THANKS TO THE WELL-SCRUBBED FAMILY environment of Disneyland, and hitmakers such as No Doubt and the Offspring, it’s easy to assume all Orange County, California bands aspire to a breezy, radiofriendly punk-pop sound. But, the Magic Kingdom aside, even those acts have roots that are much heavier and too intense for local alt-rock playlists. Today, bands such as Atreyu, Bleeding Through, and Throwdown are carrying the torch of a hardcore background, and picking up where seminal O.C. bands like Agent Orange and The Vandals left off. Here, Throwdown’s Mark Choiniere discusses crafting his group’s energetic thrash and metalcore sound for Venom and Tears [Trustkill.]
How have things progressed creatively in the past few years?
When we recorded Vendetta in 2005, it was a rush job because we were limited as to what we could afford to do. All things considered, we were happy with the end product, but, this time around, we were able to live with the songs for about nine months. This was a major benefit, because we like everything to come out naturally during the writing process. Even if we have a concept about a very “crowd reactive” song, if it doesn’t come together on its own, we move on. We don’t go by any self-made rulebook that a lot of bands tend to develop after several years, and we try to steer clear of the stereotypical metalcore patterns. We didn’t want to be that American band trying to sound like they’re from Gothenburg. I mean no disrespect to any of the great Swedish bands, but it’s just that we wanted a natural American metal sound. We never tried to reinvent anything.
Do you mind that your band is frequently compared to Pantera?
It’s a compliment. Pantera and Sepultura changed a lot of things for us, and Dimebag Darrell is at the top of the guitar food chain. Both bands really opened the door for hardcore with the energy their music had. Sepultura’s “Roots Bloody Roots” is one of those songs that makes a crowd go crazy. It’s such a raw form of metal—it’s so brutal—and it has never been duplicated.
What’s the key to nailing your guitar sound?
Live, it’s all Randall 4x12 cabs and Randall MTS heads loaded with the RM4 tube preamp. But, off the road, I use an old Mesa/Boogie Triple Rectifier that I saved up all my pennies to buy when I was 16 years old. On Venom and Tears, I used a slew of different guitars, including a Washburn Idol, an ESP Kirk Hammett Signature model, and a Schecter baritone guitar. On one or two tracks, I did some overdubs with a Schecter 10-string tuned a full two octaves up. It sounded like a sitar, and it added a weird twangy feel to some chords. I use a .010-.052 set of Ernie Ball Strings, but I’m thinking of going a bit heavier, to a .010-.058 set. I recently used that gauge for drop-B tuning, and it felt awesome, so I may experiment. I actually changed my tuning from drop-B for the new record, mostly going with drop-C, which is C, G, C, F, A, D [low to high]. The title track is in drop-C# , but that’s the main exception. I also used a lot more effects on this record than I have in the past, and, secretly, I’m a huge effects fan. If I could only have a few, I’d take the Line 6 DL-4 Delay Modeler, the MXR Flanger—which is the best flanger I’ve ever used—the Dunlop Dimebag Signature Wah, and the NS-2 Noise Suppressor and Chromatic Tuner. Finally, I use medium-heavy gauge In Tune guitar picks. Whenever I see a guy really shredding up and down the neck, I always look to see what kind of pick they’re using, and I wonder if it’s all in the pick. Lots of times, I see they’re using a really small and hard jazz pick. I tried playing with one of them, because I thought a jazz pick might be my key to improving, but I can’t use them for the life of me.
As Throwdown began in 1997, how have you managed to progress throughout the past decade or so when the band is working within a genre with fairly strict stylistic formats?
You can learn so much from just watching other bands warm up. Going on tour with Children of Bodom was ridiculous in that respect, because their arrangements are so elaborate, but I challenged myself to try their stuff anyway. Phil Demmel, the guitarist from Machine Head, taught me a trick from their song “Ten Ton Hammer.” It’s relatively simple to play from a structural standpoint, but they tune one string up a half step, and play a harmonic on it. I’ve known that song for years, but I could never figure out how they did it. You’re not going to get any better unless you try songs that you think are out of your league, but it’s a little bittersweet when you figure out how someone like Dimebag did something. It humanizes your guitar god to a mere mortal, but you’re also so happy that it’s possible for you to play it, too.
Do you do anything specific to keep yourself from falling into ruts?
I just do what a lot of players do— which is to change little things about my approach. If I don’t mix things up, I’ll sometimes start working on a riff, and I’ll gradually realize it’s a part I’ve worked on before. Then, I’ll have to throw it out. I’ve also noticed that when you lock yourself into one tuning, you can find yourself in a rut. Right now, I’m working on some new stuff in standard tuning—which is back where I started. If you just tune up a half step, it makes the fretboard landscape sound and feel different.
What’s your view on shredding?
There’s a time and place for gnarly shredding, and I think when you’re young that’s what you want to do. But when you think about the songs that grab you, it’s the riffs and tasteful leads that are only five or six seconds long that you sing along with. Jerry Cantrell is a good example of someone who will play three notes in the course of 30 seconds, but they are the three perfect notes for that moment in the song. It’s not about having people stop and say, “Wow, you rule dude!” It’s about translating notes into how they make you feel, rather than how they make you look.