6 Prong Paw has been clawing their way to their first full-length for a long, long time. The veteran metal band began in Hastings back in 1998, and has remained a big part of the West Michigan rock scene, even as their lineup has changed around founding members Nick Williams (vocals) and Dustin Cook (guitar). Now made up of Williams, Cook, bassist/backing vocalist Chad Rabideau, drummer Josh Moore, and guitarist Jake Scott, they will release the fourteen-song album, Auditive Levitation, Jan. 19 at Planet Rock in Battle Creek. The album follows their two EPs, 2003’s self-titled disc, and 2005’s “Victim of Mainstream America.” 6 Prong Paw has become a popular mainstay at Carnival of Chaos events across the state, and is perhaps best-known for winning the 2006 Heavyweights Battle of the Bands, after making it to the finals four times before that. More than two years in the making, Auditive Levitation will also be their first release for their new label, Hillbilly Records, out of Knoxville, Tennessee. Last fall they shot a video for the album’s lead single, “Cold Repetition,” and this month they plan to shoot another for the song “Question.” Recoil asked frontman Nick Williams more about the decade-plus history of 6 Prong Paw, the importance of finally releasing a full-length album, and what it means to be a battle of the bands champion.
Recoil: Since 6 Prong Paw first started back in 1998, how much has the lineup changed over the years?
Nick Williams: Well the lineup has changed a lot over the years and I can’t really go into all the changes because we would have to use the whole issue! Dustin Cook [now on guitar] and I are the only original members. We have went through three guitarists, two drummers, and two bass players, I think? [Laughs]. In 2009, we got Chad Rabideau on bass guitar and back-up vocals. Dustin, who originally played bass, moved to guitar. Dustin had originally always played guitar so it was an easy transition for him. Then just before we shot the video this past fall, we added Jake Scott on guitar. Our old guitarist Sean Austin had been with us since 2002. He had to leave due to some personal stuff. I also originally sang and played guitar. That was why we moved Dustin to guitar and added Rabideau. It’s a lot more fun onstage to just sing, plus I can sing much better, and with Rabideau singing back-ups, we are able to nail some of the harmonies that I have recorded on the discs. I still play guitar quite a bit at home and wrote a lot of riffs for the new disc. I actually played all the guitars on the new disc, and not because I am some sort of control freak. That’s just how it ended up. I am an addict when it comes to writing songs. I am obsessive with it. I have a little studio at my house and am always writing. So sometimes I would just write a whole song at home, record it and show it to the guys. But even though I would write a whole song, we still would pick it apart as a band and everyone would add in their two cents when possible. We also still have those songs that we collaborated on at rehearsals.
R: How would you describe the current lineup?
NW: The current lineup is tight, determined, out spoken, and professional. Our live shows are better than they ever have been before. We got nice updated equipment and you can tell we got our heads on straight.
R: How much would you say the sound of 6 Prong Paw has changed over the years?
NW: I haven’t really ever thought about how our sound has changed over the years. I guess I don’t really think it has. And if it has, it’s because we have become more aware of what works and what doesn’t work, for us. We have always played a good variety of songs. I wouldn’t consider us a straight-up metal band. Although we love it and will always do that stint. Shit, on our first, self-titled 2003 EP I did an acoustic guitar track called “World Without” and added a mandolin in the chorus, plus it had no drums. So we are always constantly exploring new avenues and genres and I think it’s because none of us listen to just metal. We all listen to a lot of different stuff and we strive for originality. Each song, I feel, is like a fingerprint or new life. They all come about in different ways and are inspired by different things. I have never wanted this band to get trapped into a certain genre or trend.
R: What do you think of the current Grand Rapids music scene?
NW: I feel Grand Rapids is a fantastic, great art community. All of us in the music scene should be grateful for the support that we have from the art community, the clubs, and the people that still come out to support local music. There are a lot of worse places in America where there is no art; there is no support. I think there are some bands in the GR scene that don’t realize how lucky they have it, being from such a great, artistic city. On almost any given night I can go see any kind of music I want. Whether it be blues, classical, metal, I feel that as long as there are people who are willing to come together, write songs, and work up the courage to perform, there will always be a Grand Rapids music scene. There obviously will always be ups and downs, good bands and bad bands, but the more bands there are, the bigger the scene is and the more diverse and original it becomes. I just think that radio stations, not just here, but everywhere, need to get over the big label hype and start throwing in local acts into regular rotation. There are a lot of great and unique bands all over the place, and with the advent of home recordings, these bands are putting out great recordings that need to be heard.
R: How much has the scene changed, for the better or worse, over the years you’ve been a band?
NW: Yeah, the scene changes with the times and trends. But that’s gonna happen. No one is safe! No one! I mean going against a trend has become a trend. That’s the way society has molded itself. Eventually, a person goes through a point of self exploration and finding out what works for them. I believe scenes do the same thing. Within a scene, you have a variety of different cliques or different scenes. All these cliques are constantly bashing together just like atoms and molecules at local shows. Eventually something will give and an original thought becomes a birth of a new following.
R: Who are some of other West Michigan bands, past or present, that you’re closest with?
NW: We have always had a connection with The Potatoe Babies. We just really loved the originality they bring to music and their live show is so entertaining. That’s one band I wanna hear on local rotation. We obviously have hung out with and played with a lot of cool bands through the years like Seeing Eye God, I loved that band. Then Josh played with Summon and Dissonant for awhile. Theives’ Cant, Mitch Hayes, and I used play guitar together all the time when we were really young. Two Heded Chan, Kuru, Sin Theorem, Know Lyfe, Release the Crimson, Sado, are all bands that we’ve grown up with through the years. I don’t really feel bands are close with each other and it’s kinda unfortunate really. It’s really hard to get to know each other at loud, local shows. I don’t know if maybe the scene has just become kind of a competitive thing or not. But I think a lot of bands go to the shows to interact with the people who are there to see them. The ones who paid money to get in the door. What’s cool about West Michigan bands however is, even though we don’t all know each other on a personal level so much, we do truly support each other by swapping shows, helping with merch and things like that.
R: What would you say has been your most memorable show over the years, good, bad, or legendary?
NW: Obviously all of the Battle of the Bands shows we have played have been really good. I mean, you have six bands going out and selling a hundred plus tickets for a show. The more people means more energy, equals better performances. I think the best one we played was the one we didn’t win, in 2009, when Sin Theorem won. There was just so many people there and they where fuckin’ loud, singing some of our songs with us and shit. It was very cool. We have had a lot of bad shows, too. Especially in the beginning when we were starting out. I can’t really remember anything super terrible ‘cause I think I have placed them into the trash bin and deleted them permanently. A lot of the Carnival of Chaos shows have been pretty memorable. Shit the last one we played at, it fuckin’ rained really hard the day we were suppose to play. They were not letting anyone drive to the stage because of the mud. So if we wanted to still play we had to hike our gear through ankle deep mud. We were like fuck it. These people bought fifty tickets from us at ten bucks a pop. They are getting a show. So we started a train from the van, through the grand stands, into the mud and to the stage. We played, the crowd was kick ass and then we had to do it all over again. After us, Motograter played and then they shut down the show. I am pretty sure there was one or two more bands after them that had already brought all their gear through the mud that never even got to play. Oh, then I got electrocuted once at a show. I’ll never forget that. We were playing a hall in Hastings. The building was super old and I don’t think it was properly grounded. We played one song and I remember my lips getting shocked by the mic. It was so hot in there, no AC, and I was pouring sweat by this time. In between the first and second song – this is when I was playing guitar and sang – I had my hand on my guitar and grabbed ahold of the mic to talk into it and could not let go. The mic stuck to my face and I dropped to my knees. I felt like I was imploding. I didn’t know what was going on. I couldn’t talk, I couldn’t breathe. I just remember thinking I was dying. Then I realized what was going on and why wasn’t anyone helping. It seemed to last forever. Then I guess our other guitarist Sean tried to help and got sucked in. Luckily, my buddy Ryan O’Neil (former Dissonant guitarist and the only guy with a brain at the time) took his big rubber boots and kicked my guitar out my hands, broke the chain. I stood right up, started babbling about how much of a high that was. I smoked a cigarette and finished the set, reminding myself not to touch the mic again. Later, people were telling me they thought it was part of the show and that’s why they were not trying to help. [Laughs]
R: 6 Prong Paw won the 2006 Heavyweights Championship. What did winning that competition mean to you as a band? What do you think Heavyweights brings to the local music scene? Will you be taking part in Heavyweights again in 2013?
NW: The Battles are a good thing. I have heard other bands trash it. But it really is good. It gives your band good exposure into the GR scene and gives you a taste of what proper promotion can do for your band’s shows. I mean, we all hate going out and badgering people to buy tickets. But at the same time, if they buy a ticket, they will go. Much more effective than just flyering, which you should still do anyway. Oh, and buying ads in Recoil helps too. [Laughs] We played it, I think, four times before that and made it to the finals every time, finally winning after the fifth attempt. We got two thousand dollars and bought a van with the money. We never got the studio time they advertised, but they said they were not offering that at that time. But I can remember the commercials. We didn’t really care, we had just released the “Victim of Mainstream America” EP. We also got a $100 tattoo certificate. We actually put that into an empty 20-ouncer and threw it into the crowd at that summer’s Carnival of Chaos show. Someone told me the guy that caught it, tattooed 6 Prong Paw on him. That could have just been a rumor though. The one thing I hated about it, however, was this: there was a local radio station that sponsored it at the time, who is no longer with us. A lady from that station called me and asked if we would like to open up for Rob Zombie at the Deltaplex because we had won the battle. I was like fuck ya. The show was only a couple weeks away. She said a person from Live Nation would be calling us to get our stage plot and that we were in. Cool, right? So what do you do in that situation? You start telling everyone you know. I was fucking excited. My mom and dad even went and bought tickets. So a week goes by. No one calls. Finally just a couple days before the show, a dude from Live Nation calls and said, “Well I guess Rob Zombie’s management don’t want a local band to open the show.” Really, lady from former radio station that isn’t on the air anymore? That chick should have got her facts straight before she went and called me about a show like that. So let that be a lesson to anyone who is going to play with a big-named act.
R: Last year you guys signed with Twisted Hillbilly Records out of Knoxville, Tennessee. How did you get in contact with them and why did you decide to work with them?
NW: Well, we had this deranged fan who was helping us with some online promo stuff at the time. Only I didn’t know how crazy and unstable he was until he asked if he could be “manager” of the band. When I told him no, he began to start trashing us on every media network he could find. Anyways, I met the label through him. Moe Hillbilly, the owner, and Wayne Tourville [engineer] both started to contact me via phone and email. I sent them some new stuff I had been demoing at my studio and they liked it. They were explaining to me how they need some bands with actual talent on their label. They had just dropped everyone they had and were looking to start fresh. They wanted to invest some time and money into us with a three-year deal and we would be the only band on the label. We could take as long as we wanted, have full artistic control, and it would be a fifty/fifty deal after royalties paid back what we spent. We also were not liable for expenses if the album flopped. So nothing to lose really. We actually signed in February 2011. Spent the rest of the winter and summer writing and polishing. They liked the drums I had already recorded with Josh at my studio, so we kept those. I then went back through and did the guitars at my studio also. Then in November of 2011, we drove down to Tennessee and brought all the tracks with us. We spent a week down there refining guitars and doing Chad’s bass tracks. Then I took them home and edited what we had. I then went back down two separate times during the spring and summer to do vocal tracks. This past August I went down for a week of final mixing. I was cool ‘cause all my gas and hotel was paid for.
R: What was it like going back and forth between Michigan and Tennessee to record your album, Auditive Levitation?
NW: It was cool. It’s a nice drive. We actually recorded in the mountains. The studio is in Seirville, Tennessee, right by Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. That’s about an hour and half east of Knoxville. Everything went relatively smooth with transferring tracks between studios and Wayne is a super studio savvy guy. He taught me a lot. He use to work in a lot of studios in Florida growing up and cutting his chops.
R: How does it feel to finally be putting out a full-length album after all these years? How different did you want to make the album from any of your previous EPs?
NW: I feel relieved to be releasing a full length. Fourteen songs gave us a lot of room to experiment with. There is a song called “Karmatic Delicacy” on the disc that we added some synth stings, horns, and timpanis to, that I made at my studio at home. We were able to do a whole sampled intro I made. We are even taking one song called “Parlor Trick” and doing something special with it. When you buy the disc and open it up, there will be a code in it that you have to decipher. When you decipher it, you will know where to find the hidden song. Josh and I were able to get crazy with the artwork. We put a cool collage in it with a bunch of goofy and live pics. Doing a full-length gave us the chance to kind of explore that concept side of recording that we couldn’t ever do before.
R: Why did you decide to title the album Auditive Levitation? What does the title mean to you?
NW: Auditive Levitation is something Josh and I came across while watching, “Don’t Watch This Film” in Tennessee. Look it up on YouTube. It’s a thirty-minute short that deals with some crazy theories on origin and government conspiracies. Auditive Levitation is the act of moving things with sound or music. They say that some of the ancient monolithic structures were made by lining up drums, trumpets, and men chanting. After a few minutes they could levitate rocks. If you think about it, music and sound move things all the time and we are not even aware of it. Think about a big metal show, and the big pit you see. Think about how it can trigger your emotions to move from one feeling to another. Every living thing and all matter would not exist without some sort of vibrational frequency. If you don’t know what that means, go look it up. ‘Cause I would be here all day explaining it to you guys!
R: What is your favorite track off the album and why?
NW: I love them all equally. They are all like my little children getting ready to walk. I feel they are all unique and have different personalities. I really love “Cold Repetition,” it’s a great rock song. “Question” and “Plastic Perfection” are songs that I have always wanted to make. They are technical and simple at the same time, with good hooks. “Mediation of Reality,” “Egg,” “Number 9” are songs that are melodic and heavy. The last song on the disc, “Character of Nature,” is actually a cover song by a local band from our hometown of Hastings called “Deranged.” When we were really young kids, we all looked up to them. We had been tossing around this idea of putting it on a album for a long time. This CD gave us the chance to share them with everyone. I got ahold of all the former members via social network. They were totally down with it and gave me full permission. The song came out on their last album release in ‘95 or ’96, I think.
R: What was it like shooting the video for your song, “Cold Repetition?” What can you tell us about what will be going into your video for “Question?,” which you’re planning to shoot next month?
NW: Well it was really fuckin’ cold, which seemed pretty fitting for a song called “Cold Repetition.” We shot with director/editor Daryl Minton, from Mintox Productions, and cameramen Toby Trax and Travis Taylor. We did it on Oct. 6 at the Coldwater River in Hastings. It was raining a little bit on and off, but the canopies of the trees kept the mist off us. We had to get permission to shoot from this place called Trout Unlimited, who own the land. We actually had some trouble with a neighbor who came back to see what the hell we were doing. We were all drinking beer, and had about thirteen people back there with loud music raging. We told him to fuck off and if he had any issues to call Trout Unlimited. He said, “Well you guys better pick all this shit up,” and left. We shot the band on a dried out swamp bed. We had to carry two heavy ass generators, drums, a PA system, a bunch of lights and the rest of our gear down this long hilly trail that ran against the river. What a pain in the ass. We shot from 1 p.m. ‘til 11 p.m. Just about ran out of gas for the generators. It sucked having to pack up all that shit in the dark, but was well worth the effort. The cops pretty much sat out by the road, where we parked our cars for the last couple hour of shooting. They never fucked with us though. The song is actually about a chick that shuts her partner off. And I basically used the season changes and things that happen in those season changes as a metaphor for that. ‘Cause I hate the cold. The guy fishing by the river and tripping off a weed he doesn’t know is psychedelic really doesn’t pertain to the song at all. It was just a concept I came up with after being inspired by the location. The following of the chick and being in nature is really the only thing that pertains to the song. If you notice in the video the man and women never make contact. She is really just followed by this crazy dude in the woods who is looking at trees and checking out leaves. It’s really just suppose to be a fucked up video people are not suppose to really get. Unless, they open their minds and wanna pay attention to detail and get into the lyrical aspect of the song. We just released a behind the scenes vid and will have a lyric version coming soon to help understand it better. But I don’t really care if people get it or not. It’s like trying to figure out origin, government, religion. No one will ever truly get the whole concept or truth. Nor do I think we are even capable of understanding that truth. “Question” is one of the more heavier, technical songs on the disc. We are going to shoot it at a tattoo parlor and invite a bunch of our friends to be in it. That’s all I can say about it now. I have heard of some scheduling issues for Jan. 6 so we will see what happens.
R: Why did you decide to have the CD release show for Auditive Levitation at Planet Rock in Battle Creek [on Jan. 19]?
NW: We really dig the venue and it’s a little smaller with a great sound system and it’s closest to some special family and friends. The Potatoe Babies from Grand Rapids will be there. Bloodline Riot from Detroit and Release the Crimson from Wayland. We will have a new line of shirts available and will be playing an hour set. $5 gets you in the door. That was another good thing about doing it there was we were able to set our own price and make it cheaper for fans. We were able to make it our show and do what we want. That’s something other bigger venues won’t let you do.
R: After the CD release what are some of your plans for 2013?
NW: Touring and festivals, man! Looking forward to it. We are going to just start playing as much as possible outside of Michigan. We will defiantly be doing a month tour on the East Coast. Moe was talking about Europe, but we are just trying to deal with one thing at a time right now.
6 Prong Paw will release Auditive Levitation Jan. 19 at Planet Rock. Grand Rapids’ own Potato Babies, Wayland’s Release The Crimson, and Detroit’s Bloodline Riot will open. For more info, check out reverbnation.com/6prongpaw.-Eric Mitts