Last week was a pretty epic week for Primitive Weapons vocalist David Castillo and guitarist Arthur Shepherd. Not only did the band’s sophomore album album, The Future of Death, come out one week ago, but Castillo and Shepherd are also two of the principal owners of Brooklyn’s Saint Vitus bar, which celebrated its fifth anniversary. The band, which also includes drummer Chis Enriquez and bassist Eric Odness, celebrated the release by playing a sold-out show at the venue. They’ll be having a listening party for the record tonight at Brooklyn’s Kimoto Rooftop. We caught up with Shepherd to talk about the album, the bar, and the band.
How did you end up releasing the new album record on Party Smasher Inc?
The album was finished over two years ago. We almost put it out ourselves, but started talking to a few labels. Some couldn’t put it out until the next year, and kept saying their schedule was full. The more we talked about it – and we talked about it a lot – we didn’t want to throw it out there. I’d like somebody to actually give a shit when they’re promoting it. Shadow Gallery didn’t get a fair shake, but this record is way better. I wanted to do something with it. A lot of records come out, a lot. And a lot of them are worth a listen. But nobody has the fucking time to listen to them all! There’s a difference between listening and hearing. And I wanted people to listen. So we started sending stuff out to different people, and we sent it to guys in bands we were friends with. Ben (Dillinger Escape Plan) said he wanted to expand Party Smasher into a record label, and asked if we’d be interested in releasing it with them. To me, having been in a band like Dillinger, it felt like validation. And they wanted to take us out on tour- we had already played with them once at the Music Hall of Williamsburg and the crowd was so open than with other bands we had opened for. It was a band-changing experience. If you put us in front of the right people, it’s great. We fall through the cracks of a lot of genres. So it’s a bit harder. And Ben really got that. It took a while to get it to all happen, over a year, but it’s gonna be given a fair shot for people to hear it.
It wasn’t quite what I expected from you. It’s a different kind of heavy.
A lot of that was Dave matching what I was writing. There’s a vibe to it. He was developing his singing style on the last record and went way further with this record. It’s like Fugazi meets early Christian Death Roz Williams, it’s across the board, but it fit what I was writing. Live, he’s still getting his confidence live. Singing live when you’re not used to it and you haven’t been doing it for years is a whole different animal. I do a lot of the clean singing, the falsetto stuff, and the screaming.
How do you feel about promoting something that’s two years old? You’ve written stuff since.
Well yeah, I put out an album with another band. And we’re ¾ way done writing another one. Primitive Weapons moves very slow. I just wanted people to hear it in the right context. We had the opportunity to put it out sooner, but it needed the right presentation. We all agreed to wait. We played a song off this album at the release party for our last record.
How different is the forthcoming album from The Future of Death?
We don’t know what the vocals are gonna sound like just yet. But musically, it’s way more progressive, like I’m not afraid to throw some prog rock in there, and there is! It’s really fucking good. It’s the best stuff we’ve ever done. We contemplated just doing an EP so we could get it out by the end of this year. Which would be cool, but at a point, you get to song 5 and just think if you write another 3- it’s an album. And nobody fucking covers EPs. I don’t know why. It’s the least viable way to release an album now. Which is weird, because a well -structured EP is way better than album with a bunch of filler on it.
Are you a Party Smasher artist?
There are no contracts involved. Ben has heard demos of the new stuff and thought it was really amazing and we talked about it, that we would do another record with him after this, but I guess we are, its not like I signed a six record contract. I’m 43 years old, I’ll be a party smasher artist until Im 45. Ben is really supportive in hooking us up, he knows everybody. If we say, “Hey, maybe we want to get on that tour!” He’ll make a call for us and actually get a response, where we wouldn’t. We carry a little bit of clout with the Vitus thing, but Ben has way more. He’s willing to put himself out there for us which is really great.
Pretty much all you can ask from a label owner.
Fuck yeah, dude I love it. The fact that he’s not just a label owner he’s a guy in a band which is cool as shit. He gets every aspect of it.
So if someone offered you a three month tour worldwide, would you be able to do that and keep your day jobs?
Well my day job is not my problem, my kid is, and our bass player has a one year old. I don’t think we could do anything that would be that long. I don’t think anyone over the age of 25 should do anything that long, unless you live at home, you don’t live in New York City and then go off on tour for three months. You don’t do that, not unless you’re actually going to make money. Primitive Weapons at this point, loses money doing everything we do. So, we have to pick and choose what we do properly and make sure its worth it. I don’t see a point in touring across America. I see a point doing the West Coast and the East Coast. I see a point in maybe going to England. But not doing a three week tour of England, I’ve done so many of them. You play fucking five shows in England, and than you play four shows in Germany.
Ideally, what everybody wants to do is get on all the summer festivals in Europe. Because they’re the easiest and shortest and least cumbersome situations you can be in. That would be great, but I’m not sure we carry that kind of clout. Ultimately, I just want to make songs, record them and put them out, like I’ve done since I was 18 and have people hear it and enjoy it. If we get offered stuff, we’ll just take and figure out what we’re capable of doing and what we aren’t. Its very adult, Chris has a regular job, I guess. But the rest of us, we’re all service industry owners. We don’t have regular jobs, we can do our jobs from pretty much anywhere. Its the other part – ‘Hey wife, who’s gotta stay home with kid, who is actually the breadwinner in the family. I’m gonna go on tour for three months and lose money, is that OK?’ No, its not OK. Even she said it was OK, but for myself, Its not fucking OK. Its irresponsible and shitty. You do what you can within the parameters of your life. I stopped giving up my whole life about five years ago for music. Unfortunately, the rent calls, your bills call. If I could have lived in my parents basement, for my whole life I actually would have. Any musician wants to take it as far as they can, but we have day jobs and rent.
The other part of it is with Primitive Weapons or with anything that I do, as long as I keep getting better, and doing different things, that’s really what I care about it. Because there’s no business involved with it anymore. I’ve had two major label deals, I’ve put out twenty five records through out my life and didn’t really make a dime doing it. The business has slowly withered away. You don’t bother having a booking agent anymore, you don’t bother having management anymore, you know what I mean? I’ll just do it myself. Every tour is this laborious thing of trying to figure out how you’re going to get by and do it? I shifted focus in the late oughts. All I care about is the music, I don’t give a fuck what happens after that. My music has done well for it. I was in a band called Gay For Johnny Depp and put out six records and exclusively toured England. We just didn’t give a fuck about anything except the music and that band sold more than any other band we’ve ever been in. Maybe that’s the thing, fuck all this other shit. The fact that someone still wants to put out music that I write at my age, Its enough of a compliment to tell you the truth.
Switching to Vitus, what are you guys doing differently that’s made the place so popular?
We’re small. Although I think our size is to our advantage and someways to our disadvantage. Its to our advantage in that we don’t compete with Bowery Presents and Live Nation or these people that we couldn’t ever compete with in a million years because we don’t have the money. We kind of go below the radar and also, we really focus on the underground. Making that our mainstay, doing things like not taking not taking a cut of merch, we don’t take any door money. We do take a little for the sound guy to pay expenses. We don’t take any money to rent the room. Its just strictly to pay the people who are working in the room. We were able to offer bands that have no business playing our place, the money that they wanted to play our place. We figured out a way to do it.
We get these bigger acts in, as far as the local shows, a lot of that revolved around us putting bands like Sannhet, or Godmaker on shows with bigger bands, which is something we really take a lot of pride in. Trying to hook up the local bands as much as we can with these bigger shows which is a great opportunity. I don’t want to say we’re so much more special than any other venue because then I’d be saying something is wrong with those other venues. I don’t want to do that because there’s nothing wrong with them. We have a great room, a great sounding room. Our bushiness relationship and the way we set our business up is very unique and it worked out in our favor that we were able to give as much money as we can to the bands and treat them great and that shit spreads like wildfire, especially in New York because everybody plays New York. But there’s so many places to play. If you’re the place where they’re like “Yeah, I got treated really well and we got paid pretty well.” That shit spreads like wild fire.
For us, we had a few really amazing bits of luck, we kind of created our own luck that really spread us on an international level. Its a lot of work, I think that George (Souledis) and I being bartenders, in the first four years and being there all the time, is really, really helpful. He’s facilitated a vibe that people enjoyed and then we had Dave on the other side, really hustling to create relationships with booking agents and local promoters and people who are sort of taste makers in New York. Brandon Stosuy, Fred Pessaro, people like that. Once Dave secures the show, then we gotta fuckin make it happen and make it happen so that its great. Meaning, the sound system has to be up to snuff and things have to run on time. Are the neighbors saying its too loud? Is it this, is it that? Its all stuff like that, we very much worked hard to put ourselves in a position that people come to us now.
Whats the most memorable show that you’ve seen there or made happen?
Well, Quicksand was a big one for me last New Years because I booked that. They’re one of my favorite bands of all time, features two of my ex-bandmates. It was awesome to have Qucksand play. That was a very special moment, but you can’t talk about it with out talking about the Nirvana & friends thing. That was a completely surreal moment. It was insane, same with the Descendents. I’m not a huge Descendents fan, but the way that all went down, that was a great moment for the bar because we pulled something off that we would of never thought we could of pulled off. I don’t think if the Descendents thing hadn’t happened that I don’t think we would have been approached by the Nirvana people. It was surreal, It was like watching TV.
Whats the biggest show that approached you that you weren’t able to make happen?
The biggest show that approached us that we couldn’t do? You name it, everybody has kind of approached us. I don’t know, thats a really hard one. We almost had Cheap Trick after the Hall Of Fame induction. That didn’t pan out, I hope I didn’t ruin it. So yeah, Cheap Trick. When the Nirvana thing happened, It was so last minute, who knows with the Cheap Trick thing? You’d have to ask Dave that question, I can’t think clearly as to what was the biggest one. There’s been so many that just thrown our way. We’re like ‘That can’t happen.’ I remember when we booked Carcass, it was like ‘Carcass is so huge and they’re doing this show.’ We’ve done much bigger bands since, every time, it stepped up. For me it all hearkens back to Tony Iommi book signing which became our catch phrase. The day we pulled that off, we can do anything. We got fucking Tony Iommi to come to our stupid bar in the middle of nowhere in Greenpoint. How the fuck did we do this? All we have to do is ask? And they’ll actually come? That’s awesome!!
Primitive Weapons’ The Future of Death is out now on Party Smasher Inc.