On Wednesday February 26th, RX Music caught up with Joel Grind – the man behind the thrash metal band Toxic Holocaust – before his performance at Lee’s Palace in Toronto. Grind has been chugging riffs and screaming lyrics about kicking ass since 1999. Besides his contributions to the metal scene, he also is a talented freelance producer and makes his own electronic synth soundtracks. He’s touring in support of his entirely self-produced new album Primal Future 2019, which largely combines thrash metal and hardcore punk to deliver an ode to 1980s sci-fi technological dystopia movies. However, this movie takes place in our current day. Consider it the soundtrack to the apocalypse if we are ever attacked by Google’s self-driving cars and told to stand down by Amazon Alexas. We spoke to Grind about his new album, self-production, fan expectations, sub-genres, the bands he’d still love to tour with, the current metal scene and even skateboarding.
RX Music’s Michael Primiani and Joel Grind
RXM: The first question I want to ask you is about the new album – Primal Future 2019. I understand that you recorded all the instruments and did all the production yourself? How is that different from having a full band in the recording studio? What are the changes and challenges per se?
Joel Grind: There’s pros and cons, I guess. The pros would be that basically the way I did this record, it was in between two labels, you know, so I was therefore self-funding it and the guys that I was playing with were living on the East Coast at the time. So I would have had to fly them out and have them stay somewhere for like a month or however long it would take to make the record. It [self-production] made it a little bit easier because I could set my own schedule. There’s a lot of freedom in that. Also, I think every band knows this, there could be situations where it feels like there’s too many cooks in the kitchen. Too many people may want their part the loudest on a record or whatever. It just streamlined the approach a bit, doing it this way. The cons would be that definitely that it takes a lot longer and there is a lot more burden on one person to do everything. But, I really enjoyed working this way because that’s how I started the band. The first couple records were done this way. I had this sense of nostalgia doing this record like that again. It’s like this weird, creative spark came back where I was like, “wow, this is like a recharging the batteries of how I started the band”. So that was really a cool feeling to almost go back 15-20 years to the origins of the band and to have that beginning stages feeling again, where I was kind of flying by the seat of my pants a little bit, you know, like not totally sure how things are going to turn out. There’s pros and cons, but I really enjoyed working with [self-production].
RXM: What’s the benefit, or perhaps the disadvantage, to working on your own and being accountable solely to yourself?
JG: If you’re doing everything then you’re also the only one making the mistakes and the only one to blame if things go wrong or whatever, but I kind of like putting that pressure on myself because it makes me work harder and strive a little bit more to make a good record. So that was good way to work, I think.
RXM: Well, you took a bit of a risk but it paid off. The new record sounds great. So kudos to you and I know that all the fans were pushing for this ever since you self-released and self-produced a solo album back in 2013 [The Yellowgoat Sessions].
JG: Yeah I did a solo record a few years back and people kept saying online “when are you going to do another Toxic record like the old days” and things like that in the years since the solo record. It was in the back of my head for the 20th anniversary of the band . I was in between labels and it all kind of fell into place where it made sense to do this new record self-produced.
RXM: Awesome. So you self-produced the first two Toxic Holocaust records Evil Never Dies (2003) and Hell on Earth (2005). How, from a technology standpoint, is it different self-producing an album now than it was in 2003?
JG: The technology has definitely gotten better. I produced the first records with a reel to reel machine, a little budget Fostex thing. What’ll kill you is the rewinding in between takes! Now you can just hit the back button and you end up right where you were. People now may not realize how much time was wasted waiting for that thing to rewind. You made a mistake and you had to run it all the way back to the beginning. Technology has definitely made it possible to streamline processes to where things are much faster to work with. And on top of that, I have 20 years of experience now doing this stuff where when I was just starting, I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. So things took longer in general because I was really just learning as I went. But now I know what I want the project to sound like at the end. Which, for anybody that does anything artistic, they’ll always tell you that if you know what you are striving for, it’s so much easier to get there and know when you’re done. If you just go in there and say “I guess it’s done” or you continuously work on stuff with no end in sight – that’s not good. I think there’s a fine line between doing some experimentation but also knowing where exactly you want to go.
RXM: You’ve also been doing your own recording with other bands through doing freelance mixing and production. So, you probably have a lot of experience from working with those other bands.
JG: Yes, that has definitely helped for sure. Years of producing and recording for other bands definitely added to knowing more about the equipment and how to achieve certain sounds that I wanted to achieve. Things like that. It definitely helped.
RXM: I want to talk about the contents of the album, specifically the 1980s dystopian cyberpunk theme, did anything from current day influence that theme? Where did it come from?
JG: Sort of. If you look at an 1980s, sci-fi novel or movie which takes place in today’s day and age, they never really expected social media and similar aspects of technology that we all live with day to day like smartphones and the like. So I wanted to take that spin on it, to take that theme of “what would the 1980s future look like today if today is the future”, while also taking into account modern technology. Your cell phone spying on you, little things like that. It kind of ties into the George Orwell 1984 concept of “Big Brother”. That’s the general theme of the record. It’s not really a concept record, but it’s under that general theme and I treat each song like it’s a different short story inside of a collective work.
RXM: And the album title speaks to that, obviously.
JG: Exactly. We have gotten so technologically advanced that a couple decades ago seems like a stone age or something.
RXM: I definitely noticed there was the idea of some sort of power struggle dynamic on songs like “Chemical Warfare” and “Controlled By Fear”. The lyrics kind of echo a fight between the elites and those they govern. Is there any political angle on there? Or…
JG: Not exactly. I try to avoid political stuff with Toxic. When you’re online, everything’s so politicized. Music can speak to that and music that does that is great, but it’s also nice to have bands that you can use as an escape from always having to hear about politics. And that’s kind of what I wanted to do. But [speaking about the power struggle dynamic] it’s the classic good versus evil, the little guy versus the big giant guy, that classic scenario. That’s kind of what it’s about. Sort of like if you lived in a wasteland or something like that and you’re fighting against people that have gasoline and the resources in order to survive. It’s basically just like a metaphor for current day living.
RXM: I definitely get that and when it comes to the guy fighting – let’s talk about the album cover. It sort of reminded me of Snake Plissken from Escape from New York meets Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator. Any input on the design of the cover?
JG: I wanted to do a cover that sort of looked like something you would see on a VHS tape if you were going through a movie store when you were a kid…
RXM: Sort of like Blockbuster.
JG: Yeah! You’d see these cool sci-fi movies or, as some people have mentioned, a Sega Genesis game, and I could see that because of the grid-lines and stuff. I didn’t even think about that, but it definitely looks like that. And that’s kind of the vibe I wanted to go for – where you see the cover and you kind of know what you’re getting. I’m all for abstract artwork for certain bands. But with Toxic, I want the cover to reflect what the listener came for.
RXM: That’s true, what you see is what you get. A thrash metal soundtrack for a 80’s sci fi movie or video game! Let’s talk genres. Toxic Holocaust, would I be correct in saying “blackened thrash” (black metal mixed with thrash metal) is the main sound?
JG: Yeah. I mean, we’ve been called that. We’ve gotten “metal punk”. A lot of different, you know, “sub sub sub genres” and stuff. At the end of the day, I would say thrash metal is Toxic at its core. But there is a mixture of tons of things. I think the best way to have a “more original sound” is to take all of your influences and put them in a blender instead of just going “I like Exodus, and I like this other band” and then just “copying” those two bands. I think it’s better to take all your influences and kind of morph them and make a puzzle out of them in order to make your own unique sound. But yeah, Toxic is influenced by all kinds of stuff like punk, some early black metal, thrash and of course – heavy metal.
RXM: I noticed some punk specifically on “New World Beyond”, I got sort of a Ministry feel from that one.
JG: Yeah, I like Ministry.
RXM: And you know how some metalheads love to classify everything into genres and keep everything so separate. “This is thrash metal! This is not!”
JG: I mean, at the end of the day, people like to be familiar with what they’re about to buy or to have some way to classify the music to tell their friends about what it is. I do it too. You sort of need some kind of way to take music – an abstract thing – and put it into language. You have to come up with some way to describe what it is. So I get the whole sub-genre thing, breaking music down into finite categories. Yeah. It’s kind of it’s comical in a way though.
RXM: Oh yeah, just check any discussion about music on Reddit…
JG: Yeah there’s always the person who goes “ACTUALLY it’s this genre”. And I’m like – yeah whatever man.
RXM: Speaking about genre mashing, I want to talk a little bit about your synth soundtrack project. The one that you released under your own name. You released Echoes In a Crystal Tomb in November. It really reminds me of the Vangelis Blade Runner soundtrack and stuff like that. Would you ever consider blending the synth in with Toxic Holocaust?
JG: Thank you! Blade Runner was for sure an inspiration. As for combining both projects, probably not. That’s why I released it solo the way I did. I definitely am a fan of that stuff. And I like doing that stuff, but I wanted a [separate] outlet for that. And personally, I always kind of feel like it’s a bum out when a band does their “progressive record” with so much unusual stuff added to it. Musicians are ever evolving and we all like different stuff and we want to incorporate it but from where I come from, I feel like it’s a bit of a “bait and switch” in a way. Where a person will buy your record thinking it’s going to be a certain sound and then it isn’t. That’s not to say every record has to sound the same, let me put that out there. But if someone’s buying your record expecting to hear your trademark sound, then I think you can just put a different name on your different genre music if it’s so different to what your core sound is. Because essentially, it is a different product. There’s no harm in putting a different name on it. I’d rather just put my own personal name on it, which reflects the different genres that I like. Because it’s me. It’s not a band with a specific sound. But for Toxic? No, I wouldn’t put the synth stuff in that. I’ll just keep it to what it is.
RXM: There was a little bit of synth on the song Primal Future right in the beginning. I noticed that one.
JG: Yes. I wanted the record to kind of flow like a movie soundtrack. Where everything is kind of connected in a way. Yeah. There are these little interludes similar to Sepultura’s interludes on Arise with those weird little sound effect clips and stuff. And it sounds cool and kind of ties everything together.
RXM: You mentioned in a different interview that it was a lifelong dream to tour with Slayer but now that they’re retired, you know you won’t get to do that unfortunately. In your 20 years of touring, are there still any bands out there that serve as a white whale that Toxic Holocaust has yet to tour with?
JG: There’s a lot of bands that if you’d asked me this 10 years ago, there would have been a whole list. I got to cross a lot of those names off so I’m really fortunate. Danzig was a big one but then we did two tours with Danzig and it was f%@king cool, man. We didn’t get to tour with Slayer yeah, and Motorhead would have been one too. We did a show with Motorhead, but we never got to tour with them. Those are legendary bands that I grew up listening to that have played a big part in inspiring my music. Sodom would be one, but they never play North America. We did some festivals with them and that was cool. But touring with Sodom would be amazing.
RXM: I wanted to talk about the metal scene in general and get your take on it. This is a bit of a bittersweet time for the metal community because the old guards of the genre – namely Slayer and Black Sabbath – have retired and Metallica is well on their way to retiring. It’s sort of like the kings of metal that have been touring for years are finally hanging up their hats. Who do you think is going to fill those shoes and where does Toxic Holocaust stand in the 2020s metal scene?
JG: Honestly, bands will never be that big again. I don’t see how a band could it be as big as Metallica again. Even pop groups and stuff aren’t that big. Metallica is f%@king huge. Record sales aren’t what they used to be and people have a lot more varied interests these days [than going to shows]. Video games outsell movies. They gross more money than Hollywood blockbusters. People need a real reason to be able to leave their house and there really isn’t many. People would rather stay at home and play video games and watch Netflix, things like that, you know? I mean, things just change and I don’t think there will be bands that size again, honestly. I mean Ghost is pretty big but nowhere near as big as Metallica. Lamb of God has been around for quite a while and they aren’t that size either. I don’t even know if the music industry will support that anymore or its not in the vocabulary of the industry. “Getting big” is not why I started doing it. I just like doing it. I love this kind of music and I enjoy touring and playing for people and that’s good enough for me. If other people have higher aspirations then they have to crack the code because I sure don’t know what it is.
RXM: Good point. What’s next for Toxic Holocaust?
JG: We’re going to be dropping a video for “New World Beyond” soon. And right now, were just touring, going to Europe for a couple weeks this summer. We’re going to do all the festivals I love playing over there. It’s always fun. Then just lots more touring.
Check out that video here where Toxic Holocaust provides the soundtrack for a wasteland apocalypse, complete with lots of Sega Genesis inspired grid-lines
RXM: Sounds great, man. I saw that you put out a Toxic Holocaust skateboard. Did you skateboard back in the day?
JG: Yep. I did as a teenager. My knees are too bad to do that now, though. I always liked skateboard culture. It’s how I found out about a lot of great music. Old skateboard videos used to play awesome music like Circle Jerks, Misfits – stuff like that. I learned about a lot of bands through those things. I wanted to do something tying into that. I always liked the old school pool decks. That’s what it is.
RXM: I didn’t skateboard as a kid. I rode a longboard and kids made fun of me.
JG: Hahaha, there’s definitely a rivalry between skateboarders and longboarders.
RXM: It’s like riding a limo. It’s not even skateboarding.
Perhaps Joel Grind is on to something when he speaks about giving the fans exactly what they want. He certainly did for his performance. As he barreled through cuts from Toxic Holocaust’s 20-year discography, the fans responded by yelling his lyrics back at him and jumping into each other in the mosh pit. Heads were banged as the band and crowd alike were washed in a green Toxic light. Grind had full control of the crowd, orchestrating circle pits throughout his performance. It’s easy to see why Toxic Holocaust is a crowd favorite within the metal genre. While many metal bands have decided to change up their sound in a way that the fans don’t appreciate – adding unnecessary elements of drawn out prog keys or dropping their guttural growls for lighter singing – Joel Grind keeps it real and keeps it consistent.
Check out a video of the show and Toxic Holocaust’s new album Primal Future 2019 below:
Fans went crazy in the mosh pit as Toxic Holocaust performed the song “Gravelord” off their 2008 album An Overdose of Death…