Bonginator are about weed and death metal, which may sound reductive, but that simplicity is part of their appeal. They play straightforward death metal about smoking weed with aliens, going back in time to save the world by smoking weed, and partying with zombies who smoke weed. Evidently, the third piece of the Boston death metal band’s puzzle is humor. However, beneath all that is Erik Thorstenn, Bongintaor’s guitarist and vocalist who’s obsessed with the music-making process. Thorstenn grew up singing in operas and cathedral choirs before studying at Berklee College of Music for a year. He realized college wasn’t for him and left, taking some of his friends to create Bonginator. His lifelong training earned him the exquisite vocal control necessary to reference LMFAO and 80s slasher films with clarity and power.

Bonginator recently released their debut album The Intergalactic Gorebong of Deathpot on 4/20, of course. It’s an expletive-filled answer to the question, “What if there was life on Mars, and it smoked weed?” Shortly before its release, Thorstenn spoke to us about his story, how he develops his humor, and weed.



What I love about your music is that it seems like a joke, and plays like a joke, but it’s apparent you give it a shit about it too.

Oh yeah. The music is just death metal, I’m writing death metal, and the lyrics come afterward. I’ve always said I’m more drawn to making people laugh than anything else. That’s how my art is. Before Bonginator, I was in a band called Mudfuck. It was a metalcore band with southern riffs, almost like Left Behind. It was pretty groovy with Southern doom influences and pentatonic riffs, and it was a ton of fun, but death metal is more fun to make and write. I think metalcore is more polished and produced, whereas death metal has more freedom. Mudfuck were more on the crossover thrash wavelength of metalcore rather than the modern stuff, at least when I was writing with them. There are still some pieces of crossover in Bonginator cause I always have those influences.

Did you grow up on crossover then?

For sure. I love Power Trip. Those guys and Toxic Holocaust are two of my favorite bands and biggest influences. I love thrash in general, but for Bonginator, the main influences are death metal bands. Growing up, old-school death metal was my shit. I love Deicide and Possessed and Obituary. When I went to music school, everyone was making prog or djent, so as soon as I was out of there, I went back to making death metal and rawer forms of music. That’s when I realized that’s what I preferred. I only went for a year studying voice, though, since you can take the training there and apply it to anything. I sang opera and in cathedral choirs for most of my life.

How does that influence your death metal vocals?

As far as vocals, I learned breath control from opera training. What I learned, at least from Berklee, which is where I went, is that you need to go in with an instrument. Even if you’re a crazy EDM producer, you have to audition with an instrument, even if you’ve never touched one before. I used that as a way to get in, and it was nice, but I didn’t take a ton from Berklee with me. I like to pride myself on the fact that I didn’t learn much from there.

I ditched it ‘cuz being in college wasn’t for me. I didn’t like it; I engaged in self-destructive behaviors, and in hindsight, it’s nice to have this track record of consistently proving the system wrong. I’ve done everything I can without that behind me.

So much of Bonginator’s stuff would point toward it being a stoner band, but it’s not that at all. I didn’t know if that’s a reaction to that scene or if you don’t jive with it.

Oh, not at all! I love stoner doom. I love Weedeater and Sleep, and stoner doom was a big part of my life. Some sections in Bonginator are stonerish, like the sample in “The Doinkinite.” There are pieces here and there, but what really annoys me is when promoters don’t listen to us beforehand and book us with stoner doom bands. Those shows always underperform the death metal ones.

It makes sense ‘cuz the aesthetic and names are similar, but listening to your songs for 10 seconds shows you’re not stoner doom. That’s what attracted me most to you guys, besides the humor, which comes through so well because of your vocal control is great. I can understand everything you’re saying, which makes the jokes hit that much harder.

I’m glad to hear that. My main vocal influence is obviously Corpsegrinder, and I get that comparison a ton, which is flattering. I knew I already had the chops and his technique down, but I honed in on what makes him sound the way he does. The biggest things are his enunciation and the high-end distortion of his voice. There’s an exciter on the high end that gives it this crisp rasp, but besides that, there’s no production on his vocals. I do the production for Bonginator so I had to figure out how Corpsegrinder’s was produced so I could learn from it. I took those techniques and applied them to myself.

Returning to the progressive and djent guys from Berklee, what lessons did you pick up from being around them?

See, I don’t like Berklee. A lot of the kids there are snooty, but I found the good ones. They’re still in Bonginator now. They’re just my buds. What I can say for them, and the rest of Berklee students, is that they pick up this method of learning that’s unbeatable. Ron, our bassist, can learn shit 10 minutes before a show. I cannot dog on the school’s ability to instill discipline and do things the right way. They’re techniques that you don’t see all the time.

On learning from others, you sit in a sphere with a ton of humor and weed. When looking at those things, who did you look to as a way to balance all of Bonginator’s moving parts, the humor, the weed, and the metal?

A big part of Bonginator’s humor is the retro aspect. I love highly-produced synthwave with a ton of moving parts. There's this guy called Anders Enger Jensen who makes music that sounds like 90s instructional videos. He’s one of my biggest influences because not only is it a silly and whimsical sound, but the talent is impeccable. It sounds sick. He uses all these tiny moving parts I never would’ve thought of, and I constantly envy it.

He was a huge inspiration for the retro stuff, and I think the fact that Bonginator is in this 80’s realm opens up more jokes. They can feed off of each other. This new album doesn’t have an overarching theme, but the first song is called “The Intergalactic Gorebong of Deathpot,” and the jokes just kept coming out of that. Originally, the story was about NASA sending us to space to grow weed. I’ve always had a joke that I’m an astronaut, which is another piece of lore. We got Devin Swank to deliver the best line of the song, “I am a mother fucking astronaut who smokes weed; are you a mother fucking astronaut who smokes weed?”

We knew we had to do something with aliens since we were in space, so we thought about what would happen if the aliens had better weed than us. So we got baked with the aliens, but then we scratched the whole idea and considered if NASA sent us to Jupiter to test the Jupiter Stupider hypothesis. They’re sending us to Jupiter to smoke a bunch of weed and see if it makes us stupider. As you can see, the jokes from that keep rolling out. For example, across the EP The 1986 Doink City Massacre, I would say “smoke weed,” and I do something similar on this album, but this time, it’s “smoke ‘til you die.”

Something that’s similar between Bonginator and 80’s movies is that they’re cheesy, but it has to be that way. They’re both kooky but sincere, as if it couldn’t be any other way. Do you also feel that way about 80’s movies?

Dude, I love 80’s horror movies, so I took a ton of influence from them for this new album. The first two tracks are based on Pieces and Return of the Living Dead, two great 80’s flicks. I love those movies. Obviously, our EP The 1986 Doink City Massacre borrows the plot of T2, but if everyone smoked weed instead. Again, I prefer making people laugh. Even Mudfuck was still funny. Everything I do is about humor. With that band, I just wanted to make different music. I’d been writing the Bonginator demos while we were releasing the last Mudfuck tracks.

Since we’re talking about weed, what’s your weed smoking journey?

The first time I smoked weed was when I was 16 at a summer pre-college program. I’ve been smoking ever since. Right now is the most it’s ever ‘cuz I don’t take breaks after Bonginator tours. I won’t cognitively do it, so when I’m working, I’ll smoke less cause I don’t have time. When you’re sitting in a car all day, though, there’s nothing else to do. But I don’t think that I gotta take a break, at least consciously, which is what the other band members do. I think they’re going to be too baked for the first few tour shows if they take a break.

Thankfully, that only happened to us once at a show I put together called New England Death Metal Fun Time Bonanza. I put the festival together every year. It was at this spot they let you smoke inside. Leading up to and during our set it didn’t stop. Whenever we’re in a venue that allows us to smoke we’ll roll joints and pass them into the crowd. We played in Boise, Idaho with a band called Texas Ketamine, awesome band. They told us we could smoke there, but I thought that meant we could smoke weed during the show, not just near the venue, so they had to stop the show because too many people were smoking weed.

There are some people who will come to Bonginator as their ideal metal–punchy, crunchy, in-your-face, and lighthearted. How does it make you feel to know that some people picture your music as their platonic metal ideal?

That’s really sick to hear. I think that’s awesome, especially because that’s my penchant for writing music. I don’t write music cause I’m going through stuff. I have little emotional attachment to it in the sense that I’m making music that I want to hear. I love the music that I love, and I wanted to write music I haven’t heard before, and Bonginator is ideally what I want to hear. And it’s sick to know that’s the case, ‘cuz that’s the same approach I have when writing.

The Intergalactic Gorebong of Deathpot released April 20th via Barbaric Brutality.

More From Invisible Oranges