(this interview originally appeared as the cover feature for issue #33 of Modern Fix Magazine in 2002).

– interview by bushman

Purity is hard to come by in rock and roll.

Oh sure, many have mastered the cloning of the retro-rock formula to varying degrees of “rockin”, but it’s the elusive quality of purity in the motivations and executions that is so rare in today’s rock scene. One has to bring a flashlight and start looking in the corners where the spotlight of music “scene” rarely if ever shines. I’m talking the rural America that breeds the hunters, the drinkers, the brawlers… the rockers. People so untainted by what’s “cool” in rock and roll that it becomes an almost inbred sound, bastardizing upon itself rather than soaking up all the influences that assault and water down the popular market. Now take that environment and mix in a healthy dose (literally) of drugs and alcohol and filter it through a grad school education in American studies. Add an aura that reflects the historical culture that is ingrained within the Northeastern region and grow a beard. We are now treading the muddy path that bred Scissorfight. The rock and roll equivalent of a biker gang whose singer is way smarter than most of you. Greasy, low, sludgy, dirty boogie rock and roll. Yeah, that’s Scissorfight.

The powerhouse of a voice behind the lyrics is the scary looking guy called Ironlung. The name comes from his ability to ingest large amounts of marijuana. Or at least that’s one of the stories.

“That and when we first started getting together, we rehearsed in this meat locker. You couldn’t really stand up all the way in it. In between singing songs, I think I used to hack up quite a bit during coughing fits. So our drummer used to yell ‘Ironlung!'”

It’s this “making a joke when I’m really not” sense of humor that runs through his personality as well as the band’s delivery. Even when I suggested he was trying to attain the level of a “Prince” or “Madonna” through the one word moniker, his response was:

“I already have it. It’s already turned into an icon. We will be forgoing the whole linguistics thing for a symbol.”

This day found his mental state to be one of “Tranquility and Extreme Chaos”. Suggesting that this calm person could at any point erupt in some kind of explosion of… something.

I am always amazed when a rock singer is actually educated. Ironlung is currently a grad student working on his Masters.

“It’s a lot of culture studies. It’s a lot of US History. It’s a lot of analysis of the scholarship of academic writing on American subjects. There’s a lot of interdisciplinary fields. A lot of the focus of American Studies is on the misrepresented voices of minorities in American history. My focus is more on cultural studies. Being from New England and being a Yankee, it’s all genetic. It works its way into all the Scissorfight stuff as well. Just having that Yankee identification. For me, it’s one of the most progressive fields in graduate studies. I found it to be a really interesting program. The focus of my thesis is on LSD culture. An exploration of LSD on artists and in turn on popular culture in general.”

To borrow a line from the excellent movie ‘Training Day’: “If you are going to be a narcotics officer, you’ve got to love narcotics”. So if someone is doing their thesis on the effect of LSD on artists, and the author in question IS an artist, the inevitable question of personal experience arises.

“Research? I’ve done plenty of research. It’s not for everybody. It’s not something that everybody should do. I think one of the philosophical things about some of the people that I’ve been reading about and writing about… for them, it opened up the gates a little bit y’know. It’s a tool. Or it can be. But I don’t want to be conceived as condoning it or trivializing it.”

With such a high degree of focus on academia, Ironlung admits that inevitably some of his studies have worked their way into Scissorfight material. But it’s the bands numerous references to the New England lifestyle within their songs that really show the primary stimulus for inspiration in the Scissorfight vision.

“There is a New England-centric sort of theme, but not just strictly that. But that’s one of the things that’s always set us apart, coming out of Portsmouth. But talking about the New Hampshire thing, another thing to keep in mind is that one of nature’s cruelest mistakes and one for better or for worse whose sole purpose was to destroy rock and roll was G.G. Allen. He’s from the ‘Granite State’. We’ve recorded G.G. songs and still do them in the set currently. A lot of people consider what we do ‘rock and roll’ but I think some people don’t hear or don’t get the music that we grew up with, which was obviously rock and roll music in the 70’s and when you grow up with that stuff it inevitably works it way in. But it’s more sort of mutual thing with some of us with Black Flag and Dead Kennedys and stuff like that.”

Trying to be a coy interviewer, I started lacing my questions with lyrical references.

Are you the “most dangerous animal”?


Do you feel you are a scary individual?


When’s the last time you scared someone?

“Everyday I scare people. And it’s not intentional, it’s just the way that I am… the way that I do my thing.”

Is “New Hampshire all right if you like fighting”? (The name of a track off of “Mantrapping for Sport and Profit”).

“UmHmmm. Yeah.”

How many fights have you ever been in?

“I’ve been in a few.”

How much ass does Ironlung kick when it comes to throwing down?

“Oh I’m pretty good at it.”

When do you ‘put the hammer down’?

“I’ve always had the hammer down. As far as “New Hampshire’s all right if you like fighting”, that’s an inside joke. Anyone who sort of knows and listens to it knows exactly what it is with all the locations and all the lyrics to that. It’s mocking and at the same time celebrating the most primal form of communication that we humans have. Which is violence. It’s part of life experience. It’s not advocating or anything like that. If anything it’s recognizing that it’s rampant. We live in a very violent place, in a violent world, in a violent country.”

‘Putting the Hammer down’ is a phrase that appears often on the “Mantrapping…” album (both the song Hammerdown and in the “Go Cave” lyrics) again, reflecting the dialect of the New England area that the band so readily reflects in such a rocking way. Even when I ask him about the origins of the phrase, he counters my witty inclusion of lyrics as questions with the reply of:

“Well when you are ‘Go-ing Cave’ you have to have the fucking hammer down.”

(“Go Cave” being the name of a track on the same album).

It’s this sense of being a hick and proud of it that is a big part of Scissorfight. For the hicks probably don’t consider themselves hicks. “Rural” is the correct term. Ironlung seems perfectly comfortable with his origins and proudly boasts of the clean air and undeveloped forest and wilderness. Portsmouth is a seaport so the ocean adds to the experience. The mention of computers finds him quipping “reject the tech” as he hesitantly utilizes the computer at the public library when he has the rare need to get online. He takes no offense to the hick references and actually notes:

“People, especially culturally, have had a history of a bias against ‘rural’ translating to being more uncivilized or uneducated in nature. I think that people that I know, there is a certain cultural thing about the lifestyle. The fucking state motto to New Hampshire is “Live Free or Die”. So all that stuff is a big part of us.”

With all this rural mentality running through this brawling rock band, I pried more into his studies, and especially his Masters thesis on LSD. Even when it’s educationally motivated, the subversive element is still present. The path to rock singer is still very undefined in the Ironlung vision as evidenced by the events that lead to his joining the band.

“I had a degree in film. I worked in Special Ed. for eight years as a child behavior specialist. And I started in the band while I was doing that and it served as a real cathartic weekend therapy kind of thing to completely remove from what I was doing… which was to go out in a band and completely blow the doors out. I inevitably got the need to go back to school… I got this need for stimulation so I went back to grad school. That’s one aspect, as it’s only been the last few years that I’ve been in grad school, but at the same time I’ve been doing commercial fishing, tree work and landscaping and all kinds of things as well. So I think it’s good not being defined as just a signer in a band. You bring everything else that you are into your art, whatever it is you are doing.”

The more I spoke to Ironlung, the more I realized the depth of their imagery came from the range of experiences their singer brought with him into the creative process.

“Experience is all those things which are conducive to the whole creative process and your art and how you do it.”

This explains why a lot of the younger whiney (emo) bands come off trite and disposable… no experience. It’s a common fact that all good art comes from conflict and struggle. Let’s face it, most of the Warped Tour bands are financially stable white kids from the suburbs playing a commercialized form of pop punk rock. And it was in search of something more durable, more real that made me a fan of Scissorfight.

All one has to do is pull out a lyric sheet to any Scissorfight song to not only appreciate the poetic wit, but also the craft of keeping it simple and bouncing on a rocking word scheme that gels well with the rocking vibe of the song.

“There has to be a nice combination, or at least with what I think I do, is a combination of low-brow and high-brow.”

The call-out to the Americana Ironlung so diligently studies also crosses into the Scissorfight imagery. I asked him about the song “Candy Clark” with its bellowing chorus calling out for “Candy…” and name-drops Karen Black.

“That song is about the actress Candy Clark. Karen Black was a very well known sort of b-movie horror exploitation actress. She was in the Trilogy of Terror. Candy Clark was in “The Man Who Fell to Earth” and “American Graffiti”. Being interested in American culture there is a certain element… I think that song is more about that era, the early 70’s b-movie horror sort of exploitation film.”

There is also a certain bar-fight vibe around the Scissorfight delivery. Not aggressive like a metal band, but like when a group of bikers sits down in a Denny’s. They aren’t necessarily there for trouble, but it’s a short ride to trouble if anyone wants it. Wondering if Ironlung was mad at anyone in particular…

“I would say that most of what I do is just telling stories or just throwing it out there. How it gets perceived isn’t really my responsibility. A lot of the things that I think you are talking about are inside jokes and it can be taken how people want to take it. I don’t really worry about it. My thing is just to write them and perform them and lay’em down on tracks. I’m not too concerned with what anyone else is doing with them.”

A good rock band also needs to be bigger than life. Stories of rock and roll glory should always precede a band. In the case of Scissorfight, the story is of how Ironlung once dislocated his shoulder during a live set. Literally popped it out of its socket. Then proceeded to punch himself repeatedly as they continued playing through the show in an unsuccessful attempt to “pop” it back into the socket. Now that’s fucking rock and roll.

Ironlung recalls the night:

“The whole set, it was fucking out like two inches out of my arm despite my attempts to get it back in. So I had to go to the hospital and I’d been drinking whiskey all night and they shot me up with Demerol. The nurses had seen my picture in the paper promoting the show so they knew who I was. But they jacked it back in. And then it happened again, I walked out on stage in Vermont and the shoulder came right out again. I went over to my roadie and he fucking put it back in. Once it’s in, it’s fine. When it’s out, it’s an extreme form of pain.”

I noticed when he was telling me this story, how casually his shoulder just “came right out again” as if the mere act of holding a microphone would dislocate this fucking lumberjack of a man’s shoulder. I tried to get what kind of physical brutality Ironlung had forced upon himself to end up in such a state, but all he would say is:

“Nature’s not a perfect thing.”

Still unsatisfied with why a grad school educated man would think he could punch himself in the arm to fix a dislocated shoulder I again asked what the hell he was thinking.

“That’s what Mel Gibson did in ‘Lethal Weapon’.”

So now I’ve got this picture of Ironlung as the survivalist on par with John Rambo in “First Blood”. Being the smartass I am, I asked if he ever had to stitch himself closed with the fishing line he kept under the compass in his bowie knife.

He replied, “Yes.”

In my stunned silence he confided that he really hadn’t done that, but while he hadn’t closed a wound, he’s definitely opened himself up a few times. Inquiring into how much alcohol is involved in these rock star shenanigans, Ironlung will only confess that he likes to have a whiskey “once in awhile”.

I had previously made reference to Scissorfight being a biker gang of rock and roll. Even though they don’t sport any official colors, the band is embraced by the biker culture. The chaotic and lawless atmosphere is prime for their brand of musical pandemonium. And when you mix a volatile rocking unit like Scissorfight into hundreds of bikers, the anarchy is to be expected. Ironlung fondly recalls one of their favorite annual gigs:

“Every year there is a big bike rally at Laconia, not sure if you are into biker culture, but it’s a very big rally. And we play this big fucking party up at this farm every year. One year someone was firing an automatic weapon up on the hill and the State Police showed up to shut down the party. They were all in riot gear and we were performing and they ran up and ripped the mic down. The party was over. And actually, “Blizzards, Buzzards and Bastards”, that’s all about the Buzzard Jam. That’s what those parties were. A buzzard is like a dirtbag buzzard… a crazed fucker who tears it up out in the woods y’know?”

While the band does not seem to be ready to give up their grass roots ideals just yet, they are gearing up for what will be their first national tour. After returning from their first England and European gigs, they were blown away by the unexpected response and packed clubs. While hardly a new band (they have hit the 8 year mark with the release of their latest EP “Potential New Agent for Unconventional Warfare”) it was with the “Mantrapping for Sport and Profit” album that the band really felt their presence was growing. The pride in Ironlung’s voice about their European stops was easily noted as well as his surprise at the recognition stateside.

“We just went over to England and Europe and the response was just fucking awesome. Just packed clubs every night. To see something that you’ve always done because you need to, just doing it because you it’s something you need to do, it’s cool to see it translate. And nationally here, absolutely. You realize it when you get stopped at LAX or recognized.”

So the fact that he does get stopped for recognition does show not all fans are terrorized by the Ironlung presence. In fact, he encourages people to interact with himself and band:

“Don’t be intimidated man, come up and say hi. I get that a lot that when we play shows. People are like, “You scare the shit out of me.” and I’m like, “Whatever, I’m just up there playing a fucking show.”

And since Scissorfight will be going out on their own, the venues should be intimate enough to make Ironlung’s acquaintance. Not really geared for a package tour so popular in the summer, Scissorfight is looking to connect with their audience. In fact, he said they wouldn’t even be interested in a Warped Tour type package unless they paid him a lot of money. He doesn’t even personally attend such extravagances.

“That’s a rich man’s sport. Who’s got fucking money to go to one of those fucking things? I’m not interested in any of that.”

So it’s pretty obvious this rock band has its purity intact. While they bring their life into their rock, it’s not what defines their life. Just like their politics, it’s their subversive attitude that so plays off the base nature of rock and roll.

“It’s all about “Fuck the Man!” is Ironlung’s statement when it comes to the political nature of Scissorfight.

Yes, I think we can all agree with “Fuck the Man!” To find out specifically who “The Man” is, you will have to live through a Scissorfight set, or at least check out one of their many rocking releases. While the band is set to get a real taste of national exposure, I wanted to know what eight years in a rock band like Scissorfight has taught the sagely Ironlung.

“That I’m a bad motherfucker.”

Indeed. A bad motherfucker of rock and roll fronting a bad motherfucker of a rock band. And while Ironlung is a formidable presence in any incarnation, his modesty truly shown through as we ended the interview and he wanted to make sure everyone knows this isn’t the “Ironlung show” and that the band is incredible and that’s where it’s all at.

He will teach you how to out-motherfucker the man.