Interview: Rob Williams (Siege)
The name Siege holds a mighty and immovable position in the extreme music pantheon. Though short-lived in its original 1982-85 run, this fast, devastating hardcore punk band was pivotal in the creation and evolution of hardcore, grindcore, and powerviolence with its revolutionary, light-years-ahead-and-light-speed assault on the senses. Few bands have made such a singular, lasting impact on extreme music, and with such an economy of music. 2016 marks the first year that Siege has reunited since 1991, and there have been equally massive amounts of secrecy, conjecture, and excitement about the details and implications of this reunion. As it stands, the band has played Providence alongside fellow powerviolence innovators Infest and Dropdead, the latter named for Siege's game-changing EP, and is slated to play New York City on August 13 with Ultramantis Black. I was honored to speak with Siege drummer and lyricist Rob Williams about their reunion, the nature of Siege in 2016, and his views on contemporary grindcore.
The first thing I'd like to get an idea about are the whys and wherefores of this Siege reunion. Why now in 2016 and how did this come about?
That's an excellent question and it's a simple answer: the fans. There's been mounting interest over the decades, it accumulated and made it undeniable. All of us have had individual creative journeys and artistic endeavours, but the time was right to reconvene and really make music with a message and depth. There's been a lot of garbage grindcore out there, it's not in keeping with the original shit, which was ideologically meaningful and had revolutionary lyrics of a more serious nature. So I found myself really longing for the ability to say something positive lyrically again. But the short answer is because of all the new fans, who were impossible to ignore.
Obviously, everyone who's a Siege fan is gonna get something out of this reunion, but would you say that this reunion is more for original fans or for the latest generation, for younger folks who have discovered Siege by getting into modern grindcore and are moving back into the classic stuff? Is it for people who might have known back in the day, or for people who are just now coming to find the music?
I'm going to have to say both, because there are fewer and fewer old-school "I-was-there-with-the-original-crew" type guys all the time. Less and less, for various reasons. The new fans deserve to be reached with a message which is uplifting and which is challenging and revolutionary and positive. So, leaning more towards the latter, just because of the natural attrition of the punk rock scene, or unnatural attrition. But we are presenting a very reverent treatment of the Siege material live, so those who might have had knowledge of our work since the very beginning will definitely not be disappointed by these performances.
What does the rehearsal process for this upcoming reunion look like? How many sets do y'all play? Obviously. you're drawing on the classic Drop Dead material, but is it all-inclusive? Are you gonna do any covers?
I was incredibly inspired when I sat in with Dropdead and we played some Siege songs at Maryland Deathfest two years ago.
I was actually at that show, if you can believe that. I caught one of your sticks and it's still somewhere around my house. Funny story.
What inspired me about jamming with Dropdead is that what they do is, if Brian holds up one finger, they play their entire first album in order. If he holds up a second finger, they play their entire second album in order, and so on and so forth. Inspired by that, we play the entire Drop Dead cassette, all of the Cleanse the Bacteria tracks, a couple of classic British punk songs depending on what night it is, like Rotten to the Core, Rudimentary Peni, Drunk with Power, something in keeping with the message that we want to send lyrically. As a lyricist and songwriter as well as drummer, that's something that I appreciate personally. What it all looks like is a deafening machine where I just hold up my fingers in the spirit of Dropdead and play those respective generations of tracks. We have an epic treatment of "Grim Reaper" which has saxophone in it, that is deafening and room-clearingly dissonant. It's really going quite excellently.
You mentioned earlier on that you felt like, in the modern hardcore and grindcore scenes, there's been a move away from what you consider to be a meaningful message. Can you describe more of your experience with seeing that happen, or what you feel has happened in terms of there now being bands which may not have the same ideological focus?
It's the same as with any art form. I believe that a work of art that is strengthening, bolstering, uplifting, which has a socially conscious meaning or a compassionate message to it, I believe that those works of art are what are lasting. I remember seeing an Antiques Roadshow which had a bookseller on it right after Charles Bukowski had died, and the expert on books was saying "now that Bukowski has passed, his books aren't worth as much." He was attributing it to Bukowski's blatant, celebratory sexism and chauvinist humor. I can see that same thing happening in grindcore: some of this misogynistic shit has the shelf life of bongwater. It has no staying power whatsoever.
That's a good way of putting it, "the shelf life of bongwater." I must say, I do agree.
Two more questions.
Two more questions. Describe the new vocalist of Siege. How do Mark Field's vocals compare to Kevin Mahoney's classic vocals? Are Mark's vocal stylings emulating Kevin's vocals or does he have his own voice?
I would say that Mark is very steeped in tradition. Very similar to Kevin Mahoney's screaming, but less volatile of a person, which makes for more solid cooperation. But, of course, Kevin Mahoney is passed away now, and he is irreplaceable. He was a great man, he was a poet, and he is very much missed by all of us. But we need to go on. Mark Fields is very well schooled in the punk and grindcore vocal traditions; he's a huge fan of all the subgenres of this type of music. I would liken him more to the singer from Negative Approach than to Kevin Mahoney, personally, but the passion surpasses even what we were able to do before. What we were doing [in the 1980s] was explosive desperation onstage: anything could happen, it was chaotic. Now, everyone talks together, and what we are able to achieve together has got a lot more depth to it. We have two guitars in Siege now, so it's devastatingly heavy. I'm really, really excited.
How far do you envision this particular reunion to go? Is it just the shows you've got lined up now, or do you foresee possibly keeping this project going, maybe doing some new songs, new recording, adding more shows, what's the immediate plan? For that matter, what's the long-term plan?
We are doing one city or one special event until October of next year. We have a bunch of material which was written at the same time as the Cleanse the Bacteria tracks, with the same tone and urgency and dissonance to them. So, we are going to set about immortalizing those songs in the studio while at the same time annihilating audiences all over the United States and all over the world, or at least in the one city until October of next year. I wish to conclude by saying to the fans: I salute you, and I'll see you there.
Thanks for indulging this humble fan.
If I see you at one of the shows, we'll hoist a draught.