When it comes to modern hardcore/metalcore, there is probably nobody more influential than Keith Huckins. As the guitarist for Rorschach, Deadguy and Kiss It Goodbye, he’s the guy who invented the noisy, chaotic riffing that’s basically the blueprint for what many of the 90s’ most highly regarded bands did (Botch, Dillinger Escape Plan, Converge), which in turn inspired everybody from Norma Jean to The Devil Wears Prada to Attack Attack. Whether you like those bands or not is beside the point: the man clearly deserves credit for the incredibly widespread influence of his music, so haters can zip it.
With that said, I don’t think I’ve seen Rorschach/Deadguy/Kiss It Goodbye documented on the Internet, so this is my best shot at it (highly influenced by the awesome interviews by the guys over at Double Cross). Because it’s so long, I’m splitting this into two parts.
If you’re my age, you know what a legend Keith is. If a younger reader who isn’t familiar with Keith’s work, study carefully and give the man his props! Your entire generation of heavy music is built on this man’s shoulders.
What are you up to these days? Are you doing any music, and do you listen to any new bands?
Right now I’m not really doing anything other than Rorschach. We’re probably going to do something this coming summer, just a couple of shows. It’s probably going to be on the West Coast. I keep playing with [music] ideas, but I’m lazy at heart, so who knows. I still play, but as far as getting something together, I don’t think that’s gonna happen.
I’m a metalhead at heart and yeah, I always want something new to listen to, so I keep up with everything. I like Gaza a lot, Kowloon Walled City, those are two of my favorite newer bands. I finally heard Deathspell Omega, that new record is sick. Besides that Enslaved, I dunno, tons of stuff. I keep pretty current.
Compared to all the fuckups and nutjobs that were everywhere in punk/hardcore at the time, you guys seemed pretty normal. How did you fit in with all the weirdos and trainwrecks?
Rorschach, as Charles used to say, was just five goofy kids from New Jersey. All of us came from good homes, there was no weird issues or problems other than typical teenage bullshit. As far as the whole ABC No Rio scene, we were kind of the “outcasts of the outcasts,” because we weren’t fucked up, or all “hard” or whatever, we were just having fun, that’s how we did things. Honestly, at the time I never gave it much thought about all the fucked up people around us. [laughs] It was just like, “Oh hey, look at what that guy’s doing, that was a pretty poor decision, we should probably steer clear of him.”
Yeah, I was kind of like that too, although looking back I ended up hanging out with a lot of crazy people I probably shouldn’t have.
With us, that was kind of on the periphery, we weren’t directly involved with too many people who were like that. I mean, there was definitely the scenester guys that you knew were all fucked up and you should keep away from, but for the most part we just kind of hang out among ourselves so that “bad element” never really came into play with us.
I never went to CBGBs or ABC NO RIO back then, but from what I heard, they seemed pretty wild. Coming from suburban New Jersey, how did you react to those places?
I remember being outside of a Killing Time show were somebody got stabbed. I didn’t actually see it happen, but of course it was going through the crowd like wildfire. We just kind of avoided all that bullshit. If we thought it was going to be a little crazy, we’d hang back. We had enough “street sense” to just be like, “OK, we’ll steer clear of this one.” There was plenty of times we got our heads stomped jumping around to Youth Of Today or whatever, but as boring as it sounds we had enough sense about what was going on that we never really dealt with it for the most part.
Speaking of Youth Of Today, I always thought of all your bands as hardcore bands, but you said you’re a metal guy. How did you fit into the hardcore scene as a metal fan?
Basically, when I was 7 I got into KISS and it was all downhill from there. By the time I was in my early teens, mid teens, that’s when the first Metallica record came out, “Show No Mercy” by Slayer, Venom, and that’s what I gravitated towards. I had a friend who’s mom was from Germany, and she was the coolest, she was totally supportive of her son being creative. She used to drive me and him from New Jersey to Brooklyn to L’Amours to see the sickest metal shows. Like, I was 15 and I snuck into see Slayer and Megadeth on the “Hell Awaits” tour.
But as much as I loved the music, I didn’t really like the atmosphere or whatever, like everybody getting all fucked up and stupid. I was straightedge before I knew what that was, so as much as I loved the music, the sheer idiocy of everything else wasn’t that cool to me. After a few years some kid from high school turned me onto punk, and I found out about straightedge. I was like, “Wow, this is for me! The music is still pissed and aggressive,” it was different but the same. I started going to shows, met some people, and eventually met the guys that were in Rorschach. I don’t know if I’d say I lead a dual life because I was only the guy who was REALLY fucking into metal, but I didn’t want to deal with the metal scene.
Being in Rorschach, we were just five guys– Andrew was metal, but he was more of a Maiden and Priest kind of guy, Charles and Nick were pretty much straight punk/hardcore, and our original bassist Chris, he was pretty much just a Rush fan. We needed a guy to play bass, and he was great friends with Charles, so that’s how he got into it.
That’s how things worked with me, so when I grew my hair out or whatever, nobody really thought anything of it.
Thats what I liked about Rorschach, because when I was a kid, I was equally into Youth Of Today and Morbid Angel, which in 1991 or whatever was not common.
Not common at ALL back then, no! [laughs]
I felt like you guys were coming from the same place which was very cool to me.
Honestly, at the time, and I don’t want to sound like I’m bragging or anything, but I was the only guy in the band who wrote from both sides of that line. Obviously everybody liked Slayer, and even to those day, it’s still like that with the guys in the band– although we’re all 20 years older so of course we have expanded our tastes. But back then, in the van, pretty much all I could get away with was Slayer. [laughs]
It’s the thread that unites all of us.
I could maybe get away with a little Kreator or Voivod, but if I went for Carcass, it was like, “Hey dude, turn that off!”
My friend’s wife thinks that Voivod sounds like All… I agree with her.
Speaking of Voivod, there were bands like All Out War and Merauder doing really sick, brutal metalcore, but you were the first guy to do the dissonant, off-kilter style. Where did that come from?
Oh, I will say without blinking that I steal from [Voivod guitarist] Piggy as much as I can. Voivod is probably the biggest influence on my guitar playing.
That makes sense.
I saw Voivod at their first US show, back in 86, and I hadn’t heard of them before that, and if I could pick one show as a life-altering experience, it was that one. It was just amazing– the noises they were making, yet everything flowed. I always went for the heavy, but slightly off, sound- things that had an odd time change, or were slightly dissonant, that didn’t sound “right” but didn’t sound awful.
Deadguy was in the same vein as Rorschach, but definitely not the same– how did you change up your approach for that band?
When Rorschach broke up, I was personally in kind of a shitty place, kind of floundering as far as what I wanted to do. Then I ran into Tim Singer at a show at the infamous Jon Hiltz’ basement in New Jersey, I can’t remember which one. Tim and I had tried to get together when I was in Rorschach because the band had a lot of downtime due to a lot of the guys being in college, but it never panned out. I’d always wanted to work with him, so I was like “Dude, the timing’s right, let’s do something,” I was really up his ass. He was like “Well, I just started something with these guys in New Brunswick called Deadguy, but I’ve got a tape, check it out.”
I fell in love with the tape, which turned out to be the “White Meat” 7″, and when Deadguy played a month or so later, I went and saw them. Basically, afterwards it was like “So when do I get to play second guitar??” I did it in one of those “I’m joking but not really” kind of ways. Tim called me and asked if I was serious, and I was like “Yeah, I’m really into what you guys are doing,” so I learned the songs on the tape. They were interesting, but they weren’t, you know, brain surgery. So I went and practiced, and ingratiated myself into the band, and that was that.
What was the songwriting like with Deadguy as compared to Rorschach?
Basically, they had a lot of stuff fleshed out, which I really enjoyed. In Rorschach, I wrote 95% of the music, the guitar parts anyway, but they had all this stuff fleshed out and a bunch of half-songs ready to go. With Rorschach, I came prepared: I’d write at home, and bring it to them, but with Deadguy it was more like “Hey, I’ve got this riff, what riff should we stick next to it?” It was more collaborative, there was more give and take. I never consciously tried to change my style, but it was a completely different set of musicians.
You guys were so young that I’m sure you experimented a lot in Rorschach, so you did a lot of different things, whereas Deadguy felt more focused to me.
If you listen to Rorschach, you can tell without a doubt what were the first songs we wrote and what were the last ones. It’s obvious. Whereas with Deadguy, we were all in bands before, so we all had experience and weren’t as green going in as we were in Rorschach.
There was also a big divide between punk and hardcore back then, and I always thought of Tim as part of that Middlesex County College scene, whereas Rorschach was more of an ABC NO RIO punk band in my eyes, and that seemed like a weird coupling to me. That’s how it seemed to me as a high school kid across the country, so maybe I was totally wrong?
I never really thought of it in terms like that… with ABC, the only reason I was part of that scene is because I was there from the beginning and it kind of grew up around us. Towards the end of Rorschach, I dreaded playing ABC because it was overly politically correct, and it was also a hot, smelly basement! That was the one part about ABC that nobody really seems to remember– that place was nasty! Middlesex County College only had shows for a year or two, and those guys were more Philly-based, like City Gardens or whatever.
But as far as scene politics, that’s something I never really paid attention to, except with Rorschach and that Born Against vs Sick Of It All crap. Other than that brief moment, I was never really political, to me it was just about being heavy and making noise. That was back when “speech-ifying” hardcore was a big deal, when bands’ intros would be longer than their fuckin’ songs.
I hated all that stuff so much, I just wanted them to play a good song and shut up.
The only time Rorschach got preachy was one time when we played at some place on Long Island where apparently the smoking age was 9. [laughs] Everybody in this crappy little hole smoked, and we played “Bone Marrow Biopsy” after every song. We did a 20 song set, but 10 of them were “Bone Marrow Biopsy.”
I felt like that 7″ was a good slice of all the facets of Rorschach, even though it was only a couple songs. What do you think?
Well, I’m horrified at the quality of the recording. It is the most awfully-recorded thing I have ever done, but I love all three songs and I feel that they’ve gotten no justice.
Really? I don’t think it’s bad, especially for the time.
It’s terrible. It’s terrible, and it’s out of tune.
What do you mean by “they get no justice”?
“Skin Culture” got re-recorded, but when we did these reunion shows, I cannot get the other guys to play “Laryngitis.” I brought it up and there were like, “Eh, no.” I think it’s because everybody soured on it because the recording is so bad.
“Skin Culture” is my favorite Rorschach song, and I still think it sounds really fresh– and nobody in hardcore was playing what’s basically progressive metal at that time.
It’s one of my favorites too, thank you. That was one of the first songs we wrote, so that was like 90 or 91? It’s one of the most fun to play
Deadguy ended up being more well-known than Rorschach, probably because you were on Victory, and there were a ton of bands that were obviously very highly influenced by you guys. What did you think when you realized you were so influential to that generation of bands?
It’s one of those things where, when you’re inside the bubble, it’s kind of hard to see. A lot of my friends or whatever would show me reviews of bands that said they were “completely Deadguy inspired,” and I’d go check them out and not really hear it. I don’t know, I guess unless I can pinpoint a direct ripoff, it’s hard for me. And I’m culpable of that too, although I try not to rip off actual riffs, just their style. But the link you sent of that Norma Jean song, I was like “Uh wow… that was pretty heavy handed.” [laughs]
Right?? Isn’t that funny?
Especially the one chord progression, I was like “Wow, there’s no shame there!”
How do you feel about the fact that you are essentially THE guy responsible for the style that all the current metalcore bands play?
I told you earlier that I keep up with current stuff, and I do, but you can’t pay me to listen to anything that’s got “Christian” in front of it. I just can’t get beyond that. But I’ve heard that from people before, so I guess I find that… ironic, I guess. I’m responsible for something that I, uh, have no time for. This is just one of those topics that kind of weirds me out. I guess I can see it, but it’s just… weird.
Stay tuned for part two coming soon!