Q&A: Ringworm’s Human Furnace talks Metal and Macabre MemorabiliaNews Shawn Macomber
Early in FANGORIA’s conversation with Human Furnace the Ringworm vocalist/doomsday prophet/horror culture devotee describes the eighth full-length from his legendary Cleveland metallic hardcore occultist quintet as possessing “the manners of a cornered, rabid beast”—a description many will find extraordinarily difficult to improve upon as they steep themselves in the merciless, darkly triumphant sturm und drang of SNAKE CHURCH.
“It’s fast, enraged, and when it sinks its teeth into your throat it doesn’t let go,” Furnace adds. Yeah, that about sums it up…
FANGORIA: Ringworm has always been a dark band, but it seems to me over the last few records you’ve delved into a sinister-ness more informed by more metaphysical, poetic elements. Would you say that’s accurate?
HUMAN FURNACE: Perhaps—although “elegant” is rarely a word used to describe Ringworm! Over the years I’ve drifted lyrically from being very blunt and leaving literally nothing to one’s imagination to a more coded approach to meanings. I’ve always been inspired by the occult and with the last few records I’ve really felt drawn to it, in a lyrical sense, as I can bend so much of it to the message I’m trying to get across. I think sometimes, for me, it feels more elegant and poetic. After all, I’m an elegant and poetic gentleman.
FANG: SNAKE CHURCH, both aesthetically and in its general attack, reads very much like a kindred record to 2014’s HAMMER OF THE WITCH. Did you feel like there was a spirit in the latter you wanted to continue to explore in the former?
FURNACE: It might appear that way—the artwork shares common threads—but that wasn’t the intent. The piece for the new album cover came from a series of drawings I was doing around the same time I drew the last album cover so they do share some similarities—that’s okay. Doesn’t bother me. Sonically, every record has its own personality and story to tell. I was quite happy with our last record and I don’t mind the comparison. Spirit-wise, I’d like to think our attack for this record—and all our records—comes from the same place: We try to be as vicious as possible. Regarding Ringworm’s approach, I always enjoy using the adage “If the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” Crude, but effective.
FANG: Ringworm has been kicking out the jams since ’91. When I last saw the band perform, you joked that some of the kids in the audience might’ve been conceived to some of the older songs.
FURNACE: [Laughs.] That is probably true! And I bet some of their kids have been conceived to some of our songs now, too!
FANG: Having been at this as long as you have, what has stayed the same and what has changed for you within the context of the band?
FURNACE: If we’re talking about how younger audiences relate to older songs, I think there’s little difference. I’d like to think that anyone that wants to can find their own meaning in the material. When it all boils down, I’m just dealing in basic human emotions—albeit at times masked. Anyone should be able to relate to some degree. Some younger audience members haven’t had to deal with loss of life or true heartbreak or failure, but they will. Eventually, they’ll understand. All in good time. We’re patient.
FANG: Does some of the older material resonate deeper with you or take on new meaning as you continue along your journey?
FURNACE: Sometimes, with the words, I really have no idea what exactly they mean at the time I write them. It’s not until later, sometimes a year or longer, when my past is fully in the taillights, that I can get a good view of it; that the meanings become clearer. I study [those lyrics] as if I didn’t write them and they’ll connect perfectly to what I was going through in my life at that time. Singing is my pressure release; my vent. It always has been. But that vent comes with the chore of performing them over and over again. Chore may be a poor word to use, but often, with that venting, you want to just get it out and leave it in the past. Performing old songs about bad memories makes that hard to do sometimes. You can forgive—it’s hard to forget some things.
FANG: How has horror culture—literature, film, soundtracks, whatever else—informed the Ringworm experience?
FURNACE: As the guy mostly in charge of the bands aesthetics, horror culture has been a huge part of the band’s vibe. Although all the lyrics I write are about the way I feel or my view about the world and things around me, I do often like to mask some things in a veil of fantasy, if you will. I like that some of the songs paint pictures with words. For the most part, they aren’t pretty pictures. And being engulfed in horror culture most of my life, it’s hard not to relate and absorb it into the lyrics and into our overall aesthetics. The way I look at it, the world is one big horror movie, we’re just characters in it: Are you the one who gets out alive? Spoiler alert: No one will.
FANG: On the sonic side, the band sounds very sleek and adventurous these days. How would you rate this moment in Ringworm’s storied history?
FURNACE: Going into this record, we were mindful of the “sound” of our past catalog. We do firmly believe in the concept of “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it,” but that’s not to say that we can’t vary things a bit and take a few steps in directions that aren’t expected. There are tracks on this new one that show [that attitude] a bit more than some of our previous releases. There’s a difference between becoming complacent and continuing on the same course because you’re good at what you do. We’ve never found anything wrong with marching in the same general direction after all these years. If we get accused of being a one trick pony, that’s fine with me. Because it’s a really good fuckin’ trick.
FANG: Evolve, but don’t sacrifice core identity.
FURNACE: Doing this for as long as we have, it’s a little easier to take a bird’s eye view of where we’ve been and what we’ve done. Seeing that, it’s also easier to become somewhat bored and feel a need to try and loosen things up a bit. If we want to make a song like this, we will, if we want to make a song like that…well, we’ll do that, too. Ultimately, we have nothing to lose: We do this for ourselves, so we don’t really follow any rules. Although we’ve always been a band that is quite comfortable in its own skin, on SNAKE CHURCH you’ll hear a band that is especially so.
FANG: Is the writing process as natural as the finished songs make it seem?
FURNACE: Being part of the whole process it’s hard to judge whether that’s true or not. For me—and the rest of us—a new record is “business as usual.” At this point, we are very streamlined as a recording unit. The natural sounding-ness comes from our simple approach in the studio. The guys write some songs. I’ll have a listen—perhaps suggest a few things—and they’ll record them. After that I’ll scream my balls off over it. And that is that. Ninety percent of the time the rest of the band will not know what the vocals are going to sound like until they are complete, as I usually prefer to write to complete recorded songs. Practice recordings are okay for trying to get a vocal pattern or hook, but I like to hear all the nuances. Sometimes a certain drum pattern or roll, or certain bass line might send me in a different direction altogether, so I prepare with practice recordings—most likely from an iPhone or something shitty like that—then craft the lyrics around the studio version.
FANG: Ringworm works with very dark sounds and even darker themes but the music is triumphant and defiant in a way that does not suggest nihilism. Do you work to balance the ugliness of release with a kind of indomitable spirit?
FURNACE: It’s true—dark music most often demands dark subject matter. I do address dark themes. And there are purposeful tones of nihilism throughout; a feeling of hopelessness and inevitable defeat. But it is all balanced with a desire to struggle on—to rise above your current dark situations, whatever those may be. I tend to use a lot of metaphors in my lyrics. Most of the time the opposing verses are just conversations with myself. Telling myself the way things seem to be and, at the same time, telling myself not to give in. I would say that the fact that I’m still here—still doing what I’m doing—indicates a spirit and desire to never surrender to any aspect of life. As the late, great Lemmy would say, “Don’t let them grind ya down.”
FANG: You were recently out-ed as a super hardcore collector of horror memorabilia. What’s your favorite piece?
FURNACE: I’d say one of my favorite pieces is my CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON pinball machine. I’m a really big fan of the film, so that’s one of my crown jewels. Plus, I’m a huge pinball junkie, so it’s a twin killer for me, as a collector. I was fortunate enough to get it for a steal, back when pinball machines weren’t as popular. Actually, I bought it the first time I ever tried my hand on eBay! [Laughs.] After I won the bidding, I was like, “Oh shit, I have to find a way to come up with the money!” [Laughs.] It has quadrupled in value at this point, but I’ll gut it and live in it before I ever part ways with it. I rarely use eBay. I enjoy the hunt and the thrill of finding collectables in the wild, if you will—thrift stores, garage sales, a few horror conventions. The majority of my collection comes from good ol’ fashion luck and detective work. I’ve been a collector my whole life really. It started with comic books as a boy and went from there. I slow down from time to time, as I’ve simply run out of room to put stuff, but I never really stop.