Driven by grind 'n' groove machinists Child Abuse, prog-heads Stern and Kayo Dot and doom and gloomers Couch Slut, Brooklyn continues to be ground zero for boundary pushing metal of the most face-ripping’est order. Now, the return of math-metal brainiacs STATS (caps preferred, brah) just made the scene that much sicker.
The imposing trio of drummer/screamer/ace music scribe Hank Shteamer, bassist/vocalist Tony Gedrich and guitarist Joe Petrucelli own both the heavyweight cred (past affiliations include Psalm Zero, Extra Life, Mick Barr and Aa (Big A, little a) and the stadium-sized anthemic riffage to back up the goods. After a short string of EP’s, STATS is finally delivering its debut full-length entitled Mercy, and it’s well worth the wait (to get a grasp, these dudes have been existed in one iteration or another since friggin’ 1999). On Mercy’s seven dizzyingly complex, screamoid marathons, the mangled jazz/metal of The Process of Weeding Out/Slip It In/Family Man-era Black Flag collide head on with Don Caballero’s avant-prog mania, topped by Shteamer and Gedrich’s intense wails, straight from from the Rollins/Unsane school of blood-curdling and desperate howling.
Here, we get a taste of “Human Butt,” Mercy’s opening track while getting the dish from Shteamer himself on where the hellz STATS have been.
Noisey: We are premiering "Human Butt," a song title Beavis and Butthead would definitely dig. But this track isn’t all shits and giggles in spite of its jokey title. What can you tell us about what's really behind this six minutes of total obliteration?
Hank Shteamer: Yeah, it's definitely not a joke song, as I think will be clear from the audio. The title phrase comes from the Henry Rollins spoken-word album of the same name, though I've never actually heard the record. I just read the title somewhere and found it humorous, and when we were writing and arranging the song, we labeled the riff that you hear at 4:12 in the song as the "Human Butt" riff due to its lovably boneheaded quality.
The title does fit the subject matter, in a certain darkly comedic way, but I'm singing/screaming about things that terrify me rather than things I find funny—for instance, serious or even tragic injuries that take place during sports competition, injuries that are often captured on video and displayed online.
Around the time we were recording Mercy, there was an incident where an NFL player had his leg nearly snapped in half during a game. The day afterward, I remember seeing dozens of links to the video of the play online and being really disturbed by that fact. (I can't remember the player's name, but this is indicative of the kind of perversity I'm talking about.) I was reading a bit about similar situations, and I stumbled across the case of Boban Janković, a late Serbian basketball player who was paralyzed during a game in 1993 when he slammed his own head against a goal post after fouling out. That video is also readily available online. I haven't watched it, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't morbidly curious.
There's more at play here (e.g., my own nostalgic connection to sports via my dad, who's a huge football fan), but the song basically deals with this really unsettling idea that we as a society have a desire to relive these calamitous events in fellow humans' lives as a perverse form of entertainment. Hence the phrase "human butt," as in the butt of some kind of sick viral-video joke.
Just recently, hundreds of people were badly burned during a freak accident at a theme-park performance in Taiwan. A video of that event was streaming online the day it happened. I found the idea of someone just sort of idly watching that on their laptop to be really chilling. I should say that thinking about these topics led me to read this excellent book by Mark Kram, a really sensitive, moving account of an on-field sports tragedy and its lengthy aftermath.
Mercy comes out next month and it signals the long awaited full-length debut of STATS after a couple of EP’s. Can you fill us in on STATS' trajectory as a band? You've been around a long time but gigs have been scant. What took so long for you guys to finally get an LP in the can?
The roots of STATS go back to 1999, when our guitarist, Joe Petrucelli, and I started playing together in a college indie-rock band called Super Lucky Cat. The other members of that band, bassist Tom Kelly and guitarist-singer-songwriter Zack Waldman (a.k.a. Zachary Mexico, author, musician and co-owner of Baby's All Right), are still close friends of ours, which is sort of indicative of the thrust of the project as a whole: STATS is a friendship and a brotherhood just as much as, if not more than, a band.
That's not to say that we—i.e., Joe, myself and current bassist Tony Gedrich, who has been with us since 2006—don't take the project seriously, because we do hold ourselves to a very high standard of quality. It's more that in the 16 years Joe and I have been collaborating, and in the 9 years we've been working with Tony, our respective lives have taken all kinds of twists and turns that have led to us playing more or less during certain periods. Even when the band is not particularly active, per se, STATS still feels like STATS because the three of us maintain a strong bond as friends.
To pick back up on the chronological narrative, Joe, Tom and I were playing together in more of a traditional indie-rock context. After Super Lucky Cat ran its course, the three of us regrouped in 2002 to work on material that referenced some of the heavier, more exploratory influences we shared— namely metal, math rock and particularly post-hardcore, e.g., Dischord bands like Hoover. We called this project Stay Fucked, after a line from Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer.
That lineup eventually disbanded, and after playing with several other talented bassists, we really jelled as a group again when Tony joined in 2006. We started writing heavier, more complex material, and eventually, we felt that we had outgrown what we'd come to view as a jokey band name. We renamed the project STATS and released two EPs, in 2009 and 2010, respectively, which you can hear on our Bandcamp page.
We went on a few tours before and after those releases, wrote and practiced a lot and continued to play a healthy amount of shows. In the fall of 2013, Tony left NYC to travel extensively in India and Nepal. We knew that would be a crossroads moment for us, so we planned ahead and wrote and polished a full album's worth of unrecorded material, some of it as much as five years old. We tracked in August of that year with Ben Greenberg, a longtime friend of ours and a former bandmate of Tony's (they played together in Archaeopteryx, an amazing bass-drums duo that was a big influence on STATS). The mixing and mastering happened in fits and starts over the next year or so. Thankfully, Ed from New Atlantis agreed to release the record and here we are. We're very pleased with the end result and feel that Mercy represents the entirety of what we're about as a band. It's been a long road from the beginning of Stay Fucked to this point, but given that the band is not a full-time pursuit for any of the members, and that we all love what we do outside this project, that's simply how long it took.
What's the deal with STATS being in all caps?
That's purely aesthetic. We just like the way the name looks in all caps and hope that at least some of the folks who might want to discuss our work in print will follow the same styling convention.
Mercy features vocals prominently for the first time on a STATS record and I totally dig it. What was the decision behind adding singing into the STATS assault?
Thanks, Brad—glad you enjoy it! Although there are no vocals on the two prior STATS releases, we've incorporated them here and there during various periods of our history, specifically on the Stay Fucked releases Fades, Shape-Ups and Blow Out (2004); Dreamt Sniper (2006; a split with Archaeopteryx); and Windpipe (2007).
We never truly believed that our music sounded better without vocals. It was really more that playing and singing/screaming simultaneously is very difficult, so we often got discouraged when trying to incorporate that element. We all decided that we wanted vocals to be a major part of Mercy, and that trend is likely to continue in future recordings and performances. We all like plenty of instrumental music, but our favorite music in our general stylistic niche (I'm thinking of bands ranging from Dazzling Killmen to Big Business) all tends to feature some kind of vocal presence.
Your unrequited love for Craw recently manifested itself in a successful Kickstarter campaign to reissue their three records from the 90's. I'm pretty sure I hear elements of Craw on Mercy. How did Craw and the reissue campaign inspire the new record? It seems like working on the Craw campaign may have triggered STATS to make a comeback.
There's no direct connection between the Craw project and this latest phase of STATS activity. Both had been in the works for years and just happened to sort of click into focus during the same general time frame. Craw is definitely a huge influence on me as a musician and general lover of music, and I think Tony and Joe would agree, though they didn't grow up with that specific music in their blood in quite the same way I did.
In general, our list of influences is pretty huge, and though there are parts of Mercy that we've internally likened to bands such as Black Flag, Heart, Voivod and Birthday Boyz, I wouldn't say that any one song sounds all that much like any of these. For better or worse, STATS doesn't really fit into a genre or subgenre. In the end, I'd say that we're a heavy rock band with somewhat ambitious and eccentric ideas.
Mercy is due 8/7 via New Atlantis Records and STATS will celebrate its release 9/23 at Baby’s All Right in Brooklyn with Couch Slut and other killer bands TBD.
Brad Cohan's human butt is "too old" for Twitter.