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Being in an extreme metal band is never easy. You’re basically guaranteed a permanent ban from mainstream popularity, and keeping a band together basically just for the love of music is a daunting proposition. Even within the metal world, the public’s tastes waver from one direction to another over time. Still, in spite of all that, heavy metal has survived for four decades. Several of the originators are still going strong: Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, and Iron Maiden, to give three shining examples. But they’re not extreme metal bands, and they’re giants with huge sales, not only of music, but also merchandise. Extreme bands, and especially those toiling away in local circuits enjoy no such perks.
Organic, previously known as Organic Infest, is a band whose origins date back to 1988. Their style combines the influences of death, thrash, and doom metal among others, which results in a sound that can easily appeal to a wide range of listeners. They combine aggression with melody, avoiding the monotony that plagues many an extreme band nowadays. Even as you’re hearing melodies your head is being mercilessly bashed in.
They’re from Puerto Rico, just like yours truly. Therefore, I’ve had some first-hand experience within the scene of which they’re a part of. On top of it being a particularly difficult scene, Organic has made some very brave choices. Chief among those was their recent decision to go on without a guitar player, opting instead for a two-bass lineup. Bear in mind that this is a thrash/death metal band, genres in which the guitar is, by and large, the most important instrument. Bassist and vocalist José, who is known simply as Chewy (pronounced “Cheh-wee”), switched to piccolo bass, and they added a second bassist, Tony, to keep the low end rumble going (drummer Juan completes the trio.) They faced skepticism and criticism, but they forged on, and turned most skeptics into believers when they heard the amazing results. That, my friends, takes balls.
All pictures by Fran Jaume Photography, except the picture of Juan (drummer) by Tommy Galdy Photography
(All answers by Chewy except when otherwise specified.)
What inspired each of you to get started in music?
Tony: I have always admired and wished to express myself through art. After trying different types of art, music became my favorite because it’s the one that allows me to express myself completely. Music has no limits!
Juan: My desire to play drums started when I began listening to a local radio station (Alpha Rock) in the mid eighties. Bands like Rush, Saga, Triumph, and the likes of that time.
Chewy: I grew up listening to bands like Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, and Judas Priest. Later I was very much into W.A.S.P, Iron Maiden, and Savatage. But when I really decided I wanted to play bass was when I discovered what became my all time favorite band and greatest influence, Coroner!
Tell me about the origins of the band.
The band started in 1988 by the name of Black Cross with the lineup of Pedro (drums), Freddy (guitar) and me (bass and vocals) and it was mostly heavy metal. Later that same year we changed the name to Darkken and we were playing some originals and some D.R.I., Anthrax, and S.O.D. covers because that is what the guitar player was more into at that time. We were like that until the end of 1990 when I was listening to more heavy stuff like Possessed, Pestilence, and Death and got the guitar player influenced by that music, so we started to change the direction of the band and the drummer (Pedro) left because he was not into that stuff. At the beginning of 1991 the current guitar player (Freddy) and I met Juan and he started playing with us. We changed the name again to Concealed Damage which did not last long (only one gig) and I came up with the Organic Infest name one day at a rehearsal and we all liked it. That name stayed from 1991 – 2005 when Freddy left the band. Juan and I decided to shorten the name to Organic. We were without a guitar player for about a year, and in 2006 we had one great guitar player,Ed Diaz, but it only lasted a year. In 2007 we were looking for a replacement, but gave up due to constant disappointments with guitar players. By the end of 2007, Juan said to me in a rehearsal, “Man, put some distortion on that bass and let’s just play”. It started as a joke, but later we decided to go for it. We started the piccolo bass thing, and added a singer (Junito) and Tony (bass) and played like that until 2010 when Junito decided to leave, and we have been with this current lineup since then.
What gave you the idea of eschewing the guitar and using two basses instead?
The idea of the two basses came as a solution to our problems and bad situations with guitar players. We wanted to play, and we were desperate. So Juan (drums) gave me the idea and then I listened to a bass player named Brian Bromberg who does that in one of his albums entitled Metal and the guy is simply amazing. So then I said to myself…hey if he does that in a rock/fusion style, I can do that in metal, and that is when the piccolo idea was born.
Did this new concept fall into place quickly, or did it take a lot of experimentation?
It took a lot of experimentation. I went through a lot to finally get the sound that I wanted out of the piccolo bass. Many different distortions, settings, and equalization. But now I finally have the sound that I wanted after experimenting for so long. Also, it took a lot of changes in my playing and technique in general, especially on the muted parts.
Did not having a guitar impact your songwriting process?
Not really. I have always composed music on bass, so the process stayed the same. The only thing that changed is that now I play leads like a guitar player would normally do.
How did your fans and the scene in general react to the band’s new lineup and name change?
There were people who were saying “Freddy left the band??? These guys are finished.” Oh, they were all so wrong!!! They thought that Freddy did everything and was the “mastermind” – wrong again. I wrote all the lyrics, named the band, created the whole concept, wrote half the music , and even arranged some of the songs he composed. He was a good death metal guitar player and a good friend, but not the mind behind the band. The proof being that now we have even better music. Of course there was always the faithful ones who were really happy to watch us continue and grow as a band. About the name, I think it was not that much of a deal because many people were referring to the band as simply Organic. It was just a thing we wanted to do since our lyrics were not about gore anymore like in the past.
Some might say that the name Organic, as contrasted with your previous name Organic Infest, doesn’t sound very metal. Thoughts?
Organic is all that relates to an organism, living entities, life and death. What could be more metal than life and death? Organic is a term that is very vast and lets us write about anything that we want. While the name Organic Infest would suggest a more death metal style with gore lyrics, the name Organic gives us more freedom for lyrics and also the music which right now is not death metal, but a mix of all our influences which extend to all the styles within the genre (power,thrash,death,black,doom etc.) and are part of our own original style.
What’s the songwriting process in the band, and how do you work out the bass parts?
The songwriting process is different for every song, but mostly works in jam sessions. Sometimes I write a full lyric with verses, choruses, bridges, and everything and I even know how I am going to sing them, and then we add the music. Sometimes we write the music first, all the basic structures, and we mold the whole thing until we are happy, and then I add the lyrics. About the bass parts, I usually create the parts and then Tony gives them his own touch and style. With the piccolo I just play it as if it was a guitar because that is the job it does in the music’s context.
What would you say to someone who complains that your piccolo bass sounds just like a guitar, so why not use guitar instead?
Well, we had so many bad times with trying to get a guitar player that we decided to do what we are doing. Also, I don’t play guitar, I am a bass player, always have been, and always will be. If I got the piccolo to sound like a guitar that was the whole intention of it, to have a guitar sound without having to keep on torturing ourselves looking for a guitar player. Besides, some people tend to be purists and would never accept what we are doing , and that’s fine with us. Innovators have always been treated as crazy and many other things until other people start to follow. Isn’t that how metal became the great music it is? At first extreme music was considered just noise, and now many drummers, guitar, and bass players are getting recognition as great musicians. It’s just a process of adaptation, but the most important thing is that we like what we are doing, and how we are doing it. Many people told me in the beginning, “Chewy, what you are doing is a total mistake, it will go nowhere” That’s the same people that follow us today and now come to our shows and say “Wow, what you guys are doing is awesome.”
Chewy, how did you develop your vocal sound?
When I started, all the “growlers” sounded different, it was a fresh thing and I took as influence what I liked from each of them. Vocalists like Chris Barnes, Chuck Schuldiner, Frank Mullen, David Vincent, Glen Benton, John Tardy, etc. were growling but they all sounded different. I have never liked trends, so when growling was “in” I was using more screechy black metal-like vocals, then when the screechy black metal like vocals were “in” I did the opposite and started growling low again. Mainly what I would do is sing how the part of the song asks me to. It is more of a feel thing for me, at least on recordings because live I mix several different voices to give texture and variation.
Chewy: The big man with the little bass!
You did some really good clean vocals in the song “The Deathwish.” Any plans to incorporate more of that in the future, or is it going to be a “only if the song feels like it needs it” thing?
Maybe I will incorporate more cleans in the future, but only for songs that really have the feel for that. Just like you mentioned “if the song feels like it needs it.” Besides Coroner, which is my main influence, the other two are King Diamond and Candlemass, which use clean vocals. So incorporating those would be nice. Challenging, but nice!
How has the heavy metal scene evolved in Puerto Rico from your beginnings until the present day?
Chewy: The local Puerto Rico scene has been one very diverse, controversial, and a difficult one. There have been some times of growth, but some times of being stuck very bad. When we started 22 years ago it was very difficult to record something and to promote the band. All was done through mail and tape trading, now things are so easy for bands to record their music and promotion through the internet, and yet I see so many bands complaining. Now there are some promoters here bringing international acts and everything, but for us local bands to play is very difficult because we almost have no places to play here.
Juan: I feel that even with all the time that has passed, our scene has not evolved very much. Sometimes it feels as if we were slipping, staying on the same place over and over.
Tony: I have to agree that our scene could be much better than it actually is. If there was more cooperation among bands instead of the competition that they have for who’s the best, our scene would be a great one.
What lies ahead for Organic?
Organic is now stronger than ever, very focused, and many good things are coming for the band. New music, new recordings, and many other good things to promote the band and let those who haven’t listened to our music yet to have the chance to do so. Hector thanks for the interview and keep up the excellent work metal brother, Hails!!!
Visit Organic on Facebook HERE