Interview with Nick Schendzielos of Job for a Cowboy

From even the briefest glance at the rows of riot police and the perversion of Lady Justice that appear on the artwork for Job for a Cowboy’s new album, ‘Demonocracy,’ it’s fairly apparent that the band believes America needs to experience some radical changes. As bassist Nick Schendzielos says in our interview below, “The system is completely fucked.” However, in spite of the national stagnancy that the group condemns, a real revolution has taken place within the group’s ranks and their sound. Along with a more technical songwriting approach, the addition of Schendzielos and lead guitarist Tony Sannicandro sees the former deathcore heroes abandoning the lurching breakdowns that made their name in favor of voracious, breakneck thrashing, mach speed lead lines, and harmonized whammy bar screams. But fear not, JFAC diehards — frontman Jonny Davy still prophesies our doom with his familiar two-faced roar n’ rasp vocal delivery.

Schendzielos was kind enough to chat with Rock Edition over the phone as the band was on the road during their recent stint on the Metal Alliance tour. Head below to read our conversation about ‘Demonocracy,’ genre labels, and just what pisses the band off about the USA.

How’s the tour going?

The tour’s going sick. It’s been a lot of fun. We’ve been out for about five or six weeks now. We did a week of dates with Dying Fetus first and then a week in the UK with Cannibal Corpse. Now, we’ve been out on this for about three weeks or so. It’s going good though; great crowds, super fun routing. The routing is really cool; we get to spend a lot of time in the van. We really dig that. You know, really long drives where you’ve got to leave the show right after you play some stuff? That’s really fun. [laughs]

[laughs] You’re being sarcastic?

[laughs] A little bit. A little bit of sarcasm right now. But it’s been sweet. It’s a good time. Everyone watches DevilDriver…

For sure. Speaking of long drives in the van, what do you usually do to keep yourself entertained at those times?

In the van? Mostly, you end up telling yourself you’re going to do all this creative shit — you’re going to edit videos and write songs and even watch TV and shit like that — and most of the time you end up just sleeping. There’s something about the vibration of the wheels and the highway speeds that just puts me to sleep. When I can keep myself going, I try to read a little bit — that’s good reading time — or… I’ve got a YouTube channel that I do bass videos on, kind of like play-alongs. I play with this band called Cephalic Carnage too, so I’ll make play-alongs for that, and I’ve been working on some of the new Job stuff. So I have a bunch of footage in the can, and then I just edit it as we drive, so that’s pretty cool. And then, we’ll listen to music. We’ll listen to stand-up comedy a lot because that kind of breaks up hearing music all the time. And sleep. Definitely a lot of sleeping.

Yeah, I feel you on that. I fall asleep every time I’m in the car as well. [laughs]

[laughs] Yeah, in the airplane too.

Yeah. So your new record is your most technical yet, I think. Have you had to rehearse much more than usual to get the new songs you’re playing off of that ready for the road?

Yes. Definitely. Me personally — when we went into the studio, I had tabs for everything and had demo versions of the songs. I demoed out a couple songs on bass, but the producer, Jason Suecof, he was very involved with the record. When we recorded ‘Gloom’ with him, he was very involved with the riffs on that as well. So I knew that all the riffs were going to change a little bit. I didn’t want to spend a whole bunch of time writing demos for the stuff just to have all the stuff get changed. I really like Jason’s ear, melodically. He’s got a really killer musical brain, so when we went in there to record, Jason and I would listen to the part and be like, “Okay, what should the bass do?” Then, we’d write what the bass would do. So I didn’t really actually get to or have to play the songs in time all the way through until we were like, “Alright, this is a song we’re playing live, this is a song we’re playing live.” Then, with those songs, playing what we had written was really hard.

[laughs] It took me a long time. I had to run the stuff a lot in order to be able to play it, which is great because I think that as a musician, you want to grow. That’s what makes you feel fulfilled — knowing that you’re getting better because you’re not able to play something at first at speed, and then after weeks of rehearsing it, you finally get it up to the level to be able to play it live. In the band too, everybody had to do their own homework to get the stuff tight. In the band, it didn’t take that long, only maybe two or three practices to get the stuff playable live. And then, slowly, we’ve been tightening every single night, until now. We’re ripping.

Nice. Given that technicality, how do you think the new material fits in with the old material in live settings?

I think it fits in pretty phenomenally well, actually. I think we picked the right songs to play off the new stuff. For example, “Ryan” — we have these pet names for the songs. Before they had actual names, they were all people’s names. So, for example, “Imperium Wolves,” the third track off of the album, used to be called “Ryan.” So we play that song live, and it’s crazy; people have never heard it before and it’s getting a better live response than even some of the older stuff. I think that even through some of the technicality, there’s a real solid element of groove in it. I think that that’s what people are going to feel live. They can get through the technicality of it because of that solid groove. I feel like that fits in really well with the old stuff. We probably play all in all the heavier, groovier songs from each record. You wanna play what gets the best live response. We’re pretty stoked. We’re probably going to start playing “Children of Deceit” live, as well. So right now we’re doing “Imperium Wolves,” “Black Discharge,” which was “George” — that was the pet name for that one — and then “Children of Deceit,” which used to be “Nadine.”

[laughs] I see. Speaking of “Imperium Wolves” — this is a little sidetrack thing — but what the hell is the sample at the end of that song on the album?

You know, I don’t know where the hell Jonny got that. I have no idea what the hell that is.

I was trying to figure that out. It’s just so weird. [laughs]

Yeah, it is really weird. We got it too because I had to download it because we use it live to intro the song, actually — instead of outroing it, we intro with that. Yeah, I have no idea what the hell that is. I’ll ask him because I’d like to know myself.

That part — I always forget about it, and then I’m listening to the record, and it’s really heavy, and then that part just makes me crack up every time.

[laughs, then mimics the screaming from the sample] I have no idea. I gotta figure out where he got that from.

For sure. Talking a little bit more about the album itself, among a lot of people on the internet, there’s been some debate about whether you guys have changed from deathcore to death metal leading up to now. What’s your take on the evolution of the band’s sound?

I would say that if you think about it, I’ve never really been a fan of genres and labeling things because I really feel like I want to leave it… When you put a label on something, it’ll literally skew the way that your brain hears it. If somebody’s like, “Oh, check out this deathcore band,” and they put it on, you’re already naturally going to have a predisposition to think it’s going to sound a certain way, and so you’ll hear it differently. You’ll hear, if it’s a chuggy kind of a riff, it’s like, “Oh yeah, there’s the deathcore part.” But if somebody’s like, “Hey, check out this death metal band,” and then you hear a chuggy part, they’re not like, “Oh, that’s a deathcore part.” It’s just a chuggy riff part.

So I’m always wary of labels and stuff, but if we have to play that game, then I look at it like -core, with the -core elements that come from hardcore, and I feel like that is generally associated with breakdowns — building a riff up, and then you just drop the riff right with the quarter, with the quarter china [mimics the sound of a china cymbal] — you know, that whole thing. It terms of describing it that way, I’d say it’s definitely not a deathcore album at all. There’s no, there’s maybe a couple parts you could consider breakdown-esque, but there’s no breakdowns. It’s all pretty much — we call them banana riffs.

[laughs] Why is that?

I think Tony was explaining it to me the other day. It’s [sings a convoluted riff] a banana. The style of riffing doesn’t have anything to do with a breakdown-esque type of riff or chug riff. So I would say it’s heavy metal, death metal, technical, that kind of stuff. The other thing is too that we’re never going to lose that deathcore title, I don’t think. People hear the name Job for a Cowboy, and we’re kind of notorious for being one of the founding fathers of the genre or whatever. I feel like if we can’t ever lose that, then I’m fine if people still call us deathcore, but that’s just what deathcore sounds like now. [laughs] We’ll just change what deathcore sounds if people aren’t going to lose the moniker.

Yeah. I have to say that I had a ton of conceptions about what this record was going to sound like before I heard it, and then it was just totally different. It was a little strange at first, but it’s pretty awesome.

Great. That’s good.

I really dig it.

That’s awesome. Thanks, dude.

So Jonny’s said many times that this is a really politically-themed record. I was wondering if, given that perspective, you guys all share the same political views in the band.

Yeah. I’d say as an average, we’re all pretty much… I don’t want to use the word… I don’t want to put a political categorization on that because none of us subscribe to a particular political side. The whole Democrat/Republican thing is just two sides of the same coin. It’s kind of why I think that the title of the record fits so well. That’s kind of the way we perceive the government style that we have in America — it’s demonocracy. It’s not a democracy; it’s a whole government run by demons, essentially. All of the special interest groups and the elite are really in control of who gets in office. You can pretty much lobby anything into law if you have enough money and enough time. We’re kind of all subscribers to that. We don’t want to seem apathetic towards it, like, “Oh, there’s nothing that you can do.”

A lot of the message that Jonny wants to convey with the band is that when you have a platform or a footprint like the band does, you can reach out to this network of people to inform people of these real evils that exist. I feel like that’s the idea — that we’re trying to raise awareness toward [the idea that] the system is completely fucked, completely bought and paid for. There’s no one side that you could pick that you’re going to vote somebody in and actually make some type of a change. Basically, the entire thing’s gotta be taken down. Who knows how that’s to be done, but we’re all about personal freedom, liberty, equality, justice, stuff that’s supposed to be represented by being an American. But it’s not really there anymore. [laughs]

Speaking of those real evils, what are some specific things that really piss you off about America today?

Well, we’ve definitely got the military/industrial complex. The percentage of money that we spend on the national defense budget every year. It’s mindblowing how much money we put into our military and national defense, as opposed to any of the other problems. We’ve got a shitload of problems of here, a lot, a lot, a lot of internal problems. Infrastructure; highways; transportation systems; the healthcare system. Everything is so fucked, yet there’s a constant, nationally huge, disproportionate chunk of money that’s put toward national defense and homeland security. We are definitely people that want to have a solid defense in case the shit does hit the fan, but personally, for me anyway, diplomacy is something that’s completely been neglected because it doesn’t provide for the war machine.

When you have these corporate revolving doors where people are in the government and then in a corporation directly related to the content of — for example, Halliburton and [Dick] Cheney and all these guys. He’s the vice president of Halliburton — excuse me; he’s the CEO of Halliburton — and then he’s the vice president of the United States, and then he’s back. The doors keep revolving in between so they can change the laws in order to increase profit, maximize the profitability of their companies. It’s all this big, huge war machine.

Along those lines, there’s also the oil industry, the health industry, the Food and Drug Administration. All these things are supposedly for our health and for our benefit, and if you really look into stuff, into the USDA standards for the whole organic food thing and what they allow people to sell to the American population, it’s Aspartame and — I mean, we’re into a lot of lot of documentaries. [laughs] Stuff like that. It’s just so hard to tackle just one thing. But there’s a lot of crap going on. It takes a big overhaul to get shit working right.

Definitely enough stuff to write a bunch of metal songs about.

Yeah, exactly. Definitely a lot of fodder for it.

You mentioned oil briefly. Is that what “Black Discharge” is about? I was trying to figure that out.

That’s it! Yep, black discharge. It’s oil.

It’s pretty gross sounding when you put it that way. [laughs]

[laughs] Yeah. A lot of people are like, “Is that song about the oil industry, or is it about an STD?” [laughs] Either way, you’re going to need some help.

Yeah. [laughs] You guys have also said — I know that Jonny, at least, has said this — that you enjoy pirating music and downloading music and that you encourage people to share the new record with their friends. Does that attitude ever come into conflict with being on a record label?

I think although that’s always kind of been a tradition of the band, I feel like when a record label looks into signing a band, they’re probably pretty well aware of a band’s position on something like that. I feel like they’d probably also want you to say, “Hey, if you want to support us, that’s awesome. Buy the record. Download it first; check it out; make sure you like it, but hey, the artwork’s really cool to have too. The digipak and having a physical thing that you can hold in your hand is kind of almost like a nostalgic type of thing. Pick it up, just for shits and giggles. Why not?” — I feel like you need to add that in there, and at the same time, if you can’t afford it, if you don’t have the money, we want you listening to the music. Get it however you need to get it and spread it around however you need to spread it around.

If I don’t like Job for a Cowboy, and somebody’s like, “Check out the new record,” I’m not going to go risk spending 11 bucks. Like, “Give me the record. If I like it, and I’m turned over, now I’m a Job for a Cowboy fan. Hey, I’ll go to a show now. Maybe I’ll buy a t-shirt, even.” So then we’re up. The ticket price that the people paid to come see us and making money on the merch. So we’re up overall, as opposed to that person saying, “You know what, I can’t spend the eleven bucks on the record because I’m not going to risk it, so screw it. I just won’t even try it.” In the end, it’s really hard to pinpoint whether or not that stuff is long-term detrimental or long-term beneficial. It’s hard to do, so we just say, however you need to get the music, get the music and spread it around. If you want to support us so we can keep doing it, that’s all the better.

Would you guys ever consider releasing one of your records for pay however much you want or for free?

Totally. Yeah, definitely. I’d like to have one — when Radiohead did that, I really dug that. I thought it was awesome. Not to say anything against the record label — Metal Blade has actually been super cool, and the guys over there have been really awesome too. They’re just the way the label should be. But if you look at the breakdown of the production costs of CDs and where that 10 bucks or 11 bucks goes, there’s maybe a buck that goes to the artist. You’re talking 10 percent or 12 percent, at the very most maybe 15 percent or something. So if you were to donate [the price of] the record to the band, say five bucks, less than half the cost of the CD, the band gets all five bucks. So it’s kind of like we’d make five times as much money, and the fans pay half as much.

That’s pretty crazy.

It’s like a win-win, right? Although we’ve got to keep Metal Blade in the picture there because they do wonderful things for the band. That’s a whole different story. All in all, I still think that idea is kind of cool and maybe work in some way to keep the label involved and that kind of stuff. But I think that’s a really cool option — cut the middleman out. We don’t need middlemen anymore.

Yeah. I think that would be pretty cool, especially considering that I’m not under the impression that many big metal bands have tried using that approach.

Yeah, I’ve never heard of anybody [doing that], actually.

Pick up Job for a Cowboy’s new album, Demonocracy.

For the band’s upcoming tour dates, check out their official website.