Mike talks a little bit about the creation of “Neanderthal”, one of Sunspot’s most heavy metal tracks, influenced by bands like Iron Maiden, Metallica, and Megadeth.
I’ve never been one to care about violence in video games, well at least care in the way that it disturbed me. In fact, I was always “the more gruesome, the better”. Come on, who didn’t love watching a spine get ripped out in Mortal Kombat? Or a Nazi get his pixelated head blown off in Doom? That’s the kind of stuff specifically designed to make a 14-year old boy jizz in his pants. And it did and we all loved it (well, besides the cleaning the underwear part, but I think adolescent boys get pretty good at that.) Does anyone who isn’t raising little kids even give a shit about Grand Theft Auto? Anyone who raises some kind of ruckus about video games is probably just a child psychologist jockeying for some CNN taking head time and wanting to eventually sell a book. It’s the same people who warned World War II parents that television was going to rot their little Johnny and Jenny’s mind. So, who cares? The last video game I actually finished was Return to Castle Wolfenstein over a decade ago and that was pretty much so I could avoid my girlfriend at the time (who basically acted like she fucking hated me, but that’s another story and another song), so I’m way way way out of the loop when it comes to video games. Plus, I’m a Mac user now and woe be to the fellow who wants to be a gamer on Mac, it’s like being a Republican in Madison. Good luck with that.
In the summer of 2006, I was living in a house in Madison that I bought with two other guys. One of these dudes was a long time friend who played a shit-ton of Xbox and the rest of us would live even more passively by just watching him, talking shit, and sometimes drinking. Most of the time we were also restlessly fucking around with our laptops (in the days before tablets, i.e., spank slabs) making sure that we could ignore each other in the same room and sometimes pretending to get things done, but usually just browsing Fark.com. One day, he’s playing a game called Saints Row, and it looked like just another GTA ripoff to me, but the kind of shit he was doing, I was literally shocked that you could do that in a video game. And I love violence in video games because what title isn’t about kicking someone’s ass? At least the fun ones. Maybe it was my generation in particular, but when we saw shit like Dance Dance Revolution, it really was like “What in living fuck is this? Dudes play this? Straight dudes play this?” I’m not saying that some of my reactions weren’t completely Neanderthal also, but I just couldn’t fathom a game that would be popular with the boys that wasn’t about killing something. Even board games are violent, Risk, Clue, Battleship. So actually being shocked by a character’s behavior in a video game was something novel for me. I mean, it was cool and we were laughing and probably a little fucked up but watching him play, I just thought to myself, “Holy shit. The way he’s playing the game, it’s completely uncivilized, he’s a total villain that doesn’t give a damn about anyone else, he’s acting like a goddamn Neanderthal.”
A few days later, we were at band practice and the riff hit while we were screwing around with a dance beat. The whole idea was to make a viscerally powerful song that we almost literally could beat you over the head with. And the way it came together was all about doing homages to some of our favorite metal bands. But if you’re not going to go heavy when you’re doing a song called “Neanderthal”, well then there’s something wrong with you (even if the main riff is a weird mix between Steve Miller “Abra Cadabra” and Greg Kihn “Jeopardy”.) The gallup feel of the interlude bleeds Iron Maiden and the idea is to make it feel like you’re rampaging through the wilderness into a battle. No one makes a song feel like you’re going into some epic battle like Iron Maiden does. In fact, I think the people that make horseshoes should probably get a piece of the publishing. For the fast guitar part, that’s probably all Ride The Lightning Metallica right there. Think about the ending to “Creeping Death” when the guitar solo comes in, that’s what I was thinking about at least and I think about it often. After the last chorus, when it goes into the final screamed “Berserker”, well, we just didn’t want to end it, we wanted to come up with a riff that would make it even heavier – that’s where we got our inspiration from team Megadeth. On a song like “Tornado of Souls”, just when you think that your balls couldn’t be blasted anymore, in comes one final riff to take you out. We wanted to give you that extra ball blast with “Neanderthal”.
We often will close the song by doing a quick mash-up of some of our favorite headbangers like
but we’ve also closed out with “Seek and Destroy”, “Breakin’ The Law”, “Thunderkiss ’65”, “Master of Puppets” and even “Don’t Fear The Reaper” (which we matched to the opening sequence of the television version of The Stand for a Halloween show.)
The lyrics came together quickly, Neanderthal rhymes with Incredible (HULK SMASH) and who hasn’t wanted to use the word “Berserker” in a song since they saw Clerks? And even though we were trying to write a song that you could club a cavewoman with and fireman’s carry her away, I actually tried different verbs than “fuck” for the pre-chorus. After all, who wants to write a song where you’ve got to make an edited version of out when you send it to a radio station, that’s just making extra work for yourself. “Hump” works in a pinch if like a toddler walks by or some shit, but there’s just something so animal about “fucking my PC”, there’s such a glorious look on people’s faces when they hear it for the first time. You don’t get that with other words in that particular context, it’s a reaction that should be savored like a fine wine. A fucking fine wine.
This is probably one of our most conservative songs, we are literally condemning video game violence and calling it pre-Homo Sapien activity, but this is the one that I always have to censor when we play it it festivals in a family-friendly environment because of the word, “fuck”. I love that. Meanwhile, some asshole in a cover band across the festival in a beer tent is riding the line with double entendre of some cock rock song proselytizing the gospel of “find ‘em, fuck ‘em, forget ‘em”. People don’t listen to what you’re singing about most of the time anyway. They just pick and choose the naughty bits. When we made a video for the background of this song, we even had Michael Douglas’ “greed” speech from Wall Street over the interlude and a battle from Quest for Fire over the solo. When we did Major Arcana, we used it for a scene where he’s about to whack off to a girl on a webcam. In the symbolism of that rock opera, we gave each song a representative Tarot card, “Neanderthal” was “The Hermit”, the lowest point of the emotional arc where relationships are about domination and humanity is cast aside in favor of the animal. It’s the heaviest moment, the darkest lyrics, the need to withdraw from society for the character to become comfortable with himself. Isolation.
Emotional isolation. Sociopath rehearsal.
A couple of months later, we recorded it at Smart Studios in Madison on my 30th birthday. I got to play my 70’s Fender Precision through the massive 8×10 Ampeg cabinet that they kept in the basement of Smart (along with a bunch of Garbage gold records) and Wendy Lynn got to use Butch Vig’s house drum set which they kept there and just sounded fucking beautiful and keyed in. Ben played his very metal “Electric Blue” Ibanez RJ-770 guitar. We asked a local guy named Mark Haines to engineer it for us and he understood the kind of 70’s analog metal sound that we were going for and he was about as awesome of an engineer and a guy that you can ask for. My favorite part is when he completely freaked out on me when I asked him to add some distortion to the bass on the verse after it was recorded. You think I would have asked to fuck his wife, for real. But he’s got a way that he expected it to sound like and we recorded that way. I fucked with it, my bad, I had it coming. Either way, it was such an experience to record it. We had Smart for five days to record a full album, HOLY SHIT. That was the best birthday present I could have asked for (and finishing it up by playing Edward Fortys-hands in my girlfriend’s apartment after the recording session was a nice capper, what a way to celebrate your 30th, by acting like a 15-year old.)
Since then we’ve played it hundreds of times and I kinda still love it. I don’t think I’ll ever get sick of when all three of us hit the chorus and scream out “I am Neanderthal” or when Ben two-hand taps the main riff or when Wendy Lynn and I headbang during the guitar solo. And if you haven’t heard of it, well shit, what are you waiting for?
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