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Exclusive! Interview with Amen Vocalist Casey Chaos

By Mick Stingley, Contributor
Wednesday, June 2, 2004 @ 1:00 AM


Amen Frontman Chaos Gives the

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A band that is relatively unknown in the States, Amen are absolutely huge in Europe; especially in England, where the band – Casey in particular -- regularly graces the covers of Metal Hammer, Kerrang!, and NME among others. When they perform, they get major coverage on the BBC, and reviews by the prominent newspapers and tabloids. In Europe it would be safe to say that lead singer Casey Chaos is a household name.

Amen has the opening slot for Brides of Destruction, on the “Honeymoon From Hell Tour”; a much-coveted spot, to be certain. With Nikki Sixx and Tracii Guns on board, The Brides have created quite a stir: so all eyes are on the bands they hand-picked to tour with them.

So who in the ‘Honeymoon From Hell’ is this Casey Chaos?

It was my job to find out…

On a late sunny afternoon in New York City, way down on the Bowery, outside of CBGB’s, I first encountered Casey Chaos. Peeping out from the tour van, this smiling man in silver Elvis specs and a black leather jacket offers a friendly, “Hey!” as he steps out, crawling over road cases to the sidewalk, to shake hands. Could this be the same man whose scowling face is the scourge of British parents, and the idol to so very many heavy music fans across Europe? It hardly seems likely…

Casey checks with his tour manager. We are going to start the interview. The band is headed out to get something to eat; Acey is still inside -- talking to Tracii? Checking on gear? No one is certain, but the tour manager will see it through and everything will be fine. Casey asks if I’m up for a trip to a record store; he wants to get some new music for the long rides from city to city. A store is selected: “Other Music,” just around the corner from CBs, on East 4th Street; we can walk and talk.

It turns out we have a mutual friend; we banter, break the ice, and slowly segue into our Q&A for KNAC.COM.

CASEY CHAOS: I grew up on Bleecker and Thompson, right around there, and my mother worked here in New York, and my father worked in Trenton. I was born in Trenton.

KNAC.COM: So, you’re not one of these “O.C. punks”?
CHAOS: [Laughs] No… my mother moved to Florida when I was like, seven; the Coco Beach area. And I just hated it. As soon as I turned seventeen, I moved to California. We’re not part of the “O.C.” thing… [Laughs]

KNAC.COM: You guys are fucking monstrous in Europe.
CHAOS: Yeah… it’s funny. The U.K., Australia… it seems as if we can play anywhere outside of America and do alright. You know, we’ve played the Reading and Leeds Festivals three years in a row, and on the fourth year we didn’t have a record deal, okay? And we always played the tents, side stages, to like ten thousand people maybe, and it was always crammed. The promoters always said it was a big deal because people were just -- in the U.K. in particular -- people just go off. So, the fourth year, they asked us to play, and they said, “We know you don’t have a record deal, so we’re going to give you enough money to get over here, give you a couple hundred bucks to pay your rent, and you’ll be the first band in the history of the Reading and Leeds Festivals to ever play the main stage and (while) not signed to a label!” So that was cool.

KNAC.COM: So how is to come back over here and…
CHAOS: And play to nobody? [Laughs] It’s alright, I like it, because I’ve seen Nirvana in front of twenty people and I saw Black Flag in front of twenty people, I’ve seen, you know, tons of bands play to rooms that were almost empty and those were some of the best shows, and greatest memories I’ve had. And, so, maybe someone out there is experiencing that with us; that’s not a bad feeling to walk away with.

KNAC.COM: So I’m guessing you grew up around [the American] ‘hardcore’ scene?
CHAOS: I got into hardcore -- I was corresponding with people, like… Glenn Danzig, Ian McKaye, Corey Rust, Steve Albini, Henry Rollins, among others, when I was like ten years old. I was corresponding with them, the old-fashioned way, and I told people that I had a band, it was this “imaginary band,” that I called Disorderly Conduct. It wasn’t a band but I ‘made–believe’ to those guys that it was a band! And I would be like, “Oh, yeah, we’d love to play with you…” and shit like that. And that became… real. It was a band, actually; it was like a bunch of good skateboarders with broken bones who made a bunch of noise in my garage. But yeah, when I grew up, I hated music. I got exposed to-- the first music I got into was punk rock -- it was Black Flag -- and it changed my life. It was “Police Story,” the song “Police Story” then it was right onto The Misfits – oh, and this is weird-- we just played Amsterdam, and later that night The Misfits were playing at a different venue so I went down to go see them play – and Jerry Only sees me and says, “Hey Casey, you going to come up and sing a song tonight?” and I’m like, “Yeah, of course!” and Jerry said, “What song do you want to sing? You wanna sing ‘Skulls’?” and we’d done this one time before, I think it was in Boston, so I said, “Let’s do the same one as last time, ‘We Are 138’”… and I just got up there… it’s just… surreal. To think that I grew up on a band like that and get to play with them now -- it’s a privilege for me.

KNAC.COM: You’re a Danzig fan?
CHAOS: Of course, oh yeah. Of course. I saw him with The Misfits; that’s just stuff that I grew up on, that’s just… that was the second, third show I ever saw. Devo, Black Flag, and then The Misfits. And then, uh… then…

KNAC.COM: Wow -- how about that? Cool…

[At this point, we arrive at the record store; there is a poster for the upcoming release of Amen’s Death Before Musick on the wall as we walk in. Initially I turn off my tape recorder, as the store is crowded and the music blaring; but then we resume and pick up the interview, as Casey checks out everything from French house, metal, underground DJ mixes, ‘no-wave’ and German experimental compilations.]

CHAOS: I don’t get to do this often; and when we’re on the road, it’s cool to listen to all sorts of different things to keep you from going insane.

KNAC.COM: We were talking about music you grew up on. I see some of the CDs you’re picking out… How do you feel about the categorization of music? A lot of people would say you are a “punk” band, but the music I’ve heard is very heavy. I wouldn’t say ‘metal’, but it’s--
CHAOS: Well, I grew up on a lot of different things… punk and hardcore, of course… But I think what’s important for me is that it feels honest -- whatever it is. A lot of honest music out there -- people who love music know the difference -- you know what feels good whatever name you want to call it by. I had that luxury – being exposed to or open to different kinds of music. But I don’t care. Whatever people want to take away from it, they will. I think ultimately, it’s honest; that’s the only thing that I strive for. I don’t even strive to: I just do it, you know? It is what it is. And if people dig it, cool. Hopefully it will inspire people to just create stuff on their own terms, you know? I’ve been fortunate enough to create my music and be on three different labels and it’s just been… you can’t buy that. And having people that inspired me, like Henry Rollins and Iggy Pop and all these people that I look at as really, really important, to tell me that Amen is their favorite band, or that they’re into our stuff -- that’s more than anything I’ve ever expected. So, hopefully, maybe people will go out and do whatever the fuck they want… and someday…

KNAC.COM: …And someday say, “I got into music because of Amen!”
CHAOS: Exactly.

KNAC.COM: People can be single-minded of purpose and categorize: this belongs, that doesn’t belong. I know a lot of rock and metal bands that love punk and vice versa.
CHAOS: That’s what’s so great about this tour. Nikki and Tracii… well… when they play some of their old stuff -- after seeing the show -- maybe people can see those songs in a new light.

KNAC.COM: Well, KNAC is a rock site -- they’re known to be about rock and metal, and…
CHAOS: Who owns that? Isn’t that producer -- the famous rock guy -- the one who did Alice Cooper and KISS?

KNAC.COM: Bob Ezrin?
CHAOS: Bob Ezrin -- yeah! Doesn’t he have something to do with it?

KNAC.COM: Well, if he does, they’re keeping it from me. Maybe -- I don’t know, I’ll have to ask. All I know is it’s this guy Rob Jones, whom I’ve never met. He’s a mystery man; I don’t know a whole lot about him. He’s like “The Smoking Man” from X-Files I think… pulling all the strings…
CHAOS: Huh. It was-- it’s the same as KNAC 105.5 in L.A.?

KNAC.COM: Yeah, that one -- not on the FM now, all Internet radio. Sepultura, Kix, Pantera, Nashville Pussy -- whatever. Rock and metal. Not sure if they play Amen… yet…
CHAOS: That’s okay. Whatever’s cool.

KNAC.COM: You’re creating some very heavy music with Amen -- hard stuff -- and your new album is coming out in a few weeks, Death Before Musick, May 18th. It’s out in Europe now. It’s your first album in a while…
CHAOS: We have-- we had one album come out that we did for a tour, just in the U.K., and it was just, uh, we recorded a few songs that came out already. This new one… It took so long because we got caught up in that whole Virgin fiasco. It got caught in the machinery over there.

KNAC.COM: There was a lot of drama about that; you had the album all done…
CHAOS: And then the label collapsed. So, yeah… it was a drag. But I don’t want to dwell on the past. I didn’t want to just sit on that material, sit in court and do this with lawyers, do this, do that… fuck that. I just kept writing, documenting the times, you know? Move on -- you gotta move on. There was a lot of death and shit going on -- I had to capture that on tape.

KNAC.COM: You record a lot at home, I understand.
CHAOS: Garages, chicken coops… it was complete lunacy. It was a year where I just tried to get everything on tape -- whether or not I could do anything with that label -- the only way I knew how. I don’t do anything else…

KNAC.COM: Do you record and then take it to your band?
CHAOS: No, no. This record, the last record -- all the Amen records -- I recorded everything except drums. I would just go into the studio with the drummer and just record everything. And it was mainly the producer’s choice, at that point, Ross felt like, “Why have an interpretation of the source, if you have the source?”

KNAC.COM: Ross Robinson?
CHAOS: Yeah. So that’s pretty much what the band wanted, was for me to do it, so I did it. And that was basically it.

KNAC.COM: What was the transition from having the other line-up, to now?
CHAOS: The line-up I have now is just a lot more, it’s a little bit more faith there, I think. They came in when there was nothing. As opposed to when there was a label at the time, I already had a record deal, with the first band came into place. So they didn’t have to worry about anything other than just showing up. You know? And there wasn’t any real, like, suffering. There’s been a lot of suffering going on in the last couple of years, and, the guys came into it for the right reason, I guess. At least I think so…

KNAC.COM: Shannon Larkin was your drummer; now in Godsmack.
CHAOS: That’s right. He was – and is -- a fantastic drummer. Difficult to replace. Wait until you see , though… amazing!

KNAC.COM: And you just got Acey [Slade], who was in Dope, and is in The Murderdolls…
CHAOS: Well, what happened was that Rich, our guitarist, had to get his wisdom teeth pulled. He’d had four months of impacted wisdom teeth, and he had been, sort of… medicating himself, so to speak, because he had been in so much pain, and he overdosed, and, like… not overdosed in a way, on purpose or something. But he had to go to a hospital in Amsterdam and get it taken care of, because he had just so much pain. And they wouldn’t pull his teeth, because, he was so toxic from the infection. So he had a lot of stuff to deal with; and he knew Acey better than I did. And he said, “Dude, I’ve been talking to him and telling him all the parts,” and blah-blah-blah and all that stuff. So, yeah, this is basically his fourth show. Yeah. We just did a tour of the U.K. and of Amsterdam, Germany, Paris… and Amsterdam is when all the shit went down. And so, Rich… we couldn’t pull out of the tour, and to be honest with you, it’s going great. It’s been really cool. There’s no difference; just as long as you have the spirit -- that giving spirit -- making the sacrifice to whatever, you can pretty much be in the band, ‘cause that’s the way the band came together. So, yeah, Acey’s been great.

KNAC.COM: Is he getting Vicodin over there?
CHAOS: They don’t have that over there…

KNAC.COM: IN AMSTERDAM?!
CHAOS: Yeah… the medicine they’ve got over there, dude -- it’s fucking ridiculous. Let me tell you, because the medicine they DO have over there -- I wouldn’t even call it medicine. I mean, they gave me antibiotics… (shows left hand) You see my thumb here? I severed the tendon in my thumb, and they gave me antibiotics that… when I came back home, they were antibiotics that they would give a dog in America.

KNAC.COM: Oh, that’s encouraging.
CHAOS: So, that’s why it got so infected. I almost had to have my thumb amputated. [Laughs] I don’t call it medicine. [Laughs] You been over there?

KNAC.COM: Ireland, Germany, the former Czechoslovakia… never been sick. Just loaded…
CHAOS: [Laughs]

KNAC.COM: How did you hook up with Daron [Malakian] from System of a Down? Your record is coming out on his new label.
CHAOS: Oh, Daron… we did this tour of Australia called “Big Day Out.” He saw us play, and he came up to me and told me what a big fan of the band he was. He said he was interested in doing a side-project together -- which we started working on together -- and then he had an imprint deal with Columbia… and we were his first signing.

KNAC.COM: Now… this is your third major label record deal.
CHAOS: Well…

KNAC.COM: Is it just like, “Ahh… I’m signed again. No big deal.” Or do you go out and celebrate?
CHAOS: There’s no celebration. [Laughs] It’s pretty much… it’s been a long time without-- I mean, we’re grateful, totally! Totally grateful. I’m wiser now…

KNAC.COM: What do you think about this pop-punk explosion -- platinum “punks” like Simple Plan, or…
CHAOS: [Smiles] Oh, that’s… they’re… I just think it’s…[Laughs] that’s… I mean, I’m speechless, really. There’s not much to think about. I don’t really understand why things like that really happen.

KNAC.COM: I like to think of them as the “Warrant” of pop-punk.
CHAOS: Yeah! I don’t know why people would want to do something like that. It’s sorta like someone going up to you and punching you in the nose for no reason. That’s the way I look at that type of music. Honestly, there’s no need for it. Uh… I think there’s a total… I think people can do something that’s a little more passionate. Like, MC5. You know?

KNAC.COM: Is there anything out there that you’re hearing -- heavy music or punk -- that you are interested in?
CHAOS: A lot of stuff I do like, really. There’s a lot of weird stuff that’s really good. I went to Generation Records yesterday, and there’s a lot of stuff there that is coming out -- From Ashes Rise --- you ever heard that? Really good. A band called Tragedy… Severed Head of State… there’s a lot of good stuff out there, as opposed to the “pop-punk” extravaganza.

KNAC.COM: What do you think of Brides of Destruction?
CHAOS: It’s cool, man, you know? I wasn’t really too hip to the whole Motley and L.A. Guns thing… but I totally respect it. And I respect it FIFTY THOUSAND times more now. Especially someone like Nikki Sixx. He’s never diverted from what he wanted to do: play in a rock band. He wanted to play rock music and he never jumped on a bandwagon. He always did his thing. And playing CB[GB]s and playing clubs like that… to me, it’s real proof to that. I really respect that. I respect all those guys a lot. I think that they’re definitely super, amazing people. And the charisma they… possess. They’re just so… they walk out there and people just go off. It’s like, “Fuck!” And better still -- they’re just cool people… Tracii, Nikki…

KNAC.COM: What was it like to play with Killing Joke -- dream come true?
CHAOS: Great. That was another surreal thing that money can’t buy -- having Jaz Coleman come up to me and just say, “You gotta get out of America. Move the band to Prague… come live here, man!” He was really serious about it, too.

KNAC.COM: Have you ever given any thought to living over there, given your band’s popularity?
CHAOS: I’d love to. I’d love to be able to go over there. It’s just a matter of reality and finances… it’s just not very realistic for us. We have no money…

KNAC.COM: If you were going to go -- where would you pick?
CHAOS: If I was to move over there? I like Norway. Oslo. Yeah… Oslo.

KNAC.COM: That’s a long way from California… so to speak.
CHAOS: Great black metal scene over there.

KNAC.COM: You like Black metal?
CHAOS: Oh, yeah. I love it. It’s my only mode of music -- the most important movement in music since punk rock. It’s the only movement of music that wasn’t motivated by money. That’s always the best kind of music anyway, isn’t it? It has all the right ingredients… the whole “outcast” thing, the anger and aggressive sound, the same way punk did, I think.

KNAC.COM: What do you think about bands like Dimmu Borgir?
CHAOS: I like Dimmu. Obviously, they’re really popular now. But they did it on their own, and they’re doing their own thing.

KNAC.COM: The music can be so complex and beautiful at times, but do you think that image is beginning to eclipse the music for a lot of bands?
CHAOS: Well, the same thing happened with punk. I got Satyricon signed to Daron’s label. So that was just from…Satyr came over to visit, and then we went over to Daron’s house… and that was that.

KNAC.COM: What about Children of Bodom?
CHAOS: Yeah! They’re cool! I saw-- they played with Dimmu a while back actually. They are so great to see live.

KNAC.COM: Oh, that’s what I wanted to ask -- about your live shows -- I hear you have a pretty wild side onstage. I’ve never seen you, but I hear comparisons to a young Iggy Pop… You’re all over the place and sometimes you get hurt as a result.
CHAOS: Well… yeah. [Smiles]

KNAC.COM: How is your health these days?
CHAOS: Yeah. I have a lung and heart disorder, I have a disintegrating spine, I have a fractured ankle right now as we speak, I have a dislocated hernia, and a dislocated jaw.

KNAC.COM: How much of that is show-related?
CHAOS: Uh… well, the dislocated jaw? I fell outta my bunk!

KNAC.COM: [Laughs]
CHAOS: [Laughing] The ankle is from playing. The back thing… probably from skateboarding and from playing music over the years… the shows. The hernia… definitely from the stage.

KNAC.COM: Are you straightedge?
CHAOS: I’m not in the sense that… I have to take medication for my lungs and heart now. Not in the way that people deem it or bastardize the term; you know what I mean? I think, ultimately, what straightedge is-- is about being in control. Doing what you believe in. Not letting something – a substance -- control you. It was never, not for me, About, “You can’t do this, you can’t do that…” That’s what I think it boils down to. I don’t think that the way it should be…

KNAC.COM: Do you favor then, the punk spirit of individuality over conforming to a style or set of rules, whether it be a playlist or ideas?
CHAOS: Yeah… exactly. I think so.

KNAC.COM: I’m not trying to inject this with some pseudo-intellectual horseshit…
CHAOS: [Laughs] No, no… that was good.

KNAC.COM: Oka,- tell me about the “FREE MUSIC CAMPAIGN.”
CHAOS: Yup. It’s just something that Rich and I thought up and we were just like, realizing that we have so much music, and there’s only so much that you can put on a fuckin’ record. Only so much that the label’s going to release, you know? So we put music on our website FOR FREE, so people can check it out. We’ll put it up for a while, take it off, put up new stuff, and so on… we’re just trying to get the music out there.

KNAC.COM: Will you be able to get it all out with the new label?
CHAOS: [Laughs] I don’t think so… I think we’re going to be… limited. It’s been cool so far. Daron’s been very passionate about it since we started. We’ve been able to make the record without anyone ever hearing it at the label.

KNAC.COM: Some of the things I was reading about you [in] earlier interviews. You come across very politically conscious. You have a strong opinion about a lot of subjects, the way things are going. But I saw, in two different interviews, that you said you hate computers.
CHAOS: [Laughs] Yeah, it’s true. For a lot of reasons… I think it keeps people from interacting -- maybe in a healthy way… like people dating online. It seems weird, doesn’t it? I think that takes away from the point…

KNAC.COM: [Laughs] It’s funny… I – here in New York -- I know A LOT of people who date online.
CHAOS: I do too!

KNAC.COM: They LIVE for that. Nerve.com… there’s also “J-Date” for Jewish singles…
CHAOS: Really?

KNAC.COM: Yeah. I sound like an ad now. You know how it is here; if you don’t know someone, you don’t trust them -- they might kill you, or bore you to death… those sites-- as soon as one goes public, I’m buying in.
CHAOS: [Laughs] It’s a little… disturbing. Limiting. Seems wrong. Maybe I don’t hate the computers…

KNAC.COM: Yeah. I hear you. “Guns don’t kill people…”
CHAOS: Yeah…

KNAC.COM: So for people like me, who are coming to see you for the first time -- and I’m sure you’re going to have a lot of new faces out there seeing Amen -- what can they expect?
CHAOS: I don’t know… [Laughs] I think it’s always unpredictable; it depends on the night really. We’re such an unpredictable mess, really.

KNAC.COM: I like unpredictable messes. So, what’s your website? Where can the kids go to hear your music, read some things…
CHAOS: It’s either comaamerica.com or refuseamen.com.

KNAC.COM: Well, I’ll leave it at that and let the music do the talking… I’m looking for ward to the show, dude.
CHAOS: Cool, Mick. Thanks. I’ll check out KNAC.COM when I get off the road…

(Photos from Columbia Records by David Kekone)


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