SPARKS OF ELECTRICITY!!!
SomeKindofMedia Sits Down Backstage With
9ELECTRIC singer “THUNDERWOOD”
Trees - Deep Ellum, Texas: Thursday, August 11th
More often than not, my job as a journalist allows me to be grateful that I NEVER advanced very far down the road of fame in regards to a music career. My 18-years of interviewing and reviewing bands, musicians and performing artists has outlasted almost every one of my subjects in regards to longevity and a successful album cycle. I’ve become somewhat “safe”, at times, with my questioning so as not to basically start every interview off with; “So, what are your plans in a couple of years when the band tanks and you owe up to your ass to recoup the losses from your debut album not selling jack-shit?”, but clearly, my editor wouldn’t approve and I’d probably come off sounding like a doucherocket, although I’d be willing to bet 90% of you reading this would totally “get” my reasonable line of questioning.
With that said, it’s often that I sit in front of a musician, preparing to just phone one in while faking enthusiasm for whatever newness they think they’re bringing to the table. Upon entering the famed TREES venue in Deep Ellum/Dallas, Texas on this humid Thursday night, August 11th and being met at the door by 9ELECTRIC frontman Ron “Thunderwood” Underwood…something hit me immediately and sent a shiver of excitement down my spine, telling me that THIS particular interview was going to be completely and refreshingly different.
Looking eerily like a much younger and WAY cooler Mark McGrath from his SUGAR RAY days, Thunderwood didn’t just stroll up to greet me; he fucking bolted towards me like a clan of N.Y.C. crackwhores in need of money for their next fix. To say this dude’s social energy level possibly outshines his frenzied stage persona by at least another 75% is COMPLETELY within reason! Already arriving an hour late due to some of the most insane traffic I’ve seen since leaving D.C. in the early 90’s, I tried to apologize to him for my tardiness to avoid what clearly looked like an asskicking I was about to endure as he bound towards me like a gazelle on blotter-acid, but he was having no part of that. Thunder came in hot and gave me a huge bearhug and told me he had already secured us a nice, cozy spot upstairs in the green room lounge so we could talk freely over the loud, thumping music spilling out of the bomb-ass sound system on the stage level. I carefully tried to keep up with him as he quickly became a figure dominated by two elbows and a butthole moving at the speed of light away from me. This dude was super intense and had already laid the groundwork for me to get excited again about what I do! What would follow was to be proof that there is totally hope in the new generation of bands carving out the roadmap for major label success stories.
With nary a single pleasantry, Thunder asked if I’d like a cup of coffee before we began, and I thought better of it while suggesting with his energy that he might do the same, but when it was clear that he was an unapologetic caffeine vampire, I asked for a quick soundcheck on my mic and just let tape roll as the physically fit and mentally sharp singer went through the paces as if he’d waited his whole life for someone to listen. I couldn’t believe that the guy would have even an ounce left by the time he hit the stage, but I was so wrong that I’m sure every one of his tour mates must rue the day they ever had to share a stage with this rocket-fueled Energizer Bunny. What follows is merely a fraction of the hour and fifteen minutes Ron so graciously spent with us.
“Dude, will this be okay?”, Thunderwood asks as we enter the palatial and cavernous lounge area fit for royalty. “It’s a little quieter than downstairs and the couches are comfortable as hell! I love playing in Texas, man. This place especially.”
I shoot back, “This is great, bro. I feel like there should be a cover charge just to sit up here”. We both snicker and he suggests that I just hit ‘record’ and we just start talking. With a guy like this, I couldn’t have agreed more.
“Ron, I had a battery of questions already written out, but I like your style, man. Let’s just wing this thing and see what happens”, I say as he chugs the rest of his coffee and SKoM Staff-Writer, Cherri Bird, goes to grab him a refill while I try to motion a Diet Coke in the deal for myself. He stands up quickly as she goes to exit and gives her a hug and fist bump for being so hospitable. (Writer’s Note To Editor: We’ve gotta work on Cherri’s overwhelming kindness as she’s making the rest of us look like dicks for our obvious lack of manners!)
“So, Thunder; I’ve got to kick this off by saying what a huge fan I was of your former band, OPIATE FOR THE MASSES. Cherri and I are both friends with O.F.T.M. drummer Chris ‘Seven’ Antonopoulos and I personally loved that ’05 album you guys did called The Spore, so help us understand the timeline of how 9ELECTRIC became the quiet, stealth step-child of that band to your current situation of now releasing your first full-length album with the latter.”
Ron quickly replies, “Yeah, well…first of all, Seven was an amazing drummer and good friend. I know that you’re good friends with GODSMACK’s Shannon Larkin, and I have to tell you…Chris, you know; Seven, he always said that Shannon was the main reason he wanted to play heavy music, so you may have noticed that he even plays a lot like Shannon, that kind of…I don’t know, that crazy sort of style that Shannon totally came up with; and he was a really awesome groove drummer. Both of them! I have to have a great groove drummer in any band I’m in and I’ve been lucky to play with some of the best. Basically, O.T., … wait a minute”, he laughs; “I fucked that up, didn’t I? (laughter) You did it a second ago and it was so quick, and RAD…(Thunder goes in for the fist-bump)…Okay, basically O.F.T.M., there…I got it (more laughter); basically, WE kind of got fucked on many levels and once we recorded that record, it was kind of all a downhill slide from there. I joined 9ELECTRIC in like 2010 when I hooked up with the guitarist, Mikey Lopez. He had the idea for the band and was looking for a singer, and it just so happened that I was available (laughs), so…anyway; we put out an E.P. around 2012 and now, “The Damaged Ones” is our first full-length, and it’s our first with the new label; Another Century. Our label is, ironically, the same label that all the bands on this tour (Stitched Up Heart and Gemini Syndrome) are on as well. It’s really cool because we’re all from LA and we’ve all been friends for a long time, so this tour is nothing unusual at all. We hang out when we’re not playing and are home in LA, and now, we still hang out while we’re on the road. It couldn’t be easier, plus our label is just so supportive and makes sure that the music is a priority and that people can hear it and find it.”
I quickly chime in before moving on to the next subject; “Let me expand upon something you said earlier about you needing to play with a heavy groove-oriented drummer; your drummer Micah (or “Electric” as he’s known to fans), plays the coolest, but probably most abbreviated and scaled back drum kit I’ve ever seen in my life! It’s like two bass drums, a snare and a floor tom! That’s it!!! Dude, that’s just fucking crazy, especially since there’s so much going on in the music that’s very drum and percussion dominated. I know this music is more Cyber-Electro-Evil-Disco-Industrial-Aggro-Rock…(Ron laughs loudly at this description and launches in for fist bump #2), but man, he gets so much power and sound out of such a bare minimum back there! I can’t wait to see him tonight because I’m really curious how some of the triggers, loops and electronics get handled in the live setting. Your music is very reliant on these things being dead-perfect in regards to this element being a huge key to the overall sound that defines your style. I’ve got to also mention that the visual eye-candy Micah has going on is frickin’ awesome. That clear kit with all the lights in it is badass!”
“He’s really good, man!”, Ron agrees. “And the cool thing is that he’s not just a good groove-player, he’s awesome to watch. Micah’s just the nicest dude you’ll meet.”
“So, why don’t we go ahead and talk about the new album; The Damaged Ones. It’s your first full-length and it happens to be on my favorite record label: Another Century”, I boast. “Your early fanbase is clearly expecting a montage of EDM-based tunes with heavy guitar riffs, and clearly, this one does not disappoint. Very much like your E.P. [Control] that I believe you guys release a couple years ago, it’s heavy on the guitar riffs, precision drum & bass patterns, tons of electronic zips and zaps…(we both laugh)…and then there’s you; just belting out odd, rhythmic and neurotic vocal runs. Basically, you throw a nod to all the bands that opened the door for this style being so commercial like, of course, Nine Inch Nails, Powerman 5000, Static-X and obviously your hometown pals and one of my favorites within this style; ORGY. The album is pretty much, start to finish, everything you should expect a band in this genre to sound like, however, your voice brings a whole different approach to every song and leaves you guys open to explore a bit more depth than the previously mentioned bands. The title track and the unique little left-of-center oddball “Little Things” tosses in a few, new, outside the lines colors that I wasn’t expecting from a style so dominated by purely abrasive energy. It’s almost like; if you didn’t see a picture of the band before listening to either of those…don’t you think it could easily be construed as something that was written for a more Pop Radio-Friendly audience?”
The playful look suddenly vanishes from Thunderwood’s face, which makes me slightly uncomfortable for a moment because I’m worried he may have taken that question entirely the wrong way. I’m overthinking my last sentence like crazy…even right now as I transcribe the audio for this piece, I can hear it in the air; I’m cringing over the fact that I used the words “Pop” and “Radio” in the same sentence while talking about an album that, for the most part, will melt your fucking face off. What seems like an entire sixty-seconds passes with nothing more than a contemplative look on the singer’s face. Is this where he suddenly remembers that I showed up an hour late and decides to nut-punt me with his biker boots and poke my left eye out? Finally, the uncomfortable silence ends…
“You know; we didn’t really set-out to do that, but I can see how those two can cross the lines a bit”, Ron says, which totally sends a sigh of relief visibly through my stiff body. Like I prefaced earlier, his enthusiasm was refreshing from the word ‘Go’ and he totally made me, a journalist whose seen every trick in the book go terribly wrong for an artist who tries to “act” his/her way through a question like this, feel at ease with the younger generation of Rockers. I certainly wasn’t meaning to make a musical enemy here by any means. Thunderwood continues; “But, as you know, just because something you do isn’t planned or intentional, it doesn’t mean that your influences don’t spread into it. We all listen to different styles of music. I think that when we started building our signature sound there was a certain approach to the guitar, a certain approach to the rhythm section; you know, with the disco-beat and things like that…our guitarist, Mikey, had kind of a challenge where he sort of said, ‘Hey, what if I lay down this clean guitar and I don’t cyber it up to create that chopped up cadence which creates that, sort of…BOUNCE sound?’ …” (Thunderwood does his best Garth from Wayne’s World impression, emulating a guitar riff while belting out a phonetic “Arghhh-Uhhh-Uhhh” in perfect time)… “out of that came this more; jangly, darker and more somber sound which, to me…kind of reminds me of more of a David Bowie Heroes thing.” Here, I smile a huge, shit-eating grin and move in for MY first fist-bump of the evening! Thunderwood smiles and bumps it HARD as he continues, “Or even a Brian Eno record! You know, like the Manchester bands…New Order for example. It’s got those cleaner, like I said, more jangly guitar tones, but it still has a more slamming drum beat behind it, you know what I mean?”
“Absolutely”, I reply. “Commercial by way of Heavy! I was actually reviewing the album for a separate piece before we arrived this evening and I thought it would be cool if I could just throw a few of the tracks at you that standout for me, personally; and just get you to blast in totally freestyle thoughts on each. No rules here, just whatever comes to mind when I blurt out the song. Cool?”
“Of course”, the obliging singer pipes in.
I continue; “How about the first single that you guys have released for the record; “New God”? Go…”
Ron smiles and launches forth; “Ironically, “New God” was written and supposed to be featured in a movie. The song ended up being rejected because, I guess, they wanted something a little less brutal, so our label heard it and ended up really liking it. I guess you never really know where something will go until you’re given this opportunity to have a grouping of songs that you can actually choose from in order to create an album, so the label loved it…and now it ended up being our first single.”
“Kudos to the label”, I add. “That’s usually NOT the case, as I’m sure you know.”
“Absolutely! And when you’re given the chance to be part of the process, you get cool tunes liked that throughout the whole record”, Ron states. “The video for that one is a good example of what we do in a live situation. I love that video! That one was done in this club; a place that we had played a few times, and it was closing, so we thought, kind of as a Farewell…let’s shoot the video there and get that live-vibe that we were sort of known for in our hometown of LA.”
“How about “Lies”?”
Ron gets a huge smile across his face, which clearly tells me this is going somewhere very demented and GOOD! “Another Aggro song. It’s a little more uptempo…and there’s some strange and interesting things about that song. The music is all dark and heavy, but the vocals…they’re kind of all major (referring to the key of the song) and sort of strange the way the vocals are stacked, and the song itself…it was kind of an anthem to the backstabbers, the haters…you know; we’re from the Hollywood area, so…” Ron pauses as if to hint that I should do HIS dirty work for him…and so I do…
“You mean the LA douchebags that judge everyone on a scale that they can’t even live up to?”, I ask rhetorically.
“Yeah, you got it!” Thunderwood laughs. “Our middle-finger to our fair-weather friends, you know?”
“Actually, I do!”, I giggle. “Now, how about my favorite track on the album; “More More”?
“Yeaaaaaaah, man!”, Ron reacts positively. “I really like the tempo on that one. It almost sounds like “Another One Bites The Dust” with that downtempo cadence thing.” (He starts air-drumming and mouthing out the riff to Queen’s legendary classic.) “It’s that very open…there’s so much space in that one during the verse sections, which allows it to totally explode into the chorus. It’s almost like a Motown feel on that one; kind of like “Soul Man” or something”, he laughs. “I feel like tonality and mood is way more important on this track, so it leans heavily towards a more soulful sound that is heavy on the instrumentation, but the vocal kind of lays back and just gets very bluesy-soul. That’s a great track!”
I pause while nodding my head in agreement, and then launch into the last one on my list; “How about “I Die”?
“You know what, that song was totally brought in by our drummer, Micah. I’m pretty sure he had that one totally written and finished when he came in and showed it to us. That one was fully realized before it even became a band effort in the practice room. You know what I love about that song? It’s really downtempo, but I’m singing super fast over it. It’s almost like I’m scatting the vocals…”
I rudely, but by excitement only, interrupt Thunder’s flow here; “It totally sounds like something that Steven Tyler would do; like a “Walk This Way” or “Sweet Emotion” kind of thing…”
(Ron leans in for fist-bump #3, clearly winning this ordeal with a score of 3 for the home team to my mere 1 gratuitous bump earlier) “Exactly!!!!”, he chimes.
I feel this is the perfect time, now that I’ve earned a little Thunder-cred, to turn the tables and wind down with a down-and-dirty question to see if I can throw him for a loop: “So, Thunderwood, it’s time for Kill, Marry or Fuck…”
“Oh shit…”, he replies with laughter.
“Okay, you gotta choose who you’ll Kill, Marry or Fuck out of the following three…you ready?”
“Hit me!”, Ron confidently confirms with a huge smile.
“Kanye, Axl Rose and Donald Trump…GO!”
(Thunderwood busts into hysterical laughter, but obviously is thinking his answer out carefully…) “Okay, well….obviously I’m gonna Fuck the rich dude; Donald Trump”, (more laughter, but this time from me as well…) “and I guess…I think it’s pretty obvious that I’m gonna Kill Kayne, which means I’ve gotta go with Marrying the dude who still probably influenced more singers during his time period; Axl Rose. There you have it; Kill Kayne, Fuck Donald Trump (ironically, upon listening back to the recording I’m transcribing this from…I giggled like a child and kept hitting the REPEAT button on the digital audio so I could loop Ron’s comment; “Fuck Donald Trump!” many times before continuing the transcription!) and Marry Axl. Boom!”
“You’re a good sport, man” I say. "One last thing, you guys are known for doing a very cool cover of AC/DC’s “Dirty Deeds…”; is there any chance we will hear that one tonight?”
“Awww, man…you know, we’re the first band on this tour, so I don’t think there will be enough time for that one, but I love playing that song. We all love AC/DC and of course, with the old Bon Scott stuff, it’s totally made for the audiences we play for live, so it’s such a great song for us to cover!”, Ron says. “You know, the way that Bon Scott’s version, if you will, of AC/DC differed from Brian [Johnson], is that Bon was really mischievous and almost…I don’t know…kind of like a little kid, you know? More tongue-in-cheek and sassy rather than when Brian came in; he was like the adult version of AC/DC. He made AC/DC more grown up and even though both versions are amazing and I love both singers; Bon Scott is just more similar or, I guess, relatable to me. I am kind of the funny frontman who doesn’t take himself seriously onstage and the audience expects me to do that kind of…I dunno…fly-by-the-seat kind of thing. Anyway, I doubt we’ll have time to close with that, but we LOVE playing that song live. It’s mid-tempo, but full of total energy…just like what I want people to hear and see when they come to watch us.”
And with that, I grab one last bear hug and try to even up the score on most fist-bumps, but Thunder’s not having it…he totally nails me with another for a total of four, and then rolls over to Ms. Cherri Bird and cashes out with a grand total of five for the evening…not to mention the couple hundred he manages to squeeze in during their live set an hour later. Catch them on the Gemini Syndrome and Stitched Up Heart Remember We Die tour that runs through mid-September before they jump on an, as of yet, unnamed major label act opener for the rest of the year.
Special thanks to SomeKindOfMedia’s Cherri Bird for being my photographer for the evening and providing us all with something way prettier to look at than each other, David McDonald from Concrete/StreetSmart PR for hooking up the interviews and to Chris Schrag, Clint Barlow and Howard Handcox from the famed Trees nightclub in Deep Ellum for the insanely hospitable treatment on this particular evening.
9ELECTRIC “New God” Official Video: https://youtu.be/iohbWaa9HiY