When we last left Pittsburgh-based musician, Joey Molinaro he had just issued his rendition of Discordance Axis’ The Inalienable Dreamless arranged for violin and foot stomping and was setting out to blow minds across at the country and around the world (read all about it, here). That was seven years ago and despite the gap in our coverage of the “grindcore violinist’s” activity calendar, he hasn’t remained still for a second. There have been eight releases since, various collaborations, a ton of DIY touring here and abroad and a passion for embarking upon it on a motorcycle. Molinaro’s latest release is Tale of the Lovelorn Outlaw which he describes as “a studio album of noisy acoustic metal ballads originally for solo violin and vocals with foot percussion with added piano and orchestral accompaniment.” Initially released via his own label (Inverted Music) a couple months ago, a physical/cassette version of the album is due for release in Europe on June 14th and in the US on August 17th. Joey remembered us from our chat about The Inalienable Dreamless and tracked us down to give voice to his new work which, to these ears is, despite the instrumentation, mixes a variety of genres yet maintains the mood, air and frenzy of murder ballad grindcore. Sure, there’s no distortion and even less guitar, but it struck a fierce chord with us and demonstrates the boundary-less states metal can be stretched into if given a chance and an open mind.
So, what have you been up to in the years since you did The Inalienable Dreamless?
Well, I found out that it was really easy to tour with the TID material. I didn’t need a lot of gear and I could play the songs at all kinds of gigs: psych rock, metal, crust punk, noise, avant-garde, acoustic or whatever. I toured almost non-stop for a couple years straight then started taking more and more part-time work in Pittsburgh. I tried to start some bands and do more work with electronics, but nothing really took. I just really dug the thrashy-fiddle/stomping setup, and started taking it overseas. Now, I’m pretty busy with music work in Pittsburgh, but I still get to tour with new material a few months each year.
How often do you get asked about, or play, material from The Inalienable Dreamless?
They’re some of the most special tunes in my repertoire, so I either save them for an encore or throw them down for crowds that deserve it. A few promoters know about my work or see the connection to Discordance Axis and ask about it in advance. But it’s funny when someone in the crowd recognizes it because they wouldn’t guess that I was playing something drawn directly from the album. Sometimes they’ll say something like, “Have you ever heard of grindcore? You remind me of this band called Discordance Axis, you’ve probably never heard of them…”
Tell us about the new record. Despite it being primarily vocals, violins and percussion, I can totally picture the riffs you’re playing being churned out by guitars. Is that something you think of while playing/writing, or something that just happens? Do you ever write on guitar and transpose to violin?
It is also very piano-heavy! I often perform a set of original songs on solo piano (sometimes including a fantasia on Gridlink’s “Longhena”) and adding a solid piano accompaniment to my live instrumentation is an important way for me to craft a full, listenable recording. It is also nice for the tone because the album is much slower than any of my previous work. I never compose on anything but violin anymore because the difference between something that is “playable” on violin versus something that is “satisfying,” or better yet “indulgent,” is huge. If I can’t play it nasty, it just doesn’t hold up. But the new record drew a lot from mid-‘90s alternative rock so you might be hearing guitars through that influence.
How in touch are you with the metal/grind scene these days? Do you find inspiration in new artists or do you even have the time to check out anything beyond what you already own and are familiar with?
When I toured the USA I described my music unequivocally as “grind” or “black metal” and I stand by that material as such. Many underground grind/metal bands, organizers and enthusiasts saw it the same way. But in Europe, where I’ve been doing almost all of my touring for five years, grind/metal promoters are less excited about my music. I do get to play proper heavy gigs every now and then, but I don’t feel connected to the scene. I play metal gigs in Pittsburgh sometimes, but it’s not a close-knit metal scene. There is no grindcore scene in Pittsburgh and it’s hard to get people to come to a grindcore show, so I operate more on the fringes to organize experimental warehouse gigs and such. I find loads of inspiration everywhere, but most of the new bands I discover are from live touring or local gigs. I buy Bandcamp tracks from almost every band I play with. Lately, I’ve been heavily influenced by avant-psych metal cellist Valerie Kuehne (who was also asked to record with Gridlink, but it didn’t work out).
It sounds like there’s some sort of concept or theme to the new album. What’s the story and is it actually a direct reference to you and something that’s occurred in your life/past?
I wrote these songs on my second European tour, where I traveled to 24 countries via motorcycle. They were initially just disparate songs, but as they came together I realized I could connect them so that I could introduce each song in some kind of narrative in a way that express what the song is really about, and also tell the story of my tour and perhaps a bigger part of myself and do it through a fictitious character.
What’s going on on the cover of Tale of the Lovelorn Outlaw?
One of the main parts of the narrative involves a mermaid. I thought about staging a shoot that referenced this and my friend and regular collaborator, Guinevere happened to design a killer mermaid costume, so we worked together on the shoot. As it turned out, it isn’t clear that she’s a mermaid which I like better because she could be the main character in the story just as easily. The important thing is that it features her look and her vibe.
What is touring as a solo artist like? Are you a part of the scene usually reserved for acoustic/folk artists who tour almost exclusively playing people’s houses? Do you book yourself? I’m assuming it’s a very hand-to-mouth existence, but do you come home with cash in your pocket?
I book myself except for the few times when I’m lucky enough to have a friend cover a three or four date stretch. The set lends itself very well to house shows, but those aren’t very common in Europe. I never participate in the house show racket that involves pre-sale tickets or anything (if that’s what you mean). Touring solo is nice because expenses are low and interpersonal conflict is nil. Plus, you can really get to know people; you can’t just sit in the van while someone else works out the details. I can’t travel in a car alone anymore because I will go crazy, but touring alone on a motorcycle is wonderful. I also often travel on the bike with my girlfriend who lives in Germany. I think it’s important to work toward sustainable touring because otherwise it becomes a luxury for the rich. When I toured the USA, I worked very hard to come out on top: I ran my Mercedes on vegetable oil, walk around shows with CDs and ask people to buy them, busk, plead with greedy promoters to break off a reasonable piece, skip meals if gigs were bad, all kinds of hustles. But now I’d rather just enjoy myself and be positive, and if that means I break even or less, it’s worth it.
You mentioned that touring via motorcycle is a recent passion. How did you get into touring by bike and what’s it like compared to previous bouts of touring you’ve embarked upon?
I actually got into it for practicality, believe it or not. I toured Europe for the first time via an unlimited train pass, and while it was a lovely way to travel it was too expensive. Internet busses are abundant and cheap in Europe, but it’s a really stressful and uncomfortable way to travel. I figured renting or buying a car would be too expensive also, so I researched laws for owning motorcycles in Europe and saw it was possible. I learned to ride in Pennsylvania and took my Yamaha XS650 on tour to Asheville, New York and elsewhere. Then, I bought a bike in Ireland and I keep it there all year. Who cares if your gig bombs when you get to zoom through scenic mountains, shores, and forests? Plus, you can blast through traffic and park right in front of the venue. Every now and then I’ll still take some busses or planes around Europe, but it’s almost all motorcycles for me.
What have been some of the more memorable moments of the past couple years of touring in this fashion?
Well, meeting my girlfriend in Bavaria and traveling together on the bike around Berlin, Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland and France has definitely been the best part. There is definitely some glory to be found, like when you roll up to the festivals at highly protective anarchist squats like KØPI in Berlin or ADM in Amsterdam and they don’t know who you are, but just wave you through the gates and everyone wants to know who this guy and his passenger are. There are times when the gigs aren’t so glamorous but I got to ride the Wild Atlantic Way or Croatian coast to get there. And there are other embarrassing times that are just as memorable when everyone comes to see you peel out afterward, but your battery is dead so instead they have to help you push-start it and you feel like an idiot.
Living a piecemeal, nomadic existence like you do is something that takes a set of cojones to make the step away from the stability of home and a steady paycheque. People talk about it, but most would hate it after a half-hour. Have you ever questioned what you’re doing or come close to giving it all up? How often do you get asked about how long you think you can maintain this sort of lifestyle?
[Laughs] Well, I do have a steady paycheck now but my schedule is pretty generous so I get a few months to tour each year. Steady work has actually been one of the best things for my art. I guess I still don’t have what many people would consider a stable home life, but that’s OK with me, I favor chaos. The only thing that I hate about touring is sending all of the e-mails to book it. It always gets easier and easier, but it takes time that I would rather spend on my music. Touring with a band isn’t considered a youth-culture activity in Europe. People do it on through their fifties and nobody sees it as a thing to age out of.