Payback in Kind
Selkow Van Urine
I always am wary when a promotional company requests that I do an interview at a restaurant. There’s usually too much noise, too much distraction, and always the fear that I’ll have to pay for my dinner. But I decided to throw caution to the wind, and jumped at the chance to meet up with singer/guitarist Kimball “Dr. KK” Kinnison, Ph.D., and drummer Andrew Muntzer, Ph.D., of the self-proclaimed Julius Caesar of metal, Lex Talionis, at New York City’s Skylark Steakhouse, where we all ordered heavy, blood-rare steaks. During the set-up, their manager, Dennis Carlisle, assured me that it was “on the label.” And he let the band know it was all recoupable.
Lex Talionis (meaning “Law of the Talon” in Latin) were in town to negotiate their new contract with Bornu Horseman Records, looking forward to recording a third album. Their first, self-titled record was released in 1996 on Alternative Wiener Records. In mid-1997 they released a second album, on Cortez Records, which was recorded live during a festival in Gdansk, Poland. The band has already racked up an impressive history since forming three years ago.
“I had just finished my doctoral dissertation in economics at MIT,” started Dr. KK, “and I wanted a break before starting as an assistant professor at a small college in West Virginia. Andy [Muntzer, drummer], who I did radio with at school, had just finished his Ph.D. in linguistics, too, and had a position waiting for him at Carnegie-Mellon in Pittsburgh. We figured that we could spend a couple of months seriously polishing our chops and put out a record before we started work and would only have time on weekends for practicing and gigging.”
You studied linguistics at MIT? Did you work under Noam Chomsky?
“I was supposed to,” replied Muntzer. “But the dude is never in town! He’s always out there lecturing on something other than linguistics, so I didn’t have much time to work with him. In fact, I think I saw him twice in my four years at MIT”
Dr. KK continued: “And Lester Thurow kept trying to fail me because I wouldn’t accept his limp-wristed approach to limiting, by right of force, wealth to people who prove their worth in mortal combat! Anyway, we advertised for a bass player and rhythm guitarist, making it clear that we were looking for serious metal musicians who were interested in playing a music influenced by Slayer, Priest, Maiden, Black Sabbath, Hydra Vein, Metallica, and Carnivore. But we didn’t just want any metalhead with an adequate attention span. We also didn’t want to be known as a “Boston” band, especially since I’m from North Dakota and Andy’s from Wyoming. I mean, when you consider we’re MIT graduates, people would think we’re trying to emulate Boston, the band, that is. Which we are not.”
“So,” continued Muntzer, “we placed small, classified ads in academic journals and regional bodybuilding magazines specifying that we were auditioning heavy metal guitarists and bass players. What we wanted were Ph.D.s who could win street fights.”
What does that have to do with heavy metal?
Dr. KK: As far as we were concerned, everything For a metal band that wants to be known on a level with Slayer or Carnivore, you need smarts, strength and proof that you’re able to dedicate and focus your hobbies. Let’s face it, if you’re the kind of person who can earn a Ph.D., you can probably do anything. That’s the kind of musicians we wanted.
Out of 213 answers, we settled on four people, that is, two bassists and two guitarists. By this time, Andy and I had moved to Fairmont, West Virginia, and set up our little studio. We invited the prospective musicians over, and they were coming from Cupertino, California, Raleigh, North Carolina, Los Almos, New Mexico, and Chicago, Illinois.
Dr. Muntzer:“We needed to make sure we had Lex Talionis material. After interviewing them about their backgrounds (I hate it when people lie on their résumés), political affiliations, sympathies, and listening to them play the appropriate riffs, we couldn’t decide. We had a computer engineer and Civil War buff from Cupertino who played incredible bass, but he was matched by a biochemist with a divinity school degree from Raleigh. On guitar we had our pick of a disgruntled nuclear physicist from Los Alamos who ripped, but we had his equal in a young woman from Chicago who’d just finished her doctorate in electrical engineering and kept forensic medicine as a hobby.
“The only way we could decide was to have them fight each other for the positions. This turned out to be perfect, since it would make sure we wouldn’t get any Isaac Asimov types, you know, all brain but the athletic abilities of an aborted fetus. So we explained the deal to each of them and rented out the local high school’s wresting room.”
Wait a minute. These people were going to fight each other just to be in your band? Correct me if I’m wrong, but you didn’t have an album deal or anything? How would they eat?
Dr. KK: That’s a good question. I partitioned part of my trust fund to feed into an escrow account that would generate enough interest income to pay for the band as well as still earn me 11.3%. Andy, who really came up with the idea, had set up some of his stocks the same way, as a requirement for his MBA thesis project. Since we wanted to concentrate on the band and not have things like starvation on the road get in our way, we had to guarantee an income to all the players. Shit, you’re lucky if you can make $30k with a fresh doctorate these days!
So anyway, the first match was between the two guitarists. We cranked up Wagner’s Siegfried and had them go at it. Yyvette, who won the slot, made quick work of Otto, from Los Alamos, despite the fact that she was out-weighed by at least 100 pounds! When Otto lunged at her she managed to trip him and pound the hell out of his head with her guitar! We sent him away in an ambulance with a grand in cash for his trouble.
Dr. Muntzer: The next match was a little longer. This time we put on Blessed Death’s Pray For Death, a really ripping tune, and watched in awe as these two men attacked each other. Ignacio, from Chicago, was a bodybuilder and looked like he could bench-press a house! Before the match he knelt in prayer and, when he finished, he began to scream horrible Aramaic obscenities at his opponent, Rob, the Iraqi from North Carolina. Rob was strong, and a black belt, but Ignacio tore him to pieces. We sent him home in a box. After the match was over, Ignacio declared his name to be I AM. We had a band!”
Now I understand that you’ve had a little trouble with both recording contracts and touring. Not to mention some genuine tragedy since the bands’ formation.
Dr. KK: Our first record was on Alternative Wiener Records, which confused people. But they had the unfortunate problem of being located in Pulaski, Tennessee, the birthplace of the Ku Klux Klan. Never mind the fact that, until us, Alternative Wiener was a Gospel label. All the press we received labeled us some sort of white power metal band. It didn’t matter to them that I am black. I don’t think music ‘journalists’ ever read the promo packages they get, nor do they take more than a quick glance at our band photos. AWR gave us an OK deal, but we had to get out of it; Andy wrote an amazing contract that ended up having them pay us to leave! So we had one record on AWR, which was enough to get us in the door of Cortez Records, who sent us to Europe.
Right. And I read in your press kit (I read it!) that there was a huge riot in Gdansk, Poland during a show.
Dr. KK: OK. What happened was this. We were scheduled to play a festival gig with Morrissey, the Batpeople, Lisa Loeb, and like twenty other bands. Well, that’s the way those festivals are, can’t help it. So we’re there and everyone hated us, because we’re this white power band, right? Which, as I said before, we aren’t at all. We’re definitely pro-Darwin, but there’s no ofay born who can tangle with me and live. Anyway, so before we go on we play Prokofiev’s overture from Alexander Nevsky. Which the Poles didn’t appreciate, since that’s the national hero of Russia. And they start to shout anti-American epithets at us, which prompts Andy, who speaks fluent Polish, to grab a mic and tell the crowd that in 1309 the Teutonic Knights sacked Gdansk, which really should be called Danzig, killing every man, woman, and child and repopulating the city with their own people. So in reality, all you Poles are really Germans!”
Dr. Muntzer: [interrupts] Boy, were they pissed.
Dr. KK : They charged the stage and began to pelt us with rotten lettuce and pig manure! We were lucky to get out of there alive! Good thing Yyvette had smuggled her Ninja equipment in with her otherwise we might not have made it.
And I understand that it was after that show that you lost your bass player.
Dr. KK: Well, I AM, who was a great bassist, not to mention a top-notch biophysicist and biochemist, began to put too much emphasis on bodybuilding. Even before Poland. And he kept saying that God was speaking to him through his bass guitar. Towards the end, he wouldn’t stop violently arguing with his bass and finally told us that God told him he’d reached perfection in heavy metal bass playing and that he should concentrate on bodybuilding.”
Dr. Muntzer: He had always followed a great diet. And since we were all bodybuilders, and I think I speak for both Dr. KK and Yyvette, that we all made the best gains ever since hooking up with I AM. After he left the band he put his theories to practice and calculated the optimum air pressure, temperature, humidity and distance from the center of the Earth for effecting even better gains. So he departed us for Switzerland, where he rented a lab and in a matter of days started a small cult that followed his regimen of eating, breathing, working out, sleeping – everything – at precisely the right times of day. However, it got the best of him.
He had calculated the precise distance from the center of the earth he needed to be for optimum glycogen replenishment, and had built a tower on a hill at just the right height. Unfortunately, the tower only had room for one person and a lot of his followers got jealous because they weren’t allowed to build similar towers due to local zoning restrictions. One of the most fanatic of them borrowed a machine gun from a villager and gunned-down I AM during a workout/sermon. A real shame, but he must’ve died happily.
Have you been auditioning new bass players since then?
Dr. Muntzer: That’s where Yyvette and Dennis are right now. The record company wants to sign us up with Derek Smalls, which would be great, although the last band he was in kept having their drummers explode. So I’d better look out.”
Finally, what’s the new album going to be like and will you be touring again?
Dr. KK: Well, in honor of I AM, we wanted to put a concept album together. And we originally planned on putting the entire Bible, Old and New Testaments, to heavy metal music. The only problem was that, with our arrangements, it would have required 55 separate compact discs, which the company refused to do. So we settled on a 7-inch record, based on the Book of Obadiah, the shortest book in the Bible.
As far as touring goes, we’re about to do a couple of months in Japan. Andy, who speaks fluent Japanese, has already translated all our material. We’re booked to tour with the Loudness reunion, to which we all look forward.
Lex Talionis will be supporting Deathbolt and Demon Ömlet upon returning from Japan. If you wish to contact them, they advise simply searching the web; their URL changes nearly daily as designers struggle to cope with the demands Dr. Muntzer places on HTML.