Evil Riffs, Bad Omens, Broken Vans: A Conversation with Beastmaker

Beastmaker and Vocalist/Guitarist Trevor William Church (center). Photo by Ester Segarra.
Beastmaker and Vocalist/Guitarist Trevor William Church (center). Photo by Ester Segarra.

Californian doom cult Beastmaker are headlining a Saturday afternoon gig at Philadelphia’s Voltage Lounge. A show between tour dates with Zakk Wylde’s Black Sabbath tribute band (Zakk Sabbath), Beastmaker are supporting their new LP from Rise Above Records, Inside the Skull. The record’s a crushing composite of vocalist/guitarist Trevor William Church’s favorite things: Big riffs, occult horror, weed worship, and contagious hooks. While local psychedelic rockers Heavy Temple destroyed with daylight sneaking through the windows, dusk settled as Beastmaker took the stage. Church played with hair hanging in front of his face like a funeral drape, crooning new horror anthems like the graveyard grunge of “Nature of the Damned” and Inside the Skull‘s slithering title track. Church has described Beastmaker as “if Danzig and Black Sabbath had a child of darkness,” and even invites comparison by encoring with Danzig’s “Am I Demon.” A spirited crowd cooed at the choice, singing along as Beastmaker closed the night.

Before the show, Church spoke with Decibel while sitting on the cargo trailer of their replacement tour vehicle. Church is affable and inviting, pulling me in for a hug with the direct request, “Gimme some love.” We talk for about thirty minutes about Beastmaker, and how Vincent Price’s presence has never made a movie worse. Check out the interview with Church below. But first, press play and bang the demon’s out of your skull to Beastmaker’s “Nature of the Damned” video.

How did the shows in NYC go the last couple nights?

Trevor William Church: Well the first night was pretty rough. We were traveling from California and broke down twice, and then all my gear was malfunctioning. But yesterday was our CD release and everything was bad ass and came together. We’re back on track now. We’ve never played a big theater like the Gramercy before, so that was cool. Met a lot of people, saw some Beastmaker shirts in the crowd. We haven’t really been to New York, except for a show at Saint Vitus.

Saint Vitus is amazing. I miss that place.

TWC: I wish we were playing both places. The Gramercy Theater is cool, but a place like Vitus is way more doom and old school metal. The theater stuff, that’s rock star shit. We’re not on that level. The backdrops, the stage managers, the guitar techs and everything. I would decorate my house like Saint Vitus. The only problem is I don’t drink. I wouldn’t be able to touch a guitar. There’s some sacrifice here. Play music or be drunk. I was bad. I was the drunk guy who would drink a bottle of whiskey, fall over, and puke on his guitar.

Then the next day you’re ready to play and you gotta wipe vomit off the strings.

TWC: I would just put it in my case and not touch it for three or four months. That’s the type of shit I’m talking about.

What happened with your van breaking down?

TWC: We have a SUV and a U-Haul hitch. We left the van in Wyoming, so we have to head back through there on the way to the west coast. Hopefully it’s running by then. We had ignition issues. We like to tour in this old vintage retro van, and we were on the fence about if we should take it. I wanted to rent a vehicle, but the other guys said we should take the van. I said, “You sure? Last time she fucked us.” But I said okay, let’s roll with it. And not even 20 hours later we’re broken down. So I’m learning some valuable lessons here. Like, I never want to own a van again. Rent that shit, because it’s not worth the insurance, the mechanic fees. Plus, do you know how many oil changes you need when you’re in a band? It’s fuckin’ constant. I think our bad decision-making is done for the tour. The transmission cut out last year and Branca Studio, who does our artwork, they made a shirt for us for a Gofundme that said, “Save the Tour.” Our transmission went out last year and we were three days behind everyone else, so that was way more gnarly. We left three days early this time anticipating a breakdown. That’s usually a bad sign.

I mean you’re into horror, there’s bad omens everywhere in those movies. Characters see a black cat with glowing red eyes next to their vacation house, and they’re like, “This seems fine. Everything checks out.”

Yeah! Or, let’s go to this old Italian village in the middle of an abandoned cemetery at night.

I know your dad [Bill “Electric” Church] was in some bands too [like Van Morrison and Montrose]. Did he have any advice about touring?

He thinks we’re fuckin’ nuts. He’s from the era where everything was done for him. He didn’t need to stress about it. In his first bands, they were traveling around in Volkswagon Bugs. But when he got more successful he had tour buses with bunk seats and stuff. He gets it, though. I show him bands in this genre and he gets underground shit and the appeal it has to me. The best advice he ever gave me was just to play from the heart, and if you don’t like what you do, don’t do it.  For some period of my life I played in other people’s bands. I didn’t have the motivation or even the self-esteem to do my own music. So I’ve played in many bands from country to thrash metal. I always had eclectic taste and wanted to figure out how people played each genre. I wouldn’t last long in the bands though. I’d last six months, that’s it.

Just long enough to figure out the genre?

TWC: Yeah, right. So [drummer] Andy [Alejandro Saldate] and I have known each other for a really long time and played in a lot of bands. We’re getting older. A decade ago we were in our mid-20s, and now’s the time to finally figure out a way to make a band happen. We knew what we wanted to do. So once we found our bassist John [Tucker], we needed to record something that sounded like our vision. I guess we got there because now we’re signed to Rise Above and we’re on album number two.

And now that you have a home studio and a horror-themed rehearsal space, is it easier to create what you envisioned?

TWC: Yeah, we have way more control. One thing I find helpful with song writing is not trying to write a song. I’ll noodle around and do arpeggios, even though I don’t use them in Beastmaker, ’cause it’s all down-strokes. But I always wanted to improve my musicianship, smoke some weed, and riff a bit. In a recent review someone called us slightly formulaic. And to me, formulas are key to a cohesive song. So I was like, fuck yeah. You damn well know it. Because every musician who has written a memorable song has used that tried and true formula.

I know you’re a Vincent Price fan, and I think about Theatre of Blood, where he takes vengeance on his critics. You mentioned one review, do you read them often?

TWC: Every single one. I read everything that people write to us. I answer every fan question and Bandcamp e-mail myself. Even if the review is bad, I thank them. Better than being ignored, like most other bands in Fresno[, CA].

And at the end of the day, Lee Dorrian believes in you.

TWC: That’s a boost, plus the fact that we get artistic freedom to do the artwork and record the album as well. Some labels would never allow us to record in our home studio. Lusus Naturae was the first thing we recorded, and I thought it sounded right out of the 1970s. I thought we nailed that shit. And on Inside the Skull, we said, “What are we gonna do now?” The only thing we could come up with is keep the same tone, but give it some modern mastering and boost it.

I know in the past you had a complicated relationship with the word doom.

TWC: Yeah, I still feel that way. Because I don’t feel like we fit in with modern doom. Pallbearer and Khemmis and bands like that. I feel like we fit in with Uncle Acid [and the Deadbeats] and Blood Ceremony, stuff Lee is putting out. I like the word doom because it’s horror related, but we’ve always thought of ourselves as a rock band. But if you put Sabbath into it, the doom tag seems to come in. On some of our merch it says “old vintage metal,” and I feel like that’s a better description for us. We play slow so we’re doom, but if you sped up our riffs we wouldn’t be. We get a lot of reference to Sabbath, but I’m more influenced by Danzig, Metallica, and Pentagram. Some Witchfinder General and Diamond Head, too.

I’ve seen you mention The Beatles and Judas Priest, too.

TWC: Priest! We listen to so much Priest it’s ridiculous. We go through the whole discography on tour. On this one, we’ve been big on Turbo. Priest could do every style of metal better than everyone else. They could do thrash better than Metallica.


Check out Beastmaker’s tour schedule on their Facebook page HERE and see them as they creep across the states. You can order Inside the Skull from Rise Above Records HERE.