Part 1: The Origins
It wasn’t quite a dark and stormy night when I met mummified master guitarist Fang, and Franken-drummer Skull, two members of the Toronto based psychobilly/monsterbilly band The House of Haunt. I’ve known Skull for ages (no pun intended), and since they had some major news to tell, I thought it only fitting that we met up so I could get the goods on the band and their background. We settled in for a bevvy at one of their local um, haunts in the Junction, where eye of newt is a staple on the menu. This pixie is still not sure what they were drinking, since they’re not quite human anymore, so I just averted my eyes from their weird smelling bubbling drinks, and started this interview from beyond with the basics. Who is The House of Haunt?
Fang went into the history of the band. “The Red Duke, he’s an old voodoo guy. He lived in Haiti and studied all this stuff and had an interest in music. He’s not particularly talented so he had to go around and find some musicians, and he figured he could just put ads out somewhere, but that really wouldn’t get him interesting musicians. So he decided to use all the power of voodoo to travel time and space to find them. The first place he went was ancient Egypt where he found a slave driver by the name of Fang-that’s me,” Fang said pointing to himself. “I (was a) slave driver and I worked for the prince of Egypt and I was rather notorious. I was gonna end up getting taken out (killed), but thankfully the Red Duke grabbed me. He’d heard how great a musician I was and he pulled me out, so that’s how I got here.” Fang also recounted his extensive conditioning by the Red Duke. “There was a guitarist from Steely Dan, I don’t even remember what his name was, but I tell you, he followed what they did to us in ancient Egypt. They locked him in a room for 3 months with an opium pipe taped to his mouth and a guitar in his hands and he just, was high, and… that was standard procedure for slave drivers.”
“No one says that in the archeology books-it’s true!” Skull added. “They always think the guitar is a fairly recent instrument-no, no, no!” he said emphatically. “Electric pickups, you know, Gibson- everyone thinks the Gibson is only a few hundred (years old) – no, c’mon, everyone had a Gibson in ancient Egypt.”
“Yeah, the ancient aliens came and brought us the technology,” Fang said with an equally ancient authority behind his voice. That’s totally it! You see people? You learn something new every day! Fang and Skull then went on to describe the rest of the Red Duke’s quest for his band.
“So the Red Duke had a guitarist,” Fang continued. “He had to go get a bassist, and he’s like, ‘Where am I gonna get this bassist?’ He talked to his friend the Devil, asked him if he knew anybody, and the Devil said, ‘Well, you know, my daughter plays the bass but I‘m not just gonna give her to you, it’s not gonna happen that way, I’m the fucking Devil!’, so the Red Duke actually had to sell his soul to the Devil to acquire his demon daughter Spike to play for us.”
“Because also too, as you know, the Devil is a great fiddle player, (so) he could not stand to lose his bass player. That drove him nuts for years, right?” Skull reminded Fang.
“Do you remember your story?” Fang asked Skull. “See, I really don’t remember 100% because when I got like, the electric bolts through my brain…,” Skull replied, absently scratching the stitches at his neck. “It sorta wiped some of my memory of all the musicians, like I really kind of-it’s really foggy, like a really bad hangover, but anyway, um…“ Fang chortled with a dusty laugh at Skull’s drifting memory and helped him out. “The Red Duke got Skull by going around the current world to all the different grave sites of all the best drummers in the world. Digging up their graves and sewing the best parts of them together. That…is Skull,” Fang finished with a flourish of his tattered, bandaged hand. “That’s me”, Skull added with a shrug. “I think he got a few psycho killers in there too somewhere.” “Oh yeah for sure,” Fang agreed. Skull also mentioned having parts of musical greats such as Robert Fish and John Bonham. Very interesting story of how these haunted musicians got together. But there is a price to pay for being in such a creepy quartet. Fang and Skull listed their punishments since being in the band, because, well, they’re not exactly in the glee club. “Yeah and I mean now, the Red Duke threatens us, he beats us, he sets Skull on fire…”
“…takes my stitches out,” Skull added.
“He keeps putting me in that damn opium induced guitar state… but he has to be nice to Spike,” Fang cautioned.
“Well yeah, because she got big Dada and he’s very powerful right?” Skull pointed out. I’ve seen this band in action, and they’re right. No one messes with Spike. She looks cool and calm but I’m sure she’s badass, and one word to her pops the Devil and it’s game over. At least she plays a mean stand-up bass.
“See the thing is too, little does anyone know…but the Red Duke is also really cheap, so he rents Fang out (for extra cash) to the R.O.M. (The Royal Ontario Museum), so If you go down to the R.O.M., you can actually see him. Fang has to pretend he’s dead, ’cause–“
“Yeah or he takes a leg or something.” Fang finished. Skull then revealed that not only did the Red Duke rent out Fang for the R.O.M., but Fang was behind the mysterious spinning statue at the British Museum. “He made me do it, made me do it,” Fang recounted. “For the attention,” Skull added. “He had those scientists baffled.”
“No I screwed up because I was supposed to leave our business card,” Fang admitted. For that gaffe, Fang had to suffer yet another indignity from the Red Duke. “Now I gotta play with nine fingers!”
Well even with Fang’s nine fingers, Skull’s random body parts, the Red Duke’s tyranny, and Spike’s demonically cool demeanor, they are an awesome and gruesome set of musicians with thousands of years of practice.
I wanted to get to the nitty-gritty of this creepy, crazy genre, so I ask them what they thought the appeal of pyschobilly was. I mean, isn’t terrorizing feeble humans enough?
“No, we really enjoy terrorizing humans. There is something (that is) so much fun about…humans scream way better than anything else, I don’t know…,” Skull said with a wistful look in his deadened eyes. I gulped. “Do you feel that psychobilly is an extension of the terror?” I asked. I was almost afraid to hear the answer, but felt like I needed to know, since I had the real horror deal right in front of me.
Fang got into the philosophy of it all. “You have a lot of different kinds of music today, like typically your hiphop today is telling people to be, I don’t know, loose, live for today and not think about tomorrow, then you go into some of the harder punk stuff (and it’s) very political minded; and then you go into metal and they’re all brotherhood and blah, blah, blah, but to me, pyschobilly is like Halloween. Everybody drops whatever they do, wherever they’re from, whatever walk of life, they put on their mask, they get their bag of candy, they go out and they have a damn good time. And that’s why we do it, we are offering a damn good time. You know it’s all in the name of fun.” Yeah, when you guys aren’t hungry…
“I think it also goes back to the freak show thing,” Skull said. “You go to have your curiosity peaked, and you go for the thrill. I think the big thing in horror whether it’s horror movies or the idea of a fun house, it gives you that primal adrenaline boost. In modern North American society you don’t really have that anymore. We’ve made everything very, very safe: you know, air bags in your cars and kids with bike helmets, so that adrenaline kick that you get from the haunted house, like the general ‘Oh man, something’s gonna get me! ‘, or in a horror movie, like that feeling where you’re still safe but you still get that…adrenaline boost.”
Fang expanded on that thought. “It allows us to express all the nastiness in our lives and personify it in a monster or a villain and confront it. It allows us to also conquer our fears in that we see all these (horrible) things and we get desensitized in essence. Like the Red Duke really dislikes the movie The Thing. He thinks it’s the scariest damn movie in the world. He hates the sound (of the creature). He says the sound drives him nuts, but he actually bought the film and he watches it because he’s gotta face those fears right?” This I find hard to believe. The same voodoo dude that made a deal with the Devil himself?! I guess we all have our Kryptonite.
In terms of keeping the terror alive for their audiences, Skull explained the draw of the thrill on stage. “Like Black Sabbath when they kicked off, they were a band called Earth before and I think it was Ozzy or one of the guys was going ‘Wow look at all the people lining up to see Dracula’ or whatever, and he’s like if we can capture that scary creepiness in music-this is what they’d started off, they kicked off the whole heavy metal branching off into…”
“I wanna say something about that,” Fang interjected. ”It’s why we wear masks, ok, because all the coolest action heroes, they wear sunglasses. Why? Because it takes away a part of their humanity. They become an icon or a character. That’s why we wear masks because it allows us to be-it’s furthering that, you can’t see our faces and there’s something about us that we’re just drawn to that mystery and that scariness.”
Skull continued that idea. “Well again it goes back to the Halloween feel. It reduces the human element. You see so many bands that come out with T-shirt and jeans (saying), ‘yeah ok, we’re rocking away.’ You can appreciate their musicianship but what are you really offering as a show? You wanna go see a show, and some bands use crazy pyrotechnics or…they all dress up in almost like mascot costumes… Because they get the idea that if you’re gonna have a huge show-“
“The House of Haunt isn’t just music, it’s a show, absolutely, it’s a show!” Fang finished. It certainly is a show. The last one I was at left me mesmerized due to the Red Duke’s hypnotic stare and Skull’s drumming. This band really puts a spell on you so I wanted to know where they get their inspiration for song writing. Fang filled me in. “All our songs are almost all based off of some horror movie, or book, or one of Skull’s stories.” Skull then recounted how he swears he came across a ”goddamn chupacabra” in Southern Ontario. That, or as he called it a “wet greyhound on a dark and stormy night”. Whatever that creature was, it gave him the fear of being killed…again. Now that is great material! Fang also gave some background on songs like Highway of Horror (based on a film called Highway 666 about a road haunted by a ghostly chain gang), and Valentine’s Day taken from a greeting card of a zombie taking a bite out of a heart, which inspired the lyrics “I crave your brains but I’ll take your heart”. Date with the Devil is self-explanatory, but Fang by Night is about a werewolf love story where a werewolf turns his human girlfriend so they can run wild together. “Most of our stuff is pretty monster based,” Skull acknowledged.
“We have a song called Evil Feeds and that’s about the Christmas Krampus. Have you ever heard of the Krampus?” Fang asked. “Back in old, old Santa Claus lore,” he continued, “Santa Claus was the guy who came around if you were good. Well there was a guy who came around if you were bad. He’d come around with a stick and a sack and he’d beat the Hell out of you on December 11 or something…and then he’d throw you in his sack and he’d have you for Christmas dinner.” I mentioned that this scenario reminded me of one of my favourite movies, Rare Exports. “Yeah that’s what it’s based on Rare Exports! Rare Exports is fucking amazing!,” he shouted, bandages flailing.
“I was gonna say,” Skull piped in, “the one thing I always really liked about Fang is that he has a great ability to tell almost a touching side of monsters.” “It’s key man,” Fang added. “We’re terrorizing people a lot but we all have a reason we do it. We don’t just kill indiscriminately. We all have a story, there’s a tale to be told and most of the time they’re tragic tales. Even when you get to serial killers, none of them just (said), ‘I wanna be a serial killer today.'” There was a ghastly pause, and Skull noted, “Actually quite a few serial killers did do that.” They laughed together with an otherworldly fervour. “You know there’s a reason, “Fang reiterated after he caught his foul mummy breath. “They had bad parents, they had a bad experience or something. There’s a reason however twisted. And you know, we try to explore that because it’s our lives people are talking about. We are the monsters , we’ve gotta deal with this stuff on a daily basis. We’re trying to educate people!”
Up next: The House of Haunt tells us about the show…