INTERVIEW: Arrested Development (USA), October 2012

I’ve always found Speech to be a really interesting character. He’s smart, savvy and socially-conscious. Even as an elder figurehead of hip-hop, he’s still out there creating, producing and touring quite a bit. Even knowing all of this, I really couldn’t have anticipated what a fantastic interviewee he would be – I honestly got a lot out of this, and it helped me to have a greater appreciation of the group as a whole and what they’ve done for their side of hip-hop. I’d love to chat to Speech again someday, but for now here’s what happened when we spoke about legacy, downloading and a life on the road.

– DJY, December 2014


With the fickle nature of the music business constantly shifting and distorting itself, it’s often quite surprising to see a band maintain any interest beyond a noted debut. Some never live up to it, let alone celebrate its 20th anniversary with world touring – and, yet, this is where we find Arrested Development. Long before the name was associated with Jason Bateman and his ensemble cast of maniacs, the politically-active hip-hop collective had humble beginnings in Atlanta in the late eighties, slowly building a reputation to the point of impatience. A lot of heart and soul went into their debut album, fittingly (and specifically) titled Three Years, Five Months and Two Days in the Life Of… which spawned hit singles that have fuelled the group to this very day.

“They are what they are, y’know?” muses Todd “Speech” Thomas, the band’s frontman, spokesperson and founding member, when asked about his relationship with the band’s best-known material. “The way that I see it, our hits are our pillar. At the same time, this happens to us a lot: when we get to certain crowds, they’re calling out hits right at the top of the show. I don’t like that crowd. We’re doing an hour-and-a-half show. If you just want to hear the hits, turn on the freakin’ radio! We’re proud of those songs, but just give us a chance to show you who we are. We’re not a cover band. As much as we like playing our hits and giving the audience what they need, we want people to get some of the energy of what we’re doing lately. We’ve got a lot of eras, and we like to take our crowds on a ride as opposed to just giving them a specific moment that they’re after.”

Speech notes that many audiences are casual fans, surprised to see that the band have achieved a substantial amount in the two decades following Three Years. Despite a hiatus which saw inactivity between 1996 and 2000, Arrested Development are still a working, touring machine with plenty of new material to substantiate the aforementioned ninety-minute set. Their latest effort was their seventh album, Standing at the Crossroads. Dropping back in August on Speech’s own label, Vagabond Productions, the album was unlike anything the band had attempted before – recorded entirely on a Mac laptop, the album was released completely for free. In justification of this, Speech spoke somewhat conflictingly but fluently.

“We’re doing it for the fans,” he says. “They’ve been responding well to it, and we just hope that everybody who knows the band can get their hands on it because we want people to listen to it and enjoy it. Think of it as a gift.” In spite of this perceptively liberating move on behalf of Arrested Development, Speech isn’t as on board with the digital revolution as you may think. “I feel like music has been cheapened somewhat over the years,” he comments. “The industry is in a weird space, and I don’t think anyone understands it thoroughly right now. With that being said, I don’t feel as though music is being respected by most people the way that it used to be. I used to go to the record store, and I was excited to smell the vinyl, buy something, pull out the record, look at the artwork, read the liner notes, see which guy played bass. Today, I feel like people are more in the mode of saying that they really like Track Six, or Track Ten. They don’t even know the titles of the songs!”

Herein lies the paradox that leaves Arrested Development in such a curious position: If music is being “cheapened,” so to speak, is releasing a digital album for free only adding to the madness of it all? “What’s great about this album,” Speech responds, “is that we do have liner notes and artwork, so people can really get into why we wrote and made this album. That’s something that we grew up with, and something that we really believe in.” So it goes that the band enter into the future of the music revolution on their terms – although, it would be difficult to point out an instance in the band’s entire career where it wasn’t directed on their own terms.

It would be amiss to discuss the twentieth anniversary of Three Years without discussing the band’s relationship with Australia in that time. Although a decade separated their first and second Australian tours, Speech feels that the sunburnt country is one that truly understands where Arrested Development is coming from. “I feel like Australia has always been a place that get the group,” he says. “You guys, to me, have a laid-back attitude and an open mind. From a hip-hop perspective, Australia has never, from what I can tell, really bought into the materialistic, “let’s go to the strip club and be a pimp tonight” type of music style. I feel like everybody that I’ve met in Australia has a true appreciation for the deeper elements of hip-hop. Australia gets Arrested Development.”

INTERVIEW: Gallows (UK/CAN), September 2012

Everyone was pretty pissed that Frank was leaving Gallows, but as someone who was just as potty for Alexisonfire as I was for Gallows I just knew that Wade would absolutely crush as the band’s new frontman. I think Wade appreciated that when we had a chat just as the self-titled album dropped. He probably had a lot of interviewers being all “So, you’re not Frank. Let’s talk about that.” So I like to think this one went pretty well. Still a fucking great band after all this time.

– DJY, December 2014


There’s a classic line from The Sound of Music where Maria says that “when the Lord closes a door, somewhere he opens a window.” It’s a bit of cheesy blind faith, sure, but sometimes it can’t help but veer dangerously close to reality. Exhibit A: The closed doors. In 2011, Canadian post-hardcore band Alexisonfire announced their demises after ten years and four albums, and Gallows’ outspoken and ruthlessly aggressive frontman Frank Carter announced his departure from the band, leaving the future of the British hardcore punks in grave uncertainty. Exhibit B: The opened window. Shortly after both of these announcements, it was announced that Gallows had found a new lead singer: Former guitarist and vocalist of Alexisonfire, Wade MacNeil. A strange enough cross-over, but certainly not one that was written in the stars – at least, not from Wade’s perspective.

“I’ve always had a weird relationship with the band,” he says on the line from Toronto. “I remember the first time I met the bass player, Stu [Gili-Ross], at a bar in England, we almost had a fight!” He laughs at this memory, noting that Gili-Ross has gone on to become one of his closest friends. He continues to speak of Alexis and Gallows touring together around two years ago, where the earliest seeds of Gallows 2.0 were planted: “I remember the last time I did Soundwave,” he says, ‘I was walking through Melbourne with Frank [Carter], and he was telling me how he wanted to quit the band. His heart just wasn’t in it. There was absolutely no fucking way at the time I would have ever thought I was going to take that guy’s job!”

And yet, here we are, in 2012, with Wade doing exactly that; joining Gili-Ross, guitarist Lags Barnard, drummer Lee Barratt and Frank’s brother, guitarist Steph. The new line-up immediately set to work, quickly silencing their critics with a blistering EP, Death is Birth, and some of the band’s most chaotic live shows to date. “Everyone’s happy with the way things have panned out,” enthuses MacNeil. “I’m definitely happy that this band is still around, because they’re definitely not done writing songs.” As for the criticism that he has drawn, the 28-year-old couldn’t care less. “Gallows is the sum of its parts,” he affirms, “and we don’t care about any of the bitching that goes on. That’s always going to happen. I mean, you’re from Australia – I’m sure AC/DC still get it all the time, thirty years on or something like that!”

Of course, being with Gallows for just over a year has come with its various rough patches and tribulations. Not that it’s let Wade lose sight of what he wants out of his new career path – in fact, it’s invigorated him further. ““At the beginning stages, it was such a whirlwind, y’know?” he says as he recalls the first few months of frontman duties. “I think that’s why it’s worked, in a lot of ways. We had the studio time booked and then the tour a few weeks later – and I was pulling my hair out!” Because of this, MacNeil sees the band’s first recorded effort with their new line-up very much a result of trial and error, as well as being a product of its environment. “I very much look at the Death is Birth EP as a demo, just a scratch of what we were trying to do at the start,” he says.

By means of contrast, the band’s debut self-titled effort, released this month, has seen the new Gallows come into their own; creating an album that’s forthright, unapologetic and plate-shiftingly heavy. “I think with the new record, it’s a little more calculated,” says Wade. “At the same time, though, we didn’t over think things. If something wasn’t working, we’d just fuck it off straight away. It’s the record I’ve always wanted to make. It’s the record the boys have always wanted to make. That’s why it’s self-titled. It’s the best representation of what this band was always supposed to have been. I know that’s a bold statement, but… fuck off!”

He laughs at his last little outburst at his critics, but one can’t help but feel it comes from a place of great vitriol and frustration. Like it or not, Gallows are here to stay.

INTERVIEW: Sammy J (AUS), April 2012

It’s rare that I get to do non-music interviews – well, Sammy’s definitely a musician, but in the realm of comedy. You get what I mean. Anyway!  He’s a fantastic guy and a great interviewee. This is a Q&A format; which isn’t preferable but I guess it suited the chat a bit more. Sorry about that. Blame my past self!

– DJY, October 2014


The skinny man. The piano dude. That guy with the juice box. That weirdo with the puppet. He’s known to Australian audiences under a myriad of guises, but all of these attributes combined don’t even come close to covering Sammy J. He’s one of the hardest-working entertainers and one of the most unique minds working within Australia’s comedy circuit – and, in direct collaboration with puppeteer Heath McIvor, he’s created an ingenious odd couple in the form of Sammy J and Randy. The two are currently performing their third show under the moniker, The Inheritance; and we spoke to Sammy J himself about the new show, working with a puppet and the most unlikely place for a comedian to succeed in this country.

Hey Sammy, how have the shows been going so far at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival?

Sammy J: They’ve all been pretty fun! There’s been no stinkers. Y’know, normally in the festival, you have a show or two that make you question your entire career choice. Maybe that will be tonight, now I’ve said that…

How long have you been performing The Inheritance now?

We opened it at the Adelaide Fringe in February, so we’ve probably got about 40 shows under our belts so far. In Melbourne, we’ve been doing it for the past 2-and-a-half weeks, with one-and-a-half to go. It’s been great. Our festival year starts in Adelaide, then goes Melbourne, Sydney, Perth and then over to Edinburgh in August. It’s quite a long stretch, so it means that we get constant incentive to make the show better. You don’t just sit back and relax – you’ve got new cities to win over!

With that said, how much has the show changed since it debuted in Adelaide?

A fair amount. My mum saw the show last night, and she saw the trial show back in January when we put it on for our friends and family. It was just a balls-up, that night. Everything was breaking, sets were falling over… so she confessed after the show last night that she’d been quite nervous when she sat down at the Forum with all these people there for a show that might not be all that good. [Laughs] We picked it up, did a lot of changes. The drive home from Adelaide to Melbourne each year is a very productive time for Randy and I – we do a lot of rewriting, we go through jokes that we don’t like and we cut some scenes out. It’s humming along now. The engine has been tuned, and we’ve put a few new seat covers on and stuff; to continue that metaphor.

Stephen Colbert is a comedian that’s best known for portraying the character of Stephen Colbert in his shows. It’s somewhat similar to what you do – you’re Sammy J, but you’re also playing a character in these festival shows called Sammy J. How different is the person on stage to the person you might meet in the street?

You’re right – I call myself Sammy J because it’s a nickname, rather than a character name. It’s what my friends call me and stuff. I think it’s just an exaggerated version of me – and I mean extremely exaggerated. Sammy J on stage will happily kill a dude or fuck a puppet and won’t really think too much about it. I mean, I still kill dudes and fuck puppets, but I do feel bad about it in real life. And I’m far more discreet.

We can only imagine that Heath isn’t as foul-mouthed when he doesn’t have a puppet on the end of his hand…

We’re both fairly tame. As much as we swear on-stage, every single “fuck” and “cunt” in our show has been put through a meticulous quality control process, and it’s there purely to serve the joke.

This is your fourth show with Heath, and the third show as Sammy J and Randy. Now that you’ve done this many shows writing with Heath in mind, do you think you’re more confident about writing with both of these characters as opposed to just putting a bunch of songs together and saying “that’ll do”?

Definitely. We’ve definitely learned a lot more about the characters, and how they interact with one another and the world around them. Having said that, we take longer and longer writing our shows now – we feel like we have more options and slightly more pressure to not fuck up. When we wrote The Forest of Dreams, we literally just sat around and made each other laugh for two weeks. We didn’t think that many people would see the show – and then, suddenly, we’re off to London and Edinburgh and doing the show all around the place. We knew we had to step it up from then on in. But, yeah, as far as writing goes, it’s still us trying to make something that we find funny – but it’s also balance that with not wanting to bore a crowd, as well. I’m very happy for people to hate my guts, but I’d hate to think that we’re doing something boring.

Is it very much a collaborative process, or do you still view these shows as your own?

It’s easily collaborative. We write everything together. When we’re writing songs, I’ll sit down at the piano and Heath will be there with me. Because we’ve still got our solo stuff on the side, we’ve got that outlet as well for whenever we want to be complete control freaks. When it’s together, though, we’ve both still got the same goals in mind. We battle it out, and it’s very rewarding.

With The Inheritance, it would have been clear from the start that you needed to make something better than Bin Night, but also something that was fresh and unique. What inspired the writing of The Inheritance?

With Bin Night, our challenge was to write something that was set over one evening. It was us, standing in the front yard of our house – and that was it. It was our bottle episode, if you will; a complete mind-fuck of a show with a lot of dialogue. Having achieved that, our direction turned to the complete opposite so that we could make something as epic as we could. In this show, Randy’s uncle dies in England – it happens in the first few minutes of the show. We go over to England to claim the inheritance, so it’s kind of the opposite of Bin Night. It takes place over a couple of continents and a couple of months. There’s some pretty big things at stake here, too – ghosts and family history and stuff. We pretty much did a 180 – we wrote a film script, to be honest – and thought we’d see where it would go from there.

Obviously, there is a bunch of new songs in The Inheritance written by you and Heath. When it comes to performing away from the festival, do you look at the list of songs you’ve just written and say to yourself “Fuck, I can’t use any of these songs out of context!”?

[Laughs] That is actually a legitimate concern. When you’re writing a show like ours, you don’t want the songs to stand out like dog’s balls. You want to have them within context and driving the show forward. The problem is, as you say, that you just can’t pull them out whenever you feel like it. It also means that when the people come along to the shows, they haven’t seen the songs on TV or whatever – so hopefully that means that there’s something fresher about them.

It’s worth mentioning that you and Heath recently re-wrote the opening song from Bin Night for your opening number hosting the Melbourne International Comedy Festival Gala. How did that come about?

Yes, indeed! I’m glad you actually picked that up. That was sort of our idea, because even though we had great numbers for Bin Night, it was still only a couple of thousand versus a couple of million watching on TV. When they asked us to host, we had to work out just how we were going to do it. People watching at home probably didn’t know us that well, if at all. We thought that one good way of doing that would be to latch ourselves onto a well-known comedian. So we asked Adam Hills, and he agreed to be involved. We then concocted this idea of how he was the “true” Gala host, and we would kidnap him in order to take his place. It was pretty cool, getting to whack Adam Hills with a brick. [Laughs] He literally flew in for 37 minutes to give us his time because he was shooting his ABC show. It was very helpful. He’s a gem.

What does the rest of the year have in store for Sammy J and Randy? Do you plan to write a sequel to the show? Maybe work with some new characters, or continue under the same moniker?

The Inheritance actually brings in a significant new character, which I won’t give away but you’ll see at the show. After Edinburgh, we’re planning on focusing more on our TV plans. Randy and I would like to do our own sitcom-type show. It’s a pipe dream at the moment, but we figure at some point you’ve got to make things happen. So we’re taking a few months off to just write that and then start hawking it around to networks and so on.

Would it be similar to your skits on Good News World?

I think it will have a similar sense of humour, but at the same time we’d like it to fit into more in a real world sort of setting. Less studio-based and more of us living in an actual shithouse.

It was also mentioned on The Little Dum Dum Club earlier in the year that you will have another project out soon in the form of a human life?

There is a human life I’ve been working on now, it’s making its debut in 2 months’ time. It’s not like a show – there’s nothing I can do now to make it any better. I did my job seven months ago, and now it’s like waiting for a film to be released. I think I did a fine job at the time, but I guess we’ll find out, y’know? The child in question will be accompanying me to Edinburgh in August, so it’s going to be a well-travelled baby!

Imagine being a jetsetter before you’re even turning one!

[Laughs] I don’t know how else to make money, so I thought that we should just do it. The poor bastard is being born in to a comedian family.

Do you think Randy would be a good godparent?

Look, I couldn’t think of anyone less equipped in the universe to guide a child through moral quandry than Randy. I’ll be keeping a couple of kilometres’ distance between them.

Just before we go, would you do us the honour of pissing off every other city in Australia and putting your money on the best place to perform comedy?

I would have to answer this question simply by pointing out that one can only decide on their favourite comedy city based on their own experience. Now, Melbourne is my hometown and I love it dearly. I’ve done 90% of my gigs here. Of course, that also means that I’ve had my bad gigs in Melbourne, as well. Sydney and Adelaide, both equal highs and lows. One city that I’ve always had good shows in, though, is the lovely roundabout-ed city of Canberra. I’ve only performed there four or five times, but each time has just been wonderful. So, simply from a percentage point of view, I would have to say that Canberra is my favourite city to perform in. I’m going there in a few weeks to launch my solo album, so we’ll see if it retains the crown.

What can you tell us about the album?

It’s a collection of songs that I’ve been performing solo for the past few years. It’ll be a bit of fun, it’s coming out on iTunes and that sort of thing. It’s called Skinny Man, Modern World.

Genius. We’ve got a new Dark Side of the Moon on our hands.

Indeed. That was my very humble ambition.

INTERVIEW: Cannibal Corpse (USA), April 2012

I love the contradictions, paradoxes and contrasts that are omnipresent in the world of music. Here’s one: one of the nicest bands you’ll ever interview is Cannibal Corpse. Yeah, the “Hammer Smashed Face” band. Those guys. Yeah, they’re the most chill fucking dudes out. No kidding! I get into that a bit with the opening paragraph, but you’ll totally see what I mean. I really like this feature; I think there’s some good insight into the band and the semantics behind what it means to be a horror-oriented death metal band. 2012, for me, was a time where I was starting to really come into my own as a writer – looking back on it, anyway. See what you think.

– DJY, October 2014


Degrees of contrast often come in rapid succession between what an artist portrays through their work and what they are actually like in real life. That folk singer calling to an end to the war? He probably only heard about it yesterday and couldn’t care less. That rapper claiming that your arse will have caps busted into it? Never used a gun in their life. Conversely, that guy in the death metal band, jamming out numbers about necrophilia, chopped up bodies, zombies and horrific murder? Laid back, charming, funny and intelligent.

At the very least, such is the case with Cannibal Corpse. It’s a band that means so many different things to so many different people, ranging from the pioneers of a bullshit-free, enraged death metal sound to the scourge of society. It’s something that Pat O’Brien – the lead guitarist of the band from 1996 onwards – is more than aware of. Hell, it’s probably something that he embraces. Speaking to the AU Review on the line from Tampa, Florida in-between European and North American tours, he vents a frustration at the band’s misrepresented public image and the double standards within mainstream society that turn them into the villains.

“I think only a few people really want to bring that up with us anymore,” he says. “I think Alex [Webster, bass] would be the first to say that, as far as politics go, we’re not a political band. It’s just metal. The shit that I see happening on TV every day, and the shit I read about? We’re nowhere near as creative as some of the fucked-up shit that happens in real life. Take September 11 – if someone made a movie about that, everybody would walk out thinking that it was a crock of shit, that it would never happen. And then it did. It blows you away, the stuff that happens in real life. You can go and buy German porn – scat videos or whatever the fuck – but you don’t want to stock and sell Cannibal Corpse CDs?”

Our discussion turns to the hypocrisy of individuals that read Stephen King novels or listen to murder ballads that attempt to portray the band as vile, inhumane or demented. “We write fictional stories in our songs,” O’Brien explains. “If anything, they should censor the news. Nobody ever brings up movies, either – you make a movie about zombies, it’s totally fine. But if you’re writing a song, it’s like you’re raising a flag to it; singing a national anthem about violence or something. We’re not preaching anything. We’re just writing lyrics about basically nothing.”

These songs have been seen through the cracks of mainstream culture, from the band’s cameo appearance in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective to a lounge version of their song being played by Andrew Hansen on The Chaser’s War on Everything. For the most part, however, the band have stuck to making music for their extensive cult fan-base, who flock to see them across the world in the thousands. Their latest effort, Torture, is their 12th studio album, and their first since 2009’s Evisceration Plague. Ever the critic, O’Brien looks back on the record with mixed feelings.

“I thought it was a good album,” he says. “I think it was something that we needed to do in order to get to the point that we are now with Torture. It was the first time that Paul [Mazurkiewicz, drums] had played to a click track. I dunno, I still think it’s a really good album; but it seems like it was maybe a little stiff at times. This one feels a lot better to me.”

So, where does the difference lie between the band that made Evisceration Plague and the band that made Torture? As Pat reveals, it was a matter of a freshly democratic songwriting process and a clearer, more focused mind going into the album’s creation. “I wrote more songs on this record, and so did Rob [Fischer, vocals],” he says. “With Evisceration, it was Alex – he just had an abundance of material written. He’s like a writing machine. That was a weird time for me – I was moving, and I had a lot of personal shit going on; so I was having trouble writing riffs. This album, though? I was the first person to write for this record. I wrote ‘Followed Home, Then Killed’ and ‘Torn Through’ before we’d even started the writing process collectively.”

O’Brien explains that this new hunger to write would often stem from extensive time on tour which was not spent on the stage. “When we tour, the only thing for me to do, really, is play guitar,” he says. “It’s either that, or drink all night and feel like shit the next day. Even though it’s fun to be out on tour, and see and do all these things, you still have a lot of downtime. It’s a game of “hurry up and wait” – like, wait around for hours, all day, just to play. I can’t do that, man. Give me a guitar. Let’s get some songs in the bag.”

Of course, letting things unfurl naturally lead to some obstacles in the creation process of Torture. O’Brien received the opportunity of a lifetime when one of the band’s biggest influences called upon Pat’s guitar work. As he explains: “I got the call from Slayer to fill in for Gary Holm. That kind of threw things off in the writing process, but it’s not every day you get called up to do that. I’m not sure, exactly, how it came about. I think there were just some recommendations from different people, and I guess I must have been the only one available to do it at the time. It was about a week-and-a-half to learn all of the songs – a lot to learn in a short period of time. With the whole metal community watching these massive shows… it was just intense.”

He goes on to explain the difficulty of learning another band’s entire setlist in such a short period of time. “I knew a lot of the Reign in Blood stuff, but I hadn’t sat down and tried to play those songs for years,” he says. “The only time when I would have really been trying to play them was when I was giving guitar lessons back in the day. I don’t really play other people’s stuff, y’know? I just kinda do my own thing. It was definitely a challenge, for sure.”

This year marks the sixteenth year that O’Brien has been a part of the band. While many older artists feel as though their youthful days best reflected their love and passion for music, O’Brien feels that moving into his forties has allowed him to grow even more engaged with the band and their music. “I think it’s actually gotten better now,” he says on the motivation to create new material. “Like, back in the day, I wouldn’t be able to come up with anything – I’d pick everything apart so damn much that it would kill the idea that I had initially come up with. I’m at a period right now where I don’t totally do that. I’m able to kind of write what I feel and not be so uptight about it.”

He concludes with a positive appraisal of where Cannibal Corpse are currently at – even with nothing to prove, they still strive for excellence within their work. “We always want to make the best album that we can make,” he affirms. “If there’s one thing that I can honestly say, it’s that we are a band that constantly improves in one form or another from our past albums. I really believe that. Some bands, they come out with one or two great albums and then it gets to the point where nothing they do compares to their older albums. I think we’re the opposite. I think our albums keep getting better and better.”