Minneapolis crossover thrash-metal band In Defence tends to tour more often than release records, so tonight's Don't Fuck with the Dungeon Master release show at the Triple Rock is one you don't want to miss. In advance of their triumphant Minneapolis return, we sat down to get to know guitarist Jimmy Claypool and discuss band business.
"This is definitely the best In Defence record, period," Claypool says. He's referring to the current lineup's top-notch musicianship and the production quality of the record, which was mixed and produced by their friend Joel Grinds of Toxic Holocaust. "He has an ear for thrash and did a killer job on it," Claypool says of Grinds' work on the album.
Don't Fuck with the Dungeon Master is the first In Defence record with new guitarist Kevin Alter. "Even back in high school he was blowing it out of the water," Claypool says. The two met back in Food Tech and started bonding over music. Apparently Alter was one of the only other kids in school who wore an Iron Maiden shirt. After 12 years of friendship, having Alter join the band just felt natural.
In the past, the group was widely recognized for the subject matter of their songs, things like pizza and tacos. There's singer Ben Crew to thank for that -- he writes most of the lyrics, which can get pretty campy. On Don't Fuck with the Dungeon Master, Claypool also flexed his lyric-writing chops on the song "A.D.H.D.T.V.," which is basically exactly what it sounds like: a complaint against society's habit of mainlining technology.
"I'm not good with humor; when I write lyrics it's very much of a sociopolitical, straightforward thing," Claypool says. "I have a very dry sense of humor and it doesn't translate over to music well so I just stick to what I know best." That's fine, as long as Crew is around. "He can take serious subjects and poke fun at them, but still raise awareness towards them," Claypool explains.
Reading through song titles and lyrics in the CD insert prove that the band is indeed adept at tackling all sorts of subject matter. The song "Tacos Till Death" upholds their signature firm stance on tacos, while "Fun with Beer" discusses how a shitty party becomes cool when someone starts a violent, bloody beer-can fight.
Another song "Refrigerator: The Energy Efficient Household Appliance that Eats People," is scary enough to conjure up images of the character Sara in Requiem for a Dream standing before her shuddering, possessed fridge with her television blaring, strung out on diet pills. "You shall learn to run in fear of refrigerator," it threatens. "Most never suspect / Till it's too late / And so they die." We'll think twice about bringing home the leftovers next time.
In Defence released the first single, "Unholy Water," earlier this year before embarking on a national tour, something the band does quite often. They've got a loyal following across the country and even outside of the U.S. This winter they'll embark on a European tour, hitting countries including Spain, Germany, France, the Netherlands, and Poland.
How does Claypool's mother feel about all of this? "She loves ..." he begins, then trails off. "Well, she says she loves it," he says, laughing. Their family is originally from Lima, Peru, so she's actually a big Julio Iglesias fan. Which makes us wonder: How on earth did Claypool discover metal and the other more adverse genres of music he plays today? Apparently as a 7-year-old he noticed a dude walking around Peru in typical punk garb -- a jean jacket with studs and a back patch. It's one of Claypool's most vivid early memories.
The image on the man's back patch is what really struck him. "It was this dude with a sword and a red mask, and that image always stuck to me," he says. Fast-forward to 16-years-old, when he'd been living in the States for some time and was really beginning to discover metal.
"I was like 16 and I was flipping through records and I found that image," he remembers. "I immediately recognized it. It was this band Sodom from Germany, the In the Sign of Evil EP. I remembered it from when I was seven, so I picked up that CD because it was one of my earliest memories. Seeing that artwork connected with me on a deep level; I never forgot about it. It was almost 10 years later and I recognized it right away."
Claypool is actually a classically trained violinist, which he says has an effect on his guitar playing. He played violin for 12 years, from the ages of five to 17. "My senior year of high school I was going to be first chair, which was a huge deal for me," me recalls. He equates being first chair in an orchestra to being lead guitarist. The problem was, he hadn't taken a health class yet and the St. Paul public school system required one. There was an online option, but he needed his counselor's approval to go that route -- something that he didn't end up getting.
"She was like, 'No, I'm worried your grades would slip; it would be too much extra work,'" he says. There was a literal red stamp on his request form.
"What sucks about that is my family grew up working poor, and my mom could never afford a violin for me growing up," he continues. "What happened basically was my entire time growing up when I went to school I got access to a violin through the orchestra program. Then I couldn't have one my senior year because I wasn't allowed to be in orchestra, so I couldn't check out a violin because I wasn't in the program. It was like a double stab in the back."
Claypool began devoting more time to playing guitar, which we're certainly thankful for. Now 27, he's a graduate of the University of Minnesota with a degree in anthropology and can look back on the sour situation without anger or bitterness. In Defence's upcoming European tour will help suture another old wound, as the last time they left the States just happened to be two days before Claypool started his senior year of college. Back then it was either drop out of school and lose his scholarship, or stay put and hold faith in future opportunities. Thankfully he chose the latter, and now things are coming full circle.
"Music's always going to be a part of my life," he declares. "I'm definitely always going to be playing music. At this point in my life, I can't imagine not touring. Five years from now I might not be in the same place, but right now as is, it's my favorite thing in the world to do, hands down."In Defence record-release show is at Triple Rock Social Club at 8 p.m. May 29 with Victory, Virgin Whores, Decomposer, and Rad Enhancer on two stages for maximum raging. Also featuring a punk-rock photo exhibit from Adam DeGross and stand-up comedy by Raghav Mehta, Tom Chillstrom, Shelly Paul, and Matthew Kohr. The event is hosted by Bree Melechinsky. $10, 18+, admission fee includes free copy of the new CD.
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