Previous Gridlink Interviews
If you have followed Grindcore in the last fifteen years, you're probably already familiar with the work of Jon Chang. The New Jersey native fronted the sorely-missed Discordance Axis, which also included blast beat god Dave Witte (Municipal Waste among others) on drums. Chang's high-pitched screams and blood-curling growls spawned a scene of copy-cats. If it weren't for Discordance Axis, its doubtful bands like Pig Destroyer would sound the way they do. The New Jersey based front man is currently fronting GridLink, a band that will surely appeal to old-school Grind and Power Violence fans and to more, forward-thinking Metal listeners. The Gauntlet recently caught up with the busy singer to talk about the new band, his history in Grindcore, and why Anal Cunt's Seth Putnam wrote a song about him.
Carlos: So a lot of The Gauntlet's readers will know you from your days in Discordance Axis. How do you feel about that time period in your life?
Chang: Discordance Axis was a major project for me. I mean almost 1/3 of my life was spent in it and working on it. Many of the years prior were spent dreaming about it haha. Well that's only partially true. I really was into music from a very young age and I had wanted to create in that space since I first heard Kiss in like 1976. I think everyone wants to be in a band or play music at some point though. Music is a big part of people's lives every day and it has very different meanings to different people. When I think about being in Discordance Axis, there are many good memories as well as many bad ones. It was a turbulent experience honestly. We had fun but we drove each other to insanity more often than not. In retrospect, I've spoken with Da5e and Rob and we think that's why the music sounded the way it did haha.
Carlos: Did you accomplish all you wanted to achieve with the band? It seems like the current musical climate would have been much more accommodating to a band like Discordance Axis than it probably was in the 90s.
Chang: Well, at the risk of beating a dead horse with a broken wheel, DA was not exactly what I would call popular when we were actually making records. We did shows and literally 5 people would show up to see us. In fact, most of the reviews we got were awful. A few people dug what we were doing but the majority of our fan base was in Japan. I am actually quite surprised that the band has developed the "cult following" it has managed to accrue over the years. Then again, when GridLink played last year almost 30 people showed up. LOL.
In terms of tangible objectives...long term my only objective was to have as few slow parts as possible. It continues to be my objective today. From a creator's stand point the music took on different meanings for me at different times of my life. 10 years is a long time. We all went through a lot of stuff as individuals and a group. I've said that there is plenty of things that 35 year old me would like to kick 21 year old me in the balls for, but distance and time give you the luxury of perspective that you don't have when you are 100% sure of everything you believe.
Carlos: After The Inalienable Dreamless album, it seemed like you stepped away from playing in a band or at least in the recording sense. GridLink made its debut on the Our Last Day album which was mostly other bands covering Discordance Axis songs. Were you working on the GridLink material the entire time?
Chang: After TiD, Rob developed his illness and I was pretty much sure I wouldn't be able to find someone who I wanted to work with on guitar again. Rob, despite any creative differences we had, remains one of the most gifted and challenging individuals I have ever met. He creates on a level that most people will never appreciate because of the genre he works in. I was good friends with Steve Procopio, as was Da5e, and we had played together with DA live several times so we knew there was good chemistry among the group. We attempted to create music under the "War Chalking" name, but despite some initial progress we never really got off the ground. Some of it was scheduling, some of it was proximity to one another and some of it was simply figuring out what we were going to do.
At the time I was also trading emails with Takafui Matsubara about his band Mortalized, who had blown me off my feet when we played with them in 2001, and we were becoming good friends. Matsubara was looking to branch off from Mortalized and do something "speed satan" but not Mortalized. We both loved thrash and speed metal, especially some of the Japanese bands who were ultra fast and ultra technical, so we started Hayaino Daisuki to put our spin on the genre. We recorded a record, which we promptly through out because it wasn't fast enough and started searching for new members. After about a year of searching for HD members we started work on a grind project that would become GridLink. This was in 2003 I think?
The song on Our Last Day was one of the test tracks we recorded to see if we could actually do the band with members spread out across the world. We spent the next few years doing multiple recordings of the GridLink LP with multiple drummers until we finally made a record we were happy with in 2007.
Carlos: You've always had Japanese overtones in all of your artistic endeavors. With Hayaino Daisuki (Chang's other current project) and GridLink, you have come full circle and actually play with Japanese musicians. Where did your fascination with the culture come from?
Chang: Anime. I grew up on Starblazers, Captain Harlock, G-Force, Gundam and Macross. As I got more and more into those series I started to discover where they were made and began to watch the originals in Japanese, etc. Basically I loved the stories and artwork and it became one of the cornerstones of my life.
Carlos: With the obvious geographical issues (drummer Bryan Fajardo lives in Texas and guitarist Takafumi Matsubara resides in Japan), was it a daunting task to get the GridLink album together?
Chang: Yes, but not as bad as I initially thought it would be. I think because everyone has been doing this for more than a decade, we can get the pieces and put them together sketches on our own so that when we finally practiced in the same room, there were only minor changes to make. Fun fact, we had only played together a total of 4 hours before we recorded Amber Gray and every track is recorded live to analog tape.
Carlos: Did you have any say in the arrangements and/or the riffing or did you just write your parts over what Matsubara had already tracked on ProTools?
Chang: Matsubara writes everything but he is open to suggestion. We've definitely played with arrangements over the Internet as well as in person. The "Tiamat" arrangement changed entirely the day Matsubara arrived and it turned out to be one of our favorite songs on the record. I should also mention there is no digital recording in GridLink. It is intentionally recorded analog and live with all players so it captures and retains the aggression of the moment.
Carlos: You've always had an interesting sense of wordplay; especially in your song titles. For instance, on this new album, you have a track called "Stake Knife." Can you talk a little bit about your lyric constructing? Where do you draw your influence from? There is a very cold, almost clinical way about them.
Chang: "Stake Knife" was actually drawn from the codename of an SAS operative who infiltrated the IRA, which is why it is spelled the way it is. Influence comes from many quarters. What I read, what I live, what I watch and where I go. My sketch books are filled with hundreds of "cool words" or sentences jotted down from any number of sources. From there it is a scrum to see what rises to the top or fits the moment of a song. One of the reasons I am not so crazy about some of my older material is I feel like too much of it comes from what I was reading and not enough from the heart. I used to be very distant from what I was writing about and now I worm through a lot of areas both private and public. I was still trying to find my "voice" if you will.
Carlos: There are some banshee-like wails on this record! How the hell do you keep from losing your voice after all these years?!
Chang: By not burning my voice out touring. LOL! It sounds strange, but essentially I am using "proper singing techniques" that I stumbled upon by accident when DA was in its early years and my voice has almost no strain on it from doing those vocals. On the last Japanese tour, I had lost my voice to the flu on day 3 of the tour, but every night I was able to get up and do the set no problem. Weird eh?
Carlos: I think some people have the impression that say, if someone plays in a Death Metal band, they probably listen to that every waking hour of the day. That said do you keep up with the current Grind scene?
Chang: I love grind. That said I have almost snobbish standards for what I like. I haven't heard anything that blew my socks off since I heard Mortalized. On a daily basis I listen to any number of gaming sound tracks, thrash records, movie soundtracks, etc. Right now I'm listening to Motörhead like crazy.
Carlos: Can you see yourself musically exploring something completely away from what you're known for? It seems like a lot of your counterparts have gone on to work within the sparse, ambient side of things.
Chang: Ambient stuff can be great but I'm not sure I have anything to add to the genre. Doing Hayaino Daisuki was a pretty big stretch for me. I always loved thrash but I never imagined I would be able to create in the genre. I am also involved in so many other projects outside of music, creating video games and writing for film/TV, that I barely have time for anything anymore.
Carlos: I'm not sure if you've ever gone on record about this, but Seth Putnam wrote an Anal Cunt song about you ("Stealing Seth's Ideas: the New Book by Jon Chang") years back. Why did he have a beef with you? It's like Grindcore's version of Tupac Vs Biggie!
Chang: I will never understand how this got blown so out of proportion.
In brief, Seth asked to play drums in Discordance Axis before we did the first Japan tour in 1995. Dave had said he didn't want to go to Japan so we let Seth come aboard. I had been good friends with Seth for a few years and it seemed like a good match. When I sent him the first recordings of Ulterior so he could learn the songs I changed all the song titles, AC style, to be totally silly. One of the tracks was "Stealing Seth's Ideas". This is actually where the title came from.
5 days before we were scheduled to leave Seth asked to quit DA because he was unable to play any of the songs. We brought Rob Proctor in at the last moment and the tour managed to go off. After that, Seth and I had a short period of estrangement where we didn't talk at all. Understandably, I was pissed off at him. We became friendly again in mid 95, while AC was recording Top 40 Hits. There was a show at CBGBs where AC played and he asked me if he could use the song title and would I be pissed. I told him I could care less and it was no big deal. We remained friendly though not close for the next few years. I even went up to the AC 10th anniversary show in Boston where he dedicated the AC set to me. Next time I saw Seth was at their next NYC reunion show, well reunion sans Tim Morse. We were friendly at the show, but later I found out he was trash talking me all over the place. I contacted him to find out what was up but he never contacted me back.
Do I really care? No. I haven't lost any sleep over it. Seth has his issues and demons to deal with that I'm not going to air.