ELECTRIC FRANKENSTEIN – interview by liz ortega
Electric Frankenstein is a stunning punk rock n roll four piece from New Jersey. Their rock n roll style is aggressive, loud, and profoundsomething you rarely see or hear nowadays. Combining all of the multi-layered aspects of heavy rock n roll music with melodic-yet-wicked lyrics, Electric Frankenstein lives up to its sinister name. With each release and performance, this monster of a band develops insanely, shocking their listeners with 10,000 volts of pure rock energy. Sal Calzonieri, the bands songwriter and rhythm guitarist is the man responsible for creating and maintaining EFs enormous amount of voltage that runs through its being. Steve Millers vocal onslaught is as devastating as it is satisfying. Dan Calzonieris bass rampage is delivered with angst and fury. And old time EF drummer, John Steele, wraps it up with his damaging drumming. Their latest release, The Buzz of 1000 Volts released on Victory Records, is as raw and gritty as their previous effortsbut a hell of a lot more impressive. Sal Calzonieri was kind enough to take some time out to talk with me about the band and the Anti Rock Conspiracy. Rock!
LIZ: How you doing, Sal?
SAL: Im doing okay. Just recovering from surgery.
Oh, wow. Would you like to reschedule? I wouldnt want to keep you from recovery.
S: No, no…Im fine. Ive been resting for 3 days. I like doing interviewstheyre fun.
Excellent! I just received your new release, 1000 Volts. Its been said that its by far the best release. Would you agree with that sentiment?
S: Well, the way the whole band feels is that its the best-supported album. As far as best songs, were still going. I dont think weve peaked yet. Were still developing and changing. Were strengthening our strengths and dropping off our weaknesses and just trying to sound the best we can.
In your opinion, what do you think are/were your weaknesses that you are encountered as a band?
S: Sometimes its hard to work with people that arent as energetic. Me, Steve, and Dan are very energetic and want to go deep into the songwriting, what it means to arrange a song, what it means to have this part work with that part. We just didnt have everybody on the same page. Thats why we have a change in the bandonce again. We got our previous drummer back, who is a lot like us. Everybody plays multi-instruments now, so were down to a 4 piece. Now we have people who are totally focused on craftsmanship and visuals. I think now weve been doing shows this way and the audience, theyre enthusiastic about this album.
The songwriting duties are shared by the three of you, right? You, Steve, and your brother Dan?
Every song has its own meaning and presentation. But generally, what gives each song that electrifying feel to make it stand on its own?
S: Theres a certain persona that band takes on, imagery wise. So, we thought wed stick with the idea of Frankenstein, because if you read the book, Frankenstein is very intelligent. Its a lot of philosophy and a lot of, uh, dealing with angst. Being created, born right and not having a choice about it, and then youre stuck in a world where youre getting many multi-emotions coming through you. But theres a lot of that in the lyrics. There is a semi-political song on there, America Liethat was kind of a homage to 80s hardcore. Weve been seeing that come back and the kids are rediscovering it.
You see a lot of bands that often like to veer off their pathtake Slaughter and the Dogs for example. Their current album, Beware Of…, is a fucking awesome record. Now, thats a far cry from Where Have All The Boot Boys Gone. That record is completely different. Now, do you ever see Electric Frankenstein progressing or completely altering your sound the way Slaughter and the Dogs and so many other bands have? I mean, that to me is not so much a change to appealits all about the progression and growth as musicians.
S: True, as musicians, it would be at this point in personal development and even if they stayed together in the band or not, they should have been at this point. They stayed together and even separate, they kept up with their music and their heart. Thats what music is all aboutthe spirit of that because when youre speaking, the world is coming through you. When youre a musician, the music is inspirational because you let yourself be an instrument for the world. And I hear that in that album that they just did. A natural progression and thats the real thing. Thats what were committed to. We really think its phony to one day, sound like Blink 182, and the year before youre heavy metal. Now, if you progress that way and its a traditional thingyou can see bands experimenting and theyre looking at different aspects of themselvesthats natural. But when you hear Oh, this is what other people are into, thats when a leader becomes a follower. Might as well be a cover band.
Sal, I wanted to touch on the Anti Rock Conspiracy. I remember asking your brother years ago about that, but he couldnt elaborate on the subject. He said its your baby.
S: Well, its a very real thing thats been going on for a whilethe government is investigating and Ive been asked to help investigate. Whats been going on, you see, [theyve] shot themselves in the foot because in the music industry, the only thing thats selling is rock. Whats been going on behind the scene, thats still under investigation, is that theres people in the music business that were trying to control the market during the 90s and push out rock n roll and rock n roll bands and bring in that nu-metal garbage. Um, the pop stuff is the pop stuff, thats always there. I mean Mariah Carey had hits in the 80s, thats its own thing and the pop people dont mix. [They] were trying to squeeze it out of the radio and the press and I had plenty of people in all aspects of the business come to me and tell me all this stuff they were told to do. A lot of them refused to do it. The more the industry was trying to tell them to stop doing that stuff, [the more] it wound up backfiring because people rebelled. We wound up being the fifth most-written about band in the world, according to statistics, because of the Anti Rock Conspiracy. Theres a lot of corruption going on in radio and in the press and in the music business itself, [like] how contracts are set up and what bands are signed and then shelved to get them out of the way so that rock bands arent allowed to get anywhere. Sure there was stuff on the radio like the Offspring and Blink 182, but I think its because that was stuff they couldnt do anything about.
Well, Blink 182 had that already, as far as commercial success. So, it was inevitable for them to get major exposure like radio and music television.
S: Right. The big thing was that they were pushing everything else out of the way, at the expense of rock, and trying to push the whole nu-metal thing, There were a lot of bribes that went onmagazines have gotten in trouble and have had to move their main offices. Theyve gotten in trouble for taking bribes to put bands on covers. A lot of bands that people think are big, arent really. Theres a lot of deceiving reports about sales. Things that they said are [selling] multi millions, they were only counting copies shipped and not copies sold. So, they were nowhere near that. It gets into all kinds of statistics and who is paying off who and what not.
Seems like youre very much involved in this.
S: Yeah, I really cant say much about it because its all under investigation. 20/20 is doing a show on it and they interview a lot of people that are on the investigation with me and I know they are going to be on TV. Well see what happens. [From the time] the investigation first started til now, the music industry just shot itself in the foot because things changed right under their noses. All the college stations this year, the new kids coming in are boycotting. Theyre playing old punk, old 80s, and indie music and its like the way it was because they want nothing to do with the major labels. College kids are all on the internet and are savvy to what the problems are when a major label makes a band sell too many records before they make a dollar. Theres a lot of stuff. Theres a lot things going on with chain stores. The stores were putting the major label records at the lowest prices and jacking up the prices on the indie records. The major label stuff wasnt selling but the indie stuff sells because its only printed to a certain amount. So, they figured people were going to buy it anyway. That, of course, brought interest to the Department of Financial Crimes. It stemmed from that and the investigation got bigger. Theres a lot of fishy stuff going on. They would have chain stores order a whole bunch of indie records and hold them and not put them out for sale. Then when they were low on money, they would ship them back, unopened. A lot of bands that they wanted to promote were told Well send you the stuff and you send us the other stuff back and well replace it with the record we want you to put on the shelves. That made the other record look like it sold a lot but they didnt tell you that they werent sold. They were just shipped to those chain stores. I gets so complicatedI dont know how much youd like to know about it.
Well, it does sound complicated but its very informative. I think everyone should be filled in on whats going on with the music biz.
S: Part of the thing was buying space on radio. The songs you hear on the radio are paid for now. They re considered commercial.
Now I know your feelings toward major labels and stuff. Youre still with Victory Records, right?
S: Im done with the contract after this record. Were moving ahead.
Youve been with the label for a long time.
S: Yeah, were just committed to the idea of independence. To do it yourself and you can see that as a pattern with all the labels weve been on.
How about starting your own label?
S: A lot of bands want us to start our own label. (Laughs) They trust us better, I guess. Its in the future. Right now, were still building things until were satisfied. Ive been doing my part with the Fist Full of Rock n Roll compilations. I did some with Victory Records and some coming out on Devil Doll Records. I made a network on the internet and I have labels and bands and people in the music business that want to work together. I have A&R going on that Im doing for everyone in this network. Its a big thing thats working out great. Every band has gotten so much bigger since theyve been in the network because they grew so fast on the compilations.
Thats sounds like a very promising project. I asked your brother Dan this question: What band is the absolute biggest pain in the ass to tour/play with?
S: What did my brother say?
He said Nashville Pussy.
S: Well, not the girls, they were real nice to us. When youre stuck living off your music, you become a music prostitute. You gotta cut corners to survive. So, instead of cooperation, it was competitive. And that sucks. You know who I didnt like playing with? Hole, because somebody died at that show. We playedwith them in Sweden or something and Hole went on and Courtney told everybody that they could be a star and they should jump up on the stage. Well, that was irresponsible. Everybody rushed the stage and a 12 year old girl was crushed and nobody knew she was dead [until] after her whole set was done. No one has ever died in these Swedish festivals before, and to see a 12 year old girl lying there dead was tragic to me and I felt like punching [Love]. She didnt even care. She should be held responsible.
How long ago was this? I never heard about this incident.
This was the summer before last. They didnt even report it here.
Wow. What about the best band?
S: The Supersuckers. They put on exciting shows and the crowds are charged up. They love playing , they love the audience and they love the music. Social Distortion are the same
Speaking of being charged up, what gives you the drive to perform exceptionally? You mentioned that all the members have the same type of energy. What would you say contributes to that?
S: Honestly, its the punk rock movement. We grew up going to CBGBs and seeing the Ramones and the Dictators and all the British bands. Everybody acted like it was the last show and the last time anybody could ever play and you really care about being there. There was that connection between the bands and the audience. It was exceptional and Ive never seen that again. Weve seen the Ramones and the Dead Boys put on shows, going all out and youd see the energy coming right out of their bodies. People told me it was like that 5 years before with the MC5. Thats when we decided to start EF. I said were going to take punk together with the high energy of the earlier time period and blend it all that together.
And you created a monsterthe Electric Frankenstein! So, would you consider your music to be dark?
S: Yeah. Its loud and aggressive and melodic but its got a bit of angst because of the Frankenstein thing. Its all about the power and the glory but also theres a bittersweet thing.
So, what do you besides music?
S: Well, Im a writer. Theres a book coming out on the band and the publisher asked me to write the text. Its a huge book. The first half of the book is about the whole scene and whats going on. Im putting together quotes from different bands and people about what rock n roll means to them. The history of the band will also be in there. The second half of the book will have different artwork. Im writing a book on Chinese Kung Fu. Then I have band practice and our families, of course.
Are you married with children, Sal?
S: Yes, I am.
How difficult is it when you got out on tour and you have to leave your families behind for months and months at a time? Or do you take your families with you on the road?
S: Everybody brought [their family] (laughs) at least once. Everybody had all this cartoon imagery of what its like to be in a band. But youre spending more time traveling, then you do interviews and I like doing interviews, then you do the merch, then you do sound check, play a state, then pack up and go. Its a lot of work. So, everybody has got to see that were not out there cheating or passed out somewhere (laughs).