State of Shock
I'm a bastard. That's the whole thing."
It's early on a frosty evening at Gabor's, the infamous Capitol Hill dive bar where the jukebox leans toward Zeppelin and X and autographed snapshots of Hollywood has-beens like Louie Anderson adorn the walls. Charles Edward, leader of Seraphim Shock, sits at a booth amid all the peeling vinyl and scratched Formica. Raven's wings of slick black hair spill out from under his skull-and-crossbones baseball cap; his eyebrows are shorn clean off, and his sideburns and goatee are as delicately sculpted and sharp as daggers.
Beside him is Daisy Grave, the group's new bassist, and she looks, well, kind of like Daisy Duke if she had died and been dug up. Her impossibly pretty face is framed with long hair blanched platinum as if by nuclear fallout or sheer fright. In fact, the two of them look a bit like members of the Addams Family -- an Addams Family from a world where Kennedy fucked up the missile crisis and the ICBMs rained over North America like lightning bolts from an asshole god.
"I'm a bastard," Edward repeats, his formidable voice sounding muffled. (As it turns out, he's just getting over a nasty head cold.) He's trying to explain why, over the nine years of Seraphim Shock's existence, there has been a revolving door on the practice space through which numerous bandmembers have either passed freely -- or been forcibly ejected.
"It's kind of like a roller coaster," he goes on with a laugh. "Hey, let's just call it what it is: a democratic dictatorship. And honestly, I think a year ago, I was at that point where I was on the verge of walking away. We had just gotten back from tour, and I fired my longtime bass player. We really didn't have a lot going. We hadn't had an album out for four years. Everywhere I'd go, people would be saying, 'Seraphim Shock, Seraphim Shock,' but my personal life was in shambles. I was fucked. It wasn't writer's block or anything; in fact, I've always had too much material. It's one thing to go through pain and be able to get that out, but I just wasn't getting it out. It wasn't translating into music."
Translating pain into music might sound like a gothic rock cliche, and perhaps it is. But Seraphim Shock has always flirted with cliche, and with the conventions of the unconventional, through its blasphemous mix of goth, metal, industrial and punk. With elaborate stage productions and a larger-than-death presence, the act clawed its way to the top of Denver's goth scene years ago, and its 1997 debut, Red Silk Vow, remains one of the most popular local albums of the past decade. But after tons of touring and a well-received 1999 EP called Nightmares for the Banished, Edward and company seemed to lose momentum and sputter out in the new millennium.
"I was really burnt," Edward explains. "I was just sick of it. But things kind of happen for a reason, I think. I'm glad that we skipped an album. We were definitely at that point where it was like, 'Wow, it's do or die.' When Daisy joined the band late last year, we just sat down at the diner one night and made a list of what had to happen, what we needed to happen with the band."
What needed to happen was Halloween Sex N Vegas, Seraphim Shock's new full-length. While Red Silk Vow and Nightmares were compelling, even unique forays into the heavier end of the gothic spectrum, Halloween is the sound of a band stepping out of the shadows and into the sleaze. With less emphasis on electronics and more weight lent to the crush of guitars, the songs fall somewhere between the Sisters of Mercy's macabre hard rock and the Misfits' mishmash of camp, punk and horror-flick chic. Wide swings of dynamics and texture are spiked with piano and pop-scavenging samples taken from everything from Wild at Heart to Swingers. The album's whole hedonistic air is topped off with a whiff of anthemic '80s glam metal, setting it far apart from the dour, unholier-than-thou attitude of goth's mainstream.
"I think this new album is really good, but it's going to turn some people off," Edward notes. "It's not Seraphim Shock 1997. It's not a radical departure, but once you attain a fan base at whatever level, people want you to be the same thing forever. Although we've done well, we've always been kind of an outsider in the gothic scene, because we're too heavy. I even had a fucking promoter in Dallas tell me one time over the phone that we were too heavy for him to book. I was like, 'Too heavy? What are you talking about? Go back to gazing at your fucking shoes, then.' I couldn't believe it."
Still, Edward realizes that his deeper probing of the rock milieu is not enough to distance himself completely from the scene that gave Seraphim Shock birth.
"I can't blame anyone for throwing us into the goth/industrial genre -- to a point," he says. "But I think with the new CD, we've definitely moved out of that category. I'm not here years later trying to change my image; I'm just being honest. A lot of those bands we used to get lumped in with all went the other way. They all went electronic. And me, being the son of a bitch that I am, said, 'Fuck that. We're going more rock.' I was working at a nightclub, Onyx, the whole time I was making this CD, and all I heard four nights a week was boom! boom! boom! boom! It was a natural thing for me to go against that."
Rebellion, however, wasn't something that came easily to Edward. In fact, if you saw his yearbook photo, you wouldn't recognize him; back then, the muscular, 6'4" teenager was being groomed for an entirely different kind of stardom. "I was an athlete," he confesses, spitting out the last word as if it were a hunk of gristle. "My dad played college ball in Georgia, and I played football and basketball in high school. I think my dad had pro aspirations for me. I did get looked at by various universities, but I was never that good. I could shoot, though. I was a lazy motherfucker, but I could shoot the lights out.
"My life in high school was like a John Hughes film -- that whole '80s isolated-teenager thing," he continues. "I was a horribly shy kid, but I was really angry. I couldn't talk to people. I had a hard time getting dates. But the thing that made it tougher was that I also played basketball and was a quarterback on the football team, but I never really fit in with those people. I was always listening to Ozzy Osbourne or something. You have to keep in mind this was like 1984 or 1985, and Bark at the Moon was still kind of radical. I was into that idea behind heavy-metal music in the early '80s: 'Fuck all of you!' I was kind of a head case, and I just freaked out. I got into punk rock and death rock and just lost it. It was over. My parents tried to have me locked up. It was a big thing."
Soon after melting down and turning his back on the jock lifestyle, Edward enlisted the aid of his younger brother, Greg Kammerer, to form a band. "We came from this very, very religious home, and when we were growing up, it was all about the end of the world," he remembers. "Being in that situation, where everything your family does is based around Armageddon or the fact that the Soviets are going to attack any day, was pretty fucked up. They put me in a Baptist private school when I was in junior high. When I finally rebelled, I wasn't smart about it, but at least I was lucky. My life definitely could have gone a different way. Greg and I saw a lot of people in the scene go; they'd wind up in prison or dead. And I was just angry. I was totally blind. I could have been one of them."
After buying his first synthesizer with "half stolen bingo money and half drug money," Edward and his brother began searching for bandmates. By 1994, the first incarnation of Seraphim Shock -- Edwards on vocals, Kammerer on guitar and David James on bass -- began playing shows in Denver at any venue or house party that would have them. Backed by sequenced drum and keyboard patterns, the embryonic lineup was a far cry from the aggressive, flamboyant visage that Seraphim Shock now puts forth.
"We were horrible. We were so boring," Edward recalls. "I was scared to death the first three years we played. I was always having mental issues on stage. I was so shy, though it probably came out like I was a cocky bastard. I was having a real hard time being a frontman."
Regardless of the group's greenness, Seraphim Shock scored some major points in 1996 with a song called "After Dark" that was included on The Goth Box, a compendium put together by eminent goth-rock label Cleopatra. A year later came Red Silk Vow, extensive touring and a following made up of what Edward calls "psycho fans."
"As far as how we were received, people either really, really liked us or they hated us," he says. "That seems to have always been the case. We've never really been a middle-ground kind of band. One thing that caused that was, in the early '90s, I never took off the makeup from the '80s. Seattle and all that was so huge at the time. People would look at our fliers and go, 'Fucking fags from L.A. They're a fag band.' Dude, no one in '94 or '95 was willing to admit that they listened to Mtley Crüe and Poison."
But big hair and eyeliner apparently aren't the only connection between Seraphim Shock and Poison. At this point in the conversation, Graves pipes up across a half-eaten plate of chiles rellenos: "I'm a dancer at Shotgun Willie's, and we did a promotional thing for the Poison show at Fiddler's Green last summer with Vince Neil and Skid Row. So I got to go to the show, and when Poison came out on stage, C.C. Deville walks right over to where I'm sitting and started waving. Afterwards, me and this other girl were talking to Vince Neil outside of his tour bus, when in walks C.C., going, 'Where have you been? I've been looking all over for you.'"
"He wants her. It's hilarious," Edward says. "We were in the studio, and Daisy's in the sound booth cutting tracks when the phone rang. It was fucking C.C. Deville. You can't mistake his voice. Now he leaves messages on our phone; you ought to hear them. He's a spaz."
"When I can get past the whole fact that I'm a girl and he just wants to fuck me," adds Graves, "when I can actually have a conversation with him, he's really sweet."
"If it wasn't C.C. Deville, I would reach through the phone and kill this guy," finishes Edward. "He's so rock-and-roll. I want him to be our fucking guitar player. He'd fit great on the new CD."
With a rejuvenated roster including drummer Clem Cthulhu -- currently on loan from the popular Wisconsin industrial-trash combo Electric Hellfire Club -- as well as guitarist Raimond Scott and keyboardist Mark Harvey, Seraphim Shock appears to have a stable lineup once again. On Halloween Sex N Vegas, though, Edward played the lion's share of the instruments himself, including guitar, which he only picked up six months ago, out of frustration.
"I still don't know what the fuck I'm doing," Edward admits. "I don't feel like this band has ever reached its potential. Face it: We're a cult act at best. We play toilet tours. That's the reality. There was definitely a period a couple years ago where I wanted to put a gun in someone's face, I was so disillusioned with the band and everything that was going on in my life. But things are back on track now, and I feel good working with these guys.
"Still," he sums up, "I don't really consider myself a musician. I'm a songwriter. And whether it's more punk-influenced or goth or metal or pop or whatever, I'm not really concerned with fitting into anything. I know people have always been, 'Oh, Seraphim Shock is so gothic,' and probably rightly so -- at least back in the day. The whole spooky thing just came out by itself; it's just a part of what I do. Now, though, I just want to write good songs."
But don't think that Edward's professed vocation of songwriter means he's about to start pumping out some toothless, neutered, Sting-type pabulum. "I'm 34, and I'm pissed as hell," he contends. "I'm still breathing fire." And although he's saying this through a stuffy nose and decades of hard-knock-induced humility, he still sounds pretty damned convincing.
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