Chorus of One Records
Even though their name sounds Spanish, Gonzales is an Italian rock band founded in 2004. Their second album Checkmate was released in their home country in 2008 and is now finally making it to American shores. Checkmate is an entertaining affair. The band plays dirty, amped-up rock and roll where you can literally smell the sweat. Stylistically, they fall somewhere between Social Distortion and Motörhead offering an array of aggressive tunes including a blistering cover of the Johnny Cash classic “Ring Of Fire” that flashes back to Social D’s version from their self-titled (1990) LP. The song “Gö Tö Hell” shows quite clearly that this is a tribute to Lemmy and Co. while opening track “Nothing To Lose” borrows a bit from the Hellacopters including a nice use of boogie piano. At times, Gonzales don’t hesitate to sound more punk with “Heaven Gone Wrong” and “Fiesta” showing a definite Misfits influence.
The Italians are unafraid to torture their guitars over the rumbling bass, with the somewhat spent vocals fitting perfectly into the mix. They come to us with a lot of experience. Vocalist Markey Moon and bassist “B” hail from Italian instrumental psychedelic garage surf band Cosmogringos, drummer Malcolm B. Cobra steps out from rockarolla band Meat Torpedoes and guitarist Mark Simon Hell has played in various hardcore bands including La Piovra, Ohuzaru and Nab. The twin guitar attack of Moon and Hell give the disc’s 10 track plenty of energy and packs a real punch especially on the title track “Check Mate” where the attitude and the amplitude are fully cranked. Cobra’s drums are insanely ferocious pounding a hole in the floor with a monstrous backbeat. There is also the subtle western swagger they add to the rhythm giving the whole thing a splash of color.
Two of the most dynamic songs land right in the record’s middle. “Kiss The Sky” showcases a mind-blowing solo run over a huge riff. The bass bludgeons its way into the hook and powerdrives the whole thing into another dimension. Augmenting the vocals through a squawk box creates a soulful howl as the band sing of “getting’ it on, getting’ lazy in the sun and kissin’ the sky.” Next track, “Xtatic Failure” is a frantic surge that pulls from SoCal punk with a greasy lick that “sets the soul on fire” and knocks around a garage beat juiced up on steroids. Last song, “My Son” captures a great vibe as the guitar tones hearken back to the ‘60s with the drum and bass locking into hip-shakin’ groove. The band has released a string of singles and been featured on compilations Desert Sound: The Seghetti Sessions Vol 1 (’04), La Nostra Scelta (’06) and The Heavy Psych Italian Sounds (’08). This spring (2011) Gonzales will release a 7” EP split with Norway’s Bloodlights (featuring Capt. Poon of Gluecifer). Buy it!
Website: Gonzales, CD Baby
The Cutting Edge interview with B. and Mark Simon Hell of Italian band Gonzales.
The Cutting Edge: Can you give us a little history, how the band started and what were some of the big changes that led to your current sound?
B: The band was formed in Venice, Italy in the early 2000s, we were Markey, Moon, Pam, our first drummer, and I. In 2004 I convinced my great friend, Mark Simon Hell, to join us and within a few months we composed quite a few pieces and recorded our first album Hell Drive. It was a mix of punk, hardrock and hardcore, it was very rough and aggressive. When our drummer, Pam, left us, Malcolm B Cobra took his place. With his arrival the sound of the Gonzales changed, losing the former hardcore and transforming it into the sound that can be heard in Checkmate, our second album: definitely more rock’n’roll!
In 2009 a new lead vocalist joined us; Tilen. Thanks to him our live shows became more intense! He is perfect for us because he goes on stage to have fun. The goal of Gonzales has always been to write good songs, not to just hide behind the “right attitude”, I'd say that in “Checkmate” this experiment worked great, we are very proud of that album, it came out well. Our new songs are along the same line, maybe a little more party-oriented thanks to Tilen’s contribution.
TCE: The past few years, Italy has really come to the world attention in delivering great rock ‘n’ roll bands. It’s almost like you are becoming the next Sweden in producing great bands. Why do you think Italian bands are turning to this type of amped-up garage rock and doing so well?
B: I often think about this but I really don't know how to answer... since the early 80s garage punk has always been used in Italian underground and even today is very popular and brings a little “coolness” with it. The “Scandinavian Rock” (Call it what you like..hard punk etc), which is a more recent phenomenon, in Italy was always seen as cache music but is now becoming more popular and a lot of people like it.
TCE: I have reviewed several releases from Chorus Of One records including December Pearls, Boozed, The Chuck Norris Experiment and the Nude Pube Banglers. What do you think sets you apart from the other band’s on the label and what does the label offer you as a band?
Mark: We know Max (Chorus of One Records) since the days of our first album “Helldrive" when he was with San Martin Records (RIP) .. I’ve always kept track of his productions that go from hardcore to rock’n’roll and I know he puts his heart and soul in everything he does, as a musician does with his band, he’s always showed interest in us, and it was taken for granted that when we recorded Checkmate, he would be the one to produce it.
TCE: Checkmate is a great record. I love the energy and the respect of ‘old school’ hard rock mixed with punk elements and attitude. I also like the rawness of the record with minimal production focusing on spontaneity and charisma to carry the song. People want some kind of perfection these days. Your record shows that it’s about raw energy and the impact of jamming together to create rock and roll. When you are writing, how does the band interact? Do you demo first and then share ideas or do you center around one primary writer?
B: Thanks! I usually start with a series of chords or a couple of guitar riffs and from there begin making the spinal cord of the song. It starts growing until all the pieces of the puzzle are finally put together. The vocals are the last thing to be put in. Paradoxically it seems to work because we have set limits - for example: if a piece needs too much time to be audited or it doesn't seem to have the right spark to it, we don’t bother going ahead with it. We don’t want to write long pieces, rock’n’roll should get to the point rather quickly - there should be energy. The most important thing should be the song and it’s freshness, for this reason we always try not to indulge in the usual musician pitfalls. The sound must never be “licked”.. it must give respect to r'n'r but stay careful not to fall into a vulgar cliché - so we keep it fun.
We have all had other bands and played different types of music (rock, surf, hardcore, grind, psychedelic, metal, lounge/exotic etc.) but we know that Gonzales is not a group where we can experiment with new sounds or combinations of styles. It’s a band where we write and play rock’n’roll the way it’s meant to be written and played. Having clear ideas helps us reach our goals.
TCE: The vocals are a bit buried in the background. Was that intentionally or accidental? I like that they sound like another instrument and not an over powering force. In fact, the record sounds like a guitar record with the vocals as a support instrument. That technique was used in a lot of punk bands during the mid-seventies. Were you going for that kind of sound / vibe?
B: You hit the nail on the head, the choice was intentional and for the reasons that you have already said! If the vocals stand out too much the songs lose their impact and it’s really annoying....
TCE: What are some of the band’s influences? Who were some of yours as a guitar player? How have your influences prepared you to be in a rock / punk band? What are some of the other Italian bands you admire or look up to?
Mark: The base of Gonzales’ sound comes mainly from all the punk and hard-rock of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s... the same influences that nearly all the Scandinavian bands have. There are a lot of different influences as a guitarist, from Chuck Berry to Thin Lizzy. The STP and Small Jackets are great party bands, their live music is really enjoyable!! but here in Italy there are also other great bands like Antares, Brokendolls, Donald Thompson, Gods Of Gamble, King Mastino and The Sade just to name a few.
B: Without Dee Dee Ramone and Stooges’ “Funhouse” I would be a different person.
TCE: What songwriters do you fashion yourself after? Do you prefer to write in English or Italian? Which language suits the band better? Is it more difficult to write in English?
B: Only a genius would be able to play decent punk’n’rock in Italian.... we'd like to try it but it's too scary hahaha! Tilen and Markey write our lyrics, they have too many influences on their head to list them all.
TCE: I love that you cover the Johnny Cash song “Ring Of Fire.” Are you big fans? I also compared you to Social Distortion (because they cover this song too). Are you fans of Social D? You also give certain songs a western edge, not a country sound but an old classic Clint Eastwood-like western edge. Is this going to become a bigger part of your next record?
B: I like Johnny Cash a lot, more than Social Distortion…strange enough, but none of us are big fans of Social D. That spaghetti western taste maybe came from the typical sound of an old surf band that Markey had a couple of years ago, the Cosmogringos!
TCE: Two of my favorite songs on Checkmate are “Kiss The Sky” and “Extatic Failure. ” can you tell us about how they were written and why you decided to use the squawk box with the vocals? What are your favorite songs on the record and which ones do your audiences respond to?
B: “Kiss the Sky” is my favorite song of the album, it came out rather quickly just before we recorded. We already had the music and the night before we went to the studio Markey played us the vocals in our car and I thought it was great. I think the squaw box was my suggestion, I have a thing about that effect and maybe they thought it was a good idea.. or maybe they just wanted to shut me up. “Extatic Failure” was a piece that we discarded years earlier until Mark and Markey put their hands on it and changed it around. It’s great when it’s played live - it has a sound that’s a bit different from our other songs, slower and more solid. I’d add “Nothing To Lose” to the list. It’s probably our most famous song, and it’s so cool live.
TCE: Do a lot of people think you are a Spanish band because of the band name and the song “Fiesta,” which in the USA is a very Spanish term?
B: Maybe, I don’t know.... I don’t see why it should bother us if they think we’re Spanish ahahahah... I remember a review that was done on our first album where the bloke wrote that before he listened to us and he thought we were a Mexican hip hop crew!
TCE: What are your plans for the next album? Do you have some songs written for it? Do you like to try the songs out ‘live’ before recording them? Where do you record? Do you have a home studio?
Mark: We’re writing new songs, we already have a few. We won’t be doing an album straight away, but three new 7” splits, respectively with Bloodlights (Norway ex-Gluecifer), Reverend Backflash (Austria) and King Mastino (Italy). At the moment we’re really in to sharing!
B: We always try out our new songs live before recording them. It’s essential to understand if there’s anything that should be changed. Up until now we’ve always recorded and mixed in different places and I suppose we’ll continue, looking for the sound that doesn’t exist!
TCE: Any plans to tour America? What has been your experience touring? Where are the hot spots that really love your band? Any crazy road stories?
B: No America for the moment, but a tour in your country would be a dream come true! A tour is always a great experience for me, I can do the thing I love -play- and I get to meet a heap of interesting people, see new places and last, but not least, I can relax mentally (........!!....). Tour anecdotes? Yeah a lot, most of them you could probably imagine... let’s just say that you have to be ready to face anything and everything that could happen, be it positive or negative.
Mark: I’ve toured in the States three times with other hardcore bands I played in (Ohuzaru and La Piovra) but a tour with Gonzales would be fantastic. Up until now we’ve toured around Europe and all of Italy and we’ve had a good reaction just about everywhere. One of the strangest situations was the “Gay Bar” party of the Turbojugend of Urach in Germany... we love those guys... we ended up going to the police station to pick up Markey Moon who got arrested with a ridiculous excuse...a truly crazy night.
Special thanks to B. and Mark Simon Hell of Italian band Gonzales
Website: Gonzales, Chorus of One Records