Interview with Dave Witte from Municipal Waste: Trashed In Zero Gravity

When we spoke, drummer Dave Witte of Municipal Waste was in Oakland, California. It was 3 p.m. his time—6 p.m. mine, if you don’t feel like extrapolating the difference in time zones—and when the call didn’t come in for the phoner, I figured it was no big deal. He was either late or maybe he forgot. That happens frequently, and I wasn’t on nearly as tight a deadline then as I am now typing this, so no worries.

Turned out, however, that Witte was still asleep. He’d spent the night before engaging himself in the consumption of too many Pliny The Youngers at a place called Beer Revolution that had, by his description, the kind of deal going that also would’ve had me missing interviews. Trad thrashers Municipal Waste, whose new album is called The Fatal Feast: Waste In Space, are known for boozing. Indeed, you get what you pay for on songs like “12 Step Program,” “Covered In Sick/The Barfer” and “You’re Cut Off”—the band’s almost as dedicated to capturing the alcoholic aspects of the ‘80s thrash movement as they are the musical ones.

They hail (as metal bands do; other genre acts are from places, metal bands hail) from Richmond, Virginia, but Witte gets around. His roots trace all the way back to Jersey and the band Human Remains, in which he played with Jim Baglino, now of Monster Magnet, and several others who would go on to be his bandmates in acts like Discordance Axis and Burnt By The Sun. Those names are just scratching the surface of Witte’s total discography—not to mention live participations; one of the things I most wanted to ask him about was playing drums with The Atomic Bitchwax this past December at the Wellmont Theatre—which now spans over two decades of precision extremity with everyone from Exit-13 to Melt-Banana to Birds Of Prey.

And sure enough, Municipal Waste will be teaming with Gwar for the latest in a series of tours together that will bring them to the Starland Ballroom on March 18, so there’s that to look out for in addition to the April 10 release of The Fatal Feast. Oh yeah, and this Q&A. Like I said, the guy gets around.

I was at the show in December where you filled in on drums for The Atomic Bitchwax. What’s the connection there? How do you know those guys?

Chris [Kosnik, bass/vocals] called me. I’m friends with his wife. I grew up with his wife, and I’ve known Chris around the music scene for years, playing with his bands. They really wanted to do this thing, and Bob [Pantella, drums, also of Monster Magnet] was out with Magnet—with Jim [Baglino], actually—and Chris called me up and I thought it would be fun. Those guys are cool, the music’s cool, and I thought it would be fun to do something different.

How much time did you have to prepare?

We had three days.

Sounded pretty good for three days.

Thanks man. I’m definitely no Bob. Bob’s got his own thing going on. But I didn’t make the songs any worse, I hope (laughs).

You’ve done so many different kinds of extreme projects, despite the time pressure, it had to be kind of relaxing to do stoner rock songs. Do you take a different approach to different styles?

It was cool to just rock and have some groove. You know what works in situations. Everything I do doesn’t apply from one band to the other, so I have to approach it a different way. But I have bits and pieces here and try to sneak them in where it works.

Three years is the longest break between Municipal Waste records. Was it just touring and switching labels that accounted for the difference?

Those were definitely huge factors, but we decided to take time off to write the record, because the last four or five years, we would tour constantly. 200-shows-plus a year, and then write records between that. This time, just having to work at the same time as switching labels and all that. It was really healthy. It worked out a lot.

We got to spend time at home, readjust, feel like human beings, be relaxed and have a really good, creative time without a timeline included. We were also able to do a lot of pre-production, record a lot and listen constantly to see what we wanted to change before we actually went in to record. All those elements were very helpful in writing this record, and I’m really stoked on it. I think it’s our best one. I know everyone says that, but I think this record has bits and pieces of all the past Waste records at their strongest.

And part of that comes from that more relaxed approach?

Yeah, totally. The time off and no deadlines. That’s the most important thing.

Were you rushed on the last couple records?

Not so much rushed, but there’s always a deadline. There’s always a time, a schedule. There was no schedule for this one. It’s like, we’ll write it, and then we’ll book the time. And that also, being we’ve done so many records together and so many shows at the same time, we know what we’re good at and we know how to write songs, how to create better, and of course we’ve known what we’ve already done and what not to do. It’s a good formula for that, I think.

The aesthetic is so set for Municipal Waste, too. That has to factor in to the songwriting. You know you’re going for thrash.

You’re definitely getting a Municipal Waste album. There isn’t gonna be a 10-minute prog song or a rap-rock remix variation or something like that. That doesn’t work for us. We are what we are and what we do is what you get. There’s a little room for expansions—you’ll hear it on the record. But it’s a Waste record and a Waste fan should like it.

You had Tim Barry from Avail on the record, and they’re obviously a Richmond band. Do you see yourself as being more aligned to the Richmond scene or Jersey?

Well, I definitely spent more time in the Jersey scene, and I am in the Richmond scene. Municipal Waste is heavily supported in Richmond and there’s a great group of musicians and bands down there, so I am in the scene, but I know so many more people longer in the Jersey scene. I guess you could say I’m in both.

You guys are touring with Gwar again. I remember seeing you together a few years ago. Is there something special about those guys that you’re going out again?

They invited us back out. They invited us on our first real tour—our first nine-and-a-half-week tour was with them—our first pro tour. They showed us a lot, how to step up and be pros about situation. We see each other in town often, and we’re fans of one another, so the timing was right, and it’s great to go back out with them again, and the only bummer is no Cory [Smoot, Gwar guitarist who died late last year]. We did our Hazardous Mutation record with him. I guess the tour is a celebration in a weird way as well.

There was the tribute show for Cory too.

The second one is on the first date of the tour in Richmond. None of us were ready for it. It was a bummer. Great, great guy. Now we’re gonna go out and celebrate him.

What’s next after this tour?

Lots more shows. Lots more touring. Another headlining run of our own in the States, and six-to-eight weeks in Europe, festivals, headliners, Australia, New Zealand. We took a year off, so we’re gonna bang it all out now.

So you’re standing on the edge of the cliff looking out at that. Are you excited about touring again or apprehensive after having the year off?

I can’t wait (laughs). That’s my favorite part of playing music, is the live show, actually playing. Going new places, seeing old friends, meeting new ones. There’s nothing like it.

I was just saying the other day how fortunate I am to be in the position I am. I go all over the world to play music and people actually care to show up and support it. That’s more than I could ever ask for.

Plus you get to hit up the microbrews and the brewpubs.

Yeah. The benefits are wonderful (laughs). It’s great. It’s gotten to the point that people are bringing me the special beer from their town that they want me to have. I’m extremely fortunate.

The Fatal Feast: Waste In Space is due out on April 10 through Nuclear Blast. Municipal Waste will be at Starland Ballroom in Sayreville with Gwar on March 18. More info at