Interviews

Cutting Steak: Blake Hall (Slow Fire Pistol)

Photo: Dolphin Aspargus

Everyone meet Blake Hall, drummer for the almighty Slow Fire Pistol (among others). I was lucky enough to play with them in Louisville last December and loved their set, their sound and the energy they brought. They play a style of hardcore punk that I think has been missing in modern hardcore. They are an eclectic bunch, who draw influences from across the board and it shows in their style. Blake’s drums sounded sooo good too — he plays hard with equal style and finesse.

Were you born and raised in Atlanta, GA?

I was born in Athens, GA, and lived around the Athens area until I was 11 or 12. Then we moved to the North Georgia mountains. Cleveland, GA to be exact. It was about an hour and 45 minutes north of Atlanta. But I started spending quite a bit of my time in Atlanta once I started playing in bands around the age of 15. 
 
With whom are you currently playing with?

Most of my time is spent playing in Slow Fire Pistol, but for the past couple of years I've played in a local classic country band called Even Stepp & The Piners (with Ben Jordan of SFP). Going forward, I'm not going to be playing in that band anymore, but I'm super grateful that I've been able to do something different like that for a couple years now. I also play guitar in a band called The Harvest Law with Connor from SFP. Very slow, sad, pretty music. Ben, Connor, and I also play in an emo band called Gordan.

And then I'm in a new band called Memory Screen that will be playing shows in the near future. It's heavily influenced by Swiz, Rites of Spring, etc. I think that's it? Could be forgetting some.

Pre-orders were just announced for the new Portrayal of Guilt/Slow Fire Pistol split EP and it looks like it sold out pretty quickly. That’s got to be exciting to hear! Tell me a bit about the SFP song, writing it, recording it, etc.

Yeah! It was very exciting to see how well the split with Portrayal of Guilt was received. We're super thankful that people purchased it, and that we're able to be a part of something like that. That song is one that just happened really quickly and naturally. I think it was written in one practice. We had the conversation with POG about doing the split right around the time we wrote that song, so we all felt like it would be a good song to stand alone on a split with them. We recorded it in our friend Rob Sarabia's living room here in Atlanta over the course of just one day. We all had a really good time doing it, and went to an Indian buffet and ate entirely too much food. 

Probably the most unique thing about the song is that for the first time ever, we all four sat around and collaborated on the lyrics. The sentiment of the song is something we had all been talking about and feeling for a while, so it just made sense to write the lyrics together.

It's essentially a song about understanding that in order for some people to progress and acknowledge the error in the way they view other people, you have to be able to approach them with a willingness to have a dialogue and be compassionate towards them. Especially if no one has ever explained to them why they way they speak or think may be harmful to others who aren't like them. 

How would you describe Slow Fire Pistol to someone who has never heard the band before?

I would just tell them that we're a hardcore band thats very influenced by earlier "screamo" bands like Portraits of Past, Yaphet Kotto, and things like that. We all also share a love for some European bands like La Quiete, Raein, Louise Cyphre, etc. So, maybe we sound a little something like those bands? 
 
Can you pin-point a place a time when you thought “I want to be a drummer”? What motivated you?

I've been playing drums for as long as I can remember, to be honest. I think I've had a drum set since I was four years old. So, I don't really know where I picked up the interest in it. But growing up in the church, I saw drums being played on a stage every single Sunday and I definitely thought it was the coolest thing in the entire world. I know that had a lot to do with it. 

Photo: James Scott 

What about punk/hardcore counter culture in general…how did it find you?

Like most people, I became drawn to it through being obsessed with skateboarding at an early age. Then when we moved to Cleveland, GA, through some friends at school, I found out that there was a church/venue in our tiny town that had DIY shows every month. Once I went there, I was hooked. It made playing in a metal band seem so accessible, and I couldn't believe that these bands from all across the country were playing in a tiny room 10 minutes from my house. I started playing in a band with Ben (from SFP) at an early age, and when we started playing more punk/hardcore shows in Atlanta, it opened a whole new world for me and I've been hooked ever since. 
 
Is Coca-Cola really the most superior cola?

To be honest, I don't drink a lot of soda. But what I do love is Coke and peanuts. Like actually putting the peanuts in the Coke. It just doesn't work the same with any other soda. And no one will ever be able to convince me otherwise. 
 
I have family in Atlanta, and when I was a kid I’d visit every summer and we always ended up going to Six Flags White Water (water park). I remember waiting in line so long for a water slide that I shit in my bathing suit. Thankfully it was a hard turd and stayed in there. I went down the slide, ran in the bathroom afterwards and quickly flopped it out of the suit. Easy breezy. Do you have a story about shitting yourself?

Oh my God. That's such an insane story, and sounds like something that definitely could've also happened to me as a kid. It hasn't happened (yet). But I'll tell you what has happened to me.. 3 years ago my wife and I went on our honeymoon to Oregon. I drink entirely too much coffee, and it doesn't help being in Portland where there's an amazing speciality coffee shop on every corner. So, I was drinking a minimum of 4 Americanos every day for a week. Towards the end of the trip, I noticed that I was having uncontrollable urges to pee very frequently. The last night of the honeymoon, we drove into downtown Portland to go eat at some nice restaurant.

As soon as we crossed the bridge into downtown, I had to pee right away. I started panicking and looking for a restroom, but in a busy downtown area, no one has public restrooms! I pulled the car onto the sidewalk and ran into a 7 Eleven; no bathroom. I came running back to the car and started to unzip my pants and pee right there, with hundreds of people walking around. My wife yelled at me and told me that was a very bad idea. So I just stood there staring at her in a panic as I peed all over myself. We went back to our Airbnb so I could shower, and then we walked down the street to get tacos. So it all worked out. 
 
Back on track now … did you ever take drum lessons?

I did take lessons between the ages of 7 and 9. I already knew how to play at that point, but wanted to learn more about technique and reading music. I was also on drumline and in the school orchestra throughout middle and high school. 

When you first started getting into the thick of it all who were some of your biggest influences?

I really liked a lot of gospel chops drummers when I was a kid. I liked Aaron Spears and Thomas Pridgen a lot. But then as I got older and started playing shows more, I would just take influence from people I'd watch live. I'd pick out the aspects of people's playing that I liked and take note of stuff that I didn't like, and just tried to do the best I could with that. 

Who are some of your favorite drummers to watch live?

Tommy Cantwell from Gouge Away/Axis is such a powerful drummer that knows when to be wild and creative, and when to just be solid. But he always hits hard and is unbelievably consistent. He's my favorite. 

James Beveridge from Portrayal of Guilt plays lightning fast and he's always pushing the boundaries of technical but super aggressive drumming. I don't think I've ever seen him mess up once. 

Ian Shelton from Regional Justice Center hits hard, plays fast, and does vocals at the same time. It's really fun to watch. 

Val Saucedo from Loma Prieta has so much endurance and somehow always appears to stay relaxed, even when playing something very fast or technical. He knows how to play loud and fast effortlessly.  

Shawn Costa from Fiddlehead/Have Heart is one of the most creative and effortless drummers I've ever seen. Very technically proficient without being overly flashy. It's so inspiring to watch. Also, he always has the most interesting gear.
 
Recommend me a video to watch on YouTube with incredible drumming.

Carter McClean is a guy that I keep up with a lot via social media. He's the furthest thing from a punk/hardcore drummer, and it's awesome. The way he can tune and play a drum set to manipulate it and get the sounds that he wants out of it is absolutely mind blowing to me. He plays soft but articulate at times, but can be so solid and groovy at other times.

Tell me about your current drum kit(s) and set up. Do you still collect Ludwig drums?

I do! I guess you could say I just collect vintage drums in general, but most of them are Ludwig because that's what I personally prefer. Right now I have a couple kits I switch between. The first is a Ludwig Classic Maple in a mahogany stain that I custom ordered. 14x24 kick, 9x13 rack tom, 16x16 floor tom. It stays at home most of the time. The second one is a vintage Ludwig Superclassic kit in champagne sparkle, with each drum being from a different year. The 14x22 kick is a '72, 9x13 tom is a '69, and the 16x16 floor tom is a '68. It's by far my favorite kit I've owned. It's such a fun kit to play.

I use a 6.5x14 Ludwig Black Beauty, and also own a 1964 Ludwig Jazz festival snare in white marine pearl.

I've been using Dream Cymbals exclusively for a few years now, and I love them a lot. They do exactly what I need and are affordable, too. Currently using 15" Contact hi-hats, 20" Bliss ride, 21" Energy crash/ride, and a 22" Contact ride.

Explain to the readers why Ludwig drums are far superior than another other drums.

[Laughs] I don't know if I can make the argument that they are far superior than other drums. I'm just personally drawn to them because of the timelessness they have. As I mentioned earlier, I'm a huge fan of vintage drums, and there's a reason why vintage Ludwigs have stood the test of time to be known as some of the greatest drums ever made. It's hard to beat those old '60s-'70s Ludwig 3-ply shells with maple reinforcement rings on them. They're so open, have amazing resonance and depth, but project well even for loud music. And their old age can make them sound a little wild sometimes.

But I think that's what can make them unique. I'm also a huge fan of old Slingerlands.

Are you very particular about the drumstick brand and type you use, or do you use whatever?

I've been using 5B wood tips for as long as I can remember. Usually Vater. Never really felt a need to change it up.

Photo: Fingers McGee

What about heads? Do you mix things up on your top and bottom heads, or keep it pretty standard?

I'm definitely a Remo guy. For toms, I keep it pretty standard. Typically clear Ambassadors on the bottom, coated Emperors up top. I've tried other things but always end up coming back to the usual. For snare, I always stick with a Controlled Sound, but I'm using a Powerstroke 77 right now and I think I like it. For kick, I'll either do a Remo Powerstroke 3, or Aquarian Super Kick.
 
What are you up to outside of music?

I run a home inspection company here in Atlanta called Dwell Inspect. It's a small company, but we're trying to grow it into something bigger over time. It definitely keeps me busy. Other than that, I'm usually traveling or being lazy with my wife at our house with our dog and cat.
 
Who’s your favorite Atlanta-based hip-hop artist(s)?

I hate to admit this... but I'm not really well versed in hip-hop at all. But SFP has been known to listen to Kilo Ali quite a bit.
 
Name three places where you have had the best falafel.

  1. Aviva by Kameel (best restaurant in Atlanta)
  2. Hovan Mediterranean Gourmet
  3. Ameer's

Atlanta falafel is on point.
 
What does Slow Fire Pistol have coming up for the rest of the year?

We're going to record a new 5-song EP on March 1st. The plan is for that to be out sometime in the middle of the year. There's an idea of another split with one of our current favorite bands happening later this year, and then maybe one day we'll finally do an LP. We are doing a few shows with Portrayal of Guilt in March around the Southeast, and then making some plans to do more touring later in the year. We're all really busy with jobs that are hard to get away from, so our touring is sometimes limited. But when we do tour, we always make the most of it and do things we enjoy.

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The Slow Fire Pistol/Portrayal of Guilt split will be out on April 10 via Run for Cover Records and can be pre-ordered today.

Tagged: cutting steak, slow fire pistol

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