September 16, 2011
Shallow Ground are veterans of the Connecticut Metal scene, having come from different bands as far back as the late 80's-90's - back in a time when live metal music was at its prime. I caught up with Keith Letourneau, lead vocalist and guitarist for the band, and Nick Ziembicki, the bassist, at Cook's Cafe on a Friday night before their show. We've played many venues together including that night, so Keith agreed to be my guinea pig for the new local metal band interview feature of The Metal Cyndicate.
Agrippa: Tell us a little about the history of the band. How did it start?
Keith: Well, it started back in '91 I think. I was in a prominent speed metal band and Tim was in a prominent 80's style band. My brother was playing bass with TIm at the time and we ended up hooking up and playing. We went from speed to basically more progressive.
Keith: I'd say around '98-'99 we decided to take a rest because everybody was getting married having kids, and house and mortgage crap. A couple years ago we decided to get back together and started the old school shit again.
Keith: I came from a couple of different things; the Corrosion of Conformity tune, Shallow Ground. Basically, I'm a shit worker. What you would call the old settling beds where you'd pump out raw sludge and the crust would get maybe an inch thick and everything underneath would be soft mucky sludge. We used to call that shallow ground because if you go walking across it, it's like quicksand. It'll dispose a body in it.
Agrippa: I know bands don't like to box themselves into a genre, but what would you classify yourselves as?
Keith: Mind-trip Funk. No, I'd say old-school speed metal. I hear the term trash, but we're more speedy than thrashy.
Agrippa: Who would you say you sound like, if you had too?
Keith: A lot of people say we sound like Slayer, but that's due to my vocal style. Our guitar work can range from anywhere from Maiden to Priest to...I don't know. You threw me under the bus for this one. I have no frigging clue, Nick help me out?
Nick: We're all over the place.
Agrippa: There's definitely some maiden influence there.
Keith: Yeah big time Maiden. I love Iron Maiden. I was weened on Iron Maiden and Judas Priest...and old Sabbath.
Agrippa: Who are the major influences in music and in life and why?
Keith: Ah, lets see, a major influence in music? Glenn Tipton and Dave Murray are probably the two biggest influences on my guitar playing. And then Scott Ian came along with Stormtroopers of Death and it just shook my whole reality. Just unbelievably shook my world. Stuff like that and listening to some old Witchfinder General that was just unique and different. The whole british scene when it came over was just, "Fuck", yeah know. Now a days people that influence me in my life? I would have to say my wife and kid. They pretty much keep my stable sanity. If you didn't have stable sanity you'd go on a three state killing spree. Maybe four. Fuck it, five.
Agrippa: Let's say you have to get rid of your entire music collection asidefrom 1 album. Which one is it?
Nick: I would say Savatage.
Agrippa: Which one?
Agrippa: What would you say is the one thing that makes you stand out from other metal bands in Connecticut?
Keith: I'm 6 foot 1 and 320 lbs? I fucking stand out in a crowd man. No, I'd say the way we blend old-school and new-school. People are expecting speed and we come up and do some old style guitar solos and come back into it, yeah know?
Agrippa: Who's the jokester in the band?
Keith: I'd have to say Nick.
Nick: I'm the jokester.
Keith: NO, it's fucking me. It's me big time.
Agrippa: And who's the serious guy?
Keith and Nick: Tim.
Agrippa: Before a show, I'm not nervous one bit. The only time I ever get nervous is before interviews. How about you. Before a show, do you get nervous?
Keith: Dude, I shit the whole night before, cause believe it or not everybody says holy shit I could talk to anybody and do anything. I am not a people person. I have a hard time talking to anybody. It takes a lot for me to get up in front of everybody, but once I'm up there I forget that I'm up there. Just getting there? It scares the hell out of me.
Nick: I think the first few shows I'd done I was freaking nervous as hell, but that was just normal.
Keith: [laughs] He was so nervous, that I felt freakin' calm man.
Nick: Hey you know, it was my 1st show.
Keith: He was the kid in the corner with a snot bubble in his nose going "Oh my God!"
Agrippa: What was the single most memorable show, good or bad, and what do you think you've learned from it?
Keith: Which band? In my whole life in general or shallow ground? My worst gig was, we were playing out and we were old school speed metal thrash, but then it was brand new. We got hired to play in a bar. We were young kids, like 16-17 years old. The other bands were older and playing covers and stuff like that. The club owner shut off the electricity on us and told us to get out because they were not having Satanic music here. That was my most traumatic fucking experience.
Agrippa: That's funny now.
Keith: Oh yeah, That scared the shit out of me. 16 year old kid?
Nick: You could have used that to your advantage. "Yeah, we scared the shit out of people."
Agrippa: You've got quite a few songs in your live arsenal. What's your favorite to perform?
Keith: Cleansing of the Hollow.
Keith: Yeah, yeah, Darkness. Nick is right. It's Darkness.
Nick: Every time I hear that song it makes me want to go crazy.
Agrippa: There are are ton of metal bands in CT, but who is your favorite to gig with and why?
Keith: Oh, I'd have to say these fucking guys um...They're kind of wierd. I think they're called Agrippa something? [Laughs] Yeah right now it would be Agrippa98 [Laughs] (Agrippa93 you bastard! - Agrippa).
Keith: I love fucking with you by the way. It has to be you guys and probably Lords Anointed, from Springfield. I really dig those guys.
Nick: Cool guys.
Agrippa: What is the one band that you would love to open for?
Keith: We're actually doing it. We're opening for freaking Lazarus A. D., but it would have to be either Exodus or Machine head. I'd say Exodus is my all time.
Nick: I'd like to open up for Over Kill. I think that would be awesome. It's one of those bands that don't have a huge following but it'd be just awesome.
Agrippa: I saw them in a place called The Living Room in Providence a long long time ago. I don't even know if that place still exists, but that was a great show.
Agrippa: Of all the venues in CT, which is your favorite to perform at and why?
Keith: [Whispers] Cherry Street.
Agrippa: Yeah, he's a cool guy. He a guy who's a honest metal fan.
Keith: And that place is one of the coolest places that nobody knows of.
Agrippa: Very laid back and the sound guy is good too.
Nick: It's just a good time there no matter what we're doing.
Agrippa: What's that one piece of gear that you just can't live without?
Keith: My Anniversary Series Marshall head. I cannot live without that piece of equipment. I cannot.
Nick: I don't know. I keep buying new shit.
Agrippa: always the latest thing right?
Agrippa: When and where can we see you perform next?
Nick: Our next show is Lazarus A.D.
Keith: It's Warbringer, Lazarus A.D., at the Webster. Diamond Plate and Landmine Marathon, us and a band called Prime Evil (Thursday October 20th 2011 6pm).
Agrippa: The Connecticut metal scene: the status quo. What do you think about it?
Keith: It's like a limp dick. Once in awhile you get good crowds for good outstanding metal. When a good band comes through, the people come out. For local scene it seems like they could give a shit. I remember back in the 80's/90's you play a show there's 200-300 people at a show. Now you're lucky if you get 50. It's disappointing, I think it has a lot to do with...
Nick: Killing Justin Bieber. You kill him and you'll get the people out.
Keith: It just has a lot to do with money. Plus we're old fucks now.
Agrippa: You've got a new album coming out. Where are you on that?
Keith: Not far enough. We just did a lot of drum parts and getting the drums just right, because I want it to kill when it comes out. I think we're still four or five trips into the studio away from walking away with something that sounds really good in our eyes. The we got to let it sit and ferment a little bit. I'm figuring if we do everything up, a realistic goal would be done and going into print maybe february. I'm kind of hoping.
Nick: Maybe the first quarter of next year.
Keith: Yeah, he's right, cause you know you've got all the holidays and all that stuff and the family shit going on. But you know how the family shit goes. Family and kids come first.
Agrippa: What does the future hold for your band? What's the short term and long term plan for you guys?
Keith: Short term goal is having fun and the long term goal is we'll see what happens when the road gets there. We're too old to be thinking fucking, "I'm going on tour. I'm gonna be a rock star." Ya know. Anybody who has that kind of attitude should just put their dick in a car door and slam it.
Agrippa: Yeah, you have to have a realistic perspective on it.
Keith: Unless your going to stab people in the back, be a piece of shit, and totally suck ass, you aint gonna get signed. At our age with our jobs and everything else there's no way we're going on tour right now. I did that when I was younger and there's no way on God's green earth I'm living in a van with these fucking guys.
Agrippa: Thanks for sitting down with me.
Shallow Ground at Cook's Cafe in Naugatuck, CT. From left to right: Tim Smith, Keith Letourneau, Kurt Ragis, and Nick Ziembicki.
About the authorAgrippa is a the general adviser, internet tech sorcerer, and a reporter for the Metal Cyndicate of Connecticut, as well as the author of his own blog about music and music production, Agrippa: Thought Manifest. He can also be found fronting his own band, Agrippa93, on vocals, synths, sequencers, samples, and piano. Agrippa also has an industrial solo project called, Agrippa's Laboratory. Both projects are produced through his label and studio, Sickle Pation. You can follow him on twitter via @agrippa93, or email at email@example.com.