NAMM 2008: Conversations of Steel
Starting things off in this next Winter NAMM interview section is an interview I did with Katagory V bassist Dustin Mitchell. I saw Dustin in his Tankard shirt walking around with guitarist Curtis Morrell and instantly recognized him, we’re friends on MySpace and he was wearing the same Tankard shirt in his avatar. Dustin is a really cool guy and also was my most informative interviewee. Unlike that crazy drunken Sam Totman, heh, read on!
MR: What brings you guys to the Anaheim NAMM convention?
We’ve always wanted to attend and check things out, but never really had an “in” with anyone or any vendors up until now. Truthfully, we’re still a bunch of nobody hacks and we were just lucky enough to get in with some of the guys from Imagika this year! It was cool to finally go for the first time, and run into a lot of our friends from other bands as well as meet some of the big names on a level playing field without all the fans mobbing them. I just hope my back and feet can get better, because they are killing me from all the walking around!
MR: A few short weeks ago it was announced via a press release that Katagory V lead vocalist Lynn Allers and guitar player Marc Hanson had left the band just a few months after the release of the latest album Hymns of Dissension, would you care to comment on the split with Lynn and Mark?
Okay, here’s the detailed scoop on both guys. Marc actually didn’t leave Katagory V until just after we played as Ronny Munroe’s (Metal Church) backing band on New Years Eve in Las Vegas. We knew it was coming, so it really didn’t come as a shock to us when he called and told us he was out. He has expressed his disinterest in some of the song writing recently as well as us having to put a lot of pressure on him just to make it to the studio on time, let alone make sure he showed up at all. He works a fairly stressful and time consuming day job, and I think with that, and the growing lack of interest in Katagory V, it pushed him over the edge. Marc is a cool guy and an excellent guitarist, and I think he really set the bar pretty high for whoever comes in to replace him. But, he was just not into what Katagory V is about anymore, and wanted to move on. Personally, I was a bit saddened to see him go and would have loved for him to stay, god knows how many times I talked him out of quitting, but we finally had to let him go out on his own.
Lynn on the other hand, was almost the complete opposite situation and it didn’t end under the best of circumstances. I know there are a few of our fans that have contacted us and are mad at us for kicking him to the curb, but I think they need to understand the situation we were in and that we can’t keep him in the band just because they like him as the singer, especially if he doesn’t want to be a part of Katagory V, we had to cut off the head, or the band would certainly die with it. He has actually been out of the band since July of 2007, but we had to keep it under wraps until after the album came out and had circulated a bit; Both the labels and us didn’t want it to have any negative effects on its release, or have all the reviews be about Lynn’s situation in some form or another, rather than the music on the album. We wanted it to be critiqued on the merits of what we created as a team and not that we fired our lead singer and all the “what if’s” involved with that.
He was great to have in Katagory V in the beginning; very dedicated, highly motivated and a great singer. Hell, he’d even let us all use his van when we went on the road! In the early days of Katagory V, Lynn was a godsend for us, being that we were all from Utah. The talent pool is extremely shallow here, and I don’t know if he knew that and let it get to his head or what. But, as the years past, he began to become very arrogant, obstinate, negative and very, very difficult to work with. We started calling him “grumpy grandpa” because he was the oldest guy in the band, and would almost always be in a bad mood and only show up half the time to work with us.
Lynn had somehow turned into this walking mass of negativity, and it was bringing us all down. Curtis was on my side from day one, ever since he and Lynn had a blow out while recording the 3rd album “The Rising Anger”, but the other guys didn’t want to kick him out because they felt we wouldn’t find anyone good enough to replace him. Although that still might be true, it is beside the point; he had a long history of demerits stacked up against him. He was responsible for a majority of the problems we had with promoters, and clubs, and on some occasions, he has down right insulted or offended other bands we’ve played with while on stage as well as our own fans! That is where I draw the line, and I was finally getting my fill of it! You can be an asshole to me all you want, but once you start fucking with the other bands and the fans, your days are done in this band.
Well, as it so happens, I was at my wits end with him and ready to give the band the “it’s him or me!” threat, when we were asked to play a local show on short notice in July of 2007 with a few other friends of ours. Even though he agreed to do the show, he decided at the eleventh hour that he didn’t want to do it after all, and made an idol threat to us at the studio, hinting that he MIGHT have a change of heart and MIGHT just decide to not show up since we still wanted to do it and wouldn’t cancel for his sake. He is notorious for pulling stunts just to spite other members of the band or the entire band itself, so we really didn’t know how to take that. Normally he would do stuff like that and never follow through whole heartedly, but this time he actually did. We waited and waited at the venue, and pushed the time back for our set almost an hour, and finally just went on stage without him and played an instrumental set…. and it was a blast! We had fans there who paid to see a show, and we’re going to give it to them with or without a singer! There was no stress, and no worries, it sounded great without him,a dn the fasn still loved it! It was at this point that the other guys saw him for who he really was and right then and there, we unanimously decided he needed to go.
MR: It would seem that there was already trouble brewing in the Katagory V camp as far back as your CD release party for the new album, you had Norman Skinner of Imagika filling in for Lynn, and then shortly after that Katagory V acted as Ronnie Munroe’s backing band. It’s nice to know that Katagory V has such a strong network of vocalists supporting you at the moment. Do you feel that there is a chance either Norman or Ronnie could end up as Lynn’s replacement?
Exactly, and the reason Norm was asked to stand in was because Lynn was already out, and had been out for several months at that time, but as I mentioned, we couldn’t say anything in the press at that time, so no one had a clue. Talk about an awkward situation! Well, I think if we got into a real bind for a singer and either needed someone to fill in live again or even record the next album, I am sure these guys would be happy to help us out if their schedule permitted them to. But, they are both fairly busy with the bands they are already in, so we want to try and find someone that can commit to us and be part of our family and make us a priority. We have a few guys we are looking at now that have contacted us, some of them are unknowns and some are not, but most of them are very good singers, and we want to be sure that we do it right this time and find the guy who is the exact opposite of Lynn in both personality, commitment and vocal delivery. We want to make sure the next guy we get is a step up and can really bring it to the table for us as well as the fans, as well as bring the band to the next level. We’re not getting any younger, and if we can’t pick up the pace soon, this band is going to eventually run out of steam and collapse in on itself.
MR: You had a little bit of a scare when you were finishing the final mix for Hymns Of Dissension, I understand that the computer everything was recorded on froze up and during assessing and troubleshooting the situation you tried spraying compressed air into the computer and that finally did the trick. I can’t imagine how stressful that must be to have your life’s work temporarily or seemingly permanently froze up. How did you cope with the situation?
Me? I totally flipped out!!! (laughs) Curtis was pretty level headed about it when it first happened, as well as Mike (Fowkes, producer) when he came over with a new drive, but I was pulling out what very little hair I had left out of my head! I can honestly say that there were several mistakes made that lead up to the crash, one being the computer and its OS software is dated, and that spells trouble already. If you mix an old computer system with two inches of dust and dirt that has collected over the years inside, you’ll have yourself a PC that will shit the bed indefinitely! We tried everything for two days and the damn thing would not kick over, so when we pulled the panel off to change out drives to see if that was the actual issue, it was fairly murky inside, so I went out and got a can of compressed air and blew it inside, and all this dirt and dust exploded out, filling the whole studio up like tear gas. We were all hacking and coughing running out of the room, and we had to leave the door open to clear it out. After things settled down a few minutes latter, we crossed our fingers and let it rip one more time, and what do you know – it fired right up and we all breathed a HUGE sigh of relief!
Fortunately, we had a back up of all the tracks on tape and disc, so what was on the computer was the final mix of the album that we were going to send to the labels. If we had to go back and re-mix everything, the album would have been delayed for months and I’m sure Curtis would have actually had a coronary at that point… not me!
MR: Towards the end up 2006 Dustin, you were diagnosed with severe carpal tunnel syndrome which you underwent surgery to correct. Two years later how is your right hand functioning, would you say it is 100%?
I really hate to admit this, but I still have not had the surgery yet, and I have been planning to do it this spring. Due to my wife being in school and having a two year old daughter to chase down, I have been putting it off. I will practically be handicapped for a lengthy time period and not able to do much of anything to help out that involves using my right hand so I’ve been trying to plan it accordingly since it’s not life threatening. It has not been affecting my playing ability much at all. However, it has slowly become more and more unbearable, and harder to deal with. For the last 4 or 5 months, I have not had a full nights sleep at all and it is affecting me in an emotional way more than anything. I have been getting roughly 2 hours of sleep every night before having to wake up due to my hand tingling like tiny little needles poking it. So, this surgery needs to happen soon, regardless, or I am going to go off the deep end and hurt someone due to lack of sleep!
MR: Having been a regional recording / touring act since 1999 in the close knit American underground heavy metal scene, I would definitely consider Katagory V as one of the frontrunners in American metal. How do you feel Nightmare Records represents you and are your eyes set on any other record labels in particular that could possibly take the band to the next level?
Thank you, that is very cool! We’ve never really thought of ourselves like that, it has always been such an uphill battle for us, and the metal scene is so oversaturated that we rarely ever hear anyone say that about us, so that means a lot to actually told that.
We feel Nightmare Records has represented us fairly over the years and pushed us very well with what the label has to offer us within its limits. There are of course much larger labels that could probably do a lot more for us in many aspects, but our biggest priority is if the label that is handling us is doing a good job promoting us, getting our alum in stores, and taking care of the contractual obligations. So far, Nightmare Records has followed though. We’ve never put heavy demands on the label, or asked for ridicules things, so at the end of the day, we are happy. Personally, it would be nice to be supported by a much larger label, with a bigger budget and tour support, but at this time, there are none that seem interested in us, and we are very apprehensive about moving to someone bigger if we have to put on a dog & pony show for them just to get us on their roster – if their not already aware of us and not already fans of our music, they probably would not be the best label to represent us. That could all change on the next album, or we very well could become one of the flagship bands for Nightmare Records if label keeps growing and they still want to work with us.
MR: When can European fans expect to see Katagory V in concert, are there any plans currently to play in one offs or festival gigs abroad?
We’ve always left our calendar open for that, but nothing has ever materialized. We’d love to get over and play for our European fans, but it still seems like there isn’t a strong enough interest in us to play live over there, at least not from festival promoters. However, we are partially to blame for that as well; we have to be smart about something like that. Everyone in the band has heavy financial responsibilities and families to take care of. Don’t get me wrong, we’d LOVE to play for even just 15 people in Europe if we could! But, for us, that would be committing financial suicide and would quickly put an end to Katagory V. It is a little disappointing when you think about it; we haven’t had one request or invitation to perform in Europe in the near-decade of the bands existence. The way we see it, if we are not getting an invite to play, then we probably have no business being there in the first place. It just tells us there is no demand for us to play live. If our fans base grows and begins to really push the festivals organizers and promoters to bring us over, then I can see it happening fairly soon. For now, we have decided to be patient and wait for our time to come, if it ever does.
MR: Dustin, a few years back you stepped in to play bass for Pete Perez from Riot. What was the experience like for you getting to jam onstage with such a legendary American Metal act?
I can’t even begin to say how exciting that was, as well as nerve racking! I’m a huge Riot fan, and when I got that call from my friend JB who was on tour with them, I didn’t really want to believe it. Pete is one of my favorite bass players, one of the best out there, and even filling his shoes for a couple of songs on one night was a bit stressful. It’s funny, but I got to the venue while Frank was finishing up his drum sound check, and the rest of the guys were at the hotel. Frank ran me through the songs a few times and was being really supportive and helpful. The rest of Riot walked in at the tail end of us working through some of the transitions, and I got wind that Mark Reale was NOT happy that they had pulled some unknown guy that he hasn’t heard of, to play on stage with them! I wasn’t aware of it at the moment, but they did the same thing in Las Vegas the night before, and that bass player totally hacked it up and made a mess of things, so I can’t blame him for being very apprehensive, I know I would have been too. I was in the dressing room with them, hanging out, and I could tell Mark was very nervous about me being there, he was in the corner on the couch, tinkering away on his guitar and not saying anything, while everyone else was drinking and having a good time, so this only made my anxiety about the situation worse. Frank, and the two Mikes (Tirelli & Flyntz) assured me that he’d be fine once I got up there with them and to not let it bother me, so when it came time to go on, I went out and did my best to do justice to the material. The last thing I wanted was to embarrass myself and one of my favorite bands!
I’ll never forget it, we were playing “Flight of the Warrior” and Mark comes over to me, and we start jamming out together on the synchronized section, it was sounding totally tight, and at the end of the song, he put his hand on my shoulder, leaned in and said, “That was killer man! Ready for the next song?” and at that point, I knew I won him over, all my anxiety washed away and we tore into “Thundersteel” with a vengeance. It was amazing, and like I said, I’ll never, ever forget that night, it was a dream come true for me.
MR: There was talk a while ago about putting together a Katagory V DVD that would include the bands performance at the ProgPower pre-party show in Atlanta, Georgia. Considering the recent lineup changes in the band is this still a possibility at some point?
Ugggg…. Yeah, that was the plan at one time! (laughs) We have so much archival live footage, studio footage, you name it, but we just haven’t had the financial means to make it happen. I really wish we could someday soon, I mean, we have tons of great stuff on tape, and I know if we did it, it would be in a documentary-style format with the occasional live footage, and bootleg stuff, it would be really, really cool. I’m a fan of band documentaries more than I am of just the live DVD’s. If there is a DVD of band that has backstage material and studio footage, I’ll buy it. I know many metal fans hate that stuff, but for me, as a musician, I like to see the bands in their element on and off stage. The personal side of the musicians is far more interesting to me than just watching something live and wishing I could be there.
I agree, with the line-up changes, it might be difficult, but then again, it might make for an even better DVD if we can ever get it put together. If we did a DVD we would more than likely make sure we had a well filmed live show in its entirety, and cram it full of documentary footage too. It might still happen, but not for a while or until the line up is stabilized.
MR: What is the metal scene like in Salt Lake City, Utah? Was it tough to connect with the members of Katagory V, I’m sure you were picky about finding band members with the right influences initially…
If you are only into what’s on the Headbangers Ball or in the pages of Decibel Magazine right now, then yeah, the scene here is amazing! However, if you are a progressive/power metal act, and bunch of old duffers over 30, then the scene sucks ass. When we first formed, we got lucky with finding five guys that wanted the same thing musically and shared the same vision and influences. Every time we’ve lost a band member, it has become harder and harder to replace them with another person that has something in common with us. Right now, although we are getting overwhelmed with potential talent locally, we are not limiting ourselves to the local circuit to find replacements for Marc and Lynn, and we certainly have to be picky, both of them really raised the bar high and we refuse to settle for less. It seems like most of the local guys really have nothing in common with us when it comes to influences, or our musical goals, and I think they are more fascinated with the idea of getting in a more established act like Katagory V and skipping some of the hard work, sacrifice and discipline, and if that is the case, they couldn’t be more wrong for part. Katagory V is like a ship with a leak that is taking on water fast, and it takes a team of five guys that can communicate and understand each other to shovel the water out in buckets and keep the ship afloat. We’ll have to see what happens when we run these young cadets through the ringer in the next few weeks, but we’re not holding our breath. Everyone contacting us out of state, and even out of the country, has been far more promising, so outside of logistics, I think we already have an idea of where we might be going with filling the empty slots, and that could seriously change how this band operates in the future.
MR: I’d like to thank you for taking the time to chat with me, I really appreciate it. Is there anything else you’d like to address or promote before we wrap this up?
Of course! We want to thank all those that had the patients to read my incoherent ramblings here, and thank those that have been supporting us over the years and PAID for our albums (laughs) and we hope everyone has a chance to check us out and pick up the latest Katagory V album, “Hymns of Dissension”. Oh yeah, and if anyone out there knows a good singer and guitar player, feel free to send them our way!