Primitive Weapons Couldn’t Stop If They Wanted To
Some bands seize every single opportunity they can to shoulder their way to the top: writing, rehearsing, performing, and self-promoting every waking moment to give themselves the best possible shot at securing radio play, topping the charts, and eventually, selling out stadiums around the world.
Primitive Weapons are not that band. All four members of the Brooklyn-based post-hardcore outfit have already accomplished more in the music industry than most would ever dream of achieving: Guitarist Arty Shepherd has fronted or performed in countless popular bands – from Long Island post-hardcore legends Errortype:11 to the major label act Instruction – and co-owns Brooklyn’s heavy metal sanctuary Saint Vitus Bar with vocalist David Castillo. Bassist Eric Odness has toured with UK boy band The Wanted, and owns Brooklyn’s beloved Minnesota-themed Lake Street bar. And Chris Enriquez is the former drummer for Long Island screamo pioneers On the Might of Princes and the current drummer for Spotlights.
So it would make sense that with the release of their most recent, third album, Surrender Yourself, the noisy, frenetic band would adopt a more laissez-faire attitude. Same goes for their approach to the tour they’ve just wrapped up with Salt Lake City metalcore act Cult Leader. Because when you’ve already seen the top of the mountain, future expeditions are just bonus trips.
Yet, although Primitive Weapons have “no end game,” they obviously haven’t lost a shred of passion for the music itself. Sure, its members have been let down, frustrated, and chewed up by a cold and unforgiving music industry before — dealing with label drops, tour mishaps, and even unfulfilled promises of fortune and fame — but they’ve also had some incredible career highlights that most musicians would kill for.
In many ways, Primitive Weapons is the perfect name for this band, one that might be the purest and most stripped down any of its members have ever been a part of. Free from the pressure of aspiring to rock stardom, they’re producing a truly authentic brand of equally abrasive and melodic music that flows with ease.
“This band is relatively effortless as far as creativity goes, and the way that we bounce off each other,” Arty says. “I rarely ever walk into rehearsal and go, like, ‘You’ve got to play it like this.’ And I think that’s why we still do it.”
Sitting in Champion Coffee across from Saint Vitus just before their New York show on the Cult Leader tour, Chris and Arty talked to us about everything they’ve taken from their incredible lifelong musical journeys thus far, and how those experiences have molded Primitive Weapons into such a powerful act today.
Kerrang!: So how did this Cult Leader tour come about?
Chris: Through Ben Weinman [and his label], Party Smasher Inc. Cult Leader has toured with the Dillinger Escape Plan; so has Godmother, so have we. We’re all labelmates. We had a new record coming out when this tour came together, and Ben made sure we got on it. So thanks to Ben!
Does this tour feel different from all others before it?
Chris: We’ve toured and played with a lot of older bands — whether Glassjaw, Into Another, or Quicksand…
Arty: For awhile there, we were like the official ‘Open For The Nineties bands’ band.
Chris: Yeah, even local shows: Vision of Disorder, 108…. I mean it makes sense for us, because that’s where we come from, but I don’t think we’ve toured with many bands like Cult Leader.
Arty: I found that Dillinger’s crowd was really, really open. They accepted us, considering how different we were. I think it’s the fact that we’re both doing something a little out in left field, which is what Ben saw in us when he heard us.
Have the connections that you guys made throughout the years played a big part in the direction of Primitive Weapons’ career?
Arty: Of course. I mean, that’s the way it works, right? When I was starting in Mind Over Matter, we’d see other bands get hooked up with shows and be like, ‘How’d they do that? Why did they get on that show? Fuck those guys!’ You know how they did it? Because they were at those band’s shows and became friends with them. You learn that over the years. You don’t send a resume to a bar for a job: you hang out at that bar for a long time, and not be an asshole.
Chris: My old band, On the Might of Princes, would also wonder how bands were getting hooked up with stuff. And we weren’t exactly the best at networking.
Arty: You weren’t friendly (laughs).
Chris: No, and we didn’t look at the business angle of things, and so while we did have some cool successes of our own, we certainly weren’t ‘playing the game,’ as they say.
Arty: I had the same thing with Errortype:11. Without question, I definitely stifled that band’s trajectory because of my stage persona. There were people higher up in the business who were just like, ‘What’s up with this fucking guy?’
How would you define that stage persona?
Arty: I was just a fucking asshole. I’d antagonize the crowd. My whole thing has always been to get a reaction — at least when I’m a singer. Gay for Johnny Depp being a perfect example. Before that band, I was sarcastic in Errortype; a lot of the people in New York knew me personally, and they’d be like, ‘That’s not him.’ It’s like I’m playing their drunk uncle who happens to write some pretty good songs. I thought it was super fun, but I’d always hear comments like, ‘Oh, that band, yeah — they’re really good, but that guy needs to shut the fuck up.’
Chris: I’ve told Arty numerous times that I think there was a lot of label interest [for Errortype], but that Arty was an abrasive front man. I thought it was great, but I also grew up around that sort of attitude.
Arty: That was the whole thing: when we played in New York, it was like, it was literally call and response. It was a comedy show. It was awesome. Not to say that I thought I was Johnny Rotten or anything, but that was the reaction I wanted to get. I almost wanted that hatred.
Chris: I didn’t like him for years. I’m not even kidding!
Arty: It was like putting myself in a hole that I had to write even better songs to dig myself out of. Once we left New York, forget it, sarcasm doesn’t exist.
Years later, the whole point of Gay For Johnny Depp seemed to be to piss people off. Was that a conscious choice?
Arty: Well, yeah, because at that point I was in Instruction, which was like a very toned down version of Errortype:11. With Instruction, it was like, ‘Hey dude, first of all, you’re not allowed to drink before you get on stage anymore.’ Well, that changed everything. It was an agreement [the band] had made. So I reeled it back. Because when we changed the name, I was like, ‘We’re going to get signed to a major label in six months…’ and we did. I knew that those songs were worthy of it, but we had been passed on by everybody. Once we changed our name, no one knew that we were from Errortype 11.
Chris: It did work. His band went on to tour with Lincoln Park, Korn, the whole thing.
So looking back on all of the bands that you’ve been in, how are Primitive Weapons different?
Chris: I think we have more in common with Mind over Matter and On the Might of Princes than we do with Errortype.
Arty: We had common love of Dead Guy and Neurosis and say, maybe Refused, with Dave. The Jesus Lizard was our connection to Eric. That was a conversation me and him had at four in the morning: We were sitting around listening to Jesus Lizard and I was like, this is the rhythm section I want. He was like, ‘I can do that. I’m from Minnesota.’
So you basically Frankensteined your favorite musical connections with one another to form the band.
Arty: Pretty much. But we wanted to be heavier than any of those bands. And over the years it’s gotten more song oriented much more back towards what I do best, which is sort of a ’90s, noisy post-hardcore.
Chris: The idea was to form an old ‘Long Island Band’ and just sort of get back to our roots, as they say.
What have you taken from all of your past bands that now make this band better?
Arty: We don’t go on tour for a year straight? And just like, not making yourself completely broke over and over and over and over again? We all realize that we’re at a point where we can rehearse twice before a tour instead of like, with my old band, I’d rehearse five days a week. You know, it was a job. And also, the way that technology has changed, I’m able to write stuff almost completely at home. I would much prefer to be in a room and have things be organic, but nobody has the time to do that. It’s just the way things have evolved for better or for worse. Also, I think not being afraid to do anything we want — with this band, it’s like, I just don’t fucking care. What are we trying to do? There’s no end game.
Chris: That’s a good point. There is no end game. We’re not trying to get huge through the music that we write. There’s nothing about that that’s ever going to be ‘successful.’
Was ‘success’ something that you thought about in On the Might of Princes?
Chris: Not until everyone else around me was. And it was very weird at that time because everyone we were playing with started getting on the radio. When we started Princes, we were just playing with friends, having a good time, no real end goal. We weren’t trying to have an aesthetic or a certain sound. But once Thursday and Coheed and Brand New [broke], and we started to see our peers getting to certain points in their career, I think that definitely made us reevaluate what we were doing. Ultimately we just weren’t that band; it didn’t work out for us because we couldn’t exist in that sort of scope or even know how to navigate through that. But I think now, playing in bands, it’s just a natural evolution. You’re more aware of what you’re doing.
Arty: Oh yeah. You’re more aware of what’s a waste of time and what works. You know, it’s way more efficiently run, whether it be how we write or how we tour.
And you learned that from your previous experiences in bands?
Arty: Well, all of those experiences were at a different time, when a lot of this shit was possible — you could make a living. Mediocrity was fucking great for success in the Nineties. I mean if you look at the number of bands who had like, just one hit — they’re just fucking mediocre shit, but now it’s nostalgia. Those guys made millions of dollars off of one song…. Any band either of us have ever been in have never really been trend-hoppers. I consciously always wanted to write something that 20 years from now you can put on and think that it was written yesterday. Primitive follows that line.
Chris: That’s a goal right there: to make timeless music. You can put on a Neurosis record from 1995; you can put on Isis and it sounds fine today.
Arty: Yeah, they’re bands that were creating their own vibe.
Can you guys highlight a single greatest moment in your career thus far, whether with Primitive or with any of your other bands?
Chris: Well, I know that when Arty was in Instruction, he played Download, and he’s got this great photo of him playing in front of like 100,000 people, opening up for Metallica nonetheless. So I would imagine between that and recording with Bob Ezrin….
Arty: That was definitely awesome.
Chris: We went on tour with Dillinger Escape Plan around the world. We played to thousands of people with them everywhere, but one particular show that comes to mind would be at the O2 Forum in Kent — I’m going to guess there were maybe 3000 people there?
Arty: It was phenomenal. Also, the Brooklyn Steel show with Quicksand and Glassjaw — Chris didn’t play it but — that show was fucking phenomenal. Everything about it was great.
What’s the worst thing you’ve ever endured on the road?
Chris: On the Might of Princes played Groezrock, the biggest show we ever played. We’d never seen anything like this. But my singer, man — rest in peace, by the way — he had some sort of crazy guitar malfunction on stage, and I think we played two songs and then sat on stage in front of like, you know, 5,000 people or something like that — and then ultimately just walking off stage. It’s like a bad nightmare. I would say it’s a tie between that, and we actually totaled van and drove off a small cliff in Omaha. (But somehow everybody was basically fine.)
Arty: For me, oh, I don’t know — fucking squats with human feces on the bed; having a gun pulled on us by Nazis in East Germany in 1994. That was fucking scary as hell. I mean, it’s endless.
So with all that you’ve learned and been through over the years, what’s going to be going through your minds when you’re on stage tonight?
Chris: We know it’s always going to be a good show when playing at Saint Vitus. So I’m really excited to play new songs, and it’s a sold out show. It’s a good feeling to know that you have that in your pocket.
Arty: For me personally, I hope and pray all my equipment doesn’t break.
The New York City post-hardcore band just keeps getting better and better.
Primus will pay homage to one of their idols by performing Rush’s A Farewell To Kings in its entirety across North America.