Deciblog Interview: Nunslaughter

Nunslaughter has been recording mandatory underground metal since 1987, a time when extreme metal was largely in retreat and teased hair was the norm. The band has been led for close to three decades by the inimitable Don Of The Dead (Donald Crotsley) a walking metal encyclopedia content to release the bulk of his band’s work on splits. Reading the band’s catalog is a lot like flipping through a college syllabus.
The Deciblog connected with Don last fall as he was between jobs to talk about KISS solo records, buying a shirt from Athenar of Midnight in the early 90s and going to college with a famous amateur and professional wrestler.

What have you been up to since you’ve been between jobs?

I’ve been taking it easy. I was anticipating the end of the contract. It’s been many years since I had a full summer off so my intention was to take the summer off and do a lot of riding and traveling. If something comes along this winter that’s great and if not I’ll keep writing music.

Did you travel cross-country?

We did a European tour earlier this year (in 2014). I’ve just been traveling the U.S. seeing friends from high school and college and next Friday I’m going to Orlando for the weekend. I just pop in and hang out for a few days. It’s nothing like a trip around the world or to Rome.

Where did you to school?

I went to Clarion University in Pennsylvania. I have a bachelor of science in communications.

Wait, did you know (Olympic gold medalist and pro wrestler) Kurt Angle?

I went to school when Kurt was there. I didn’t know him personally but he was a popular figure because of his wrestling career and it’s a relatively small school. I saw him a handful of times. And when he became this huge wrestler I was like “I went to school with that dude! We never crossed paths; he was more into the fraternity-sorority athletic group. I was more in the freaks and hippies group. So we didn’t hang out but he’s probably the biggest, most notable person I went to school with.

That would make for an interesting alumni magazine; on one side you have a gold medalist and WWE wrestler and on the other you have Nunslaughter.

(laughs). That would be pretty interesting.

How did you get into heavy metal?

The first band that ever spoke to me was KISS. There were other bands like Rush and Van Halen and Led Zeppelin but none of them spoke to me like KISS. It would have been about the late 70s or early 80s when I heard them. From there, I always wanted it a little heavier and KISS got me into Judas Priest and Iron Maiden and Ozzy and Black Sabbath. They started it all for me.

Did you ever see them live with the original lineup?

I saw the reboot tour in 1999 or 2000 and that was fantastic. That was the first and only time I’ve gone and seen KISS. Even when they were still doing shows I was a little on the young side to go see them. And I wasn’t interested in seeing stuff with Eric Carr or Vinnie Vincent. So, that was the one and only time.

You probably remember the day when KISS released all four solo LPS on one day.

I absolutely do. It took me a while to get all four of those because I wanted to get the puzzle posters that came with them. I actually wasn’t a big fan of the solo albums. Over the past 25 to 30 years they’ve grown on me; there are few really good songs. But when I was younger I didn’t like them. Back then, records were around six or seven dollars apiece and I didn’t have a job because I was young. So I had to wait to get my allowance.

The only one of those records that spoke to me was Ace Frehley’s solo effort. Gene Simmons did a cover of “When You Wish Upon a Star.” It was terrible.

Oh, that record was fucking awful. The only song that was good (on the Simmons solo LP) was “Radioactive.” I think Ace’s overall was the best. Then I’d have to say Paul, Gene and Peter in that order.

Did you listen to The Nuge a lot as well?

Not as much. I lumped that in with music that old kids listen to. I didn’t want to be that guy that continued to listen to music people had listened to for a decade. I’ve gone back and listened to Sweaty Teddy and saw him once. Some of his antics are very noteworthy; he was chastised for shooting an actual bow and arrow above his audience. But his political views are completely fucked. He should really just stop talking and play music.

So by the time Nunslaughter started had you moved past all of this stuff to listen to extreme metal?

Yes. Early on it was Manowar, Mercyful Fate, Motorhead and Hellhammer. In the mid 80s — about 1985 – is when I started buying demo tapes. From that I started tape trading. I had one or two other people in Pittsburgh and they’d buy tapes and we’d meet and copy tapes that we had rather than buying them. Around 1985 I was introduced to underground stuff, bands that didn’t even have an album. I figured if these schleps could do it I could do it too. That was my whole introduction to the metal underground.

I talked to Jamie from Midnight recently and he’s also on Hell’s Headbangers. What seems to unite a lot of the bands on the label is the ability to write good songs in an age of 10-minute wankfests.

Well, Jamie is an actual musician. I’m just a fan of music who makes more music than an actual musician (laughs). I’ve always been about gut instinct.

Five or six years ago I was at Jamie’s house and he pulls out a letter. He bought the Nunslaughter demo from us back in 1987 and had a handwritten letter from the original singer! He still had it!

Was it in good shape?

Very much so. He saved all of his correspondence with bands over the years. I first met (Jamie) back in 1991 or 1992. He came to Pittsburgh for a show and was wearing a Black Sabbath Volume 4 shirt. Back then you didn’t see that motif on shirts — it wasn’t as common as it is today because there were no reprints. I said “where did you get the shirt?” and he said “I silk-screened it in my house.” I asked him if I could get one and he said “yeah.” I gave him five bucks and he sent me the shirt and I still have it. Back then, I didn’t even know he wrote music.

Here you are more than two decades later and you are on the same label and there are people all over the country into your music.

It is really cool, isn’t it?

What do you think about his development as songwriter?

He’s an extremely talented individual. He plays all of the instruments himself. Bands struggle with things like timing issues or figuring out how a song needs to be played. But since he writes and plays the music it makes it more cohesive without having four or five guys tracking something.

When I originally moved to Cleveland he was in a band called Boulder and we reconnected. I thought they were excellent and they would blow up but they imploded instead. I was happy that he went ahead and did another project. We recently obtained an old Boulder song and so we’re going to have a split with Boulder and Nunslaughter.

Was the idea with Nunslaughter always to do a bunch of splits? Your discography is more than a human being can track.

It just seemed to happen. I’m fortunate enough to have a drummer (Jim Sadist) who is an extremely good and fast songwriter. He likes to move at my pace, which is relatively frantic, especially when you consider how slow a lot of other bands are. We are always on go, go as fast as you can. Once we start getting a lot of material a few things happen. We get four songs and we want to record them. And as soon as we record it we do it a split. If we had more labels and studio time we could record more and we’d have more records.

Do you have a copy of ever split you’ve done?

If I don’t I have almost all of them. It gets kind of difficult because there is different cover art or vinyl color or picture discs. I’m almost positive I have a copy of every record that we’ve put out. But I don’t know if I have every version.

How did you end up working with Hell’s Headbangers?

When we originally met them they were young kids coming to shows. There are four brothers and three of them run the label. When they liked a CD they often ended up purchasing three copies. Around three or four copies is when you can get wholesale prices. So, instead of buying three they would get five and try to resell two others. That morphed into them buying more CDs and putting them up for sale. Their first release was from our drummer Jim’s band The Spawn Of Satan. We were their second release — on a split.

What did you think about the enormous amount of attention the Satanic Threat reissues received?

A small back story. Jim had been talking about a doing a Satanic Minor Threat influenced band for a decade. We had a lull in Nunslaughter and I said “we’re fucking doing this!” Over a few weeks we cranked out the songs and got it recorded. We didn’t think much of it. Then a thousand copies flew out of the door. Hell’s Headbanger’s eventually wanted to rerelease it and it’s done pretty well. I also sent one to the Dischord house and heard back from Ian MacKaye.

Do you remember what he said?

He sent a postcard. I still have it it but I don’t recall. He did thank me for sending it and thought it was a very interesting take on Minor Threat. It was neat to hear from him.

If you keep going how man splits will you have at the close of your musical career?

Jim and I have talked about it a few times and agreed that if he wants to keep doing it I will keep doing it. We’re already working on a bunch of songs for splits and we’re supposed to do an album with Profanatica in 2015. After that maybe we’ll do another full-length record. It just seems to keep coming.