What´s the name of your band? I actually have two bands, technically. One is a death metal band with a Christian message named Tortured Conscience. The other is a secular death metal/grindcore band named Agenda of Swine.
How was the band formed? Tortured Conscience was never a “full” band. I could never find enough musicians who not only wanted to play Christian music but could actually play it. It was usually one or the other. Either they had the musicianship that was able to play the style of music I wanted to play but they weren’t Christian, or they were Christian but didn’t have the ability to play the music. So I ended up playing both guitar and bass on recordings, and I got John (Gotelli), who is also the drummer for Agenda of Swine, to play drums for me. On vocals I got Berto Salas.
With Agenda of Swine, Pete (Ponitkoff), who was the singer for a local grindcore band called Benumb that John was also a member of, asked John and myself if we wanted to start a whole new band. He said the musical idea was to combine all elements of death metal, thrash, and grindcore. So I called up a bass player that I used to play with years before in another band named Emad Jaghab, and we called up a mutual friend of ours named Jason Behan to play second guitar, and we formed Agenda of Swine.
We recorded our first album, Waves of Human Suffering, for Relapse Records. Things didn’t work out with Emad, and we got Chris Tanti on bass. We’re currently recording songs for our second album that will hopefully be put out on Relapse again.
What was the ambitions of the band when you started? For Tortured Conscience, it was always about the message. I wanted a band that put glorifying God first and wanted to have songs that were deep into theology. Unfortunately I did a lot of compromising in the beginning and it didn’t end up that way. While TC is on hold right now, I’m hoping that if/when its ever revived I’ll be able to do it right this time.
With Agenda of Swine, the only goal was to make music we liked. We all have a lot of the same influences – death metal, grindcore, thrash, power violence – and so we try and write songs that reflect that.
Where was your first gig? Do you mean my first gig ever? It was with my very first band. We were called Disciple. (And no, you’ve never heard of us before. There have been a billion bands named Disciple since, and we weren’t any of the ones you’ve heard of. Trust me.) It was at a party over in South San Francisco, California and we were playing with our friend’s band Corrupted Innocence (a really great thrash band at the time). I was scared out of my mind! But we pulled it off…barely.
Where was the latest gig? Tortured Conscience has never played live before since it’s never been a full band. With Agenda of Swine, we played a two day festival-type thing over in San Francisco where a bunch of grind, doom, and stoner bands played. It was pretty fun, except that the band that played just before us (their name escapes me at the moment) was a stoner band and smoked weed while playing. There was very little ventilation in that place and by the time we got on there seemed to be very little oxygen left in the room! I remember wishing we would play faster so we can finish and go get some air. Haha.
Who writes your songs?/Who writes the music who writes lyrics? With Tortured Conscience I write all of the music and most of the lyrics. With Agenda of Swine We all take a part in writing the music and Pete takes care of the lyrics. The thing is Pete is the only one who can write lyrics for Agenda of Swine because none of us have a clue as to how to write lyrics like Pete. To this day I have no idea what any of the songs are about. Haha.
Who has the best sense of humor in the band? With Tortured Conscience its Berto. He has a grind band named Ignit and when I’ve seen them play, he always cracks me up. With Agenda of Swine, I think it’s a combination of Chris and Jason. They both have very clever senses of humor that come out of nowhere sometimes. Chris and I have been known to spend hours cutting each other down via text and each and every time I’m almost in tears laughing at what he comes up with.
Why did you pick that particular style?
I grew up first listening to Kiss, then AC/DC. I remember the very day I was introduced to heavy metal. I was with a bunch of friends of mine and we were at a friend’s house. One of them put on Iron Maiden’s Number of the Beast, and I knew instantly that this was the greatest music ever made. I couldn’t get enough after that. Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Ozzy Ozbourne…I loved it all.
Then something happened. I went the Day on the Green festival in Oakland at the Oakland Stadium that had bands like Ratt, Rising Force, Scorpions, etc. But there was one band on there I had never heard of at the time – Metallica. They were on their Ride the Lightening tour. I had never heard of “thrash” before but I was floored! You can see the very show I’m talking about in the Cliff ‘em All video when they played For Whom the Bell Tolls. (You can see the Scorpions banner behind them.) From then on I loved the faster, heavier songs.
What got me into death metal is an interesting story (or at least I think it is). My old band, Disciple, had played a show in Belmont, California and the band that played before us absolutely smoked us! They were called The Untamed and they embarrassed me. Afterwards I was complaining to a friend of mine about it, and he suggested I started listening to death metal. At the time I just didn’t “get it.” It just seemed like noise to me. But he said, “Just listen to it. Absorb it.” So I sat down with Malevolent Creation’s Retribution cassette tape (yep…cassette tape. I’m old school, baby) and I just listened. And all of a sudden I got it! From there it was Morbid Angel, Cannibal Corpse, Napalm Death…the heavier the better. Ever since then it’s been my number one love of music.
Do you write your own material or mainly covers? I suck at covers. I can count how many covers I’ve done in my life. Heck…I can even name them. Countess Bathory by Venom, Whole Lotta Rosie by AC/DC, Bestial Invasion by Destruction, God of Thunder by Kiss, and Almost Human by Kiss. (You can hear Agenda of Swine playing that song on the Japanese version of Waves of Human Suffering.) I just lack the patience to sit down and learn a song, plus I have a lousy ear when it comes to that. If I learn a song by ear, it takes FOREVER for me to do it.
Have you made any albums?/If yes what are they?
I’m only going to count the ones that have been available at record stores and not count demos and whatnot:
Vulgar Pigeons – Genetic Predisposition, Summary Execution, Imperialism, and Burning Episode
Tortured Conscience – Every Knee Shall Bow
Agenda of Swine – Waves of Human Suffering
Do you have any clips on YouTube? Yep. Just type in any of the band names and you’ll see something.
How old are you?/What got you started in music? I’m 46 now and I started learning to play the guitar when I was 19. I should be a lot better than I am, but I’m not much one for practicing. Haha.
Whic band is the best you´ve seen? I think one of the best concerts I’ve ever been to was the Psycho Circus tour with Kiss at Dodger Stadium on Halloween night. It was a really cool show. Unfortunately I think it cost the band too much money to put on and the tour was cut short.
Is it always the same songs live? No, I prefer to put newer songs in the set list. Some of the older songs we haven’t touched in years and have completely forgotten how to play them. lol
Have you had any bigger tours from start to now? We don’t actually tour at all. We all have jobs and bills to pay. With Vulgar Pigeons we did a couple of mini-tours that lasted about ten days that went from California to Oregon to Seattle. (Twice we went out with Yellow Machine Gun from Japan, and once with Cattle Decapitation). But that was it. It’s just too expensive to do.
How big crowds do you usually play for? Not very big at all. If you see our live stuff on Youtube you can see the crowds. Pretty small.
What are the plans for the rest of the year? Just finishing up on the album. No big plans as of yet.
Where do you usually play? Usually around the Bay Area in California. Sometimes we’ll play Los Angeles or something like that. Nothing too far.
When did you decide to go all in for the music? We haven’t. Back when we were kids we dreamed of “making it” but now it’s more of a hobby than anything else. Like I said, we all have jobs and have no interest in trying to play some rock star lifestyle where you sleep on stranger’s couches or in some filthy tour van.
Is it easier to get your inspiration from older bands or from bands more modern? I honestly can’t stand a lot of the new bands that have come out. I wont name names, but if you go to your local Hot Topic store and look at the t-shirt section, more than likely the bands I’m referring to will be in there. LOL. I’m not interested in re-inventing the wheel. I like my death metal with guts and power. Give me Cannibal Corpse, Napalm Death, Nile, etc. any day and you can keep your pseudo-mall metal bands.
What's the first step when making a new song? We’re very riff-oriented so one of us will probably bring one in and we all start playing around with it. Otherwise Pete will play a song from some other band and say, “Write something like that.” Haha
How do you feel about the downloading of music instead of buying albums?
Here’s the thing – having played in bands for a relatively long time, I know how much an album should cost. If a band spends more than 5,000 to record an album they are idiots who decided to write songs in the studio instead of bringing them in. I feel no sympathy for a band who spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on recording and then complains when someone “steals” their music.
As far as MP3 vs CD, I really don’t have a preference. I just want the music. I don’t care about the artwork or anything like that. That being said, often times you can get a feel for a band that you may never have heard of before by the artwork on the CD. If I feel like I might dig it, I’ll buy the CD without having actually heard them before. So it can go both ways.
When you are on stage, what do you fear most then? Sucking. LOL.
How often do you rehearse? The older we get, the less we rehearse. LOL. We practice about once a week in South San Francisco at a practice studio called Hit Wall.
Any pearls of wisdom for all other bands out there? Don’t expect to make money and always remember that the reason you’re doing this in the first place is to have fun playing music. Anything ambitions beyond that and your guaranteed to be disappointed.
Do you have anything to add? See ya’all on the other side!