Guitarist John Abernathy of Wastewalker ” Its really the poor and the rich that need to battle it out in this country.”
Wastewalker was formed from the ashes of ex-Sumerian Records Sacramento CA heavy hitters Conducting From the Grave. The band is the brainchild of main CFTG songwriter/lead guitarist John Abernathy. (Via Sputnik Music)
How did you first get in to music? Who turned you onto rock/metal?
My earliest memories of liking music were listening to Vanilla Ice and Kris Kross around Kindergarten age. I grew up in elementary school mainly liking rap, such as Snoop Dogg, Tupac, and my favorite act Bone Thugs n Harmony. Then around 7th grade I was at my aunt and uncles house and my older cousin Matt was playing a bunch of Slayer, Pantera, and Metallica riffs on guitar and I thought it was pretty cool. I wasn’t even really into rock yet, let alone metal. He let me borrow the Black Album and said that was entry level, a Hypocrisy album and said that was intermediate, and a Cannibal Corpse album and said that was advanced and said I might not like it. I actually loved reading along with the lyrics because I was a huge Brotha Lynch fan and the Cannibal Corpse lyrics made his horrorcore lyrics sound like Disney music. I was kind of a dark morbid kid.
How did you become a guitarist and vocalist? Are you proficient in any other instruments?
My interest in guitar came from seeing my cousin Matt play, and I used a self teaching book he had to learn how to read tabs when I was over at his house. I asked for a guitar for Christmas of 7th grade and my parents got me a Hamer Slammer series telecaster (quite the metal starter guitar lol!) that came with a tiny bass amp from a pawn shop. Within an hour after opening presents, using tabs I got online and printed out, I had learned the intro riff to One by Metallica. I remember my parents being pretty blown away like “wow you taught yourself how to play that?” Over the years I’ve gotten good at bass, as its more or less the same as guitar, and I’ve learned piano a little bit and drums just from dicking around on my drummers kits over the years. My desktop drumming and air drumming on my chest and thigh have gotten to expert levels over the years from explaining what beats I want my drummers to play.
Were you forced to go to church as a youth, if so were you an altar boy or participate in some other ways?
Thankfully never! My parents never tried to sway my brother and I in any way, and go figure – we both turned out Athiest. My family lived in Alabama for a year and the neighborhood kids my brother and I played with thought it was weird we didn’t go, so we went a few weekends and I got over it pretty fast. I think I just wanted to sleep in on the weekends, wake up and play Turbo Grafx 16 (we were poor!). Hell I still do! Must be why I’m a career musician, I didn’t really get outta bed till almost noon today after rocking with Virvum, Depths of Hatred, and Vale of Pnath last night.
What was the local scene like in the beginning, was there a particular band you aspired to be like, favorite local bands back then, favorite local bands now?
When I first started going to local shows I was 14 and an all local show of numetal bands such as Luxt, The Council, Theend, Inruin could pack out the Colonial Theater (like a 500 cap room for those not in the know). All from flyering, pre Myspace days even (daymn I’m gettin old!) Metalcore started taking over around age 17 for me and my favorite local band was With Passion. It was kinda wild when I ended up getting Jeff from With Passion to join my dumb as of yet unnamed band at the time, which grew into Conducting From the Grave. Now my favorite local bands are The Odious Construct, The Kennedy Veil, and Flub.
How did the band form and how did the band name come about? How did the band meet and how long did it take to finalize this lineup? How stable is the current lineup?
I wanted to name the band Wastelander and the idea stemmed from my love for post apocalyptic stuff (shows like The 100, games like Fallout). However I saw that was taken already, and I racked my brain and thought “hey Wastewalker has a nice ring to it, and its pretty much the same thing.” Most of the material is all composed and structured by me, lyrics included but getting live members wasn’t too difficult. I had Nate (guitarist) come over to buy 1 of my 7 strings and I had already played in his band Sepsis with Cam before. I said “hey CFTG is probably gonna be booking some farewell gigs pretty soon because everyone doesn’t want to commit enough time to it and wants to kinda move on with adult life, so I have these songs I was working on for future CFTG but I think I’m gonna call it something else. I was thinking of maybe doing vocals and playing guitar like Arsis or Necrophagist, since dealing with frontmen problems had been the bane of Conducting From the Grave’s existence.” I showed him the demos I tracked on Cubase and he said “dude I’m 100 percent down to play for this. and hey now we both have the same guitar!” Jackson from CFTG wanted to play bass but he was moving 2 hours away for college and I’ve learned my lesson with that in CFTG having members in far away cities is a headache. Joel (bass) heard about the band and put his hat in the ring for bass and hes a guitarist originally, which is what I wanted because I find they learn riffs faster. I think Justin (drums) also heard about it and contacted me. As far as Cam (vocals) goes, I knew he was going through being removed from Alterbeast, and I decided doing vocals while playing would just be too difficult for me and my lows suck horribly, so I asked if he wanted to do vocals and he of course was on board, being that we were such good friends already. He lived with me at my dads for a while actually, so hes like adoptive brother. As far as stability I don’t see anyone leaving, although its understood that if any tour opportunities come along and someone can’t do them I will find fill ins and make shit work. It’s like Ratcheck or Ricos roughnecks on Starship Troopers – “You’re it until you’re dead or I find someone better.” Although I feel like I found the best already though, and I feel fortunate these guys wanna play music with me.
You most recent record Funeral Winds came out 2016, how did the writing process and recording process differ from your former bands like Conducting From The Grave & With Passion? What kind of obstacles did you have to overcome to get it out?
With Passion was too many cooks in the kitchen, which is why that album I was involved on (What We See When We Shut Our Eyes) has 10000 riffs per song and “bad” structure. We all wrote in a room and had 3 guitar writers contributing riffs. Conducting From the Grave was a little more focused as far as me writing most of the stuff, but we still wrote as a band at first. As time went on and I got into Cubase, and people had 1000 excuses for cancelling practice always, more and more material was just written completely by me sitting at the computer and programming drums as I tracked riffs. Thats pretty much how its done with Wastewalker, but the new album I’ve been collaborating with Justin a lot on drums which has been quite refreshing. There weren’t many obstacles really, I learned how to audio engineer in Cubase and thats been a huge help. Justins a major professional so the first rehearsal we had with him he already ran through everything first take from learning the programmed drums. We were almost going to be corner cutting assholes and have the record be very well velocity edited MIDI Superior Drummer drums, but after jamming with Justin once, me and Nate were like “yooo we gotta book a few extra days with Zack Ohren, we need dem real drumz on this shit boi!”
How soon can we expect new Wastewalker music. Will it be a continuation of the first album. Will you be releasing it on cassette and vinyl. Do you own a cassette player, are cassettes silly? Will it be released DIY or is there label interest? Will you be recording cover songs for the new album?
I get 3 months of unemployment every year at my temp agency, so I’m going to treat finishing the next album like a full time job during that time, and that time is starting January. There are already 3 songs, 2 of which have lyrics. I might do a preproduction recording and release 1 song just to hype up a winter tour. Not 100 percent sure yet. By Summer the next album will be out, maybe fall at the latest. My truck has a cassette deck. I use it all the time – with an 8th inch Aux converter thingie haha. I’m not anti label, but no one has really expressed interest, and I kinda dig seeing the band grow organically and keeping all my royalties but if the right offer came along I’d bite. No plans for a cover song but who knows?
What other bands are you in?
None anymore, I’ve realized the hard way I have to whole ass 1 band instead of half ass a bunch of side projects. I barely even rap anymore because of this as well, Wastewalker takes all my free time. I occasionally fill in for Hoods still.
Has there been times when drugs and alcohol were beneficial to the band?
Nah not really. Helpful for partying after the show and cutting loose and whatnot I suppose. But definitely just detracts from working on music. If I didn’t drink socially I’d probably enjoy gigging a little less because I get social anxiety, although no one would guess because I mask it pretty well. By drinking.
How would you best describe your sound?
Thrashy melodic death metalcore. Some shit that will make you want to mosh but you might also hum and think “where the fuck is this melody from?”
Is doing ticket pre-sales the same thing as pay to play?
No, I don’t have a problem selling tickets as long as I’m not required to give the venue a certain amount. I’ll take a few bucks per whatever we sell whether its 40 bucks or 300 bucks. Buying your own tickets because of some quota the promoter has is where it becomes pay to play. I’m old school though I’ll still stand outside the line of a big Ace of Spades show and hand out flyers like I’m still some bright eyed bushy tailed 19 year old kid that thinks his band is gonna make it, and not the thirty something has been wash up that I probably am! Flyering is my preferred method of promotion.
Do you still buy cds or mostly use streaming sites? Which sites do you use?
Anything I really like I buy on the Google Play store usually. I buy shirts of bands at shows if I really dig them, and CDs from the show. But almost never do I buy CD’s from the store these days.
What was the first music you bought and what have you bought more than once?
Alice in Chains unplugged album was the first album I remember buying money I earned from working. I think I bought Aenima by Tool twice because my boom box ate the first tape. That was so long ago though so maybe it wasn’t Tool?
Who have been some of your favorite bands you’ve hung out with and shared the stage with?
All Shall Perish took us on tour 3 times when I was in Conducting From the Grave and not only did we vibe well with their fanbase and sell a ton of merch, we also got along with them. Ben Orum is one of the raddest dudes in the world, and thats why I print all Wastewalker merch through his company Weneedmerch.com. I love the Suicide Silence guys too, especially their merch guy Joe. He was Light This City’s merch guy on my first tour ever with them in 2005 and he rode in our van quite a bit, along with their guitarist because we rolled with open beers and LTC wasn’t down with that. Such rebels we were! lol. fucking losers really looking back haha. It’s funny how being a stepdad now has changed my perspective. I’d probably yell at 19 year old me. I loved touring with the Arsis dudes too, man… too many bands to list really because I generally get along with everyone and have a good time.
Whats the biggest show you have played so far and do you still get nervous before a gig?
Final show of the Kataklysm/All Shall Perish tour in Kataklysm’s hometown of Montreal. They were filming a music video and the show was sold out with over 1600 people. I don’t get nervous, I’d call it more eager to get it over with. The anxiety of waiting to play is real, and its not for fear of not doing well – it’s just that I know I can’t truly relax until my job is done as an entertainer.
Does the current political climate in America scare you or make hopeful? Do you see a possible civil war on the horizon?
I think no matter what shit show is going on, life will keep going on and it won’t affect me all that much. People said all the same shit about Bush and Obama, I think Trump is just a notch worse, but ultimately no civil war is going to happen. It wouldn’t surprise me if an assassination occurred though. But then we would have Pence who actually scares me a little more than the rest. I probably shouldn’t talk about assassination so I better leave a disclaimer – I in no way encourage or endorse that! Because big brother is watching. Just ask our singer Cam, he went to Juvy for 6 months as a 14 year old punk rock kid with a green Mohawk for saying on a message board he wanted to blow up the white house.
Favorite songs on the new as yet to be finished album and why?
Well there are only 2 full finished thus far but I’m extremely happy with my chorus and structure work thus far. I’ll give a lyrical snippet from a prechorus / chorus section: “Deliver us unto innocent ignorant bliss, every grain of sand that falls from this hour glass is a bless-ed eternity, Come daybreak we will bask in the afterglow, go back to normal life, no one has to know. I’m melting into you, you’re melting into me, Everything makes sense, we were meant to be. I was a wanderer doomed to roam, now it all makes sense, I am home.”
What kind of references or influences do you take from other mediums? Is there any particular book, or other artists that you are inspired by?
Video games like Fallout come to mind, but mostly my inspiration lyrically is from real life experiences and I try to make parallel metaphorical stories.
Could you please explain the title, Immortal, I Create?
That song is about me being creative forever, no matter what the method, even if I have to go out on my own (i.e. Conducting From the Grave breaking up and me doing Wastewalker as more of a solo project) and moving forward, crushing anything in my path that stands in my way. Whether that be record labels, band members, shitty promoters etc “I’ve made something from nothing, I’ve done it before and I’ll do it again, stand in my way and rest assured you’ll be torn to shreds” proceeds to shred dueling solo section lol – Basically I’m going to do this music shit immortally, and live on forever though what I’ve created.
Out of all your songs which one touches you the most when you perform it?
I think actually Immortal I create, just because it starts at a tempo that lends its self to rocking out pretty hard and the riff is really easy to play and kinda intentionally sloppy. Plus I like doing the backup vocals on the strummy part before the breakdown “You can’t take this away from me I’ll rage against your apathy, I won’t become the mortal man the world says I have to be, I’ll bow out from this stage of blasphemy, but mark my words you haven’t seen the last of me” I think it brings out a lot of emotion for me live because it was essentially written going through the well of emotions that came along with Conducting From the Grave calling it quits, which was such a large part of my life for 12 years.
Are there any political or social issues hidden in Wastewalker songs?
The title Funeral Winds is a song about income inequality and disgustingly rich people that hoard their money and have no problem paying peasant wages. People like the Papa Johns CEO for instance. Fuck that guy. Fuck civil war between the right and the left or Trump vs Hilary, its really the poor and the rich that need to battle it out in this country. And the voice of the masses of poor people scraping by needs to be heard, loud and clear.
Who does the songwriting for the band? Where is inspiration found?
It’s mostly all me, but Nate contributed a lot of input on harmonies and some structure here and there and wrote his own solos. Cam wrote the lyrics for Hazmat birth about struggles with addiction. I draw inspiration from living life, making mistakes and being human.
What is the writing process like and the putting of songs in order?
Mostly me sitting at the computer with my guitar until a skeleton of a song demo is tracked. Then we get together in our rehearsal spot and try to jam it and pitch ideas for what could make it better or worse as a full band. Then eventually 19 revised demos later we have a finished song. RIP my hard drive space.
Top 5 albums or songs released this year so far?
Well when I was at my old job last year, I could listen to music all day so I was much more on game. I’m super behind on what has come out this year now because the Apple warehouse I work at makes us lock our phones up before going in. The new Arkaik jams hard, The Kennedy Veil’s album is great, new Black Dahlia Murder was as usual solid as fuck. Darkest Hour’s latest album came out this year right? Or was it late last year? I really liked that album, it had a great raw grit to the production and songwriting. Relentless Mutation by Archspire did what I though it was going to do too – make me wanna sell my guitar and go be a fluffer on porn sets or something because obviously I aint shit as a musician. Same with that Virvum album, but I think that came out 2016 too.
What endorsements do you have and what endorsements do you still want?
Dean guitars sort of I think? We (me and Jeff from Conducting From the Grave) are still listed on their site but they haven’t responded to my emails in years nor have they sent me guitars. I got Toontrack to give me Superior Drummer for free by throwing my big “I was signed to Sumerian records, who wants to touch me” dick around, as per suggested by Zack Ohren. So bascially just Toontrack and Dean Guitars. I think Dean will start to holler back once Wastewalker starts touring regularly. If not I’d love to get Ibanez or ESP.
Bands you would love to tour with on a dream tour package and musician or artist you would like to meet and interrogate?
Resurrect Dimebag and tour with Pantera. But in the realm of reality, I’d love to go back out with All shall Perish if/when they finally get going again. Black Dahlia Murder and Revocation would also be bucket list bands to tour with. I’d love to pick Dave Davidsons brain about his process and just trade licks and jam a little bit.
Song to be played at your funeral and 3 albums to take to your grave?
Play “In the Dirt” by Twisted Insane/Charlie Ray So many lines resonate with me in that song and it has such a dark vibe, I tear up and get goosebumps every time I hear it “So imagine, if I never had the music and I never was equipped with the wrath to use it like I do when I’m lucky enough to pay a bill while you niggas make a mill with your wack acoustics”. And I’ll take The Last Demon by Twisted Insane, Far Beyond Driven by Pantera, and Deja Entendu by Brand New. Vast array of emotions from hawrd to sawft all in my coffin, although I’ll be dead so I won’t be able to feel shit, not even the gnawing of the worms and maggots. Matter of fact I’m going to donate my body to science anyways, so just ask what those creepy fucks that are going to be cutting me up wanna listen to!
What does metal mean to you?
It’s family at this point. I love all my friends I’ve made in the metal scene. Going to shows, playing shows and writing aggressive music is the best release from the bullshit of regular life imaginable.
Final thoughts, shout outs, dirty jokes?
Be on the lookout for a Kickstarter campaign to launch in the next few months for a table top card and dice game tentatively titled “Wastewalker Battle Arena”. In a nut shell, you have a squad of 5 character cards and your battling in an arena for entrance into a post apocalyptic fallout shelter for the amusement of its leader, as opposed to wandering the nuclear wastes. You have a hand full of cards with special abilities for each character and you battle other players until there is only 1 player left. Shout out to Mikey Hood, without you the underground metal and hardcore scene wouldn’t be what it is today in Sacramento, shout out to Ricky Trigga and First Unit productions for putting on shows, same goes out to Chris Somel and the Atlantean Collective. Shouts out to High House, we need to do a proper show there soon with our full lineup! Too many names to list but basically just know that if you have helped put on a show, from the door people/security to the persons signing the contract to pay the headliners, to the sound guys – everyone in the scene I just want to say thank you so much for helping me do what I’ve done for almost 15 years. And most importantly the fans, I know its cliche but your praise and support keeps me motivated to push forward and keep doing this, despite it costing me a ton of blood sweat and tears over the years. As far as dirty jokes, I heard this on a movie called Middle Man yesterday and it stuck with me: “Whats the hardest part about cutting up a dead body? …. The bones!” \M/