’re very in tune with nature, considering the artistic elements you guys used are drawn from wild animals.
Oh yeah! There’s a little bit of everything. It’s cool to have little underlying things, so people don’t just walk up to us and say, “Oh, you guys are supposed to be a hardcore metal band,” it’s like, “Nah, dude, come on!” (Laughs) There’s a lot more to our work, you know?
(Laughs) Very true. So I take it you guys aren’t really into genre labeling, then?
No, not really. If someone asks me what kind of music do you play, I’ll obviously tell the person I’m in a metal band, but really, it doesn’t mean I’m only a metal drummer. I play in that style that adheres to the songs we have, but if I were playing in a country band, I definitely wouldn’t have like, eight cymbals and six rack pongs. We play in ways that suit the song. I wouldn’t consider anyone in our band to be metal musicians, we are all just musicians and that sound that comes out when we all come together, tends to be a little more on the aggressive on the metal side, but we are all still just musicians. I could also write an acoustic song, and I guarantee you it would be the least metal-sounding thing ever (laughs).
(Laughs) You know, that’s a very interesting perspective on the topic, because I think some metal musicians stick with what they know, and prefer to be called on exactly what genre they play, you know what I mean?
Oh, no doubt. You’ve just got to keep your mind open, you know?
Definitely. So, since we’re on the subject, would you mind telling me what other types of music you’re really into, aside from metal?
Yeah! Lately, I’ve been listening to a lot from The Budos Band, they are a nine-piece Latin, soul, groovy instrumental band, and they have a section of percussion, keyboard, bass, guitar, and it’s really cool. It’s ’70s funky soul kind of music. I’ve just been jamming to them nonstop. It’s cool because listening to them totally takes your mind off what you’re supposed to be writing, like the cookie cutter’s approval of what should be played in a certain way. It’s not the same thing over and over. If I’m listening to a funk and soul band, and someone’s supposed to be writing a metal riff, my take on that riff is going to be way out of left field because of what I’ve been listening to. But really, the best thing you can do is draw inspiration from everything.
There have been positive reviews on the first two tracks you’ve released so far, what would you say you have done differently with Nocturnal Masquerade compared to Schizophrenic Jubilee?
Schizophrenic Jubilee was our first real shot, we thought, “Hey, people are going to listen to this,” and it would get their attention. I feel like we kind of just did attention grabbers. It was hard to be a serious “artist” when you only have about four or five songs to show for it. It wasn’t really a full-length record, it was more of like, “Hey, look at me. Try not to forget about me, because I’m going to be back in a little bit.” It was a quick check-me-out album, and now with this full-length, we can really dig super deep into being real artists. Not to discredit Schizophrenic Jubilee, because that was one of the coolest things we’ve ever done. But we wanted to create something memorable, and to grow into various songs and themes, and learn how to bring great songs into the universe, and not just think, “How will this get someone’s attention?”
I’m not going to lie, either, there are some mellow thoughts running on the new record. Some of the dynamics are even more drastic, which is kind of exciting for me, because that’s my personal favorite thing when it comes to seeing a show with a band. They can get very loud and emotional, but they can also bring the volume down, and it kind of makes you think, as a person, wonder what is going to happen when you build it back up. I feel like we really delve into that aspect a little more with this record.
So could you tell me a bit about the band’s background?
Well, basically, almost all of us went to Wall High School together. So, we’ve been friends since high school. Justin [Matthews] and Matt [Arensdorf] graduated in 2006, Jason [Goss] and I graduated in 2007, and then Matt Mielke went to Manasquan and then graduated in 2006. We were all in different bands but then when high school was over we all went to college but we still wanted to play in a band, so we all got together right before we went to college, maybe senior year, or shortly after, and as the bands were breaking up because of leaving for college and this and that, we all agreed that we still wanted to play music because it’s so much fun, and we all had so much for respect for each other as musicians.
We all got together, I think we were in the back room of my parents’ house, and we literally just played a couple of songs. Mielkie and I were in a band prior to then, so we each had material that we were working on that we brought to the table, like, “Hey you know, here we are writing these songs now.” Justin was interested, and I knew Matt through friends—we used to skateboard together, surf and everything—and so we just got together and formed this odd group of friends that we really never thought would come together and become a thing. From that point on, we just started playing music. When we all went to college, I would get voice memos or videos from Jason or Mielkie with a riff they wrote, and then I would be in Boston, they would be in Pennsylvania or New Jersey, and we would be like, “Oh, cool man, we’ll be on Christmas break, when we get home we’ll work on this song we started writing.”
Then when Christmas break freshman year we worked on a song and then summer we’d work on another song, and so every break, every summer, we would just continue playing all the time. Once we all graduated college and when everything slowed down a little, we figured, why not just keep going with this? So we kept going with it and it’s just kind of snowballing, and it just keeps getting bigger and better, we’ve kind of just been stretching our legs farther and farther out, and everything is just pretty cool.
That’s very impressive, considering how when most people graduate college, they aren’t really able to put much focus toward their passions like music, so that’s great that you guys were able to continue on the path you had been going on since before freshman year.
Yeah! I think we were just so excited, you know? Obviously, school was important for all of us, but we were so dedicated and amped about the band that we just couldn’t brush it aside. We also have a really great dynamic in the band—no single person in it writes a song, it’s always a group effort, which kind of makes our sound, sound like TOOTHGRINDER, you know what I mean? It’s not just me, and it’s not just them, it’s everybody building that one thing together. That’s really cool.
Absolutely. So, a lot of people, especially those in the Jersey Shore area, have deemed you guys as the up-and-coming contemporary version of Metallica—
Yeah! (Laughs) What are your thoughts on that one?
Well that’s pretty rad! (Laughs). I think that’s pretty cool, you know? Clearly, they’re one of the heavier, more aggressive bands that has withstood the tests of time. In most cases, you could ask a 10-year-old if they knew who Metallica was, and they’d be like, “Oh yeah, I love Metallica!” 55-, 65-year-olds would say the same thing, and that’s really so cool. They’re the sort of band that has an appeal to girls, guys, anyone really, and it’s cool that they can cross those age and gender boundaries. That’s just really awesome and exciting—I guess we have a lot to live up to now!
Well, just in listening to you guys, I can definitely see where that comparison came from, so to me, that’s a pretty spot-on band linkage.
Thank you! (Laughs)
How would you describe your sound to people who maybe are not entirely familiar with TOOTHGRINDER? I know a lot of people can be pretty intimidated by metal.
You know, it’s very interesting because you can hear the record, you can hear one thing, but when you see a live show, it may sound completely different. You have a whole other animal. It’s kind of interesting with the style of the music that we play, there are no rules or boundaries, so we could have a part, literally after the craziest, most aggressive part, we could have something that’s just gorgeous and may even derive from jazz chords or have a Latin feel, then we can take a total left turn and go right back to something that sounds like Metallica, or even Pink Floyd, anything like that. The cool thing about our music is that there are no rules that come with the music you write—overall, it’s just a very interesting thing to write and create and to have right in front of you, you know what I mean?
I think the best way to describe it would be that it’s a show—it’s really something you need to see live, as well as listening sonically on headphones and stuff like that.
I actually saw later this past summer something relating to you guys that actually really made me laugh. Natalie Imbruglia reached out to you guys not too long ago on social media, so now you guys are considering covering one of her tunes, is that right (laughs)?
How ridiculous is that? (Laughs) That was totally out of left field. Someone sent that message to us and I was just thinking, “Oh my God. That’s the craziest thing ever.” I listen to her songs and they’re so good, so that made it especially crazy (laughs).
So does this mean you guys are thinking about recording an original TOOTHGRINDER version of that, then?
You know, we talked about it, and since we are still touring and we are ready to release another full-length, we may have some free time on our breaks, so you never know… (laughs).
Yeah, you guys could totally pull off your very own track like what you hear on those Punk Goes Pop albums, that’d be awesome (laughs).
Seriously though! Watch, I’ve been trying to write all original songs my entire life—we’ll do one Natalie song and everything will blow up (laughs).
TOOTHGRINDER will be performing Nov. 19 in The Marlin Room at Webster Hall in New York City. On Nov. 20, they will be playing at VOLTAGE in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Their new album, Nocturnal Masquerade, will be available Jan. 29. For more information, go to facebook.com/toothgrinder.usa.