While Toothgrinder, newly signed to Spinefarm Records, won’t have any music out until Schizophrenic Jubilee is released on November 4th, that doesn’t mean that they haven’t paid their dues. The Asbury Park quintet are about to wrap up a tour with Periphery and The Contortionist and have been playing together for over five years. They’ll also be playing our Metal Insider CMJ showcase on Wednesday, October 22. We caught up with singer Justin Matthews to discuss their New Jersey heritage, what their first national tour was like, and their EP.
A lot of people reading this interview will probably come see you at our showcase, but might not have that much of an idea of who you guys are. Can you give a brief introduction and history of Toothgrinder as a band?
It started out a long time ago, about five or six years ago, just jamming during the summer and winter breaks while we were all at school. Previously before the band, we all grew up together in the same town, and we were all in separate bands. Then once everybody went away after high school to pursue other careers, whoever out of those three or four bands still wanted to play music came together and created the band. It really started with our drummer Willis [Weller], our guitarist Matt Mielke, and our other guitarist Jason Goss. They were doing their own thing and recruited me as vocalist, and our bassist Matt Arensdorf. We were all in school at the time, so we really only jammed during the summer and winter breaks. We wrote some tunes and played a few shows here and there, nothing serious. It was really all just for fun. When we all graduated, we decided that we really wanted to do this and try to make something of it. That first summer after graduation, we played as many shows as we possibly could. It’s all history from there, essentially.
What year did you get serious about the band?
2012. I was the last to graduate college, and I think it was February when we got serious and really decided to pursue it and right real records and demos and stuff.
You’re from Asbury Park. What’s the music scene like there these days
There’s a huge music scene. We grew up playing with bands that were not metal at all or even heavy. There were a lot of rock bands, indie and experimental but nothing as far as heavy metal. We were the only ones with a few others but the only ones really pushing it. It was definitely hard at first to get our names out there. We had to travel to other parts of New Jersey to develop somewhat of a fan base at first.
Where in Jersey would you play?
There’s a place called The Championship Bar in Trenton. We met a lot of good promoters from there and a lot of other bands. Also Dingbatz in Clifton, but we always had hometown shows. The majority of the shows we would play in Asbury Park and of course friends and different bands support each other so everyone would come out, but as far as being part of the metal scene we would have to travel to Clifton and Trenton.
Are there any bands from Jersey you look up to? I would imagine Dillinger Escape Plan is up there.
Dillinger Escape Plan are definitely up there. For me personally bands like Thursday and Saves the Day, and there’s so many from back in the day I look up to. We got inspiration from New York bands as well but that’s really the only Jersey bands.
Were you guys able to play New Brunswick at all much?
We played The Court Tavern once and a secret basement show. Those were the only two shows we played in New Brunswick.
There really are not that many places to play in New Jersey.
It’s been rough, and the steps we took were tiresome. For a while we thought we didn’t think we were really going anywhere. It all worked out in the end, so I guess I wouldn’t change anything.
What led you guys to picking up Outerloop and signing with Spinefarm? I’m guessing management came first, and then Spinefarm.
The management did come first. Our drummer Wills works in a music store in Asbury Park, Russo Music, where they do drum stuff, and they have quite a few drum clinics come around with respectable drummers and musicians that travel the country and do teaching sessions for kids and musicians. Matt Halpern, the drummer of Periphery, came one day and he set up everything he needed, and we came quite close with Matt working with him for that one day. Those guys kind of hit it off together, and Matt enjoyed the music because he heard it a few months down the road. He asked if we had any management and hooked us up with Mike Mowery and the Outerloop guys, and that’s essentially how that started and we took it from there. Once we got on Outerloop, we got to record our EP. Once that was done, our manager Brett shopped the record around to a few labels. We talked to Spinefarm and we really liked them the best out of the ones we were talking to, and the crew was great. We’ve talked to different labels before, and after we met with Spinefarm we said these guys are either the coolest dudes ever or the fakest fuckers ever. That’s kind of how we hit it off with them, we love all those guys, and it’s going to be good for us.
They’ve been around for a while but they have a new label attitude. How does it feel to be one of the first American bands signed to the label?
For me, personally, that’s something I was always really excited about. Being a new band and seeing a label that has a huge following internationally and then decided to bring it over to the US, it was a pretty incredible feeling, especially when you look at the UK and Finland lineup. It’s just like, “Wow these are some big bands. What are we doing?” It worked out and it’s the best feeling ever. I feel like the way we work and the way a new label works is that we can grow together, and it’s going to be more beneficial for us. Sometimes it’s hard to join a record label with so many big names already on it and established. You don’t want to get put to the backburner.
How’s the tour going so far?
The tour has been way better than expected. We obviously knew we were going to have a good tour being on such a stacked lineup, but the crowd reaction has been pretty incredible, especially because of the raw sound we’ve been having. We were a little nervous. A lot of the other bands were clean cut in their sound and amazing live, and we are pretty bare-bones. Everybody seems to love it, all of the bands we’re touring with love it, and it couldn’t have gone any better in my opinion.
That’s excellent. What are you looking forward to about playing our showcase?
I can’t wait to play with 68! I was a huge Chariot fan growing up, so that’s going to be a huge opportunity for me. I get a lot of inspiration from Josh Scogan and the way he presents himself on stage. I don’t know, I kind of have the same energy and vibe that he does so I’m psyched to see him perform.
When is the full length going to come out?
We have a full length we’re trying to get out by May or June.
How ready is it?
It is still bare-bones. We have a lot of material written for it, but we’re pushing that real hard right now. We’re working on getting everything ready for the EP release in November. We have enough material for a full length. It’s just nitpicking and really concentrating on the writing.
How much touring do you have planned after this?
We’re looking to tour as much as possible. We’re looking to gain as much momentum with this EP, this tour, and future tours before we put out a full length. There’s stuff in the works I can’t talk about yet, but there is going to be opportunity for more tours very soon.
Toothgrinder will be playing the Metal Insider CMJ 2014 showcase on October 22, at The Wick in Brooklyn. Pick up tickets now!