Narcotic Wasteland is the brainchild of Dallas Toler-Wade, whom will be familiar to most of you as one of the driving forces behind death metal legends Nile. Far from being a mere side project, Narcotic Wasteland is a technical death metal juggernaut in its own right; their self-titled debut, which was released independently by the band on January 15th, is one of the best albums of the young year, balancing insane levels of musicianship with frightening brutality and gritty lyrics depicting the horrors of addiction. I contacted the band via e-mail requesting an interview, and all four members of the band graciously took time out of their no-doubt busy-as-hell schedules to answer my questions regarding their formation, the unique subject matter of their lyrics, how the debut album came together and beyond…
THKD: How did each of you come to be a part of Narcotic Wasteland? What were the circumstances surrounding the formation of the band?
Dallas Toler-Wade [guitar, vocals]: Narcotic Wasteland was something I had been working on in between Nile touring/writing. Originally I was going to play all the instruments and release it as a side project, but the more I wrote, the more I wanted to do this as a band. Edwin and I have been friends for two decades, playing in bands together in the early 1990’s, so I asked Edwin if he wanted to jam and he was into it. Edwin recommended Chris Dupre for Bass/ Vocals, and it was a perfect fit. So we almost had all the puzzle pieces, we just needed a drummer. After a few try outs things were not looking too good, and I was feeling again that I would be doing the drums in the studio. Then George Kollias (Nile) recommended Erik Schultek . I sent Erik some song demos, and he nailed it. So here we are.
Edwin Rhone [guitar, vocals]: Dallas and I have been friends since the early 90s. Have hung out and played so much music together over the years. About 4 years ago Dallas was talking more about doing a side project and he asked if I wanted to be a part of it. I was stoked.
Erik Schultek [drums]: As you may know, Dallas is a killer drummer and was going to do this record on his own. As a friend and fan of NILE, George Kollias had recommended me to him for the project. Dallas saw some of my videos on youtube, we discussed the project, I recorded some demos, which he liked. The rest is history.
Chris Dupre [bass, vocals]: Dallas, Edwin and I are all from the Fayetteville NC area. I met Edwin at the first live show I ever performed 14 years ago. A few bands and years later Edwin showed up at storage unit to check out a band practice and brought Dallas with him. I remember finishing a song, putting down my bass, shaking Dallas’ hand and within seconds the three of us engaging in gear and tech talk and passing around guitars. Saw Dallas at a few Nile shows here and there after that and always stayed in touch with Edwin via interweb over the years sharing music and me asking him for tech advice. Ha ha ha ha!!! Well one day a few years ago I shared a track I was working on with Edwin that was a little faster than my usual work. A few moments later his response was “Nice, ever considered a side project”. I said “sure man, what ya got”? He hit me with some demo tracks and I was hooked. Let’s do this.
THKD: Was there anything you hoped to accomplish with this band that you might not have been able to do in previous bands you’ve been involved in?
Dallas Toler-Wade: Well, not really. I think that sometimes musicians just have other ideas that do not necessarily fit in their current bands or projects. My focus in any band has always been to contribute music, play tight, and play heavy.
Edwin Rhone: Mainly, I wanted to help Dallas get his music out there, and to have a chance playing on stage with him again.
Erik Schultek: I love playing music with serious like-minded individuals. You never know where you are going to find them. Obviously, Dallas is a respected musician in a well known band and I was already a huge fan. It was killer to be able to collaborate with the vocal and guitar assembly he is known for and I admired. Plus, knowing this was a project different from NILE, I would be able to impart some of my own ideas on the music and not worry about trying to be a Kollias clone (like that could ever happen haha). But, that appealed to me. I was also introduced to Chris and Edwin who are killer musicians in their own right and it’s always great to branch out and work with other talented players. Ed and I just did an instrumental record together after we finished the Narcotic Wasteland project entitled Edwin Rhone- Panoramic Views. It’s great.
Chris Dupre: I saw this as a great opportunity for musical growth. This is the most technical band I have ever been a part of. All the dudes are cool and the music is great. I refused to let skill level hold me back from doing something that I wanted to do in music. Dallas is well known for his shredding. His technique is unique and honed. This is also the case with Edwin. Put the two together with Erik Schultek and you have a beast that is well deserving of tight and prominent low end.
THKD: What can you tell us about the writing and recording process for the debut album?
Dallas Toler-Wade: Erik recorded his drums, then me, Edwin, Chris tracked the rest. Then Erik did the mixing, and we all made suggestions and tweaks.
Edwin Rhone: We did everything ourselves. Took our time and made sure it came out like we wanted. No pressure with deadlines.
Erik Schultek: Dallas had the record demo-ed out and had a very clear vision for this release for years. However, we all had an impact on it. The message was there and clear, already, but after we started putting our own parts on it the material, it started to turn into more of a collaboration. The arrangements didn’t change that much besides song order.
We are from all over the USA, so we began by myself tracking the drums in my studio in Wisconsin. The rest tracked themselves in their locations since they all have access to capable equipment. I had everything sent back to me since I was doing the mixing, than once it was set and agreed upon, we sent it off to Maor Appelbaum in Los Angeles for mastering.
Chris Dupre: Dallas had the record demo tracked. As I said Edwin provided me with a few tracks and I began work on the material. Early on I was asking Edwin a few questions on the style of bass that they foresee or want on the material and he brought up using a 5 string bass. Since for the most part we are in a higher tuning than what I’m used to I thought it was a brilliant idea. Transposing some of those riffs that octave lower really opened up some avenues for the bass lines. A year or so down the road Erik recorded his drum tracks at his professional in house studio and forwarded them to Dallas and Edwin. It was finally time to do the deed. I loaded up my bass and drove to South Carolina for album tracking with Dallas. At this point I was well rehearsed and well ready to lay down my tracks. We woke up early every morning and tracked all day, then stayed up late listening to what we recorded that day every night…..loud. Everyone spent a lot of time on the material and everyone’s performances were super tight. After it was all recorded the tracks were bounced back to Erik for an adventure only he can tell.
THKD: What does each member of Narcotic Wasteland bring to the table and how did that translate into the material that became your debut album?
Dallas Toler-Wade: Well for this first release I wrote all of the songs except for one of the songs Edwin wrote the music for. Now that we have a full band I am really looking forward to working together collaborating on new material. But writing music is only one aspect of being a band, and everyone involved is pulling their weight and beyond. We handle everything from the music and video production, to the website. We do it all. This is a real team of individuals, and I am very excited to see what we do next.
Edwin Rhone: When Dallas and I were talking about this project, we came to the conclusion that everyone involved needed to have their own recording setups, and really know how to use it. And other things too. For instance, Erik has his own studio to record drums and is really good at mixing, Chris has been very prolific with his other band Fractured Fairytales self producing and making really great videos. I am really good at recording too and have my home studio, also I know a good amount about web design. And of course Dallas has his home recording setup and has tons of connections. Then when you talk about each persons musician ship it just made a ton of sense. 🙂
Erik Schultek: Everyone brings their own flavor, experiences, and abilities to a musical collaboration. I feel in Ed, for example, you find a finesse, technique, with great subtleties which add a nice texture to the composition. Same with Chris. There are things he did on the record which really added to the brutality of some sections and increasing its bottom end. Both of them added backup vocals to the record and their individual pitches to those pieces were very interesting and needed.
Chris Dupre: Dallas had all the guitar work laid out aside from “Addicted to Junk” by Edwin and it sort of built itself from there. When Erik hears a riff he plays what needs to be played regardless of speed and intensity. I mean he is really in there. I was blown away by his drum translations. Edwin’s guitar harmonizing and insane solo work with some textural and backing vocals added new intense dimensions to the album. I did the bass thing and some backing vocals. It was interesting to see the material sort of take a life of its own while not straying from Dallas’ vision.
THKD: Where there any specific challenges or obstacles that presented themselves while creating and recording the material?
Dallas Toler-Wade: There are always challenges in making an album. Those challenges turn into learning experiences which can be a great source of entertainment in itself. I think the major challenges are always mostly finding the right people to form a band. Everyone needs to be able to play the songs with conviction, and also have the right attitude. Band chemistry is very important.
Edwin Rhone: Surprisingly the only issue was finding a capable drummer, we went through a few. Erik came along and just destroyed it in no time at all.
Erik Schultek: The challenges when you are not in the same rehearsal room every day are vast. You need to be certain everyone is pulling their own weight at home. The largest challenge in having a band being successful is having a group of people who are proactive and want to work. We have this. The only obstacle we have is geography, but i’d rather have 1,000 miles in between me and my bandmates who I know want to create great music, than a few guys within 2 miles who don’t know how to pick up a phone…
Chris Dupre: Aside from the learning curve, recording this album was the smoothest production experience I have ever had from beginning to end. The four of us have never been in the same room at the same time and I’ve never even seen Erik Schultek face to face. Just an awesome team with everyone really doing their part and more.
THKD: What is your favorite song or moment on the album and why?
Dallas Toler-Wade: Well I don’t know if I could call it my favorite song, but “Absent Friends” would be one of the songs personal to me. I have lost a lot of friends over the years to drug abuse, and that song really gets me.
Edwin Rhone: “Absent Friends” is a powerful song to me. I have lost many friends to addiction.
Erik Schultek: I like all of them haha. That may sound funny but I mixed the record and I’ve heard every song 1,000+ times. If I still like listening to them after all that than that’s a great thing…
Chris Dupre: My favorite moment of the album is the first 38 minutes after you press play.
THKD: Why did you choose to self-release your debut album? What are the advantages and disadvantages of putting the album out yourselves? Are record labels becoming less necessary?
Dallas Toler-Wade: We put the album out ourselves for many reasons. The first reason is because we can. There is no real disadvantage in my opinion of doing an album yourself. A lot of people think you need a lot of expensive gear, and a big album budget to make an album sound good. I disagree this is not rocket science. It’s metal. As far as record labels It would be cool to have a label to help with promotion, and because we are self sufficient all a label would have to do for us is press the Cd, and run adds. We would never ask for some ridiculous recording budget.
Edwin Rhone: Since we all have the gear and the knowhow, we just knocked it out. There was no waiting for some third party to keep us held back. I think labels can still be necessary; they should have business models in place for bands that can do their own production. Labels still have advantages.
Erik Schultek: The trend in our scene is, if you can do it yourself then do it. But, I also come from the mindset of “it better be done well.” This is what we have done. While we don’t have the promotion from a label backing us, it puts more effort on us to be self-sufficient. However we have been very resourceful producing our debut cd and music video as well as handling distribution of our physical product.
Chris Dupre: A what?
THKD: Narcotic Wasteland’s lyrics deal with various types of addiction. Is this in any way a reaction to rock/metal’s tendency to glorify drug and alcohol abuse?
Dallas Toler-Wade: Not at all. Most of the songs do talk about addiction, but we can write about anything really. I wanted to keep the words simple and straight forward instead of getting poetic or putting a bunch of big thesaurus words together that don’t really mean anything. It’s like punk songs with metal music.
Edwin Rhone: Chris, Dallas, and I grew up in the same town. That place is a fucking wasteland. [We] Have witnessed so much drug abuse there. Good people get caught up and either lose everything or die. A lot of people think we are promoting straight edge, when in fact we are talking about real shit we have been around.
Erik Schultek: Music should be open to interpretation. The listener applies their own circumstances to the material. They agree or disagree. That’s the point…
Chris Dupre: I would say no. I would say it’s more of a reaction to society’s tendency to glorify drug and alcohol abuse.
THKD: Are any of the lyrics based on personal experiences or observations? If so, can you tell us about any specific incidents that might have directly influenced Narcotic Wasteland?
Dallas Toler-Wade: Yes a lot of these songs are personal observations, and experiences. I have had my own problems over the years with alcohol, so I know a thing or two about feeling the need to become intoxicated. Where I grew up drugs and alcohol were offered to me by the time I was ten years old. Being in that kind of environment at a young age is not good for anyone in the developmental stage. The song “Widespread Narcotic Wasteland” it talks about the bullet hole in my son’s bedroom wall, and a meth lab exploding a block from my house. These things really happened in my old neighborhood. In the neighborhood I live in now the neighbors roommate crashed into his garage door high on adderall. We live in a wasteland of people hooked on all kinds of different drugs. It’s a real epidemic.
Erik Schultek: This was Dallas’ inspiration for this project, however, everyone has their own experiences and dealt with some sort of addiction in their lives. For some it’s: drugs, nicotine, pills, sex, alcohol… whatever it may be… for example, some people workout until they resemble bone and sinew. It’s a very open topic on addiction besides the band name being specific with “narcotics.” However, the fact that heroin use has doubled in the USA in the last ten years should be an eye opener that this shit is really happening. Sad to say it takes a great actor’s death like Philip Seymor-Hoffman to make the media pay attention…
Chris Dupre: Fayetteville, North Carolina.
THKD: Who is the song “Coastal Killings” about? Did you have someone specific in mind lyrically?
Dallas Toler-Wade: “Coastal Killings” is about Donald Henry Gaskins, the most prolific serial killer in South Carolina. There is an autobiography called The Final Truth that I read about Gaskins. Great read but not for the faint of heart.
THKD: Who/what were your musical inspirations for Narcotic Wasteland? The album has a great balance between brutal technicality and catchiness.
Dallas Toler-Wade: Thank you!!!! We like a lot of different styles of rock and metal. I am a big fan of death/ black/speed/thrash. I am also a fan of punk/crossover. So many genres these days it’s kind of silly. We should just call it Rock ‘n’ Roll m/.
Erik Schultek: Too many to name. I grew up on Slayer so the skank beat has always been fitting for any type of aggressive music i’ve been involved in. However, the musicianship i’ve found in playing technical death metal is like no other. You can go from 260bpm to 100 bpm. Believe me its very difficult to play slow as it is fast. It’s similar to classical music music in a symphony. This was always what I loved about NILE. To be able to apply a groove to the patterns other than just blazing like a lifeless drum machine is a tough feat at those high speeds. I try ,now, to have my own voice on the drums. Of course I have my influences in: Kollias, Talley, Roddy, Vinnie Paul, and Lombardo but i’ll try to add (somewhat) a bit of my other influences of: Colaiuta, Weckl, etc…
Chris Dupre: I got into Metal at a very young age and have been a fan of heavy music for a very long time. I have always been a fan of Alex Webster’s bass technique and tone, Though I would have to say that for this album, Dallas Toler-Wade was my main musical inspiration. Makes sense right?
THKD: What are your thoughts on the current state of death metal in the US and where does Narcotic Wasteland fit within the spectrum of the genre?
Dallas Toler-Wade: I really think that metal in the US is strong. More artists are becoming more self sufficient, and there is a great community out there. As far as Narcotic Wasteland we just want to put out some heavy records, and play some shows.
Edwin Rhone: My two cents on this… There are so many good DM bands in the US. However, DM has always been underground, bands that are prolific in getting themselves out there, making new material and general hard work in their scene really help the scene, but on the flip side, there are even more bands that hurt scenes because they are not getting out there promoting, and working hard in their scene. That is all I got to say about that.
Erik Schultek: I think speed and technicality have been pushed to the max. Back in the day for me playing “Angel of Death” by Slayer meant, as a drummer, you could play anything tempo wise. Now the bpm’s are really up there, so now the challenge is you have to do it well and with dynamics. Some bands are doing it really well. There’s not much room to push it tempo wise these days. But at a certain point can speed kill feel.
Chris Dupre: I think death metal is bigger in the US now than it has been in previous years. I see all my old favorites still going strong and putting out great music. I see old favorites getting back together and putting out great music. New bands are coming out putting out great material. It’s all about keeping the music you enjoy alive and evolving.
THKD: Given the band’s subject matter, what’s your take on the US government’s so-called “War on Drugs?” It obviously isn’t working or this album wouldn’t exist.
Dallas Toler-Wade: First I feel the US government is a joke. War on drugs my ass! Pharmaceutical drugs what a big racket. All they care about is money. There is a problem in the US with addiction. The worst drugs are legal and prescribed, and it’s destroying lives.
Edwin Rhone: You can’t have a war on drugs just like you can’t have a war on a person’s desires. If there is going to be a war on drugs it should be against pharmaceutical corporations.
Erik Schultek: What’s the war on drugs? I can be put through the ringer trying to buy Ny-Quil at the drug store when I have the flu, but any day could find someone to sell me (ABC) if I wanted it. The largest offender is pharmaceuticals. If you watch television for 10 minutes you cannot help but feel you must have at least 10 afflictions. These are DEEMED legal by the US government and create an ongoing chemical dependency. Highly taxed, of course.
Chris Dupre: Unholy Hell Fire!!! I could write a whole government conspiracy book on this subject so I’ll try to keep this short and sweet. What if they do a big drug bust, sell the drugs back on the street, know who they sold them to and bust them again with the same drugs to turn large profit to fund unethical military operations outside of the tax payers eye? I mean who knows? I do know that a large percentage of the population are on prescription drugs.
THKD: Although Narcotic Wasteland seems to be more concerned with hard drugs and alcoholism, I’m curious to know your thoughts on Washington and Colorado becoming the first states to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. Do you agree with this?
Dallas Toler-Wade: Well I feel that marijuana is probably the least harmful of drugs and alcohol. If alcohol is legal then so should marijuana. The only real problem with pot is the user. There are people out there who can do it responsibly, but there are many people with an addictive personality so it does not matter what drug they do. If you feel you need to get high in order to function then you may have a problem.
Edwin Rhone: I think it is cool, it cuts down on violence and people going to jail for a bag of weed. I personally haven’t toked up in 8 years, Wish it was legal back then haha.
Erik Schultek: Narcotic Wasteland is not a straight-edge band. We discuss in our music the dangers of chemical dependency and how that can alter your productivity to oneself. In my view, Marijuana being legalized is no different than alcohol Prohibition from 1920-1933. Once government can get their hands around it and make money off of it, Marijuana will be socially acceptable because they deem so. I see it as utilitarian in the user.
Chris Dupre: Well I don’t know anyone who ever passed out in their front yard naked in a pile of their own vomit after running up and down the street pissing on people’s cars and not remembering it the next day by smoking marijuana. First thing they are going to do is get Monsanto to spray the shit down with chemicals and GMO it.
THKD: Are there any plans for Narcotic Wasteland to play live in 2014 and if so will you be touring extensively?
Dallas Toler-Wade: We do not have any shows booked as of yet, but we plan to hopefully get some shows for the summer or later in the year.
Erik Schultek: Hopefully after the spring/summer Nile shows conclude we can get out there in fall of 2014.
THKD: Are there any final thoughts you’d like to add?
Dallas Toler-Wade: I would just like to thank everyone who gave this release a chance and actually listened to it before making judgment. And I thank all metal heads for keeping it alive!
Edwin Rhone: Thanks for interviewing us!!! m/
Erik Schultek: Thanks for all the killer support we have received-especially internationally! We take pride in the quality of this record and will get out and perform it live as soon as the schedule permits.
Chris Dupre: Stay metal and thanks for all the awesome support!!!!