DAVE WITTE OF MUNICIPAL WASTE, DISCORDANCE AXIS, HUMAN REMAINS AND MUCH MORE: THE METALSUCKS INTERVIEW
Hopefully Dave Witte needs no introduction to MS readers, but for those who don’t already know him, he is a hardcore/death metal legend that’s been dropping jaws for nearly twenty years as the drummer for bands that include Municipal Waste, Black Army Jacket, Human Remains, Discordance Axis, Melt Banana, Iabhorher, Burnt By The Sun and probably several others I’m forgetting at the moment. He’s a pioneer of progressive metal, awesome drummer, and as far as I can tell, a very nice, approachable guy. Oh, and I was just trolling with the Assuck thing — I do think Rob Procter was overrated by hardcore kids back in the day, but like Dave says, I’m far too old to care about things like that anymore. I hope Dave doesn’t think I’m a dick :(
Thanks to Dave for taking the time to answer some questions, and be sure to check out the latest Municipal Waste album, Massive Aggressive, courtesy of the one-and-only Earache!
You have always struck me as a very laid-back, “normal” guy, for lack of a better word. How did you end up getting into this kind of music, especially since back in the 80s it was full of even more fuckups and weirdos than it is today?
Well, I was always drawn to aggressive music, and it just kept getting more extreme as time went on. I wasn’t really interested in sports, and school was more or less something to pass the time for me. I was way into BMX at one point and eventually quit for drumming, ’cause it was less dangerous. There’s nothing quite like the sound of a live band/being at a concert.
On that note, you’ve been making your living with music (I think?) for a decade or so, and playing music for even longer. What’s kept you going for so long? How do nice guys like you and Chris Dodge tolerate dealing with the Jon Changs of the world all the time?
I’m fine with what I do at any level, I love playing and I’m a huge open minded music fan. I’ll go see most anything and usually find merit in it, one way or another. I’m a musician, so cleverness, pop song writing, ability, you name it, it fascinates me.
I don’t think playing will ever tire for me, nothing can replace that feeling. Sure, there are difficult people to deal with here and there, but everyone has their own take on things and their own battles to fight ya know? I simply fight my own. Other peoples problems are their own, not mine.
My favorite DxA release, their 1995 (?) split with Plutocracy — the version of “Flow My Tears The Policeman Said” on this record is my favorite DxA song, and one of the best grind songs of all time
Discordance Axis had a really unique style that was very simple and stripped-down, yet still really weird and off-kilter. How did you approach that material as a drummer? What were the challenges of playing in that band?
[DxA guitarist] Rob and I had a really strange connection when we’d play together. We’d jam and end up stopping together a lot in the same place, kinda like we knew what each other were thinking. The early stuff, was pretty easy to write, it’s basically connect the dot type of stuff. We actually wrote out notes that read Grind x4, Slayer x6, grind x8, Slayer x4, etc. It was pretty funny. [DxA singer] Jon would have a hand in that too and would offer his nay or yay, which was usually nay quite a bit. Later though with T.I.D., Rob and I wrote songs that we thought Jon wouldn’t like an be like “Oh man, this is gonna be funny, he’s going to hate it” (cause it wasn’t straight grind all the time), but he actually wound up liking the stuff. Rob would write the outline/shell of the song and I’d put the drums in, following his guitar parts. It was fun.
With DxA, and to some extent Black Army Jacket, you were one of the first guys to bring the speed and precision of metal drumming to the grind/power violence scene, and your playing blew a lot of people away. What was it like to get so much positive feedback on your playing?
Chang lured me over to the hardcore/powerviolence scene in the early 90’s and I fell in love with it. It was aggressive and angry, exactly what I wanted. It was a whole new world for me and it seemed less uptight then the death metal world back then, where everything was really competitive. I felt like I was at home with friends and comfortable in that world. The positive feedback was a nice bonus.
Assuck drummer Rob Procter filled in for you on DxA’s Japanese tour. I thought he was a poor replacement, and never really understood why so many hardcore kids back then jizzed over his weak “cheat beat” blasts (where he only hit the kick drum every other beat) — probably because they didn’t know anything about real death metal, I guess. What are your thoughts on his work?
Rob is such a nice guy and awesome for stepping in for me when I couldn’t go. I really didn’t know much about touring, etc., and I had just taken a proof reading job at the time and assumed my boss wouldn’t let me leave for the tour. (I found out later, that he would have, ha!)
As for drumming, he is a great drummer and he did what he could. He couldn’t match the kick and snare at full speed, so he did what worked for him and pulled it off in his own way. It’s funny, when you’re younger, finger pointing is the easiest way to disagree when someone isn’t doing something your favorite way. I was guilty of it as well, and then I realized there’s a whole world of options out there and not everyone is the same. I fell victim to the whole “he’s cheating” thing too, but now it doesn’t matter to me at all.
Iabhorher “Hoofed Locusts” from Cry Now, Cry Later Vol 2 –– I think this is from the same session as the 7″, though? So sick.
The Iabhorher 7″ is one of my favorite releases of the 90s, although it was so hard to find that very few people got a chance to hear it. I think that record was very, very ahead of its time (predating all the sludge/stoner bands by many years), and still sounds great. What are your thoughts on that band, looking back?
Awesome, I’m glad you enjoy it. I love it myself, and it’s being re-released (all four songs) on a 12″, remastered by James Plotkin. It sounds awesome. Hyper-Realist is putting it out. Javier and Joe helped me play drums a different way, simple and heavy. I learned how to hit hard in that band.
Iabhorher is almost the polar opposite of DxA: slow, sludgy and downtuned rather than spastic, shrill, and grinding. I really like your performance- very cool syncopated grooves, and a great drum sound. How did you approach your drumming on this 7″ as compared to DxA, both in terms of playing and production?
Thanks! Iahborher was bigger, tuned down drums. Iahborher had plenty of room for space and the songs were very catchy in their own realm of music, so I didn’t need to overplay.
I don’t know much about the history of Human Remains, but how did you end up in that band? Was that your first band, or something close to it?
That was one of my first bands that I started and I think the one where I really learned how to play seriously. HR started when I was in high school, senior year out of the ashes of Final Judgment which was pretty much a Sacred Reich/Nuclear Assault worship kinda band. Death metal was starting to overshadow thrash back then and I just wanted to go faster and faster, so the direction of the music and band name changed.
The volume swells still give me a boner
I first heard HR when the 7″ came out on Happy Days (I think the guy from Endeavor put it out?), but I guess you had been around in the NJ metal scene for a while before that. Why do you think the band flew under the radar like that, despite being so good?
HR never really fit in, we had our own agenda. At first we worshipped Ripping Corpse and wanted to be just like them. The problem was, all the local bands wanted to also. So we said to ourselves, do we really want to sound like all these other bands? No. So we started experimenting and from 1992 when we first started using the volume swells, we were the black sheep of the herd. All the metal shows we played, we’d show up with shorts and striped shirts, short hair…we didn’t look the part at all (no leather jackets, long hair, etc., except Ted) and people were quick to judge us until we played, it was like we pulled the carpet out from underneath the other death metal bands. We started playing the hardcore circuit and some of the same reactions happened. I’d walk in with two bass drums and the hardcore kids were like “oh…metal” and then we played and they didn’t know how to react at all. My favorite quote came from the bathroom on the QE2 in Albany just after HR played One King Down’s sold out record release show. I went into the bathroom and heard this exchange between two kids. “Hey… what did you think of that last band (meaning HR)” and the other kid responded “I don’t know man…I think they were good, but I’m not sure, that shit was weird.”
Burnt By The Sun “Dracula With Glasses”
Starting with Ripping Corpse, the Jersey shore has always seemed to embrace quirky, slightly weird metal bands (Dim Mak, Human Remains/BBTS, Mortal Decay, etc). Where did that signature style of warped, progressive death metal/metalcore come from, and why did it take off so much in that area?
In my opinion, it came from both sides. Ripping Corpse for metal and Rorschach for hardcore. From that root, it was manipulated to hell by Human Remains & Deadguy and then came the Dillinger Escape Plan who outdid everyone. Calculating Infinity changed the hardcore/metal world more than anything to come out of NJ. They had it all, ability, songs, emotion. They were a shock to the system and a well oiled machine at the same time.
Some might call it heresy, but I thought Dim Mak was even better than Ripping Corpse — but both bands ruled, in no small part due to Brandon’s drumming.
Let’s talk about Brandon from Ripping Corpse/Dim Mak and what a complete fucking badass he is as a drummer. Was he an influence on you, or did you kind of come up at the same time as he did?
Brandon is pretty much my biggest influence. He was the most creative aggressive drummer. He’s only about six month older than me, but his abilities were far beyond anyone I knew at that point. What he can do on his own outside the band is flabbergasting as well. So talented. I owe a great deal to him, he’s a close friend and we still talk regularly.
[BAJ bassist] Carlos told me that Black Army Jacket played some reunion shows this summer — how did those go? What are your thoughts on BAJ, and your position as the inventors of EAST COAST POWER VIOLENCE?
The shows were fun and it was really great to see some old friends. I’m glad it happened and we were able to round things up on such a fun note. I never really thought of BAJ as inventors of anything. I guess no one else was really playing the stuff we were then and I can’t really take full credit for that, as BAJ were a band before I joined, and had their style down.
As far as I can tell, Municipal Waste is your most successful and longest-running band. What’s kept MW going strong, and you involved? How do you approach the drumming as compared to your other bands?
It’s fun and we enjoy the music we are playing. Drumming is approached for the song. It is what it is and doesn’t need to be over-complicated.
Did you ever see this thing I wrote for Terrorizer about Municipal Waste? If so, what did the guys in the band think?
I think I remember seeing it and being like, “Ah. whatever.” I was never really one to write music for people, I always have myself and the band in mind first. Not sure if you were serious or not, but now that we’re on the topic, here’s some light for you: I was happy to meet these guys when I did and psyched that they were playing thrash while everyone was playing metalcore. In 2004 when I left BBTS and moved to VA for my girlfriend, and I couldn’t believe there were guys playing thrash-style music. I didn’t think many cared for it anymore, so when the opportunity knocked that they needed a drummer. I was thrilled (reluctant at first actually, ’cause I didn’t know what I wanted to do… I did a weekend with them and fell in love) to be back at the beginning like my old band Final Judgement. Back to the article though, haha. I think the other guys in the band couldn’t figure out if you were serious or not, and also we thought it was someone else under a fake name having fun with us.
What is your favorite Dave Witte band?? Did you also think Assuck were a mediocre Napalm Death ripoff, and that Steve Heritage is not a very friendly person??? Do you agree that Iabhorher should be enshrined as legends?? What would you cook for Dave if you had him over for dinner????