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An Interview with Sixty Watt Shaman

Interview by Christopher J. Kelter - November 3, 2000

Rough Edge was fortunate enough to sit down with the new forces of the stoner rock scene Sixty Watt Shaman. Vocalist Dan Kerzwick, guitarist Joe Selby, bassist Reverend Jim Forrester, and drummer C. J. Dukeheart entertained our questions with humor, insight, and passion.

Rough Edge: How did the name Sixty Watt Shaman come about?

Dan: The name came to me in a dream state and it basically relates to old school rock'n'roll - what I call the founding fathers of rock, the classic rockers. It relates to Jim Morrison who is one of my biggest influences as a writer and a singer. We used to be called the Electric Shaman - Sixty Watt Shaman came out of that.

Rough Edge: The 'stoner rock' tag seems a bit inappropriate these days, does it not? A couple of years ago there was a stereotypical idea of what stoner rock meant, but it doesn't necessarily apply today to most bands considered to be in the stoner rock genre; especially not you guys.

Dan: I always feel that 'stoner rock' as a tag for lumping all the bands together is a really good platform to start a dialogue. But, at the same time for a band like ourselves, we play certain types of music that would sound similar to other bands that get put in the 'stoner rock' category. I think that we are a rock band - stoner rock can be added to it, heavy rock, heavy blues rock, metal rock - it's rock. I don't think 'stoner rock' alone says enough about what Sixty Watt Shaman does. I don't think it is a bad thing; 'stoner rock' as a simple description of Sixty Watt Shaman isn't enough. The stoner rock scene is really cool and that has helped develop the band. 

Jim: We've made a lot of friends and a lot of the music that I listen to everyday gets put under that general title. Basically, we're still Sixty Watt Shaman if we're on a bill with other stoner rock bands or a show with heavy metal bands. All the tags are other people's opinions. 

C.J.: It all goes back to the original rockers: Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, the Doors. Everybody who's stoner rock now have their influences and emulate those original rock'n'rollers. 

Rough Edge: There's a lot of punk rock in stoner rock, too, right?

Jim: There's doom metal, garage rock, punk rock ...

C.J.: The punk D.I.Y. ethic in the scene is what holds it together.

Dan: I see it as a community. A community has developed around stoner rock - it's because we all care about music.

Rough Edge
: Right! I've seen the stoner rock scene as having a certain vibe - an everlasting vibe - something that's larger than the music. That last time I saw you guys was the show with Spirit Caravan and the Bakerton Group ...

C.J.: That's a family ...

Rough Edge: Yeah, and I think I used the word "community" in my last concert review of Sixty Watt Shaman. So you do agree?

Dan: Absolutely.

Jim: You gravitate towards those people that are playing in the same vein. Hip-hop metal people find other hip-hop metal people; riff rock people find other riff rock people.

Dan: The community is based on a love of the style, tones, and sounds that the bands are playing. The support, from an underground perspective, for that is still fighting against the major Top 40 circuit which is overwhelmed with ...

Jim: ... bad music!

Dan: So as a community, all together, we're trying to bring something new.

Jim: Actually, something else.

Dan: It is a new rock. Even if it is collective of all that's come before it is a new rock.

C.J. It's about bringing the old rock to today.

Jim: I'm very active on the stoner rock mailing lists and through that I've found other bands that share all of that in common.

Rough Edge: Why did it take so long for Sixty Watt Shaman to display their acoustic talents to audiences? I'm speaking, of course, of "Roll The Stone."

Dan: Yes! We needed the time to put it together. It's always been there. Joe and I have been playing guitar for years. I've been playing since I was 11 years old. My main instrument that I learned to play on is an acoustic guitar. I love acoustic music - everything from the blues to Southern rock. It's such a beautiful format - it so different the way the tones ring out than an electric guitar.

Joe: The acoustic thing is something that we're doing that a lot of the other stoner rock bands haven't even started doing.

Dan: My favorite band of all time, hands down, is Led Zeppelin. And they did everything! Look at the Beatles - they did everything from "Helter Skelter" to "I want to live in an octopus' garden" to "I love
you yeah yeah yeah." "Blackbird" and "In The Dead Of Night" took acoustic guitars and made something great out of it.

Jim: (to no one in particular) Those are beautiful songs.

Dan: Bands like that are what I emulate. And I know that Joe feels that way, too.

Joe: We've done a couple of "acoustic only" shows here in Baltimore. We have other acoustic songs that Dan wrote and played at those shows - they'll end up on future albums. We also pick out acoustic songs from bands that we really love and do those songs. It takes a lot to switch things up and do songs acoustically. Bluegrass, Skynyrd ...

Jim: ... the blues.

Dan: Joe and I play our acoustic guitars together every day.

Joe: It's two different elements. The electric guitar is easy to play - you have to learn how to play acoustic guitars differently - acoustic guitars don't project outward like electric guitars. With an acoustic you can't just 'turn up the volume'. You really have to pick your notes and make 'em count.

Dan: Playing the acoustic really shows your skills. You just can't hide behind an acoustic.

Rough Edge: What does the CD title "Seed Of Decades" mean?

Dan: "Seed Of Decades" is a multi-level metaphor. "Seed Of Decades" refers to the seed of the early rock 'n' rollers that founded what we play today - that means going back to the old bluesmen - we took their blues and made it rock'n'roll. Then over the years the early rock'n'rollers brought it to today - that's the decades of rock'n'roll. The word seed is also the seed that we plant with this album and hopefully for the future decades of our career. And we can't help but talk about the seed of the cannabis that soothes our minds and inspires the rock'n'roll. Once we wrote the song "Seed Of Decades" and all three of those elements were there we thought it was a great title for the record. Our debut "Ultra Electric" did wonders for us, but "Seed Of Decades" is the seed that starts our future and we're gonna keep on rockin'.

Rough Edge: Dealing with adversity always makes a band stronger. Tell us about the trouble before the tour earlier this Summer with Zakk Wylde and Black Label Society even started - shades of "Murphy's Law" making an unwelcome presence?

Jim: You'd have to go all the way back to four years ago ... 

C.J.: ... everything in this band is about adversity.

Jim: Two nights in a row my head broke down during sound check - it never ends!

Dan: We'd agreed to do the Black Label Society tour under the pretense that our touring vehicle would be ready and it ended up that the mechanic we took our van to for repairs was a "hack". We had to find another van and we had to resort to lawsuits against the mechanic. We were scrambling the last day. The label told us other bands were vying for a spot on the Black Label Society tour. We knew we'd get our shit together to make that tour a reality for us - we had to call every rental place, but we found a guy that just happened to have a cargo van ready that day. And off we went. We took out the infamous 'Shaman Box' ... (the rest of the band starts groaning) ... which is what we started with when we got our career with Sixty Watt Shaman going - it's what we used to haul our stuff. 

Rough Edge: Well, what was the lesson learned? Or put it this way - after four years you guys are still together.

Dan: It's very easy - it's philosophical and it's Nitzsche: that which doesn't kill us only makes us stronger. There's no doubt about it - you can't go through the adversity without being stronger for it, if only because you didn't fall apart during all the crap.

Jim: Music is what we do; this is our life. Everything we do centers around music. Every song in my head - everything!

Dan: You can't stop the Shaman! (everyone laughs)

Rough Edge: Some bands are afraid to say that their producers had an impact on their records, but sometimes when the bands feel that something remarkable has happened they simply gush about their producers. Tell us about Jean Paul Gaster's involvement and Larry Packer's involvement as producers for the new record. 

Dan: I'm gushing! I learned so much from the experience. Being in a professional studio and being surrounded by individuals that know the trade and have a lot of experience you can't help but learn. I can't put on a CD anymore without hearing and feeling the kind of production values that are behind that album. It was an eye-opening experience of how much of a difference it makes to do a project with people that know how to capture sound. It is an art form to capture live sound and play it back as true as it happened in the first place as it came out of that voice or that amplifier. The experiments and the mixing is important, too. Jean-Paul was such a joy to work with and he was patient. He had been approached several times to produce some projects, but he turned them down because he didn't feel like it was the right chemistry to come off with him to give his best. He explained so many things to us and helped us navigate our way through everything. Punchy as well (editor's note: Punchy is Larry Packer) - he's got a great studio. When we told him what we were looking for in a sound he was always able to help us find it. They both played an immense role in the new record. 

Rough Edge: This is a poor analogy, but it was the only thing I could think of: it sounds like you guys went from a 16 crayon box to a 64 crayon box with "Seed Of Decades." 

Dan: Yeah! With a sharpener on the side! (laughter all around)

Rough Edge: I think it speaks to the work ethic and the work you guys put into it. The sounds are brighter, the riffs are more diverse, the songs jump right out at you, and the approach was a bit more varied.  Who gets credit for that?

C.J.: I was so lucky to have a guy like Jean-Paul work with me; he has such a great drum sound on the Clutch records. He was able to help me get a fat-ass drum sound. Having more than two days to record and mix an album makes a big difference, too. 

Dan: We also had many more years of experience. Let's take that analogy and run with it - when you're in school and you have a little box with all your stuff in it that's the elementary tool set that you carry around with you in the beginning. When you reach your full potential you have an attaché case or a briefcase! You have that much more that you carry around with you. Every time you expand your experience and knowledge you need a bigger box! We're still learning; and the day we stop learning is the day we all walk away. We're gonna keep on going until ... we get the biggest box of crayons we can get.

Rough Edge: Why did the band decide to re-record "Rumor Den" and "New Trip" for the new disc?

Dan: "New Trip" is a new song from what it was before; we slowed it down, turned it out, flipped it, broke it down.

Jim: We actually re-recorded a whole bunch of older songs besides those two. "Ultra Electric" was recorded in two days and at the time we didn't necessarily know where we wanted them to go. We love those songs, they're still a part of our set, but they're totally different now. New arrangements, new orchestrations. We wanted to put the new versions out there.

C.J.: The full production treatment helps make it an even stronger song. 

Dan: We learned from the time we did "Ultra Electric" to the time that we did "Seed Of Decades" is that you really have to road test your songs before you can have them finalized. The road is going to help that song grow and make the band comfortable with it. We recorded the songs because they had been road tested and they had grown. 

Rough Edge: It's interesting that Spitfire, home to bands like Dio and TNT doesn't necessarily make me thing of a type of band like Sixty Watt Shaman. It seems interesting that a label like Spitfire would be interested in a band like Sixty Watt Shaman.

C.J.: I think of Twisted Sister when I think of Spitfire. (much laughter)

Rough Edge: How has Spitfire treated you guys so far? Is it home? Is it a good relationship?

Dan: Spitfire has been everything we need to help this band take another step. Spitfire saw potential in us and we are growing with them. We're happy to be where we are right now.

Rough Edge: There was a significant change in the band during the time period from early '99 when I first saw the band for the record release party for the "In The Groove" compilation to late '99 when I saw the band for the second time with Sprit Caravan. How did the growth of the band and the music expand so much in that relatively short period of time?

Dan: We have a strong discipline towards practicing and playing.

Joe: Strong work ethic.

Dan: There was a time when we gave up anything outside of Sixty Watt Shaman. We moved into an old farmhouse and sat in a barn every night. Six, seven hours minimum. Sometimes we played 'til the sun came up. Even now we have a schedule when we play if we don't have gigs - we're playing, we're writing, we're jamming. 

Jim: That's what it takes to be a master at your craft. None of us would have gotten into this unless we had the desire to be the best musicians possible. We don't want to be a weekend-only jam band. 

Dan: We have goals. Everyday we wake up and we do music. This is our job.

Jim: It's our life.

Rough Edge: Let's talk about this moment, right here and now. A lot of musicians talk only about the past and don't really talk about this moment. What is the most important thing working for Sixty Watt Shaman right now? What makes Sixty Watt Shaman the 'thing' for you guys? 

Joe: Every day it's about getting better. Getting your chops up. When I'm listening to Led Zeppelin I'm always trying to figure out how Jimmy Page played something. It's that inspiration that drives me and learning something new gives me something else to use to my advantage to make the songs we're writing right now better - it's all about learning.

C.J.: Writing new songs; the creative side of music. Just trying to ignore all the other crap that can happen that can tear bands apart.

Jim: Every time we get together either at a show or at a rehearsal - just knowing that something that night is going to be perfect and there might be a jam that'll be in my head for the next three days. That and putting together new songs. Knowing that something great can happen gets me excited about playing together. 

Dan: I like the challenge. My love of music comes from those bands and individuals that wrote songs that mean something special every time I hear them whether it be Led Zeppelin, the Black Crowes, Jimi Hendrix, or Slayer for that matter as we were listening to Slayer last night at practice. No matter what song or what elements the songwriter was trying to convey that touches me - that challenges me. I want to be a part of that. I want to be a part of music that touches other people and for a long time to come.

Rough Edge: What does it take to be a member of the Shaman Nation?

Dan: You gotta love the rock! (laughter all around)

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Revised: 31 Jul 2018 23:38:09 -0400