Enemy Soil

This Enemy Soil interview was conducted by Chris Alfano in 2001 for Deluge. It appears here in a highly edited form so that the Enemy Soil content is highlighted.

Had the thought crossed my mind six months ago that I would be sitting here now, putting the finishing touches on an interview I conducted with former Enemy Soil guitarist and founding member Richard Johnson, I would have dismissed it as wishful thinking. I guess karma has a way of panning out, because here I am, excitedly banging away at my keyboard with more giddiness and enthusiam than I've experienced in... well, it's been awhile. Let's just keep it at that. This interview came together under the strangest of circumstances, as my initial contact with Richard was entirely coincidental. I was trying to get a hold of someone else for a potential Deluge article, but he wasn't available. The guy I ended up speaking with was nice enough to give me some useful tidbits of info, so the idea hasn't been scrapped completely. However, it wasn't until the end of that first conversation that I realized exactly who I was talking to. Needless to say, I was floored upon the realization that it was one of my personal scene icons, Richard Johnson. Richard's history in the glamorous world of grind is more storied than I could ever hope to cover here, but a quick breakdown for the uninformed, misinformed, or what have you is definitely in order.

Johnson's exploits began in 1991, when he received a letter from a guy who happened to like a zine he was doing at the time (that's right, kids . way back in 1991, we actually had to sit down, write letters by hand, attach a stamp, and drop them in the mailbox). The man in question went by the name Mason, and he eventually got together with Richard in northern Virginia to lend his voice to a few jam sessions. Although Enemy Soil's line up varied greatly over the years, this was the initial foundation that was responsible for a good amount of their recorded output. Future incarnations of the band included names such as J.R. Hayes, Brian Harvey, and even King Fowley (who played drums on a couple of comp tracks). Reading Enemy Soil's full discography is a mind-numbing task, as it includes numerous split 7"s, a cassette-only split, a full-length CD (not including their 2 CD discography), and appearances on no less than twelve compilations. This doesn't even include their many recorded tracks that were intended for compilations, but never released. Sadly, Richard found it necessary to disband Enemy Soil in 1999. However, he has kept himself busy ever since with a band called The Index, as well as a few other projects which will be mentioned shortly. Well, I'm starting to ramble now, as tends to happen when I start talking about bands that occupy a special place in my heart. So let's get in on...

- (CA) Why did Bones Brigade choose to release "Smashes The State" without including tracks from the "Casualties Of Progress" 7"?

- (RJ) They didn't have anything to do with the track selection. That was all me. The record isn't a full discography, but more like an overview or select discography, and Bones Brigade was comfortable with that. Actually, {Relapse} didn't want those tracks to come out on this release, because they're doing a series of cds, all the Single Series releases, and of course "Casualties of Progress", will be included.

- (CA) What was the deal with Blower? There were ex-Enemy Soil members involved (and hence, some musical similarities), so why was a different name chosen? Was anything recorded other than the split CD with Wadge?

- (RJ) That was Mason's band. He billed it as me and Elysia and Scott being in the band, but really it was his band. So it was never meant to be an Enemy Soil record. Three of the songs were unreleased Enemy Soil songs, and three were written by Mason for that release. He wrote all the lyrics as well. That was the only thing released under the name Blower, but you should check out the Shit on Command/Wadge split and the Anal Piglet demo, because Mason wrote and recorded all the music for those bands (SOC and AP), and those are continuing in the direction of the material he wrote for the Blower split, but they're better.

- (CA) One of the things that distinguished the early Enemy Soil records was your use of a drum machine. Why did you eventually decide to use a human drummer? Was it a difficult adjustment?

- (RJ) We never really wanted to use a drum machine in the first place. We had a drummer in 1992 and 1993, but after that fell apart and I did get a machine, it became part of the sound. When I was playing in Random Green with Brian [Harvey. .CA], Mason suggested we put it all together, and it was a smashing idea. When we did it, we wished we'd stuck it out in 1993 and found another drummer and never used the machine!

- (CA) You've experienced some bizarre tour mishaps over the years. Whether it was travelling in combustible vans, running from cops in full riot gear, or Klaus Fluoride directing you to Gilman Street for Fiesta Grande, it seems that there was never a dull moment for Enemy Soil. This might be a difficult question to answer, but can you describe the feelings you were experiencing back then?

- (RJ) It was a lot of fun going on the road most of the time. The last mini-tour we did went very badly, starting about halfway through, but I don't really have bad memories of the other trips we'd been on. Besides that one, we did one other mini-tour and performed some one-off gigs that required a lot of travelling. When you get put in a difficult situation because of circumstance, that can put a damper on things. But I think as long as you are in a band with good people that will roll with the punches, then you can muddle through and not look back in anger.

- (CA) What emotions do you associate with being on the road? Were you excited just to be touring?

- (RJ) Yeah, that about encapsulizes it. It's very enriching, going on tour.

- (CA) Were you anxious about how you would be received by different audiences?

- (RJ) Not anxious, but more challenged. It's a challenge to win over audiences that have never heard you before, and moreso are not into you type of music. And it's great to meet new people, go to new places.

- (CA) Have you ever experienced feelings of hostility because of the living conditions (on the road)?

- (RJ) That all depends on how much sleeping arrangments for each town you make before you go, and whether or not you want to spend money on hotels.

- (CA) How did you feel on the first date of a tour, versus the last date?

- (RJ) Very energetic, and then very exhausted.

- (CA) What bands did you have the most fun touring with?

- (RJ) We didn't ever go on tour with a band, per se. Not more than a couple of days in a row, and that was coincidental. It's great to do that, though, because you make good friends that way.

- (CA) Your lyrics have traditionally had a socio-political slant. Is this still the case with your current projects?

- (RJ) That tradition was only maintained through the releases of early 1995. After that I would write about whatever. These days if one of my lyrics has that slant, that is just how it turned out.

- (CA) Do you keep up with politics or social issues?

- (RJ) Not more or less than other people.

- (CA) Is the grind scene different now than it was five or ten years ago?

- (RJ) It's hard to say, because I was looking at it with younger and more naive eyes five or ten years ago. The music isn't the same, except for the retro bands. There's more crossover now, I think, but not a crossover scene. Like for example, it's standard for death metal bands to grind nowadays.

- (CA) What are your five favorite albums of all time?

- (RJ) Oh come on! I don't know! I guess if I was stranded on a desert island and I could only take five records, they'd be Accept "Metal Heart", Kiss "Alive II", Voivod "Dimension Hatross", and I guess ... Autopsy "Severed Survival" and... and... I dunno, the soundtrack to the first Star trek film or something.

- (CA) Enemy Soil underwent some turbulent line-up changes during its existence. What do you attribute this to?

- (RJ) You know when you're in a relationship, you break up, and then you get back together and you say "It'll be different this time?" In my experience, it's not. The problems that led to the breakup come back again. So it was partly that, and partly because I didn't get the right people in the first place, and didn't put enough effort into getting rid of them and finding the right people. It's hard to do that. I think the most important thing is attitude, not musicianship. I mean, you have to be on the same page in terms of the music, and you have to be able to play music on the same level together. But if you can't agree, or if it's not going to work in the long run, then it doesn't matter. It's hard to get the right balance of musical skill, reliability, and friendship. Actually, I suppose you don't have to be friends, but you have to get along and see eye to eye. It doesn't mean you have to agree all the time, but you have to be able to talk it out and come to an agreement. So I've had a hard time with these things in the past.

- (CA) Do you consider yourself a difficult person to work with?

- (RJ) Ha! You should ask John McEntee from Incantation this question too. It seems like there's a different band for every record with them too, but I haven't followed them too closely. I have been difficult, I suppose, but I don't think anyone ever quit the band because I'm a dick, although they might have thought so at the time. Maybe difficult in terms of being unreasonable with expectations, expectations that I felt were totally reasonable.

- (CA) You've been playing this style of music for close to ten years now. What is it about grindcore that keeps you coming back?

- (RJ) Again, it's great fun. It's so energetic, such a release. I think up to a certain extent, happy people play happy music, and depressed people play grindcore. They may come off as really well adjusted people, but that's because they've let everything out and purified themselves by blasting every night. If they didn't have that, they'd explode. Or implode.

- (CA) Have you ever become so discouraged that you considered giving up?

- (RJ) Fuck, all the time. In a way, that's why I broke the band up.

- (CA) Tell us about the worst interview you've ever been subjected to. You don't have to specify the publication, but tell us why it sucked (i.e., the interviewer was a prick, it was conducted at a bad time, or whatever).

- (RJ) This guy interviewed me over the phone when we did the {Relapse} 7", and he totally truncated my answers. He made me sound like some politically ideological asshole living in a dream world or something due to the introduction he wrote, and because I'd spent a lot of time responding to his accusations during the interview. In print, all he put down for my response was "I don't agree with that at all". I honestly can't remember what zine this was.

- (CA) What have you been listening to lately? Any recommendations?

- (RJ) Let's see. The first To/Die/For record, the new Burnt by the Sun record, Gling Glo (the jazz quartet Bjork has), "Heartwork" by Carcass, Helmet "Meantime", "Phobos" by Voivod, the soundtrack to the movie "Dune", Morbid Angel "Domination", "From Enslavement to Obliteration" by Napalm Death, "Cause of Death" by Obituary, "Divided We Fall" by Excruciating Terror, "Rust In Peace" by Megadeth, "Hymns" by Godflesh, Melvins "Houdini" and on and on.

- (CA) Why did you choose the name Enemy Soil? Do you consider the USA to be "enemy soil" for you personally, or maybe for non-conformists in general?

- (RJ) It had a double meaning back when we were considering ourselves a "political" band. It was like the United States was Enemy Soil for everyone, because of the way our freedom was being stifled by the government. Also it sounded cool, which is as good a meaning for a name as any.

- (CA) Thanks so much for doing this interview, Richard . we're very honored! Feel free to end this in any way you see fit.

- (RJ) Thanks for the interest. OK Chris, you freak, keep grinding.

- (CA) No problem .

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