Having interviewed two of the other core members of Atlas Shrugged earlier this year, a conversation with the band's outspoken vocalist, Chris Weinblad, was long overdue. In addition to his highly recommended output with Atlas Shrugged, he's been releasing some of the finest and most underappreciated metallic hardcore around through the Trip Machine Laboratories label on and off since 1994—from Drowning Room, Bulldoze, Robots and Empire, and Dissolve to newer gems from Unrestrained, Palehorse, Jagged Visions, and more. So, here it is…
You've said that when Atlas Shrugged started you were actually listening to more metal than hardcore. I'm assuming that, like many, you started out with metal in your younger years, is that accurate? What were some of the bands that first drew you in—first to metal, and then to hardcore? What did that evolution look like for you?
Well, to be honest, I definitely did not get into hardcore via metal. Growing up, my musical landscape was kind of all over the place. I mean, the first band I was ever heavily obsessed with was Cheap Trick. When you're like 7 or 8 and hear "Dream Police" for the first time… your mind gets blown. I was a music head early on, like, we're talking second grade. Some kids were into little league, I was into buying records at Caldors. I wanted music all the time.
My metal consumption was, I would say, limited to some pretty standard stuff: Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, and the early Def Leppard records. Those just drew me in. It didn't hurt that MTV had just started and was playing videos by all of those bands, but they were also playing lots of new wave music, and that is really what I would say I cut my teeth on. In 1981, bands like Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Cure, New Order, The Clash, The Jam, U2, and Echo & The Bunnymen all had videos in somewhat regular rotation. That is really the music I was into from, say, second grade on. I definitely was drawn to that because, well, it wasn't dumb, senseless hair metal… which I have always despised. As I got deeper into new wave or whatever, I started to like lots of darker stuff. When you are one of maybe 20 people listening to this type of music in your entire county, you end up finding each other. This leads to sharing music and discovering new stuff. So, by the time sixth or seventh grade rolls around (this is 1984/1985, mind you), you've been introduced to lots of really deep underground shit that MTV did not expose you to. I found lots of punk, early hardcore, and even underground metal this way. You'd make someone a tape and they'd give you one back. I would've never found stuff I still listen to regularly if it wasn't for the tape-trading game.
As far as what I was listening to when Atlas Shrugged was forming, you've gotta understand that was a funky time in New York. I had given up the straight edge lifestyle a few years prior. In fact, by that time in 1992 I was regrettably using drugs heavily. So, you know, I wasn't that into listening to or recreating a Youth of Today song. I was, again, all over the place—listening could have gone from Voivod and Mind Over Four to the Laughing Hyenas or A Tribe Called Quest. But, as a whole, me and Mark [Calimbas; GMK, Ghidrah, and Atlas Shrugged guitarist] were both really into the whole death metal/grindcore thing. I loved it… Carcass, Bolt Thrower, or Darkthrone were way more interesting to me than any hardcore at that time. The only real hardcore-associated stuff I was listening to back then was Burn, Quicksand, Only Living Witness, and Into Another.
Do your listening habits vary as wildly as some of the other guys from the band?
I'd like to think I'm pretty varied in my tastes. I still think I'm all over the place with what I listen to. I mean, as I type this I'm listening to Bathory. Yesterday, I was only listening to Sondre Lerche. That's about as opposite ends of the spectrum as you can get, except that they are both Scandinavian. I still really love The Beatles, that's my all-time favorite band; but, I mean, I'm kind of in the mood for Björk on my car ride home, or maybe Assück. I just like lots of music. I listen to the most obscure D.I.Y. stuff all the way up to major label arena rock. I have to connect with it in some way, shape, or form. You know, if I am in a blue mood… I'll listen to The Smiths or Red House Painters. If I wanna romance someone… I throw on Sade. Sometimes music dictates my mood, and sometimes mood dictates my music.
I'm going to ask you a couple of the same questions I asked Mark and Napoleon in a previous interview, as I'd like to get your take, too. In your opinion, what were some of the other bands from the Rockland County area back in the day that never really managed to get the kind of attention they truly deserved?
The main band that stands out to me from Rockland County that should've made it was At All Cost. Mark played guitar for them on their second demo, and played a bunch of awesome shows with them. I loved them. First band I ever traveled around with, carried equipment for, and sang backups on their demo. It was ours. They'd play the Anthrax in Norwalk, CT and that pit was Rockland. We had to make nice for our boys. In hindsight, I wish I could've started the label earlier in order to release their material.
One other band that stands out to me were locals that existed as I was just starting to go to local shows as a 14/15-year-old: Selective Outrage. They were this weird hybrid of skatecore and, like, crossover. Sort of like if D.R.I. were from New York. That shit inspired me early on. I thought, "These dudes literally live 10 minutes away and they're up there playing." The vocalist, Chris, went on to form indie rock darlings Dahlia Seed with the rhythm section of At All Cost.
Atlas Shrugged came up at a time in the '90s when it was not uncommon for an atypically flavored metallic hardcore group to go from playing with emo bands to death metal bands. Do you recall any memorable/meaningful shows or erratically diverse bills from that era?
We've played with some really awful bands and some really good bands. Playing with Iceburn was somewhat weird—most of Atlas Shrugged loved them, but the rest of the bill were Connecticut hardcore bands that thought Iceburn sucked. Dumb kids. Diverse bills let you discover new bands. My friend, Andrew, used to put us on a lot of diverse bills. It would be us, Hell No, Eucharist, Time's Up from New Jersey (who, if you haven't heard them… find it now), and, like, The Last Crime at some weird playhouse in Tribeca. Those bands didn't often cross-pollinate shows at that time. We got stuck playing with lots of bad toughguy bands. People would stare… we were just too soft. We'd play with youth crew revival bands and we were just too out there for them. It was hard for us to find our little niche. We also played with a lot of New York hardcore bands we grew up worshiping: Killing Time, Maximum Penalty, Warzone. We probably stood out like a sore thumb on those bills, too.
The band has done a "reunion" or two over the years (and possibly again one day?), but in general you're not big on reunions/rehashing the past, right? What made it "okay," in your mind, the times that Atlas Shrugged regrouped?
I wouldn't exactly say I'm against reunions. What I'm not big on is this "reunion-core" type of thing. This "fest-core" mentality of, "We need to stack the two or three days with tons of reunited bands." Most of those bands and the people they draw drifted away from hardcore, and to me, lots of those reunions are just a cash grab. That cheapens the whole thing to me. I'm not saying that at an older age you have to be married to the scene. I'm 43, and I sometimes can't be bothered to go to a gig that is 10 minutes away, but I'm still connected. I never scoffed at hardcore. I never grew up or moved beyond. Hardcore was never a stepping stone to me.
Lots of these bands that have reunited broke up, moved on, and pissed on hardcore; but now, with this nostalgia thing happening, they can cash in. They can get $10,000 for a gig. They can now tour South America or Europe, when back in the day no one cared. I'm not against making money, but it just all becomes cheapened. Hardcore has never been about money to me, and it's even less about money to me now. I have a good job, I make good money. I'm not about to compromise hardcore music for a few hundred dollars. It's not in my DNA.
Too many of these reunion bands are just flogging a dead horse. They play the same set from top to bottom for years after reuniting. And, well, that's kind of lame. As much as I absolutely love bands like the Cro-Mags, Underdog, Gorilla Biscuits, and Negative Approach, they've been playing the same 45- to 50-minute sets of 30-year-old songs for the better part of 10 years. Dude, write a new song!
There are some reunions that I was psyched on. I mean, I flew to California just to see the Into Another and Statue reunions at the Revelation Records 25th anniversary show. That was a special occasion. I get it. Yes, now Into Another is reformed, but I applaud them because they've written and released new material. There are tons of bands that I'm glad haven't reformed. I really love the fact that Minor Threat or even The Smiths refuse to reunite. There are also tons of bands I wish would reunite. I'd kill for Gabriel-era Genesis to reform, or for Jon Wetton to play with King Crimson. Damn, I'll take an Errortype: 11 reunion right now. So, I guess for me, reunions are a double-edged sword.
As far as Atlas Shrugged reunions, they were always for fun. They always cost us more money to organize than we actually got paid. I don't know if we'll ever play together again. We had been trying for the last two years to get some sort of lineup together to be able to play maybe a show a month and to write new material. We just kept hitting roadblocks and, well, Mark has now moved back to California. So, the Magic 8 Ball says, "Don't count on it."
You started Trip Machine Laboratories in 1994 to release Atlas Shrugged's first LP. What do you recall about that period of time, and the manner in which the label quickly branched out to working with other bands?
It was supposed to be a one-time thing. I learned how to do it by asking questions and reading a guide on putting out records from Simple Machines. I also read a lot of Kent McClard columns on how to put out records. Then, a few friends asked me to do stuff for them. It blossomed. It was the kiss of death.
I didn't realize until recently reading an older interview that you have someone else working on the label with you. When did that take shape, and how has it impacted the label as a whole?
I think Geoff Silverman came on board around 2007, right after I released the Omnivore CD from Robots and Empire. I've known Geoff since about 1995. He was sort of the "manager" (and I say that with air quotes) for Drowning Room. He's been part of a few labels before (Teishu Records and Ides of March Records), and he's been the merch guy for lots of bands like Indecision, The Distance, With Honor, and Most Precious Blood, to name a few. So, that is a plus because he gets what is going down, ya dig?
Geoff helps with tons of stuff. Laundry list type stuff. Taking advantage of work perks type stuff. But the biggest benefit to having Geoff in the mix is he listens to me bitch and moan about doing the label on a daily basis. He's my Google Chat savior. I'm still the guy who fronts the money for about 85% of this stuff, but Geoff talks me off the ledge on a weekly basis. He has heard me say that the label is done about, oh, I dunno, roughly 337 times. He just laughs it off. He's also good for giggling like a girl when we go and eat at Duchess and watch Rick ta Life videos on our phones.
But now we have a third guy involved, Alex Casey, who is a young buck who just wants to help. Cool kid. Another dude who has heard me complain about doing a label 75 times. This kid is half my age and just as grumpy, so of course we get along. His taste in music usually sucks, though.
The problem is, we all don't live five minutes from each other. Both Geoff and Alex are easily 45 minutes away from me, but in different directions. It makes getting together as a team really difficult.
You know I've ranted about Atlas Shrugged's underrated status for years, but a significant portion of the Trip Machine discography includes similarly underappreciated acts—Backlash, Drowning Room, Robots and Empire, Dissolve… Do you get irritated by the lack of recognition, or are you just happy to have had the good taste and the good intentions to have gotten the music out there in the first place?
Well, you can't rely on taste, I guess. Bands that often get big and sell tons of records and merch aren't always good. In my opinion, the ones that usually do the best are the most generic. I hate generic. It is not my steez. If people didn't pick up on the two Robots and Empire CDs I did, that's their problem. You think Dissolve is too metal? Your loss. You can't two-step to Atlas Shrugged? Not my problem. I think the label really reflects my belief in supporting what you like and what you believe in, not just what sells. I've been asked to take the label in a more generic path by certain distributors telling me, "If you put out stuff like __________, I could sell thousands for you." I said, "Nah," that whole deal is whack. I've documented the bands that needed to be. I definitely think some of the bands I put out deserved more recognition, but what can you do? People want to keep their heads in the sand? So be it.
What have been some of the most challenging releases for you to complete? The Atlas Shrugged discography CD seems like it was a hell of an undertaking.
Hands down, the Atlas Shrugged discography was the most challenging. It was definitely the most labor-intensive. Since I was on both sides of the coin with that one (band and label owner), everything had to be perfect. It is probably my proudest accomplishment with the label, and it is great to know there are about 450 copies sitting in the warehouse because CDs aren't cool. I don't care, though, because I have a CD in my hands that documents about six years of my life, and that is pretty damn cool.
Over the years, were there ever any releases that came close to fruition, but never actually happened?
It's really funny you should ask that, because Geoff and I have a running list of projects that were pretty much confirmed and we tried moving forward on, but ended up just falling apart. Since the label's beginning in 1994, there is a list of 27 projects that were supposed to happen. Some were for good reasons (the band got signed to a bigger label, etc.), and lots fell apart because of either laziness or bands/people thinking they were much too big for their britches. So, I'll refrain from using names… because why call people out on stuff from five years ago?
The label was inactive for a stretch from 1998 - 2006, right? What was going on during that period, and how did you end up inspired to take another crack at it?
I guess I was just going to work and doing my 9-to-5 gig. I think with Atlas Shrugged falling apart around '97 - '98, I needed to take a step back. I took another crack out of boredom. I wanted to somehow be involved in underground music and, well, the label was the best bet. I wanted to do the Bulldoze CD/DVD and the Atlas Shrugged discography CD. That was really it. See, there were a few different labels that had expressed interest in doing the Atlas Shrugged discography, but they all fell apart for various reasons. So, I said fug it and jumped back in. It should have really been about release #8, but it ended up being #20.
Since 2007, you've picked up steam and have worked with a wide range of different acts. What do you look for when deciding if something's a good fit for the Trip Machine roster?
I need to like the music, of course, but then I also need to get a good vibe from the people in the bands. If they seem like pains in the ass, I'm out.
I find myself asking this question a lot lately, but—from a label's perspective—to what do you attribute the resurgence in popularity of cassettes?
Stupidity. Young, stupid kids. "Let me find the most obscure format and it'll be cool." Look, vinyl blew up again. Barnes & Noble sells vinyl. Fucking Costco sells vinyl. There's nothing cool about that. I guess kids wanted something tangible, so the cassette thing took off. I don't understand how that became cooler than a CD, but whatevs. I don't understand people half my age.
Now I've released a few cassettes, the first one was really a goof. I couldn't believe I sold 200 of them. Mind-boggling. There are benefits to it—quick turnaround times, for example. Now that pressing a record takes like five months and a cassette takes about four weeks, lots of labels seem behind the cassette format. If you can't beat them… join them? I actually don't think we'll be doing many more cassettes.
Your vinyl and cassette releases come with download codes, but you don't have a Bandcamp (or comparable) page for Trip Machine. Are you against that angle? Do you feel it cheapens the experience, or makes it too easy for listeners to be lazy?
I'm not against Bandcamp at all. I think they are a great way for young bands to get their music out there, and also for labels to stream their releases. I don't have one because—in regards to social media and technology, etc.—I'm extremely lazy and sorta old man-ish. I'm in a mindset from 20 years ago on how music should be consumed. I'm about taking chances and just buying stuff. I like the gamble, because when you find your new favorite band… the payoff is good!
Having a Bandcamp page would probably benefit me and allow some people who haven't heard Jagged Visions or Unrestrained yet to check out their records and possibly buy them from me. It would allow people to check out the older catalog titles like Dissolve, Atlas Shrugged, or Robots and Empire and maybe they'd purchase a CD. It's on this huge list of "to-dos" for Trip Machine that I have hanging above my desk, but who knows if I'll ever get to it. I should maybe build my website first.
What I do have a problem with is bands strictly releasing music on Bandcamp. Not a physical release to be found, but when they come to play your town with their five or six songs they have online… they have merch out the wazoo. When did hardcore become something other than music and a message? It blows my mind. Your t-shirt, hoodie, winter cap, beer koozies, zippo lighter, mosh towel, and iPhone case don't express my anger. It's just excessive bullshit. It's sad that stuff like that is the main focus of half these bands. How 'bout focusing on making good music? I'll take good music over a pair of Turnstile swim trunks any day.
Labels are just as guilty. I understand making t-shirts and all, but 10 designs for a band who doesn't even have a physical demo? C'mon. It's all a damn gimmick, and to me it really cheapens everything.
Given the current climate of so much listening (unfortunately) gravitating towards streaming, and fewer people purchasing physical product, where do you stand these days? Is it still fun? Are you still inspired?
I don't really stream music myself, except for checking out a Bandcamp or using YouTube at work to listen to stuff. Dude, I have a brand new iPod from like seven years ago, still in the box. Let's just say I'm behind the times.
The need for instant gratification with the younger generation annoys the shit out of me. Just sayin'. They expect a label to work on their terms. To satisfy them and, well, to me, that's complete bullshit. I don't do this label so some little kid thinks I'm fantastic and cool for sending him his order in three days, and because he streamed all of the releases on Spotify. I couldn't give less of a shit. I'm not into this label for ego. Like I said earlier, I do this to document things. I like that idea. Having your music on the internet is a lame form of documentation to me. You can't put a stream in a time capsule, dude.
Am I still inspired? Hmmm, tough to say. Depends on the day. Today… I'm a little beat on the label. I spent a good part of the weekend putting together some large wholesale orders, so I'm taxed. Plus, I was up late watching the Royals win the World Series. Is it still fun? It can be. When Geoff, Alex, and I all hang out together or whatevs, we have fun. We talk shit. Put together records. Cut cardboard. Dumb shit like that. Shit that if I did it alone would be torture. But having those two dudes around while we sit in the TML warehouse (a 10' x 14' storage unit) makes it a lot easier on my brain.
I hope that—at least for a little while longer—I can continue the label. There are plans of changing it up a bit. More releases going forward; with a smaller, one-time pressing plan. We'll see. We have a few things being planned, but nothing is 100% concrete as of yet.
Check out Trip Machine's extremely reasonably priced label and distro catalog, and just take the damn gamble on buying something that seems cool, alright?