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Friday, March 14, 2014

To Hell and Back: A Sixty Watt Revival

I was recently offered the rare opportunity to sit in on a couple of jams with the reunited Sixty Watt Shaman as they prep for a string of festival dates in the United States and Europe.  Despite the absence of vocalist/guitarist Dan Soren, who was unable to join us (but is very much a part of this reunion), what I heard in the band’s downtown Baltimore practice space was a fuzzed out take on heavy blooze with a soulful swagger and a shit ton of groove.  Afterwards, with my ears ringing and lungs full of rock n’ roll, I sat down with drummer Chuck Dukehart III (also Foghound), bassist Reverend Jim Forrester (also Serpents of Secrecy), and new guitarist Todd Ingram (also King Giant and Serpents of Secrecy) to discuss the band’s past, present, and future.  So from record label buyouts to management miscues and from logistical nightmares to near fatal health issues, what follows is the tale of Sixty Watt.  If you're a fan of the band, then there’s a lot to be excited about…unless of course it’s a Tuesday night in Paducah, Kentucky.  Read on to hear what the boys had to say...  
Heavy Planet: So how did this reunion come about?  Who initiated it?

Jim Forrester:  It kind of came about because of Serpents [of Secrecy].  I had been talking to Scott Harrington [from 313 Inc. Artist Management], and the Sixty Watt topic came up.  He'd already been talking to everyone else too, so it all just started swirling around.

Chuck Dukehart III: A few years ago, the idea of a Sixty Watt reunion was floated around, but [vocalist] Dan [Soren] and [original guitarist] Joe [Selby] weren’t really into it at that time.  So Jim, Todd and myself started jamming in a project called Serpents of Secrecy with Aaron [Lewis] from When the Deadbolt Breaks on guitar and Johnny Throckmorton [from Alabama Thunderpussy] singing.  It was sort of like a stoner rock super group and we were tossing around the idea of doing a couple Sixty Watt songs and a couple of Alabama Thunderpussy songs, just because people hadn’t heard those songs in a long time and we were gonna go out and try to do some shows, maybe a couple of little tours.  We figured we could write five or six songs and do a couple of songs from each band and…boom…we’d have a set ready.  But it just didn’t really work out that way.  

JF: I got sick and Todd got hurt. [Note: Jim suffered, and has since recovered from, a near fatal medical condition, and Todd broke his wrist and was unable to play guitar for an extended period of time]

CD: Yeah Jim got sick and Todd got hurt and so we took an extended hiatus from that project.  Then I approached Dan about doing some vocals on the Foghound record [Quick, Dirty, & High] and we got together and did that.  He came to a couple of rehearsals and then sang on the songs “Long after I Die” and “Buried at Sea” which made it onto the record and that was kind of us reconciling and him having a musical project for the first time in a long time.  Dan had been concentrating on more personal and career oriented things and I guess he got the fever again after singing some more and it was just a really good, positive experience.  And then we got approached by Desertfest about doing a show.

HP: Now I want go back.  After the Seed of Decades album and the touring that followed…Chuck, you left the band.  What was that about?  Why did you leave before the Reason to Live album?

CD: Well there were personal differences.  We were going full blast, 100 miles per hour for going on three years.  It was a really crazy time and basically, you know, it's like what happens with any band when you're stuck in a van together for nine months out of a year.

JF: And you have to understand on the Zakk Wylde tour [in 2000], before we did the Clutch/COC tour, we were on the road for three and a half months straight…making NOTHING.

CD: No money and a lot of internal stress where we were still living hand to mouth.  And you start to harbor resentment you know, it's like being married to three other people when you're in a band and you're on the road.  And after three or four years straight, it's like "I am so sick of your fuckin' face…why do you have to breathe so loud?" [Laughs]  It's like everything they would do, no matter what it was, it amplified itself when I was in that bad headspace and I kind of took on a negative world view.  At any given point, two of us in the band were at each other's throats.  So I got really bummed out and I personally wasn't feeling the lifestyle anymore and it reflected in my attitude and it just built up like a snowball effect.  So we were already writing some of the songs for the Reason to Live album.  We had written two-thirds of that record before I left, but being in a bad headspace and everything being just negative, negative, negative, I just didn't want to do it anymore, so I opted out.  And then I got asked to go do some stuff with Halfway to Gone and Sixty Watt went on with Kenny Wagner and then Minnesota Pete [Campbell].

HP: So Jim, tell me about what happened with Sixty Watt Shaman after Chuck left the band?    

JF: We took some time off after the last tour that Chuck played and then went to Europe and toured with Karma to Burn.  After we came back, we did some Stateside short runs with Clutch.  I asked one of my heroes, Scott Reeder [of Kyuss, The Obsessed], if he would come in and produce Reason and he did.  We basically got rid of our management because they had mishandled our funds pretty badly while we were over in Europe.  We really didn't make anything while we were over there and we came back with a bad taste in our mouths because of that.  But then we recorded Reason and it was a great experience, a lot of fun.  Everyone at the label [Spitfire Records] seemed stoked about it when it came time to release it and we did a first tour right off the bat, a co-headlining run with Alabama Thunderpussy out to the midwest and back along with more dates with Clutch.  After that, we were working on booking a headlining tour back in Europe and at the last minute, we had our tour support pulled.  Spitfire had been sold out to the parent company and [Spitfire owner] Paul Bibeau, who had signed us and was really behind us, was no longer a part of the company.  As a result, we weren't able to do any press, there were no ads going up, no radio spots, no interviews and no tour support for Europe…all of that fell apart.  Obviously, some different internal things started going on in the band.  Dan had his own personal issues and moved out to Oklahoma.  At the end of the day, we never said "Sixty Watt's over with…we're done", we just kind of ceased to be.  And then everyone went on to do their other projects.  There were no hard feelings from it.        

HP: Is Dan still involved with any of his other projects like The Mighty Nimbus or Stillhouse?

JF: No.

HP: And Jim, tell me about your other musical projects during that time after Sixty Watt split up.

JF: I went on to do The Devil You Know with a bunch of guys here in Baltimore.  That was going really well, but I met a girl and moved to the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky area.  I started Angels of Meth out there and did a record with them.  We were starting to really make some headway touring…came up here [to Baltimore] and played a lot.  And then I started Soaphammer, which had members of Angels of Meth, Trephine, Meatjack, Misery Index…a bunch of bands.  We had a lot of fun and played some good shows…it was like an eight man band.  But that faded out and I eventually closed up the [tattoo] shop that I'd been running, moved back to Baltimore for about a year and eventually ended up living in West Virginia.  

HP: Are you from West Virginia?

JF: No, I'm from Maryland, same area where Chuck is from.

CD: Jim and I grew up together…since 3rd grade.  We were the heavy metal kids in school, you know [like] who could collect the most pins and patches?  We were in each other's first bands…we were starting bands in high school.

JF: Yeah we've been pissing each other off as far back as we can remember.  [Laughs]

HP: Why is Joe Selby not part of this reunion?

CD: Well after Sixty Watt [ended], Dan and Joe were in Stillhouse together and when that didn't work out, there was some animosity, bad blood, and burned bridges.  There was some reaching out, but he's just doing his own thing.  Joe has a family and he's just not feeling the lifestyle anymore.  And after enough unreturned messages and phone calls, it kind of became apparent that he just didn't want to have contact with anybody anymore.  And you know, that's his prerogative and it's totally understandable if he's moved past it and that's not what he wants in his life anymore.  You have to be a hard headed masochist to want to do this.   

JF: Joe made a decision not to be involved with us, but we don't hold any ill will towards him.

CD: Yeah there's no ill will.

HP: So Todd's obviously the replacement for Joe and from what you're saying, the Serpents of Secrecy thing kind of led to that, but what led to Serpents of Secrecy?  How did you guys know each other?

Todd Ingram: Well as Jim mentioned earlier, we were contacted by Scott Harrington [from 313 Inc. Artist Management] and he was trying to see about putting together some sort of super group with Johnny Throckmorton, Aaron [Lewis], and Chuck and Jim and myself.  And that eventually became Serpents of Secrecy and we all started jamming together.  But it was always understood that should the planets align, Jim and Chuck were gonna do a Sixty Watt thing and so Serpents wouldn't be a full time gig.  Plus, Chuck already had Foghound going.  And so when it became apparent that Joe [Selby] was not interested in reuniting with Sixty Watt, it was kind of like…"hey there's a guitar player we've been hanging out with and jamming with here for a few months, let's see if he's interested."  And I said "sure, I'd be glad to help."  So that's how that came about.

HP: So you mentioned Desertfest, and obviously there are some other big things happening as well with the Moving the Earth and Eye of the Stoned Goat Festivals both coming up.  Is there any other big news that we should know about?

JF: There may be some more European dates around Desertfest London.  We don't know for sure, but we're taking any offers into consideration for festivals.  Probably short runs and one offs right now until we see where things are going.  We want to play the shows that are gonna have the most impact.  That's where the festivals fit in because that's a huge group of people all at once…those are shows that people will make the trip [to see].

CD: Yeah, realistically, it's not gonna be a road dog adventure unless it’s something super, mega, awesome.  Nobody's getting in a van and going out on the road for a month.  We're concentrating mainly on the short gigs, doing cool gatherings like the festivals…that's just the logical thing to do.  I don't see us doing any Tuesday nights in Paducah, Kentucky.  [Laughs]

HP: You know you just crushed the dreams of some kid in Paducah, Kentucky. [Laughs] So what are the plans for new music?

JF: We would like to have a release out by the end of the year.  We want something out in 2014.  Whether or not we can make that happen, time will tell.  Once again, the planets aligning and that kind of thing, but that's what we would like to see happen.

CD: There's definitely a creative vibe in the room and some skeletons of songs and jams.  Every time we rehearse, there's usually some new thing on the table.  And if somebody approached us with an offer to put something out, that would obviously push the deal forward a little more.  But right now, the main thing is just getting back together to try and relearn these songs that we haven't touched in 15 years.

TI: Yeah, that's the front burner, the priority, is getting the original Sixty Watt material down and ready for the live setting.  But of course as musicians are gonna do, we're jamming in between things and there's already skeletons of about three songs ready to go.  Now it's just a matter of getting the structure down tighter.  But that's on the back burner until we fulfill our commitments to these shows.  

JF: Yeah, we want to be the best that we can be for these shows before we're gonna spend a lot of time working on things for a recording. 

HP: I got to hear you guys jamming on "Cactus Mexicali" from Ultra Electric back in the practice space earlier.  What else can we expect on the set list for these upcoming shows?

CD: It's gonna be really heavy off Ultra Electric and Seed of Decades.  A song or two from Reason to Live may pop up, but for the most part we've been concentrating on the songs that we wrote when we were still in the basement and the idea of touring in a bus or opening for our idols was just that…an idea.  So trying to get that energy back from the time when we wrote those songs has been key and so far it's coming together really nice.

JF: A lot of the talk around this reunion was the fact that the 15th anniversary of Ultra Electric was last year.  We put it out in 1998, so the 15th anniversary just passed and that was kind of a milestone and we want to commemorate that.  We're talking about doing a re-release…re-mastered, re-packaged, new artwork.  And we have a vault of demos, live tracks, stuff off the singles like "Whiskey Neck" and "Stone's Throw Away" off the 7" [split] with Spirit [Caravan].  Stuff like that we want to put out on a concise release, and with that in mind, we're kind of aiming towards the older stuff [for the shows].

HP: Can we hope to hear any new material at any of these upcoming shows?

JF: One way or the other, probably.

CD: Yeah, maybe not so much the first show [Moving the Earth Festival].

TI: [Desertfest] London is probably the first opportunity for that.  I'm not saying "London you're gonna hear new stuff," but logistically and feasibly, London would be the first opportunity for that.  I would imagine by Eye of the Stoned Goat, we'll definitely have one ready to go.     

HP: Speaking of writing new material, how is it different having TI in the room?  What does he bring to the table that may be different from what Joe [Selby] brought to the band?

JF: Todd and I have been playing with each other a lot because we continued on with Serpents.  He and I have a really good relationship in terms of playing music and we just kind of get together and jam with no problems.  We communicate pretty well with one another in terms of how we're playing.  As far as comparing him to Joe, they have two different styles.  Todd pretty much can do anything from what I've seen, he's very analytical, he picks the music apart, knows how to do it, makes it happen…done and done.  Joe is a blues guitar player man, he's into the jam, you know?

CD: Yeah Joe is very much a feel, from the gut, improv type of guitar player.  

HP: Let's talk about some of the other projects going on outside of Sixty Watt.  King Giant released Dismal Hollow back in 2012 and then got hit with the injury bug [guitarist David Kowalski broke his leg and TI broke his wrist] and was unable to tour.  What's going on with King Giant?

TI: We are seven songs into the next album and I'm talking fully tracking everything.  This is all pre-production, not the actual recording, but our pre-productions are pretty goddamn high level…overdubs, harmonies…the whole thing.  So we're seven songs into that and I'm really excited for that album.  We're working on two more tracks for it right now and then we've already got the artwork going as well.  I think it's gonna be amazing when you see it, the graphics and the artwork are just fantastic.  And then hopefully we'll look for a release in the summer of 2014.  As far as shows go, hopefully in June or July, we'll start playing out again.  But right now our main focus is to get the album done because we're not really good at multi-tasking.  We can't write an album, record it, and play shows…we have to do one or the other.

HP: Chuck, Foghound just released Quick, Dirty & High which you mentioned earlier and I know you guys are playing shows including the Moving the Earth and Eye of the Stoned Goat Festivals.  Have you guys considered doing a tour and/or shows that feature Foghound, King Giant, and Sixty Watt?

CD: There has been talk of that, at least to do a show in the future.  I know if there were a reason for Sixty Watt to travel for a show in…I don't know, Texas or Chicago or Milwaukee or wherever, then maybe we could all share a backline and tour together on a short mini-jaunt or whatever.  But absolutely, I don't see a reason why we wouldn't do something like that.

HP: Going back to the original lineup for Serpents of Secrecy which you alluded to earlier, what happened with Aaron [Lewis] and Johnny [Throckmorton]?  Why aren't they involved anymore and Chuck, why did you decide not to be involved with the project?

CD: The biggest problem was geographical locations and logistics.  When you have people driving from Richmond, Connecticut, and West Virginia and trying to converge on Baltimore to do any work, it's a logistical nightmare.  It just didn't work.

JF: Yeah it wasn't working out logistically for everybody and Chuck and I were already talking about the Sixty Watt reunion and he was also concentrating on Foghound.  But Todd and I really enjoy playing with one another and wanted to keep playing together, so we enlisted a friend of his, Greg Hudson, [the drummer] from a band out of DC called Tone.  We started writing and we've been shopping around for singers and we've actually nailed one down.  He's a former singer of a band that's very prominent in our genre, but we're not ready to announce that right now since Serpents is basically on hiatus through the spring while Todd and I are doing all of the Sixty Watt stuff.  But you will be hearing from us.  

HP: And will there be another guitar player added to replace Aaron [Lewis] in Serpents?

TI: Right now, no.  We're trying to keep it logistically as simple as possible, so even if I write stuff that really requires two guitars, we'll cross that bridge when we get to it as far as how we do that live, whether we bring somebody in for live shows or what have you.  But right now, we're just writing.  We have five tracks so far.

JF: Yeah we were busy with Serpents prior to the Sixty Watt reunion, but right now we really have to concentrate on this because Todd is learning a whole new set.  I even had to throw in a [Sixty Watt] cd and sit down and listen…"oh that's right, that's how I did that."  [Laughs]

TI: And in between that, I'm writing and recording with King Giant.  There isn't a day that goes by that I'm not with a guitar in my hands working on one of them. 

HP: I don't think most people understand the tireless work ethic that goes into something like this…the effort it takes to create music, much less to get your name out there.  Chuck mentioned living hand to mouth earlier and you guys have referenced countless shows and tours.  Can you go back to the beginning and tell us a little bit about the early days when Sixty Watt was first coming up?

JF: We got to the point where, even though we were a Baltimore band, we were playing [legendary New York clubs] CBGB's or the Continental once or twice a month.  

CD: Jim and I used to go out with demo tapes, you know when cassettes were actually real and not a nostalgia item, we had demos on cassette and we would go out to shows like Clutch at the old 9:30 Club [and hand them out].  And then lo and behold we get a phone call and we get this prime opening gig for Clutch and Shine (before they became Spirit Caravan) at the 180 Club in Hagerstown, Maryland.  So we practiced our asses off and it just so happens that the guy that signed Clutch to their first deal at Earache Records shows up.  [Clutch drummer] Jean-Paul [Gaster] introduced us after the show [and] we exchanged information and the next thing you know [he calls and says] "hey I want to get you guys out on the road and see what you can really do, I manage this band Nebula and they have a tour coming up."  There was no money in it and we had never been on tour.  [In fact] we had only rented a van to go up to [play] New York, so we actually went out and got [ourselves] a band van and built a horrible, torture rack loft in that son of a bitch, and that was our first tour, opening for Nebula for three weeks.  [Then] in the middle of it, like three of the shows got cancelled, so we actually spent an unpaid week living off of other people's charity and it was a debacle and a nightmare, but we were addicted to it after getting [that] first taste…and that's where the whole masochist thing comes into play.  You really gotta love hurting yourself to do this. 

JF: We started the hard way.  Literally it was like flirting with the bartender to try to get drinks or hopefully we [would] meet up with some friendly people to get a place to stay or a meal.  [We were] stealing the shit sandwiches from little gas station road stops, you know the ones that no one should eat?  We were living off that stuff man. 

CD: Or like Oklahoma City where, being the country boy that I am, I think I was the only one who knew how to syphon gas out of gas tanks that would get us to the next town.  We couldn't afford much.  $5 was either gas or food…and then we were really counting on some free beer and a pizza when we got to the next show.  We lived off the charity of others.  And that's part of the addiction of this whole thing, that brotherhood and the camaraderie that comes along with it.       

HP: Is that brotherhood still alive and well?  How are things different in today's heavy music scene?

CD: Well, the most obvious thing right now is that I'm 15 years older.  When you're young and you're looking at things through young eyes and you're going out to rock shows four nights a week, everything's awesome all the time.  I never stopped playing music after Sixty Watt, I've always had a band.  [But now] I book a lot of these shows and a lot of it is very selfish because, [since] I don't get to go to as many shows as I used to, I'm putting shows together that feature bands that I really want to see.  But it has always been a brotherhood when you're in a rock band and you're part of a scene and it's really kind of cool that everybody goes out and supports each other’s bands.  

JF:  Sixty Watt was a band that wasn't just a part of the stoner/doom scene, we were playing with hardcore bands, thrash bands, death metal bands…we would play with anybody.  We made a lot of friends [by] playing a lot of shows and it worked out pretty cool for us. 

Pretty fucking cool indeed.  And now, over 10 years after disappearing from a heavy music scene that they helped to create, the mighty Shaman is back.  Do not miss your opportunity to see Chuck, Reverend Jim, and Todd (along with vocalist/guitarist Dan Soren) as they prepare to add to an already storied legacy.  Cash strapped?  Geographically challenged?  Feeling sick?  Don't tell that shit to Sixty Watt, they know all about it.  Just be sure to get your ass to one of the following scheduled dates to witness this revival in all its glory.  

Sixty Watt Shaman is scheduled to appear here:

3/22/14 - Moving the Earth Festival - The Windup Space - Baltimore, MD
4/25/14 - Desertfest London - Electric Ballroom - Camden, London, U.K.
5/03/14 - Eye of the Stoned Goat Festival - Ralph's Rock Diner - Worcester, MA

Heavy Planet would like to extend much thanks and gratitude to Chuck Dukehart III, Reverend Jim Forrester, and Todd Ingram for sharing their stories.  Good luck on the road fellas…we'll see you out there.

1 comment:

  1. Ridiculously sad that this reunion didn't last/grow/flourish. I miss this band.


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