February 16, 2016 Interview – Wills Weller of Toothgrinder
One of the most intriguing Rock sounds in Metal right now comes from the band Toothgrinder. Hailing from Asbury Park, New Jersey, the boys slam down a revelation that with each album grows tighter and tighter. With a pointed shot to the heart and soul of Metalcore, Toothgrinder’s latest album, Nocturnal Masquerade, may just be the primo spot to carry through the top motion of 2016 in their genre. In enough words, it is a force of music nature to reckon with. Their sound is the undefinable, untamed rage Metalcore fans have been waiting for. The time has fully come as their sound is strung-up and unleashed to deliver their newest album, Nocturnal Masquerade, a Progressive Metal scream that reveals its inner sanctification supremely. Recently we sat down with Drummer Wills Weller the story behind the band, their progress, and much more.
CrypticRock.com – Toothgrinder formed in 2010 and have released a decent amount of music including 2014’s Schizophrenic Jubilee EP, and now new full-length, Nocturnal Masquerade. Everything, by design, has been well received, and your fan base just continues to grow. However, there seemed to be a shift for the band musically and in the band’s approach to what you all were trying to accomplish somewhere around early 2015. It is self-evident in your new album, Nocturnal Masquerade. What took place?
Wills Weller – Wow, that is a really great question. We really did start taking it very seriously. You know, we’ve been a band for a while, we’ve been friends for a long time, the four of us went to high school together and we were in bands together then too. We have known each other and played together for so long. It was this crazy thing that we just kept going and going. Then we got a manager and a label to be interested in us to pick us up and I remember that we just looked at each other and went, “Wow. We are really doing something!” For a band that was just friends in high school and never thought we would be doing all of this, now let’s take full advantage of what we’ve been given. If you’re given this opportunity to create a full-length record with an amazing label, I can’t see why you wouldn’t take full advantage of that. We wanted to spend every ounce of time and passion and all of our being. So, we did and it has been great.
CrypticRock.com – Absolutely, you want to make the most of it and not waste the chance you are given. Do you think you all would have been ready though if it had all come earlier in your music careers?
Wills Weller – I am so glad it hit now. A couple of years ago, I wasn’t as good at playing my instrument, and I wasn’t as good as a songwriter. I wasn’t as mature, just as a person, to handle everything. To be on the road, to be ready for the person I have to talk to at 2 o’clock for a half hour, and don’t forget this and that. We do learn by trial and error, and now that I feel like I am ready to do this, I can step in.
CrypticRock.com – That is a good point. Everything is a learning process in life. It is like stepping into the world of adult Rock -n- Roll responsibility.
Wills Weller – That is the best way to put it really. We are no longer just saying, “Hey, we’ve got a show this Saturday and we need to get our parents there and we got to get this and that.” No. Now, this is the real thing. It’s so cool. I have always wanted the opportunity to have an opinion. Now with a full-length record, we get to give our opinions to a whole world. I remember growing up, how I would fall in love with a band, or members of a band, and totally love the bass players’ sound. Well, now we are on that side. Maybe not completely yet, but we are now heading in that direction, and it feels so right.
CrypticRock.com – The direction you have set yourselves towards, plus the music and the producing of the music as it takes a part, you could hear the maturity. The knowledge and commitment grow by leaps and bounds. You can hear that even in your drumming. That has to feel good.
Wills Weller – Thank you and that is it. Like it was said before, when you get an opportunity for something like this, we are now going that direction. Not comparing the music or sound on any level, but it seems like what we have done must have been something akin to what Pink Floyd did when they were in the early twenties and put out 1973’s The Dark Side of the Moon. It is that same feeling they were going through sometimes, and they believed in what they were playing and doing. The same as we do now. This album, Nocturne Masquerade, is a little bit of everything. It’s dark, it’s mysterious, it’s conceptual, it’s angry, it’s a little bit of everything and that’s because everyone in the band goes through that. Those feelings can come out in a guitar lick, a drum beat, or a lyric. We try to encourage one another with all of those things. We all really support one another. It’s cool that other people can see and hear the growth in us as people and musicians too.
CrypticRock.com – The music certainly shows that on Nocturne Masquerade. Do you find yourself being a pretty humble person?
Wills Weller – For all of us, I know the tours we go on with other bands has been a huge inspiration. I really do believe in being a humble and modest person. Anytime I’m in a room with other musicians, I feel that they can all play the drums better than me. Some of these bands we’ve toured with, like Periphery; those guys are just incredible musicians, wonderful people, the Faithless, the Intervals, After the Burial; all of these bands are such unbelievable musicians,.The fact that we got to play with them every day, it just lit this fire under us! It pulled us up to be at this level. It inspired us to get better. You learn constantly from others. That keeps a person humble. It all should be taken as each person can inspire others.
CrypticRock.com – The value of networking and learning from others is very important. It keeps all levels in check. Is the songwriting in Toothgrinder handled by one member or a collaborative effort?
Wills Weller – We all actually write. Everybody steps up to the plate, so it’s a full team effort. Everyone has to put their own paint brush stroke on it. Someone might have a really cool phrase. Justin does the main writing and he is amazing. Then we all contribute to the melody and structure.
CrypticRock.com – That is great that everyone has input on the songs, makes it more unified. Looking at the artwork on your latest album, one can see a connecting thread with the other EPs prior. Is that a far assessment?
Wills Weller – We work with Paul Granese of the Forefathers Group and they have done some pretty incredible stuff. The background of the art is before we were signed, we were just grinding away, and we had put out this really long song; it was 18 and a half minutes long- “Vibration/Color/Frequency.” The cover of that was something I had designed. It had an elephant head with wolf eyes and antlers that went straight up. Without getting too crazy into detail, the title, “Vibration/Color/Frequency,” we understand that color by definition is a bunch of particles that are vibrating, and frequency is the vibration, so everything is one basically. So, that is one long song.
The artwork was a hybrid animal. An elephant that is very powerful, antlers which are regal and majestic, and wolf eyes that are very mysterious and keen. It was all these different elements for this iconic being. Then our last EP, before Nocturnal Masquerade, there was a lot of talk about the word “jubilee,” so that album title was Schizophrenic Jubilee. It was then that animal head became known as “Jubilee,” and it has become this character now. This all led to the album’s front cover artwork now, and the mask for Nocturnal Masquerade. However, if you notice on our newest record, the hair of the animal is longer. The antlers have grown and curved in, and we have added feathers. The animal is maturing. It’s very interesting how the growth of the band has shown even in our artwork. We really like to, as a band, try to have to meaning to what we create in our music and in our artwork.
CrypticRock.com – It is a fantastic concept and really adds to the overall package of the music. Outside of drumming, what other instruments or things do you like to do?
Wills Weller – Well, actually I play guitar too. There are some guitar riffs that I contributed to the record. I really enjoy playing guitar and drums. I am a big fan of modern art, graffiti, street art, and I love to paint too.
CrypticRock.com – Very cool to hear. As far as drums go, do you have a particular brand you like to play?
Wills Weller – Yes! I was recently endorsed by Tama. My Gosh! It is seriously like going from a used car out of the ’90s to a brand new 2016 Cadillac and you’re like, “Whoa!” This thing is so sweet. It is amazing! It’s one of the best drum kits I have ever seen. It’s an honor, to tell you the truth, to get to play it.
CrypticRock.com – You just have so much going on right now, fitting it all in must be a challenge.
Wills Weller – I just appreciate your flexibility with talking to me. As of right now, I still work a full-time job, and I am on my lunch break at the moment (laughed). I have such a sweet job. I work at an independent music store. It’s Russo’s located in Asbury Park, New Jersey. I am always in it, the zone of music. Working here, I get to be on drums and everything. It’s kind of nice really. When someone asks, “What isn’t going to break?” Everything breaks if you’re going to hit on it! (laughed). Although, Tama goes through crazy degree weather where it’s hot in Florida, or we head up North and it’s cold, it takes it. Another thing I really like about where I work is we aren’t salesmen. We are here to help guide you.
CrypticRock.com – That is really awesome, wonderful to hear you work in a record shop. Sadly, those are a dying breed. How did you end up coming together with Spinefarm Records?
Wills Weller – We got a manager and he said we needed to get some better recordings. So we recorded Schizophrenic Jubilee, but we didn’t want to release it. Our manager was like, “No, let’s shop this around a bit.” It was just so crazy that a management company believed in us. It’s just so foreign to you when someone really cares and says, “In two weeks, you’re going to go and record.”
CrypticRock.com – That is very interesting. How did you come by the management?
Wills Weller – We were referred to them actually by a real good friend of mine, Matt Halpern, the drummer for Periphery. I had met Matt at the music store I work at. He had come in during one of our in-store drum clinics we do, and we just got to talking from there and stayed in touch over the next year. Well, towards the end of that year, we did a tour over in California and we came back and I called Matt and said to him, “Matt, just give me twenty minutes.” So, he did and I told him I was in this band and we just feel like we are spinning our wheels. Matt said he didn’t even know I was in a band because well I really didn’t go around talking about it. Like, “Hey, I am in a band!”(laughed). It was 20-25 minutes later I get this call from the owner of Outerloop Management. He says to me that Halpern told him I was in a band. I’m at work and I tell the guys at work I have to take this phone call. I stepped out for a second and ended up talking to him for two hours. It was incredible, and here is Matt, who doesn’t need to even take the time to send an email to someone for anyone.
That was the spring door that opened everything. We were waiting to see what was going to happen, and Spinefarm came around. Our manager was excited, we were excited, and we all felt like we just won the Kentucky Derby! (laughed). They totally respect us, our music, and our art; they signed us because of us. It’s crazy we are being encouraged to do this when, way back when, we were just joking around back in high school. Here we are now! It’s crazy! It makes me laugh sometimes. You can’t take your moments and waste them. Live in the moment and do it. It can be done. You just have to keep going. I remember the other day, I took a screenshot and sent it to my parents. It was from Metalhammer. It said, “Update Metalhammer Spotify Playlist: Megadeth, Foo Fighters, and Toothgrinder.”
CrypticRock.com – That has to be an amazing feeling. You are right, you have to make the most of everything in life. Our last question for you is pertaining to films. CrypticRock.com covers all kinds of music and Horror/Sci-fi movies. If you are a fan of either genre, do you have any favorite films?
Wills Weller – I would say my favorite Sci-fi movie is 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). I like it because it’s both artistic and entertaining. Not many movies do that for me, so it really sticks out. Not to mention when it was made, and having the limited resources by comparison of what we have today to create, it is such an amazing movie.