Bottom Feeders

feature image

Contra ain’t nothing to fool around with, you hear me?  This is the very definition of a POWER trio.  There’s no soft stuff or any singer getting in the way, just three men bashing their way through riff after riff of runaway heavy groove with a rhythm section tighter than a noose primed for a good sunrise hangin’.  These fellas aren’t strangers to the heavy.  Chris honed his guitar chops in the much missed Sofa King Killer, Aaron’s pummeling battery was an integral part of Fistula and several other infamous Ohio sludgers and Adam’s background is a bit of a mystery to me (though I’ll find out!)

In fact what I understand Adam actually isn’t so much the bassist as he’s a guitarist crafting a special tone that’s lower than low…so more on that later!  The past is fondly remembered that’s for sure but the right now yields a plentiful cornucopia of conversation topics about some must hear heavy, metallic rock high to the nines on potent blues.  Contra’s flagship EP Son of Beast is hotter than the surface of the sun and they have been engaged in frequent gigs with some of the best of the best.  The entire band sat down and went at it on this interview, so load up on grandma’s stuffing and let’s carve this big bird!

First off, thanks so much for agreeing to be grilled.  It’s an honor for me to be able to bring this one to the table.  How about introducing yourselves and your musical weapons of choice to the readers?

Adam Horwatt:  Thanks Jay.  I’m Adam Horwatt.  I cover the lower frequencies.

Chris Chiera:  I’m Chris Chiera on guitar (lead and rhythm).

Aaron Brittain:  Drums

What were the particulars behind Contra’s formation and how did the idea for the band come together in the first place?  I’m sure everybody knew each other or played shows together in the tightly knit Ohio scene.  Sofa King Killer, Fistula, Rue, King Travolta…man, I love all of the former bands and the work each of you did in them.  Still close to my heart! 

Chris:  Aaron and I were jamming in another band together The Rats Are Coming the Werewolves are Here (https://theratsarecoming.bandcamp.com/releases). Once the band split up we got together and started jamming.  After that, we wanted to look for another member to jam with us.  When that happened we lucked out and found Adam.  I had talked to him before about selling one of my amps because he is a Sunn freak.  Sometimes it’s hard to find people who are actually into the same music and a sound that everyone else is into.

Aaron:  Chris and I were jamming in The Rats are Coming the Werewolves are Here with Jeff Schrilla, whom Chris played with in Abdullah.  We were playing Jeff’s songs which were different then the heavy style Chris and I are known for.  When that project fell through, Chris and I began writing the first Contra songs.  About 9 months later, I ran into Adam at a local show.  Adam and I had jammed a couple times when The Unclean was first getting started.  From the first practice we knew we were onto something

Right on fellas!  No kidding there, I could tell from the first song Chris linked me up to that you guys totally found “the zone.”  Hey Adam, I’m not familiar with your old project So Long Albatross, so I’m curious as to what it sounds like.  Tell us a little bit about that band and anything we might have missed in the path that led you to Contra.  

Adam:  So Long, Albatross is a band that my two buddies and I put together after our old band, The Slow Blade dissolved in 2010.  SLA is a riffy mix of punk, rock, and stoner rock with some poppy elements. The combination of our playing style and gear gives us a very distinct, thick tone.  It is alive and well and we gig whenever our schedules line up.  Keith (vocals/guitar) and Eric (drums) are great musicians and we always have a lot of fun.

As far as what led me to Contra, I’ve always been a huge fan of Rue and Sofa King Killer.  I met Aaron sometime around 2005 at a Rue show and I would run into him here and there over the next 9 years. I was at a show in Cleveland in early 2014 and Aaron asked if I would be interested in jamming with him and Chris. Shit yeah.  Both of their bands had been (and still are) a huge influence for me so I gladly accepted.

Kick ass man, shit!!!  The Slow Blade…I love that stuff and didn’t know you were in it.  I have a three song demo that my man Gary from Shifty sent me.  Correct me if I’m wrong but did the idea for the project’s name (Contra) come from the greatest video game of all time?  Seriously, forget all of those modern war games…Call of Duty, Medal of Honor, etc., the Contra series is the ultimate in video game warfare!  The new shoot ‘em up games are like Sesame Street compared to the difficulty of something like original Contra and Super C.  It seems like there’s a fondness for classic gaming going on which I’m all about. 

Chris:  I’m really into video games.  I love side 2D and side-scrollers. The Contra NES classic is probably one of my favorite video games from that era.  I’m really into Street Fighter and Super Mario.  Remember that game Road Rash?  I had a 3DS when it came out and played that game day and night.  Anyone have one of those for sale?  They should bring that game back.

You bet I remember Road Rash!  That’s a game series that needs to come back and I think they could do something pretty cool with it given all of the new technology that’s available.  The three of you work so well together in this band.  I’ve been hooked from the very first note that hit my ears.  The playing is unique and instantly recognizable, though it feels like you all have reached a whole new plateau of killer jamming.  What was the first jam session like and did the magic start happening immediately?

Chris:  That’s a great question.  We wrote “Humanoid Therapy” on the first practice, so I guess that’s what you get when you play the music you are supposed to be playing.  It was quite a release and a blessing in disguise.  The last time I wrote riffs like that was in Sofa King Killer and I was really into it.  It’s been years since I was in a heavy band and I knew Aaron was going to be into that idea as well.

Aaron:  The first practice Adam played through a bass rig.  Chris and I were really excited after the first full session.  We knew right away Adam was going to be a great fit.  We all listen to the same bands and wanted to write songs with heavy riffs that I can bash along too.  Eventually, Adam set up the rig he plays through now, splitting his signal to play through both a bass and guitar amp.  It sounds amazing live with the 3 guitar tones.

That’s cool as hell.  Adam’s tone is definitely right on point and exactly what’s needed to combat with Chris’ BIG guitar sound and glad to hear you bashing again Aaron, not that you ever quit!  The debut EP Son of Beast is a fantastic piece of work, props for a job more than well-done.  I haven’t been able to stop playing it since I got it for review.  So heavy, so weighty but with this bluesy, classic swing happening that’d make ZZ Top proud…  The production lives up to the EP title…BEASTLY!  Where did you record and what type of gear was utilized to achieve such a meaty, raw sound in every instrument?  It’s raw though not lacking anything in terms of tone or clarity! 

Adam:  We actually recorded the EP in my basement.  Keith Vance (So Long, Albatross) basically ran the show.  Keith has recorded many albums with much success.  Both Slow Blade albums and the first So Long, Albatross album were recorded by Keith.  He knows what he’s doing.

Chris:  After Keith recorded Aaron and Adam, he passed the files off to me.  I started to record with an old friend of mine and it wasn’t really getting anywhere because it was in winter of 2014 which was brutal in northeastern Ohio.  I guess we were lucky compared to some parts of the East Coast.  Anyways, I decided to buy my own shit and I recorded all the guitars in my house. After that was done I passed it off to Keith.  He really made it sound awesome.

Keith did a stellar job.  Those songs shake my walls and practically blow out my headphones without even cranking the volume to full blast.  Everything is thick and defined…just how I like it.  Man, Adam…we’re gonna have to talk.  I didn’t know The Slow Blade had full albums and I definitely need those.  To start digging into the tunes a little more in depth, “Bottom Feeder” was the first song I heard and it opens the set.  This jam literally sucked me into the sound like a black hole vortex…I needed to hear more immediately after.  I love that massive riffing, the bass is warm and fuzzy and Aaron’s hitting with all his might and tricking out the fills…amazing stuff!  How was this tune written and how did it evolve from its creative birth to its final form on the EP?

Chris:  I’m pretty sure “Bottom Feeder” was the second song we recorded and that was right when Adam joined the band, which was great timing.  After that we tweaked the song a little bit and we were finished.  It was great.  At that point I knew we were going to come up with a bunch of cool shit.

Aaron:  “Bottom Feeder” was written the way most of our songs are.  Chris comes up with a couple riffs and I play along until we lock onto something.  Then we talk about the direction of the song and come up with parts to fit the sound we want.  Then it’s a matter of setting the pattern and getting the song tight.  That song was tricky to record the ending, because I have difficulty counting past four.

Ha ha, I can relate to that…if anyone counts to four it throws me off even as a singer.  Three is the magic number!  Chris you’re using some really cool, vintage feedback to connect the songs together on the album.  The way you let it ring out (and use it to kick the songs off for that matter) takes us directly into “100 Hand Slap” and unifies the entirety of the recording.  What inspired you to do that and how is the effect achieved?  Is Adam applying something similar on the bass?  There’s a lot of bottom to the way it’s done and it feels like I’m listening to a very old hard rock, proto-metal masterpiece teleported in from the early 70s!  This isn’t what everyone and their brother is doing, that’s for sure.

Chris:  Adam has a really interesting rig going on the low end.  I think the only people that know are the ones who have seen us live and I think I’ll leave it at that.  As for the feedback, I kind of wanted to capture the same feel as Eyehategod’s Take as Needed for Pain and I think I pulled it off pretty well.

Eyehategod really did set the tone in terms of using feedback as a weapon and instrument.  You really did pull it off.  I’ll have to find out Adam’s secret recipe whenever I finally get my ass to a show!  “100 Hand Slap” really dig that title!  I’m guessing someone spent as many quarters as I used to on Street Fighter II!  That move is a son of a bitch…and that’s putting it lightly!  What’s each member’s favorite old game?  Fact:  I like fighting as ol’ Eddie Honda but I sure hate fighting against anyone that’s playing as him!    

Aaron:  Street Fighter II is a classic.

Adam:  Man, just one??  Well, Contra is obviously way up there for me.  I could go on for days. If I had to pick just one I’d say Jackal, or Punch Out.  Or 1942.  Or Mario 3

Chris:  For me, it’s definitely the Street Fighter series.  Who wants to fight?  I’ll take anyone on, in Street Fighter that is, lol.

A challenge has been issued!  You’re on next time I’m in Ohio.  Those answers are a trip down memory lane.  I’m obsessed with Punch Out…every single one from the NES to Wii.  Chris, the leads in this song (and every tune on the album) are so damn good.  Always into your style! Who or what are some of your biggest inspirations for throwing down like that?  What is the importance of a good lead in a heavy rock song?  It’s like that extra special signature to me that gives a very unique “spirit” to a tune and the person playing it.  Do the leads come to you before or after the song is mostly structured, or sometimes is it sort of an “on the fly” kind of thing?

Chris:  I’d say my inspiration would be Tony Iommi.  The bands that really inspire me are from the late 1960’s and 70’s. I’m not really into playing stuff that is past that, but I definitely love to listen to all types of music, or at least anything rock or metal related.  I’ve always been into leads and solos though.  I don’t play anything too complicated, but the stuff I do seems to add to the riffs I write and people seem to like it.

You got a fan right here man.  You always perfectly compliment the groove with the licks you conjure up.  The doom-y, fireball blues of “Snake Goat” is so heavy it’d uproot an entire forest.  That is seriously some of the heaviest rock n’ roll I’ve ever heard.  Adam, I’m heartily digging that fatter than Santa’s sack bass tone on this track.  How the hell are you wringing that sound out of your bass?  Give some insight on that if you don’t mind without ruining the original recipe!

Adam:  Believe it or not, there is no bass guitar on that recording or when we play live.  I play my guitar like a bass guitar and then split the signal with my tuner pedal into two different amps. One amp uses the straight guitar signal, the other uses a signal that goes through an octave pedal set to output one octave lower.  Together it sounds cool.

Ah, I get it now.  Think I misunderstood that at first.  As Lemmy once said about himself, you’re like a deep guitarist.  Honestly, this song is so doom-y yet so filled with classic rock goodness in terms of the tightness of the jam, the way the leads dab melody onto those punishing riffs and how agile the rhythmic twists are…  What was the composition of this one like and was there a moment where everybody was like, “Jesus Christ, this is righteously heavy!” 

Adam:  Heh.  There’s usually not a whole ton of expression when we know something is a keeper.  Mostly just a “yep” or “sweet” or “yep, that’s a good one”.  Chris is always churning out monumental riffs.  On “Snake Goat,” we just glued a few of them back to back to back.

Chris:  At first it was kind of tough to actually say, “Ok this song is done.”  I think once we actually got a full band with Adam we were able to say, “This song is finished.  What’s next?”

Aaron:  I think that all the time with Chris’s riffs.

I dig that attitude…some silent approval and then right onto the next smasher!  And then there’s the 7+ minutes of “Humanoid Therapy…”  Goddamn…it’s an absolute behemoth and a song that I think everyone into rock n’ roll should hear as a blueprint for how to do it right!  The swing…the groove…the heaviest downturns you’ll hear…  How on Earth did you guys put this together, what conjured all of the badass shifts in its groove out of everybody’s performance and also could you give some insight on the song title? 

Chris:  It’s interesting because the song doesn’t seem like it’s that long, but it is!  Whenever we jam on it I lose track of time.  There isn’t really improv, so it’s very structured.  I think when this kind of thing happens you really know it’s a good song and fun to play.

The ending is insane, a crazy deconstruction of instruments into feedback and then is that a sample of Summer of Sam?  Great choice if that’s the scene I’m thinking of!  Ha ha ha!  I think the chaos was a good way to draw the curtain.  Whose idea was all of that?  

Chris:  Yep, you got it!  My girlfriend kept on talking about the dog in that movie and I always thought it was kind of funny how they made him talk.  I was on YouTube and found the clip and threw it in at the end.  For an ending of a song and EP, I thought it fit pretty well.

I’m in total agreement on that; talk about picking a sample that’s fitting…  You guys have been gigging as much as you can with some great bands!  How have the shows been going and what’s the response been like from the audience?  Which shows have been the most fun so far?

Chris:  We have been getting good reactions from people who come out to the shows.  I think one of my favorite shows was with UFOMAMMUT at Now that’s Class, in Cleveland.  It was one of those shows where we didn’t bother getting on stage, so we just played on the floor.  I like doing that because you aren’t so far away from the audience.  People are always struggling to get a glance at who is playing, so they tend to get pretty close, which to me makes the show more intense.

Aaron:  Playing out the last 10 months has been awesome reconnecting with old friends and meeting new bands/musicians.  Shows have been well attended for the most part with a ton of positive feedback.  We played with Ufomammut in May and they are incredible

I’m all about jamming live on the floor right in front of people.  That’s always how I do it!  I would have fuckin’ loved to be that show.  I go back with Ufomammut to Snail King…that album plowed my skull into the dust.  Do the tunes take any twists and off-the-cuff jam turns in the live-setting?  I can imagine with the way Contra does it up, you guys can probably build some killer freestyle like arrangements onto these cuts!

Chris:  We have a set structure to all of our songs but when we play live that doesn’t always happen.  Sometimes we forget to count or someone drinks too much, so we keep it going.  It’s fun when that happens because it always has me wondering when we will actually end the song.

Nice, that’s the thing about these tunes to me; they have such a groove that you could stick to format and it’d be perfect but if they happen to veer off the path, you certainly can just break it into a jam and come right back to where it goes.  Damn…while doing the final interview edits here, I can guarantee I’ll be jamming the music later on tonight.  There’s plenty more material already in the pipeline besides this EP.  I know that for a fact!  How many other songs do you have completely worked out and when do you think we’ll see a full-length release?  This stuff screams for vinyl and I hope for physical copies someday!  This EP would make a killer 7”…might have to go 10” though, “Humanoid Therapy’s” quantum mass could throw off the 7” inch idea!  Can you tell us a little bit about some of the tunes we haven’t heard yet without giving too many secrets away?  

Aaron:  We rerecorded the 4 songs on the EP plus 6 more with Dave “Big Metal” Johnson at Bad Back Studios in Cleveland.  All ten songs will be on a full release in the future.

Chris:  Right now we have a total of 10 songs and I am finishing up the solos now.  We really want to press some vinyl for our upcoming release. As for Son of Beast, we don’t have any plans for vinyl because we rerecorded all of those songs.  The new recording is going to sound great. I’m excited!

I share the excitement guys, I can’t fuckin’ wait to hear the rest!  What type of gear does everyone in the band use for all of the equipment hounds that read these interviews and what would you consider each member’s “secret sauce” in their respective set-ups?  The more I get into doing my own production, the more I love to get the deep dirt on that! 

Adam:  My “bass” rig is comprised of my Eastwood Stormbird, an Electro-Harmonix Micro POG pedal, a Sunn Beta lead head for the guitar side, a Sunn Beta Bass head for the sub octave side and 2 Peavey 2X15D cabs. I recently switched to using a higher-powered Sunn Coliseum lead for the sub octave side to avoid speaker damage.

Chris:  I normally play out of a Gibson SG with Super Distortion pickups. I always use a Morley Wah and sometimes a Small Clone for leads and solos.  As far as amps go, I normally play out of a Mesa Boogie Stiletto with an old Hiwatt from the 80’s and an Orange cab from 2010’s.  However, on the recording I used an Orange TH30 with two little 1X12 Orange speakers.

Damn, those are some mean specs.  Even as a yeller, I know that’s not fuckin’ around.  I myself have a pretty huge fascination with learning about gear, because I’m really interested in how my favorite bands create the tones that they do.  I’m all about tone and you fellas got it in spades!  Finally, if each of you had to choose one or two albums that inspired you to pick up and start rocking, what would they be?

Adam:  That’s going way back.  Maybe ZZ Top or something from the Grunge era; I honestly couldn’t narrow my influences down to an album or two.  One thing I can say for sure is that if it had big riffs, I was trying to play it.

Chris:  For me, Black Sabbath Vol 4, hands down.

There’s no doubt that Vol. 4 is a huge influence on me personally.  Thanks a ton for doing this interview with me brothers!  I really appreciate it and it was a blast thinking up these questions.  If there is anything I didn’t cover, please feel free to use this final space to fill us in.  I’m totally into and behind you guys and this music.  Can’t wait to hear what happens next! 

Chris:  Thanks Jay!  It’s always great talking to you and go to contracleveland.com for latest Twitter feeds, Instagram pics and upcoming shows.

Comments

Leave a Reply

Privacy notice: When you submit a comment, your creditentials, message and IP address will be logged. A cookie will also be created on your browser with your chosen name and email, so that you do not need to type them again to post a new comment. Your post and details will also go through an automatic spam check via Akismet's servers and maybe held up for further approval. We purge our logs from your meta-data at frequent intervals.