This is the fifth iteration of Southwest Terror Fest. How’s the experience been putting this annual fest together for the last half decade?
[Laughs] That’s a loaded question. At times it’s awesome, and at times it’s a fuckin nightmare. The payoff has generally been pretty great, we’ve only really had one day of Terror Fest that was what I would call a complete failure. That was the Sunday show of the second year. That was pretty bleak. The last year three years everything has been pretty great, but logistically it’s a goddamn nightmare a lot of the time.
Who else has been putting the fest together with you?
Dave Carroll and Larry Horvath are my other two partners, the other two full-time responsible people. If anything fails, we’re the ones that have to deal with it. Dave was doing it with me right from the get-go. There used to be this thing in Downtown Tucson called Club Crawl. Spring Crawl and Fall Crawl, two different ones. All the venues downtown would fence it off, it may have been before your time. The last year there was this club called Vaudeville. The last year of Club Crawl, we knew it was closing down and we threw a show there – Take Over and Destroy played, I don’t remember who else, was a few years ago now. The three of us were talking and thinking, ‘what do we do now that this is over?’ It was really cool to be part of this thing, and we were talking about Maryland Deathfest, and Dave used to go to this pop punk festival all the time that I think was in San Diego. We thought maybe we should do something like that in Tucson. We took a drink of whiskey and an hour later we decided we were going to it in Tucson. The next day, after we sobered up, we texted each other and asked if we were serious or just drinking last night. We were just like, ‘fuck it, let’s try it.’ That’s how that all happened.
You recently moved out of Arizona. Have you had any difficulty coordinating the event since moving?
Not necessarily. Nowadays we live in a really easy environment to be involved in music. In 2016, this is the easiest time to be involved with music. You can plan tours on Facebook. Book festivals on Facebook. Between that and Soundclound and a billion blogs out there premiering bands every day, the digital age has made things incredibly easy. Even ten years ago, you were emailing and calling people all day; now it’s just a series of emails sent out to booking agents and bands you know personally. Being online and me being here, everything can be done through email or phone. The only thing that’s made it difficult lately is that one of the venues has changed hands. Thrown a monkey wrench into the works, but we’ve dealt with a lot of that over the phone. Luckily with Dave and Larry living in Tucson, if there’s anything that has to be done hands-on, those guys can pick up that end. The internet has just connected everyone, so throwing a festival is much easier than it was 10-20 years ago.
I know you coordinate with a lot of local Tucson businesses, which of those are involved in the fest this year and to what capacity?
We’ve always tried to keep sponsors local. Some of the bands that we book don’t want to always be associated with corporate sponsored festivals like PBR or Scion. At the same time, sponsorship’s not bad if you keep it on a local level. Moon Smoke Shop has a bunch of locations in Tucson and they’ve been involved with us for five years now. We have the Distillery, Empire Pizza and a burrito eating contest every year. All these places are where people that play in bands go to when they’re in town, or where locals go every day. Why not get those people involved? Since they’ve been involved, we’ve eaten Empire Pizza dry of pizza during the festival. It all works really well in the end using local people, because that’s really what it’s for.
In the past when putting together the fest, I know that there were several bands you were trying to book like Pig Destroyer and Agoraphobic Nosebleed. What was the story behind getting them to play this year?
That’s all timing. I’ve tried to book Pig Destroyer for the past three years now and it just hasn’t worked out. They were almost on the show last year, but Scott Hull ended up pulling his live show last fall to work on stuff, and Agoraphobic Nosebleed too. As long as you keep in touch with them, it might happen down the road. We’ve been trying to book Converge now for three years, but that’s four guys with intense schedules – especially Kurt Ballou, who’s constantly in the studio. Hard to get them on board for stuff like that. This year, we finally got Old Man Gloom involved, which led to Sumac getting on the show. That’s how these things kind of work over the years. Getting Neurosis, Sunn O))) and Goatsnake a few years ago obviously opened up bigger doors for us and added a level of respectability. People are thinking, if Steve Von Till is going to play this festival, it must not be bad. In the end, it works and there’s a lot of bands out there and even if it doesn’t work, I’ll keep pursuing them.
When piecing together all these bigger acts together each year, like Neurosis, Sunn O))) and Sleep, is there specific goal that you want to achieve?
Roughly, yes, I’ll say. It’s changed over the years, though. The first year, if you look back at that lineup, was very mixed. There was no genre-specific shows. It’s more like everyone was playing with everyone. One thing we noticed was in-and-out among the fans. They’d like Territory, but wouldn’t like Take Over and Destroy, and vice versa. In year two, we switched it up with four days of four different themes. It worked better for us, you could direct the crowd for that music towards that night. Once we got on that and better attendance that year, we’d get the headliners and build the shows around that. When we got Neurosis, we asked them who they wanted to play with, and they gave us options like The Body and Author & Punisher, and it was an awesome show and everything tied together. Year three was the proving ground for that, and since then we lock the headliners in and place the appropriate bands around them, and build a show that way. We try and mix things up. We don’t want to have just slow or fast music. This year, we did have a little bit of a drive to put on a more grindcore and hardcore influenced show. Next year, we’re thinking about doing some black metal bands. It’s all up in the air as to who we can get. We’re going to keep going after Converge until we get them. We’ll see where it ends up, a lot of it is luck of the draw. It’s hard to plan farther than a wish list.
Personally, what bands have you been most excited to see play the fest so far?
Being the guy that throws it, it’s hard for me to pick some out. I like every band we put on the fest. We don’t use people we don’t personally get behind and enjoy. But that said, I mean, fuckin’ Neurosis, obviously a dream for me; Sleep, Infest and Agoraphobic Nosebleed. There’s a lot of hype with regards whether the Friday or Saturday lineup is better. I like both, since I booked them. But Saturday night I got to book Agoraphobic Nosebleed and Infest, and I never thought in my life I’d see Agoraphobic play live shows. Every year, there’s someone for me that just ties it together for me.
I saw Infest play at KOTM Fest last year and that was probably one of the best sets I’ve seen in a long time. I’m stoked to see them this year again.
That’s a good example of how things work out. When Mike Genz was booking King of the Monsters last year and said he was doing the fest in late summer, he contacted me and we didn’t want our events to overlap. I sent him a list of who I thinking of for that year and he sent me a list and we found overlaps here – what do you want to do? We ended up picking and choosing. We both had Dropdead and Infest on our lists. I said cool, let me get Dropdead this year and you take Infest for KOTM Fest, and I’ll get them next year. I think Sleep was another one we both had on there, and he gave me Sleep because he wanted to go with more punk and hardcore and keep it in that direction. Weird shit like that always happens and it works out in the long run – now we have Infest in Tucson this year.
One artist you’ve had play a lot is Amigo the Devil, and his impromptu sets have become a fest staple. How did he originally come into the fold and what do you feel his continued tenure brings to the event?
Danny played for the first time on the disastrous day four of year two; there were maybe 30 people in the building when he played and he held all of them in the palm of his hand when he was playing. I had no knowledge of him before that – he’s a friend of Dave Carroll’s, and he was backing Danny and said, trust me, when you seem him, it’ll come together, trust me on this one. We went ahead and booked him, and he played a 30 minute set, and it was amazing. That’s all it took for him, and I said, hey, do you want to come back next year, and him and I got to talking about it because I think he had come through Tucson again. Instead of having one traditional short set when you’ll be in Tucson the whole weekend, why not play a bunch of sets? Year three was the first year we did that, and he played at the Rialto and at 4 A.M. in the middle of Congress. It just kind of snowballed from there. Last year we did the same thing, except we added afternoon sets at Wooden Tooth Records and the Distillery. It’ll be the same thing this year, and we told Danny he’s welcome to play any year if he wants to drive out here. He’s got an open invitation. The Body, Lee and Chip, also have an open invitation to play Terror Fest every year, because we love those dudes.
They’re the best.
They are THE best. The way they handle their music and especially the way they handle the music business is perfect. Amigo the Devil and The Body can play Terror Fest any fuckin year they want.
I welcome them. Back to Tucson and local businesses, what do you think the fest brings to Tucson as a community that other events do not?
Since year three, we’ve started bringing in people from out of town – we have a lot of Phoenix people that come down. Not only that, we have people from all over the world that are flying into it now, and these people are coming in and spending money. Do the math: if there’s 750-1000 in town for the festival and they all spend $100 apiece or $1000 into the economy – I mean, Tucson can use money. Tucson really is a special place, the way it’s set up with everything being downtown, so many of the venues and the practice rooms and the area is small enough that the people, the fans and musicians, live downtown. People can ride their bikes and walk to venues and shows, and that’s one of the reasons Terror Fest works so well there, because it has such an accessible, welcoming downtown area. People can come in stay at a hotel and then not have to rent a car or anything, literally just walk around downtown for the weekend and hit every restaurant, bar and venue and art gallery, and whatever the fuck they want to see is all within walking distance. I think what we do, even on some small level in our niche part of the world, is raise awareness as to how cool Arizona is, and especially how cool Tucson is. Playing into that, we also use Tucson bands every year. We don’t have to put Arizona bands on the lineup – most festivals don’t handle things that way, they just bring bands in from out of town and go for that name value. What good does that do for Arizona musicians? Wouldn’t do a damn thing to have a show and have them not be on it. It’s just love for Tucson and Arizona, and it’s a way that punk/metal dudes like myself, Dave and Larry can give back in whatever small way.
You also run Battleground Records, tell us how that’s been going and how that started?
It’s been going pretty good. Everything has its ups and downs, of course. Last year was a rough year for us. We started a few years ago, myself and my good friend Ryan. Kind of like the festival, we started it out to focus on some Arizona bands and help put out some of the stuff that I had to release for Godhunter as well. It grew from there, we started picking up bands from Phoenix, then picking up bands from California, and it snowballed. I keep working hard and I am bouncing back from last year. I’ve released a bunch of awesome albums lately: Vehemence’s comeback album, CHRCH’s new album Unanswered Hymns, which people have just been losing their minds over. Eight Bells album; critics love that thing, sold a ton of copies of it. They’re on tour with Voivod. The new Methra album came out July 4th, because those guys are ridiculous and they wanted to pick the most ridiculous release date, so why not July 4th. I have a lot of fun doing the label and I have a couple more albums coming out this year. I’m planning for next year already, and it’s something I plan on doing for years.
I feel like when you’re young and in your 20s – especially in music and art in general – it’s cool if the system supports you for a little bit, because you’re young and you’re getting your feet under you and that’s how things are supposed to be. When you get to my age, which is 43, and yes I’m getting old now, I feel like people like myself that have been here and done it – I don’t know if mentoring is the right word, because I don’t mentor anyone, – but you kind of have to give back at some point. If nothing else, the skills that I’ve developed over the years, like the ability to actually get a vinyl record pressed and released, and how to get write-ups for it from blogs and magazines and stuff like that. 25 year old kids, nothing against them, not all of them have that skill, because that’s stuff you have to learn over time. People don’t just write a song on guitar and know how to release the album at the same time. It’s a completely different skill set. It’s not like a duty, but you know, I like to help people and that’s a lot of what the record label is, me helping people.
What specific persons and bands have you taken a special interest in to help along?
All of them on the label. I released a bunch of albums from Arizona bands like Lago, Naught, Via Vengeance, and these are all good friends of mine and what I’d consider good people. They’re also good musicians, so when you put the two of those together for me, that’s the kind of people I want to help. Same way I did the Oryx and Languish split this year. I love all the people in both of those bands, and I think they deserve whatever help they can to get their music out there.
What’s on the horizon for the label, anything specific that you can say?
The rest of this year, I have a collaborative release between Theologian and Lament Cityscape that is just fuckin incredible. I don’t even really know how to describe it, it’s just super heavy, Neurosis and Jesu kind of music. That will be out in August. The Fuzz Evil full length will be out in maybe September or early October, and they’re from Sierra Vista. I moved into Tucson around 2006, and they were one of the first bands I made friends with in that scene and I played some early shows with them. We kind of stuck together and helped each other out over the years. Totally happy with their new album because it’s a pretty great stoner rock adventure.
Back to Terror Fest – what do you have planned so far for next year? You mentioned black metal earlier, but what acts and venues will be involved, anything you can let the lid off right now?
We will keep asking Converge to play until we get them. I’ve definitely talked to a few other bands that I don’t want to give away. We have black metal leanings for next year.
What venues have you enjoyed working with best so far? I know you have some secret shows planned again for Gary’s Place.
I always like doing stuff with Gary’s Place when we can. If nothing else, we know now that when we do the secret shows each year, we cover their month of rent with basically that one show. One month a year that allows them to breathe a bit and Oscar Hernandez and Cord Boyd are both great dudes and very, very good for the scene. We love working with them. We also really like working with Club Congress, honestly. I think they’re the best people in town to work with.
Was there anything else you wanted to add for CVLT Nation’s readers?
Tickets are on sale on the fest’s Facebook page. Full festival passes are sold out, of course. Everyone can still buy tickets to individual shows. I would tell some people that some of the smaller ones, like the Malignus Youth show, are getting close to selling out. Don’t wait until October to buy your tickets or you’ll miss some of these sets. I’ve been trying to hammer that into people and that’s probably the most important thing I can say – the reason we put these on sale so early is Club Congress and the Flycatcher are both 300 max. venues and they’re getting full.
Thanks for talking with us man.
Really appreciate you guys putting this together.
Thursday Early Show @ 191 Toole:
10:30 – end – Sumac
9:10 – 9:55 – The Body/Full Of Hell
8:00 – 8:40 – Kowloon Walled City
7:00 – 7:30 – Generation Of Vipers
6:00 – 6:30 – North
9:55 – 10:30 – Theologian/Lament Cityscape
8:40 – 9:10 – Senior Fellows
7:30 – 8:00 – Waft
6:30 – 7:00 – Via Vengeance
Thursday Late Show @ Secret Location
1:00 – end – ??? ????
12:00 – 12:40 – Order Of The Owl
11:00 – 11:40 – Akris
Friday Early Show @ 191 Toole
10:00 – 11:00 – Pig Destroyer
8:40 – 9:25 – Despise You
7:30 – 8:10 – Final Conflict
6:30 – 7:00 – Gay Kiss
5:30 – 6:00 – Trench
9:25 – 10:00 – Full Of Hell
8:10 – 8:40 – Wake
7:00 – 7:30 – Vermin Womb
6:00 – 6:30 – Sorrower
5:00 – 5:30 – Disservice
Friday Late Show @ Club Congress
12:50 – end – Old Man Gloom
11:50 – 12:30 – Behold! The Monolith
11:00 – 11:30 – Mountain Man
10:15 – 10:45 – Nonpareil
1:30 – 2:00 – Suciedad Discriminada
Saturday Main Show @ 191 Toole
10:00 – 11:00 – Agoraphobic Nosebleed
8:40 – 9:25 – Infest
7:30 – 8:10 – Power Trip
6:30 – 7:00 – Sex Prisoner
5:30 – 6:00 – Junkie Vomit
9:25 – 10:00 – Theories
8:10 – 8:40 – The Drip
7:00 – 7:30 – ACxDC
6:00 – 6:30 – Wvrm
5:00 – 5:30 – Magguts
Saturday Night Late Show @ The Flycatcher
1:00 – end – Malignus Youth
12:20 – 12:45 – Final Conflict
11:40 – 12:05 – ?????? ???????? ???????
11:00 – 11:25 – Get A Grip
Sunday Main Show @ Club Congress
11:00 – end – Saint Vitus
9:50 – 10:40 – The Skull
8:45 – 9:30 – Witch Mountain
7:50 – 8:25 – Khemmis
7:00 – 7:30 – CHRCH
6:15 – 6:45 – Grey Gallows
With special performances by Amigo The Devil throughout the weekend.