THE ACCÜSED’S TOM NIEMEYER: THE METALSUCKS INTERVIEW
The Accüsed turned thirty this year. What did they do to commemorate the milestone? Did they reissue one of their early crossover classics in a five-CD box set format with four hours of throwaway demo tracks? Nope. Did they play The Return of Martha Splatterhead in its entirety on a lifeless reunion tour? Not a chance. Did they switch up their sound in a bid for relevance? Hell no. Ever the black sheep of the Pacific Northwest extreme music scene, The Accüsed celebrated by playing the smallest, least-traveled markets they could find in the region, as part of their “Backwoods Bloodbath Tour 2011.”
You could see that approach as either a humble “thank you” to the small towns that supported The Accüsed while they cut their teeth back in the ‘80s, or a “fuck you” to the notion of a self-congratulatory victory lap. Maybe it’s both. Legacies are for dead men anyway. And if the affability of the band’s guitarist Tom Niemeyer is any indication, The Accüsed have a whole lot of life left in ‘em. Nevermind that Niemeyer is the lone remaining original member of the band. The Accüsed will keep on going as long as their murderous mascot Martha Splatterhead has more work to do. And she always has more work to do.
We talked to Niemeyer about the evolution of the band, his horror obsession, and how he stays motivated after so many years.
No. It’s something I’d never conceived, or even dreamed of. I’m in a lot better shape than I thought I’d be in, if I ever did think of lasting this long. I feel a lot better than I thought I would.
Tell me how you are right now differs from how you thought you might be back in the early ‘80s.
I would say we’ve been a lot more prolific, as far as what we are able to put out, put our stamp on, and call good enough to become a record or a song, even. I think we’ve been a lot more productive than I thought we ever could be. But I think that a lot of that has to do with the internet, and stuff like that, which wasn’t around when we started. It made things a little bit easier, made your creative products easier to distribute and tell people about. To have instant gratification in that regard is inspiration enough to keep doing stuff.
Do you guys benefit at all from the internet in the way you record albums? Or is it pretty much same as it ever was?
I was just speaking with someone about that the other day. Where because of stuff like e-mail and mp3 files and stuff, we’re able to almost rehearse online, you know? Not completely, but throw song ideas back and forth, pop a little .wav file off to the next guy, and have him tear it apart or re-record it or whatever. Stuff like that is really cool. I don’t see any downside to it. It’s a little less time spent in a room, staring at each other and smelling each other’s stinky, sweaty nastiness, but I don’t see a downside to any less of that that we have to do! That part’s pretty good. But yeah, it’s helped the creative process, and like I said, the distribution of the actual final product, of course. It’s been amazing. I definitely would contribute a good percentage of why we’re still kicking around and having fun doing it to the mighty ‘net.
How closely do you think The Accüsed reflects your distinct personality?
I would say a lot. Quite a bit. If the cat isn’t already out of the bag, it’s pretty much my alter-ego. Not the Martha [Splatterhead] part, but it’s been an outlet for anything I could ever want. And it gives me, personally, everything I need, just about. I’m a creative guy, and I like to draw, so I can do artwork. When I like to beat on a guitar, I make music. When I like to take off and go on a vacation, we go on tour. When I like to hole up and get all introverted and introspective and stuff, then it’s writing time for new material, new lyrics, whatever. It’s awesome. And I luckily over the years have had really great people to help that along, and that have also found what they need, and can benefit from, providing their valuable time and talent to. So it’s been an amazing vehicle to take the members of it anywhere, both within your head and around the world.
Have your reasons for making music with The Accüsed changed at all over the years?
No, not really, because we’d never really been into it to get rich, or to make it. It would be nice to be able to live off of it, pay some bills off of it, and not have to keep a day job and stuff. So that’s been kind of a focus, but we’ve been shooting for that for twenty years, and sometimes it’s been successful. To be able to accomplish that level of it. But no, the reason to make the music – it’s gotta float our boat. It’s gotta make us excited to play it. We have to be a fan of what we’re putting out there before it gets turned into any kind of Accüsed material. And that’s always been a constant. We’re fans of our own music. We’re also harsh critics of it. The bar is raised pretty high, and it has been since the word go. But no, the reason is still the same. We just like to create shit that we’d want another band to be playing. If we had to go and watch ‘em, if we were interested in watching them.
What about what you get out of it? Do you get the same thrill playing live now as you did back in the ‘80s?
Yeah, absolutely. And I think that is THE key ingredient to why I’m still willing to hop in a van and tour the country or whatever, and make barely anything off of it here and there. Yeah, it’s totally a blast. To get on stage and perform in front of one or one-hundred thousand – if people are digging something that we’re creating, that’s the driving force right there. And there’s nothing like it. It’s like having someone say, “You have the most beautiful baby in the world,” or whatever, when you’re a new parent. It’s cool! It’s a cool feeling. It came out of thin air, and it’s something people are enjoying, and having a good time experiencing. Nothing like it, man.
Take me back to the beginning. Plenty of isolated Seattle bands were well known before grunge put Seattle on the map, but the city was never really known as an epicenter of punk or metal. What was it like making music there in the early ‘80s?
Yeah, it was pretty weird. It was kind of a fight for your turf kind of situation, you know? If you were one of the loud obnoxious bands, if you shook it up – ‘cuz it’s a pretty laid back place. It still is. And if you’re out there making a bunch of racket, and running around with freaky colored hair, skateboarding off the top of peoples’ cars and stuff, it freaks ‘em out a little bit. And so we always kind of had that fight, and “Hey man, we’re just rockin’ out. Sorry you don’t like rockin’ out!” It’s always been kind of like that, I think. There’s a segment of people up here that just get too…it’s so nice, and so mellow and beautiful some times that, it’s just like — MAAAAH!!!! You just want to shake off nature, get motorized! Just start getting mechanical, and tearing shit up just to fuckin’ get back on top of nature. It almost starts to consume you, starts closing in around you. Like if you don’t mow your lawn, you know? It’s kind of like the grass getting too high. You better get out the fuckin’ mower and whack shit down. That’s what it’s always been like for metal and punk bands up here.
Did you feel qualitatively different than a lot of your peers back then?
Yeah, definitely. I never really felt a part of any club, any group of people. There was Tad, and Mudhoney, and the Nirvana guys. In everybody’s heads, they picture them sitting around in their flannel shirts, drinking coffee and microbrews, growing their hair and whatever. We never really fit in. Not ostracized either, not like, “Oh no, here they come, close the door” type of thing, but we never felt that that was our thing. We were just too busy. Always with blinders on, kind of like “Okay, that’s cool, but we’re going this way.” Those were side things that were kind of distracting. The whole socializing rock band group thing. Too busy. Not enough room in the van, and we’re going too fast to stop.
Did you take more inspiration from bands outside of the Seattle scene than bands within it?
I think so, as a general rule. Looking back on it, most of my favorite punk bands were either from L.A. or the Southern California area, or the U.K. Wasn’t a whole lot out here that I was really fired up about, or that over the years I’d call an influence necessarily. Not that aren’t any great bands, that’s just kinda the way it’s rolled. I guess we’ve always thought of ourselves as a Southern California band, or a U.K. punk band that just happens to be living up here in Seattle.
That’s a funny way of saying it.
Not that we don’t love it here – we could have moved and relocated a bunch of times, but we still come back. So I don’t know! Maybe just in the back of our minds, we thought we had English accents or something.
I imagine this English punk pterodactyl, flying from England on its way to Southern California, and accidentally dropping one of its babies in Seattle.
I’m drawing that picture! As soon as I hang up I’m gonna draw a picture of that. That is a great visual, dude.
So tell me what you were doing between 1992 and 2003 when the Accüsed were on hiatus.
There was some Gruntruck stuff there. And that was cool. It was a little different. That kind of fell apart. We had record label issues, internal band issues, too much of a good thing, I think. I’m glad it really didn’t succeed in hindsight. And then just various quote/unquote solo projects, or different projects that I started up, other bands and stuff. One called Lye that I did with a few friends, and then Soul Killer was another one. Just stuff to keep busy. And then I got out of music for about a year. It wasn’t doing it for me. And it was the weirdest year I think I’ve ever experienced in my life, to not have that vehicle to create and funnel energy through. I was really bummed out. I think I went on medication. It screwed me up. I had terrible bouts of depression and anger, and I couldn’t find out what it was. And realized, fuck, I wasn’t playing guitar. I wasn’t in a band, I wasn’t doing something.
And so luckily I got a call from a friend who said, “Hey, you want to come try out for Duff McKagan’s band, Loaded, down in L.A.?” And I thought “Hmm, wow, really? What’s it sound like?” And I heard some of the stuff and thought “Ah, I could probably do that.” So I reluctantly got my guitar out of storage and started learning their songs. And it was cool. It inspired me. I luckily didn’t get that gig, though. They would probably have been a lot different by now. But it was cool. I had a great experience. I’d known Duff, and Duff knew me from back in the day here from Seattle. He was in The Fartz with Blaine, our old lead singer. So we’d crossed paths a bunch of times, and then of course he had that Guns N’ Roses thing going on for a while there. Maybe you’ve heard of that. But that didn’t work. Their other guitar player came back and took the gig anyways. But I didn’t stop. I kept on playing guitar after that and then The Accüsed got back together directly thereafter. Yeah, that was kinda cool. I’ve gotta thank Duff and those guys for that. Gets me off the fuckin’ couch, man.
Did you have to have a day gig during that time?
Oh yeah, I’ve had all kinds of menial jobs here and there, when music wasn’t doing it.
Can you give me a short rundown?
Oh yeah. I was a carpet cleaner, did a lot of carpet cleaning – carpet cleaning technician. That always looks better on the resume when you’re looking for gigs. Yeah I did a bunch of that. Janitorial, stuff like that. Just stuff where I work alone. Not like warehouse stuff with a bunch of other people. I tended to gravitate towards doing that, I think as I was gearing up for what was happening now. It gave me a lot of time to think. If I had a musical idea or something, I could easily bust away from any one of those gigs and go and record something real quick, and get back to mopping.
I did some eBay business stuff for various businesses around here, selling collectibles and golf clubs. I worked for Something Weird Video for a while. That was kind of cool. B-movie archive… film archives. He used to manage the Accüsed, the owner of that, Mike Vraney, so he gave me a job working there, which was really cool. I did a lot of their eBay sales and stuff like that. I got more cool movies doing that… still do.
Let’s follow up on that. From the beginning, you’ve alternated sociopolitical lyrics with zombie and gore stuff. Is one style of lyrics closer to your heart?
Yeah, probably the fantasy-oriented, horror-themed stuff. I’ve never really been too comfortable bitching about stuff, either social stuff or political stuff, in the music. For me personally, I love it when other people do it, and they stick by it. Like Warrior Soul. That’s probably still one of my top five favorite bands. They were a rock band from New York back in the day. Kory Clarke was their singer; I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of them. Those guys do it really well. That guy bitches up a fucking blue streak about every single possible thing that pisses him off in the world. And he does it really well. The music’s great, and it works for them. But for us, that wasn’t my gig. Maybe I didn’t know enough about it to have a staunch, well-spoken stance on it. But I don’t think it’s ever been too appropriate. Not inappropriate, but it’s never been my favorite thing.
Well there are still plenty of songs on The Return of Martha Splatterhead that aren’t the zombie things. I’m thinking of “Take My Time,” let’s say.
Oh yeah, sure, definitely. “Take My Time” and “Distractions” are actually written by John Dahlin, our first singer, our first real frontman anyway. He wrote those probably in ’83 or ’84. And he was good at that sort of thing. Yeah, those are social commentary, I guess, on how he was seeing the world at the time, and how he still does. I talk to him every now and again. But yeah, he did that stuff really well. And it worked with The Accüsed, for sure. I try to do that stuff, dude, and it comes out like “What the??? Stop whining, dude!” Maybe my vocabulary isn’t big enough, I don’t know. I can’t pull it off. Not that I don’t have a lot of shit I could bitch about. Just I don’t really do it as good as I can do about somebody walking through a graveyard, getting their head ripped open by the living dead. I think I’m fairly decent at that.
You’re the poet laureate of the grave.
That’s right. And there is a bunch of anti-hard drug songs and stuff like that that we’re still definitely fully behind. It’s not that we won’t ever write anything like that, but the living dead thing is still [not even close to] finished. I look out every day at this little cemetery behind my house and I’m just hoping, HOPING, one day, I’m going to see some new fresh dirt where it doesn’t belong.
Well you look at Dawn of the Dead or something, most of those Romero films. And there definitely was a not-so-subtle social commentary going on. I asked the same thing of Matt Harvey of Exhumed, about whether there’s some kind of metaphor we’re working with. And he said “Yeah, on occasion. I could see how you could see zombies as worker-drones in a white collar world, but at the end of the day, the song really has to be good from the level of a guy getting his intestines ripped out through his ass.”
Right, exactly! I’m about that deep. I make no bones about not having too much of an agenda when it comes to that.
Tell me about the music itself. How do you think your sound in The Accüsed has evolved over time?
Hopefully they’re better! Not that they were bad, but you know what I’m saying. I think with knowing what you’re capable of as a band, and what your comfort zone is, it’s both a blessing and a curse. You could rewrite the same record for eternity, and maybe be successful, maybe be really successful. We’ve hopefully not done that over the years. We’ve mixed it up where it needs to be. Like I said, back to one of the first questions, if it floats our boat, and we’re excited to play it, to hear it, then it’ll go on a record. I guess we’ve always tried to maintain an aggressive energy level that tries to be almost off the rail. I read a review of us one time about some record… I can’t remember. But it said “These guys have a speed that they play at that feels like the roller coaster making the turn and almost coming off the rails. Flying off the track. But they always keep it just barely on.” And that’s what we go for every time. To try and have that kind of feeling, like just about ready to tip over and lose it. But we bring it back. That’s in a nutshell what we’re aiming for every time we write. And I think it’s been like that, hopefully throughout. That’s what we’re excited about trying to do.
What I’ve detected in the last couple records – and granted, they came four or five years apart – is a little bit more of a chunky metallic edge than early on. Do you hear it that way as well?
Oh yeah, definitely. If you had to put ‘em on a scale, I’ve probably been listening more than 50% to what would be considered metal [rather] than the hardcore stuff. Just ‘cuz a lot of the newer stuff that’s being called punk isn’t really hardcore to me. It’s more like straight punk. So there hasn’t been a whole lot in the hardcore punk scene to get me excited, to seep into subconscious influence. And therefore into the material that we write. So there’s probably been more of a “chug-chug-chug” thing.
But also that has a lot to do with the various drummers we’ve had that have come along since 1991, since the Grinning Like an Undertaker album. That thing raised the bar for this band forever with Josh Sinder on drums. He came in and changed the face of The Accüsed for sure, in a more metallic direction. And that’s been an exciting element that we didn’t really have that much of before, and we’ve tried to maintain ever since.
Who had you been listening to in the last fix, six years that might have seeped into subconscious influence, to use your phrase?
I may as well admit it now, since it’ll probably sound like it on the next record! Legion of the Damned are fuckin’ awesome. Those guys get it, they do it right. Melechesh – I think they’re from Holland now, but they were from Israel. Somebody turned me on to them a few years ago… those guys fuckin’ do it for me big time. I would love love love to get to see them live, or better yet tour with them. It’d be fuckin’ amazing to me. I think they’re an amazing band. And Meshuggah is pretty fuckin’ amazing. They changed the face of music, I think forever. I don’t think we’re going to end up trying to sound like them by any means, because you know, those guys own what they do big time. But they’re very inspirational, and I can’t help but feeling some kind of Meshuggah power when I strap on the guitar and crank the amps up now. Very, very inspiring.
That’s so cool to hear, especially because they seem almost polar opposite stylistically to The Accüsed.
No, that’s good to hear for me. I like that. The unsuspecting influence coming through. Even if I tried to copy it, by the time it gets turned into an Accüsed song, you’re probably not going to really be able to tell that we were trying to sound like Meshuggah. No matter what it is, even if it’s Kenny Rogers that one day fires me up and gets me all excited, it’d get mutated into some crazy disgusting Accüsed song and come out like a fuckin’… crazy, disgusting Accüsed song! But secretly, yeah, it was inspired by Kenny Rogers, or Meshuggah, depending on which song we’re talking about.
Turn Kenny into the living dead in some future song. All your favorite country songwriters must come back as characters in the Accüsed repertory.
There you go man! It’s as good as a double feature now in my head.
Do you have a release coming up in the near future?
We’re still working on that. We definitely have material that we’re working on, but no release date, nothing in stone I can discuss, anyway. But definitely expect something new from us. Hopefully before the end of the year you’ll get a couple new songs from us.
What about touring?
We’re supposed to be hooking up and doing something with a new booking agency up here to close out the end of summer. It’s coming up quick, which will be awesome. It’s up and down the west coast, with some kinda unsuspecting bands. Again I can’t say too much about that, unfortunately. But we are gonna be in town for Seattle Hemp Fest in August. We got the main stage for that, which is pretty cool. There’s you know, 170,000 people or something expected to be watching us, so…that’s pretty fuckin’ amazing if that happens. They gave us the 4:20 slot!
I should have known!
No doubt! We’re gonna definitely rock that. And we’re happy we’re gonna be around for that. Which is kinda rare, we usually go out in the summer. But yeah, we just had a handful of local gigs that just kicked ass. The reception was real good. And we’re just waiting to hear about this west coast ting that’s gonna take us through the western US. Maybe with Long Beach Rehab or something. And some other people. A diverse lineup for sure. We’ve never been to be pigeonholed with a like band. Or a like label. Or a like girlfriend! We always take the not so obvious route, for sure.