MUTANK'S Stephen Reynolds riffs on the majesty of German metal fests, the crossover power of D.R.I., and the benefits of tribalism

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      Montreal punk/thrash crossover act MUTANK—which opens for Annihilator tomorrow at the Rickshaw—has quickly become my favourite new discovery in the world of metal. They’re fast, funny, and equal parts smart and stoopid, with lyrics like “Who do Mu Tank you are?” and a band name that gets likened to a cross between a “mutant” and a “tank”. MUTANK’s music hearkens back to vintage Suicidal Tendencies, D.R.I., or the more metal moments of the Dayglo Abortions or SNFU.

      They’re actually a bit more metal, but I’m a bit more punk, so that’s just how I hear them. As noted, there’s also a brilliant wit to the group’s lyrics. Check “Minions,” for example, off MUTANK’S 2014 debut M.E.C.H. Metal. “Talkin’ to you is like walkin’ around with one shoe” surely is the funniest lyric I’ve heard this month; and the music just rips—hard-edged thrash riffage with punk vocal inflections and an inner trampoline to keep you bouncing.

      I’ve yet to see MUTANK live—Thursday’s show will be the band’s first visit to Vancouver—but it’s no wonder they were picked by Jeff Waters to open for Annihilator. The group won the 2014 Wacken Metal Battle Canada, which led to an appearance at Germany’s prestigious Wacken Open Air festival.

      Bassist-vocalist Stephen Reynolds (who supposedly thought up the name MUTANK while he was taking a crap) blew his chance to soak up the scenery on the ferry ride from Victoria to Vancouver on Tuesday, Instead, as the band kicked off its current tour, he was up for answering a baker’s dozen email interview questions.

      What are your favourite stories, positive or negative, from playing Wacken? How did it feel? Was it really well-organized, or chaotic? Do you have any “Wacken survival tips” for people? What was the high point for you as artists or as fans?

      Wacken was an insane time that every metalhead should experience. It’s like heavy metal mecca and it’s hard to understand that unless you’ve been there. We have countless stories and memories from Wacken, from one of our members forgetting to bring his underwear to German metalheads’ weird obsession with SpongeBob. If I had to give some advice I would say: bring SpongeBob underwear. Wacken itself was run pretty immaculately­—everything in sight was Wacken-branded including the cutlery! We were tended to very well even though in our minds we were nobodies. There was definitely some chaos involved, but with how big the festival is it’s to be expected. As for how it felt? Have you ever jumped out of a plane?

      Were German fans different from North American fans? I have heard from James Farwell of Bison (interviewed this week in the Straight) that German fans are much more polite and respectful of artists, and not quite as drunken/crazy/whoopin’ as North American audiences. But I’m not sure that applies to Wacken.

      We saw both sides, the respectful ones to the whoopers. I think the big difference I noticed was the sense of camaraderie. It’s entirely possibly that is confined to Wacken or at least magnified by it, but it’s something we’re sorely missing over here.

      I gather Jeff of Annihilator actually picked you for an opening act. Was that set up through Canadian PR person (and metal specialist) Jon Asher? How did it feel? Which other heroes of yours have you opened for? Where does Annihilator fit on your list of favourite Canadian bands?

      When we contacted Jeff about the tour and Jon had put in a good word for us. But I had also met Jeff when we both judged a Wacken Metal Battle show in Ottawa. We are also connected through the whole Wacken thing since Annihilator plays fairly often. I can’t say at the moment exactly why it all happened like it did—when someone says “Wanna live one of your teenage dreams?”, you don’t normally ask too many questions. When it comes to opening for bands, to us Annihilator is the first one that we get to play with that are actually one of our major influences. They are by far our favourite Canadian metal band. Canada needs Annihilator!

      Assuming you played Victoria by the time you read this, how did it go?

      It could be one of the funnest and most satisfying shows we’ve ever played. The people of Victoria were extremely nice to us and showed us a lot of support. It feels good to get mosh pits as the opener when people usually wanna save their energy ’til later and haven’t had enough liquid confidence to dive in.

      MUTANK—the idea of a fusion between a mutant and a tank—reminds me of stuff I have seen in some SF/ horror movies (Shinya Tsukamoto’s Tetsuo films especially). So is that genre an influence?

      Eighties’ sci-fi and horror I think is indelibly tied to thrash metal. They are both looking to invoke a similar feeling by hyperbolizing, and often making light of, the despicable and dark aspects of life and the world. I think if you look at Annihilator as a band, they would be like the Terminator of metal, where as we’re like Bill and Ted playing 20 questions while falling to hell.

      The actual historical “crossover” happened around 1986-87, as far as I can discern. D.R.I.’s Crossover didn’t come out until that year. How old were you guys then? I always think it is kinda weird to hear “crossover” as a genre, since I think of it as a past event, but it sure fits in your case. You’re seriously equal parts punk and thrash (or maybe slightly more thrash, but still...) So is that moment in musical history important to you, or do you just like the music from that time, or...?

      Genres and labels are really only useful to get you in front of the right people. If everyone insisted calling what we do “hip-hop” then we would own that title. But to us when we write a riff, we know whether it’s “MUTANK” or not and that’s the only label that matters to us. That being said, D.R.I. are a huge influence for us, and the punk that you hear in our music partially comes from that along with other influences. But it’s also a tool for us to use in our music. We get to thrash and be evil when we want to be, but we also get to be goofy and upbeat when we want to. To be fair I was born in 1990 and the majority of what I listen to came out before I was born.

      I’m 49, so I vividly remember the hostility between punks and headbangers pre-”crossover”, where there was sometimes violence, usually headbangers beating up punks and calling us “faggots” and stuff like that. Have you ever seen any lingering fallout from that hostility? What do you make of it? If you had to choose a tribe, which tribe would it be? Are there any tribal divisions of that sort on the Montreal scene?

      Our tribe is MUTANK. We don’t seek out acceptance from any particular group—we just get in where we fit in. It’s hard to say if the sort of ignorance or hostility you sometimes get in metal comes from history or if it’s just a factor of playing aggressive music and attracting aggressive people. Usually the truth is somewhere in between. I remember getting into Megadeth when I was 11 and that was my life. And I hated Metallica because there was a whole tribal aspect to the perceived beef between those two bands. Well as I got older obviously I was able to see how superfluous that was and how much I missed out in shunning Metallica, who are now one of my favourite bands, although Megadeth will always be my number one. So when I see people participating in that kinda drama, I have to sit back and try to judge on a case-to-case basis because there is a benefit to tribalism: like-minded people working together in semi-closed group towards a common interest. Sadly this system is very susceptible to group-think where the original ideas become distorted and people lose sight of the underpinnings to their original goals and ideas; the common ground become burnt and yields no crops. In Montreal we do see some divides when it comes to certain subgenres of metal but it’s more of a ven diagram then a clear divide. For example we can play metal shows, thrash shows and punk shows and get along just fine, whereas another killer Montreal band who are closer to “death thrash” called Canceric can do thrash shows with us and it fits very well, but they also fit in on a death metal bill, where we would stick out like a sore thumb.

      There are moments on M.E.C.H Metal that remind me a bit of the best nü-metal, a bit. Is that stuff at all an influence? It almost seems like a dirty label these days, but there’s great stuff from Soulfly and Slipknot. Do you like that stuff?

      It’s very nostalgic for me. I got into metal through my older brother and watching music videos on MuchMusic when I was very young, probably 8 or younger. What was huge at that time was Korn and Limp Bizkit. When I go back and listen to that stuff I have on rose-colored glasses because it reminds me of my childhood. I agree that it is a dirty label, but I am of the mind that there are good songs in every genre. I would never outright claim we have nü-metal influence, but it’s probably rattling around in the back of my head. I’m not super elitist about that stuff but I know why people don’t put orange juice in their cereal, so don’t expect any MUTANK rap-metal!

      Is this your first time in Vancouver? As a band, or just as tourists, or... Any associations with the city—favourite bands from here, places you want to see, etc.?

      My girlfriend is from Vancouver so I’ve been before and would love to possibly live here some day—who knows. As a band though we’ve definitely never been out this far west and it won’t be out last show here either!

      What is the Montreal scene like? I’ve known a few bands who have left Vancouver permanently to live and make music in Quebec, hoping they’d get bigger audiences, but I’ve never heard back from them if the move worked out. By the way where did you move to Montreal from?

      The Montreal scene pretty much has whatever you want, and if it doesn’t you can start a band and that audience is there. The issue is over-saturation. Not only do we have a new band popping up everyday but we also get just about every major North American tour coming through our hood. So the metalheads there are very spoiled and it’s very hard to gain real traction. It’s very competitive out there and we feel very lucky that we get the support in our own city that we do. I moved to Montreal from Newfoundland to play music, and I have to say I haven’t regretted it yet, but Vancouver to Montreal is a long ways!

      Will you be selling the new EP at the merch table? What does the title acronym stand for? Where do you guys come to your love of acronyms and wordplay?

      We will have copies of the new EP W.H.A.T.S.T.H.A.T. available at shows on tour! The EP title means “We Have Alotta Thrash Songs That Have Abbreviated Titles” which is lightly conceptual in the fact that every song title on the EP is an acronym. My love for wordplay comes from a lot of places. I think Newfie humor is a part of that, along with my penchant for dad jokes and puns as well as hip-hop lyricism, which is largely wordplay based and often will reward those who take the time to listen and read what is being said with an “a-ha!” moment. That’s something I appreciate very much and something I hope to provide in my own lyrics.

      Are you getting the new EP pressed on vinyl? We have a dozen or more record stores in Vancouver and people are kind of crazy about vinyl right now. Which is reflected by rising vinyl prices, alas. Is the same thing happening Montreal?

      Right now there are no plans for vinyl although hopefully one day. There are a ton of ideas we have for releases and merch—it’s just a matter if having that initial capital to invest. Without support from a major label we kinda just have to work our asses off and get by with what we can while trying to learn sales trends and all that business-y stuff as we go so we don’t end up losing. Vinyl seems to be coming back all over the world along with cassette tapes now, which I personally collect. Mark my words, one day sooner or later you’ll see the same happen with CDs!

      To return to the whole crossover thing, your lyrics and your vocals, especially, seem to be the most punk part of the band. If the vocals were different it would seem more metal, to me. So who are your favourite vocalists in punk and metal? As a fan, do you prefer a (relatively) clean vocal, so you can make out the words at least a bit, or are you happy with death growls?

      I personally don’t like growling all that much unless it’s distinct or unique, and even then I find it hard to listen to a band when that’s all they have up their sleeve. I like a raspy vocal that you can understand. My biggest influences are probably Dave Mustaine, Bobby Blitz of Overkill, Mike Patton of Faith No More, and Eric Adams of ManOwaR! The punkyness you hear I think is probably due to the fact that I started singing for convenience as opposed to my chops—we just didn’t want to have to deal with a vocalist!

      Anything I missed? What should fans expect on Thursday?

      Tank Mu for the interview! The fans can expect to wake up with neck pains the morning after so do your stretches before you come and eat you fruits and veggies so you have a ton of energy for the pit! Cheers!

      Mason, MUTANK and Annihilator play Thursday (June 15) at the Rickshaw