Interview with guitarist Steve Buhl
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: June 6, 2020
Subtype Zero (known as Cringe from 2013-18) are a talented 5-piece thrash metal band from Ashtabula, Ohio, that isn't afraid to combine crossover elements into their sound. This relentless mob has recorded a couple of well-received albums. Their debut, The Astral Awakening, was released in August 2018 and a 4-track follow-up EP, titled Ceremonious Extinction, came out in March 2020, both on Cleveland, Ohio's Seeing Red Records, which specializes in all kinds of extreme underground stuff.
There seems to be quite a fuss around Subtype Zero but, after spending a few concentrated moments with their stuff, I don't wonder why so many people are excited by them. This is some serious, unfiltered and raging thrash shit, borrowing something old and mixing it with something new.
We here at the precious ivory tower of The Metal Crypt decided to learn a bit more about them, and Steve Buhl from the band kindly enlightened us on the history of the band, what they have been doing during the time of crises and how bright the future looks through their eyes, despite the fact the future is still pretty much unknown for many of us...
So, how's life where you live? I assume it's tough like everywhere else due to this ongoing Coronavirus pandemic?
Steve: Hey, I hope you're doing well. Yes, life's pretty fucked up right now but the way I look at it is that it's not fucked up as it could be. I'm hoping there's not too much bad news in the coming months. I'm trying to stay positive.
How upside-down have your daily routines become due to all of the restrictions because of this ugly virus?
Steve: Luckily, my daily routine hasn't really switched up too much. I usually spend most of my time playing guitar and listening to metal anyway.
Alright, let's just say together, "Fuck the virus now!" and talk about your band, Subtype Zero, instead. That's what we are here for, right? First of all, could you enlighten me on how you joined the band in 2018?
Steve: Yes, we started in 2013. Originally, we were a grindcore band and we did 12, 13-second songs. A couple of names were Tortilla Jackson and Rico's Lemonade Stand. There also were a few more of those stupid-ass names, but yes, we started off as a grindcore band, and progressively got faster and thrashier.
I hopped on guitar even though I originally played drums, and we got a new singer, Hector (Rivera). My friend AJ used to sing. We never really did any shows with them, but Hector actually did guest vocals on a demo that we had done when we first started, and after AJ ended up leaving the band, Hector came on to sing full time.
THE NAME CHANGE FROM CRINGE TO SUBTYPE ZERO
Why did the name change from Cringe to Subtype Zero? Does the name Subtype Zero sound cooler than Cringe and also represent your music better?
Steve: Yes, we actually changed the name in 2018. We were going to release The Astral Awakening under Cringe but before we actually put the full album out, while we were promoting it under that name, we got an email from Rachael Ray and her husband's legal team. I guess her husband plays in a band called The Cringe. Some shitty butt rock band. They just bought us out of our name, and said, "If we ever got a major distribution deal, etcetera...", they would basically just end it for us. What the fuck are we going to do? We were kids, and still are kids.
The name change ended up working out for us. We had a bunch of cool names in mind and I think we came up with a pretty cool fucking name so, fuck Rachael Ray and her dumb-ass husband, John Cusimano.
SLAYER BLEW THE BANK
It's pretty obvious based on the band's debut album, The Astral Awakening, that the backbone of your music is a very Slayer-esque type of thrash metal with some crossover elements thrown in. Would you go as far as saying that without Slayer there might not be a band like Subtype Zero?
Steve: Yes, I would absolutely 100% agree with that, and I'll tell you why. Cringe was a grindcore band and I was into more metallic hardcore, grimy hardcore. In 2014, my friend Dalton, original Cringe drummer and Subtype Zero drummer, took me to see Slayer and would always play them around me. The first person I really heard Slayer from was my mom's boyfriend when I was probably 13 or 14, and I thought it was the fucking worst shit I've ever heard.
In 2014 Dalton had taken me to see them and it was the best fucking show I've ever been to. It was Slayer, Exodus and Suicidal Tendencies in Cleveland. That basically got me hooked on thrash. After that, Subtype Zero was a full thrash band and I have no shame in saying that because Slayer's the best band in the fucking world.
In my honest opinion, being the huge fan of Slayer I have been since their Show No Mercy album, your debut record sounds absolutely great! You are firing on all of your thrash cylinders on it, playing your thrash really darn well. I must ask how happy and satisfied are you with your 2018 album? Did it give you more opportunities to play live and make the band better known abroad as well?
Steve: When we finished that album, we were so blown away by how it turned out. We never thought we would ever put out an album like that. It still stands that, to this day, we love that album. We listen to it quite a lot, and we still play songs off that record, and they always get good reactions when we play them live. Definitely a classic record in my book, but as a musician, you always strive for better, and we know that our next album is definitely going to blow that one out of the water. That album did bring a lot of opportunities for us as far as shows go and additional exposure.
We were already playing in Cleveland quite a bit before that, so when we put that album out, it made those shows even better. Then we got the opportunity to tour quite a bit off that album. We played a lot of new places, and met a lot of great people, and got new connections. We definitely took advantage of all the hard work we put in, and we're looking forward to what we can do after this.
ANDY NELSON AND BRICKTOP RECORDING
Your debut album was recorded at Bricktop Recording studio in Chicago, Illinois. How was that experience?
Steve: We had actually recorded there once before with our old band, Wasted Blood. We did an album there called Void. That was back in 2014 or '15. At that time, it was just such a crazy feeling. It was somewhat of an accomplishment feeling, I guess. It kind of legitimized what we were trying to do. For us to go back there and do the Subtype Zero record, it was basically the same exact feeling. It felt like an accomplishment. It felt like it was right.
It was an easy process because Andy (Nelson) knows exactly what he's doing. He knows what every band that he's recording is going for because he cares about the product. He's definitely the best guy that I've ever recorded with. We're definitely looking forward to going back there and recording our album.
In late March of this year, you released this new 4-track EP, titled Ceremonious Extinction. You visited Compass Audio, in Akron, OH, to record the EP (except the vocals). Why did you want to try a different studio this time?
Steve: We always want to go back and record with Andy, but we have plenty of time to do that. We still plan on doing that, but sometimes we pump out a song so fast that we just need to find the best studio locally. We got hooked up with Steve Perrino over at Compass Audio, and it ended up working out perfectly for us. He's easy to work with, he nailed the sound, he knew what we're going for, and he made it a pretty fun experience. It is somewhere we can go in the future if we ever need a single or anything.
We did the vocals over in Mercenary Studios with Noah Buchanan. He absolutely kills it every time on any project I've ever worked with him on, and I definitely recommend that too. Two great people to work with right there.
In a way, your latest EP is kind of a step away from the sheer Slayer worship, in my opinion, although some of the lead work still points heavily in Slayer's direction. My question is if all this Slayer worship is somehow intentional and you want to remind people of one of the greatest thrash metal bands ever through your music, now that they have ceased to exist?
Steve: No, I never felt like it was really an intentional thing. I just feel like it comes out naturally in our music because we're so passionate about it. I was already writing kind of thrashy songs in some of my old bands and some home demos I would do. I didn't even really know it, but when I saw Slayer and got more into thrash and death metal, it just all came out naturally and it happened that way. I feel like we know that part of what we do is keeping that music alive and thriving and bringing as many new ideas to the table as we can, but it feels so genuine because we are so passionate about it.
May I ask who the biggest fan of Slayer in the band is? You perhaps?
Steve: Definitely me, Hector and Owen.
If we talk about your music a bit more, the band clearly likes the crossover scene. Could you name some crossover bands that have had an influence on your sound, at least on some level?
Steve: Yes, a couple of bands that come to mind immediately that had an influence heavily on our early music, and I guess, even some of our music now would be Ringworm and Downpresser. I guess we have evolved a little bit, too, in my opinion.
I don't know if I am the only one to say this but for me, Hector's vocals sound a bit like Power Trip's Riley Galy. Have any other people made this comment before?
Steve: No, I've actually never heard that comment, surprisingly, but they're definitely a huge influence on what we have become and what we play now, so much love and respect to those dudes. They've come a long way. If you want to hear a fun fact, there's this girl that I'm friends with. We grew up together and my older sister was really good friends with her when I was younger. Her mom used to babysit me and my two younger brothers when we were really little. She's cousins with the bass player of Power Trip and I guess he used to hang out where I live, which is Ashville, Ohio, all the time when I was super little, and I didn't even know it.
I just think it's pretty funny and crazy how all that shit comes full circle, and now we're both playing music. He's come, obviously, a long way from then. No one even really expected it. It's just insane. Like I said, much love and respect to those dudes.
THOMAS AND SEEING RED RECORDS
How did you end up signing with Seeing Red Records and was your deal for just one album and this new EP or do you have a longer contract with them?
Steve: Working with Thomas (Haywood) is pretty chilled. He approached us a few years ago, while we were on tour, and he explained that he loved the vision we had, and the music we played, and the passion for it. He saw people obviously were paying attention to what we were doing, and he just wanted to be a part of it. It's been a pretty successful thing so far, but there's no real limit to what we're doing with them. I guess we're going to keep putting out music until I guess, he wants to stop putting out our music, but we keep writing better stuff so, it could go a long way.
Since playing live is totally forbidden due to this prevailing and unfortunate Coronavirus situation, I must ask if you have made any arrangements for your future gigs in the fall perhaps? I mean, this pandemic cannot last forever...
Steve: We have some shows planned for the summer. Hopefully, they actually end up happening, but we're scheduled to play Necrofest, day three in Brooklyn, New York at Saint Vitus Bar on June 14. We are also playing the Southgate House revival in Newport, Kentucky, with Paralysis, June 19. Definitely look out for those shows if anyone from those areas are reading this.
I am also curious to know if you have received any requests to play outside of the States, like festivals in South America or Europe?
Steve: Yes, we get contacted quite a bit by people outside of the US. Basically, just people expressing how much they love our music and have hopes that they can see us one day. We've never gotten a serious offer for anything outside of the US. People have hit us up before about certain things, and it's never really worked out but, we have faith that something will come along sometime soon. Until then, we're just going to keep doing what we do. Writing more music and putting it out. Promote what we can. We have faith.
Many bands are arranging their own live streams right now via Facebook, Instagram, and other channels. Would that work as plan B until bands are free to go out to play live again?
Steve: We've actually been talking about doing a live stream or, maybe a pre-recorded set somewhere. It's in the works right now. We don't have anything set up for sure yet, but it's definitely going to happen at some point.
GOALS FOR THE FUTURE
In the bigger picture, is your main intention to make Subtype Zero the kind of band that might tour all around the world and hopefully put some bread on the table someday?
Steve: It's always been a goal to go as far as we can and accomplish everything we can with this band and with our music. It's hard right now with everything going on. Life will be back to normal soon enough, and we can get back to what we were doing. We know what we can accomplish. We set a lot of goals for ourselves. We know we just have to keep working harder and pushing our music and writing better songs, and just doing what we do best, being a band, and everything will fall into place.
Let's talk about your new stuff. You have already mentioned in public that you may well record your follow-up album this summer. Could you tell me what people can expect from your next album then? More crushing heaviness in the name of thrash, eh?
Steve: Yes, we're definitely trying to record by the summer, but we're always trying to perfect the songs and make them better than what we put out previously so who knows what will come out, but it's definitely going to come out this year. Yes, it's definitely going to have crushing heaviness, fast riffs, heavy riffs, but we're going to have a lot of new elements in there that you wouldn't expect and it's going to be some pretty killer shit.
ABOUT NEW STUFF
Will this new stuff be along the same lines as the Ceremonious Extinction EP, or would you say it sounds more brutal, faster and meaner than anything that you have done earlier?
Steve: We're always going to sound like what we sound like. I don't think we're ever going to drastically change our sound but, yes, we're always going to keep it fresh, keep it exciting. We're not ever going to try and be stale or stay stagnant in what we do for whatever piece of work we have out at that time. We're always going to try and change at least a little bit and do new things to keep it exciting for the fans and us but we're never going to stray far from what we do now.
Is everybody in the band involved with the band's songwriting process or is it on the shoulders of just one person?
Steve: For the most part, I'll just demo stuff out of my house and I'll send it to Hector and the rest of the guys, and we'll bring it to practice and mold it from there into a song that we're happy with. Sometimes there have been songs I've written in full where we just don't change them at all, and it is what is it. I'll write lyrics and whatever, but there's been quite a few songs where everyone's had parts they've written or sections they've written or little changes they've made. I guess it really depends on the song and the time that we bring the song in and just a lot of different factors. For the most part, I'll demo something out and Hector will write lyrics and then we'll just mold it from there.
OK, I have one last question for you. What do you personally hope that you will achieve with the band in the next two to three years?
Steve: The most that we can ask for is just more people hearing our music and coming out to our shows. The best part about what we do is playing live shows in front of people. That's the gratifying part of it and obviously what we enjoy doing. There's not really much more we can ask for besides new fans and just meeting new people and having more fun at shows and better shows and just growing as a band.
That was all from me this time. Thank you for your time, Steve, and I wish you all the best with your comings and goings with the band in the future. May your road be successful and rewarding with this band, too. :o)
Steve. Thanks for the interview, man. Appreciated!
|Other information about Subtype Zero on this site|
|Review: The Astral Awakening|
|Review: Ceremonious Extinction|
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