vocalist Christopher Hall

A Stab in the Back of 'Alternative'

Walter Flakus and Andy Kubiszewski of Stabbing Westward

Interview by Nolan Webb
Live photography by Rodney Gitzel

42-second excerpt from "Shame" (various formats)

Don't call them metal. Industrial doesn't quite do it, either. Chicago's Stabbing Westward have traveled thousands of miles, worked most of the major festivals and have honed and perfected their captivating sound. They are now a world away from their minor-success debut Ungod of two years ago, an album which gave them a solid American fan base, but which also left them hungering for more. The hard work of recent years has now paid off with the success of their sophomore effort, Wither Blister Burn and Peel.

Walter Flakus When explaining the stylistic changes that the band has undergone between albums, drummer Andy Kubiszewski suggests that "the first album was a lot more lush, a little bit into the soundscape, and a lot more industrial." Keyboardist Walter Flakus is a little more straightforward in his explanation of some past band disunity: "The album bordered on metal, mostly because the original guitar player seemed to want to be the focus of the whole thing. A lot of the songs reflected his attitude."

Once the smoke cleared from an abrupt separation from said guitarist, the band found themselves without a replacement while recording Wither.... Not a problem for a band as diverse as this: the remaining members picked up the slack and took turns recording the guitar parts themselves. It was at this point that the true identity of the album emerged. "This album is more band and song oriented," explains Walter. "It's a group of songs rather than a group of people trying to create songs."

bassist Jim Sellers One of these songs, "What Do I Have to Do?", blasted up the alternative and rock charts, and has gone on to mold the band's identity. This single has perhaps been too popular, in fact, and Andy wonders and hopes "that we haven't pigeon-holed ourselves, because there simply won't be another single like 'What Do I Have to Do?'" The pop-ish lyrics of that song are noticeably absent from the rest of the album, leaving the remaining core with a little bit of an edge.

The band's success both domestically and internationally has spiraled them into a sea of tours and festivals, many with some of the world's biggest acts. Their recent GM Place show wrapped up a successful nine-date opening stint with none other than KISS, and they have also recently toured with the Sex Pistols, White Zombie and Depeche Mode. This transportation to the world of galactic-sized gigs hasn't always been quite as expected, though.

"We expected KISS to be a bit of a carnival, simply because of the legend that is KISS. But these guys are in their mid-forties and they don't party anymore, they don't do anything. It was totally business," laments Walter. The same went for the Sex Pistols. And for White Zombie? The mention of that tour brings a very negative vibe to the conversation. "They are a very metal band, and we are not a very metal band. Their crowd were fanatical metal-heads and they hated everything we did," is about all they offer up.

Fortunately, this type of negative reaction has been rare. A particularly surprising component of the band's rise has been the altogether positive support from both mainstream-alternative and rock radio formats. Although as a band they appreciate the support, they are scathing critics of modern radio and the culture that has evolved around it. Andy, who is himself an ex-disc jockey, notes that "the alternative format is today's top-40." He cites the revolving door of an alarming number of bands that sound the same as further evidence of an impending demise.

So how will the alternative format die? Walter matter-of-factly states: "Something is going to come and kick its ass." Who better than Stabbing Westward?

First published in Drop-D Magazine on September 13, 1996

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