When Strange Matter opens its doors at 929 West Grace Street, the screams of Richmond's musical past will be palpable. One of those voices, Throttlerod lead singer Matt Whitehead, has helped usher in this transition before. “We were actually the last band to play Twisters, us and Suplex,” Whitehead reveals. Perhaps aware that this was a sign of things to come for Richmond venues, Throttlerod finished playing Twisters and then carried their gear up the street to play at Hole in the Wall the same night.
Since then, Throttlerod has released two full-lengths and one EP on Small Stone Records, which signed the group solely on the strength of their cover of “Black Betty” from the Sucking the ƒ?~70s compilation. To mark the release of their third full-length Pig Charmer, Throttlerod is now one of the first bands on the schedule at the former Twisters a.k.a. Strange Matter. Drummer Kevin White reminisces, “I've got a lot of love for that place, just from 20 years of playing there. Hopefully they've fixed some things, though. Back in the day, Twisters' bathroom was rated as the most disgusting in the United States.” Ten years in, Throttlerod has also made some adjustments, incorporating more of the early 90s into their heavy Southern sound.
Style: Tell us about that one song…
Matt Whitehead: “Serenade” was actually one of the last songs we wrote for Pig Charmer. We thought we were finished writing at one point, then we asked ourselves, “Yeah we change a lot with each album. But at this point, is this really Throttlerod?” We actually thought about changing the name of the band for this album. Then, we decided that we all of a sudden felt completely liberated and went home and wrote “Serenade” with a fresh outlook on things. The song fits in with the album. It's the same sort of path, but we added a bit more “we don't care.” We also decided to not change the name of the band because we didn't want to confuse the tens of fans that we have!
Kevin White: We've always had it in the back of our minds that we're pushing the envelope, we're doing what we want to do, we're playing the music we want to play. But, there was always a little line we wouldn't cross. Well, there's no line anymore.
Whitehead: The song is off-time, then it gets really heavy, and then it stops for this sort of soundscape-y, almost shoegaze-y, sort of thing. A lot of our songs are short and we don't meander or jam, but this song was much more of a journey. It has a lot more ups and downs than the others. I feel like you can sense the excitement. The lyrics are an observation on bands or people who do really well, they have all kinds of friends who come see them play or perform or whatever it is they do. Then it's almost funny when those people go out of town (to perform) and they wonder why it's not the same.
White: Like, why aren't there a bunch of people here drinking, patting me on the back, telling me how awesome I am? It's nice to know people come to Throttlerod shows to hear what we're playing, not because it's the cool place to be.
Style: What is one thing you think would help improve the Richmond music scene?
White: I can remember back in the day you would walk down Grace Street and you couldn't get through the throngs of people on a Wednesday night seeing a show. There's not one thing you can do to bring that back, though. It takes a bunch of little things to happen. For example, people have to start taking shows seriously, instead of just a place to socialize. Even if it's not the cool place to be, go see a band because you want to see a band. Clubs also have to do something about getting a decent sound system and being nice to the bands. A lot of bands get treated poorly, it's just the nature of the beast. Richmond could be a little bit better about not trying to run bands out of the areas where there are people who want to see shows, especially the VCU campus. They're trying to make it cleaner and nicer, but college kids have nothing to do. If you can go see a five dollar show two blocks from the dorm, not only is it a safer environment, but you're with a group of people, you're having a good time, and the bands have something to do, too. It makes the scene work. Unfortunately, people would rather watch the show on Youtube.
Whitehead: Also, for some reason venue owners look at a band of 30-year-old men and think they want to play at 1am on a weeknight. We're not naA_ve, we understand that bars want people to stay there drinking, since they usually don't make money on the bands. It's more of a wish-list.
Style: Throttlerod bass player Andrew Schneider lives in Brooklyn. How did you meet and how does that affect your songwriting process?
Whitehead: He's produced a couple of our records leading up to this newest one. He was in some underground bands in the ƒ?~90s and I was a big fan of his playing and singing. Not to mention his production. So we approached him about playing with us, writing some material. We vibe pretty well together and it kind of fell into place.
We started writing and recording two years ago. I think it was about four or five recording sessions over that time span. Andrew being in his field, he's either on, working thirty days straight, or he's off for two months. So we worked around his schedule, little by little. I wouldn't necessarily want to do another album long distance, but it was awesome. It was really great for this particular record, because you can hear a change in the songs. We had different influences come into play for each session. Two years is a long time to be a sponge and be inspired by different things, whether it's music, or art, or people, or whatever. We also did a lot of email stuff and going up there for a few days at a time. It was like “Be creative. Go!”
White: We did write a song in 15 minutes! And for each song on Pig Charmer, I can pinpoint what we were listening to at the time we wrote it. A lot of reviewers have picked out things that were influencing us, bands like Barkmarket.
Whitehead: We had our moments under the gun. It kind of added to the honesty and creativity of this record, because we had such short periods of time to work together.
White: I will say that if Matt and I hadn't been playing together as long as we have, I don't think we could have pulled off doing what we did. Our end was covered and we just had to work in (Andrew's bass parts) when we got together.
Whitehead: Andrew has such a unique style of playing, he adds another dynamic to Throttlerod. We're very riff-based, but he locks into the drums and rarely plays what I'm playing. He would go all around and over me. It helps, because we like to feed off of each other and influence each other. We try to one-up ourselves. As of late, it seems we've tried to push the definition of music — sometimes for better, sometimes for worse.
White: We have a sick sense of pleasure picturing in our heads people bobbing their heads and then not knowing when to bob their heads. Like “this is reeeeally going to fuck them up.”
Style: What is your most outrageous moment as a band?
Whitehead: We were just talking about this last weekend. On one tour we had a show in Nashville, Tennessee. We showed up and the guy (who set up the show) met us out front. He was like “I'm so sorry, I totally forgot about your show until today. I didn't promote it, it's not in the paper, there's not a single flyer anywhere, I'm really, really sorry.” We were pissed off. But, he said he would make it up to us by taking us to the best strip club we've ever been. It was bring your own booze, so he bought us a big bottle of whiskey. Our old bass player and I drank the entire bottle of whiskey while sitting in the strip club.
We ended up meeting this random band. We're all fairly quiet guys, but I guess we were loaded and we walked up to this table and start hanging out with these dudes. They had seen on our website that we were playing and were bummed out that they didn't get to see us, but stoked at the same time that we were all hanging out. So we started drinking with them and they invited us back to their practice space. We go back to their practice space and play for the four of them.
White: On their pawn-shop bought gear. One of the dudes threw up twice in the practice space, while banging his head.
Whitehead: About midway through, we kind of sober up and are like “What in the hell are we doing and where are we? This is not very professional.” Our old bass player's dad lived a few hours away, so when the sun came up we drove to his house. We get there at 7am and walk in reeking of alcohol, but sober by that point. His dad and step-mom had breakfast laying out for us. We didn't even talk to them. We ate breakfast and went straight to bed. We woke up at two in the afternoon. We felt crappy later because we had never met these people in our lives.
White: I think a week or so after we were there it was in the news that the strip club we went to was the same place where Kid Rock got in a fight.
Whitehead: We also played a show in Wilmington, North Carolina where Steve Buscemi and Vince Vaughn showed up. They were shooting a movie there and they came in to our show and hung out and were really cool. But, you can go on the mug shot website and see their mug shots from that night. They got in a fight with somebody next door to the show and went to jail.
Style: What is your first musical memory?
White: My dad's a singer. He hasn't been in awhile, but he used to be in a band in the ‘50s and ƒ?~60s. I’ve got the coolest picture on the face of the earth of my dad playing on Brazilian TV in 1964 in Raybans, a t-shirt, and jeans, doing the whole rock star thing. The band was called the De-ragged Edge — pretty witty for 1964. They were a greaser rock ƒ?~n roll band like the whole Sha-na-na -style stuff, with rolled up sleeves and smokes. He was also in a band called The Wanderers for awhile. I remember them covering “Runaround Sue” in the basement. During band practice I used to go around fool around on the drum kit.
Style: If your music could conjure a classic cartoon character, which one would it be?
White: El Kabong. He's a cowboy horse normally - Quick Draw McGraw - but when he fights crime he turns into the masked vigilante El Kabong. He wears this big mariachi outfit and he beats criminals with his guitar and screams “Kabong!” I picture us as that, because even if people don't like what we're doing, we're going to keep beating them over the head with it until they do.
Style: What is your proudest musical accomplishment?
Whitehead: We did open for Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Allman Brothers. We played the warm-up stage. We were scared, though. We thought the crowd would eat us alive, but they loved it. The best part is, the whole time we were saying “That's not really Skynyrd, we're not gonna get into this. This is bullshit.”
White: Yeah, we play and go over and they start playing “Tuesday's Gone” and I look over at Matt and we're both like “‘sniff’ I got something in my eye.” Lighters start going up and we were both singing along.
For me personally, I was giving drum lessons for awhile and I had a student that was nine years old when I took him on. His name was Creek. I taught him how to play some standard rock songs and do some cool stuff. Years later, I'm in Twisters and I hear the drummer playing and he sounds just like me - my style. He's seventeen years old and he was absolutely awesome. He came down running off the stage yelling “Mr. White! Mr White!” and I was like, “You don't have to call me that anymore, we're now in the same boat.”
Throttlerod will play a CD release show with Freedom Hawk and others on October 17th at Strange Matter. 929 W. Grace St. The show start at 10pm and cover is $5.