A Light-Hearted Conversation With Impaled

By Avinash Mittur

Recently, I had the chance to talk to Sean McGrath, Ross Sewage, Jason Kocol and Raul Varela of Oakland’s legendary goregrind act, Impaled. After releasing “The Last Gasp” in 2007, the band has toured and played shows sporadically and have been working on a re-recorded version of their first album, “The Dead Shall Dead Remain.” We got to discuss the band’s current level of activity live and in the studio, the hair competition between them and Exhumed, and how they feel about the band’s career up to this point among other topics. I hope everyone who reads this has as much fun as I did conducting this interview- if you haven’t laughed a few times by the end of this article, you’re probably doing something wrong. Read on, and be sure to check out Impaled’s facebook page for updates on future shows and the re-recording of “The Dead Shall Dead Remain.”

When one goes on Impaled’s website, they see “The Last Gasp 1997-2007.” One would think you guys are broken up, but you’re still out there issuing updates and playing gigs. What is the status of Impaled right now?

Ross: Well, we actually died. We’re zombies now. So that was the unfortunate thing, Impaled are now zombified.

So I guess you guys are officially broken up, but you’re still doing shit anyway just because you can?

Ross: Yeah, why not? Every band likes to break up and get back together so we figured why not just do it in one fell swoop? Then we just let the cash fly in!

Well there you go.

Ross: It hasn’t worked.

From the last update I saw, you guys have been re-recording your first album, The Dead Shall Dead Remain. Is that project still in the works? Will it be released any time soon?

Jason: Yes, it’s still in the works. The recording and mixing is all done, we just need to take care of mastering and artwork. Hopefully it will be out this year, but it’s been “almost done” for like a year.

Ross: It’s like working on the Bay Bridge, they built it in three years, but to retrofit the bridge it took twenty. We’re retrofitting the first album. We’re making it earthquake-proof.

Bay Area fans have had the chance to see the band live probably a handful of times or so over the past couple of years, but fans in LA or anywhere else barring Maryland Deathfest haven’t really had much of a chance to see Impaled. Is that going to change any time soon?

Ross: We went to Europe in 2011 because we like the bread rolls there better. That was fun! Yeah, we want to do more shows but it’s been a bit clusterfuckey. We’re not gone, we’re just honing our skills. We’re gonna come back and we’re gonna be like fuckin’ Cacophony. It’s gonna be so good.

Ross: I mean Cacophony the band of course.

Uh, right…

Ross: Or cacophony like the noise.

Jason: Is clusterfuckey spelled like “f-u-c-k-i-e” or “f-u-c-k-y” or what?

Ross: It’s “f-u-c-k-e-y.” Make sure you transcribe that correctly!

You guys are all involved with many projects. Ross, you were in Ludicra and both you and Sean still play in Ghoul-

Ross: What? I just disappeared from the Bay Area for three months this year for no fuckin’ reason.

Sean: We’re not in Ghoul, no. I don’t know what you’re talking about.

Well, I know for sure that Raul has been playing in Landmine Marathon.

Raul: Yup, I’ve been playing with them for the past five or six months.

Has it been difficult for you all to stay on top of all these projects, none of which are Ghoul of course, and also the art, graphic design and engineering work some of you guys are involved with?

Raul: Yeah, I guess it’s always kind of chaotic, but we try to plan around all that stuff. With Impaled, there hasn’t been too much stuff going on in the last four years, so that’s given us some time to pursue other shit.

Ross: You own three drum sets now!

Raul: I know! I got one in Arizona, and two up here. Ah fuck, it’s too much shit. I should be the singer.

Ross: But you’d have to own three mics.

So Sean and Ross, say you were hypothetically in a thrash metal with death metal elements while being in Impaled, a death metal band with some thrash elements. Would it be difficult for you guys to keep the bands distinct and keep their musical styles in check without getting too much overlap going on?

Sean: Yes, I wouldn’t do that. It would be such a hard thing to do that there is no way that I would sign on for something like that.

Ross: Who would do such a fool’s errand! But yeah, if you were in a band like that, you’d want to make one a little more simple and easy to play and if you were to wear a mask or something. You’d want to make it not quite as difficult to play and write riffs that are easy to mosh to and may err to a more simple palate.

Sean: By which we mean write it for dummies.

Ross: Yes, dummies. Then you’d jump back into Impaled and be like “how the fuck did I play this shit?” It’s not like getting on a bike after a long time. It’s like getting on a rocket after riding a bike.

Some of your albums like “Mondo Medicale” are pretty tough to find. They’re out of print, and even Amazon or eBay asks for a good bit of cash if you want them. Are there any plans to reissue those albums or get them back in print in some other way? 

Sean: We can’t really. Those first two albums are on Necropolis Records and that label doesn’t exist anymore. We’ve been really easy to work with.

Ross: Really easy to work with! I really don’t understand, because we’ve always had such great working relationships with every label we’ve been on. It’s always been sweet apple pie when we communicated with our old labels like Necropolis, Century Media or Death Vomit. Really, the ball is in their court because we’ve been nothing but gracious.

Sean: That’s one of the reasons that we re-recorded the first album, to kind of get it back in print.

So are the similar plans in place for the second album?

Raul: If you’ve got another ten years to spare!

Ross: We didn’t quite have the justification of playing completely hammered on “Mondo Medicale” like we did with “The Dead Shall Dead Remain.”

Sean: Nowadays, you can get that stuff digitally. If you want a physical copy it might be kind of difficult, but if you just want to listen to it, it’s out there so there’s not much of a reason to reissue those albums I guess.

Back in the early 2000s the other big Bay Area band that played the same style of death metal as Impaled was Exhumed. I know you guys played shows together back then. Was there ever some kind of friendly competition at the time?

Ross: Only friendly!

Sean: The friendliest of competition!

Ross: It was always sweet. We’d have our dodgeball games together, so we’d compete there. We’re good friends with them and we continue to see them on occasion when they’re about. I’d say there was a bit of a rivalry going on for completely unnecessary reasons. Now we drink beer together!

Jason: I think it was about who had the best hair.

Ross: Sean, Jason and Raul obviously won that one. I was the last man picked on that team for the hair competition.

Sean: We have such good hair that we had to have a handicap.

Ross: That’s true, it’s kind of like par in golf or something like that. You know Exhumed had Bud Burke back in those days, so I don’t know about an afro/mohawk but whatever. Note: As of this writing, Bud Burke has in fact rejoined Exhumed. The afro/mohawk concern persists.

Along with Autopsy and Exhumed, Impaled were a death metal band in an area known for its contribution to thrash metal. Was that something you had to overcome when the band was first starting out and trying to get shows to play?

Sean: When we first started playing in the Bay Area, they were all funk metal bands! There wasn’t really any competition. There really wasn’t anybody doing anything.

Ross: There was no thrash scene, there was no death metal scene, there was no metal scene altogether.

Sean: All those bands had broken up or were doing something completely different at that point.

Ross: It depends on what you constitute as “hard to get a show.” It was not hard to get a show in the basement of some run-down building in San Francisco, but if you wanted to play a club, well then you better not have played metal.

Sean: In 1997, it was just dead. Completely dead. People just didn’t go to metal shows.

Ross: People don’t really realize that these days.

Sean: We played all the time back then and there would be like ten or fifteen people at a lot of the shows.

Raul: We did shows were it was just my sister, our old bass player’s wife and the bartenders as our audience!

Sean: Yeah, literally. That was well, not uncommon one could say.

Ross: The metal scene has grown up a lot in the last ten years. It’s kind of been amazing.

Sean: It was ramping up slowly, but then all of a sudden it exploded and every show was really packed.

Ross: And now KFC is doing commercials featuring metal! Sure, it’s a lot easier to get a show these days in general, but I wouldn’t attribute it to thrash versus death metal.

Sean: The thrash thing was gone.

I guess even the “thrash revival” thing happened after you guys went inactive.

Sean: When we first started, there was a different thrash revival. It was the “German thrash revival” with all those bands like Guillotine. That went away, then this thing happened. It’s weird, it comes in cycles.

Ross: There was the “Bay Area thrash revival”- it was good fun to watch and fun to go to shows.

Speaking of fun shows to watch, you guys opened the Tidal Wave festival way long ago with Impaled, and this year a certain act that shall not be named and that Ross and Sean may or may not be a part of headlined the show (Note: that band was Ghoul if you didn’t already guess). Ross, I know you also played the show with Ludicra a few years back. What has it been like for you two to progress from that opening level to that headlining status? 

Ross: Well, Impaled played the first Tidal Wave. Actually, it got cancelled but we showed up anyway. Then we played the next one which actually happened! I don’t know, I don’t really think that Tidal Wave has any bad slots except maybe the first one. It’s kind of like everyone just goes to hang out and drink beer. There isn’t too much of a difference in the timeslots, it’s the same party and either way I was too drunk to play in any slot on that show. I kind of just maintained my drunkenness throughout the day, headlining or being on a bit earlier. It was fun regardless, although I think this year was bit messier!

Sean: It’s definitely cool to be to able to think back on those old shows where no one showed up and we were playing first. Just seeing how many people are into this stuff and seeing the status we achieved in the Bay Area has been pretty cool.

All of your albums are pretty well acclaimed, especially considering that you guys are a death metal band.

Ross: I get it, it’s a very low bar.

I love death metal, but it gets a lot of flak from critics and that’s just a sad thing. So fuck the critics I suppose. Wait, I’m a critic.

Sean: Yes, fuck you!

Ross: How dare you acclaim our albums!

Jason: We agree!

You know, some bands still make relevant albums years and years into their careers while others retread the same ground and make crappy records and others still are content to look back on their career knowing that it’s perfect without lackluster material. Impaled haven’t released new material in five years- is a new album something you guys even want or are you happy seeing the discography the way it is?

Sean: We will only make a crappy album.

Ross: It’s been really hard, working on a crappy album for ages. We just can’t get it crappy enough. We really want to toe the line of the normal metal discourses as we get into old age.

Sean: I’m thinking we need some death n’ roll. Like, late period Gorefest!

Ross: Yeah, we really want to see a revival of the early ’90s death n’ roll scene when all the bands tried to go mainstream. In all seriousness though, as we grow into adulthood, things just progress slower musically. We can’t sleep on couches anymore, we have to have our apartments and our day jobs.

Sean: That was the thing, when we started we were a lot younger and a lot less responsible. Things like losing our jobs was just not as big a deal at the time. Staying up all night drinking and writing metal songs was something we could actually do!

Looking back, is there anything you all would have done differently with Impaled or are you completely satisfied with the way everything turned out?

Sean: Absolutely not.

Ross: Why I can’t think of one thing!

Sean: Which is to say, a lot of things.

Ross: A lot of legal stuff.

Sean: Business decisions and whatnot.

Ross: When people ask me for music-related advice I skip right past learning the core skills and go straight to hiring a good lawyer so you don’t get fucked in the ass.

Ross: Or I mean, if that’s your thing, make sure you get fucked in the ass! You know, I don’t make judgment calls either way.

Sean: It’s really just those things that I wish had gone differently. Musically, I’m pretty proud of the stuff that we’ve done.

If this interview hasn’t been enough evidence of this already, you guys love injecting humor into the things you do. I’ve seen videos of you all getting onstage in surgical scrubs, and the album covers are hilarious, I’m not gonna lie.

Ross: That sucks, we were trying to be serious.

That’s a bummer. Well, you clearly failed.

Ross: Damn it! Just like everything else I try in life.

Jason: We can mark that as another mistake in our long list of regrets.

So how important to you guys is humor in music, especially metal music?

Ross: I mean, have you ever checked out that catalog of one Weird Al Yankovic? I think it’s pretty fuckin’ important in music. I like humor, I can’t take myself seriously. If I’m walking down the street, you couldn’t take me seriously. It’s important to us to be tongue-in-cheek, if not tongue-directly-pointing-out-the-mouth-in-a-raspberry.

Sean: There’s something to be said about having a serious image, but it’s kind of hard with the music we play.

Ross: Yeah, we’re too goofy. It would never work.

Are there any future plans for Impaled that you want to tell us about?

Ross: Well, that re-recording of the first album will come out. It’s probably the best sounding thing we’ve ever done which is actually kind of tragic.

Sean: People are going to hate it because it won’t sound as shitty as the first recording. They’ll say “hey, I can hear the music now!”

Ross: They’ll realize that it’s garbage.

I guess that brings up another topic. Some really classic death metal albums have really horrible production.

Raul: By which you mean our first five albums!

Even the first Exhumed album, “Gore Metal,” was really influential but it had awful production. There are some modern death metal bands that intentionally go for terrible production- some find it vintage, others find it well, terrible. What was the sound you guys going for with the new version of the first album?

Ross: We were actually going for “good” this time! It’s not super compressed, but it sounds super big. We went the very analog, old school route with “Death After Life.” I would beg to differ with your claim that all of our albums were critically acclaimed, that one got a lot of shit because it sounded like an old Autopsy record that everyone had already listened to and didn’t want to hear from a new band. That was an experiment and it failed. I still enjoy it though, so fuck the haters. We just do what we like.

Any gigs coming up that you guys want to mention or touring plans at all?

Ross: We’re talking about doing some shows that aren’t just in the Bay Area coming up, but nothing solidified. Frankly I don’t want to talk to you about it, so fuck off! Just fuckin’ wait and find out!

Sean: What are you, some kind of spy?

Fuck you, I’ll hold this interview hostage! I guess that’s it then, it was great talking with you guys and best of luck at the gig tonight.