Who better to discuss the nuances of songwriting and the decline of the traditional music industry than a man who wears a crown of duct-taped spikes on his head?
That man is Rob Kersey, affectionately known as "Rawrb" to legions of fans that follow his band, Psychostick. The group returns to Houston this Saturday at Scout Bar with tourmates American Head Charge.
"The shows are always good in Houston," he says. "We love the city, love the culture. We're big food guys so we always hit up some of the Tex-Mex places. Houston's been really good to us and we're looking forward to coming back."
The Tempe-based Psychostick defies categorization. On one hand, it's a metal act. But instead of songs about angels of destruction or ominous demigods, Psychostick takes on closer-to-home issues like whether you want a taco. Or how to handle a "political bum" (a former hippie with "opinions and a bottle of rum," in case you were wondering).
Some call it comedy-metal, but Kersey and Psychostick guitarist and co-founder Josh Key prefer the term they dreamed up, "humorcore."
"Yeah, we did coin that term," Kersey says. "It really was a play on all the different genre 'cores' that were coming out in the mid-2000s. We decided to make our own, just to add more confusion."
That's right when the band was catching some steam, on the strength of "BEER!!!" a cut from 2003 album We Couldn't Think of a Title. The song's video went viral and today has nearly 5 million YouTube hits, which helped the album chart on Billboard.
It wasn't overnight success. The core of Psychostick, Kersey and Key had been at it for several years, since their high-school days. When the video took off, they had some serious decisions to make and chose an unconventional path that wound up working well for them.
"When the beer song started to take off, we had opportunities to sign with a couple of majors," Kersey recalls. "We decided not to do that, simply because we felt that would be too quick of a jump. We kind of wanted to work our way up.
"When that was happening, that's when the industry started to completely tank from beneath because it didn't adapt to the digital age," he says.
The DIY approach they took then is now familiar to many bands. Psychostick writes its songs, creates its own Web content, produces its own videos and original art and runs the everyday business of being a working band.
"If you write a good, genuine song and you have a good, well-produced video and you did it yourself and you put it out there and you're proud of it, there's a much better chance that you'll get recognized than ever before," Kersey says. "That puts a lot of power into the hands of the artists and not the bigwig suits at those giant record labels. That's the way I think it should be."
The interview continues on the next page.
Psychostick's current tour started last week and runs through the first week of September, also stopping in Dallas, Austin and San Antonio. Texas holds a special place in the band's heart, since Kersey and Key lived in Odessa and went to high school together. They met sophomore year, over a fehler.
"We had a German class together, right before marching band," says Kersey. "He sat in front of me and I mispronounced a word and he turned around and laughed."
From there, they bonded over video games, the marching-band thing (Josh played trumpet, Rob trombone) and a mutual respect for all things metal.
"We went to see Pantera, Machine Head and Sevendust in concert," Kersey recalls. "We didn't know that you could do that with a band, so we got all inspired and excited."
Josh picked up the guitar quickly and they put together a solid band. Ask their fans and they'll tell you the appeal of Psychostick is two-fold -- they're not just comics. They can melt faces with the best of 'em.
Kersey said the band plans to return to the studio this fall to begin recording new material. How will they top a song like "We Ran Out of CD Space," the 24th and final track on 2009's Sandwich? It's going to be tough considering insane lyrics like, "What if your hands were made of Hot Pockets? You would be the first one to be eaten in survival situations."
"It really just starts with concepts," says Kersey. "We're just out and about doing our thing, we see something and laugh at it and it becomes a song." "It's really intuitive, it's hard to reduce it down to a formula. We just let it naturally write itself, I guess."
Kersey said all this translates well in concert. He said the band learned early on the happier they were with their own career choices, audiences fed off those good feelings and had a great time, too. He said mosh pits at their shows alternate between moshing, headbanging and laughing.
Which is perfect, because Psychostick takes its humorcore quite seriously.
"If what you do is genuine and people can tell that you're genuinely into what you do, it'll show," Kersey said. "If you're going to do something, do what you love. That's what we do."
Psychostick plays with American Head Charge, Willpowerless, Erase the Virus and Bleed the Machine Saturday at Scout Bar, 18307 Egret Bay Blvd. Doors open at 7 p.m.
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