Flashback to 1994. Houston's Music Hall. It's the performance showcase segment of the Houston Press Music Awards, and a perennial favorite in the "Best Heavy Metal" category, deadhorse, has taken the stage.
"A lot of people were there," says former deadhorse guitarist Mike Haaga, "until we played." But that's not because the band was bad. The bill was so wildly diverse that various crowds came and went with various bands. Ask anyone who saw deadhorse -- on that night or any other, metal fan or not -- and you will hear lots of high praise.
Cut to 1997. Haaga has reincarnated himself in the demonseeds. But unlike his work in deadhorse, the demonseeds are moderately accessible. The band's self-titled and self-released debut, set to hit the racks this month, bears this out.
The riffs and songwriting have a pure rock and roll feel. There's still a lot of power and a lot of fun. But the potential appeal of this band stretches well beyond that of the average metal outfit.
"It's more of my band than deadhorse was, in that not only am I the only guitar player, but I think the tunes probably relate more to what I listen to," says Haaga matter-of-factly. "I listened to all of those bands of the hard-rock era, Deep Purple and whoever. But I listen to a lot of stuff. I listen to the B-52s a whole lot, too."
In addition to Haaga, the current demonseeds lineup includes Joseph Fazzio on drums and Craig Cazaubon on bass. Both have spent significant amounts of time in New Orleans' heavy-rock scene; Cazaubon played in Razor White, one of the first bands led by Phil Anselmo of Pantera, as well as a number of groups with Fazzio.
The trio has been playing as far out as Louisiana and Dallas (the state and city respectively, not the downtown intersection). And now, almost two years after stepping into the public eye, the demonseeds are ready for a breakthrough.
"We're putting the CD out because we think it's nine pretty decent songs that are recorded pretty well," Haaga says. "I think we need to develop a following. I think we might be in the middle of our last metamorphosis before we get to where we'll eventually be. The vocals are there; the drums are there. Joe is just so natural at what he does. The songs are there. I think, to be honest, we're still working on our show and maybe getting another guitar player. But as a three-piece we're better than we were last time we had four people, two of whom are no longer in the band."
Haaga has made a point of not promoting the demonseeds as "ex-" anything, even though he certainly could. Operating simply by word of mouth, the demonseeds get about 100 to 150 people for each show, an indication that folk are showing up to see the demonseeds rather than some nostalgia act. But having been in a band that did everything pretty much on its own, and pretty darn successfully at that, Haaga knows more needs to be done: advertising and promotions, getting the CD out. These are things near the top of Haaga's to-do list.
The demonseeds' emergence couldn't be better timed. In an era when there seems to be no overlap between "alternative" posers, death-metal barbarians and rap-metal geeks, Haaga and company are dealing in something so fundamental it's almost new again: rock music, played at high volume and with lots of attitude.
The CD's opening track, "Discorporate," is a prime example, a throwback to heavy rock without the overbearing purposefulness of stoner rock. "Fail," which follows right on its heels, is nearly bubblegum in its structure -- heavy pop indeed -- while "To the End" starts off at a typical metal gallop, but instead of turning into paint-by-numbers thrash soon becomes a pounding barroom anthem, power behind surface attitude.
One wonders why it has taken the band so long to rise up.
"I'm just an idiot," says Haaga with a nearly audible slap to his forehead. "Because, as I've been putting out the reissues [deadhorse's 1989 debut, Horsecore: An Unrelated Story That's Time Consuming, and the 1992 follow-up, Peaceful Death and Pretty Flowers, which were both re-released by Relapse in September], I've been meaning to put this out, too. We went through some issues, deciding if we were going to keep the name, this and that, personnel changes, blah blah blah."
Aside from Haaga's role in the Relapse reissues, the band also took time off to write and play out of town. But everything comes in its own time, and Haaga believes the delays haven't cost the band much. "Everything is starting to roll now, and for the first time in a long time I see that we can do it again," he says. "There's no reason at all why we can't."
The "it" in question is scaling the rock mountain of fortune and fame once again. It's a hard climb, but Haaga and bandmates are well on their way to the summit.
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The journey began on Halloween, 1994, when Haaga left deadhorse and went to work immediately at Southwest Wholesale. "In that same amount of time, even as I was quitting the band, I was talking to Joe Fazzio," reflects Haaga. "We both quit our bands in a period of about a week. So I think subconsciously we had already started saying, 'Hey, here's some new life.' I wasn't frustrated with the success of my band, but was just weary with what I thought I could do with it. So I quit. And I guess I started jamming with Joe immediately."
The two worked in Houston for three months before shifting the scene to New Orleans for several weeks. Haaga and Fazzio "moved into [Anselmo's] house for two months at a time when everybody got back to New Orleans," Haaga says. "So we did a lot more drinking and eating and just getting fucked up and stoned than writing songs," he says with a laugh. "And when we wrote songs, it was just a bunch of people getting together and doing it. It was fun."
The arc from deadhorse to demonseeds is not exactly a smooth, flowing one, though. Haaga took a few detours (making T-shirts, playing with both Superjoint Ritual and Greg Main, taking time off from a music business that had temporarily disillusioned him), but he has now returned with renewed purpose. Proud of his past accomplishments, Mike Haaga is climbing again. Don't be surprised to see him at the peak soon.
The demonseeds perform Friday, December 17, at Fitzgerald's, 2706 White Oak. For more information, call (713)862-4210. The band's debut CD will be available December 14.