EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH THROWDOWN’S MARK CHOINIERE
Walking the fine line between hardcore and metal, Throwdown have always been one of those bands that have divided listeners; there are those who think they’re too metal, those who think they’re too hardcore, and, with the release of last year’s endlessly listenable Venom & Tears, those that think they sound too much like Pantera.
The band doesn’t seem to care very much about the complaints of sixteen year old Blabberbrats, though, and judging by the reaction of the crowd durning their recent headlining stint here in NYC as part of their Scum of the Earth (with Soilwork and War of Ages), their fan base doesn’t particularly care, either. Soft spoken, easy going, and bearing something of a passing resemblance to the actor Jason Mewes with his long blond hair hanging out from beneath a black knit skull cap, guitarist Mark Choiniere was cool enough to sit down with me just hours before hitting the stage to talk about touring, fan reaction to the band’s musical shifts, line-up changes, playing guitar solos for the first time, and lots more. Read the full transcript after the jump.
So how’s the tour going so far?
Great. It’s been awhile since we’ve done a headliner, so it’s really good to be headlining this tour, and also having Soilwork on it, which is a band we all grew up listening to, so it’s cool to have those guys on the tour, too.
Did you know those guys before?
This is the first time we’ve ever toured with them.
And how have the crowds been?
Awesome. Y’know, we’ve got a diverse crowd, we always have. Y’know, we also have War of Ages on the tour, and they draw a different type of crowd, too, ’cause they’re a Christian hardcore band. So it’s a lot of metal kids, a lot of hardcore kids, and it’s been good, the shows have been awesome.
You guys have played New York before, obviously. We hear a lot of bands say that they don’t like playing here…
It’s a hard place to play. But I’ve never had horrible shows here at all. Y’know, we’re not like a huge band in general, so, we’re stoked for any kids to come out and stick around and see us. I’ve spent a lot of time in the city, I’m from the East Coast, I’m from Connecticut, so just being here, just being back on the East Coast in this weather and the people… I’m stoked. I’ve lived in California for four years, so it’s good to be back here.
How long do you guys play every night?
Depends, but mostly around like an hour.
And how do you pick a set list now that you have such a wide range of albums?
It’s hard. We’ve got… Vendetta and Haymaker are recorded in a different tuning than Venom & Tears, so we have to pick songs that we think can be playing certain tunings that are different from the old ones…
But do you ever feel like “Oh my God, if I have to play ‘Never Back Down’ one more fucking time I’m gonna kill somebody?”
[Laughs] I was just telling somebody that I love playing the new song over the old songs, even though with “Never Back Down,” the crowd loves that song, it is a song that I’ve played like a million times, and it does get tiring. I wouldn’t care to play that song, but when it comes to being on stage and seeing kids’ reactions, I don’t mind it at all. Playing it on stage, I don’t really think about it. But, yeah, at this point, I’m not gonna warm up to that song [laughs].
Have you seen the video of YouTube of that song with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?
Aw, I’ve seen that a million times.
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Did you think it was funny, or…
Yeah, I thought it was hilarious. That somebody actually took the time to do that… and it’s cool, we have it on our MySpace page now. And it’s cool to see whatever videos kids make, regardless of what it is, the fact that they would even spend that much time on it.
You guys put out a new album last year, Venom & Tears, and like you said, you guys have always drawn a diverse crowd, you’ve always straddled the line between hardcore and metal. And with this album, a lot of people felt like you were moving more towards metal…
Was that a conscious decision on the part of the band?
Definitely. Y’know, Haymaker was the most hardcore, Vendetta was a little more metal, and with this one, we just kinda wanted to do what we wanted to do. On the last few records, the band in general felt pigeonholed, like we could only do so much, so with this record, we just wanted to do what we wanted to do. We all listen to metal, we all grew up listening to metal, and any hardcore bands we listened to were metal-influenced hardcore bands from the 90s, like Earth Crisis, bands like that. Y’know, just… more metal riffs, solos… Though we didn’t have that on the last records, we just wanted to try something new and grow as a band. So we were really excited to just do exactly what we wanted to do…
Now, for you as a guitar player, this is the first time you did solos.
So were you just like, “Oh my God, I finally get my moment in the spotlight!”
Um, y’know, it’s definitely, especially as a four piece, it’s a hard thing to do [solos]. You gotta make sure that your bass player is on point, playing everything right, because when I do a solo, it’s just me, so, I mean, it’s different, it’s not like playing a simple hardcore riff or a simple punk riff, it’s not just a four chord progression, you gotta be… it’s a lot. You gotta focus a lot more, I use a lot more pedals now, I got a lot more stuff going on… At the same time, I like playing the new stuff the most, because it’s a lot more challenging and a lot more fun. There’s a lot more going on for sure, so you gotta focus a lot more.
How did you approach the solos from a writing point of view? Were they off the cuff, or did you have them really well planned out going into the studio?
Some of it, soloing wise, was just spur of the moment. Dave [Peters, vocalist] writes, too, so he wrote a few of the solos on the record. But, like, the solo on “Holy Roller” I wrote spur of the moment. I mean, obviously we polished it up a little bit, but mostly we were just like “Oh, that’s cool, let’s keep it.”
I’ve always listened to metal, so as far as the solos went, I already knew what I wanted to do. I mean, I love Pantera, Sepultura, Slayer… I grew up skateboarding, listening to those bands, so it was cool to finally put some of those influences into a band that I’m in.
Were you worried about how your old, hardcore fan base would react?
Not at all. You know why? ‘Cause from Haymaker to Venom & Tears, there’s obviously a big change, but from Haymaker to Vendetta, there wasn’t that much of a change, and we got shit for that, even. So it’s just like… kids who are gonna give us shit aren’t really our fans. Bands change, and it doesn’t matter what we do, we’re gonna get people that don’t like it. If we wrote the same record, if we wrote another Haymaker, kids would’ve said we’re trying to be too hardcore, y’know? So were just like “We need to do what we wanna do or we’re not gonna be happy.” I mean, obviously we wanna write a record that our fans will like, so that’s why it’s still got hardcore roots in there, but it’s got metal roots in there, too.
There’s a lot of guitar doubling on the album – when you’re soloing, there’s also a rhythm guitar. Do you guys ever think about adding another guitar player? Or having Dave play guitar live?
We thought about [having Dave play] ’cause Dave loves playing guitar, but I mean, I think, more than anything… when our producer [Mudrock] came out to the first show of this tour, he’s watched us a few times since we’ve written the record, and he said that at first, when you’re watching, it’s hard to get used to [the lack of a second guitarist to play the rhythm parts] right away during the solos… I mean, I use two guitar rigs anyway, so when we’re playing fast stuff or I’m playing a rhythm part, it just sounds like two guitars anyway, but during solos, he said that once you acknowledge that it’s a four piece, it’s even better. That was cool for me to hear from him, ’cause I respect his opinion… yeah… [pause]. I kinda forgot the question [laughs].
That’s cool, I think you pretty much answered it [laughs].
Yeah, I mean, I was ranting off the subject, but [laughs]… I think that it’s just… I don’t know if we would ever think about getting a fifth member because we’re stoked we have a four piece that works. Y’know, it doesn’t work for everybody. So just the fact that we can get this far as a four piece, I don’t know that we would ever think about adding somebody else. But having Dave play guitar we’ve definitely thought about, especially because we do an instrumental track on this tour, we have it on the record but we made it more heavy and I do a solo over it now… but I kinda like just having the bass go over it. I kinda like that. I always liked how Pantera, on some records they’d dub guitars over solos, some records it would just be bass going, so I kinda just like that…
And you have a new bass player now.
Even just since the recording of the album.
How’s that working out?
It’s cool. It’s our friend, Mark Mitchell. So, it’s another Mark [laughs]. But, y’know, he’s a good friend and he had been playing in old hardcore bands, like Culture, which this really old 90s hardcore band from Florida. Y’know, it’s frustrating, ’cause losing a member sucks, but at the same time, only certain people are meant to tour, and once you get it into your head that you don’t wanna tour anymore, it’s over, you can’t get that out of your head. Y’know, Matt [Mentley, former bassist] has a wife, and we respect his decision, but everything is else is going good, the fans haven’t said anything.
Now, you mentioned Pantera. They’re obviously a huge influence on Venom & Tears…
…and a lot of people have commented on that. Do you get sick of people talking about it? Do you ever wish people would just shut up about it and let you guys have your own identity?
Uh, no. You know why? ‘Cause basically when we were writing the record, we knew there was a huge Pantera influence and that people were gonna talk about it. But being compared to the greatest metal band that ever walked the earth?
There are worse problems to have.
It’s not a bad thing. And people try to make it like it’s a bad thing, but there’s so many bands today that don’t even have that Pantera influence… they just copy every Swedish band. Not to… y’know, Soilwork is a very influential band, and that type of metal seems to be more popular right now than any American style of metal. And it’s cool to take influence from those [American] bands and show it, ’cause that’s one of my favorite bands, ever. Same with Dave. So it’s fine with us.
Now a couple of months back you toured with Machine Head and Arch Enemy…
…and there was a problem with Disney and some of the venues. What are your thoughts on that whole controversy?
It sucks. We were supposed to play House of Blues in Anaheim, that was supposed to be the first show, and it go moved to Pamona, to the Glass House, ’cause Disney didn’t want… I mean, I’m not 100% sure that I’m right, but I think they thought Machine Heads’ lyrics were… they didn’t want that whole crowd. They were basically saying that they didn’t want this show, they didn’t want these people at Disney. Which sucks, ’cause I’ve been to plenty of shows at House of Blues, and it’s just kinda… it sucks. I mean, Glass House is a great venue, but the whole idea of moving a show because they didn’t want a certain type of people at Disneyland… and then it happened in Orlando [Florida], too, at Disneyworld, they moved the show, too. And it just sucks, for promoting purposes… at the last second, you gotta start promoting a new venue, and in the end it just sucks altogether.
This was your last album for Trustkill, right?
And I know Dave has made some very public anti-record company remarks… do you guys feel like you’re done with the industry?
No, I don’t think so. I think Dave was merely speaking from personal… it was definitely more him. I mean, the band definitely backs him, but just from personal experiences… not necessarily bashing record companies in general, which I know it sounded like…
Do you feel like you had a negative experience with Trustkill?
I mean, I don’t like to talk shit, but… I just think things could have gone better. Just from touring with other bands and hearing how their record label helped them be the band that they are… it’s just kinda like, we could only imagine what it would be like to be on a label that really pushes you. That’s all I can say, I guess.
Cool. The last thing I wanted to ask you was about the Download Festival in England a couple of years back. We saw you guys there…
…you guys were the first band on the first day of the festival, at like 10 in the morning or something, and the fucking crowd… first of all, I was shocked that that many people showed up so early in the morning… and they just went nuts when you guys went on…
Yeah, that was probably my favorite show ever. I mean, before we even started playing, the whole crowd was chanting “Throwdown! Throwdown!”, it was like 15,000 people or whatever… I was just shocked that that many people came out to see us. It was crazy. And the whole time we were playing, every kid was going nuts… I have pictures from it. I had my friend from Bleeding Through take photos while we played, so it was crazy [See one such photo below – Ed.]. That was one of the best shows we ever played.
We’re playing this year, too.
We don’t know what day we’re playing yet, but we’re stoked to be able to play. We’re doing more of the European festivals this year than we ever have before.
So what’s next for you guys? You finish this tour and then you head down to Australia, right?
Yeah. We’re doing about a week long tour… it lasts about two weeks with days off. But it’s with Korn, which we’re pretty stoked about, it’s a big tour in Australia and New Zealand…
Have you ever played there before?
I haven’t personally been over there… but I’m excited. Biohazard is on the tour, so that’s cool, a New York hardcore band that I grew up listening to… I think Chimaira and Bloodsimple are on it. So that’s two weeks, and then after that we have a tour with Killswitch Engage, it’s gonna be awesome, they’re an amazing band. So it’s three weeks in Canada, and maybe a few shows in the States, but… then we’ll probably do some Europe stuff.
It’s way too early to start thinking about another album, right?
Yeah. I mean, I write all the time, Dave always writes, so… but I’m excited to write. Especially after doing Venom & Tears, it’s like… there’s no limit to what we can do next.
Throwdown’s Scum of the Earth tour with Soilwork and War of Ages hits the Big Easy Concert House in Boise, Idaho tonight. Head over to the Throwdown MySpace page for a complete list of tour dates.