Jon Chang Interview

Hey guys, this a repost/redo of an interview I did last year with Jon. Unfortunately we were still Hammer Smashed Jazz then, so it doesn't show up in a search. I've had people ask, so here ya go!

It is safe to say that Discordance Axis forever changed the trajectory of extreme music with the release of their avante-grind masterpiece "the Inalienable Dreamless". While some hail it as the greatest grindcore album ever released, it was, sadly, the last LP the band would ever produce. Which is why wind of a new project by vocalist/designer/main-brain Jon Chang launched fanboys into a salivating frenzy. After a long process, Chang's new band Gridlink burst onto the scene in 2008, bringing back the lightning speed twitchgrind that had been so sorely missed over the last decade... and as if that weren't enough, Chang had another band, Hayaino Daisuki, who were determined to take thrash to a whole other level of speed.

It is a great honor to present to you my conversation with the grindcore master, Jon Chang.

HSS: If ever there was a labor of love it would have to be Gridlink. Give the readers an idea of the complete process you went through, from conception, to the release of Amber Gray. Also, did you ever think of throwing in the towel on Gridlink?

JON CHANG: The complete history?

I met Matsubara when Mortalized opened for Discordance Axis on our 2001 Japan tour. He has a Musashi the Rockets (aka Jesse from Team Rocket) key chain on his guitar and I knew immediately we were brothers ^o^ 2 hours later I watched his band Mortalized play and they stormed that stage like no one's business. The most intense stage presence I had seen anyone with since I caught 324 in 1997.

After the tour we traded some emails and CDs and discovered we both loved ultra fast technical heavy metal. At that time we decided to do a thrash band that would take our favorite genre and speed it up even faster LOL.We spent the next year or two working on tracks for HD and did our first recording which we threw out because it wasn't fast enough. We then fired everyone else in the band and started looking for new members.

While this was all going on Mortalized had broken up, Ikeda had his first son and became very busy with family life and work. Matsubara had been developing a side project with two Tokyo grinders Terada(ex-Melt Banana) and Okada(Disconformity) and they asked me to be the singer. I was onboard with the caveat that, like Hayaino Daisuki, we had to find our own sound.
Fast forward a few years and HD had found drummer Eric Schnee and GridLink went through a total line-up change with Terada and Okada being replaced with Ted Patterson(BBTS), Bryan Fajardo and most recently Dorian Rainwater on second guitar. Today both bands are basically the same team of people with the exception being the drummers and Michelle Bowlin who sings for Hayaino Daisuki.

Initially we did both bands at once, so that if we felt inspired in one area versus another we would just drop everything and focus on where our hearts were. At the moment we're splitting development into 2 tracks where we spend 1-2 years working on GridLink and then 1-2 years on Hayaino, etc.

The new Hayaino LP "Invincible Gate Mind of the Infernal Fire Hell or Did You Mean Hawaii Daisuki" is the result of this process. We were so happy with the results that we are using the same process on the second GridLink LP "Orphan".

HSS: To me, Matsubara has got to be one of the most underrated guitar players going. Is Mortalized still around?

JON: Mortalized reformed like 2-3 years ago and is still going strong. They are my favorite grind band playing today.

HSS: I know I'm not alone when I say that a lot of old grinders like myself have moved on to other types of heavy music, and become much more selective with the grind we listen to, but so many of us still jam Discordance Axis and were anxiously awaiting Gridlink. Why do you think that is... that your brand of grind strikes such a chord with people who don't necessarily listen to a lot of grindcore anymore?

JON: I'm not sure what keeps people interested. Things are sticky with people for a variety of reasons. I still love things like Kiss, The Who, Zeppelin, AC/DC and Van Halen(note not Van Hagar) all the way up to Slayer, Black Flag, Yngwie, Kreator, Heresy, Dead Kennedy's, Motorhead. There's something in me that all those bands still speak to...

I can say for myself, when I first got into grind, there were very few bands and while I didn't like them all, the ones I liked, I loved. I still listen to Repulsion "Horrified" and love that record. Napalm Death Peel Sessions 1+2, Anal Cunt split with 7 Minutes of Nausea, SOB, you get the drift.

There's a certain rawness and human spirit in those releases that disappeared from grind as the 90's wave came onto the scene. Studio budgets went up, triggers were introduced, and the genre became more about playing "heavy" than fast. All of a sudden the music wasn't all that special. The Earache catalog was on MTv, but it was watered down so much it was like a Chinese knock-off. Easier to get for the average consumer, but it sounded cheap and was missing the magic of the original work.

Discordance, and hopefully every project I work on, went a different way and on a personal level became about pushing out of our comfort zones and making something special to us. Maybe the results of that resonate with people still?

HSS: Speaking of Discordance Axis....we're now ten years removed from the Inalienable Dreamless...and it is very common to see it listed as the greatest grind album of all-time (I agree).How does that make you feel?Does that album conjure special feelings for you?And do you ever revisit it?

JON:I revisit to TiD every so often, but I have a lot of feelings tied up in that record so my experience might be different than anyone else's?

After seeing how honest the creator of Evangelion was with his art, I was determined to hold nothing back and be as bare and honest with myself as I could be. Finishing the record felt like being Ender at the end of "Ender's Game". (wow that's a lot of "end"s in one sentence)
But creating it allowed me to turn a corner in my own life so I'm glad we did it.

HSS: I see that you have another Gridlink release, Orphan, on the horizon. Have you guys worked out all the kinks that made Amber Gray such a long journey? Do you see Gridlink as something that you can keep doing for awhile longer?

JON: We've been working on it part time since last year. As to the timeline, we'll see if we hit our projected studio date of March 2010 ^_^;

HSS: When it comes to modern grind, I really think a lot of bands have lost the plot, so to speak. Could you please tell these grind bands that a 35 minute LP is too damn much. Seriously, people have complained about the brevity of the Gridlink CD... they just don't get it do they?

JON: I don't think there's 1 right way to do anything. This is the kind of prejudices "music fans" had against grind when it first came out. "Why are all the songs so short?" "Why does the singer just scream?" "I can't even tap my feet that fast!"

I'm sure anything can be executed in a way that is compelling, but there are no silver bullets. When people complain about Amber Gray being 11 minutes long, I feel like it's analagous to complaining that the painting of Hieronymus Bosch are so small?!

Amber Gray is the length that it is because that's how long it was when we completed it.

HSS: I absolutely love the very small bit of Scratch Trigger Era I've seen.Will we ever see any more of it?

JON: There's a comic by Mark Gilson, myself and Stan Sakai included in the new Hayaino LP.

HSS: Old school shoot-em-ups are still going strong, especially if you have a Japanese XBox 360. Have you been playing any good ones lately? And do you still throw in Ikaruga ever?

JON: Man I barely have time for games anymore LOL. Silvergun and Ikaruga still have a place in my heart and always will but I can't say I've touched a shooter in more than 4-5 years now. I think the last one I played was Ketsui in 2004?

HSS: I've heard that you're not a big fan of vinyl. Why don't you dig records?

JON: The mastering process for vinyl is an inexact representation of what comes out of the studio. As artists spending time to make sure our records have the right sound,on vinyl, it's a very subtle art getting the loss in translation just right so that it is unnoticable to the listener.
On the other hand, I love the large format of artwork that vinyl allows ^_^

HSS: Give us a heads-up on future projects you have going on....

JON: GridLink is working on LP #2 in "Orphan". At my day job, we continue to work on "Black Powder Red Earth". We'll be releasing a operational role playing game on facebook annd (hopefully) myspace later this year. We also have a graphic novel in development that tracks the same story line that will hopefully hit in early 2010.

HSS: I always thought it was awesome that DA had a really close relationship with Corrupted. How did that come about? I know people listen to all sorts of music, but it still seemed really cool that the twitchgrind kings loved the slow stuff.

JON: We played with Corrupted in 1997 and I became good friends with Hevi because we were both otaku of the same blood type (Votoms, Evangelion, old school Gundam, Dougram, Ideon, Yamato, Macross, I could go on LOL). We have spent many years trading anime and comics ever since :-D

1 comment:

Invisible Oranges said...

Thanks for posting this. Chang is one of the most intense frontmen ever. Discordance Axis was very special, and his new projects are eye-opening in their own right.