Originally published in MOO Magazine (June 1994)
Anger. Self-loathing. Emptiness. All play an important role in the relationships of humans, and those emotions are the basis for many of the songs on Ungod, the debut release by Stabbing Westward.
“Basically, it has to do with love and bad relationships,” keyboardist Walter Flakus offers as insight to the lyrics, “Everybody can identify with that. There’s a very universal tie. This is about real life.”
Flakus and vocalist Christopher Hall formed Stabbing Westward when both were students at Western Illinois University in 1985. On the eve of their first live performance, Flakus and Hall searched through old albums at the college radio station where Flakus worked for a name for the band.
“We picked Stabbing Westward basically because it was the best one on the list,” explains Flakus. Also in the running, Aid to the Bishop. Bassist Jim Sellers joined the band in 1989 and was followed three years later by drummer David Suycott and guitarist Stuart Zechman. As new band members came aboard, the songwriting took on new character.
“Way back when, we used to be a real drum machine, very dark, classic industrial sounding band,” Flakus says. “Way, way, way back when we were more melodic, more Cure/Depeche Mode like. We’re obviously back to more melodies now than we were in the middle period, I guess.”
“The medieval period,” Sellers chimes in.
“A basis for a lot of the current sound came from that period,” Zechman says. “There’s a whole ton of stuff from that period in terms of sound, a lot of that is totally with us.”
Stabbing Westward’s sound has often been described as “industrial,” a term that the band members don’t necessarily disagree with.
“There’s a lot of things that our music is, and it is partially industrial. But, it’s not wholly industrial,” Sellers explains. “We kind of fall into that category, but we also fall right out of that category.”
“A couple of weeks ago, I was in a purely industrial club, listening to a whole bunch of industrial music,” Flakus says, “and I can’t see where in the world we’d fit into that mix.”
“Our music isn’t industrial music,” Sellers begins, “it’s like industrial music in certain ways and on certain points of the record.”
One element of industrial music that is rarely found on any of Stabbing Westward’s material is the using of sampling of various mechanical noises. “I hear cool things all the time,” Flakus says and, as if on cue, a car alarm beeps outside the band’s van where the interview is being conducted. “Like that! We don’t go out and say, ‘We need anvil hits.'”
“‘Here’s glass breaking,'” Zechman says.
“‘Let’s go out and beat on trash cans,” Flakus continues.
In unison, Flakus, Zechman and Sellers all says, “We don’t really do stuff like that.”
Ungod was released earlier this year to critical praise. Many reviews compare the band to Nine Inch Nails because both have an industrial-based sound mixed with painful lyrics. Zechman casually mentions that the band has heard incidents where Nine Inch Nails fans have actually taken copies of The Downward Spiral back to stores to exchange it for Stabbing Westward’s debut. Airplay of the first single, “Nothing,” (coincidentally the name of Trent Reznor’s label) on both television and the radio has earned the band a respectable following across the United States.
“When we played in New York City, people out-and-out knew the words to, I think, every one of the songs. We’re singing them, and, in some cases, they were singing as loud as us,” Zechman recalls. “It’s starting to happen, as far as showing up and playing to people who actually are coming out because they have the record or because they’ve heard a song on the radio.”
All the band members agree that constant touring both before the album came out and since that time hasn’t hurt. In most cases, Stabbing Westward has performed with bands that don’t exactly fall into the “industrial” category. While an opening slot on a Ministry or Nine Inch Nails tour would be ideal, Stabbing Westward has played with Therapy?, Prong, Machines of Loving Grace, Course of Empire, Front 242, Pitchshifter, and Paw among others. The tour with Paw is a sore subject with the band.
“It’s not that we don’t get along with them,” Zechman explains. “We were totally nice to them and we were totally cool with them. It just so happened that when we left the room, stuff was said about us on the radio and stage and stuff like that.”
This summer, Stabbing Westward will climb out of the small, dark clubs it is used to playing in and hit the open air with a series of outdoor dates in support of Depeche Mode and Primal Scream.
“It’s a really strange feeling, let’s just say, knowing that we’re going to go on first. We’ve been in that boat before, going on first where a majority of the people may be there, but it hasn’t filled up all the way,” Zechman says. “In this case, it’s like we’re not going to play to the entire capacity every night, we’re only going to play to … say … nine or 10 thousand people!”
“You get a handful …,” Flakus begins.
“… but those handfuls are big hands,” Sellers finishes the thought.
Prior to the DM tour, the largest audience Stabbing Westward played in front of was 3,200 at a CMJ Convention show with Rage Against the Machine and Quicksand at the Roseland in New York last November. The band seems to be taking the jump in attendance in stride and are not kidding themselves.
“We’re pretty much expecting to go out there and play to a lawn, to an empty pavilion, because all those people have their reserve tickets and there’s no need for them to be there so early. That’s cool,” Flakus says. “We’re expecting to have a great response on the lawn, they will be our friends. They can go nowhere. The Lawn People. We are looking forward to meeting lots of lawn people.”
As the interview winds down, Flakus picks up the purple boom box that has been used to record the thoughts of the band members. “It’s been a long time since I’ve talked into a purple box,” he says.
“That’s not what Laura says,” Sellers comments and everyone breaks out laughing. “I think that’s what will end this conversation,” Sellers says. “Masters of the double entendre – Stabbing Westward.”