Philadelphia’s Arthur Rizk is a man who needs no introduction. He’s left his mark across the spectrum extreme music genres, whether it be black metal, noise, thrash or hardcore. Between writing, recording and producing, he has his hands in more projects than anyone else I’ve ever met. He’s worked with some of the more notable acts in each of the aforementioned genres, most recently producing records for the likes of Power Trip, Prurient and Inquisition.
Rizk has achieved impressive levels of notoriety with his own music as well, having toured the world over with acts such as War Hungry, Terrorism and Cold World amongst a slew of others. He’s one of few musicians whose live performances have been criticized for being “too intense” and yet his attention for detail within the studio is unparalleled. I caught up with him recently in a Brooklyn apartment to talk about a few of the projects he’s been working on of late.
If you could have anyone else’s life who’s would it be?
I think the Rolling Stones had a pretty good thing going for them, Mick Jagger especially. He’d wear his leather pants out on stage, he’d pull them down, wang out, and forty mouths come up to it. He could do it as many times as he wanted until he was desensitized from sex completely and then he could truly begin to live his life once he’s in his late 30’s, early 40’s and just sit around and never think about sex. Have enough money to do drugs all the time so that he’s not in reality at all. Seems like he has lots of time to fuck off and listen to his records
I’ve been trying to build my record collection since I was maybe 14 because even though I don’t listen to them all the time, I feel like there’s going to be a time where the digital world is obliterated and we lose everything that’s just on youtube, we lose everything that’s just being digitally stored. I’m working on it so I have everything that I ever wanted to listen to.
Do you think that’s really going to happen? That digital music will collapse?
I don’t really have any logic behind it. I guess I get stressed out when I’m looking at my computer and I see files and storage or maybe if I’m on my phone and it says “not enough storage.” I just think it’s crazy that everyone has a phone, everyone is putting things on icloud but where the fuck is it going? I don’t understand it well enough to have logic behind it, but I think that one day digital everything is going to be gone because something is going to happen. Some kind of digital disease is going to happen. Something worse than AIDS, like a plague. I don’t know how, I cant explain it, but I think there’s going to be some sort of plague. I’m literally collecting every record I want because in 30 years, I’m not going to have anything to do besides listen to my records.
How has that changed the way that you look at the music that you make? Not even in an analog vs. digital way, but the Internet is a reality and it being there obviously changes the way that people receive your music and the way that they’re listening to it.
There’s something about having your favorite record and looking at everything that you really love about it up close and physical. Putting it away, pulling it out, the aesthetic, the layout, the design, the thank you’s, everything about it is just amazing. When I was 10 I was saving up every penny that I had for weeks so I could buy one CD and that’s all I knew and that’s all I’d worship was that one thing. I don’t care what it was. It could be something I bought at Boscov’s for $7 of like b-sides and live songs, but then that was my favorite record because that’s all I had.
But now the world has become full of just complete shit music. Anyone could make a record and put it out there because the main way of obtaining it is by going online and downloading it. The good things just get thrown in with all the bad stuff and it kind of makes people stupid in a sense. They don’t really have their own identities, they don’t know what to look for, they don’t even know what they’re into. They’re just going with the sheep. Good music gets lost amongst that stuff.
So when I make music and when I’m making something on my own, whether it be writing something for War Hungry, writing something for Terrorism or doing something for any band that I’m doing, I’m convinced off the bat that no ones going to hear it in the first place, that no ones going to give a shit. So I’m already on my game, doing whatever I fucking want and that’s how it affects my music. I’m not thinking of any fan in particular when I’m writing, or what anyone cares about, because I’m just on my own plane and I’m convinced that no ones going to hear it except for maybe a couple of my friends.
Is that the same mentality you have too when you’re producing and recording a record for someone else?
No. When I’m doing my own stuff and cutting demos and writing music I’m really going balls out with experimentation. I just try every unorthodox thing that I could ever do that I wouldn’t do for someone else’s session or for an actual paying session that was going to record. But I learn so many weird things doing demos, working on my own demos doing every single thing that goes against the book to see if somehow it can become applicable to someone who I’m working on. Then I take those things and apply it to that. But when I’m working on someone else’s stuff generally I’m thinking about what I think would suit the band best, think about what I can pull from it that’s there. I’m looking for that, I’m not necessarily looking for what I want, I’m looking to find where the heart and core of that project is and amplify it.
What’s the process like when someone comes to you and says that they want you do work on their record?
Different bands, different stories, you know. Recently I’ve done Power Trip, Inquisition and Prurient and I do the same thing more or less where I’m calling these guys and they’re calling me and we’re talking for a couple months beforehand. We’re talking about music, we’re talking about records we like, sending each other links to cool shit and kind of getting in tune with each other beforehand. So that when we go into the studio we’re all on the same page and everyone’s happy.
And through that process that you’re able to figure out the sound that they want on the record?
Well when we’re pre-gaming we’re talking about our favorite records, our favorite guitar sounds. And we’re talking about bands that we don’t want the record to be associated with. We talk about separating ourselves from the bunch. Especially in those three examples we talked about that stuff a lot. That’s how I figure out what they want.
But also making a record isn’t always what they want. If I’m producing then I’m a creative part of the process. So I have to know what they want but have a vessel to take them there. Merge the band's ideas and mine while trying to maintain a balance. It can get ugly but in the end always ends up great. When there is a lot of arguing is good because that means there’s passion.
This "pre-gaming" is what I credit making everyone I've worked with happy with their experience, and I’ve always been happy. I’ve never had to look back on a record that I’ve done and been like, “Fuck I wish that I’d done this or that.” There are no apologies afterwards because we all know that we did the best.
How did you decide that you wanted to make the move into producing?
It first happened when I started recording. The first thing that I ever recorded was a band that I played in called Endless Humiliation and I recorded our noise record called, My Wife is Willing. When we started doing that I felt like I was in charge of my own destiny for the first time. Like I didn’t have to deal with some fuck in a recording studio and I hated dealing with that fuck in a recording studio. So since then I’ve recorded every single record that I’ve worked on with the exception of the War Hungry record I did with Will Yip, who is an insanely talented engineer.
I wanted to give that feeling of being in charge of my own music and the way that it turned out to my friends. And so I started out with my friend’s bands. I wanted to help them make their records the best they could be, because I think there’s something beyond the safe production that could bring that out. And through that I can still be making music, but I don’t have to deal with a bunch of assholes in my band at all, because I’m not in their band. I mean being a producer, I’m in their band for a couple months and then I’m out of the band and I don’t ever have to worry about dealing with any of their bullshit. It’s a good feeling to make something and that’s how I decided I wanted to produce. And then once I figured out that I was good at it and that it excited me more than touring and stuff like that, that’s what I wanted to do.
Do you feel like you enjoy the process of making music more than performing it?
That’s like a 50/50 because making it is a lot of fun, but it’s also so much fucking work. There’s tedious hours of work that go into making a record, so many hours of just listening to a kick-drum hit, one fucking kick-drum hit, one-millionth of a record. It’s stressful too, mixing and stuff like that, but when it’s done I can listen to it over and over again, be happy with the way it sounds and that’s the enjoyment I get out of it. I think playing a show live, when it’s a proper show with bands that you like playing with and the turnout is good and you play a good set and you kill it, there’s no better feeling than that. There just isn’t.
Can you tell me the Kerry King story?
When I was 14 years old and Kerry King came to the local guitar store that was near my parents place in Bethlehem, PA. It was called Guitar Villa. So he came to do a demo for a new guitar that B.C. Rich was putting out for him. I was fucking obsessed with Slayer at that point; I’d never heard anything else like it. So I went to see the guy and he was letting people come up on the little platform and play his guitar. They’d play a riff and he’d be like, “Oh yeah that was cool, but this is how it’s really done.” And then he would fucking rip and put them to shame.
I’d been playing my guitar and practicing for weeks before this. Not knowing anything about this, but I was just a kid obsessed with Slayer and I wanted to practice every Slayer song for two weeks until I met him and I was going to tell him about it. When it was my turn, I went up and I asked him a question about a solo in “War Ensemble” and I played the solo and I fucking ripped it to shreds, perfectly because I was practicing all week. So then he comes up and he starts playing the solo. He’s fucking ripping into it and I’m like this is the coolest moment of my life. But halfway through he just forgets the fucking solo and starts trying to figure it out for a second and then he’s like, “Oh yeah that’s how it goes.” And then finishes it off and then he was like, “Cool, so you know my song better than me.” And then he gave me a t-shirt and told me to fuck off.
What was the idea behind Terrorism when you started the band?
The idea behind Terrorism… I wanted to make a band that was an audio assault but also a physical assault too when I played live. That was the idea. A lot black metal bands talk about misanthropic shit, but they’re just a bunch of nerds. And you know none of them would be into going in front of 200 people and throwing a cinder block at somebody. Nobody would be into that because none of those guys can take the idea of getting hit back in the face with it. Or getting a kickdrum thrown at them.
So I wanted to do something that was just real assault. We have these fucking stupid bands that will cut off the head of a goat or something stupid like that. Like cool, you killed a goat but a goat can’t fight back. See what you could do with 200 people looking at you. Maybe it’s something that they never forget, maybe they hate it, maybe they love it, whatever it is, it’s not really any of my business, but that’s what I was going for. I'm not trying to hurt anybody but if you get in the way you’re getting fucking hurt.
And you have no qualms about hurting anyone?
I’ve hurt people before and it’s been crazy. I was playing a show where I threw a cinderblock into the audience and it landed right on someone’s knee and fucked it up. A friend of mine was the promoter and was super pissed and I was bummed. I told him I'd take care of it once I cleaned up.
So I go to the bathroom and there’s this guy standing there, bleeding from his knee and I’m like, “Dude I’m so sorry, I did that to you, I don’t know how we’re going to work this out.” I wasn’t ready to confront him yet. But he just looks at me and goes, “Dude that was the best thing I’ve ever fucking seen in my life, that was amazing, this is fine.” It just was cool. So I’ve hurt people before but I don’t have a problem with it. I get worried about having to pay his medical bills but he was there. If you don’t like what you see in the first 5 or 10 seconds you just leave, that’s it.
When you were a teenager were you listening to more noise stuff or more metal?
There was this sweatshop in PA, it’s like a warehouse. It has a bunch of Chinese and Korean sweatshops, literally kids running around there working on shit. And then there’s this tiny room in the basement there that good friends of mine rented out and it’s called Jeff the Pigeon. Jeff the Pigeon was this noise venue that people from all over the world came to play in the shittiest city in the country. And that’s kind of what noise is, or at least it was for true weirdos.
I would go to jeff the pigeon and see some of the craziest shit. Prurient the guy I’m recording now, the first time I ever saw him was at Jeff the Pigeon, he played there. All those things changed my life in a way that made me look at music in a completely different way.
So you found out about noise through this venue?
Yeah. Definitely. It was a place to go and you knew that the bulk of the time the show would be something special. Costes from france throwing shit at people out of toilet people. Hair Police, Wolf Eyes, COCK ESP. The first time I saw the band Air Conditioning was a violent set.. literally scary shit throwing fire extinguishers around doing all kinds of crazy shit. Dom from Prurient and Brad from Pissed Jeans played with AC that time. I actually had a chance to play with Air Conditioning for a short period and those guys taught me a lot. Practice was 70% sitting around bullshitting til something inspired us to play. After that me and Robert from AC started Endless Humiliation in late 06 I think.
What do you think about what noise has become? Moving from music for people with something wrong to them to something hip and acceptable.
So if I can use Jeff the Pigeon as a crude example. That place was kind of a shithole that was just a place to go see these shows. You couldn’t take a girl on a date there, whatever. At some point it became the place to party for all kinds of people who realized being "into" noise gave them an identity.
So a bunch of shitheads littered a something great (harsh abrasive scene) with dumb shit, such is life, everything is like that. By the end of Jeff The Pigeon, there were shows packed with so many fucking people who were there to smoke and drink in the lobby and not go into the show. If they did their own noise projects it would be scratching the surface of how much depth can really be behind this shit. People started making this music and it became more of a social thing. And that’s how noise ended up being more than a niche for a while.. also that’s why now most of it is the worst shit ever.
Do you see a lot of parallels between death metal/black metal and noise or do you see it as two distinctly different things?
It’s definitely something that gets intertwined a little bit. It’s funny because in my opinion a lot of black metal dudes want to be down with real noise artists. They all want to do their own noise projects and a lot are whatever. And a lot of noise dudes try to do black metal projects that are 95% unbelievably shitty, with a few exceptions.
There’s some kind of connection because there’s darkness in both and there’s also unknown territory in both. But in the end I don’t really see a distinct parallel because I think that the only thing is that a lot of black metal has shitty recording quality in the early days and that tends to sound like noise. A lot of noise projects have shitty quality too so you can get that kind of parallel. Both are brutal and violent by nature, but I don’t think the ideologies have anything to do with each other.
What’s your theory good on guitar players?
99% of the time anyone who is a really good guitar player did not have a girlfriend until they were in a band at like 19 or something because they were in their basement sitting around playing guitar nonstop, listening to the radio, pleasuring themselves and then coming back to the guitar and playing until… I mean I definitely did it. I pretended that I was Dave Mustaine and Marty Friedman from Megadeath when I was 15 years old sitting in my basement. I never left my house until I was in a band and then I met a chick. My first girlfriend was when I was like 18. 18 dude!
What are you working on right now?
Hopefully a new War Hungry EP and I’m flying out to California in a couple weeks to do that and a west coast tour. The dates are on facebook. I have a lot of metal projects I am working with. I have a new band called "Sumerlands". It features singer of Hour Of 13 Phil Swanson one of my favorite singers and DFJ on drums. This is a mid 80s project influenced by bands like Queensryche, Black Sabbath, Dio, and Ozzy solo. Endless Humiliation plans to do more stuff later this year. New Cold World LP. Keep an eye out for the new Prurient LP out on Profound Lore. Eternal Champion from TX is a classic heavy metal band that features members of Iron Age and Power Trip I will be working with them on some new stuff and a handful of other incredible related metal bands.