MYSTERIOUS MR. WIGGLES AND MORE:
An Interview with CHUCK COLLINS of TREPHINE
Interview by Ray Van Horn, Jr. - December 2005
Talk about a small world… I live in northern Maryland, so it was a complete surprise to learn a prolific prog metal band that wouldn’t get out of my CD player resides in my own back yard. Crazy enough. Even crazier to learn the guitarist of said band, Trephine, works full-time at a place I often cover bands, The Ottobar in Baltimore. In all likelihood I’ve met Chuck Collins many times in the past and never knew it. Most definitely a small world, one that will hopefully embrace the manic instrumental blitzkrieg of Trephine as they begin to work their way out of Charm City to venues beyond. Consider this your advance memorandum.
Since we’re both in the Baltimore region, let’s talk about the scene here. Baltimore is producing a nice little respectable scene. We’ve got Clutch, The Hidden Hand, Swarm of the Lotus and Trephine. We used to only be known for Kix, Crack the Sky, The Ravyyns, Boot Camp, what-not. Tell me about your impressions of this city and its scene.
Chuck Collins: I think the Baltimore scene is incredible right now. Like you said, Swarm of the Lotus, The Hidden Hand, Clutch, Meatjack’s another one. A lot of younger bands people haven’t heard of like The Malavoiy, Triac, there’s just amazing stuff coming out of Baltimore right now. I think it’s a hidden secret.
RoughEdge.com: I think so, because for the longest time, my friends and I were always like, ‘What the hell are we known for around here, music-wise?’ There’s so many big scenes elsewhere like in LA, New York…Dallas is starting to crop up, and there’s so many metal bands coming out of the New England region.
Chuck Collins: Yeah, I think it’s great. For the longest time there wasn’t too many clubs in Baltimore, not so much going on and now there’s a plethora of stuff going on.
RoughEdge.com: The Ottobar is where it’s at. I’m sure I’ll run into you there eventually.
Chuck Collins: I work there.
RoughEdge.com: Really? Get out of here! I probably walk by you all the time!
Chuck Collins: Yeah, I work there full-time, about 25 nights a month.
RoughEdge.com: Where do you work, security?
Chuck Collins: Security.
RoughEdge.com: (laughs) No way, man! You’ve probably cleared me a number of times and I never knew it!
Chuck Collins: (laughs) Our percussionist works there, Pete Maturi from Swarm of the Lotus works there, Brian Daniloski from Meatjack works there and Jason Daniloski works security there.
RoughEdge.com: See, I’m not aware of any of this! Bad journalist! (laughs) Now, the word “Trephine” is actually a bone saw, correct?
Chuck Collins: Yeah, it’s a surgical tool that’s used to drill holes in a skull.
RoughEdge.com: That’s a nice, gory prop to name a metal band after, isn’t it? (laughs)
Chuck Collins: Oh, yeah! When we decided on the name we were like ‘Oh, this is great, nobody’s going to come up with this name!’ I guess about a year or so in, we realized there was another Trephine from Detroit, a metalcore band, so that’s why we’re officially Trephine MD. The other band has been defunct since about 2000 or so. Most people know us as Trephine, but for logistical sakes, it’s Trephine MD.
RoughEdge.com: That explains the CD inlay picture and the self-label “surgical doom.”
Chuck Collins: That’s actually something Stephen Kasner (cover artist) came up with. He had this little blurb that he wrote for the website about the artwork and how it was beyond pure surgical doom, and we liked it and used it.
RoughEdge.com: Do you think that accurately describes you guys?
Chuck Collins: Somewhat. I have a hard time describing what we sound like. The best thing that I have is what other people have said, but surgical doom works.
RoughEdge.com: Obviously your songs are all-instrumental prog metal. I hear everything from RUSH to YES to VOIVOD to SONIC YOUTH, MARS VOLTA, MR. BUNGLE, MELVINS, it’s all in there.
Chuck Collins: Oh yeah, we have a wide range of musical tastes.
RoughEdge.com: Sounds like your downtime over the years has paid off!
Chuck Collins: Thank you! We won’t have that much downtime before the next album! (laughs)
RoughEdge.com: (laughs) I guess downtime was a bad word, but you know what I mean. All the influences you guys have absorbed into your sound.
Chuck Collins: We did have a lot of downtime after we initially started. We were without a drummer for about a year-and-a-half after our first drummer left. We’re on our fourth drummer now.
RoughEdge.com: Wow! And I thought Crisis suffered the Spinal Tap syndrome!
Chuck Collins: That is definitely the biggest problem with the Baltimore scene, a lack of drummers!
RoughEdge.com: You mention your drumming situation and with your album Trephine recently coming out, you switched drummers from Don Baumer to Chris Meszler. At least it’s best to iron out any kinks before you push your debut album!
Chuck Collins: Right.
RoughEdge.com: So what exactly happened? Did Don leave or what?
Chuck Collins: Yeah, Don went to graduate school in Seattle. It was a friendly split. We’re still good friends with Don. We kind of saw it coming and knew it was going to happen. Charlie Baum from Meatjack took over as sort of an interim drummer, so we didn’t have any downtime. We did some shows with him, but the album had already been recorded.
RoughEdge.com: So how is Chris working out? That’s some very complex material to walk into!
Chuck Collins: Chris is phenomenal! He’s probably the best drummer we’ve worked with. He’s 22 years old, full of energy, very excited about the whole project.
RoughEdge.com: Cool. Tell me about Mr. Wiggles from the bookend “Goes to Hell, Mr. Wiggles” songs on the album. Who is Mr. Wiggles?
Chuck Collins: Mr. Wiggles was our friend Paul’s cat! He’s a son of a bitch! Paul Joyce plays in the band Dark Water Transit, another incredible band out of Baltimore. Mr. Wiggles is his cat and every time we’ve gone to his house and started playing with him, he’d scratch the shit out of us! Being an instrumental band is great because you can make up arbitrary titles for things.
RoughEdge.com: Obviously! Since I’m sure your songs tell some interesting tales, why don’t we pick “Devil’s Activist?” The spacey hallucinogenic part in the middle section gives way to rockout and thrash sections. What was that song about?
Chuck Collins: That song was probably written about six years ago. We just pretty much write depending on how we’re feeling that day, you know what I mean? There usually isn’t a story when we’re writing a song. We kind of just write a song then make up a story to go with it.
RoughEdge.com: So a lot of it’s probably just off-the cuff?
Chuck Collins: Most of it’s off-the-cuff. A lot of times when we write, we’ll just jam out some stuff and then we take pretty much everything we do and hone it down after that. Sometimes we’ll come to practice with riffs in mind or very rarely a full song in mind. It’s a pretty democratic process how we write our material. Usually our songs go through a process of honing down as we play things live. The more we play it, things sort of expand.
RoughEdge.com: “Adrenochrome” has to be one of your favorite songs to play live.
Chuck Collins: You know, we played “Adrenochome” at the very first show we ever played, and that song has morphed so many times to what it is now.
RoughEdge.com: So it’s been an evolution in process.
Chuck Collins: It definitely has.
RoughEdge.com: Do you guys improv onstage with a song like that?
Chuck Collins: There’s actually not a whole lot of improv that goes on with our stuff. A couple of the leads maybe, and some of the spacier parts, but most of it’s actually set. We pretty much do it the same way with minor adjustments.
RoughEdge.com: You guys played with Queens of the Stone Age, right?
Chuck Collins: Yep.
RoughEdge.com: What are your impressions of that gig? How do you think Josh Homme and the guys reacted to such a complex opening band?
Chuck Collins: That’s another really old story. That was actually the third show we ever played. They were touring in support of their first album, which I think is amazing. I’m not even sure those guys watched us! I know Nick Oliveri did. At the time, we were a bit different than we are now. We were much proggier. We had a keyboard player and our stage show was very theatrical. We wore masks and lights. We did away with that some time ago. We weren’t trying to be pretentious or really artsy. We just thought it would be fun and at the time we were terrified to be onstage in front of people. It was a lot easier behind a mask! It became fun and people enjoyed it. We would get onstage and then put our masks on. It became a thing where people would come out just to see the show and not pay attention to the music. That wasn’t what we were trying to do.
RoughEdge.com: People can be so tunnel-visioned. Well, in summation, might we call Trephine a One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest of prog metal?
Chuck Collins: That’s nice!
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Revised: 23 Aug 2016 22:57:11 -0400.