TOTAL MELTDOWN, NEW YORK CITY
It has been almost 10 months since we had an In Effect Fresh Blood update and this time around we check in with NY’s TOTAL MELTDOWN who are essentially right out of the box brand new with just one live stream show under their belts which is a direct result of a global pandemic, no in person live concerts, blah, blah, blah… stop me if you have heard this before! Their lone release is a 5 song self-titled EP that came out last March that just stood out as something fresh and different. It’s got a NYHC vibe, some hip-hop backbone along with other elements sprinkled in that makes it hard to pigeon hole and say they sound like this band or that band. Although their band may be new their members are no strangers to the NY scene and are firmly implanted with other bands, and ventures which you will find out about in a minute. So stand clear of those closing doors and read on about what the Total Meltdown crew had to tell us in this January, 2021 interview!
All photos (except Saint Vitus live) by: Aaron DuRall, lead photo graphics by: Bas Spierings.
IE: Hey guys, let’s start off with an introduction to what Total Meltdown is all about.
Ralph: Total Meltdown is composed of four friends that grew up in the Long Island hardcore scene and moved to the city around the same time, where we’ve been for the past 15-20 years. I’m on vocals, Chris on guitars, Cory on drums and Drew on bass. When we started Total Meltdown it was Chris who came up with the name as a reference to Michael Douglas' character in the movie “Falling Down”. In “Falling Down”, the movie starts with the main character stuck in summer LA standstill traffic, with no A/C. He hits a breaking point where he can’t take it anymore and decides to make everyone pay for it. He ditches his car on the highway and causes chaos and destruction on his walk home. I started writing the lyrics with that character's feelings as a point of reference, but as I started hearing the music, the lyrics that came out were about a different kind of meltdown, one akin to a nervous breakdown. The lyrics focus on mental anxiety, self-doubt, hopelessness and how to deal with it all.
Chris: I started this band for Ralph actually. We met at CBGB’s in the mid-90’s and he’s at so many hardcore shows all the time since then, singing along and just loves it but was never in bands, so I wrote a handful of songs, with help from our drummer Cory and the idea was to produce something that would be the sound of a band that Ralph should be in if he had one, if that makes any sense. We love NYHC, old school first wave American hardcore, 90’s NY post hardcore, noise rock/grunge and I tried to marry all of those styles. I wanted it to sound NY, which I really don’t have to try hard to do because it’s where we’re from and grew up. Even though we’re originally from Long Island, we’ve been coming to the city all our lives and living here for half of it at this point, so inevitably you hear that in our sound but we decided to get even more obnoxious with it by throwing in the train sounds, so that the EP is kind of a trip into our everyday lives between the subject matters of Ralph’s lyrics, the riffs and the backdrop of our city. We’re all between 35-40 and back in the 90’s, bands ranging from Madball/Sick Of It All to Unsane, Barkmarket, Helmet, Quicksand sounded like the streets. I really wanted to accomplish that with this band.
Drew: I actually had discussed starting a NYHC band for a few years with Chris. Through the act of punishment, he finally caved, and through his own unrelenting self-punishment, turned it into his own thing and made it all about himself. We might as well have called the band Punishment.
IE: I want to get into the artwork on the cover of your first and only EP. Can you talk about what's going on on the cover? Is there a story or message behind it and if so what is it?
Drew: We set some parameters. Our name alone is supposed to be somewhat stress inducing but the record is not only about that. Mental anguish, self - doubt, hopelessness are all things we deal with in our own unique ways. The ultimate aim of the record though is about just trying to remind people to check in with themselves. Mental health is an important issue and finally starting to become an un-taboo topic that has gone unnoticed for far too long. We wanted to convey the idea that even though we all as individuals have some internal and external chaos that surrounds us, it’s important to check in with yourself and not lose sight of one self. If things are weighing you down it’s also important to check in with folks, and if necessary, reach out to a mental health professional. There is always a light at the end of the tunnel. That makes up the base of the lyrical content and the art for the record not only needed to convey those ideas but also the vibe of the music and us as people and our collective experiences and the backdrop of the environment we all live in. We came across Kelsey Nizolek’s (who is a Brooklyn based artist) work and it instantly attracted us. While she often doesn’t work within the confines of hardcore related stuff, the feeling and tone of her work matched what we were trying to convey so we worked with her from an art directorial standpoint and the concept for the art was based around all the aforementioned. Artistically it has some literal, scientific and metaphorical meaning. (Check out Kelsey Nizolek on Instagram).
IE: Also... the cover seems to have Coronavirus/pandemic vibes yet this art was chosen long before there were any shutdowns or lockdowns early last year. How coincidental is all this or are you guys tight with the writers of the Simpsons who apparently have this knack for covering subject matter way before it happens?
Ralph: Total Meltdown is from the future, we're back in 2021 on some Terminator shit… haha, it's a complete coincidence. Before the pandemic, a lot of people found distractions to keep them from dealing with their mental health, but with the whole world shutting down, there's a lot of time to sit at home and think. I guess we were ahead of the curve by bringing mental health issues to the forefront while still being surrounded by the world's distractions. With the lockdown it seems like a bunch of people are just starting to catch up with themselves. It doesn't help that there are countless businesses closed and shitloads of people out of work, so that'll definitely create some mental anxiety even if you never had any before.
IE: When I listen to your EP I hear influences outside of the regular same old hardcore type of stuff but it is also hard to put my finger on exactly what those outside influences may be. Can you give some examples of bands both in and outside of the hardcore scene that may have influenced your sound and style?
Chris: As the primary songwriter, when it comes to the hardcore side, I can say there’s elements of Bad Brains, Cro-Mags, Burn, Leeway but on the artsier side of hardcore, I draw influence from Die 116, Burn, Quicksand, Stillsuit, Orange 9mm, Unsane, Indecision, 108 to name a few. Furthermore, elements of Nirvana and Jesus Lizard. We all grew up on eclectic stuff, whether it was grunge, hip-hop, punk/hardcore, metal and noise rock. I think the culmination of all of that comes through, but will even more on future recordings as we have been developing our sound more and more. This was our first release and our new songs feel like we’re starting to really hone in our sound more.
Cory: Hardcore without a hip-hop backbone is for people from Boston and California.
IE: Whether they are influential on Total Meltdown or not what are some current day albums and artists that you are really high on?
Ralph: I'm personally listening to a lot of hip-hop. Freddie Gibbs, RTJ, the Griselda Camp, Roc Marciano, Jay Electronica. I've also been loving funk and jazz. The last Tom Misch album with Yussef Dayes is on loop, so are the new Kaytranada, Kamaal Williams and Khruangbin albums.
Chris: As I mentioned earlier, our tastes are eclectic. Lately for me in terms of 2020 releases, it’s been a lot of Khruangbin, Run The Jewels, Hum, Somerset Thrower, Shiner, Narrow Head and Uniform to name a few. Not really hardcore. Over the years I’ve reconnected with hardcore in the sense of getting familiar with contemporary bands and some standouts for me would be Mindforce, Higher Power and of course our bass players band, Perfect World. We all love Incendiary, who are our boys. I’m always throwing them on. But mostly I always find myself going to the classics when I’m really in the mood for hardcore (Bad Brains, Agnostic Front, Cro-Mags, Minor Threat, Black Flag, etc.)
Cory: The aforementioned as well as Geld, Herjaza, Jussi Lehtisalo, Oranssi Pazuzu and Ebo Taylor.
IE: For some not living in the NY area there may be this perception that the NYHC scene currently consists only of bands like Sick Of It All, Madball, Cro-Mags, Agnostic Front and a few others and not much else when in fact there are a few dozen bands much like Total Meltdown who have released music but might not be known outside of our local area. Can you give folks outside of our area a pre-Covid rundown as to some of the up and coming bands that you have seen or heard that could be making a bigger impact on the scene when live music gets going again?
Chris: Two bands that are friends of mine that I’d like to give shout outs to are Rule Them All, who probably have the best contemporary drummer in hardcore period (Abbas Muhammed played in Burn for a bit) and Somerset Thrower, who are more like alternative rock but come from the hardcore scene. We’re friends with Constant Elevation, who are great and I know I already said it but Drew’s band, Perfect World. Shout out to Outskirts and Born Sinner, both amazing bands that Darren Nanos, who produced our EP is in. Darren is also in War Babies with Mike Delorenzo (formerly of Sheer Terror and C.R, currently of Kill your Idols/Deathcycle) who are great. One last band which is another one of Mike’s is Faithless with Ron Grimaldi of Deathcycle and Anthony Corrallo of Sheer Terror. These are all NYC, Brooklyn, Long Island bands that I love to name a few.
Drew: NY as a whole has and always will have a great scene. It goes through waves, but with each generation of up and comers, it takes on and breathes new life into it. I’d assume most of your readers know or have already heard of these bands, but these are just a few from the area I dig and I think are changing the landscape here in NY. Uniform, Combust, Ekulu, Mindforce, The Fight, Somerset Thrower, Illusion, Black Tongues (used to play bass in this band), LVGER, Warthog, Rubber and L.O.T.I.O.N.
TOTAL MELTDOWN @ ST. VITUS BAR, BROOKLYN , NY SEPTEMBER 10, 2020
CLICK PHOTO TO WATCH FULL SET
IE: Total Meltdown's first show was a live stream out of the Saint Vitus Bar in Brooklyn. How did it feel to finally get that first show out of the way and does it really feel like you got it out of the way considering you had no audience? I was one of the few that saw that set live and your sound was almost as if I was listening to a studio recording.
Ralph: It was great to play these songs on stage for the first time, but without an audience the energy wasn't where we wanted it to be. Hardcore is all about crowd interaction so without that missing element, it's hard to really consider it our real first show. Ok, I'll call it our first show, but with an asterisk. When we recorded the songs we always kept in mind how we would play them live. We were always under the assumption that people would see our live show before they heard the EP, but because of the pandemic it's actually the other way around. It seems that going into the recording with that mindset worked in our favor.
Before the pandemic, we were set to play our first show back in May opening up for Killing Time (Rest In Peace, Rich McLoughlin) at the legendary A7 (Niagra). Playing at that small place would have been epic. Our second show was going to be at Project X in Ridgewood, Queens opening up for Husbandry. I’ve never seen a show there, and we would have been the only hardcore band in the lineup, so that would have definitely been a fun time.
IE: What was the last show you attended before everything got shut down? Where was it? Who played?
Ralph: Drew and I drove out to Amityville, Long Island to check out Gorilla Biscuits, Indecision, Mindforce, Constant Elevation and Restraining Order at Revolution Bar & Music Hall back in February 2020. The show was electric with good vibes all over. It was the first time GB played on Long Island in over 30 years. GB played 2 days in a row, apparently that show was tame compared to the next night.
Drew: Perfect World played a show in Philly on Saturday the 14th of March 2020. NY was a day or two out before going into full lockdown. With the emergence of the virus, there was definitely some hesitancy in playing it but the promoter said it still was happening, Philly’s borders were open and so we collectively made a decision to play it. Probably my favorite show with the band thus far. It was wild. I think knowing that things were eminently closing for a long time and this might in fact be the last show people attend for a while, both us and people that attended went the fuck off.
Chris: Yeah I went to Day 2, which was amazing. It was Gorilla Biscuits, Kill Your Idols, Fiddlehead and Rule Them All. AMAZING bill. It felt so good to be on Long Island around a lot of old school heads and lots of young fresh faces, all together just having a blast. I couldn’t be more stoked that I got to experience a hardcore show specifically before the world shutdown and I can’t wait to get back to that again.
Cory: Moses Sumney at Public Records, Monday, March 9th.
IE: Around the same time as the Saint Vitus show you guys dropped your EP on 12" vinyl which is kind of a challenge due to cost as well as not having live shows to sell them at or to promote them. Hopefully you have been moving them out online. How many did you press up and is the process of putting out your own vinyl something you plan on doing again if given the opportunity?
Drew: Fortunately, we all have full time jobs and were able to self-fund pressing 250 copies of the EP. We all knew the risks involved, and in many ways, romanticized about doing it the old fashioned way, by ourselves. In some ways it was completely self-serving but we said fuck it, why not. We wanted to do it and just do it for OURSELVES and if people liked it, that’s cool too. That said, having been in other bands, working for other bands and doing artwork for other bands, we knew what it was going to take putting a record together and how to promote it. We planned to play out as much and as often as we possibly could knowing it was one of the best ways to promote and get our name out there but then, Zombie Apocalypse. The wrench was thrown and clearly we had to switch gears.
Our collective members' involvement in and out of the music scene definitely helped move some units but we had to rely heavily on social media, streaming platforms, playlists, media outlets such as yourself (thank you), friends helping promote, even help sell (thank you State Of Mind Records) to get the thing into the hands and ears of people. Live streaming became a thing, people were sitting at home, so we said why not try and take advantage of it. It was better than not doing anything at all. Fortunately our friends at Saint Vitus helped facilitate a record release show for us.
For all the work we put in, with no label, only ourselves to promote and a live stream with no audience, we're just happy anyone’s been interested at all. The reception from friends and fans all over the map has been nothing but positive thus far and we know once the world can get to a point where things get back to some semblance of normalcy, we’ll hit the ground running. The next go around were definitely looking at shopping the record around and trying to garner some help and support that way.
IE: It seems like the members of this band have a lot of other things going on besides Total Meltdown that fall within the parameters of underground music. Chris for example has the Saint Vitus podcast, writes for a few publications and although he plays guitar for this band was pretty successful drumming with On the Might of Princes... and that's just one band member. What other things do the members of Total Meltdown have going on besides this band?
Chris: I actually am not a writer, which is a common misconception due to my resume at various media outlets. I handle Marketing/sales for Revolver, The Hard Times, Brooklyn Vegan and INKED. And as you mentioned, I’m also the co-host of the Saint Vitus Bar web series, “Age of Quarantine”, which interestingly enough, Drew handles graphics for and Ralph handles video editing. My main band is Spotlights (Ipecac Recordings), which I achieved the most success with to date. Right before the pandemic, we were about to embark on our first arena tour with Korn and Faith No More, which unfortunately got cancelled. On the Might of Princes (Revelation Records) is my band from 20 years ago, which WAS a big part of my life but currently, my day job and Spotlights take up most of my time. I also started a management company, Powerchild Mgmt and my roster includes John Lamacchia (of Candiria/Spylacopa), Somnuri at the moment.
Drew: Yes, I play bass in Perfect World who recently just signed with LDB (Life And Death Brigade) Records representing the Midwest and we are also in the middle of getting some representation overseas as well. Look out for vinyl come spring. I work fulltime as an art/design director and do some freelance graphic design/illustration work on the side for friends, brands and bands.
Cory: I own and operate Beer Street and Beer Street South, NYC’s first locally focused beer bars, which now function as retail stores due to Covid.
IE: What has the band been up to over the last couple of months? Are you meeting up to rehearse? Doing remote writing? What's next?
Ralph: We've still been practicing although it's not that frequent, we actually recorded a new song back in November for a compilation called “A Piece of The Beast” (Sunken Temple Records). The comp features Stillsuit, Gospel and Faithless to name a few and should be coming out in a few months. That was an interesting process since the band wasn't all together for the recording. I took advantage of the ability to work remotely and went down to Texas back in June. Because of being out of town, I recorded the vocals remotely. The music was recorded at Danbro Studios in Brooklyn while the vocals were recorded at a home studio out in Houston, Texas. Chris has actually been very productive during the pandemic, he wrote like 30 songs for us to choose from for the next EP. So we all got together back in December to play 6 songs we thought would be a great fit for our next EP. Get ready for some obnoxious New York hardcore coming later this year!
TOTAL MELTDOWN CRUCIAL LINKS: