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Exclusive! Interview With Spineshank Vocalist Jonny Santos

By Mick Stingley, Contributor
Monday, December 8, 2003 @ 2:12 PM

Checking Out The Girls With Jo

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When I met Jonny Santos, we were walking toward the band bus to do the interview. However, as it was such a nice night, and there were some people on the bus still trying to catch a few “Zs” before the show, we chose a unique and wonderful spot: on the stoop of a Brownstone, on the North Side of 15th Street, between Irving and Union Square. It seemed like a great place to chat: granted we knew that there would be people walking by, but neither of us could have counted on the unusual number of pretty girls who would be passing by as we talked…

KNAC.COM: It’s cool here, right? Seems cool enough to me.
SANTOS: This is fine -- this is great, man. So you’re from KNAC?

KNAC.COM: Yeah… “The loudest dot-com on the planet…”
SANTOS: Are you from L.A.?

KNAC.COM: Me? No, I’m from around here -- I guess I’m sort of like an “East Coast Rep”…
SANTOS: Oh, dude -- I grew up on KNAC! 105-5, Pure Rock, man!

KNAC.COM: Oh, yeah?
SANTOS: Sure did! Long Paul, Tawn Mastrey… I remember, I remember very well: it was the only station in L.A. that played metal. I used to listen to them all the time, man! I even -- get this -- I have a tape of the last broadcast, when they were shutting it all down, and then they played “Fade To Black” by Metallica as their last song. I still have that tape!

KNAC.COM: That’s awesome, dude! Nice…
SANTOS: Yeah, KNAC… and now they’re on the ‘net! That’s--

[Two beautiful girls walk by, wearing very tight jeans, and tighter shirts; hopefully on their way into the show…]

SANTOS: Yeah… that’s… [lets out low whistle]

KNAC.COM: So, uh… I-- yup, that’s nice…mmm. Okay, let’s see… the new CD, Self-Destructive Pattern, comes out tomorrow… it’s been a while since The Height Of Callousness, your last record. I was a really big fan of that disc…
SANTOS: That’s right… been a while… [still watching the girls as the turn the corner.]

KNAC.COM: I think it was you, or your bass player, that said that you didn’t want this new one to be “Height Of Callousness, II.” I was wondering if you would talk about that a little…
SANTOS: Oh, yeah-- okay… [laughs] I was so proud of that record! It was, for me, and everyone else in the band, a milestone for us… it helped establish us a metal band. A reputable metal band, you know what I’m saying? And for us to do, “Height Of Callousness, II”, see, you’re only as good as your last record: and for us to put out that record again, would be basically cheating our fans. Very few bands can get away with putting out the same record over and over -- sometimes it works, because of their sounds and who they are -- obviously, fuckin’ Slayer can do it, but they’re Slayer, you know? But for us, and the way the state of music is today, you know, and, of course, for ourselves, we wanted to top it. And I think the right thing for us to do is evolve, the way that Sepultura did, back in the day: from Remains all the way to Roots, it’s a constant evolution, and it just got better and better -- that didn’t make Beneath The Remains anything less, you know? In between all those albums, there’s a revolution, and it keeps it-- keeps things interesting, you know? We want to keep playing music, but we wanted to try something new. So let’s get down and really focus and move ahead…
I think that’s what, as far as Height Of Callousness to where we are with the new one -- we’ve evolved. Not that we don’t like that record -- by all means, I’m so proud of that record -- I can live the rest of my life knowing that I made that record… but now, we go forward… and that’s what comes out tomorrow with Self-Destructive Pattern.

KNAC.COM: You said three things that I want to explore some more, I want you to hit on each of them: 1.) How do you top the last record? 2.) What do you see with the state of music today; and 3.) What exactly is the evolution, from the first record, to Callousness, to the new one -- as a musician, and as a music fan? You mentioned Sepultura, so I’m curious about that…
SANTOS: Well, let’s start from that second one.

KNAC.COM: What do you think of the state of music today?
SANTOS: I think it’s – we’re walking on eggshells right now. I think within the music industry, there’s a lot of uncertainty. I think that for hard rock, metal, whatever you want to call it is going through a change, and there’s a lot of bands that, without saying names, are going to be just-- the flash in the pans, you know? You’re going to have the “Nelsons” and the “Britny Foxes,” you know what I’m saying, as opposed to the “Motley Crues” and the “Guns And Roses”… you know?

KNAC.COM: [Laughing] Yes, I do…
SANTOS: I don’t want us to be that band -- I don’t want us to be, “The Nelsons” and I don’t to be one of those bands that’s just forgotten about. There’s going to be some of them out there that are going to be safe from that -- that’s what we’re trying to do -- maybe by doing the opposite of, in a lot of ways, what it “expected” of us, you know? The whole, quote-unquote, “Nu-Metal” thing is dying, and the whole, quote-unquote “Scream-O” thing is “in,” you know? WE just want to be a heavy metal band. And heavy metal hasn’t died yet! Even when things looked dark in the grunge era, you still had Pantera -- they never really went away -- they stayed alive through most of that. So, not that I’m comparing ourselves to; but we want to be, the “Iron Maiden” -- we want to be the band that’s going to stay around. And I’ve never been one to jump on to the wagon or trend -- even before the whole get-go with the “Nu-Metal” thing happened -- when we started, there was no such thing as “Nu-Metal,” you know? We were screamin’, we were singing, we were always an electronic band. That’s always been an element of ours and that’s probably one of the reasons why we toned it down a little bit on this new album, ‘cause I think a lot of bands decided to do that, and it kinda cheapened it. And things got kinda sterile, so we don’t use it so much as we have to rely on it -- we use it more as a tool, as another instrument of the band, you know? If we turned the samples down, we could still finish the songs with no problems, and I think that’s kind of where we’re at today… we’re just trying to survive, trying to stay alive, and doing our own thing as a heavy metal band that’s going to stand the test of time.

KNAC.COM: Nice. So- how did you “top” the last record with the new one?
SANTOS: I think the last record, the way that I feel that we topped it, is… It’s kind of like, I think we became better songwriters in the last three years. I think we’re definitely we’re still very, very much, an “angry,” or “angry-sounding” band, but, in that sense, the “anger” is more focused. It’s not as chaotic as, as--

[A tall brunette walks by, on her cell phone, going West towards Union Square – she is quite stunning and “looks like a model”…]

SANTOS: As—wow, the girls in New York…

KNAC.COM: Yeah, they’re beautiful, all right: it kinda makes going to a strip-club seem pointless. But a girl like that -- she wouldn’t give me the time of day if we were stuck in an elevator on New Year’s Eve…
SANTOS: Yeah? (laughs) Well, stay out of elevators…

KNAC.COM: Right… uh, sorry… you were saying…
SANTOS: Well, with the new record, we started tapping into other sides of Spineshank that we never really did before, like “Smothered” and “Fallback” and “Forgotten.” You know, with things like that, we just really wanted to write really good hard rock songs, it wasn’t really, okay-- we’re not purposely trying to write a single to get on the radio. For us, it’s gotta rock, and that, for us is how it goes -- it’s just gotta rock, it’s got to have a groove. If it didn’t feel right, we wouldn’t have done it…

KNAC.COM: The singles, as far as I know, are going to be, “Smothered” and “Violent Mood Swings”…
SANTOS: Yeah… but even like “Forgotten,” it’s got that groove to it, you know? The guitars – when it kicks into the chorus -- it’s got that ‘chicka-chicka-CHANG! Chicka-chicka-CHANG!’… and, it’s not as-- it’s not as…

[Girls walking by talking, two of three are “hotties”…talking about something, saying, “Do you want to look at it? Do you want to look at it?”]

SANTOS: It’s not as… [laughs] Do you want to look at it? [laughs]

KNAC.COM: [Laughs] I know, I know… [laughs]
SANTOS: Aw, man… the thing is… I think that our arrangements on this album are a little better… there’s a few things that we learned how to do better, you know? Songs, the melodies, the hooks even, and I don’t think that they’re disposable hooks by any means, we really stretched out to make this one really great… I went to a vocal coach for nine months, and that did wonders for me, and that enabled me to be able to use my singing voice and to be able to use that more on this album. It was the hardest thing that I’ve ever had to do, and I didn’t think that was possible after The Height Of Callousness… it was the hardest thing I’ve had to do and the single most important thing I’ve had to do and have ever done up until this point in my life. …And that’s Jonny’s lesson on how we topped Height Of Callousness!

KNAC.COM: Well, the record is great, I think, and I really like “Tear Me Down”… let’s see: what was the second thing? I was asking bout…
SANTOS: Uh… it was-- did I mention we want to be like Iron Maiden… around…

KNAC.COM: You a Maiden fan?
SANTOS: Oh, yeah, dude! We just played with them at Donnington! Amazing!

KNAC.COM: I just saw them here at The Garden…
SANTOS: It was a killer show, wasn’t it! I mean, “Rrrggghh!”

KNAC.COM: I don’t know if they put on the same show and same set as here, but when they came out, they opened with “Number Of The Beast.”
SANTOS: And they had the lights -- the “6-6-6” lights?

KNAC.COM: Yeah, yeah! It was all dark… and Bruce was singing the opening over the bass, but you could see the lights behind the drums -- you knew what was coming…
SANTOS: “SIX-SIX-SIX!” Yeah… that was such a great show! They’re Gods! My heroes…

KNAC.COM: How is that for you, coming up in the music industry, and being able to play with your heroes?
SANTOS: It’s a dream come true! It’s like it would be for anybody else or anyone in a band that’s experiencing any type of success like that, otherwise it’s just too self-absorbed. Like, my hero, ever since I’ve been into rock n’ roll, is Slash -- he’s the reason why I started playing… I have this Slash tour book that I have autographed to me. I got a set list that he signed, guitar picks, a couple of signed pictures, and a friend of mine… what’s her name? Damn it… well, anyway, she hooked me up with some stuff…
Like-- here’s story: I was at The Rainbow a couple of months ago when they had the benefit concert for Randy Castillo at The Key Club, and Slash came walkin’ out of The Rainbow onto the patio and I was sittin’ there… and I couldn’t believe my fuckin’ eyes, dude! He walks by, and he looked at me and said, “Hey, what’s up, dude?” And I just froze! I didn’t know what to say! I was like -- I swear to God -- I was like 11 years old all over again! You know, and, once in a while I’ll have a situation where one of the kids at a show will come over, and freak out when they meet me, “OH! Jonny! Jonny!”… which is weird to me, but that’s the way it was for me -- I couldn’t even say anything! It was like, to me, like God just walked out of The Rainbow… you know? This whole thing is a dream come true, for all of us, and we try not to forget that at the end of the day, you know?

KNAC.COM: So now, the evolution of the records, from the first to now, like you mentioned with Sepultura and how they evolved, how they stayed true…how is that true for you guys?
SANTOS: Well, the thing with the first record was, at that time, when we were first signed, and we didn’t really know “the game” that well, you know? We wrote that whole record in two months, I think, and we were being so influenced by a lot of the people around us, as far as producers and industry, as to how we should sound, and “what’s hot right now” -- “you guys should be more like this”and that was our mistake with the first record.

KNAC.COM: Well, I mean, how old were you then?
SANTOS: Oh, twenty-one, twenty-two, so yeah; but at the same time, at that time, that record was necessary for us to be able to make, The Height Of Callousness. Had that first record, “blown up,” say, double-platinum, we probably wouldn’t have pushed ourselves that hard, because we wouldn’t have thought about that in any way. We learned a lot by making that first record: set the plan, set the ground rules for what you want to do, and just do it! So, when we did this record, we tried to stay with that and remember what it took to make Height Of Callousness after being just slammed by people – the media, critics [coughs]… you know?

KNAC.COM: (laughs) Uh-huh…
SANTOS: You know, there are certain points about that record that I still love; but as things passed, it was a necessary evil, and I believe that it happened for a reason. I don’t think we’d be as good of a band as we are now if that record took off. I honestly do and I’m glad it did. Because, now, we can look at what we’ve done, learn from mistakes, and I mean, I really like the way the band is playing, you know? I’m so happy with it, and from here on we just take those steps to go forward, just like Sepultura, from their first one to Arise – absolutely amazing album. That was the first album I ever heard from them, and I was just absolutely blown away, and then Chaos came out and then Roots, and the way they changed from every record, they grew -- you knew that their fans were growing and so were they. And with us, you maybe have a kid that was listening to us two and half, three years ago is that much older now, same as I am, and the band is. You know, a lot of people change A LOT in a few years -- they want more. The older you get, the more you expect from your bands… and there’s always going to be someone else out there who’s better and naturally you just move on, to-- whatever, you know? I think that if you can’t evolve, if you can’t step up, if you can’t reinvent yourself, then that’s when it’s over – and I truly believe this -- once Spineshank cannot step it up another notch, or reinvent ourselves once again, then I think… I think…

KNAC.COM: Reunion tour with “Nelson”?
SANTOS: Yeah! But I won’t do that. I won’t beat the dead horse. I will gracefully bow out and go on to something else… and save the good memory of Spineshank for what it was.

KNAC.COM: You mentioned the first record, and how you look at it now, with some regrets. Tonight, in your set -- anything off your first record?
SANTOS: Yeah, I mean it sold 100, 000 copies! A lot of kids still want to hear stuff off of that -- and hey, we wrote the record, we wrote the songs -- I’m not dismissing that record, I just don’t think that that was what we really were, you know? Before we made that record, we were heavier than shit! We were super-heavy! We were Sepultura-heavy… And that was a different kind of record from what we were. Now, I don’t listen to anybody when I’m writing my music. When we write our stuff, we write for us! But you learn, you live, you learn. MY RECORD. I gotta live with it for the rest of my life. No disrespect to the label, or the management, but in the end, the label is always going to be around, you know, people are still going to be around… we’re going to have to live with it for the rest of our lives -- they don’t have to.

KNAC.COM: So – you’re going on pretty soon… anything you want to add before we tie it up?
SANTOS: Well, I want to thank everyone at KNAC and all the listeners for having our back and supporting us… and not only that, but the history of KNAC lives in my heart and soul forever, and we thank all the Spineshank fans for waiting so long for us to get the new one out… we’re coming around soon…

KNAC.COM: How long are you on tour for?
SANTOS: Oh, dude… I mean, I think we’re on the road at least until next June. And as long as the record does well, you know? It’s up to the fans, I think…

KNAC.COM: Your label should release “Tear Me Down” as a single. That song is great.
SANTOS: Yeah? You like that one? I have to check and see if we put it in the set -- I think we did… it’s got a great guitar line…

KNAC.COM: Well, dude, I’ll be in there waiting on it.
SANTOS: Right on. Hey, KNAC -- we’ll see you out there!


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