Matt Bacon sat down with Nick Lee of Moon Tooth to discuss penguin tattoos, Relapse samplers, and Mike Patton.
How are you?
Pretty good – if it sounds like I’m eating it’s because I’m eating a veggie burrito before the show.
Are you a vegetarian?
Not particularly, but I try to eat more vegetables and keep the meat to a minimum. I also have to play, so if I eat something super heavy I’m going to want to throw up the whole time.
I swear I have questions prepared, but why do you have a tattoo of a penguin?
This is my grandmother! Just kidding. It’s a tribute to my godmother who passed away when I was very young. She loved penguins, and she made me love penguins. It’s a tribute tattoo.
Earlier today I was trying to explain to my roommate what Moon Tooth is, because obviously there is so much mixed in there. How do you describe Moon Tooth to people?
We usually go with “Aggressive Progressive” but at the end of the day we are just trying to be a rock band in the classic sense, like Sabbath or Zeppelin. We like heavy music from all spectrums. Whatever we want to write we do, and it all comes across. We don’t try to be any type of band; we just want to play intense rock music.
What is your musical background like?
I studied for ten years with this guy Mike Flyntz, and he plays in the band Riot. Hes’ been in Riot for years now. I’m in that band through him, and I’ve been in that band for the last two years. When their old guitarist passed away I came in as a part of Riot V because I have worked for him at his music school for the last five years or so. I did a semester of classical guitar performance, but I kind of hated being in school for music. It was ruining music.
To be fair I was 18 and didn’t want to be told what to do. When people corrected me, it made guitar a bummer and it made guitar homework. I just wanted to tour and be in bands.
At what age did you decide that that was the goal?
Young. I got my first guitar when I was six. My family would take me to see their friends’ bands, and I got my first Metallica record when I was 7. I wanted to be in Metallica as a kid. Since I was old enough to register what music was, I’ve been really into heavy music. I thought the coolest thing you could do was to play in a band.
Do you still think Metallica is the coolest?
No comment! (Laughter) I still have respect for them but I can hardly stand by some of that material. I still think they could come back and put out a great record though.
So you’re not saying it should have been Lars?
No. (Laughter) Well… If Cliff was still around I think it would be a different band, that’s a popular opinion obviously. I wouldn’t wear that t shirt though. It’s funny but pretty fucked up.
The other thing I was trying to figure out was your touring schedule…
We are on an East Coast tour right now. Then we are going to tour down to Atlanta and then come back. We would like to get an opening slot on a bigger tour, and we are working on building our team.
How do you go about doing that?
Just playing shows, meeting people. We played SXSW last year, and that helped us meet a lot of people. Ray owns a studio and he meets a lot of people that way, and I play in a bunch of bands so I meet a lot of people. It’s just meeting people and networking. Once Metal Injection and Metalsucks got on our side, a lot more people came out of the woodworks. Once the press has your back more people pay attention.
Obviously you’re not necessarily a big name but people know who you are now. At what moment did you realize “this is happening”?
Probably that SXSW gig. That was March, and the previous October we were on a Metal Injection expo. The big one was opening for Dillinger Escape Plan here back in May. I think that was my favorite Moon Tooth show. To play here with that band and have it go well was awesome. That was an intimidating set to play.
Well they’ve got to be a big influence right?
Yep. I love the Patton record. I first was exposed to them in middle school, but it was too much for me. Now I listen to it all the time.
One of the things that really gets me about Moon Tooth is the feeling of “controlled chaos”. In the songwriting process, how do you generate that?
Ray and I, we just like to push each other. We’ve known each other for years, and it has always been a fun rivalry to see who could come up with the crazier shit. It’s almost to like make each other laugh, like, who could come up with the most fucked up stuff. John is his own whirlwind of chaos, and he tries to match it with his vocals. We like to be a little overwhelming.
Are you into Mr Bungle?
Of course. I’m happy you got that from us. I like all the Patton stuff. Somebody the other day compared us to Faith No More a little bit. I think maybe we push the heavy shit a little bit more, but I love Patton as a singer and a writer. I think one thing with him is that you can see he’s a fucking hustler and is very prolific.
What’s your favorite Mike Patton project?
Probably Tomahawk. I probably got into Faith No More last. I knew Fantomas because of Dave Lombardo and then discovered the other stuff. I mean sometimes it changes but overall I think Tomahawk. I saw them last time they toured.
What did you think of the new Faith No More?
I think they did great! They kept it true. When I heard the song “Motherfucker” I thought it was weird, and then I realized that they were just doing one of their awesome weird songs but as a single and made it catchy and interesting. I think they are really smart.
Is Mike Patton the single biggest influence on Moon Tooth?
He might be. I don’t think you can really say there is a single biggest one for all of us. We all have our top guys. For me, obviously there’s Dimebag. As a kid I worshiped James Hetfield – especially with the live shit from Justice through Black tours. In recent years I’ve gotten really into the Melvins, and I love Buzz’s aesthetic and tastes. Live they’ve blown my head off. As a whole we love Mastodon, and we tried to incorporate a lot of their really cool ideas. We all love bands like Torche, Dillinger and The Mars Volta. The weirder the better.
What drew you into weird music?
I got into metal really young. By the time I was 15 I was ready for the next step. Around that time I got a Relapse sampler that had Dillinger, Mastodon, Neurosis, High on Fire and all these bands that are huge to me now. At the time I was 15, and it was 2005 and I was just so fucking blown away by these bands. There was a lot of stoner doom shit but on the Neurosis end of it it’s almost meditational heavy music. Then Dillinger and Cephalic Carnage blew me away. Relapse at that time had every fucking good band.
What do you love so much about music?
I’ve talked about this a lot. Everyone has their place that they like the most in music; for some people it’s the studio, for others it’s writing, but for me it’s playing live. It’s just a cathartic release and validation within myself. I can play to just myself and have my best show of the year, whereas I can play to a thousand people and feel like I played like shit. When it’s on and it’s right and you feel good and light on your feet and you got some aggression out, that’s my favorite part. The therapy of it.
Any final words of wisdom?
Be honest. Eat your greens. Smoke your greens. Don’t be rude!