An interview with Geoff Abell, Joe Taylor, Mike Jackson, and Chris Toms
by Sheril Stanford
Capsize 7. Does this name have something to do with hat size? A boating incident from youth? Some sort of magical incantation? I don’t know, I forgot to ask, but with these guys, it could be anything.
Destiny was in the driver’s seat the first time the four members of Capsize 7 got together in that magical music land of Chapel Hill, NC. You know that any place in the world that scares Jesse Helms enough to make him call it a “zoo” has got to be cool! Capsize 7 knew the alchemy was right at their first practice because guitarist Geoff Abell was nearly electrocuted. There’s nothing like a little faulty wiring to spark the creative juices. The rest of the band, coherent but immobilized by the sound of buzzing guitar fuzz, recognized a true rock ‘n’ roll moment when they saw one – an omen, a sign that this configuration was destined to be.
Capsize 7 has been rocking the boat with their first full-length, Mephisto (Caroline), and drawing sizable crowds on a cross-country tour that started back in October and has been going full-force ever since, with only a brief break to work on new material. Loud, fast, hard and dissonant, yet melodic; they have achieved a magical balance that those other bands can only dream about. Perhaps it’s the ideal blend born from the disparate influences of John Zorn, Johnny Cash, Black Sabbath, Fugazi, baked goods, country ham, and a few other things.
The liner notes to Mephisto credit guitarist Joe Taylor with the lyrics. They are ambiguous and potent, which is a very “kewl” combination. There are lots of references to big broad concepts like travel, time, space and colors (gray, particularly), as well as the ’70s Stretch Armstrong toys, satellites, secret agents, and television.
When asked what, besides massive jolts of electricity, moves them to create these fine lyrics and tunes, Joe cites eating shit and puke, ejaculation, food, and sugar as influences. Bassist Mike Jackson (please, no gratuitous jokes about the name) agrees with Joe’s sentiments and adds “Sugar, caffeine, tobacco, marijuana, and beer pretty much fuels everything that comes out of us.” No pun intended. Other little known facts: the rhythm section doesn’t eat meat, doesn’t drink, but the string section eats meat, drinks a lot, and only once in a while indulges in smoking. Mike claims that he needs his sugar fix and alleges that he is an accomplished baker, adding “I just get baked and I… bake.” Write to Lollipop for his special green butter recipe.
Musically, despite the aurally pleasing melodic dissonance that Cap 7 does so well, the band does not make use of weird tunings à la Sonic Youth. Rather, it’s the result of “weird guitar interplay,” with Joe, Mike and Geoff all doing different things and playing off each other. The band has been playing together for two and a half years and are all genuinely good friends (even after being stuck in a van together endlessly for months at a time). They manage to combine very disparate sounds to form a cohesive whole. This is not a band that has jumped on the usual crash and thrash dissonance bandwagon. As Geoff says, “As much as Mike or Joe is doing something different from me, and Chris Toms (drummer) is doing something different, there’s a common theme that we all adhere to so it doesn’t fall apart.”
The band keeps approximately a quarter of what they write – when they manage to create something that all four of them like, only then do they feel that the rest of the world will like it, too. Those are the songs which are most likely to end up on disc or on stage.
The band’s individual musical tastes tend to differ. Chris is currently into John Zorn, jazz saxophonist Eddie Harris, and dub poet stuff. Joe presently listens to Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, and Willie Nelson on reel-to-reel tapes that he found in his parents basement. Everyone’s favorite is fellow Chapel Hill mates Zen Frisbee. Mike adds, “There’re times when you just wanna rock, so you pop in Fugazi and Sabbath, and then there are times when you just wanna kick back, smoke a joint and listen to Bauhaus.” The band feels it’s important they listen to different things so they can continue to bring new and different influences to their own music. “If we listened to Fugazi, Built to Spill, and Sonic Youth all the time, we’d probably sound just like them,” Mike continues. For amusement, they admit to listening to AM radio. Can a song about Rush Limbaugh be far behind?
Black Sabbath seems to have played a big part in one of Cap 7’s moving rock ‘n’ roll experiences. During their current tour, Mike was driving the van on a snowy highway in Montana while a blizzard raged. They were blasting Sabbath’s “Faeries Wear Boots” when the van slipped off the highway and down a ten foot embankment into a ditch. It slid a hundred yards before coming to a stop. Mike remarks, “No one spoke, there was this amazing snow storm outside, smoke inside, and Sabbath was still jammin’ away.”
The Middle East in Cambridge, MA has played host to Capsize 7 twice, and the band just keeps getting better. For both appearances, they were openers. It’s only a matter of time before the rest of the world sits up and takes notice of their musical sorcery. After their current tour, the band heads to San Diego and record a few songs for Cargo Records. A release is scheduled for April or May.