A TCE exclusive interview with guitarist Eric Larson
Open Fire
Relapse Records

Erik Larson is easily one of the most intelligent musicians we’ve ever spoken to. A founding member of the Richmond, VA-based Alabama Thunderpussy, he has remained the groups pivotal songwriter since their inception in 1997. Part stoner, part metal, part punk with a southern drawl; the five-piece have built a complex texture with a groove-oriented backbone that heralds back to the swamp rock of the ‘70s. They pride themselves on being intelligent, dense and ferocious - and were lucky enough to find the essence of their sound early on. Members included vocalist Johnny Throckmorton, guitarists Asechiah Bogden and Erik Larson, bassist Sam Krivanec and drummer Bryan Cox. Debuting on San Francisco-based Man’s Ruin records with Rise Again (1998) they stormed onto the scene with a fist full of country metal built around hook-center songs. River City Revival (’99) fueled the fire followed by Constellation (’00) and a year later Staring at the Divine (‘01).

After a three-year shake up that included the demise of Man’s Ruin, a switch in singers and a new record deal with Relapse Fulton Hill (‘04) emerged with the classic ATP sound firmly intact. Former Barbed Wire Bolls vocalist Johnny Weils replaced Throckmorton as the band dug deeper into a more boogie, Southern-fried grind. Along the way other member came and went leading to the more accomplished current lineup of Mike Bryant (bass), Cox (drums), Larson (guitar), Ryan Lake (guitar). As the dawn of their new disk Open Fire saw first light rumored had it Weils was out and Kyle Thomas was in. Larson cleared the air when he called in last week. “Truth is Johnny (Weils) didn’t come to rehearsals,” says Larson. “After our last tour we all went our separate ways for a couple months, then when it came time to start writing again he never showed. He had gotten mixed up with his own demons, destroyed his body and his voice and was going in a different direction than the rest of us.”

Larson admits that replacing a lead singer isn’t the easiest thing to do. “We wish we didn’t have to do it. It’s a hard thing because we demand a lot from a singer. He has to write the lyrics, come up with vocal phrasing in the context of our songs and lead the band. I’m not shy about saying Johnny (Weils) really let us down – but we saw it coming.” Larson, Lake, Bryant and Cox spent several months without a singer as they worked up the songs for what would become Open Fire. “We had the time to really focus on the melodies while we put the word out about replacing our singer,” says Larson. “It gave Ryan and me the chance to sort out the guitar parts – solos, guitarmonies. That kind of thing.”  (ed. - Guitarmonies are ATP slang for guitar harmonies). I think the reason this record is more melodic than our past is because of the time we spent developing the songs and playing to our strengths.”

Four to five days a week, several hours at a time and plenty of whiskey gave the band a certain chemistry that can be heard in songs like “The Cleansing”, “Void of Harmony” and “Words of the Dying Man.” Says Larson, “We came up with this concept of Viking warrior rock. We wanted songs that were built on a mood – like a hurricane coming in. Musically we jelled into this tight cohesive unit.” After several months and a bit of insider word-of-mouth the foursome got a call from New Orleans. It was Floodgate, Exhorder vocalist Kyle Thomas. ”He sounded great over the phone so we invited him up to the River City Revival house (Bryan Cox’s living room),” continues Larson. “We had sent him ‘Words of the Dying Man’ and he had done the lyrics and all the vocal hooks. It came out great. We were still apprehensive but after the bugs got worked out we realized it was a perfect fit.”

The recording went fairly smooth because, says Larson, “these songs had soaked in whiskey so long.” For such a deafening racket they needed the perfect cover art. After going through a number of conceptual ideas they opted to license ‘The Warrior’ from Ken Kelly (nephew of Frank Frazetta). Kelly has been the visual power behind Kiss, Manowar, and Rainbow. “He had the image that worked of us, says Larson, “We just made a few modifications then Orion Landau did the paintings of each of us on the inside of the booklet. It’s amazing how it looks like they were done by the same artist.” With the artwork complete Larson and co feel it stands up to the classics of the past. “This is our best record yet,” he says. “I always write using my acoustic guitar. I have the same gage strings on my acoustic as on my electric. I figure if it sounds good and heavy on the acoustic it will sound good on the electric.”

Open Fire plays like a well-worn novel from the tribal beats of “The Cleansing” to the massive riff of “Greed” acting as bookends. Between we have huge chunks of metal being hurled out of the speakers in rhythmic secession. There is the redemptive war cry of “The Beggar”, the sonic pounding of “None Shall Return” and the rumbling bass of “Brave the Rain.” All are sustained by the Larson/Lake guitarmonies. “Ryan will tell you he embellishes a bit hear and there. I think we all do to some degree. That’s why ‘Valor’ sounds a little Iron Maiden or ‘Open Fire’ has a Sabbath vibe. ‘Whiskey War’ is probably the closest to where we are as a band. It’s fighting back and fueled by our drunkenness.” If it’s greasy, kickass rock and roll with no frills or gimmicks then Open Fire might be your summer ticket.

Website: Alabama Thunderpussy, Relapse Records
Words: Todd K Smith