The Atomic Bitchwax
3 (Meteor City)
An interview with drummer Keith Ackerman
By Craig Regala
The Atomic Bitchwax have been around, ya’know? Originally for three records with guitar player Ed Mundell (who’s time spent spittin’ out leads for Monster Magnet led to time/focus constraints), and now with Finn Ryan, of the late great Core. I didn’t notice, but Kevin pointed out The Bitchwax covered Core’s “Kiss the Sun” on their initial LP. Unlike Core, The Bitchwax is akin to bassist/vocalist Chris Kosnik’s other band, Black Nasa. You get a more song-as-crafted-song than a bare bones structure loaded with kerosene, fire crackers, rehabbed Irocs, and red wine. Luckily, with the consistency of drummer Keith Ackerman, the force and focus may be tempered, but they remain rock solid. Here’re a few words from him.
This is easily your strongest record, song-by song, although there was a little hemming and hawing about the loss of flamethrower-osity. Do you blow the tunes up live?
The songs keep evolving, even after the recording. So they may be a little revved up in a live situation. We’ve played those songs a lot since we recorded them. We might make the lead section longer or add an accent somewhere, for fun. In a live situation, the new material fits right in without missing a beat. We made those other records a long time ago. To not evolve our sound would be pretty boring. The new material is more song-oriented, shame on us.
How much of an effect does “jamming” have on the band in composition, live, and practice?
We jam a lot to warm up at practice. There are jam sections in some of the songs where you can play whatever you feel like that day. As far as writing songs, we’ll jam whatever riffs one of us has, to see where it feels like it should go. Then we structure the tunes based on that.
How’d the tour go? Last time we talked, you mentioned being stuck with a plethora of “rent a down-tuned riff” bands. It seems you get this more by label association than sound, you guys sounding closer to RPG, The Brought Low, or The Shame Club. Does this bug you?
I don’t know any of the bands you named for reference. Yes, we seem to be lumped in with this slow, doom-type stuff. We just don’t sound anything like that. I think it’s cool that people who play that style are into what we’re doing, but we play a lot more upbeat and old rock fuzz blues space kinda smash up. It doesn’t bother us too much, it’s kinda like Spinal Tap.
Any bands out there you ran across that we need to know about?
We played with a really good band in Austin, TX this past time around. I wish I could remember their name. Like Sir Lord Baltimore or something. They were all brothers. They rocked. I’ll have to research them.
My guess is that’s the Amplified Heat guys. They record for Arclight Recs, who have a half dozen bands you could tour with. Do you talk to people before/after the show? Do the after hours party thing?
We love to meet people wherever we go before/after or even during the show. As far as the after party thing, we usually have a tight schedule, so there’s not much time to recover from too many of those. If you feel bad on tour, it really sucks. We’re no angels, but we’re focused on the mission at hand.
Do you record your shows or let people have a taper’s pit? Any chance of throwin’ some up on the Web?
We don’t tape any of the shows. I would encourage anyone who wants to. Sometimes the soundman will offer a CD of the set after the show, but that’s about it.
How long do you think you can tour at the small club level? Would you consider continuing recording and doing weekend jaunts if longer tours aren’t feasible?
I’d like to see us move above the small club circuit, opening for a bigger band, and expand our audience. Reach people who’ve never heard of us. I think a good percentage of any rock crowd would be into what we play. Even the punk/hardcore style people could be into it. I think our new release appeals to more girls than any of the other releases. If we can’t get any bigger, we’ll always play. Whether with each other or whatever combination of people in this New Jersey scene will come next for weekend gigs.
Who do you think your peers are?
The bands that tour around like we do, trying to bring their brand of music to the people in a non-MTV kinda way. Some have been doing well for themselves: Mastadon, High on Fire, Hidden Hand. We’d love to open for Clutch or Queens of the Stone Age.
Would you have more fun covering a Motörhead or Journey song?
Maybe we could do a Journey song Motörhead style.
The new record, 3, has one of the best covers ever, indicative of what the title is, the cultural milieu of the record and thematic continuity. Who conceived/designed it?
Chris came up with the original idea for a Bitchwax pinball machine. Another artist name PORKCHOP did the first version. Then Ben Scooter, who did the Spit Blood record, contacted the label and said if we were doing another album, he was doing the art, and that was it. So we waited to see what he did and it was super cool. Why not have woman on the cover? We’re not much to look at.
As writers/players, do you feel “out of place” today? Is there a “retro” component to what you do?
To us, it feels more like most everyone else is out of place. We just play what sounds good to us.