SOMEWHERE in the real world—namely, the floor of their cramped Belltown rehearsal space—Botch guitarist Dave Knudson and drummer Tim Latona are making thoughtful observations about an edge-of-reason metal band's place in a city that largely likes its rock melodic and subdued.
Botch (opening for Neurosis)
Graceland, Saturday and Sunday, April 21-22
I, unfortunately, am in Rock Writer Never-Never Land, happily reflecting that each member's occupation is poetically aligned with the vague adjective I've just assigned to his personality. It's so perfect. Forthright vocalist Dave Verellen is an EMT for a private ambulance company. Relaxed Knudson is devoted to a design firm. Outspoken Latona works on the ramp for Alaska Airlines. And reflective bassist Brian Cook, the man behind Botch's hilarious, esoteric song titles?
"I'm a janitor."
The plot thickens. Cook says his maintenance position at the Frye Art Museum often boils down to "whatever they want me to do." After enduring my obligatory Breakfast Club "Career in the Custodial Arts" joke, he proceeds.
"Outside, there's always heroin needles. Earlier this week, we had this guy slit his wrists, so there was blood everywhere. Then all these school kids had a field trip there, so they were walking over the blood and it was like . . ."
"Art!" Latona barks triumphantly.
"Then all the chaperones got really upset," Cook goes on. "They were afraid the kids would catch AIDS."
"Yeah, AIDS jumps these days," Verellen chirps, inspiring: 1) a boom of laughter, 2) a relatively serious debate about pathogens, 3) the concession that the AIDS virus is not airborne but "blood-borne," and 4) me illustrating my inability to read subtext.
"You guys are all satisfied with your day jobs, then," I brilliantly follow up.
Latona asks Cook, "Are you satisfied with your day job?"
"Hell motherfucking no."
Botch talk it like they rock it. The close-knit foursome only seem to lead you on a series of endless, complex tangents. Keep listening. They're not tangents so much as parabolas.
MANY OF THEIR SONGS blast off in traditional hardcore style, with Verellen croaking to be heard over a riff factory in perpetual fast-forward. Then a slippery bass flourish, a jaw-dropping time change, a bridge so impassioned and right that it seems like you can touch the fucker, and it's crystal clear: This band's arsenal makes Charlton Heston look like a pussy.
How much does Botch bring to the table? I barely blink upon learning that they tackle the B-52's "Rock Lobster" live. I pray that a comment about an EP of Destiny's Child covers is not a joke.
On their 1999 release, We Are the Romans (Hydra Head), there is a song called "C. Thomas Howell as the 'Soul Man'" that is as deep and explosive and breathtaking to hear as anything metal has generated in a great while. And oh, that title!
"A lot of times we'll come up with a really dumb name for a song, like a working title for a song," Knudson explains. "Then it evolves."
"Originally I was tapping it, so it was called 'The Tapping Song,'" Cook continues, "then just 'Taps,' then 'Taps, Starring C. Thomas Howell.'"
"Because we thought Taps had C. Thomas Howell," Latona groans.
Bewildered at their creative process, I blabber something about how I thought the title was a complex metaphor for the false face of the musician as prophet and the insignificance of. . . .
"Well, you didn't let us finish," Verellen says. Everyone laughs.
"It's partially a reference to this band called Race Traitor from Chicago," Cook says. "They're a hardcore band, and their whole shtick is that they're trying to highlight racism and show how everything in our culture is inherently racist, which is fine, but it's to the point where it's kind of absurd and doesn't really make sense. It's kind of offensive."
"It's always annoying when a band tries to point out something political just to get in the limelight," Verellen adds. "The song's about them."
His lyrical approach is more confined, but never stupid or easy. On "Saint Matthew Returns to the Womb," Verellen recounts a creepy encounter as a counselor at an otherwise footloose Lutheran summer camp ("We'd ride horses and play with fucking guns. Swear to God!").
The epicenter of "Saint Matthew" is the line, "On the porch, two words changed life for me. And I'm not the same!" The two words in question, "You've sinned," were the product of a zealous coordinator who challenged the adolescent counselors to one-on-one confessionals every night.
"He gave me this whole spiel about 'The Lord knows you've sinned,' and 'You should confess your sins and feel this enlightenment,' or whatever. I said what I thought he wanted me to say, then later on I was like 'You know, he pressured me into that shit. . . .'"
"Then they shot him," Knudson chimes in, and everyone loses it.
Later, a sobered Verellen struggles to explain his words.
"All my lyrics are about life experience, you know? Not about something I was told or anything. They're . . ."
"You tell it like it is, brother," Latona says sincerely.
But most of the time, Botch don't. That's the best part.