"Your World Offends Me": Cancerslug's Alex Story Discusses True Horror
Photo by Jesse Sendejas, Jr.
"3 Days She Bled, 3 Days I Bathed."
"In the Dumpster Behind the Clinic."
These are a few of the better-known and loved songs from Alabama underground horror-punks Cancerslug. Alex Story, the group's founder and driving force, is aware his band's music might seem offensive to some. But before you show up with picket signs or your local clergy at their next show, consider his take on what he does.
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"The purpose of art is to evoke an emotional response," says Story. "It's not my place as an artist to say what your personal response should be to your observation of my work. If I have done my job right, then there will be at least one statement or image or song involved with Cancerslug that will anger, annoy or offend any given person."
"Your world offends me," he continues. "Your society offends me, the vile horrors that occur every day. So, if my words or images offend, why would I care? Those snobby, pretentious assholes that want to sit high in judgment of what they deem worthy or unworthy of praise or ridicule mean less than nothing to me. The kids that tell me that my music saved their lives are the only ones that matter to me."
Those kids exist -- collectively they're known as the "Slugcult" -- and many will be on hand when Cancerslug returns to Houston this Sunday at Eastdown Warehouse, 850 McKee.
"I think maybe 2007 was the last time through there, although we've played through Texas a bit since then," Story says. "The only thing I really remember was (drummer) Mike leaving with some guy to get high without his phone, so we had to detective around Houston to find his ass in time to make the next show."
Cancerslug is presently a trio, with Cassie Baher on bass and Mike Horgan on drums; Story formed the band in 1999. The current tour, dubbed "Rape The Nation," is in support of the band's new release, Seasons of Sickness.
Although its catalog features more than 200 songs across nearly a dozen albums, Story says the new title is something of a first for Cancerslug.
"The main difference between Seasons of Sickness and the previous albums and demos is the production value," he explains. "We recorded with a killer engineer at Clearwave Studio in Alabama. He really captured the sound I wanted on this disk with a clarity we have never had before, but without losing our raw feel. But when it all comes down to it, it's still Cancerslug. It's pure, in-your-face rock and roll."
For the uninitiated, Cancerslug's sound recalls the ancient ones. Think further back than the beginning of punk.
"I grew up on early punk -- Misfits, Cramps, Damned, Germs, Fear, Dwarves; all that kinda shit," says Story. "But Cancerslug is equally influenced by old religions and cult ideologies, dark poets and writers like Lovecraft and Poe, and religious texts."
You can call Cancerslug a lot of things, and people have over the years, but you've got to include "industrious" in that name-calling. Story has built a musical career that is now in its third decade. The band is planning a four-disc retrospective and more touring and Story has teamed with The Misfits' Doyle on a new album, Abominator. Like so many bands today, they've done it all without major-label backing.
"I grew up during the old tape-trade days, that was how underground music spread back then," says Story. "It's easier now. I like that it's harder for the leeches and vultures to pick the meat from the artists' bones.
Story continues on the next page.
"You know, I've been on my own since I was about 14. No one ever gave me shit, everything I ever got I either worked for, hustled or just took. I might not have ever had lofty goals, but every goal I ever had I have achieved," he continued. "I love hearing that bands are still just going out there and doing it, totally D.I.Y. , it takes bravery to do that.
"I knew I wasn't going to ever be rich or famous making songs with the subject matter I do, no matter if it's sarcasm, satire, subtext or sincerity. That's not why I did it, and it's not why I'm still doing it."
I shared with Cancerslug's Story my own, er, Cancerslug story, of how I traveled to San Antonio last year to catch his act live. The show was loud, sweaty and scary fun, like moshing to a midnight viewing of Evil Dead.
Afterward, a fight broke out in the parking lot, with a San Antonio thug actually punching one of our friends -- a woman -- in the face.
"The thing is, when you deal with pure emotion as an art form, you stir these extremes in people," Story relates. "Some people can handle it, some can't. In the same way that we can all read a poem or see a painting or movie and all draw different meanings based on our own personal baggage. The more abstract the art form is, the more the viewer ends up seeing more of himself than the actual art.
"So, any violence caused by individuals at our performances usually has more to do with those individuals not being able to handle the reality of true emotional release," he continues. "Similar to how Bertrand Russell said, 'A stupid man's report of what a clever man says can never be accurate, because he unconsciously translates what he hears into something he can understand.'
"As an artist, my job is to do the best work I can, and my work is to harness real emotion," Story says. "It's not my problem if other people don't know what to do with those emotions."
Furthermore, Story said those isolated instances pale next to "the amount of Cancerslug fans who draw joy and hope from the kindred feeling of belonging to the very small group who understand; and, what they understand is that everyone is full of shit, myself included. Me, you, them, whoever. Human nature itself, our very survival and evolution as a species and as a society actually depended on us being full of shit."
The Slugcult shares a pack mentality at shows, and Story is the undisputed leader. He almost seems wolf-like onstage. Again, it's by design.
"I want it to be an experience, more like looking into a great storm, a force of nature, or stumbling upon an alpha predator in the wild," he says of Cancerslug's live shows. "While there may be an appreciation for the purity and majesty you are seeing, mostly there is awe or fear as you stand helpless in the gaze of death's tyranny and the rush of adrenalin as the survival instinct spikes. That is pure emotion.
"To me, great music can change the entire atmosphere and mood of a room," Story adds. "You take people to extreme highs and fathomless lows. This is our aim. It's one brief moment that you get to take off those masks you wear and shed the skins of those social robots you play to survive this life and return to your natural state, dancing around the fire, summoning the old gods, releasing your inner animal self.
"And, for one night, you will be free."
Cancerslug returns to Houston Sunday at Eastdown Warehouse, 850 McKee. Molotov Compromise and Days N Daze open. Doors open at 8 p.m., all ages, $7.
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