INTERVIEW WITH RYAN WASTE BY KEVIN STEWART-PANKO
PHOTOGRAPHS BY COREY DAVENPORT
For almost two years following the lockdowns and shutdowns caused by COVID-19, the mosh pit, stage diving, and tree diving (see Heavy Montreal 2014) that usually results whenever Municipal Waste fire rocket fueled crossover thrash into the ether came to a standstill with the rage and the stage silenced for the first time since the prolific road dogs got together in 2001. But when there’s nothing else to do, you write, write, and write some more with the result being Electrified Brain, the Waste’s rip roaring and highly nuanced seventh album. We sat down with guitarist Ryan Waste to discuss the result of the band’s pandemic activity, how things have changed for him at home and on the road, and what else he got up to after putting down the guitar and picking up a pen.
How was Electrified Brain impacted by COVID? Your bio mentions that you guys didn’t see each other for almost a year…
That’s not true. We started writing a record before everything shut down, and once it did, we had more time to hone in on the songs themselves. There was a period where we didn’t feel it was safe to be in a jam room, but I wouldn’t say it was a year. Once we felt it was safe enough, we masked up, got in the room, and kept working on the songs. If anything, we had more time to hone in on everything.
“I’M A HUGE HEAVY METAL FAN AND I’M ALWAYS TRYING TO INJECT A LITTLE MORE OF THAT INTO THE BAND WITHOUT GOING OVERBOARD”
How far back does the material on the album go?
The funny thing is that this record was ready a year-and-a-half ago. We could have put it out, but the label made us wait. It’s funny, sometimes I’ll rehash an old riff or something. The second song on the album, “Demoralizer,” was something I had before Slime and Punishment , so there is some stuff that is older, just reworked. The stuff, overall, is a good three or fours years old.
Was there a mission statement when you started writing? Something you wanted to accomplish, do different, a direction you wanted to take?
There never is a mission statement, but you always want to outdo the last album. With this one, we wanted to get into some different territories. I’m a huge heavy metal fan and I’m always trying to inject a little more of that into the band without going overboard, and now that we have two guitars, we can add a lot more leads. Nick [Poulos, guitar] is such a shredder, we might as well let him shine in more ways than he did on Slime and Punishment. Nick does most of the leads on the record. I did one on “Last Crawl” where we traded off on that song, but Nick is the full-on lead guitar player on this.
Now that you have your own guitar duo, did that get your juices flowing and open things up for creative development and possibility?
Yeah. We could have done that on Slime, but we wanted to ease Nick in a little bit. Now, why not just open the floodgates and go all out? It’s also him being more comfortable in the band and being able to shine a little bit more.
Did that lead to healthy competition during in the studio where you’re trying to push and outdo one another?
Nick and I are best friends, and we don’t have that rivalry type relationship. In every other band we’re in together, I’m the bass player and he’s the guitar player. In BAT or Volture, it’s always been his job to do the leads and, quite frankly, I’ve never considered myself a lead guitar player, always a rhythm player. Or, as I like to say, a bass player playing guitar, because that’s still how I feel. Just having him being able to do that, it’s like, “Go to town, man.” There’s no ego in there for me.
“WE PROBABLY PUT MORE TIME INTO THE SONGWRITING BEFORE WE WENT INTO THE STUDIO, WHICH IS MORE IMPORTANT.”
With the album being written and not knowing how much time you were going to have before the pandemic subsided, did you do a lot of tinkering with it while waiting?
Deadlines work well that way. The cool thing about Nuclear Blast is they have never given us a deadline, which is probably why it took five years after Fatal Feast  for Slime and Punishment to come out. There was no deadline. Had there been one, it might have whipped us into shape. The same goes for this one, there was no deadline. Yes, we did have more time because of the pandemic and we probably put more time into the songwriting before we went into the studio, which is more important. Once you know the songs, they’re set in stone and they’re rehearsed, that goes a longer way instead of going back and adding stuff. We rarely change stuff in the studio. We’re not one of those bands that experiments too much in there. Once we’re in there and in our heads, we just bang it out. We were more prepared this time.
During the lockdowns and downtime, did you stumble across any new realizations about yourselves or develop new skills during that time?
The older you get and the longer you do this, you have more confidence with it, and I feel like we were very confident going into the studio. Everyone was throwing around the thing about these being “uncertain times,” but it was true. We didn’t know what was going to happen outside, and it was cool to be able to focus on something to take our minds off things because right and left it was chaos when we started in the studio back in October 2020. We were in Philly and everyone was masked up and on top of each other, and it was a crazy time and a good distraction. There was the presidential election, the protests, and all sorts of shit. But we managed to get a record cranked out. That’s all I know.
“IT WAS COOL TO BE ABLE TO FOCUS ON SOMETHING TO TAKE OUR MINDS OFF THINGS BECAUSE RIGHT AND LEFT IT WAS CHAOS”
Is that a guest vocal on “The Bite?”
That’s Blaine Cook from The Accused. Tony [Foresta, vocals] wrote the parts for him, but that’s him singing. He did his part up in Seattle and sent it over. No one was traveling at that point in time, and he couldn’t have come in the studio, so we sent him the lyrics and he laid it down up there. And Barney from Napalm Death is on the second to last song, “Putting on Errors.”
Were those wishlist appearances or just friends helping friends in times of boredom and availability?
At this point, those guys are just our friends. We’ve toured with Napalm three times and we’ve played with The Accused since early on as a band. Obviously, these are people we looked up to when we were younger, but the cool thing about playing in a band for 22 years is that you become friends with some of your heroes, and they’re happy to do the record, which is very cool for us.
“I CAN PUT IT DOWN ALL NIGHT, BUT THE NEXT DAY I’M DEPRESSED, LETHARGIC, AND DON’T WANT TO DO ANYTHING. I CUT OUT THE BOOZE FOR A FEW DAYS AND IT’S LIKE I’M SUPERHUMAN”
How have things changed in the way you relate to fans as everyone grows older and hopefully more mature?
It’s funny, I’m 10 days sober right now. I had some time when I wasn’t going to be on tour, so I told myself that I wasn’t going to drink all this month because it catches up to you. People talk to you about how their hangovers get worse. I’m in my 40s now and can’t bounce back like I used to. I can put it down all night, but the next day I’m depressed, lethargic, and don’t want to do anything. I cut out the booze for a few days and it’s like I’m superhuman. I’m so productive and can knock anything out on my to-do list. It catches up and you find out real fast how it’s been dragging you down. On tour, I’ll keep drinking here and there, but when I’m home I’ll try to keep inventory of my health. Sobriety is the craziest drug—being clear and checking things out. It’s out there, man! Especially if you’ve been cloudy all your life.
How many tours have you done since your return to active duty?
Four full tours and some festival stuff following the pandemic. People were getting COVID like crazy on those first ones, it was pretty inescapable. We definitely don’t bring people up on the tour bus like we used to or really hang out or interact as much anymore, which is sad because that’s the fun part about it. We’ve had to keep to ourselves a little bit more. On that Circle Jerks tour, someone got it in [opening band] Negative Approach, which was funny because ‘Negative Approach tested positive.’ We didn’t make that joke on stage, but we can joke about it now. But that became the thing and we all had to test. There’s 10 of us in our crew, and when those petri dishes were all laid out, it’s like we were playing ‘who’s got the virus?’ waiting for stuff to pop out of those testing dishes like the monster from The Thing. We’re all sitting around waiting, and everyone is nervous because we would have had to shut the tour down, but we all tested negative. We were all jumping up and down, so excited! It’s crazy to think that’s what you have to deal with now, so we just try to keep it safe.
You’ve already done a solid amount of touring since being able to again. Was that part of the post-COVID plan? Or was it business as usual?
When things first shut down, I was honestly relieved because I was burning out. I had just come off of two back-to-back tours and we had one coming up, and when you do multiple bands like I do and try to have a life on top of it, there’s just no time. So, when it first happened, I was, “Really? I get a break?” And I was excited because I was going too hard and needed a breather. That didn’t last too long because you start getting antsy. It screwed over almost everyone I know, but luckily we did get to jam and write this record. And luckily we have a good accountant, and he got us on unemployment over here, which not a lot of bands got to do. He changed the way we did our taxes at the last minute, and we got a little bit of help because of it. It was still nowhere near as much as we would be getting had we been on tour. I’m talking bare minimum to live off of. That saved me. If I was broke and not playing, I’d be singing a different song, but finally I was getting some money back from the government after paying into the system, which had never happened in my life. I’m thankful that Curtis, our accountant, was able to swing that and help us through. I’m happy to be playing shows again and making a little bit of money. It was a tough time, and I’m pretty resilient and stayed positive through it, but you know what? The whole world was dealing with it and people were dying everywhere, so if my band can’t play a show, it’s small scale compared to people losing their lives.
What else did you get up to while away from the stage?
I finished my script for the heavy metal horror movie I was writing during the pandemic. Norman, the guy who did the “Electrified Brain” video, he’s a Hollywood effects guy and I had an outline and half the script written when I pitched it to him and we became good friends. He was, “Why don’t we collaborate on it over Zoom?” He had written a script before and coached us through the action dialogue and character shit and put it all in the right format. We had another guy type it out while me and him hashed out the rest of the screenplay. I’m making a presentation now to show it to some money people. The hardest part was when I first started where I was thinking and writing it down by myself. When you do that, your brain has a hard time computing the two different parts, so we had one guy writing the whole time while we were talking it out and that made it easier. Plus, doing it in a professional script writing format program called Celtx really helped. The story is there, now all we need is money.
What is the story?
I don’t want to give away too much of it, but there’s a down and out band trying to make it and they seek new management, but it backfires on them in a deadly way. There are a lot of really bad metal horror movies out there. If it’s got a band in it, I’ve probably tried to watch it—Black Roses, Rock ’n’ Roll Nightmare with Thor, which is pretty campy, Rocktober Blood, Shock ‘em Dead, and the biggest Hollywood one is probably Trick or Treat. There are about 10 movies that are like heavy metal horror, but there are always holes in the them and elements that are corny, so I’m trying to make it solid. I love stuff like River’s Edge and dark, teenage angst dramas, so there’s more to it than just a slasher movie. I wanted to make one that is true to our lifestyle. It’s based on bands, which is all I’ve ever done, so it’s going to come from experience, but I’m taking it to a supernatural level with a lot of it. I think you and other metal-lifer types will dig it.