Whether he knows it or even cares, Keith Huckins is one of the most underrated yet influential guitarists of the last three decades.
First with Rorschach and then Deadguy and Kiss It Goodbye, Huckins melded the raw ferocity of hardcore and the fierce riffing of speed and thrash metal into one potent guitar attack that helped change the course of underground music for years to come. Quite simply, he's an architect of the metalcore sound. Now, the term "metalcore" means a lot of different things to a lot of different people, but first wave groups like Endeavor, Converge and Harvest unquestionably owed a debt, sonically, to Huckins and his work in Rorschach.
I had the pleasure of meeting Huckins when I was a member of Black Army Jacket in the '90s, and I can tell you that his low key, easygoing personality is in sharp contrast to the savagely brutal riffs he's laid down throughout his discography.
I recently caught up with Huckins to reflect back on his work with Rorschach, Kiss It Goodbye and Deadguy, plus the supergroup he and some of his musician friends might be forming in the future.
It occurred to me when I was preparing for this interview that I didn't know anything about your time before Rorschach.
I grew up in North Jersey, about 15 minutes from Manhattan. I had a typical suburban metal kid childhood. I jammed with some friends a bit and eventually joined an incredibly generic hardcore band with Charles [Maggio, future singer of Rorshach], who played bass at that time. I think we played two shows and we just couldn't keep it together.
How did Rorschach first come together?
After that band faded out, Charles and I met [guitarist] Nick Forte at a show in Nyack, NY and realized that we had the same interests—NYHC primarily. We tried out a few singers and every time Charles would show them how to do it. It took us a while to realize Charles was better than anyone we tried out so that's how that happened.
We had a friend temping for us drum wise, and, unbelievably, he was unreliable and not really into hardcore so Nick hooked us up with Andrew Gormley, who was also supposed to be a fill in until we found someone good and committed. Charles didn't really like playing bass and singing so we got a friend of his, Chris Laucella, to play bass. So that was Rorschach v1.0.
Thinking back to the time when it was released, Rorschach's first record, Remain Sedate, sounded like nothing else from the era.
Rorschach was intended to be a NYHC/Youth Crew type of band. I learned to play guitar by playing metal: Slayer, Voivod, Celtic Frost, Kreator, etc. So, when I wrote music, it never came out as intended. It was always a little too metal, but we liked the way it came out so we just kept with it. Also, now we had moved onto listening to Bl'ast!, Prong, Carcass, Godflesh, etc. Every song started to get a little more unorthodox than the last.
As far as the recording of Remain Sedate goes, it was done in some guy's basement that had recorded Andrew's previous band and who fancied himself a producer. So the record really is a combination of our naiveté, his dislike of our music and his arrogance. Being so young, I let him strong-arm me into using a Mesa Boogie amp instead of my Marshall because I assumed he knew better. After all this time, I don't dislike the sound as much as I think it just sounds strange. Then again, I do think this worked out for us.
Your split 7" with Neanderthal is considered somewhat of a classic in certain circles.
The Neanderthal side is better. "Hardware" was fun to play and "Brainhandle" was our attempt at powerviolence, with timeless lyrics about the Krishna scourge in hardcore.
I love the 7" you released on Wardance Records, Needlepack.
That was recorded at the same place as Remain Sedate. I really don't remember much about the recording. I do think that it is our best record, graphically speaking. I found an old photo book about the temples in Angkor Wat and that is where the covers came from. I just wish it sounded as good as it looked.
Rorschach broke up after Protestant, your second album, was released. What happened?
Now I can say it was dumb kid shit, but it was mostly down to differences in how to run the band and all of our musical tastes were evolving, just not all in the same direction.
After that, you went on to form Deadguy.
Tim [Singer] and I wanted to do a band while I was still in Rorschach and we could never get it together. After I quit Die 116, I ran into Tim and asked what he was up to and he told me about his new band Deadguy and gave me a demo. I fell in love with it and saw them a few weeks later and I decided they needed a second guitarist. So, I met the rest of the guys and half-jokingly said that I was ready when they needed me. Tim called me a few days later. I practiced with them and we hit it off, so I joined.
Just like Rorschach with Remain Sedate, Deadguy's Work Ethic and Whitemeat 7"s sounded so different for their time. Did people "get it" right away?
I think that we had it a little easier because of our previous bands. But it wasn't like we were going to sell out CBGB.
Deadguy's sole studio album, Fixation on a Co-Worker, was inducted into the Decibel magazine Hall of Fame years later, and is widely regarded as a blueprint for many of the bands that would make up the wave of metalcore bands that came in the late '90s and early '00s.
I kind of stopped listening to most hardcore during Deadguy and really just got back into heavy metal. I was kind of dismissive of most of our "peers." I couldn't always relate when people said that "so-and-so rips you off" until someone pointed out Norma Jean. I still prefer metal. I'll admit that I don't like looking at the metalcore kids; they're goofy.
What lead you and Tim Singer to quit Deadguy, move to Seattle and form Kiss It Goodbye?
Band politics. And Tim wanted to move to Seattle and I really didn't care where we lived.
Kiss It Goodbye's album, She Loves Me, She Loves Me Not, was recorded by Billy Anderson. I always thought that was a really interesting choice since he was known more for working with doomier/Sabbath-type bands at the time. Why did you go with him?
[laughter] OK, got it. According to the band's Wikipedia page, you left Kiss It Goodbye because you didn't want to tour anymore. Is that true?
Basically. I didn't want to drive 12 hours to a 15 person show and have to stay on a floor at some random kid's house anymore. The novelty of it wore off.
That was around 1997 or so, since then, have you played in any bands/released any music?
Just the handful of Rorschach reunion shows. I have had a few good friends get on me to play, but I am lazy. I write a little bit here and there, but not being able to actually play with other people, I have a hard time with it.
I was recently hanging with Dave Witte and he mentioned a possible new project with you and some other interesting folks.
Looking back at your years with Rorschach, Deadguy and Kiss It Goodbye, is there anything you regret? I think all three are examples of bands that got much bigger after they broke up. That's has to be really frustrating.
The first Rorschach reunion shows were cathartic. It felt great to play some shows with actual crowds with kids killing each other. I like that at least these bands are appreciated as opposed to forgotten and ignored.
Is there anything you'd like to promote? What are you up to these days?
Nope. I work and live in the woods. I spend my time with my wife and dogs and split firewood for fun.