How many times have you heard a musician claim he's not in it for the money? Or seen an
interview with an aspiring musician who says he doesn't give a rat's ass about fame, he
just wants his songs to be heard? If you're paying attention at least a tenth of the time,
you see it enough to make you sick when it's coming from artists who are giving said
interviews from their sprawling four million dollar homes as the super model girlfriends
splash playfully in the pool. "Naaw, dude, as long as I got a guitar and a place to sleep
and people to play for, I'm cool. HEY, BIFFI!! STOP SPLASHIN CHLORINE ON ME! THESE CARGO
PANTS COST THREE GRAND!! Sorry... Where was I?"
Al Hodge and his bandmates never met Biffi. They don't have a pool. They've made four
CDs, but Tungsten isn't a household word. Well... it is, but not because of Al and his
metal band; because of the actual metal. When Al Hodge says he doesn't care about the fame
and the money, he really means it. Tungsten rarely ventures out of their hometown of Chalmette,
Louisiana, and as Al doesn't much care for the 4-hours-per-night rock and roll grind,
the true big-time is an unlikely destination for this band. Again, they don't seem to
care. What they care about is being heard, not by the record buying mass numbers that
Metallica would expect to reach, but by their own standard, which is simply "how many
can we reach via the Internet?"
In fact, Tungsten is the very model of the modern Internet-driven band. They run their
own website (www.tungstenmusic.com)
from which they can interact with their fans (many
of whom are from Europe, where their form of metal has a much larger fan base), and they
have not one but almost all of their songs available on MP3.com. Why? Simply because
they want you to hear them in hopes that you may enjoy what they do. How refreshing is
that? I talked to Al Hodge about this philosophy and a few other topics, and in the
end I came away with an image of a person (and a band) whose motivations make him unlike
anyone else I've ever interviewed.
Cosmik: I've been to a lot of places, but Chalmette, Louisiana
isn't one of them. What's it like there, especially for a metal band?
Hodge: The town of Chalmette, Louisiana is about 7 miles outside
of New Orleans. This town is not on the travel brochures, nor will it appear on
the E show "Wild On" any time soon. It's a white trash haven. There are about 10
people in the town that are decent. I'm related to six of them, and the other
four I play in bands with. Mark Talamo, the drummer, and I basically grew up
there. We were the outcasts that didn't belong to anybody's anything. When we
first started jamming together in 1985 every band around here was playing cover
songs. We ran the other way and wrote originals. I remember the first few years
of making demo tapes in Mark's shed. We'd be so excited about completing a song
to add to the other songs. Now keep in mind this was 1985 through like 1987. We
used to use a converted stereo tape deck that Mark rigged so that we could tape
us playing on the right side and then come back and add vocals and effects on
the left. It was very primitive, but in our minds and our hearts we were on to
something. We used to look at the actual tape and see that only half of it was
used, so we'd go on to write and record some more songs so we could fill the
Cosmik: Just making them for yourselves, or with the idea of
other people hearing them?
Hodge: After we'd make these tapes we'd head over to this park
where everybody hung out at on the weekends. It was filled with all the
headbangers and rock chicks on one side then the other side was filled with the
preppy chicks and their jock boyfriends. The guys all had a brown bag with a
forty-ounce of shitty cheap beer and the ladies all had a daiquiri or a wine
cooler. Then as the alcohol would flow, one guy would always peel out and stink
the place out. You could always pick this guy out, just look for the Monroe or
Nascar sticker on his bumper. But all that didn't matter to Mark and me; we just
wanted to play our tape to people to see what they thought. All of the other
shit was just a backdrop to us. I remember we'd walk from car to car and ask the
people to play our tape. The girls hated it because it wasn't dance music and
the guys hated it because it wasn't AC/DC or Van Halen. But that didn't stop us.
We'd go back every weekend and do the same shit over and over again. Eventually
a few people came around to liking our shit, but that wasn't enough. We knew
there could be more, but at the time we just didn't know how we could get more
people to like it, you know? We realized there was a world outside of Chalmette,
Louisiana at an early age.
Cosmik: How often do you get away to other areas to play?
Hodge: We don't play that often. We used to go whore ourselves
around to the clubs that were within driving distance from our homes. We would
play the local clubs and the ones that were up to 2 to 3 hours away. We just got
burnt out on it. I think we are the most "unband" band on the planet. We do
everything that a band is not supposed to do. We don't gig, we don't tour. I
think it's because this is not our bread and butter. We have regular jobs to
make money. This is our outlet. We love to make music and record the stuff and
put it out, it's just the live thing, to us, is a drag. Most of the club owners
want the bands to play for several hours so they can sell more booze. After 45
minutes I've had enough. I'm ready to take a shower, sit down, have a beer and
relax. Most of the touring bands are filled with spoiled runaways that still
"borrow" money from their mommy. They have no idea what it's like to pay bills,
or have a job to pay for them. But that's the side of rock and roll that nobody
Cosmik: Is that how you've managed to keep it together so long? I
mean, you've been at it since 1993. Longer, really, but since '93 as Tungsten,
and you've been through the whole "shitty label" trip and the lineup change
trip. It must feel like starting over from scratch every time, or is there some
part of 1993 Tungsten that's still in the sound?
Hodge: I think every band keeps some of its original elements
intact. We have, to a certain degree. But we also are conscious about growing
out and trying new shit. To me it's like looking at a picture of yourself from
9th grade and then seeing a picture of yourself now. My teeth still look the
same, but my clothes and my hair are different. That's the same with our band.
Our teeth are the same, but the degree of the bite mark that we leave with each
record may be different. As far as the independent label shuffle goes, well the
Internet is slowing phasing them out. It used to be a drag that we would get a
rejection letter from an independent label. It was like striking out with a girl
at a bar. I would just go home and beat off if I didn't get lucky. It's the same
with the record companies, but we don't have to deal with that shit any more.
It's to every band's advantage that this is happening with the Internet. Now
bands like us don't have to wait for a record company to say yes anymore.
Cosmik: There was almost a four-year gap between Survival Kit and
The Abuse. What was happening in that time?
Hodge: I wish I could say that we were productive at the time,
but we weren't. I was weaving in and out of 2 relationships at the time. It was
the first time in over 8 years that I wanted to really get involved with
somebody. I wasted my time chasing these skirts around trying to make them
happy. It was a nightmare. So needless to say we were not really all that
together as a band at the time. In 1998 we wrote and recorded 6 songs that were
to be our follow up to "The Survival Kit," but we dropped most of them and
started from scratch in 1999 and 2000. The songs were good, but we were so damn
picky at that time, that even if we would have written "The Rime Of The Ancient
Mariner" we would have found something wrong with it. They say that everything
happens for a reason, but in all of my life I have yet to met anybody, apart
from the "they" committee, to verify that.
Cosmik: I know you get asked this a lot but, I've never asked and
I want to know... How did you arrive at the name "Tungsten?"
Hodge: When Mark Talamo and I were in college we both came across
the name around the same time. I was in x-ray school and he was studying
electronics. It was like that name stuck out in our books. The more we
researched it, the more it made sense. A metal element that has a high melting
point. The thing that also stood out to us was that the name would be visible on
the periodic table in most science classes. I remember being a kid in school and
coming across something like that in English class that was an indirect
reference to Iron Maiden, about the author of The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner,
and how cool that was. So maybe a kid that likes us will see our name in one of
the books and have the same feeling that I had when it happened to me. One of
the best compliments that was ever given to us was in a magazine in Belgium;
they said we had the best metal band name since Black Sabbath.
Cosmik: Gotta love being mentioned in the same breath there,
yeah? I liked that you named one of your albums 74, the element number for
Tungsten. Do you think a lot of people got it?
Hodge: Nobody did, I went on to tell people that it was our 74th
release and that we number our records like the band Chicago does.
Cosmik: (Laughs) Except Chicago's up to like 117 now. You do your
own PR right now, running your own website, and doing all the administrative
things that need to be done. I'm surprised that I go to your website and I look
at your discography and I don't see The Abuse. Is there a reason?
Hodge: Well, that's been the debate between all of us in the
band. Because of how picky we are about our songs and how long we take to
record. We were just going to release "The Abuse" as a mini album, but we came
up with more songs that fit in with the subject matter after we finished mixing
the EP. So now we want to record the rest of them and juggle them in with the
other songs and make a full-length record. I think we'll get in our studio
sometime within the next few months and do that and maybe by the summer of 2002
the full thing will be ready to go.
Cosmik: But if you put it together as a full album, how do you
convince people to buy it that way when they - and I'm talking about your fan
base assuming they've already got The Abuse - already bought the first part?
Hodge: Well that's the thing, we never really officially released
it. Just to friends and the media. So when we finally get the thing out it
shouldn't hurt us; if it does, then we will just stick it on our MP3 link.
Cosmik: That's something I'm still a bit shocked by. All three
of your full-length albums are available on
MP3.com. You link to them from your
website. All these great songs available for free downloading. Is this sort of a
high tech way of going from car to car and playing your tapes?
Hodge: Damn, you hit the nail on the head! Yes, so instead of
reaching 20 cars like we did back then, we can reach 500,000 "cars" through the
net. It's like Gene Simmons used to say about getting laid, if you ask 75 girls
to have sex with you, most of them will say no, but there will always be one of
them that will say yes. So it's the same thing with our music, you know? We are
just spreading the word, and spreading the legs.
Cosmik: You're not in it for a buck at all, are you?
Hodge: No. If we were, we're doing it all wrong. This is our
outlet and our release. If we would get money doing this it would be great,
because we are not allergic to money, but that's what our jobs are for. Because
this is not our occupation it keeps this fun. It's always an uphill battle. As
long as it stays fun and our hearts are still into it, we will still churn out
Cosmik: The Internet gives you a shot at an audience. Hey, I
never would have heard of you without the Net, and now I've got several Tungsten
songs in high rotation. Have you been surprised at what you've been able to do
via the Net?
Hodge: It is unbelievable how many people got ahold of us through
the Internet. I'm glad because when I was a kid the bands were always so
untouchable; now it's different. If somebody has a comment or a question, they
can write directly to us without the hassles of going through a team of people
that are set up to protect a band from it's fans. I never understood that
mentality. Wasn't that one of the reasons we all got into this in the first
Cosmik: It's almost a cliche to say "Dude, it's about the music,"
but in this case it seems to be the truth. There are some scorchers on The
Abuse. "Who's Drinking With The Devil Tonight"
is up there with your best work. Have you had a chance to try that out in front
of a crowd yet?
Hodge: Thanks for digging the shit! I really love the new stuff,
too. We haven't played any of it yet. We've been sending it out to friends,
magazines, and radio stations. So far the response has been great. The last time
we played live, we brought out our recording gear. We only played stuff from the
first 3 records. When Mark and I finally got around to listening to the tapes,
some of it was good, and some of it was as loose as a laxative-induced bowel
movement. It was the first time we were ever recorded live. I don't think that
those tapes will ever see the light of day, but it was a good learning
experience. I think if we would've captured the new stuff on that recording, it
would have jaded us, because this was the first time we went into a project that
we didn't demo the songs first. We probably would have been chasing after a vibe
we could never recapture with those songs. The demos always have a better vibe
than the finished product does for some reason. So we didn't have that riding
Cosmik: "Who's Drinking With The Devil Tonight" is two and a half
minutes long. Another Tungsten special, you know? Get in, beat 'em up, get out.
Is that an accidental writing style or a philosophy?
Hodge: That occurred by accident. When we first started I didn't
play guitar solos. This was back in 1985 when everybody wanted to be Yngwie J.
Malmsteen. I wanted to be James Hetfield. Just a chug-a-lug heavy rhythm dude,
you know? The other guitar players around town played circles around me. They
could play everybody else's stuff, but they couldn't come up with anything that
was original. I focused on making up my own junk, because I didn't want to learn
how to play somebody else's songs. I think the reason that the songs are always
so short is because I just felt that dragging on something too long would bore
people. Because I got bored easily by songs like that. We followed the metal
structure codes when it came to writing, but clearly followed the hardcore/punk
vibe when it came to the lengths of the songs. So that accident became our
philosophy that still sticks to this day.
Cosmik: Are there times when you struggle with yourself to leave
out an idea because you don't WANT to go over a certain time with a song, or
because you feel it's said enough?
Hodge: Steve Talamo complains the most about our songs being too
short. He's a few years older than us so he grew up on Saxon, Tygers Of Pantang,
Riot, Scorpions and Iron Maiden. Those bands would drag shit out for hours with
tons of lead guitar. Steve is a lead player, but plays bass with us. So I
understand where he's coming from. He has a side band where he plays lead
guitar, so he can take care of that urge that we can't fulfill for him. They
don't have a name yet, so I can't plug it for him. But as far as Tungsten goes,
I think as a whole, we agree for the most part to keep the songs short and to
Cosmik: Short, to the point and hot as hell. The guitar sound is
brutal. What's your setup on The Abuse?
Hodge: I run through a Crate head, a Marshall 4x12 cabinet, with
a Boss super overdrive pedal and a DOD gate/loop to get rid of the hiss. It's a
shame I don't know a thing about the gadgets I have. I had to look at my shit
before I answered you. I was always one of those guys that didn't buy Guitar
World or Guitar Player magazine because I never knew what the fuck those guys in
those magazines were talking about. I just plug in and play. I was always more
interested in reading interviews about the band and what they did for fun. When
they started to talk about gear I got lost real quick. Mark is the complete
opposite of me. He'd buy those recording magazines and try to make things sound
better with different recording techniques. I remember we used to stop at one of
those open all night newsstands on the way home from going out. He'd step up to
the counter with the latest issue of Studio Recording and Club International.
Beat and learn, what a combo!
Cosmik: At least it doesn't make you go deaf, too. Steve's
doubling on bass and keyboards. How has your songwriting role changed since
Steve joined the band?
Hodge: In the beginning Mark and I were very protective about
letting in some of his ideas. We were real dicks to him about it. He probably
thinks we still are. But as time passed we did work on stuff that he would bring
into the mix. "Killing Off A Part Of Me," off of 74, was all his idea. I just
came up with the lyrics. That was the first time that Mark and I really let go
and let him have the reins for a while. When it came time for the next two
records all of us put in our two cents.
Cosmik: Was there an adjustment period for you, as far as
learning to allow another direction for a moment when it had always been totally
on your shoulders?
Hodge: There was an adjustment period, because it was always just
both Mark and me coming up with everything. When Steve joined us, it opened
up some doors to things we were blind to like harmonies and melodies. Bringing
him in was like bringing a third party into a marriage. A band, in some ways, is
like a marriage and the music that you hear is the sex. If everybody is getting
along the music sounds like an invitation to the Garden of Eden. But if the band
is not getting along, any listener can tell. Like every band we have our moments
when one of us is not getting along with the other for some reason or another,
but for the most part we get along really well because we are like a family
also. Sometimes the friction brings out some really cool tunes. So it all works
out in the end.
Cosmik: Your sound seems to have gelled into a pretty strong
place. I notice though, as usual, it's the Europeans that pick up on it. You
must know that, right? Through Europe, they know you and get off on you.
Do you ever just want to pick up and move there?
Hodge: The thing about Europe is
that the media, whether it be
radio, TV, magazines or just fans, they are a bit more open to things outside of
MTV. I used to go to Europe every year for the Dynamo Festival in Holland. It
great to see so many different bands there. At one point I was considering
moving over there, but I'm so used to the 24 hour everything of America and that
political turmoil can't happen here overnight like it can over there. It would
take forever to learn another language. I do know how to speak Greek but I just
can't write or read it, so I would have probably ended up working at a fish
market gutting tilapia for pennies a day.
Cosmik: Now that I think about it, the fact that you don't want
to play more than 45 minutes per night kind of puts a crimp in it, but I was
thinking that you'd have the crowd there to do nothing but rock. It reminds me
of the jazz guys in the 60s, and even now. The ones that follow the bop formula
and stay predictable stay here and do fine. The ones that don't stick to the
formula go to Europe. Pretty screwed up.
Hodge: It is pretty screwed up. We wrote about that on the 74
record, with the song "Something Somewhere Else".
It's like a band has to be that to get attention back home. We stopped trying
to get interest here in our
home state. We know that there are other places that will give us the time
and chance, and that's where we go. If we'd beat our heads against the wall
waiting for New Orleans to notice us we'd be dead by now, just like this town
is. Too many bands die here. If you look at the stats over the years, this place
is a cesspool. We just refused to get swallowed by it.
Cosmik: So what's the active game plan for The Abuse Part Two?
Hodge: The part 2 will basically be on part one. I guess it will
complete "The Abuse." It will complete where our heads were at the time. I
really can't wait until it's done. So we can move on to the next project.
Cosmik: What's the plan from there? Are there guidelines you
expect to meet in order to keep it going, or does Tungsten keep on rocking come
Hodge: The plans are to finish the full-length record, put it
out, and then move on to the next project. We don't have any guidelines for what
to do next. I think the thing I love the most about the partnership that Mark
and I have with the stuff is that we don't put any deadlines on it. We have the
freedom to take as long as we want to do what we want. There are no pressures to
get a record out, or to tour. Nothing! We just do what we feel like doing, and
that's it. The only thing that we have planned for the near future is to do some
sort of video collage of some of our earlier shows. What we will do with that is
the question. If it comes out good, look for it on the website, if not then it's
just another Mark and Al project that will collect dust in our vaults. So in the
meantime you can at least get all our shit off of our MP3 link from our website
As soon as the rest of "The Abuse" is done, I'll hook you up. DJ, I want to
thank you guys at Cosmik Debris for giving us the time and the chance. Cheers
and Beers to all.