Catching Up With Rob Fusco

Photo by Matt Gabell

Probably notoriously best known as the frontman for hardcore heavyweights One King Down and Most Precious Blood, it would be almost insulting, however, to define Rob Fusco by his front-and-center position in those bands. Sure, his energetic and outspoken air from the lip of various stages while fronting those outfits will forever define him on the extreme music scene, but he’s nothing if not worldly and has his fingers in many, many pots of interest (in addition to everything mentioned below, he spends his whatever free time he can carve out engaged as an amateur anatomist and fledgling poker player). Musically, his newest venture goes by the name Take Life. The band is still finding its legs, if not a rhythm section, but will be using the early winter of the international tire fire known as 2020 as a springboard to their future and it all begins with the recording of their first album this coming November. Fusco approached us with news of his new project and we decided to get him on the horn for a chat in order that he might take his announcement beyond the realms of the standard press release.

One King Down featured quite a bouncing ball of activity with break ups, reformations, members coming and going – yourself included – over its history. What had you been up to musically amongst all that before now?
In the early 2000s we got back together, did a lot of touring, wrote some stuff and it was fantastic for a short while. But I think the tendency of the band was to take over the world, so to speak. We are not men of partial commitment; we are more so individuals of extremes and I think that reflected in our approach to touring once we decided to reform. That was cool, but the pressure and stress got to be too much for some members of the band. Of course, I would tour indefinitely – I live out of a bag anyway, so it’s not a big deal for me – but I know some people weren’t realizing their potential living this way, so they wanted some repose and didn’t think they could do it anymore. That’s fine because the long term happiness and longevity of my friends is more important to me than any musical ambition. Post-break up we did our own things individually. I know [drummer] Derrick [Van Wie] stayed quite active and I think he still does a lot musically. I stayed busy with Most Precious Blood. [Guitarist] Justin [Brannan, now a NYC council member] asked me to join in 2003 and funny enough at the same time, Matt Fox offered me the frontman position for Shai Hulud. MPB toured the world constantly and during that time I did a lot of noisy/ambient stuff on my own under the name Whisper Waking, but you probably won’t find that anywhere. I did a long stint fronting the band Recon, who were dudes I grew up with. That was a lot of fun, but ultimately, they decided after close to a decade that my voice still wasn’t a proper fit [laughs]. Or maybe it was just that my attitude sucked sometimes, which is understandable. If I’m being real, I think that sometimes my approach to performance and/or other people can be a bit needlessly venomous. There were a couple of false starts with some people musically, but now I’m coming into a very nice arrangement where a buddy of mine from Texas, who is an absolute shredder and tends to like my approach to singing and writing and I like his approach to guitar and composition, we’re going to give it a red hot go and see what happens.

How long have you been working on Take Life?
I’ve been ideating this for three or three-and-a-half years now. I’ve been sitting on the name for about that long and every so often checking in to see if someone else had come to it. Fortunately, it looks like I’m getting first dibs on it and that is going to be my primary musical focus now.

Who else is in the band? Any recognizable names?
As of right now, the two primary personnel are myself and my friend Rafe Holmes. He’s the guitarist in a band from Texas called Insurgence. I don’t think they’ve done much in the way of touring or large-scale releases, but then again, maybe I’m thinking along antiquated lines because all you need is a pathway to streaming services and word can get around pretty quickly these days. They’re more political hardcore and my take these days is decidedly apolitical. I know with One King Down, some of my stuff was a bit on that nose, but I did my best to generate lyrical content that was a bit more interpretable and less blatant.

Do you have a rhythm section nailed down yet?
As of right now we are a two person unit presently exploring potential long-term band mates. As of right now, he and I are the only two who are writing and composing, which is an OK start. There are a few people I have in mind, but I’ll keep that close to the vest for the time being.

And where do you feel the band falls musically?
So, my approach for this band is one of unbridled expression of all of that which is pushing against the yoke to be expressed. I don’t necessarily know much about the overall tone or the themes on which we will settle but I know we’ll go in a direction that celebrates and respects the art form for what it is instead of trying to press it into a mold it may not fit. That’s the long way of saying we’re going to let it rip and see what happens.

How much material do have under the Take Life name?
We have about ten songs that are still kind of coagulating. We’re doing demoing now in preparation for recording which is going to take place during the entire month of November with Randy LeBeouf in Belleville, NJ. It’s actually going to be an interesting experience; I’ve never done like a sleep away camp where you wake up and scream for 12 hours and then play dark Souls 3 until you pass out, but that’s exactly what’s going to happen.

Have you decided on a title for the album and any indication as to whether it’s coming out on a label or independently?
Right now we have a couple different prospective titles but I don’t want to give away too much too soon. We’re not sure if we’re going to release this independently and we don’t have any labels knocking on our door just yet, but maybe that might change. Hopefully, it will fit somewhere and if somebody wanted to work with us, I’d totally be open to the idea though I think now the concept of a label is questionable, but what do I know?

With full-time career, how much time, money and energy are you able and/or willing to invest in Take Life? Have you talked about where and how far you’re willing to go?
Well, we haven’t really discussed that in-depth, but I can speak from my corner. I know that if things gain traction, and once we come out of this exceptionally dark place we’re in and we can enjoy live music once more, I am no stranger to re-starting my life to pursue things that will afford me the opportunity to realise my musical and creative potential. In short, I’m willing to burn my entire life to the ground to do not what I want to do, but what I have to do. That being said, I’m willing to give to this what it requires of me. All the other stuff I do isn’t going anywhere, what is going somewhere is the moment. If we don’t attack when there’s a vulnerability or take advantage of an opportunity when it’s presented, it evaporates and is gone forever, so I’d much rather ask for forgiveness than permission.

Speaking of all the other stuff you do, let’s go through the letters following your name in your email signature?
OK [laughs] LMT is licensed massage therapist, CPT is certified personal trainer and USCSCCT/TD is United States Chess Federation Certified Chess Trainer/Tournament Director. I’ve been a chess educator since 2001-02.

What the heck is a chess educator? Is it simply what it says?
It’s like a chess trainer or coach, which absolutely exists [laughs]. I’ve had some notable coaches in my career and I’ve coached some people to podium and first place finishes throughout my own coaching endeavors. Those letters are kind of a short hand way of saying I’m a manual therapist and a chess coach.

I personally haven’t played since I was a kid and I think the last time I paid any attention was when Kasparov played against that IBM computer in the ’90s.
IBM’s Deep Blue. That was a big debacle. The re-match was marred by accusations of cheating by IBM because they had a lot to gain financially by proving intellectual superiority over probably one of the most significant world champions in chess history. So, after defeating Kasparov, IBM’s stock rose 15%. So there’s some merit to the claim, but as of right now things are still speculative mainly because IBM won’t release the thought logs of the machine. They dismantled it and half of the machine now sits in Poughkeepsie, NY and the other half I’m not sure where it is.

And what constitutes chess training?
Primarily, it’s just learning the rules of the game initially, piece movement, how the game is played properly through each phase and then eventually grooming the player to a level of competence and enthusiasm where they can engage in competitive play. Also, to be there as a psychological and emotional buoy during tournaments, to make sure a person is performing at their peak and they’re enduring their losses with some resiliency. There’s quite a bit that goes into it outside of the technical aspect of piece movement and tactical/strategic considerations. I’m also fortunate enough to be a chess journalist and a judge for the chess journalists of America. In fact, I’m going through the candidates for the awards right now. My email inbox is absolutely inundated with nominees for stuff like Best Chess Column, Best Chess Feature, Best Chess Blog, Story of the Year, state championship reports and stuff like that.

Check out updates as well as some pre-production tracks on Take Life’s Twitter and Instagram accounts.