Spineshank and the Long Road Back - A Conversation With Tommy Decker

You remember Spineshank? Almost a decade ago, they were on top, culminating with a Grammy nomination and critical acclaim. Shortly after that though, the band disappeared. Some nine years later, the original lineup is reunited, and the band is healthy, unified and ready to climb the mountain again inch by inch. Drummer Tommy Decker sat down with me to talk about where they've been, what it means to Spineshank to have "Anger Denial Acceptance" releasing right around the corner, and what it's like to persevere as a band.

M.DREW: The first question is the one that needs to be asked the most, which is: it’s been nine years since the last album with the full lineup. How does it feel to be back?
TOM DECKER: It’s cool. It’s weird. When we broke up, we were pretty overworked. We did record cycle, tour, record cycle tour for the past seven years. We were kind of at our wits’ end. We finally started talking again, and it felt good again, it felt fine. Felt like we were in a band for the right reason, not because ‘well, this is just what we do now, we make records.’ We felt like we have something to say and we enjoy playing with each other. After a couple years it actually became work, so it’s cool to be doing this for the right reasons.
M.D: Did it seem almost ironic that your band went on hiatus right after you had your Grammy nomination?
TD: Yeah it was weird, but the one thing that we always did as a band, and I’m proud of this band as far as that, we never beat anything into the ground. We left at a high point. We had just put out our third record, we were selling well, and we got nominated for a Grammy. It just proves to me that we were in it for the right reasons. We were never all about trying to make money or in it for the little fame that we had or anything. We’re doing this because we want to make the right music, and when that stops working, we’re obviously able to just end it without beating a dead horse. A lot of bands just start switching labels, and a smaller label on every record, and they’re left playing shows to nobody. The name Spineshank means more to us than to die such a painful death.
M.D: Speaking of labels, after you guys were away for six years, did you expect a major label like Century Media to call you?
TD: We didn’t know what to expect. We always aim high, so we were like ‘let’s see who bites.” We did get a few offers, a few pretty good offers, but we just didn’t feel right about it. When we hooked up with Century it felt right. They remind me a lot of what Roadrunner was when we first signed to them. Actually, some of the same people that used to be at Roadrunner are [with Century Media.] They have the reach of a big label, bit it’s still a small label where you can actually have a relationship with each person at the label and they actually care. They’re people that still enjoy music and they’re in it because they want to hear the music they like and the bands they like as well. So, it’s all cool that it ended up with us not being another number at a big machine.
M.D: You’ve reunited with your original vocalist Jonny Santos, did you find after so many years apart that there was a feeling out process, did you have to see where each other were at again, or did it feel natural?
TD: It clicked. We’ve been playing with each for so long. Jonny was actually the first other musician I ever played with. I answered an ad in the Recycler when he was twelve years old and I was fourteen. It just came back, it was natural. In Spineshank we do things really different, we don’t do it the way most bands do where we get in a room and start working on a riff and we write songs. It starts with me or Mike [Sarkisyan, guitarist], we’ll record the song and then we all get together and work on vocal patterns. Not even lyrics necessarily, there’ll just be vocal patterns. Then we’ll go back and write lyrics and get them perfected. So, it’s just a weird system and it just seems to be the only way it works for us and I think we’re the only four people in the world who could actually do it this way. It came back right away. Jonny came down for a weekend and we wrote three songs during that weekend, and all three songs made the record.
M.D: What made this the time to come back for Spineshank?
TD: The three of us, other than Jonny, we had another band we were still good friends and playing with each other. We were searching for a singer for our new band for a while, and me and Jonny made up, there was some bad blood when we disbanded. But we made up, and I just said one day ‘let’s call Jonny.’ Jonny came down, he was up for the idea, and it was just cool. We got along, we had some beers together, we drank and wrote music. What came out of it was, I think we finally reached the sound that we were always striving for. At that point, it was like ‘let’s just do this,’ and we started working on the record. Then we got offered a Disturbed tour and we went back on the road. Things just started happening quickly, and before we knew it…there were a lot of setbacks, but at the time everything just flowed nice and why not get out there and put another record out?
M.D: Speaking of your new sound, in plain terms, there’s less banging and smashing and more melody on this “Anger Denial Acceptance”…how did that sound come to evolve?
TD: I don’t know if I’d say there’s less smashing…
M.D: Alright, there’s the same amount of smashing and more melody. [laughs]
TD: Yeah, very true. The title of the album is something that we drew…we all went through personal tragedies at the same time. We never set out and say we’re gonna write a political record, or we’re going to do a record like this, we just kinda go with what we feel. At the time, everyone was going through a ton of loss. People were getting divorced and people were dying. There was just this really melancholy vibe around the band. Just angry and…I wouldn’t say depression, we just were all down, and that’s what came out. It was either really pissed off music, or songs like “Exit Wound,” that just flowed out of us. With every record we never set out to do just one type of thing. It’s just a really natural process for us.
M.D: The evolution of your sound was not a conscious decision, then. This is just where your course took you.
TD: Yeah, exactly. You can only write what you feel and what you know. We’ve never been a band that sets to write out music, it’s just how we feel right now, and lyrics are the same thing, it’s in my head. I’m not gonna write a story about a wizard or a political meaning, because it really means nothing to me. We write what we feel and that’s what comes out. I think that’s why every one of our records sound completely different from one another.

M.D: The scene that you came up in, that industrial wave that was huge for a little bit, it died away, but now for example, Fear Factory is back. Does their comeback and the comeback of metal in general inspire you to do more music?
TD: It’s just cool to see bands like that, bands that we’ve known for years, and I’ve seen how hard they work. I think the bands back then have a little more staying power than the bands that are coming out now. And I’m not saying there’s not new good bands coming out, but it’s such a different time. We came up with Sepultura, I mean, we didn’t come up with Sepultura, but those are the bands that we looked up to, and admired. We have that mentality that we’re not just gonna put out one record and get all over the radio and have this record blow up. We have the mentality where we put out a record, and we’re gonna get out there and tour and gain fans one by one. Fear Factory and us and some of those other, older bands, I think we’re the last of the bands that were really like that. It’s cool to see Fear Factory at it again and having success, and they’re friends of ours, so I love the fact that they’re still doing it and making a living out of it.
M.D: Now that Spineshank is back, as you look around you at what’s going on in the genre, what is it that you feel Spineshank is offering the fans that no one else is?
TD: I think we’re just different. I feel like we’ve always been the red-headed stepchild of the metal scene, we weren’t heavy enough to play with the really super heavy bands, and we have too much melody for the guys who played with really commercial bands. So we’ve always really rode the line. I think it’s just something different, we have our own sound, we don’t follow trends, we do the stuff we want. To this day, we’re getting older, but still I think we have one of the most energetic shows out there. We really mean it and we go as hard as we can. Pretty much every show, someone is bleeding or a bone gets broken.
M.D: And that’s a good thing.
TD: We put the extra effort in, and like I said, I think our sound is a little bit left of center. It’s like a new perspective on things.
M.D: I just talked to Michael from Vampires Everywhere! and he mentioned that you helped him out a lot on his record. What did you do for them, and what do you think about how it turned out?
TD: Me and Mike produced their record, well, co-produced with those guys. You know, it came out cool! These guys have their stuff together, they came in and they had all the songs written, they just needed someone to bring the performances out of them and give them that little extra step and it was cool. It was the funnest record I’ve ever been part of making. They’re super cool guys and I really hope they do well.
M.D: Couple of housekeeping questions – Way back in 2006, [former associated vocalist] Brandon Espinoza talked to the press about how the band is writing material. Whatever happened to that material, was there any, and will fans see some of that material on this new record?
TD: There are a few riffs from back in that time. The thing that gets really confused is that it was never intended to be a Spineshank record. We never replaced Jonny, we never tried to replace Jonny. Me, Mike and Rob had another band going and we went through a few singers. Brandon was one, he was there for a while. Once Jonny came in, we kinda threw all the stuff away and any riffs or anything we kept we re-worked and obviously Jonny came up with his own parts.
M.D: And then in August of 2008, you released a demo, there was more talk of writing for a future album, four years later, is this album the product of that writing and that reunion around the demo?
TD: Yeah, it is actually. Some of those songs made the record, two of them made the record, they just got remixed. It just took us a while because when we were on that Disturbed tour, we had all our gear stolen. Everything was stolen and there’s a big, long story, but there were lawsuits, and it took about a year before we got anything back. We won the lawsuit and got most of our stuff back, but during that time we had no equipment, no drums, no recording equipment. We were just in limbo, so we couldn’t really do anything. [And] we wanted to find the right thing and the right situation – while we had two offers on the table, they didn’t feel right. It wasn’t a race against time or anything, we had offers, we found the right deal and finally after all this time the record comes out next week. We’re thrilled, and for all the things that were thrown at us, for all the problems we encountered, we were able to keep it together and actually make the thing a reality.
M.D: Did you feel like it was never gonna happen at any point?
TD: Yeah, there were a few points where…it wasn’t so much that it was never gonna happen, because we’re pretty self-sufficient and we were touring in a bus without a label on, and everything was fine. We were able to go on tour and make money and make a living. But yeah, it was frustrating because it got to a point where we were like ‘what are we gonna do, are we gonna put this record out on our own?’ A lot of people were suggesting that, and I think maybe that’s gonna be what happens in the future, but we’re old-school, you know? We felt like we needed a label and the machine behind us. I’m just really glad everything worked out when it did.
M.D: After the acrimony of Jonny leaving and coming back, and after having your gear stolen and the trials and tribulations…you’re a little bit older now, a little more mature, do you feel like the band is stronger now that it’s ever been?
TD: Oh, yeah. I really think you’d have to kill one of us to stop us. I don’t think there’s any bands, ANY, who would go through the crap we went through to get this record made. We ended up way in debt when this lawsuit happened, everyone put their own personal money into this and there was no end in sight, it didn’t look like there was a light at the end of the tunnel. Everyone pretty much went broke and lost everything they owned for a stupid record. So, we’re able to suffer through that and come out the other end, and still be the four of us, together, unified. It’s a cool feeling knowing that no matter what, you can always count on…even when we got all our gear stolen, we never cancelled a show. Luckily the opening bands were more than happy to let us use their equipment, and we found a way to do all the shows. We carried on and made it happen.


Music Editor

D.M is the Music Editor for Bloodygoodhorror.com. He tries to avoid bands with bodily functions in the name and generally has a keen grasp of what he thinks sounds good and what doesn't. He also really enjoys reading, at least in part, and perhaps not surprisingly, because it's quiet. He's on a mission to convince his wife they need a badger as a household pet. It's not going well.

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