KILL SCREEN 027: Krissy Morash, Jesse Fuentes and Tom Sifuentes of ESCUELA GRIND Are Grinding Levels in the Game of Life

It’s likely impossible to think of an underground band that has been hitting the road harder than blaster masters Escuela Grind. Though New England is regarded as their home base, their touring schedule in 2023 has vastly eclipsed their downtime as evidenced by which, at time of writing this intro, has them listed on the leaderboards as having the 8th most recorded setlists on the entirety of the site for the year. Anyone with a passing familiarity of touring life knows that means countless hours traveling from venue to venue, oftentimes in desperate need of something to occupy their attention. Knowing what column this is, you can surmise where this is going. Video gaming is a welcome distraction to the monotony of their nomadic ways but the band surmises that life itself has started to become gamified—a world filled with chance encounters, side quests to experience and consequences to be suffered. It’s their overworld, we’re just the NPCs living in it.

Continuing their storied mission as one of the hardest working bands in the business, the co-nerds at Kill Screen caught up with three quarters of the grinders—guitarist Krissy Morash, drummer Jesse Fuentes and bassist Tom Sifuentes—not long after their Stateside return from supporting Napalm Death and Unearth across continental Europe. While the world is still waiting on next month’s release of their new EP DDEEAATTHHMMEETTAALL, we find them settling into their housing arrangements for the night after spending the day in the early stages of recording their next LP at the legendary GodCity Studios in Salem, MA. “We’re all very marijuana stoned,” shares Sifuentes, eliciting laughs from the group as Fuentes is busy preparing more, er, “green herbs” for the evening. Comfortably numb and their party assembled, the trio describes their love of the game—and lack thereof.

What were all of your first gaming experiences?
Morash: I’m a little bit younger—I’m turning 26 next month. My first actual gaming console was a Game Boy [Advance] SP. I feel like Pokémon was really at the height: Emerald and Sapphire and Ruby were coming out. That whole realm of gaming opened up to me in terms of traveling. I could be in my parents’ van playing this. I thought that was really cool. But I was too young to even really understand that people older than me didn’t have that luxury back in the day.

Fuentes: Well, I just know that I’m 36—old as hell—and my mom bought an Atari for me when I was four. She was so impressed that I was able to plug it up by myself. I played shit like Cliffhanger [laughs], Pitfall. I remember the E.T. game. E.T. was the weirdest game ever.

Morash: They tried to hide that one.

Fuentes: Those are the first games. And then Prince of Persia, I think. I think it was on a PC that I played that. Then it was, like, Tetris. And then it was, like, Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter. You know, when Super Nintendo and all that stuff was around.

Sifuentes: For me, my first time seeing stuff was my cousin’s playing Sega. And then my first console was Super Nintendo. So it was [Super] Mario [World], you know, all day, just going.

What have you all been playing lately?
Morash: We’ve been on the Legend of Zelda kick for a bit. I’m still playing through Tears of the Kingdom. I think I have, like, 12 shrines left or something like that. And I still have the main story to do. [Laughs]

Are you are you going for all the shrines then?
Morash: I want to do all of them. I did that the last game, but it’s hard to find all of the caves and side stuff. It’s so much. I know the map like the back of my hand.

Fuentes: Yeah, definitely been playing a lot of Zelda.

Is that a shared love between everybody in the band?
Fuentes: I don’t know. Tom, do you play anything right now?

Sifuentes: No, no. Um, actually, now I feel kind of out of place. I guess I’m just here because we’re at this living situation here at the studio. So, I just wanted to feel included, I guess. But I’ll take recommendations for like a first game back, you know?

Fuentes: I finished Spider-Man. 100 percent on the new Spider-Man 2. I fucking went hard on that. I’ve been playing Gran Turismo, for some reason.

Morash: No, there’s a reason: Because we watched the whole entire Fast and the Furious franchise while in Europe.

Fuentes: While we were on tour in September.

Morash: So, we just want to drive fast right now.

Fuentes: It was tough, honestly. We were like, God damn, I have to finish this shit on this tour.

Morash: Just like a race in Gran Turismo, you know? You have to finish.

Fuentes: But it was kind of amazing. [Laughs]

Morash: They could make a sick video game out of Fast and the Furious. I just don’t think it’s happened yet.

They did make a Fast and the Furious game, and it was fucking terrible.
Morash: Yeah, it was, like, a car-racing game.

Sifuentes: Midnight Club was kind of comparable. They were doing street-racing style cars.

Fuentes: Oh, I remember that game! That was a sick game. They’re fun for us hood kids. [Laughs] Dallas, Texas in the hood. We like cars down there. [Laughs]

What are what are the genres of games that you typically prefer to play?
Fuentes: I love RPGs. I like real linear games for some reason, just something I could just play that’s mindless. With cool controls, you know? Like, really crazy ass controls—dynamic controls. You can press an L [bumper/trigger] and you have, like, 10 different things you can do. [Laughs] Anything that’s got a storyline to it, honestly. I like playing the games like I’m watching a movie. I’m involved in it.

Morash: Yeah, that’s been me lately. I guess it really depends on like my relationship with video games at that moment. Over COVID, I was getting into a lot of competitive shooters like Apex Legends. I was playing a lot of Apex Legends. It’s kind of weird, there’s tons of pay-to-play play stuff in terms of skins. That was interesting getting into after years of not being into video games. But sometimes I just need to be like Super Mario and just get to the end of that flagpole. It’s something stupid, simple for me. I used to play a lot of Diablo II. I wanted to get into new Diablo. There’s tons of stuff like that that I was really into at the time and now, the electricity isn’t there. I don’t know.

Did you try Diablo IV at all?
Morash: I haven’t yet. I really want to. I’m going to have some time home, I think, after all this. I might have to play some Diablo.

Fuentes: I used to love those games like StarCraft.

Morash: Yeah. World of Warcraft. I was a really big World of Warcraft fan. Katerina was, too.

Lots of Blizzard games.
Fuentes: Yeah, the Blizzard game line up. What’s another game? I’m trying to remember…

Morash: Oh, Nazi zombies [Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 Zombies]? We love killing Nazis.

Fuentes: Yeah, yeah. Nazi zombies.

Morash: That’s fun. Trying to figure that out, actually. After this, we’re going to try to—

Fuentes: Play the new version. The new one that just came out.

Do you have a preference between PC and console gaming?
Fuentes: Definitely never been into the PC gaming stuff, because it’s, like, a thousand dollars or something.

Morash: I got into it because Steam had so many winter/summer sales and I got so excited. I could get, like, Doom 3 for two bucks if I wanted to.

Fuentes: I got a Steam Deck recently!

Morash: Yeah, now there’s all that kind of stuff. So, it’s more portable stuff for us because we’re always on the road. I just don’t have time to sit in front of a PC.

Fuentes: I’m playing Cyberpunk [2077].

Morash: Yeah, PS5 games like Cyberpunk, it’s nice to have that handheld for us.

Do you play a bit while you’re on the road, then?
Morash: Yeah, I got my Switch. I’ll be playing the road.

Fuentes: I’ll play Cyberpunk or Zelda.

Morash: Yeah. Decompress.

Do you typically prefer the solo experience when you’re gaming on the road—time to yourself—or is there a lot of gaming within the band?
Morash: We don’t game together that much. We gotta be in front of a TV, on a couch to really be gaming together.

Fuentes: Yeah, we don’t really play too many games on tour, actually. I guess we kind of did recently. Just play on our fucking portable shit, just to pass time.

You certainly spend enough time on the road to justify having some kind of pastime.
Fuentes: Being on tour is like a video game.

Morash: It really is.

Fuentes: It kind of feels like it sometimes. We have this phrase:

Sifuentes: “Don’t click A.”

Fuentes: Don’t press A! Don’t press A! [Laughs]

Sifuentes: Don’t engage with that person on the street…

Fuentes: Or just anything random.

“Do not interact with”—that’s the “Do not press A” thing?
Fuentes: Don’t press A.

Morash: We feel like we’re in an open [world] MMORPG. Anything can happen. Every input causes an output.

Fuentes: And it’s in any situation. We look at each other like, “All right, I’m gonna press A.” [Laughs]

Morash: We’re like, Nooo! [Laughs]

Sifuentes: Or it’s the quintessential characters in the game you have to meet and cross paths with. It’s like, Oh, we had to meet that sound guy. We had to meet them as a part of this quest.

Fuentes: Yeah, you can’t skip that. There was one time I was looking for weed and some guy was like, “Dude, just go out to the front and someone will help you get weed.” We were in a town in the Netherlands where if you wanted weed as a tourist, it wasn’t available to you. So, there were these kids that were wearing our shirts. It turned into this whole thing. They walked with us and then they even gave us a little tour of the area. It was like, Oh, yeah, this was supposed to happen. This is a sequence you couldn’t avoid in the game.

Morash: Yeah, they were very sweet, too.

So now that it’s the end of the year and you have down time, theoretically—even though you’re at GodCity right now—are there any games that you missed from 2023 that you’re excited to pick up?
Morash: Diablo is definitely one of them.

Fuentes: Some of the fighting games I haven’t played yet for some reason—just because it’s cool to play with other people. We’re like hermits where we’re at right now, there’s no one really coming over. So, I haven’t played those games recently.

Do you prefer to play those fighting games in person?

Fuentes: Yeah, I love being with people and playing those games. But I also don’t lose at those games, so I have to lose so that people play. [Laughs]

You had mentioned that you really like the OG Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter, Marvel vs. Capcom games. Do you play the later entries in those series? Mortal Kombat 1 just came out, Street Fighter 6 came out this year.
Fuentes: Yeah! I played Mortal Kombat. It wasn’t Mortal Kombat 1, but the one before that [Mortal Kombat 11]. I played a lot of that. And I played the newer editions of Marvel vs. Capcom.

Morash: I love 3. Marvel vs. Capcom 3 was a great one.

Fuentes: Yeah. Those engines are burned in my head, in my muscle memory. I fucking just kill everyone and then it’s just boring. [Laughs] For everyone else, it gets boring. I have to just not play and let people play.

Morash: I used to get really high on acid and play Super Smash Bros. That’s the only time I’d ever be good at it, for some reason.

That’s when it clicked? That’s what it took for for those neural pathways to connect or whatever?
Morash: Yeah, yeah! The colors make sense to me! [Laughs] I just saw like a bunch of blobs. It was very fun for me.

Fuentes: There’s some definite good memories in those games. The fighting games in particular. Tekken, also. All the Tekken games.

Morash: Soulcalibur.

Fuentes: Mostly in arcades. I like them better in arcades. Where I lived, it was just a lot of people in this little convenience store back area where all these arcades are at, you know? Everybody’s in there, spinning their quarters and shit. I was broke, so I was just like, I can’t lose because then I won’t be able to play anymore! [Laughs] That environment for me was the best. They had Terminator [2: Judgement Day], the old one with the gun that goes [mimics automatic fire arcade light gun]. They had Area 51 and Time Crisis and shit like that. I love arcade games.

Morash: Time Crisis is one of my favorite arcade games ever. Time Crisis 4? Oh my god, I wish I had that in my house.

Fuentes: Have you played Crusin’ World? Have you played fucking Mario Kart on an actual [arcade machine]? That shit is amazing.

Morash: Oh, do you want a side note? Oh, we saw the Mario movie in 4DX. I don’t know if y’all have ever heard of that, but outside of the games, that was the coolest experience ever.

Fuentes: In Orlando.

What’s 4DX?
Fuentes: It’s like an interactive movie. You get water sprayed on you. You literally fall out of your seat. It was shaking me off of the seat a bunch of times and I was getting knocked in the back by something. There’s air that’s getting blown at you from random places. It’s like, What the fuck? That’s cool. It’s a good experience.

Morash: If they had those in arcades, I would be there all the time. Best experience ever.

Since you’re on the road so much, do you ever come across arcades? Or is that a very once-in-a-blue-moon kind of thing?
Fuentes: We’ll straight up use band expense to go to Dave & Buster’s. Yeah.

Morash: Chris Cole, the [professional] skateboarder, he came to one of our shows once. He was like, “Oh, you should go to Dave & Buster’s. We should go right now.” And then it just stuck with us. And we decided—

Fuentes: Damn, we fucked up. We should have gone.

Morash: We should have went with him. So, we went on our own in El Paso, I think it was, and we had the best time ever. They have the coolest arcade games.

Fuentes: The dude’s on Skate. He’s a character on Skate! [Laughs]

Morash: Skate 4, that’s the most anticipated game for me right now.

Fuentes: Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, that’s one game we didn’t throw in there. Shiiit. That one was life-changing, holy fuck.

Morash: I want our music to be in, like, Tony Hawk and shit. That’d be sick. I found out about music through video games. It happened a lot. I was a huge Guitar Hero fan, so I think that’s why I’m anticipating it.

As the resident guitarist in Escuela Grind, is it two separate skills, playing guitar and playing Guitar Hero?
Morash: Yeah, definitely, it is.

Fuentes: Hell yeah it is! I can’t play Guitar Hero. I can’t do that fifth button for some reason. [Laughs]

Morash: I definitely got into guitar because I was playing Guitar Hero. Like, it’s no contest. I was like, If I can press these buttons at this rate, I could probably do it. But it’s definitely different. I just remember all my friends having contests, seeing who could play better, you know? It’s kind of just like a really complicated Simon Says, but with music.

“I definitely got into guitar because I was playing Guitar Hero. Like, it’s no contest.”

If there was an Escuela Grind song that could be added as DLC to either Guitar Hero, Rock Band, whatever, which song would you want to go with?
Morash: It would have to be the hardest.

Sifuentes: “All is Forgiven.”

Fuentes: Or “Cliffhanger.”

Morash: “Cliffhanger” would be a good one, yeah.

Fuentes: Yeah, because it’s got that [Fuentes mimics the opening riff to “Cliffhanger,” Morash joins in]

Morash: Make it all hard. Whichever one would be the hardest for people to play.

Fuentes: Or some of the unreleased stuff, I guess. I don’t know.

You would want to hit people with the difficult one to make things difficult? You want to go the Dragonforce route?
Morash: Yes, dude! Yeah. I discovered Deathklok through Guitar Hero, Buckethead, Slipknot, all these bands I listen to to this day.

Obviously Guitar Hero had an influence on your musical sensibilities. Are there any other game soundtracks that have influenced either the music that you like? Are there soundtracks that you listen to on your own?
Fuentes: Yes, the Mortal Kombat soundtrack. Mortal Kombat II, actually. I don’t know if you remember any of that shit. That bone percussion, like it sounds like someone’s doing percussion on bones and shit.

Morash: This is a really funny one. I don’t know if y’all can relate to this, because at my age, WWE was really, really cool. But the WWE games had really cool soundtracks. I discovered Korn and Three Days Grace and all these bands. I was like, Wow, this is heavy, at, like, eight years old. But all those types of games like Tony Hawk. There was this game ATV Offroad Fury [that] came with our PS2 and it had System of a Down on there. I discovered them through that.

Fuentes: I’ve definitely written riffs that were like based off of Final Fantasy VII songs, like the Shinra song where it’s like, [mimics intro percussion to “Shinra Corporation”].

Morash: That’s a classic one.

Fuentes: Definitely elements from that. Game music, you can’t get away from it. It’s in your head. We listen to a lot of video game music on the road, actually.

What are the go-tos?
Fuentes: We’ll straight up play a bunch of Legend of Zelda stuff, Final Fantasy, Kirby. Tetris. I play Tetris a shit ton, like, while we’re loading up. [Laughs] It adds to the vibe. We were in Iceland [and] checking out the tectonic plates and I just played like, [mimics “Lost Woods” from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time] It’s like nostalgia. You’re kind of in a comfortable place mentally and physically as well. It’s beautiful. You’re just comfortable in your ears and comfortable in your surroundings. We obviously listen to heavy music—it’s not that it gets old, we just like to have variety. Everyone wants variety, I guess. You’re not going to eat a burger and fries every day.

We’re extremely late to this party, but the video for “These Insects Lived as Men/A Ladder of Seven Rounds/Zalongo” is a mashup of Evil Dead and The Sims. Where did this idea come from?
Fuentes: We had talked about doing an Evil Dead parody for a while at that point. The guys that helped us were a part of the Troma team and we were talking about it forever. I don’t remember who came up with the Sims thing. I think Katarina likes The Sims. I liked The Sims when I was a teenager.

Morash: I was more of a SimCity type of gal myself.

Fuentes: But Katrina likes The Sims from a long time ago, I guess. So, that was their idea. So we’re like, That’s kind of cool, I guess. It’s like an Evil Dead video game, but The Sims.

Are there any other video games that you would want to pull from in the future for future videos?
Fuentes: Hmm. [Call of Duty:] Zombies, maybe.

Morash: Doom would be cool, because there’s so much lore.

Fuentes: Oh, Kingdom Hearts would be a good little crossover, but if we did a really low-budget, funny version of it.

Sifuentes: I’ve seen a bunch of videos using a GTA character thing, where someone’s the main character going throughout the map.

Fuentes: That would be cool! That would hit the SEO because GTA VI is coming out.

The amount of money that Rockstar has made off of GTA is ungodly at this point. GTA V alone made more money than the movie industry and the music industry combined.
Fuentes: No way! That’s badass. I definitely want our music in that shit, too. We’re going to figure that part out.

There are more games that are including radio stations. Is that something that you would be angling to [contribute to] for some future game?
Fuentes: Hell yeah! Our new album, the one that we’re recording right now, we have a song called “Scorpion.” It’s kind of like a double entendre. When you have an accident, you bust your ass and your fucking feet hit the back of your head? That’s a scorpion. But also like Mortal Kombat Scorpion. We’re hoping we can probably get that song on some skateboarding or any kind of X Games-type video game, or Mortal Kombat, even. We’re trying to get that shit in movies or something like that. That next Mortal Kombat movie is coming out at some point.

Mortal Kombat soundtracks are no stranger to having metal or grind bands. It wouldn’t be the first time.
Fuentes: Napalm Death! That was my first soundtrack. Honestly, [that] was literally the first album I ever listened to ever that I loved, personally.

You’re recording your new album at GodCity right now. Do you have any plans to game now that you’re in one place, not touring and have a little bit of downtime or is this just going to be all business?
Morash: We brought the PS5, actually.

Fuentes: The new Zombies, that update that they made for Modern Warfare, gonna go ahead and see what’s up with those new maps and whatever. I haven’t played that game in years, honestly—since the pandemic. That was fun, though. But that’s it, really. I’ve already played the games I wanted to recently. I haven’t finished God of War, still have that going. But I don’t know. I like Assassin’s Creed, I think there’s a new one of those. Those are fun, I guess.

Morash: Oh, Super Mario RPG. I’m definitely going to be playing that one.

There’s mention of some different horror titles. Any care energy for Resident Evil?
Morash: Oh, yeah, yeah, I played the remakes.

Fuentes: I like the originals.

Morash: The Village game I actually liked a lot, the first-person one. I hope they remake 5 because that game I loved playing. I have a twin sibling, so we loved playing co-op on that. It was a great bonding experience.

Fuentes: It’s scary. I remember playing the first three ones. That shit was awesome, actually. I was definitely, like, ten years old finishing fucking Resident Evil 1 or something like that.

Morash: I mean, it was so cool that Resident Evil 4 had two discs for the GameCube. I was like, Whoa, it must be a long, scary game.

Fuentes: Silent Hill was sick, too.

Morash: Silent Hill, yeah.

Jesse, you said in an email earlier that you typically like you play all the “normie” games. And this isn’t meant to be a judgment call, I’m just very curious: What constitutes a normie game?
Fuentes: Um, I don’t know, just stuff that doesn’t include a giant online community, I guess. I don’t really play online at all. I never play online. I’m just like, I just like playing these video games. I just don’t really care about the online stuff.

Even for Call of Duty?
Fuentes: I did play online Call of Duty for a while. It was a little addicting. It was like, Damn, I gotta get a better score, and I would like come home on my lunch breaks and play. I had a PS3 and there was a gap [after] Fallout 3 that my PlayStation 3 was stolen and I didn’t play video games for, like, 7 years. I just like just wrote a bunch of music, played in a bunch of bands and just stopped giving a shit about playing games. But then I moved to Pittsfield, and Pittsfield is like a little shithole, you know? It’s a beautiful area, but it’s just a shitty place to be. It’s real boring. Population: 30,000. And I was like, Fuck it, they’re remaking Final Fantasy VII. I guess I’m going to start playing video games again. That’s what got me back.

Are you excited for the second part that’s coming out early next year?
Fuentes: Can’t fucking wait, dude. I couldn’t believe that it was only half of it whenever I got to the end. [Laughs] I was like, The fuck? I definitely love it and I love seeing the new things they’ve added to the game. It was cool playing that, honestly. I had a great time. I got that for my birthday.

Speaking of games that are coming out, are there any other titles that you’re excited to play in the future?
Morash: Yeah, Skate 4. That’s one I’m literally just like, My life would be so much easier right now if that game was out. I’ve gone through so much shit this year, I just want Skate 4. I feel like it’s going to fix my life. [Laughs]

At least it’ll make you feel a little better.
Morash: Yeah, I know. It’s cool that video games can make you feel that way, though. I will admit to that. All the Mario games that have been coming out, I’m really excited for. Nintendo’s been killing it.

Fuentes: Those Marvel games that have been coming out have been crazy. I think the controls on there is what hooks me sometimes. Guardians of the Galaxy, that you wouldn’t expect it to be as sick as it is. It actually is pretty cool.

We’ve never played any of them. What’s the big appeal for those?
Fuentes: The controls, man! It’s just really intense. It’s just like the Kingdom Hearts games, just like Final Fantasy. That’s really all it is for me, I’m just supplementing those video games with these fucking Marvel games, I guess. [Laughs] It’s just like an RPG, but that one’s fun. Guardians of the Galaxy was a really cool one, actually. It’s just the corniness of where it comes from, but the money that’s put into the engines is fucking fire.

Morash: It seemed cool. Have y’all heard of this game, it’s been trending a lot recently: Lethal Company? I watched a lot of streamers like Jerma985. I’m really into watching them play really weird games. So, when I saw that was trending, I was like, What is this? I feel like I really need to play that right now. Pretty cool. [Laughs]

Krissy, Are you more open to online gaming?
Morash: Oh, yeah, for sure. So, I was into Apex, Call of Duty, all that. Me and my sibling, I used to play a lot of Gary’s Mod and Counter-Strike: Source—all these games on Steam that I was really into playing online. You really need to depend on each other, you know? Not so much anymore because I’m never around anywhere with stable Wi-Fi. I like watching people play video games a lot more in that regard, in terms of if they’re playing online. I just like watching.

Even for the two of us—where this is part of what we do—I [Michael] don’t have nearly enough time to play all the games that I want to play, so sometimes it’s easier to just put on a YouTube video in the background while I’m working.
Morash: I like Games Done Quick, I like watching speed runs, stuff like that. I’m never going to play the game, I might as well watch someone just beat it in a few minutes.

Tom, you said that you played games before and then stepped away and you hadn’t really come back to it. Any particular reason?
Sifuentes: I think just [because] I don’t have a console. I mean, I live with Jesse now, so I could probably start playing that PS5. That’s a good question, actually, man. I should think about that. Now that y’all are talking, I was into a number of games that weren’t just Super Mario.

Skate might pull me back in, actually. I was addicted to Tony Hawk and stuff like that. And then later, when I played Skate after Tony Hawk, I was just floored at how cool the controls were. I think it’s changing yet again in some ways. So, yeah, I want to play Skate, for sure. Might bring me back. I recorded with Jamie King, this other producer, and the whole trip was us just playing Skate. [It] goes hand-in-hand for sure with this music shit.

Fuentes: It’s really just nostalgia. That shit will pull you in. Good times. I love those times.

DDEEAATTHHMMEETTAALL is available January 12, 2024 via MNRK Heavy and can be pre-ordered here.
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