Modern Fix

ELECTRIC FRANKENSTEIN – interview by liz ortega

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Electric Frankenstein is a stunning punk rock ‘n’ roll four piece from New Jersey. Their rock ‘n’ roll style is aggressive, loud, and profound—something 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 band’s songwriter and rhythm guitarist is the man responsible for creating and maintaining EF’s enormous amount of voltage that runs through its being. Steve Miller’s vocal onslaught is as devastating as it is satisfying. Dan Calzonieri’s 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 efforts—but 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: I’m doing okay. Just recovering from surgery.

Oh, wow. Would you like to reschedule? I wouldn’t want to keep you from recovery.
S: No, no…I’m fine. I’ve been resting for 3 days. I like doing interviews—they’re fun.

Excellent! I just received your new release, “1000 Volts.” It’s been said that it’s by far the best release. Would you agree with that sentiment?
S: Well, the way the whole band feels is that it’s the best-supported album. As far as best songs, we’re still going. I don’t think we’ve peaked yet. We’re still developing and changing. We’re 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 it’s hard to work with people that aren’t 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 didn’t have everybody on the same page. That’s why we have a change in the band—once again. We got our previous drummer back, who is a lot like us. Everybody plays multi-instruments now, so we’re down to a 4 piece. Now we have people who are totally focused on craftsmanship and visuals. I think now we’ve been doing shows this way and the audience, they’re enthusiastic about this album.

The songwriting duties are shared by the three of you, right? You, Steve, and your brother Dan?
S: Right.

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: There’s a certain persona that band takes on, imagery wise. So, we thought we’d stick with the idea of Frankenstein, because if you read the book, Frankenstein is very intelligent. It’s 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 you’re stuck in a world where you’re getting many multi-emotions coming through you. But there’s a lot of that in the lyrics. There is a semi-political song on there, “America Lie”—that was kind of a homage to ‘80s hardcore. We’ve been seeing that come back and the kids are rediscovering it.

You see a lot of bands that often like to veer off their path—take Slaughter and the Dogs for example. Their current album, “Beware Of…,” is a fucking awesome record. Now, that’s 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 appeal—it’s 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. That’s what music is all about—the spirit of that because when you’re speaking, the world is coming through you. When you’re 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 that’s the real thing. That’s what we’re committed to. We really think it’s phony to one day, sound like Blink 182, and the year before you’re heavy metal. Now, if you progress that way and it’s a traditional thing—you can see bands experimenting and they’re looking at different aspects of themselves—that’s natural. But when you hear “Oh, this is what other people are into, ”that’s 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 couldn’t elaborate on the subject. He said it’s your baby.
S: Well, it’s a very real thing that’s been going on for a while—the government is investigating and I’ve been asked to help investigate. What’s been going on, you see, [they’ve] shot themselves in the foot because in the music industry, the only thing that’s selling is rock. What’s been going on behind the scene, that’s still under investigation, is that there’s 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, that’s always there. I mean Mariah Carey had hits in the ‘80s, that’s its own thing and the pop people don’t 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. There’s 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 aren’t allowed to get anywhere. Sure there was stuff on the radio like the Offspring and Blink 182, but I think it’s because that was stuff they couldn’t 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 on—magazines have gotten in trouble and have had to move their main offices. They’ve gotten in trouble for taking bribes to put bands on covers. A lot of bands that people think are big, aren’t really. There’s 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 you’re very much involved in this.
S: Yeah, I really can’t say much about it because it’s 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. We’ll 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. They’re playing old punk, old ‘80s, and indie music and it’s 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. There’s a lot of stuff. There’s 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 wasn’t selling but the indie stuff sells because it’s 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. There’s 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 “We’ll send you the stuff and you send us the other stuff back and we’ll 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 didn’t tell you that they weren’t sold. They were just shipped to those chain stores. I gets so complicated—I don’t know how much you’d like to know about it.

Well, it does sound complicated but it’s very informative. I think everyone should be filled in on what’s 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. You’re still with Victory Records, right?
S: I’m done with the contract after this record. We’re moving ahead.

You’ve been with the label for a long time.
S: Yeah, we’re just committed to the idea of independence. To do it yourself and you can see that as a pattern with all the labels we’ve 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. It’s in the future. Right now, we’re still building things until we’re satisfied. I’ve 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 I’m doing for everyone in this network. It’s a big thing that’s working out great. Every band has gotten so much bigger since they’ve been in the network because they grew so fast on the compilations.

That’s 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 you’re 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 didn’t 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 didn’t 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 didn’t 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
way.

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, it’s the punk rock movement. We grew up going to CBGB’s 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 I’ve never seen that again. We’ve seen the Ramones and the Dead Boys put on shows, going all out and you’d see the energy coming right out of their bodies. People told me it was like that 5 years before with the MC5. That’s when we decided to start EF. I said we’re going to take punk together with the high energy of the earlier time period and blend it all that together.

And you created a monster—the Electric Frankenstein! So, would you consider your music to be dark?
S: Yeah. It’s loud and aggressive and melodic but it’s got a bit of angst because of the Frankenstein thing. It’s all about the power and the glory but also there’s a bittersweet thing.

So, what do you besides music?
S: Well, I’m a writer. There’s a book coming out on the band and the publisher asked me to write the text. It’s a huge book. The first half of the book is about the whole scene and what’s going on. I’m 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. I’m 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 it’s like to be in a band. But you’re 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. It’s a lot of work. So, everybody has got to see that we’re not out there cheating or passed out somewhere (laughs).