By Brad Lopez
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By Noah Hubbell
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Things are not always what they seem--especially when it comes to Smackjacket's John Bogovich.
On the surface, this 26-year-old vocalist/ guitarist seems the epitome of Nineties hard-rock nihilism: His scalp is shaved, his ears sport large, primitive earrings that look as if they were ordered from the back pages of National Geographic, and his body is adorned from head to foot with ominous tattoos (he moonlights as a freelance tattoo artist). In short, he looks nothing like Alan Alda. Bogovich insists, however, that he's a sensitive guy in touch with his paternal side.
"I used to [work] in daycare," he confesses in a tone completely devoid of irony. "People used to freak out when they saw me pushing a stroller full of infants down the street. They think that just because I look like this, I can't be a nurturing person. We're not the angry young men that people think we are. I mean, I might get upset now and then. But I don't generally walk around looking at people with discontent."
Neither do the other members of the Boulder-based progressive-metal foursome: guitarists Shaun Flaskamper and Terence Shapiro and drummer Andy MacKenzie. In fact, one would be hard-pressed to find a nicer bunch of ultra-assaultive musicians anywhere. But then, Smackjacket isn't your typical metal band. Unlike those Jackyl wannabes who continue to roam the local hair bars, this quartet finds its inspiration in the innovative, back-to-basics sounds of Tool, Helmet and Pantera.
One of Smackjacket's most distinctive qualities is its use of unexpected riffs and off-kilter rhythms that stop and start with all the predictability of a striking viper. According to MacKenzie, these "thick, tight chunks" of guitar noise can be confusing to an audience that has grown accustomed to the traditional 4/4 slam produced by other hard-rock outfits. "A lot of times, we'll end a tune and people just sort of freeze," he says, grinning. "They don't know what to do, because we use so many changes in our songs."
"We get the most compliments from club owners and other musicians," Flaskamper adds. "Not because we're doing anything that's totally different, but because we're doing something that's different as far as the Denver/Boulder scene goes. I haven't heard anybody else [in this area] who's doing what we do."
Bogovich's soul-seeking approach to songwriting also contributes to Smackjacket's unusual style. Instead of gravitating toward overworked subjects such as sex, drugs, rock and roll or dreary, postapocalyptic doom, he writes about his feelings--and not only the negative ones. "Because we play grinding guitars with the full-on distortion sound, people never associate [our songs] with, like, `I'm feeling all right/Da, da, da,'" he notes. "I mean, there's times when I'm angry. But there's also times when I'm sad, happy, joyful, solemn... I usually write in the first person. [I write] about things that have affected me in a hard way during my life and the ways I overcome these things, these hindrances."
Joking, he adds, "I'm a priest in my spare time."
Since Smackjacket formed last September, Bogovich hasn't had much time for white-collar work. The band has matured at an astronomical rate, with the addition of Shapiro beefing up its already meaty sound. The boys recently booked time at a Boulder recording studio, where they plan to record their first full-length album.
Flaskamper says the quartet plans to "keep the momentum rolling. I think that's the key to a good band. I don't want to take a year to cut an album, like some of these bands do. By the time that year is over, we're going to be bored with those songs."
Likewise, the members of Smackjacket hope to avoid the pomposity that afflicts so many of their local and national peers. As Bogovich puts it, "It's good to have blows to one's ego. The more you soften that thing up, the better off one ends up being, I think."
Maybe he's got more in common with Alan Alda than he's letting on.