This column is in no way a mea culpa from the Houston Press to Insect Warfare for what happened at the 2007 HPMA Showcase. But the story is so good it still bears repeating.
Insect Warfare plays — or played — grindcore, a subgenre of heavy metal characterized by bellowing vocals, sludgy riffs and industrial-machinery drums played at thrash-like speeds. Even for metal, grindcore is especially polarizing: Either you love it or would rather listen to kittens being murdered. But Insect Warfare played it well, releasing several 7-inches and 2007's pulverizing World Extermination LP, and touring both the U.S. and Far East before breaking up in early 2008.
At the HPMAs, Insect Warfare was scheduled to play at 7 p.m. at Slainte, the upstairs room at Molly's Pub on Main. If any room is ever truly configured for a grindcore band's sonic onslaught, this one sure wasn't. The appointed hour came, and then so did a minute or two of total and complete eardrum and instrument abuse. Then silence.
To this day, conflicting accounts exist that say either the band blew the room's PA system (believable enough), or that someone from the Press or the club pulled the plug (probably even more believable). Either way, Noise, who hadn't even unpacked his U-Haul from Austin yet, thought, "Well...welcome to Houston, motherfucker."
The incident led to the appropriately titled Fuck HPMA EP, which the band released on Grey Ghost Records not long before calling it quits. But like the cockroaches that dominate Daniel Shaw's bone-chilling artwork, Insect Warfare is a little harder to kill than that. UK heavy-music label Earache (Morbid Angel, Napalm Death, Municipal Waste) recently reissued World Extermination and is underwriting the band's two-week UK tour that starts after Tuesday's tuneup show at the Mink.
Noise sat down with Insect Warfare's Beau Beasley — who joined the band shortly after it started but soon became its main songwriter and riff factory; now he drives all the punk-rock leather boys crazy in Homopolice and No Talk — last week at notorious Montrose redoubt Lola's. It was a Tuesday night, when even seasoned winos know all bets are off. Here's what our tape recorder (well, MP3 recorder) says we talked about.
Noise: Now's your chance to set the record straight — what actually happened at the HPMAs?
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Beau Beasley: First they asked us to play, and I was like, "Fuck that. I don't want anything to do with this." But the girl who contacted me was like, "You just have to play 30 minutes." I was like, "Can we do anything?" She was like, "Yeah." We were going on a U.S. tour the next week, so I was like, "We'll make $150 or whatever."
So we did it. We were running the systems pretty hard, but I've done this kind of music for so long I know what to do to not blow out a PA system. I've worked sound for clubs — I would never want to blow somebody's PA system. I'm not that big of a dick.
They pulled the plug on us. We were doing our thing and all the power went out. We were done. All I heard was [IW singer] Rahi yelling in the background. Some girl with a clipboard and the sound guy were pissed. They pulled me outside and were like, "If anything's broken, you're paying for it." I was like, "That's fine." I've broken PA systems before and always paid for it.
Actually, I'm kind of glad it happened that way. If we would have done 30 minutes, it would have been so fucking boring I would have quit. None of my bands have been asked to play [the HPMAs] since then. I don't know if I'm banned or what.
N: What happened after that?
BB: Our singer got alcohol poisoning, if I'm not mistaken. It was him and my good friend Josh, who plays in No Talk and Homopolice. He was our onstage dancer that day, dressed like a '70s punk-rock guy. They both got shitfaced at the upstairs VIP thing. So Josh got thrown out of the club three times and kept sneaking back in.
They kept throwing him out, but Chris Ryan would keep sneaking him back upstairs, going, "No, he's cool, he's cool." Then they'd throw him out for being too drunk. We put him in a car and took him home. I was like, "Fuck this awards shit, it's too fuckin' hot, I'm going to go eat some hot wings."
I get a call later that night — Chris Ryan is saying, "You need to get down here in front of Notsuoh. I think they're going to arrest Rahi, he's passed out in his own vomit." I was like, "I don't want to fuck with that shit, man, I'm eating hot wings." So I called up his girlfriend and was like, "Hey dude, come pick up Rahi — he's fuckin' shitfaced."
And she wasn't happy — she was drunk too. So we went and got him. I get there and he's passed out in his own puke in front of Notsuoh, and the firemen are there with a breathing mask on him.
I'm like, "Hey, I'm his bandmate, I'll take care of him." They're like, "You need to tell your friend to get his shit together." They were trying to get him in an AA program. So we got these big, buff firemen to carry him to our car.
Too much partying for him. But all that aside,that was a great day.
N: How did this UK tour come about?
BB: Earache reissued our record. We got a lot of offers from other labels to do the reissue, and I was like, "I don't want to do it." I was very cocky — I made this statement to a magazine, "The only way I'll do it is if [Earache owner] Digby Pearson himself calls me." Literally, like a week later, I get a phone call from England and it's him. He was like, "I want to do this reissue," and I'm like, "Cool."
He kept trying to get us to do a reunion show and I was like, "Nah, I don't want to fuckin' do it." Finally he was like, "Look, please come over. We'll pay for everything. We'll make it very easy for you guys to do this. I want to see you myself." I broke down and agreed to it.
N: Through which authors, artists, philosophers and musicians did Insect Warfare develop its worldview that humans are basically organic chattel?
BB: The viewpoint of the band was always pretty negative. I look back now and realize I was pretty hateful. I read interviews I did years ago and I'm like, "Man, I was really at a bad point in my life."
It's amazing since [starting] drinking how much my life has got more fun and better. Before, I was sober and angry all the time. Now I'm like, "Who gives a shit?" But there's no real agenda. None of us are that smart to have some kind of philosophy behind what we do. I think it's just like, "These people suck. Trust no one."
N: Like a lot of grindcore acts, Insect Warfare has some very provocative, socially critical lyrics — which are almost entirely impossible to decipher either on record or live. Why write them in the first place?
BB: I'm going to let the cat out of the bag — you're the first one to ever hear this. The vocals were recorded and the lyrics were written in hindsight. When we went to record the LP, I wrote all the songs and remember being with Rahi, kind of coaching him: "All right, do a high scream here, do some low vocals here." There were no lyrics at all. I was like, "Here's the song concepts, here's what I was thinking when I wrote the riffs. Write a song about killing the president." And he would just make shit up.
That's why you can't follow the lyrics now. It doesn't make any sense. That goes back to the whole thing about noisecore. We were all really into noisecore, and there were no lyrics to that kind of stuff. It's just blasts of noise. Unfortunately, you can't just do that all the time, so we made up some lyrics. The lyrics always came after the recordings, and they don't match up at all. But the stuff he wrote was pretty funny. He's a pretty smart dude.
N: What do you think it is that attracts other cultures like the Japanese and Europeans to this kind of music?
BB: I don't know, but I think Australians are a perfect example. Japan and Australia for me are the best grind scenes. Particularly in Australia, and I didn't know why until I got there. It's fucking insane over there. I didn't know why the bands were so brutal, even going back to Rose Tattoo, so violent-sounding. You go over there and [the bands] are out there fighting and stabbing each other with bottles and just being nuts.
N: How much do you think Daniel Shaw's artwork enhances Insect Warfare's image and presentation?
BB: One hundred percent. Man, I would say his art is one of the biggest factors why we got as far as we did. In the grind scene, with a lot of the current-day stuff, the artwork is real Photoshoppy and modern. I was real opposed to that. When I grew up listening to Napalm Death and Terrorizer, it was always black-light artwork, kind of collage-based.
Daniel and I have been friends forever, and we'd always talk about how bands don't do cool artwork anymore. Literally, he and I would brainstorm these album covers — we'd get together and eat pizza and come up with these ideas. Image is the biggest part of the band to me, because that makes people want to buy records.
N: What made you guys call it quits?
BB: I got tired of doing it. It was just too stressful. I think I wrote a total of 75 or 76 songs — I really can't do much more. I don't have any more riffs in me. I'm sure I could, but I don't want to cheat people by re-treading the same ground.
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N: Is this reunion permanent, semipermanent, just for the tour or who knows?
BB: It's just for the tour. Honestly, I have no desire to keep playing this kind of music at this point in my life. I still love grindcore. When I put on From Enslavement to Obliteration by Napalm Death, I still get chills up my spine. It still has that same connection to my life — I just don't want to play it anymore.
Insect Warfare plays with Richard Ramirez, 7 p.m. Monday, September 28, at the Backroom at the Mink, 3718 Main, 713-522-9985 or www.minkonmain.com.