An Interview with James Powers of Defcon 4

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Having just dropped its brutal sophomore disc, File Under F**k – a CD whose punishing, first wave LA-Hardcore-influenced songs could excoriate the earth – Boston-based hardcore punks Defcon 4 are already finishing up their next aural assault; an as-yet-untitled, experimental hardcore epic consisting of one 25-minute song. “We’ve been recording with (producer/engineer) Steve Austin,” says drummer James Powers, a veteran of the hardcore punk scene who drummed for the now-legendary Last Rites when he was just fifteen. “Steve has worked with Lamb of God, Jello Biafra and Today is the Day (Austin’s own band),” James explains. “He’s also mixing it and will release the CD on his new label, Supernova.” Powers offers that the upcoming disc will be “more metal” in tone.

“We knew it would be challenging to do a record like this,” the drummer continues, “but we just wanted to try something new that still has Defcon 4’s mark on it. We practiced for a long time and got to the point where we could easily play the whole thing all the way through. But in the studio our guitarist, Robin (Goodhue) wanted to break it up into four parts. Physically it was just difficult to record because we threw in weird parts and weird instrumentation, and it’s all pretty fast and heavy stuff.” With a unique drumming style that’s been described as “exploding forth in angry fits and retreating quickly,” Powers offered some insight to Metal Edge on what makes both him and his band tick.

Metal Edge: How has your drumming style progressed as far as influences go?

James Powers: My biggest drumming influence was, and still is, Alan Myers from DEVO, followed by Bill Ward from Black Sabbath and, of course, John Bonham. Once I got into punk rock, I was inspired by the drummers from Black Flag and The Circle Jerks. Later, Metallica came along and Lars was the big thing. I saw Metallica on their Kill ‘em All tour at a little club in Boston during a snowstorm. Only 40 people showed up and the band was so psyched that they played every one of their songs. It was the most unbelievable thing; guys from every local band were there and that just changed everything. Then everyone turned into Def Leppard (laughs).

Metal Edge: How has your bass player, Skot, affected your style?

James Powers: Since I first met him in 1999, Skot has turned me on to the best music. Like me, Skot is also into ‘70s progressive hard rock bands – like Pink Floyd – from when he was a kid. But when I met these dudes they were listening to Deicide and Cannibal Corpse – maybe not playing as well as them but wanting to play like them. Being introduced to that extreme metal has been a huge influence. When we’re playing live, I’m feeding off of Skot as a bassist: just looking at and listening to him. I play the same now as I did when I was in Last Rites, but I’m also trying to play faster and put more in there than just fast, straight beats.

Metal Edge: I understand that you’re something of a Skateboard entrepreneur. What’s the story there?

James: In the early ‘80s, punk rock music went along with skateboarding pretty heavily. If you rode a skateboard you started a band; it was just what you did. Now I operate a chain of five skateboard shops in Massachusetts and New Hampshire called Eastern Boarder, which is a business I started with one of my best friends from childhood. We design boards, stickers and T-shirts, and also have a distribution arm called Blue Collar Distribution where we have skateboard ramps and things like that. We’ve become a network of friends who are all just really into skateboarding and music, so it works out well. This is our seventeenth year in business!

Metal Edge: One reviewer of File Under F**K seemed really perplexed by what was going in with the album. He wrote: ‘There isn’t any defining this band.’ What is Defcon 4 doing within the hardcore genre that’s new or innovative?

James: Defcon 4’s way of thinking is very forward. We change stuff up pretty quickly within a song, whereas most bands would find a part that they like and just repeat that. We like to have songs broken up with different parts, and that’s what critics seem to notice. I guess people find some of our music challenging to listen to because of the breaks, but it’s not really thought out: it’s just what happens. If there’s one rule we have, it’s that we hammer out songs and try not to be lame in any way.

James’ Gear:
Drums: Ludwig
Sizes: 24”x16” Kick, 18”x12” Rack Tom, 20” x18” Floor Tom, 14”x10” Vintage Marching Snare.
Cymbals: Zildjian
Sticks: Vader
Heads: Remo and Evans

Defcon4 CDCover for James Powers

This article was originally written for Metal Edge Magazine as part of a monthly column by Gail Worley (under the pen name Jayne Rollins). With the magazines’ dissolution, the article has been added to the content base of The Worley Gig for our readers’ enjoyment.

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