Interviews

Levi Watson (Fall Silent)

Photo: Jeff Rogers

You can't have a serious discussion of the Reno underground music scene without including Fall Silent. Outside of 7 Seconds, you would be hard-pressed to find a band that has represented for the Nevada city as much as Fall Silent has. Formed in late 1994, the group has issued three studio albums, and many more other releases, via such labels as Revelation Records, Moo Cow Records, and 625 Thrashcore.

After splitting up in 2013, Fall Silent returned in 2015, and earlier this year, they dropped Cart Return, a 7" EP that finds the band bringing together the various sonic elements (hardcore, metal, powerviolence, etc.) that have always defined their songwriting approach, in an even more focused and potent way.

I recently chatted with Fall Silent vocalist Levi Watson about the group's entire history, his life as a school teacher, and gaining cult hero status in Japan.

Where were you born and raised, and what kind of kid were you?

I was born in a little town in southern Oregon, but my family moved to Reno in 1980, and this is where we stayed. My brother, Damon, who has always been the drummer of Fall Silent, and I were good kids. We earned good grades in school, didn't destroy property, weren't disrespectful to our parents, and got along well with most everyone we met.

Future Revelation Records star Levi Watson, circa 1982.

That's refreshing to hear!

My parents are still married and live here in town. Damon and I got in to the straight edge scene pretty early (maybe 8th and 9th grade) through skateboarding. Thus, we missed the whole getting drunk in high school and college phase that most suburban teens get mixed up in. If we got anything from being involved in straight edge, it was that.   

We were obsessed with skateboarding from about 11-16 years old, and that introduced us to the Reno punk/hardcore scene, which is what we have been obsessed with for the last 25 years or so.   

I keep using "we" in this question because when I think of my childhood, Damon is always a part of it. He was one grade ahead of me in school. We had the same friends, same interests, and same experiences. I even tried to intercept some of the girls that were in to him [laughs]. He was really popular with girls. I was the shorter, fatter Watson brother. This brought out the comedian in me and made me the attention seeking show off that has become my personality.   

Levi (3rd from left) on the day they got he got his first skateboard, circa mid-'80s.

Did your parents play a lot of music in the house? What kind of influence did they have on your when it comes to music/movies/art? 

My parents always played music in the house. Mostly rock and roll and pop music. Nothing unique or overly artsy, but the stereo was always on. My dad was in Vietnam and that really fucked up his head. The lyrics to the song "War Poetry" on Drunken Violence uses a poem he and one of his friends wrote when they were in that war. He was 18 or 19 and he thought he was going to die every day. It's fucking crazy to think about for me. My dad killed people with a gun. He held his friends as they died. It's no wonder why they tried to do every drug possible when they were there. The reality needed some numbing.  

Anyway, that very sheet of paper they wrote the poem on was sent from Vietnam in 1968 to Healdsburg, CA to his mom. Sometime in the '90s she framed the letter and gave it back to my dad and it hung in our house and I used to look at it all the time. Now my parents listen to that "smooth jazz" bullshit. I fucking hate it. They watch Judge Judy and listen to smooth jazz.   

 

Fall Silent has always championed Reno. I was only there once in the ‘90s to play a show when I was in Black Army Jacket, so I didn’t really get to know the place well. 

We love our city. All of the members that have ever played with Fall Silent have grown up here. My family moved here in 1980 because my dad got a job with IGT, who were one of the first big slot machine manufacturers. Reno has a long history of gambling and gaming and for a long time, until the early '90s; Nevada was the only place to go on the west coast to gamble. Reservation gambling in the '90s and Internet gambling have ruined the Reno strip and forced our city to diversify.  

Danny's (original and current Fall Silent guitar player) parents were in casino bands in the '70s and '80s here in town and made their living playing casino lounges around town. Reno has always been a city of vices. Twenty-four hours a day you can gamble, buy any type of alcohol or drug you want, and get in to any life-ruining activity around every corner. We have legal prostitution right outside the city limits, and this summer, the city legalized marijuana for recreational use. With a valid driver's license, you can walk in to a dispensary (there are 4 within a mile radius of my house) and buy all kinds of marijuana products. It is crazy to me.   

What was it like growing up there? 

Growing up in Reno was a lot of fun. We didn't travel much when we were kids, so we didn't know differences between Reno and anywhere else. The debauchery and loose moral code seemed normal to all of us kids. We skateboarded, went to punk shows, and tried to make music. I think that is the normal path for most of us 40-somethings that are still involved with hardcore music, right? 

SEE ALSO: 10 Newer Hardcore Bands That Feature Veteran Musicians
 
When did music enter your life in a big way? Did that come at a young age, or was it something that happened during your teen years? 

When I was probably about 7 or 8, I got Van Halen's 1984 LP. This album blew my young mind away and made me want to play music and be in a band. It introduced me to all of their older records and a whole world of rock music that was really great in the mid to late '80s. I would sit in my room, play those records, and try to draw the album and insert art. I didn't understand the difference in instruments or how Alex Van Halen was so underrated and brilliant and drumming. I didn't understand how Eddie's guitar playing changed rock music, or how Dave was the best front man ever. I just knew that it made me feel excited and different than any other music at the time. I would never listen to my Chipmunks records again [laughs].  

Who were some of the other bands that had a big impact on you early on?

Van Halen led to Metallica. Metallica led to the Misfits. The Misfits led to Black Flag. The whole time though, there was a parallel genre gaining strength in my world, and that was rap music. Early Too Short, NWA, LL Cool J, Rakim, Ultramagnetic MCs, BDP, KRS One, Organized Konfusion, were all groups that were in my Walkman right alongside the punk, metal, and hardcore tapes.  

Were lyrics important at that point, or was music more of a visceral kind of thing for you then? 

Lyrics didn't really matter to me until the big New York hardcore scene came in to my life. That started with Sick of it All and led to Agnostic Front, then Gorilla Biscuits, and the whole East Coast hardcore scene. When I got Agnostic Front's One Voice, I thought it was the greatest hardcore/metal album of all time, still do. People don't talk too much about that album. I think it was the peak of AF. I didn't really get down with stuff released after that one.

Lyrics really mattered to me when I had to start writing them. It really let me appreciate good lyric writers. Against Me's lyrics have always moved me in a way that not a lot of lyrics have. Damien Moyal of As Friends Rust, On Bodies, Bridgeburner, etc., always amazes me with his lyrics. Mike Cheese (Gehenna), Mike Edwards (Unruh), Weird Al, etc.

SEE ALSO: 2016 interview with Damien Moyal (Culture, Shai Hulud, As Friends Rust, Morning Again, On Bodies, Damien Done).

What was high school like for you? Did you hang out with the metal crowd?  

I loved high school. A lot of people had miserable high school years and that is why they turned to punk and hardcore music. They felt like they were outcasts and needed to have an outlet to feel comfortable and shit. Not me. I played football and rode skateboards and went to punk shows with my friends and started my first band in high school. Academics were easy for me and I got straight A's. I didn't challenge myself that much and just took the regular classes. I went to the "violent" high school. This was the early '90s when gangs were abundant and gang violence was rampant in LA and all over the West Coast. There were all kinds of fights and crazy shit going on all the time. Ironically, the school was called Hug High [laughs]. There were metal kids, stoners, dirtheads, and punks that would fight the jocks and gangs. Us straight edge/skateboarder kids hung out with everyone and got along with most people. The only people that ever caused us any trouble in high school were the Nazi skins that would come to shows and try to start fights with us. They were pretty strung out by then and weren't that much trouble.  

After four years, I graduated 4th in my class and got the fuck out of there. It was pretty easy. Everyone had to be there, for the most part, and it is the only time in life that you are surrounded by pretty girls and your friends and there wasn't as much pressure to work or maintain relationships or raise kids or have careers. It was all about experiencing life without your parents having to be so much a part of your life for the first time. I loved it.  

Levi's 1992 high school yearbook photo.

Was New Blood the first band you played in? What are the circumstances around the formation and dissolution of that band? 

Our first taste of live hardcore music was a Reno sXe band called Discipline. These guys were our heroes. Our skater friend, James, got into the band on the bass and this was our intro to what real bands were like. We would hang out at their practices, go to their shows, and we became like a little family.

Mike Ward was the singer and he was/is like sort of a Reno legend. He was older than all of us and was around when 7 Seconds (a Reno band) started. He was a part of the Reno hardcore scene the longest of anyone we knew. When we were first introduced to him and Discipline, they got a new drummer and he was the worst. We didn't really care at the time and weren't in bands yet, so we didn't really know how bad he was at drums. I mean, his high-hat hand was tied to his right foot. Like first year drummer shit, yet he had been playing for like 10 years. Couldn't even play break beats or the fast punk beat. Funny shit. Anyhow, I think Mike Ward knew how bad he was and sort of lost interest in the group as a serious venture. They still wrote awesome songs and recorded the songs, but nothing ever came out on vinyl or CD. Just some demo tapes that floated around and never were mass produced. I still have a recording and still love it.  

SEE ALSO: Heavy Metal Kings: Vinnie Paz & ILL BILL Join Forces w/ Goretex on "Mercyful Fate"

Ah, so Discipline lead to New Blood...

Eventually, Mike Ward quit the band and I became the singer and we called ourselves New Blood. We weren't that good either. They say that you are only as good as your drummer. It was true. I was so happy to be in the band, but we just were not good. Slow to mid-paced metallic hardcore with awful transitions and terrible drums. The riffs that Glen and James wrote were good, but my lyrics were lame. We put out one 7"and the recording was really bad. The bass sound was really good, but everything else was really rough. There are a few of those floating around Reno. I have one. I think we pressed 500. Straight edge started to get pretty violent and ridiculous in Reno at the time and that sort of dissolved our band. Glen and Mike went on to form Unconquered. James moved to Philadelphia, and then Fall Silent happened.  

Audio courtesy of Aversionline.com:

How did Fall Silent come to be? 

At the time that I was in New Blood, my brother, Damon, was in a band called Bludgeon. He played drums and Dean (guitarist of Gehenna) was on vocals. They were way better than New Blood and they also put out a 7" during that time. They also started to dissolve at around the same time that New Blood was ending.  

Danny Galecki and Brian Wohlgemuth were in a punk/thrash/death metal band called Sister Mary 12". They were so rad. Fast, technical, and really fun to watch. I don't think that they ever put anything out, and I don't think they were around that long. They were breaking up that band at the same time that Damon and I were ending our bands. So, Damon, Danny, Brian, and I decided to make a band and Danny thought of the name Fall Silent.  

SEE ALSO: 2017 interview with Ashli State (Ink & Dagger, Guilt).

Did you guys have a very specific sonic template you wanted to work in when you started the band? 

We were all friends and we decided that we should get together and write some songs and see what happens. That was 1994, I think. We never sat down and said, "OK, were going to play this kind of music," and then played it. We were all really in to Crowbar at the time and Danny and Brian were way in to '90s death metal and we were all in to '80s punk. Damon and I were in to more hardcore/sXe bands, so that influenced us a bit. I guess the sound we made was due to all of those different influences. Danny was also in to rap music and hip-hop culture at the time. He had an awesome satanic rap group called Black Mass. We thought he was the coolest.

Who were some of the other bands that were around in the Reno area when Fall Silent started playing out in the mid-‘90s? Were there enough places to play back then? 

The '90s were a really great time in Reno for aggressive music. We played a lot of shows with a band called December, who eventually put out a record on Earache Records and toured in Europe and the US. They were a great band and we became really close with them. Some other bands we played with in Reno at the time was 601, Redrum, Freak Hayride, GOB, Glue Horse, Evenground, Drug Knuckle, Cranium, SteveDave, Intox, Dirty Steve, Sucka Punch. There were more, but I can't recall them all right now. SuckaPunch was a ska band that covered our song "Looking In" and recorded it. It was really funny.  

At that time in Reno, we had to make our own places to play. We didn't play in bars, mostly because we weren't old enough and neither were our fans. There was this place called Casa Margaritas that we put on shows at a lot in the heart of Reno. It was this little Mexican restaurant with a little stage, and the owner let us do All Ages shows there. We did some big shows. Snapcase and Doughnuts, Bloodlet, 108, and Coalesce. Lots of big shows and really good times. There was also a bar down the street from there called Del Mar Station that had All Ages shows sometimes. House shows and basements were around, some warehouses in Sparks had brief moments that they did shows. It was a rag-tag collection of venues, but we managed to play every month or every other month during the mid-'90s in Reno.  

What are your thoughts on the first Fall Silent release, the Never Forget… 7”?  

Definitely a record that should have been recorded with someone with more experience  We wanted to put something out really bad because we were excited about our music and wanted to start sending it out to zines and labels and people all around the world. We had momentum and wanted to keep pushing the band to the next levels. For some reason, the pressing plant wanted to make it a 45 rpm record. I don't know why, but the grooves were really close together and the needle would just slide across the album if you breathed on it wrong.  

I am listening to it as I write this, and it isn't actually, too bad. I don't like my vocals on it at all. There are no dynamics to the vocals and you can't understand anything I am saying. The guys played the songs great and the bass and drums sound pretty good, but the guitar doesn't sound as well as it should. The A-side song was re-recorded for No Strength to Suffer.  

The B-side song is our slowest song we have ever written. Very Crowbar influenced and probably one of our most melodic songs. It also has the samples from The Exorcist in the first part of the song. Bands did that all the time in the '90s. Lots of movie samples. This side keeps skipping for me right now. I had to turn it off. If one could hear the song all the way through, then one may like it. It was never released digitally. I think we made 500 on white. Super shitty, but it was a start.  

Insert for the Never Forget... 7", 1995.

The first time I remember Fall Silent getting on my radar was in 1995 with the split you did with Wellington. I loved that band! Anyway, what were the circumstances behind that collaboration? Were you guys playing shows together? I know they were from Arizona. 

One of the few people who liked the Never Forget... 7" mentioned in the last question was Ryan Butler. He was in Wellington and heard the record somehow and I think he also had heard about us through the Revolutionary Power Tools connection that Fall Silent had with the Southern California scene. 

He wrote us a letter and said he loved our band and wanted to do a split with his band. We were so stoked that someone liked what we were doing that we ran out and recorded a song ourselves in someones house and sent it back to him. When we sent it out to Ryan, we thought it sounded OK, but something happened in the mastering or the transfer to the DAT tape or something and what we heard on the record was pure shit. We were pretty bummed, but Ryan liked it and Fetus Records put it out. The Wellington side was really good, though.

Ryan eventually started Unruh and they ruled. We did a really long US tour with them in the summer of 1997 and had a blast. That was one of the best tours we ever did. We played with Wellington in Reno, and maybe in AZ, after the record came out. Ryan Butler mastered our latest 7", Cart Return. He has a studio, Arcane Digital, in Phoenix and is really great at what he does.

The debut Fall Silent album, No Strength to Suffer, came out on the aforementioned Revolutionary Power Tools, a label owned by Mike "Cheese" Amaral from Gehenna. What was it like working with him on that project? 

Mike sort of migrated to Reno sometime around 1995 or so and started spending a lot of time here with our crew of friends. I think it was because Dean, who is a Reno kid, was playing guitar in Gehenna, and Mike Rhodes, also a Reno kid, was playing bass in the group. It was so long ago for all of this stuff, but that is the way it was in my mind.   

Mike was always a friend and fan of Fall Silent. He was the first person to ever suggest that we do a full-length. We never even considered doing a full-length. After such a bummer 7" and split, we weren't even thinking that we could pull off a full-length. I think that we wanted to get a really strong 7"out there before we went in for a full-length. We had just put out three songs that sounded like shit, we weren't about to put out 10 more that sounded like shit.

We all really loved Gehenna and were really honored the he wanted to put out a full length on RPT. We saved up a bunch of money and took it to a studio here in town and told them we wanted to record 10 songs. The studio that we recorded it in was called Sierra Sonics. This is where they recorded some songs for Boyz II Men, Beach Boys, and all kids of really big bands. I don't know why they would come to Reno for this, but it was a really great studio. We recorded No Strength to Suffer and it turned out pretty good. It is hard for me to listen to all the way through because I hear little things that I would have liked to change. I still didn't like my vocals, but it was far better than anything we recorded before. It was all analog, two-inch tape. I still have those tapes in my basement. If we even got really popular, it would be cool to remix those songs to sound a little better.   

What was it like working with Mike Cheese?

We didn't really "work" with Cheese at all on that record. He didn't really even put it out. I put it out myself, but we put Revolutionary Power Tools on it because we were stoked to be associated with that label and all the great bands that went along with it. Enewetak and Gehenna were our guys, and we liked being associated with them. I sent that LP and a CD out to every zine I could get in touch with. We got really good reviews, and that album really brought us out of Reno and the West Coast. This was the start of the Reno "branch" of RPT.  

SEE ALSO: Dom Romeo (Integrity, Pulling Teeth, A389 Recordings) talks about his vinyl collection.

What’s the story behind the song “Looking In” from that album? That one has always been a personal favorite of mine. 

Yeah, we still play that song 20 years later. I don't think we have played a show without that song since we wrote it. It has that great bass intro and the fun fast part and the big breakdown. I love that song. They lyrics were written at a time when the Reno straight edge crews were getting really out of control. Not just here, but in Salt Lake City, Dayton, Ohio, and all over the Midwest. This is right before they registered straight edge as a gang with the police department. People were getting beat up really bad at that time for really stupid shit and I was not about that. I was still straight edge at the time but more and more I wanted to distance myself from that label and eventually didn't identify with it. I was still drug and alcohol free at the time, just not in to calling myself sXe. The song is about realizing that straight edge is a great thing, but it isn't worth beating people up over or breaking windows and slashing tires because of it. It is an anti-hardline straight edge song.   

Many people took it as an anti-straight edge song in general. This gave them the fuel to give me and our band tons of shit over the song. There was a band here in town, Unconquered, that I mentioned earlier that loved to fuck with us because we weren't hardline edge. They would call us sell outs and their crew would constantly fuck with us. Breaking windows, slashing tires and generally being bullies. We weren't a very tough band at the time. We couldn't fight and didn't want to. We wanted to play our music and let our ideas and music represent us, and that is what we did.  

Damn, it sounds like "Looking In" caused you and the band a lot of grief!

I got beat up really bad in Salt Lake City for playing that song. The guys from Unconquered, and their friends, stole $1,800 of our merch money. They broke out the windows of our cars and slashed our tires at a Reno shows. It was a mess and it was a really shitty time in our lives because of these guys. All I want is for bad things to happen to everyone involved in tormenting us. I wish every bad thing that can happen to people in life to happen to them.  

In the end, we are still here. We still play that song, and are keeping Fall Silent relevant and active almost 23 years later. We are all happy, healthy, and flourishing in all aspects of our lives. We also have clear consciousness, which I cannot say for the people who unnecessarily fucked with us in the past.  

How much touring did Fall Silent do in support of No Strength to Suffer?

We did our first coast to coast US tour in support of No Strength to Suffer. We went with Gehenna, and we called it the Eat, Fight, Fuck Tour 1996. I think we went out for about a month. It was the most fun we had on any tour we went on. Cheese and Rhodes booked it with a little help from me and some others. I can't remember how many shows we played, but it was probably about 20 or so.  

Our shows weren't very good. Hardly anyone knew about our bands, but we played as best as we could every night. Those who did attend our shows really liked both of our bands and we spread the word around the country in a major way.  We were finally living like real rock bands. Traveling around, meeting people, and constantly talking shit with people we have known most of our lives. None of us had wives or kids or real jobs, or mortgages or anything. It was great.   

We played with a lot of really great bands too. We played with Cursive in Omaha. That was cool. We also got to play a CBGB's matinee with Merauder, I think, or Brutal Truth, or maybe both. We played there the next summer with Unruh. I get the two years mixed up.  

Of course, the Reno show was really good and the Southern California shows were really good because Gehenna was from there.   

Oh shit. I almost forgot. We played in San Francisco at Epicenter Records with Spazz. That shit was fucking crazy! Epicenter was always the place we went since we were very young to look for hardcore records that were super hard to find in Reno. It was a real treat to play there with Spazz. Historically, it was an important place for hardcore/punk.  

For your Superstructure album, the band went with Genet Records, a Belgian label. While that was probably great for you guys in that part of the world, in terms of distribution in the States, did it cause any issues? 

I put out the Superstructure CD on Revolutionary Power Tools Reno. Pete Menchetti of 702 Records (now Slovenly Records), and Jon Cortland of Satan's Pimp Records put out the vinyl version of that record in 1999. After I had got the CD out to distros and in the stores; I let Bruno from Genet Records do a CD release in Europe because we wanted to go there and tour the next year. That version of the CD came out about a year after it did in America and Japan.  

Thinking back, I don't know why I chose him to do the CD. He may have even offered, I can't remember. He was pretty bummed because the DAT tape that I gave him didn't have the Journey cover ["Any Way You Want It"] on it. I didn't let him put it out with the cover on it for a few reasons: 1. I didn't think that the cover would have went over as well as it did in the US. Meaning, all the covers we did were jokes, and I wouldn't want them to think we were serious about a fucking Journey cover. 2. I wanted my release of the album on RPT to be better.   

Bruno from Genet didn't like that. I can’t really remember, but he didn't come through with his end of the deal from what I remember. He was supposed to print a bunch of shirts for us and give us a percentage of the CDs to sell in Europe on our tour as payment for letting him release it over there. We got there and he didn't show up to many of the shows he was supposed to be at to give us our merch. So, we were touring Europe with no merch, which fucking sucked. He eventually came to a show and got us our merch, but it wasn't all there and we were almost done with the tour, so it didn't really matter anyhow.   

I don't know if he even is a label anymore or if he keeps that CD in print. It just got repressed on vinyl, through Slovenly Records this last year. Also, we did a Japanese version of the Superstructure CD that was released for our tour over there that we did this last July. The liner notes have full translations into Japanese. It is really cool. The Japanese still buy CDs.  

Fall Silent performing live in 1996. (Justin Holbo)

Listening to Superstructure today while preparing for this interview, it reminded me how tough it’s always been to label Fall Silent with a single genre tag. There’s blast beats, moshy breakdowns, thrash riffs, and all sorts of other stuff happening in the songs. Did the eclectic nature of what the band did ever get in the way? What I mean is, was the fact that Fall Silent wasn’t easily lumped into a specific scene hinder the band at all? 

I don't know. I think the eclectic shit that we do has gotten in the way of our band getting "popular." I think that it has kept us from writing songs that really get people going. Our impatience with songs had led us to write stuff that is so wild and intense that I don't think a lot of people can get in to it. The transitions are really quick and we love playing really fast. I think that it whips by people so fast that they can't latch on to it. They don't know what to do. We played Rev Fest and people just stared for 30 minutes. We played the night with CIV, Into Another, and Burn, so it wasn't really a thrash metal band night, but still. I thought that show would have been a slam dunk, but it wasn't.  

Other times, like in Salt Lake City on September 1, we played Crucial Fest. From the first song to the last, we got really great crowd response. Everyone went crazy and knew all the words and had a great time. Maybe it was because people were really drunk. Maybe it was because we didn't play at 5:45pm. I don’t know. It is so hit or miss. Also, I think that people like to put bands into a nice box and label it and move on. When you are doing all kinds of stuff in the same song, I think it confuses people and they lose interest. We play music that we would love to see and hear live. If I saw our band, I would fucking love it and want to learn about the band.    

I see where people are coming from, though. I don't like when rap songs have R&B singing on the hooks. I don't like when singers sing really pretty and then scream really crazy in the same song. That type of shit seems really contrived. There aren't a whole lot of bands doing what we do, so it is hard to get a crowd to like it, or buy our records.  

Max Ward from Spazz released the Life: Beautiful, But Heartless EP in 2000. 

I don't really remember how the Fall Silent/Spazz/Max Ward connection happened. I think it may have happened through the US mail. I know that Max and I used to write letters back and forth to each other and send each other our latest records and stuff. He was in to all of the same stuff that we were into. Skateboarding, rap music, graffiti, and thrash metal, were the connection. This was in the mid to late '90s. We played some basement shows in Reno with them. We also played some shows at Gilman and Epicenter with them.   

I don't know. They are such awesome guys and an incredible band. Max wore our first ever shirt on the cover of Sweatin' II: Deported Live Gorilla which was flattering for us. I am sure it was just the next shirt in his drawer, but still. I think that photo, on that record, is about 80% of why people in Japan like us so much.  

Hirax Max from Spazz rocking the vintage Fall Silent shirt.

I love the Life: Beautiful, But Heartless 7". It is the one recording that I really like my vocals. It is also the last album that Roger Colestock played bass on. He died a few years after that, which fucking sucks. I love that guy. That is the record that we toured in Japan and Europe with. I love it. It has that weird cover art and that funny Black Flag cover. That was also the thinnest I have ever been in my adult life. About 20 pounds ago [laughs].

Fall Silent at 924 Gilman St, Berkeley, CA, 2001. (Photo: Spencer Benevidez)

OK, so in 2002 Fall Silent signs on with Revelation Records for the release of the Drunken Violence album. How did that relationship start? Were you guys reaching out to labels, or did Rev come to you?
 
That relationship started with a call from Ron Martinez. He was/is the singer of Final Conflict, and he was doing A&R for Revelation Records at the time. I never “shopped” our band to labels. I felt that it was cheap and lame. I always wanted to be a DIY band, unless someone offered us a deal. I think it is weak and pathetic to beg labels to put out your records, or give you a “deal”. Every record that was put out by someone other than us (Fetus Records, Moo Cow Records, 625 Productions, Genet) was not something we asked for. They asked us as friends, and we agreed.
 
I think that Mike Amaral had something to do with Ron calling us. I think that Mike and Ron worked together at a record store in Orange, CA and Mike convinced him to get us on the label. I don’t really remember, but I have a feeling he did that. I think the record store was called Green Records. I don’t think that Revelation Records would ever have offered to put out a record for us if it wasn’t for Mike. 

It must be cool to be able to have the Rev star on some of your records.

Revelation has not made one cent off of Fall Silent. I feel bad, because I really like [label owner] Jordan Cooper. He is a good dude. I am proud to be on a label that has such a roster of records that they have put out. Just to be associated with that label makes me happy. I do think that we are a bit out of place on the label, but I don’t care. 

Insert for Drunken Violence LP.

For the Drunken Violence sessions, you worked with producer Eric Stenman (Will Haven, Training for Utopia). Since from my very first time listening to that album, I’ve always felt that it’s Fall Silent’s most concise set of songs. There’s also more of a straight-up death metal feel to the arrangements. 

I do agree that, at the time, they were our most straight-forward set of songs. We had gotten to a point during that time where we wanted to write really powerful and more traditional songs.  There aren’t many odd time signatures on that album as compared to the songs we wrote for Superstructure. Also, we just wanted to play faster. If you look at all of our albums in chronological order, you can see that we were slowly leaning towards playing more thrashy, death metal style hardcore/punk.   

Also, on that album we had gotten another guitar player (Donny Johnson) and a new bass player (Justin Spalin). They were much younger than us and also really liked playing fast music. Donny, especially, was fully in to death metal and really connected with Danny’s love for '90s Florida death metal. This mutual love of that style of music led to a different sound for Fall Silent.   

Revelation hooked us up with Eric. I think that they did that because Eric did such a wonderful job recording Will Haven’s records and they thought it was a good fit.  Also, he was based in Sacramento, which was good for us because it is only about a two hour drive to Sacramento from Reno.   

Did Eric's production have any influence on the songwriting for that record?

Eric didn’t have any effect on the material or arrangements, though. He was actually very laid back and let us just play. He didn’t really have any influence on what we were playing. It was the first time that someone other than Tom Gordon recorded an album for us. I think that the sound that Eric got out of the speakers was some of the best that we have ever had. The problem is that he didn’t make us play as well as we should have. There were some timing problems with the performances we gave that still make me cringe when I hear them.  I doubt that anyone can year them, but they still make me feel weird when we hear them.  I think some of the songs should have been played a little bit slower than they were recorded. I also thought the vocals were a bit too loud and the cymbals were a bit buried.   

He was meticulous though. We loved working with him. 

Producer Eric Stenman in 2015. (Photo: Audio Media International)

Speaking of metal, were you guys playing on those kinds of bills during that album cycle?  

No, we kept playing the same type of shows. We probably would have done really well playing shows like that, but we just didn’t know how to get on any of them. It would have been rad if a bigger metal band would have offered a tour for us or something, but it never happened. Revelation actually had somebody, I can’t remember his name, book us a tour to support that album in the summer of 2002. We left from Reno and went to Vegas and then it was a trek across the bottom of the US headed for Florida. The plan was to tour up the East Coast towards the New England area and then back across the northern part of the US back to Reno.   The shows in the Southern part of the US were not good at all. They were poorly attended and the drives were long and hard. We made our way up the coast and I fucking crashed our car in New Jersey. Such a bummer. We tried to get a van or something to continue, but we couldn’t find one and that was the end of tour. We had a lot of really great shows lined up in the Northeast, but we couldn’t get to them. This was the beginning of the end for Fall Silent. 

That year we kept playing regional shows, but by the summer of 2003, we were done.   

I read an interview with you where you said that you felt many people who didn’t like Fall Silent was due to your vocal style. What lead you to say/think that?  

I don’t know. A lot of reviewers would say “the band is great, but the vocals are to shrill and hard to listen to.” That was about all the bad reviews would say. I have always felt like I was in charge of the success of our band. I worked/work tirelessly to get our music out there and to make our band as strong as possible. I take it personally when people don’t like our band. This is what I have wanted to do since I was a little kid. When I read those reviews about how shitty my vocals were, it would just kill me.  t times I just wanted to fucking quit when I would read bad reviews that trashed my vocals.   

That's crazy to hear you say since I've always thought your vocals were one of the reasons why I love Fall Silent so much.

When you are doing this kind of music and screaming the way we do in our metal bands, you get what you get with these types of vocals. It’s not like I can tune my voice differently like guitars and drums. It’s not even like I can go to a vocal coach and make it sound any different. I feel like as we keep going, I learn different things and try different things to keep the vocals interesting.   

I am finally at a point where I really like my vocals. The record we put out this year is my favorite vocal performance that I have ever done. The problem is that no one reviews records anymore, for some reason. I think it is because there are no more printed zines (hardly), or that we took too long of a break and everyone forgot about us. Maybe you can answer that. Cart Return has gotten like 2 or 3 reviews in English that I have read. What the fuck is going on? All of our other records got hundreds of reviews. I don’t know if anyone has even read the lyric sheet for our new record. I thought my lyrics for this one would have really made an impact, but no one seems to care.  

SEE ALSO: Top 10 NYHC Breakbeat Intros

At some point after Drunken Violence, you quit the band. What were the circumstances around that? I’m assuming it was during that period where you pursued your career in education.  

It was a whole bunch of stuff that led me to quit the band. Mostly, though, was because in 2001 my son was born and my marriage fell apart. I had a son and worked at a pizza place. By the summer of 2003, our band was very weak. We had a failed US tour in 2002. Damon was overdoing it with the drugs and alcohol and it was affecting his playing. Danny was having all of these stomach problems as a result of stress and I don’t think he was that in to playing any more. 

At the time, I never wanted to do Fall Silent again.   

I had always been in college the whole time we were doing the band, just really slowly. Like 1 or 2 classes a semester. When I quit, I got a bunch of student loans and finished my Secondary Education degree. You know what they say, “Those who can’t do, teach.”  So, I then stepped in to the next phase of my life. Being a good husband to a new lady, being a father of two wonderful children, and trying to be the best teacher in Reno. I think I have accomplished most of that. I am a really good husband, father, and educator. I never thought I would say any of that, considering some of the lyrics I have written.

Levi with two awards he won in 2017 for his teaching efforts.

Can you tell me a bit about your teaching career? 

This is my 12th year teaching math to young people. I love math in its simplicity and its consistency. All you have to know is a few rules and you can understand and perform a lot of really complex mathematical techniques. As an educator, you have to push kids to learn those few rules, and then you watch them take on bigger and more complex problems with independence. It is really cool to watch. I love my job. I only work about 190 days a year. I get all the holidays and weekends off, and they laugh at all my jokes [laughs].   

SEE ALSO: 2017 interview with Dustin Perry (Snapcase, Threadbare, Libido Boyz, Precious).

Do students ever ask you about your music stuff? 

The first eight years I taught in a high school. This was only about two years after Fall Silent played our last show. Some of the kids knew about the band, but I kept it pretty quiet. As the years went on, less and less kids knew about the band. Then I moved to teach at my neighborhood school where my son went to school. He told all of his friends about Fall Silent and then the word was out. When we started playing again two years ago, some of the kids would come to the show. Most of the time, kids just want me to tell stories about touring and all the crazy shit that bands get involved in while on tour. They love hearing about traveling to different parts of the country and world.    

At this point, more of the kids' parents know about Fall Silent than their kids. Which is really weird.  

What brought on the Fall Silent reunion, and how did it lead to the Cart Return 7” that Revelation released earlier this year? 

It has been about two years since Fall Silent has been playing again. We played our first show at a little bar down the street the day after Christmas 2015. We didn't even tell anyone. We just walked in, set up our gear, and played. It was pretty wild.  

I think that the reason we got back together is just because all of us were back in town and were ready and willing to do the band again. Damon and Danny have been working on me for a long time about starting Fall Silent back up with them, but I have always been the hold out. I told them they could do it with a different singer, but they never did. They played together in a Reno band called Old Glory, which was sort of the impetus to getting the Fall Silent thing going again.  

So, the natural step to being in a band is to play shows, write songs, record the songs, and then release the songs. I didn't think that Jordan and Revelation would put the songs out. We recorded the songs before I even contacted Jordan to see if he would put it out.Then I sent the songs and he said that it could be a Revelation Records release. I am glad he did.  

You recently went on a tour of Japan. The band remains very popular over there.

I don't know why people in Japan get in to Fall Silent so much. Since the first 7" that we put out (Never Forget...) they have been interested in our band. Every record that we have ever done has gone over well in Japan. We first played there in 2000, and then just this last July: 17years later. We even played with one of the bands we toured with in 2000. The band is called Birthplace and they are great.  

They love aggressive music in Japan. The people that are involved with the scene have a really great network of venues, promoters, record stores, printing places for shirts and merch, and a lot of people who still buy CD's, tapes, LPs and attend shows. We have better shows in Japan than we do in our own town.  

That must be surreal!

There is a band over there called Superstructure, who we played with this last summer. They have taken our old record art and made shirts and hats and stuff. They play a fest called the No Strength to Suffer fest every year. They really like our band.   

I was really happy about the tour we did this summer in Japan. Mostly, because I got to take my 15-year-old son, Jude, to help us sell merch while we played. I wanted him to see what it is really like to be in a band and travel and play music with like-minded people. I wanted to show him that being in a band is one of the last and only things that kids can do that isn't co-opted by adults. Bands can take you all around the world to places that even tourists would never go. Bands are a way to challenge yourself creatively and physically in a way that not a lot of things can. I also wanted to show him that you can keep doing it for as long as you want.  

We had a good time in Japan, and want to go back as soon as possible.  

What’s the plan for Fall Silent from this point on? 

Right now, we are moving Joe Foley to guitar and getting a new bass player, Jake. We want to have a two-guitar sound to add some more variety and heaviness to our sound. Our goal is to write a full-length album and possibly record it next summer. We have about two and a half songs written for the next project and it is going really well.   

Fall Silent

Last question: If you had to pick one Fall Silent song that best encapsulates the band’s sound and spirit, what would it be and why? 

I am really proud of what we did on the latest release. I think the song "Try Harder" on Cart Return is a good representation of what Fall Silent does best. It's got all of the crazy, hard-to-pin-down mix of genres all in one song. The heavy intro into the fast thrashy verse/chorus part into another heavy part and then ending with the thrash. It has grind beats and punk parts and all that shit.   

The lyrics are about fulfillment by oneself of the possibilities of one's character or personality: Self-Realization. It is about dropping all excuses for failure and just trying harder to reach your goals. "Focused action breeds confidence" is a lyric that is something that I tell my students and children all of the time. If shit isn't going the way you want, you have to focus on a plan and act on it.  

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