INTERVIEW WITH GIANCARLO MISTRETTA lead-singer/guitarist of RETRODEMON
By SILVIE MIETZEKATZE
~“I was never interested in defining myself by any one musical genre, just anything that basically stimulated dopamine production in my brain (without drugs)”
Santa Barbara is probably the most beautiful town I have ever been to. We got mountains, the ocean and a very cute little city center. And yes, the rent is unaffordable to anyone who is not a retired millionaire or a trust fund baby. I probably have to survive on Ramen noodles for the rest of my life so I can stay in this town. Our music scene is not big and we don’t have many places to see live music, but the few people that form the core of Santa Barbara’s music underground, seem to be resistant and make sure that people like me won’t just
die of boredom. One band in particular has made this weird, weird little tourist town so much more bearable and that would be – RETRODEMON. This band is a stable of the Santa Barbara underground music scene since 2005.
Lead singer/guitarist GIANCARLO MISTRETTA or also by locals just simply known as GC – has been probably making music here, since his really long Rob Zombie like dreads locks had been growing on his head. And I mean that in the coolest most complimenting way ever – he looks like a rock star and yet is someone you will always see at every show, supporting the local scene and he is one of the sweetest person you have ever met. And so is the rest of the band. Their attitude is so low key, that as soon as I wonder if RETRODEMON is still together, they surprise me by playing a rad show at a benefit or some other charity event and they always just blow the mind of their audience and I hear a constant “ Who is this awesome band?” Followed with a “This is really fucking good” and ends in people head banging….I couldn’t agree more. RETRODEMON doesn’t sound like anyone out here. They describe their music as alternative rock and some people compare them to Metallica and Black Sabbath. I hear so many different bands and influences but in the end there is nothing out there that sounds like them with the heavy rock guitars and GC’s growling metal voice that channels the spirit of 90ties rock back into the room. GC was so nice to answer some of my burning questions to cast more light into the mystery surrounding RETRODEMON.
Current line up is: GIANCARLO MISTRETTA –vox/guitar, TYLER CLARK – drums, JOEY OSSO – guitar/vox, ERIC ESKELSON – bass/vox
Tell me about the history of Retrodemon, how did you guys get together?
Let’s see…Retrodemon came together back in 2005 when Alastair Greene approached Tyler with a demo of some songs that he’d written that were a little more on the ‘heavy rock/classic metal’ tip than his normal blues rock thing. Tyler and I had been playing together for a few years in a trio called Nogahyde & were doing this kind of heavy, groove-based, melodic thing, and Alastair was interested in getting something together with musician pals (with some history and experience) that were more in his age range. Alastair had played with Nogahyde at a mutual friend’s bachelor party & it was really fun, sounded gnarly with the two guitars, and we could tell that there was some serious potential there. Tyler eventually managed to convince his old bandmate (from Indica and Ultraspank), Dan Ogden to dust off his bass & we clicked right off the bat.
What does RETRODEMON mean?
The name comes from a song I wrote when I was seventeen called “Demon on Wheels”. It was about a post-apocalyptic mutant biker & the make/model of his nuclear-powered motorcycle was ‘RETRODEMON 263’…haha.
You are a solid part of the Santa Barbara music scene. How do you think it’s changed and why did you never move away like so many other musicians?
Thanks! I’m not as in-tune with the current music scene as I used to be – and that has a lot to do with getting older & not going out as often – but there certainly was an exciting community of underground bands/musicians here when I was growing up in the late 80s and throughout most of the 90s. Everyone was really supportive of each other, no matter how disparate their collective influences were. I know that still exists here to a certain extent, but it was pretty exciting/commando back then. Bands like ours would be lucky to get club gigs in the early days – not only because we were underage, but also because unless you were a happening blues, R&B, reggae, dance or top 40 band, mainstream clubs generally weren’t interested. There were a few underground clubs (like Club Iguana & The Noise Chamber), and some shady promoters that would find restaurants willing host shows on slow nights, but they usually took advantage of the bands & didn’t last very long. Bands that wanted to put on their own shows had to be resourceful & either rent out places like La Casa de La Raza, The Eagles Lodge, or The Red Barn (on the outskirts of Isla Vista), or throw warehouse/Quonset hut parties in the industrial district downtown, generator parties up at Knapp’s Castle or just drive out to I.V. with all their gear in a van looking for a kegger/rager in need of a band.
As far as moving away, I had musician friends that moved to LA right out of high school (or earlier) who encouraged me to join them and I spent a lot of time in Hollywood in the late 80s/early 90s. I met so many talented people down there & was invited to join a lot of bands that were having success, but I was always reticent to give up the security of having a steady job and band in my home town.
Your band before Retrodemon was Creature Feature and also Nogahyde…what happened to them?
Creature Feature was my first band in high school (before that it was called Primordial Ooze…ha). That was a lot of fun – a lot of great friends/musicians went through the ranks of that band from 1987-97. We were pretty rough around the edges at first, but eventually we became a pretty tight band, put out a CD in 1993, played a ton of (fun/shitty/raging) gigs from Los Angeles to San Francisco, and got to open for some great bands (Including Alice in Chains and L7). Creature Feature eventually petered out in 1997 and Nogahyde was formed out of its ashes with Tyler on drums. We were financed to make a CD with Jim Wirt, Mikey Doling and Robinson Eikenberry at 4th St. Studio in Santa Monica and Beagle here in SB. That band basically morphed into Retrodemon. I kind of look at it as one ongoing project (in three phases) that’s had many different members…
You guys have an album out…did you ever consider making a music video and touring nationally?
We were supposed to make a video for a song called ‘Mach Stereo’ with a friend of Tyler’s who had a treatment idea based on the movie ‘Phantasm’ that sounded cool, but it never panned out. I’d always wanted to tour, but it never seemed realistic for a bunch of working guys in their 30s trying to pay rent/live/remain in Santa Barbara. I finally sold my band van last year so I guess I’d given up on the ‘Taco Bell Tour’ thing at that point. Tyler got to do a lot of touring during his tenure in Ultraspank, doing Ozzfest, going to Europe & playing alongside gnarly bands like Clutch and Sevendust. I got to do some touring with This Ascension back in 1997 (without much more responsibility than playing guitar & running up the bar tab) opening for Clan of Xymox in a tour bus & playing venues like The El Ray in LA, Slim’s in SF and The Bank in NYC. That was a blast and I’d love to do something like that again, but it’s not really feasible with this band at this stage of the game.
I just saw you play at the Kimmapalooza and have to say that you guys are one of the best bands from Santa Barbara and everyone who I have ever kidnapped to your shows said the same. There is something so authentic about Retrodemon…your influences are clearly Metallica, Black Sabbath and?
We’re an unusual band in that, although we have enough musical common ground to create a foundation, we all have very different influences as well. I think as a musician, you define yourself by your influences pretty early on, and in a town like Santa Barbara, it’s difficult to find a band whose members are going to have identical record collections – and that ends up being boring anyway. One of the coolest things about starting a band is the initial exchange of musical ideas/influences between band members. Like, “Hey man, have you checked this out?”, “No way, that’s rad!” I think it’s that kind of ‘musical goulash’ that makes for the creation of interesting and unique original music. I was never interested in defining myself by any one musical genre, just anything that basically stimulated dopamine production in my brain (without drugs)…ha! Tyler’s basically an encyclopedia of 70s & 80s hard rock & metal, Joey’s a big Van Halen guy, Eric digs a lot of melodic death metal stuff & I’m a big fan of heavy late 60s/early 70s psychedelic rock & proto-punk, post-punk and stoner/doom bands – so we’re kind of all over the place influence-wise.
Some people tell me you are way too humble, is that true?
Who said that? Ha! I probably wouldn’t be doing this interview if that were entirely true, but I’ve always been pretty self-deprecating, and that’s just how I grew up and part of my sense of self (and humor). I’ve always found arrogance (not to be confused with confidence) to be a turn-off, whether or not it’s justified, and most of my musical heroes have been pretty grounded and down-to-earth, which adds validity to their work in my eyes, because it’s not coming (entirely) from a place of ego.
Did you ever think about cutting your hair like everyone in Metallica?
Maybe when Hetfield had a mullet and a handlebar moustache…ha!
What are your favorite bands?
Wow…too many to mention, but to name a few off the top of my head I’d have to say The Beatles, Black Sabbath, Soundgarden, Metallica & Killing Joke.
Tell me about your personal music background, how did you get into it?
I had asked to take guitar lessons after hearing AC/DC’s ‘Back in Black’ when I was a kid, but had to take piano lessons instead. I was also a huge Beatles fanatic growing up so I kind of naturally gravitated toward guitar as a teenage introvert. I wanted to start a band, write songs & make girls scream like in ‘A Hard Day’s Night’…haha!
What has been the best show that Retrodemon ever played?
Kimmapalooza was pretty awesome! Opening for Crowbar and Prong at Velvet Jones were fun shows. We played at the Houdini Estate off of Laurel Canyon for a private party back in 2007…that was pretty cool!
Will we hear more of your band? When is the next record coming out?
Yes! We’re working on a five song EP that will be available in early 2018.
What is your song writing process?
I almost always start with a guitar/bass riff or chord progression, work out the music and work out the vocals last.
Could you tell me what your lyrics are about?
Most of my lyrics are basically self-therapy/subconscious analysis. Lyrics are usually the final step in my songwriting process so I just dive into whatever’s going on my psyche & see what seems to fit the music.
What would be a band you would love to play together with one day?
Hmmm…that’s a tough one. Maybe Lemmy/Stacia-era Hawkwind?
Anything you want to add? And I mean anything!
We’re playing at VELVET JONES in SANTA BARBARA on Friday, January 26th! Thanks again Silvie!