When linking horror movies to punk and metal, there are some obvious bands that come to mind: Misfits, TSOL, Mortician. But Michael Kent, host of the Toxic Schlock podcast, digs deeper and finds musicians from all sectors of the music world to discuss their favorite horror flicks.
Since the debut of the show in April 2018, Kent has nabbed guests ranging from Integrity masterminds Dwid Hellion and Dom Romeo to Cursive frontman Tim Kasher and the Mountain Goats' John Darnielle. Kent is also an active member of the Richmond punk scene, playing guitar in the up-and-coming band Ghouli and his solo project The Nostromos. I was fortunate enough to talk with Michael via Skype about film, music and podcasting.
What came first for you: film or music?
Growing up, I liked music just as much as anyone else did. I was obsessed with Star Wars. I liked your standard horror movies, like Halloween and stuff like that. Music was way more my passion. Once you hit with Green Day, into Black Flag and Napalm Death when you're 13 or 14, it becomes a life-consuming thing.
Wow, I wish I heard Napalm Death that early!
Going down that rabbit hole became pretty all-consuming. I was into movies, I wouldn't say I got into “film” until, honestly, 6 years ago. I think it was a way of dealing with depression: fixating on things like “I'm going to just watch a lot of movies so I know more about movies”.
That sounds very familiar to me.
It just became a way for me to cope with stuff. “I'm going to try to learn a lot about Italian horror movies”. That's kind of what got me to get into horror on a deeper level. I already liked George Romero and Evil Dead and stuff, but that's when I got into things below the surface level, and general film as well.
Having such a surface level knowledge, you say “yeah, I've seen most of the Friday The 13ths and Nightmare on Elm Streets”, and then you start digging. There's so many rocks to turn over and they're fucking huge.
It's like being into Halloween or Dawn of the Dead, it's like the equivalent of saying, “I like heavy music, I love Metallica!” I love Metallica too, but if that's as deep as you go, there's such a deeper well of things you can get into that's just as good as Metallica.
The older I get, the more parallels I see between movie buffs and music buffs, especially when you start getting into more underground stuff. Digging for obscure horror movies that were only released on VHS by Troma is like finding an obscure Koro 7” in the dollar bin.
Totally. I think it's similar with music and movies and horror. You can spend an entire lifetime going down that rabbit hole.
And just because you found something that's obscure doesn't mean it's necessarily good. There's a lot of things where it's a hyper-obscure '80s band with one demo, people say it's a classic. Is it really a classic or is it just obscure?
The same way with a band like Metallica or Slayer: you get into those entry-level things then you kind of disregard them. “Yeah, they're good but I'm into the really heavy shit now!” I've only recently gone back to appreciate how much I love Evil Dead or other stuff that was my gateway.
Yeah, you get to an age where you say, “the first four Green Day records are kind of sick!”
You don't have anything to prove. There's usually a reason why those “gateway” bands or movies are so beloved, because most of the time they are really great. Not to say obscure stuff isn't great, but...
The work's already been done for you. Everyone already knows that Evil Dead is the best.
For sure. But then you do turn over some stones. It's like the first time I saw the movie Demons. I was like, “where has this movie been my entire life?” To deep horror heads, that's not a terribly obscure movie. But to your normal person that generally likes horror movies, this is very obscure. I feel like getting into Italian horror is a big hurdle to jump. I remember seeing Suspiria for the first time, it took me until my second watch to get it. This isn't even a normal dub, and it takes a minute for your brain to adjust to it.
I know you ask this a lot on your show, but I don't remember if you've ever answered it yourself: what's the first horror movie you remember seeing?
I've thought about this before. I think the earliest one I can remember is The Witches, the early '90s Disney movie. As far as sitting down and watching a movie that truly horrified me, that's the first one that comes to mind. I did not like horror at all as a young kid. I was the kid that couldn't be around clowns, I was scared of things under the bed. I remember watching The Witches on probably the Disney Channel, and there's the scene where they all take off their masks. It still grosses me out. When I was 10 or 11, that's when I started dipping my toe into your basic slasher movies. When you're a kid, you have no sense of taste on what's good and what's not good. The first slasher movie I ever saw was Jason X. The first Halloween movie I saw was Resurrection.
Because I'm 10 and I'm stupid, I think, “wow, these are fun! Maybe horror movies aren't so scary after all.” Then I remember shortly after that, I sat down and finally watched the original Halloween and Nightmare on Elm Street and they fucked me up really bad. You finally dip your toe in the pool and then decide to go swimming in the ocean. Then after that I waded into stuff, especially as I got into heavier music and bands like the Misfits and bands wearing Night of the Living Dead shirts. Going back to '60s horror movies is what made it more accessible to me.
Naturally, you can't bring up horror movies and music going together without the Misfits being the first thing to come to mind. When did you discover the Misfits, and were you actively watching horror movies at the time?
I was getting into punk: I was into The Clash, Green Day, Black Flag. Then I heard the Misfits were one of these classic bands. So, I searched for them on one of the second-generation file-sharing programs like Limewire or Kazaa, and most of the songs I downloaded were not by the Misfits.
Yeah, I don't miss those days.
But the first real Misfits songs I heard were “Halloween” and “Skulls." I think by the time I was getting into that, I was starting to wrap my head around horror more. By then I was into Night of the Living Dead and other basic zombie stuff. At this point it was 2004, when there was that big boom post-Dawn of the Dead remake and 28 Days Later. I've never really thought about my relationship with the Misfits and how it blends with my love of horror because you can't remember a time before either. But by that time I was into spooky things, like Black Sabbath and other blasphemous things. By that point, seeing JFK getting his head blown off and lyrics like “I want your skulls” was kind of just fun piss-off-your-parents stuff.
If anyone has ever listened to the bonus episodes of Toxic Schlock, you'd know that I'm an obsessive with that band. They're the band created for 15 year olds to think is the coolest thing ever. Saying all these weird things but still being approachable and fun is perfect. At that time, you had bands that people my age were listening to. Warped Tour emo bands were referencing the Misfits as a logo. It's already permeating culture. So, seeing them turn into a financial institution is strange. I think the Graves era still has a degree of artistic integrity, but once you hit the Jerry Only era of the band, it's all financial.
Before we delve into talking about the podcast, I wanted to ask: you're originally from North Carolina, correct?
Yep. I grew up in Greensboro, North Carolina for the most part. I lived in the Raleigh/Durham area as a kid and then I went to college in Charlotte. So, I've been all over North Carolina, but Greensboro was my central headquarters.
Dude, there's something in the water down there. They've got the best bands.
North Carolina is weird because it's so spread out into all these micro-scenes. If they all played the same shows, it'd be a massive scene. When I lived there, you wouldn't see a band like Torch Runner play with a band like Double Negative, even though they're not that far from each other. There are very rigid scenes, like the ska scene, the college rock scene. A lot of them have good stuff but it's so spread out.
I feel like in a major city, you have enough people in the scene to justify having so many micro-scenes. Richmond is a good example. When you have such a small amount of people involved that aren't in bands, you can't spread it out that much.
Greensboro is a very small city and I never saw much cool-guy-ism there. In some other cities, like the Raleigh/Durham area, it was harder to penetrate because it was a lot of old heads. I feel like Greensboro it was a lot of people that were open to hanging out with different types of people. One of the big contrasts when I moved to Richmond was in North Carolina, there's not much of a infrastructure. It's mostly just two or three people doing all of the work: playing in bands, booking shows. If those people leave town or decide to stop doing stuff, the scene is dead. The scene was pretty slow when I lived there, but once I moved away, the scene got amazing. In Richmond, there's such a long-running history there that if people move away, there's enough framework that things won't fall apart.
Moving on to Toxic Schlock, what made you decide to start the podcast?
For a long time, I wanted to do a podcast. I had a couple different ideas and even recorded some interviews. I just really like talking with people about things that aren't necessarily their own craft. With a lot of interviews, they're just talking about the new album and it gets boring because it's just the same questions. At that point, that's when I started really becoming obsessive with horror movies, where it was such a new world. So I decided, “that's what I'm going to do: interview people about whatever movies they pick”. And the podcast Damian from Fucked Up does, Turned Out a Punk, was a big influence on me; it gives people a platform to tell their stories. So, I thought I'd do that but have people pick specific movies because it helps guide the interview better if you have specific questions.
I didn't have the idea to have it be the definitive punk-horror crossover show, just a regular horror show with interesting artists. But because my network of people I know is mostly people in punk and metal, that's where I started.
A lot of people don't think about their history with film unless you're a person that works in film. I don't think people remember times and places that they saw movies. People talking about emotional memories about seeing Texas Chainsaw Massacre for the first time is really interesting and they may not have that come up in regular conversation very often.
Even if you're someone in a bigger band that's “promoting the new album," no one is going to ask you what you thought of Night of the Creeps the first time you saw it.
Yeah, people get sick of talking about their new albums and it's a nice break for them sometimes.
It's funny you brought up Turned Out a Punk, because I feel like both shows are very conversational. It's really refreshing to hear two people essentially bullshitting.
Most of my favorite shows are bullshitting with a vague structure. That's really what I like doing. I like finding people who you would never think of their movie taste. Like talking with a person from the Swedish band Iceage, no one would have ever thought he was into Korean horror movies.
Dude, you threw me for a loop getting Tim Kasher (Cursive, The Good Life). I would have never known he was into Stephen King movies.
Sometimes I like to Google musicians I like and see if they've ever mentioned liking horror movies in an interview. Or there are people that do those “What's In My Bag” videos on YouTube, and they'll have a horror movie in their bag or something. Sometimes I'll feel like I'm totally tapped out but then I'll find five more people that are into it.
I think the format of the show, doing an episode every two weeks, is a really good way to keep it light and not stress out about it.
If all I did was Misfits Mondays with my buddy Eric, that would be much easier to organize. It's hard, I've got so many different hobbies and playing in bands and working full time. Now I'm doing stuff through our community radio station, WRIR in Richmond, which is really cool but that's a whole other task with editing, making them FCC appropriate, and re-cutting all the intros to plug the radio station. I have a habit of piling work on myself where it's hard to do them all justice.
Are there any dream guests you'd want to interview for Toxic Schlock?
There's a ton. Obviously, Danzig.
John Darnielle from the Mountain Goats was a big one for me. He was a person who I really admire and knew he liked horror but I never thought it would happen. That was me drunkenly tweeting at someone saying, “hey, you wanna come on my show and talk about horror movies?” Kirk Hammett too, because he's so into horror. I wish I could talk to more directors about music too.
Let's talk about some of the music you make.
Definitely. I have one and a half music projects I guess. My main one is Ghouli, which we just released our new EP. I grew up in hardcore and punk stuff, and in my college years I started doing some other types of music, more melodic stuff. Ghouli has been my big return to the music I first loved. My fiancée Sam sings, and it's the first time I've really played guitar in a band. It's the first time where I've guided a lot of the songwriting too. It's hardcore punk with a vague sense of melody. In the sense where we try to write songs with choruses and more traditional song structures.
I know a lot of the coverage you've been getting has cited Poison Idea as an influence, which I think is pretty apt.
Yeah, we get Poison Idea, we've gotten TSOL a lot. I think that might just be partially our aesthetics. Our aesthetic seems to be “spooky” or dark. But I've always tried very hard to avoid being a “horror punk band”.
Yeah, that's got a connotation where you're like, “I don't want any part of that.”
It just makes me think of third-tier bands that just talk about horror. There are a lot of bands I like that are associated with it like the Misfits, TSOL, The Damned, or AFI, where there are hints of darkness and the macabre. But when you're “the punk band that talks about horror movies”, it gets silly very fast.
There's a distinct difference between Mortician and Nekromantix.
For sure. With the band, we like to incorporate darker aesthetics, and I'm a big fan of old goth music and death rock. So those influences seep in. The other project I have is called The Nostromos, and that's just more of a solo bedroom death rock project. That's one that's just a fun side thing I do. And just like with the podcast, when I lean on one hobby too much I start neglecting the other ones. I've had four Nostromos songs ready to go, but I just haven't had the chance to put the finishing touches on them.
At one point I had a full band, and it ended up not working out which was a bummer but now it's gone back to being my bedroom project. Who knows where it'll go. I really do enjoy doing that stuff because it's strictly melodic but also with different instrumentation. I've never been in a band that uses synths before, so I'm kind of making it up as I go along.
I feel like sometimes that yields the best results.
The first couple songs I wrote, I was never trying to write songs with a goal, I was just fucking around. And I think I was drunk once and messing around in Garageband with doomy synth stuff, and it turned into a whole thing. I would love to turn it into a full band at some point, but it's hard to be the main creative force in every hobby I have. Sometimes you need someone else to take the reins. One of the things I struggle with as I get older is the concept of time. There's not enough time in the day.
So you mentioned you have new Nostromos stuff and Ghouli has new material available now. Any additional plans?
Ghouli is definitely going to do some weekends. We do want to go up north this summer. I'd love to go to Philadelphia and New Jersey. We have a couple bigger things on the horizon this year too. We've gotten a really good response to the Ghouli EP. Sending tapes all over the country is really cool. It's like the podcast too; seeing people in different parts of the world listening is always exciting. We definitely want to play out more. This is the most excited I've been about a band in the last four or five years.
That's awesome. Thanks a lot for talking today, man, I really appreciate it.
Thanks again, this was fun.