Shadow of Doubt (Metal Blade)
An interview with vocalist/guitarist Adam Grossman
by Scott Hefflon
Now you’ve got Bobby Gustafson, formerly of Overkill, on guitar; how did you guys hook up? What’s the common thread?
I met Bobby about 2 1/2 years ago. We went out and shot some pool, and just had a good time. He seemed like a really cool guy. I was never an Overkill fan whatsoever. I came up in a totally different scene. I was listening to Cro-Mags and Agnostic Front, stuff like that, when Overkill was big. So I kinda missed the whole metal thing.
So how did you and Bobby end up together?
I’m gonna give you the straight-up story. It’s really bizarre. What happened was, and this is typical Bobby… First of all, let me say; Bobby is one of the most down-to-earth, cool motherfuckers I know. What happened was, he was in San Francisco and he was going home to New York. He’s famous for finding deals on really cheap flights. That’s a long flight and it’s pretty expensive from SF to New York, so what happened was, he found a round-the-world flight to get home, practically. And he lands in El Paso, gets off the plane to call some friends to say “Hi,” and the plane leaves without him. So he’s stuck in El Paso. He hooks up with friends there, they go across the border drinking, and some shit goes down, there’s a bit of a scrap, so, of course, the Americans get busted and tossed in the clink. At the time, we were recording at this studio out in the desert, in the middle of West Texas, about an hour from El Paso. The guy that owns the studio is this wealthy rancher. His family’s been in the area for a long time, so he’s really well known on both sides of the border. So we get a call saying, “Hey, Bobby’s in jail in Juarez. Do you know anyone who can help him out?” And I talk to Tony, the guy who owned the studio and he’s like, “Yeah. Hop in the car.” So we get in his fuckin’ Acura MSX, haul ass into Juarez, and pull Bobby outta jail. Bobby hangs out with us at the studio and tries to figure out how he’s gonna get back to New York. He’s listening to some stuff on the album… or, it’s not an album yet. I believe the songs are only about two-thirds done. But he’s listening and says, “Man, why don’t you let me play guitar on something?” He played guitar on one, and then on a second one, and then on a third, fourth… Before we knew it, he was on the whole fucking record. He’s been there for a week and everybody’s getting along really well, so we just said “Hey man, we’re in need of a third guitar player because the one we had got really ill before we went into the studio and had to bow out.” It’s the kinda situation where you can’t really go on the road, which was a bummer. That’s how he ended up in the band. It’s funny because he’s a metal dude. That’s where he comes from and that’s what he’s known for. But he’s been out of Overkill for what, six years now? He’s done a lot of different things since then.
That’s a wild hook-up.
But you know, that’s typical of Skrew. That kind of shit happens to us all the fuckin’ time. That’s how we keep the energy going. Skrew on tour is like a fucking circus, I swear to God. Not so much with the drugs and shit, but just with everybody in the band. I mean, there’re six of us, so it’s just a trip man, it’s a non-stop laugh riot.
The other guitarist who moved on, what happened there?
He developed health problems that made it difficult for him to do anything other than concentrate on his health and really take care of himself. It’s a bummer, because the guy’s a really good friend of ours, and it was a lot of fun having him in the band but, you know, first things first. On the other hand, there’ve been bad situations, too. There was one guy we took on tour who turned out to be a racist, close-minded, redneck asshole. I didn’t want to have any part of that shit. There’ve been people who haven’t been able to deal with their insecurities back home, you know, girlfriends, shit like that. You’ve gotta give it 100%. We spend a shitload of time on tour. We got off the last tour in the beginning of March a year ago, and since then we haven’t been on tour, but we wrote the record. I was in a really bad car wreck last March, so that threw the schedule off, but this has really been the first year I’ve been home since ’91, seriously! I got married in October, right? In November we mixed the record and I missed Thanksgiving. In December I was in Germany doing another album so I missed Christmas. I got home New Year’s Eve. Bottom line is, this year’s been the only time I’ve had to spend anytime whatsoever at home. I think that has a lot to do with why this record is the best thing Skrew has done yet. It was written in a situation where we weren’t pressured. The first record we did was totally experimental. There were two of us in the band at the time. We didn’t really know what we were doing. We just got in there and threw as much shit on the tape as we could.
So Shadow of Doubt is really the first band effort?
Right. You know, I didn’t have to write all the bass lines. Our bass player wrote all his lines, except for “Hair,” and that’s because I wrote that song around a bass line I came up with. But he did the rest of it. This has been the best situation, studio-wise. It reflects what Skrew is about more than anything we’ve done in the past. The majority of the material on this record was written in the weeks following that car wreck I was in.
How’d the accident happen?
I was driving down the freeway with my then fiancee and some guy passed out behind the wheel, crossed over the median and hit us head on. I saw him coming toward us three seconds before the impact. I wasn’t angry, I wasn’t sad, I wasn’t anything. I just accepted the fact that, that’s it, it’s over. The only other thought I had was that my girlfriend was with me, and BOOM! I woke up in an ambulance. It had a great affect on me, it helped me to re-focus. I’d been putting myself under a lot of pressure, “I’ve gotta do this… I’ve gotta do that…” After that, man, I just let it flow. I’m serious. It was really weird. Since then, we’ve written four or five songs, and it’s just amazing. I don’t know what happened. I mean, I did suffer some pretty serious injuries. I had some mega nerve damage to my left arm. For six weeks after the wreck my entire left arm felt like it was asleep. It’s a mess, but I’m recuperating. The label and my manager kept pushing the recording back because they wanted me to be fully recovered. I kept saying “I’m fine. I’m fine.” But I got in the studio and I had to play all my guitar tracks sitting down, which I’m real unaccustomed to doing. I’m used to standing up and recording. It was a bitch because my back is really fucked up too. In fact, on this tour coming up, I’ll only be playing guitar for about half the set because I can’t hold the weight of the guitar strap over my shoulder for any length of time. It sucks. I’m first and foremost a guitar player. I ended up singing in Skrew by default because nobody else would. It’s like I said earlier, on the road we travel, we never know where we’re going to go or what twists and turns we’re gonna take. But somehow, I think, if you’re doing the right thing, the right thing comes back. Who would have thought that being in that wreck would add a positive aspect to my life? But I guess it did, because I’m really, really proud of this record.
Tragedy has a way of knocking you out of synch, but it gives you perspective and a chance to focus on what’s really important.
It’s easy to get bogged down in minute details. I catch myself being so anal about things; which really takes the focus off the real aim. I remember a skit on SNL from years ago that I kinda relate to. It was a cooking show. The first thing the guy does is open a bag of chicken. He gets so sidetracked in disposing of the wrapping properly, he’s putting it in another bag and folding it precisely and stapling it closed, and then depositing that into another bag, and then putting both of those in plastic and taping it up, and you know it’s like, what’s the point here? The point is trying to cook something and you’re getting all bogged down in details. So yeah, it kinda helps to re-focus. It’s unfortunate that sometimes it takes something so drastic, but hey, whatever it takes, it takes.
That’s also one of the things that makes your albums what they are: The attention to detail and the slaving over one particular sound.
I know five other guys who would agree with you totally. I’m a fuckin’ workaholic but I’ve also got a really short attention span, but that’s what makes me and Jim such great writing partners.
Aren’t you and Jim the foundation of the band?
Yeah. He’s got a lot of patience and he knows how to deal with me. I’ll get so fuckin’ maniacal and he’ll just turn around and say, “Hey, go smoke a fuckin’ cigarette. You’re getting on my nerves.” After the wreck, I was on a lot of pain medication which I don’t enjoy whatsoever. I’ve been straight for a long time now, and I was really uncomfortable about it. I had to take it because the pain was so intense. So Jim would turn around and say, “Would you take a fuckin’ happy pill and leave me the fuck alone while I work on this and get this right?”
One of the things I dislike about pain medication, and any kind of prescribed drug, is that it dulls your thought processes. That’s what we do, and that’s who we are. If that junk is dulling the creativity, dulling the follow-through and intensity, you end up producing mediocre shit.
Exactly. It took a lot of effort to get the stuff polished up because a lot of the time I felt like I was in a fog, and I don’t like that. I don’t like being out of control anymore. I used to live for that, but that was just because I couldn’t deal with reality – the terms of reality. I don’t judge other people, really; whatever you wanna do, do, and whatever you can handle, handle. However, if it’s a situation where I have to work with someone, and they can’t handle their shit, I don’t work with them. If you can keep your shit together, fine. If not, then take a fucking walk. Unfortunately, it’s very rare that anyone keeps their shit together, you know, involved in chemicals. But it does happen… I don’t expect anybody in Skrew to give as much time and energy as I do. It’s, like, a problem for me… I mean, it’s a sickness. But I do expect everybody to give the 100% that they’re capable of. Not everybody’s a songwriter, so I don’t expect everybody to write songs, but I do expect everybody to be at fuckin’ rehearsal, and whatever extra you can throw in is great.
What happened to the “guest guitarist”?
“Knotted Twig” was written by Jed Simon, a friend of ours from Canada who we wanted to be our third guitar player after one got sick. We wrote that song together, and I was so excited. But he’s a Canadian citizen and U.S. immigration didn’t exactly cooperate. It was a drag, but now he’s playing with Front Line Assembly. He also played in Strapping Young Lad with Devin [Townsend]. From the stories I’ve heard, he’s a maniac, but a really talented guy. Jed told me his guitar playing is on par with Steve Vai’s. I’m blown away by people like that. He can play like that, but he doesn’t. You know? He’s not blowing his wad on every song. I really admire that. He’s doing music for the right reasons – to be creative, not to be, “Look how bad ass I am!”
Right. Not to get famous and get laid a lot.
Right. I mean, that’s ridiculous.
He does pose naked in a lot of shots though.
Well, that’s one thing I have in common with him. I did a photo shoot about two years ago on Sunset Boulevard at like, five in the afternoon. I was wearing nothing but Doc Martins, a cowboy hat, and sunglasses. It doesn’t flip me out whatsoever, but I really enjoy seeing people’s reactions. People are so uptight, it’s hysterical. I don’t know what it is, but there’s something to be said for being naked in public.
I miss the old streaking days. We just don’t do that anymore.
Oh, I know. That was probably one of the healthiest fads ever. Our society is so uptight about sex and nudity; prostitution being a crime… It’s just ridiculous. In Europe, where it’s legal and regulated, the incidence of rape and sex crime is far lower.
Something about the demoralization of what they condone, I don’t know. I don’t get into politics. Politics to me is the surface layer. I like thought and philosophy.
I’m into revolution on the personal level. I get really annoyed at politics. It makes me think about the repressive society we live in. When I was growing up, I came from such a fucked-up background, it’s amazing that I’m even alive to talk about it. But I’ve definitely learned from that. There’re aspects of my life that will probably never be normal in the widely accepted sense of the word, but, to me, it’s real normal. But on the other hand, there’re things that I need to do for my own health. One of those things is playing music, being creative in some way. What I write is totally and completely autobiographical. It comes from inside me. If I didn’t write, I’d probably be running around with a gun. One of the reasons I got straight in the first place was because I was looking at doing some fairly serious time in prison, and that wasn’t something I really looked forward to for my future.
I think I may have missed something. What happened?
I was involved in a lot of shit; a lot of criminal behavior in order to support a drug habit. I’d lived my life like that from the time I was 14 or 15 until I was 20; and then my luck ran out. That was some really intense shit that I dealt with. I think if I hadn’t gone through it, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I had to go through really shitty times to get where I am, and I’m totally happy with where I am. I don’t think everybody has to do that; people can take different routes to get wherever they’re going. But that was definitely an eye-opener for me. I seem to have these, every so often. It must be some way of keeping myself in line or something