It’s one thing to write blackened thrash punk songs about being stalked by mutants and zombies in an irradiated Mad Max-like wasteland. It’s quite another to conduct a phone interview in front of your Portland, Ore., apartment while being pursued by an insensitive landscaper armed with a loud-as-hell trimmer.
“What an asshole,” laughs Toxic Holocaust head Joel Grind, 29. “I’m standing here, clearly talking on the phone, and dude fires up a weed wacker inches behind me.”
Grind absorbs the affront in good humor; he doesn’t take himself or his music too seriously. Indeed, despite the grave subject matter—a world ravaged by nuclear war—and the intense way in which he shreds guitar and vocal cords, he concedes that Toxic Holocaust conjures a post-apocalyptic fantasy, not a political message.
But given the ongoing Fukushima crisis, he feels differently about his lyrics. “That’s kind of weird, isn’t it?” he says, then exhales, the fun draining from his voice. “I hope I’m not a prophet. It’s such a sad situation over there.”
Thanks to international touring, Grind developed lasting friendships with many in the Japanese metal community, even playing guitar for a time in Tokyo black metal act Abigail and recording an EP and album’s worth of sex-and-beer thrash with musician Yasuyuki Suzuki under the name Tiger Junkies. Grind plans on bringing Suzuki to the U.S. for a Junkies tour next year. Meantime, Grind, with Relapse’s help, will soon release an original song, “A.T.O.M.I.K.,” for a split 7-inch with the band Midnight to benefit Japanese tsunami survivors.
“I wrote the song just for this record,” he says. “We’re not taking any money for the recording session, and all proceeds go to the Red Cross.”
Keeping busy like this is the unstated mission of Grind and his band, bassist Phil Zeller and drummer Nick Bellmore. In ’09, the band toured for a straight eight months, and last year Toxic Holocaust joined Danzig for two tours. Still, Grind found time to write and record the just-released Conjure and Command, Toxic’s most ferocious output to date.
“After playing live so much, I know what songs go over well and which ones drag,” he says. “I wanted more dynamics. I wanted the songs to be fast, but I wanted them to go up and down in intensity rather than rip your head off the whole time.”
There are curveballs in Conjure. “I Am Disease,” for instance, is a sludgy beast adorned with air-raid-siren feedback. Grind also stretches out with the death ’n’ roll “Red Winter,” about the Eastern Front during WWII and inspired by Barnes & Noble visits on tour. (“I drink coffee, yeah,” he laughs. “So what? They don’t sell alcohol.”) The Motörhead-meets-Venom attack of “The Liars Are Burning” envisions a Dante-esque fate for, as Grind puts it, the “cheats, shady promoters and venues.” (“Relapse are the only people we can trust,” the post-apocalyptic Portlander says. “Thanks to them, we haven’t threatened to burn down a bar to get paid in a while.”)
Grind says he feels comfortable expanding this dark fantasy world he has imagined. True, there are only so many times you can write about a nuclear missile crises, but he doesn’t feel limited. Furthermore, friends and family continue to offer emotional support instead of pressuring him to get a real job.
“When our song ‘Wild Dogs’ debuted on Headbangers Ball well after midnight, my grandma stayed up to watch it,” he says. “My family knows this is what I’ve wanted to do since I was 5 years old. I’m not saying there won’t be an evolution to the Toxic Holocaust sound, but if I ever make a radical change I’ll just change the band name.”
Given his career as a fantasy-builder, does Grind feel like a lost boy à la Peter Pan? “I’m more like the Last Boy on Earth,” he says, referencing an old sci-fi novel. “I turn 30 in a month and don’t feel it at all. I think doing what you love keeps you young, which is why people working for money seem so worn out. I don’t feel lost; I know my purpose.”