I think people are experiencing a resurgence of physical media like vinyl and people want to listen to a record front-to-back again and that’s really cool. But the album itself is dying. . .
3TEETH from Los Angeles, California, need no introduction as industrial metal’s fastest-rising stars. Pushing through despite delayed entry into the UK due to immigration issues, the band launched their third album Metawar at the Electrowerkz venue in Islington on 5 July 2019 and stormed their show the following night supporting Ministry at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire.
Joe Norman spoke with frontman Alexis Mincolla in the Empire’s suitably grimy and dim-lit backstage area after the show, surrounded by a wall of pipes, hard hats and high-vis vests. Wearing a 3TEETH baseball cap, leather trousers, a black mesh vest, and – for once – without his trademark steampunk sunglasses, Alexis took the time to answer the following questions with care and energy while bandmate Xavier Swafford packed up their gear nearby. Against a sonic backdrop of guitar tuning, police sirens and motorbikes zooming by (originating from either outside the venue or the start of Ministry’s set, I’m not entirely sure), Alexis spoke to Echoes & Dust about his musical influences, his new album, and his love of ancient wisdom, as well as the origins and future of 3TEETH.
E&D: How does Electrowerkz compare with clubs in LA?
AM: I love that place! It’s fucking great. I mean most clubs in LA are slightly more polished but that place is . . . nothing in LA is as old as that place, you know? If there is a cool place it lasts for like three years then they put something else up. That place is an institution compared to most places in LA.
E&D: You guys have played there before, right?
AM: Oh yeah, yeah, played there a bunch of times, when we first started back in 2014 or some shit like that. It felt right to do the album release there . . . return to the scene of the crime.
E&D: Congratulations on the album release, by the way. Number one on the iTunes metal chart!
AM: Thanks, dude! We had a rough couple days before that so that put a little bit of wind in our sail, you know?
E&D: Yeah, you guys almost didn’t make it over?
AM: Yeah, that was a bit of a hassle but we made it over so whatever.
E&D: Well, there’s a lot of people very glad you’re here. Can you tell me a bit about Metawar? Would you consider it a concept album?
AM: Yeah, I mean everything we do has concepts to it. We’re not one of those bands that just writes a bunch of songs and puts out a record. I’ve always been put off by the idea of a concept album – isn’t every album a concept? I mean you could call some albums high concept albums and some low concept albums. But yeah, it’s a high concept album. There’s a tremendous amount of intention and sort of uniformity to the way the track order flows and everything.
E&D: I mean if you’re just putting a load of songs out and they don’t really fit together well…
AM: Yeah, every song should be like a character in a play, you know what I mean? They should all inform each other in certain ways to fit into a general narrative.
E&D: Do you have some favourite high concept albums you think are most influential?
AM: I mean Dark Side of the Moon’s like an essential fucking concept album. I mean Pink Floyd in many ways, in my mind, invented the concept album so that has to be up there. I think Fear Factory’s Obsolete is such a fucking cool concept album. That’s still hyper-relevant and inspirational.
E&D: And some of the albums that Sean Beavan produced, too, like Nine Inch Nails? [Beaven produced Metawar as well as various seminal albums by the likes of NIN, Marilyn Manson and A Perfect Circle.]
AM: Absolutely, all those fucking records are amazing.
E&D: How do you feel about the situation now with streaming services where the album structure is being broken down and we’re getting just atomized songs?
AM: I hate it, to be honest. I think it’s . . . that’s why we released five singles, because at this point playlisting is dictating everything right now. And you only get singles playlisting, essentially, so after you release two singles the rest of your album just haphazardly exists, do you know what I mean? People just listen to those singles and the rest of your album just gets like . . . shelved on the back of Spotify somewhere, and no one fucking listens to it. Now people rarely listen to the whole album front-to-back. That’s why I think it’s more important than ever to give them this sort of narrative within the album as a whole for them to listen to. I think people are experiencing a resurgence of physical media like vinyl and people want to listen to a record front-to-back again and that’s really cool. But the album itself is dying; albums are dying. People don’t fuckin’ make albums anymore. It doesn’t make much sense, they’ll just disappear for a year to go and write a record, and maybe two of the singles get listened to so then they just release singles like everyone else.
E&D: And sometimes the album tracks, you know the little joining tracks on their own are not amazing but in the context of a whole album, they’re great.
AM: Absolutely! The sum of the parts is greater than the whole. It requires that. I think that’s the challenge – you wanna write songs that do stand alone but also fit together with the whole thing. That’s tough, you know?
E&D: We’ve spoken about some of your musical influences, but I’m really interested in how literature and film, especially science fiction, fantasy, weird fiction – you know H.P. Lovecraft, all that stuff – how that relates to music.
AM: There’s a book called Cyclonopedia by Reza Negarestani – he’s Iranian – with so many cool concepts in it that informed so much of the lyrical process on this record. It’s super inspiring; you have to drive inspiration from somewhere. Why not take it from other great forms of art that inform your identity? All we are is influences from our surroundings, so create fucking cool surroundings with literature and film and art. Then you’ll go: Cool, now I’m that!
E&D: Are there any films in particular that feed into 3TEETH? Maybe they influenced some of your videos?
AM: I’m not super into film these days because there’s not much cool stuff getting made. I mean, there is but it’s really rare. American cinema is just shit right now. It’s not like Avengers 4 is really fucking inspirational to my music!
E&D: Yeah, Avengers doesn’t do too much for me either! So, you probably get asked this a lot, but you’ve toured with Tool and Rammstein and some of the biggest bands around. In my head, the Rammstein tour is the crazy, hedonistic party and touring with Tool’s like drinking red wine and playing chess?
AM: Yeah totally. Tool’s like family time, hanging out with families. It’s very civilized; you know the catering backstage is like someone got married every day. You’re like: Ooh what’s on the menu today? Fillet and swordfish – oh phenomenal! You’re eating there and the table’s all beautiful and you’re like: Did you see the desert table over there? Holy fuck. I ate better on that tour than I think I’ve ever eaten in my entire life. So yes, you’re correct, that’s what Tool is like. But. For every ounce of all that amazing, classy food just take all that away and replace it with hookers and that’s what Rammstein is like. But that’s awesome too – look at all these hookers back here! It’s pretty cool [Laughs].
E&D: Was the Tool tour your breakthrough, as such?
AM: It definitely was a huge catalyst for the moderate level of success that we have but that stuff doesn’t make your career, it doesn’t ensure any path to success. I know a lot of bands that open up for Tool and they ain’t doing shit, you know? It was a good way for us to at least get a bit of momentum, kind of push off that. So, I was like: We need to get in the studio, write a new fucking record. We never fucking stop. We’re always trying to do something to get to the next level. We’re just grinding.
That Tool tour, I think it helped with our confidence a lot. Every artist has imposter syndrome. You go out in front of 20,000 people every night and they don’t hate us, you’re like: Fuck are we good? So, it gave us confidence to continue doing what we’re doing.
E&D: So, going back to some of your inspirations. I love your band’s name, the ancient ideas behind it [3TEETH is a reference to odontomancy, the art of divination by teeth] and I see you have ancient Egyptian tattoos. Can you tell us a bit about how some of those ancient ideas feed into 3TEETH?
AM: I think that stuff is like the archetypal points of the human psyche that can be constantly traced even to today. I look at that stuff as a blueprint for the human experience in many ways, going back to the monomyth, these narratives where you can swap out the figures and it’s a modern story all of a sudden. For me, I like looking back at that stuff as historical, archetypal reference so it’s always fascinated me in that respect.
E&D: How did you first come across the idea of odontomancy?
AM: I was living in Rome at the time, studying political science, and I used to party under a statue just outside my place – he had a cloak and a moustache and looked really cool. A couple of my friends used to smoke joints there. I remember talking to my history teacher and he was explaining the context of that character – his name is Giordano Bruno. He was deemed a heretic and burned at the stake there by the Vatican, and he was essentially a Hermetic philosopher who was taking all these ancient, Neo-Platonic ideas – ancient wisdom – and practising it. That sent me down a rabbit hole to understand why that guy got burned at the stake and the things that he was trying to understand at the time. I wanted access to that kind of stuff; I went to some libraries and met some really cool people and that continued to help me further my study in that sense. It’s always fascinated me.
E&D: Have you ever come across the Ritman Library and research institute in Amsterdam? There’s a real hub of esoteric interest there.
AM: That’s cool. I always say that the Library of Alexandria was where it was all once stored and then the Romans stormed it and burned that down to usher in Christianity. And I think that was a point in time when humanity was sort of lobotomized, because there was all this ancient wisdom in there, and they were like: Burn it! And we just burned a part of our brains with that. There’s still a lot of cool places that are repositories for that wisdom, but it seems to be fleeting more and more.
E&D: I’ve got maybe two more questions—
AM: —trust me, this is great, I don’t have to pack up!
Xavier: —You motherfucker!
E&D: Can you take me back to the origins of the band? We spoke about some of the club scene in LA. You ran your own club at one point, right?
AM: We did. That was a lifetime ago – we started that shit in like 2011. Had it for a few years, passed it onto some friends. But it was a great way of bringing people together. Like-minded people, cool ideas. Just a place to hang out. I met Xavier there; he wanted to go to the party. He didn’t have a ride and I found out he lived down the street from me, so I thought: Fuck it, I’ll pick him up. We went there to hang out and he got so fucking wasted that he passed out in the back of my car. I forgot he was even in there! So, I was driving back and the next thing I knew there was some dude in the back of my car. I was like Jesus Christ! and the next thing you know we’re making a band. It’s a general band story of guys hanging out and making music. Then we made an album together – and the next thing you know we’re playing with Tool.
E&D: We you playing other bands at the party? Industrial bands?
AM: Yeah, we were playing a lot of great music at the time. It was 2009 witch-house era, even dark Trap music, techno, industrial, anything goes. It was fun.
E&D: It’s a pretty cheesy last question, but if you had maximum budget, you can put on any show you want, anywhere you want – you can go full Rammstein! – what would the ultimate 3TEETH show be?
AM: I would have two oil-pump jacks at the back that would hit on beat. Instead of fire I would use Tesla Coils and shit, something massively dangerous with the sound of electricity zapping around. Then I’d have a chain-link fence with razor wire and a bunch of fucking surveillance cameras, to look like a border crossing, somewhere you’re not meant to cross. Maybe with a giant glowing Operation Mindfuck symbol at the back. I’ve obviously thought about this!
E&D: I thought you might have. I’ll make sure I’m there!
AM: I do a lot of design work and I’ve actually mocked up that exact scenario. It’s for us to look at and think: Maybe one day. . .
3TEETH’s European tour with Ministry finished in July before their return to the US for their own MetaTour to promote their new album. Metawar is out now via Century Media.