What sets Static-X apart from the rapidly proliferating, madding crowd of neo-rap-metallers spawned in the wake of Rage Against the Machine and Korn? What makes the band unique in the music world?
Well, actually, absolutely nothing.
Singer Wayne Static, he of the finger-in-the-light-socket hair and rubber-banded "beard," professes and confesses: "Everything has been done already. There's nothing left to do. The only way to create something new is to take different pieces of what's already been done and then put it together in different ways. That's why there's so much crossover [of genres] right now."
Despite the frontman's fairly accurate observation, Static-X -- whose members use phrases like "evil disco" and "rhythmic trancecore" to describe and set themselves apart from the oft-abused and misused "rap-core" or "rap metal" moniker -- may have less ego and more talent than many of its brethren. The L.A.-based quartet's debut album, Wisconsin Death Trip, released a year ago on Warner Bros., is less angst-ridden than Korn and more song-oriented than White Zombie; their man-meets-machine mélange boasts the industrial bent of latter-day Prong and the macho metallic riffage of Pantera. Top it with a smattering of humor, tons of mesmerizing beats per minute, and Static's primal, staccato-grunt vocal delivery, and you've got music like the pulse-pounding "Push It," the band's breakthrough single.
With a year of touring -- including a spot on Ozzfest and opening for bands like Megadeth and Type O Negative -- behind the group (and the fact that alternative radio and MTV are just now jumping on the year-old album), it's clear Static-X is in a position not yet enjoyed by other L.A. stalwarts like Coal Chamber, who gave Static-X its first big opening slot at the Roxy in Los Angeles.
"A band like Coal Chamber is clearly higher up on the totem pole than we are," Static believes. "I'm not really sure why us and not them," he notes of recent rave Static-X reviews in Spin and Rolling Stone. And indeed, at press time, Static-X had just gone gold (it sold an impressive 24,000 in the week after Christmas alone) and was continuing to outsell Coal Chamber. In addition, a third single (and second video), "I'm With Stupid," is due to hit MTV next month.
In many ways, though, Static-X is typical, its stories of grassroots growth and a strong work ethic no different from those of the new breed of L.A. "underground" bands like System of a Down and Incubus. Yet in other ways, especially in the seemingly laissez-faire personality and underwhelming ambition of its frontman, Static-X seems distinctly unusual.
Static describes himself as a typical Midwestern kid from Chicago: "I wanted to be Paul Stanley [from Kiss]. Didn't everybody?" While onstage, the singer is an aggro force field, but the quiet, soft-spoken civilian Static seems calm to the point of catatonia. "I tend to be more energetic onstage," he understates, his trademark hair now lank under a baseball cap. "I mean, my heart is barely beating right now," he says, his demeanor lending credence to his statement. "But as you get more praise for what you do, you tend to get a little more confident about what you do."
That confidence is also born of knowing exactly where his talents lie. Unlike Slayer or Megadeth, two bands he admires, Static prefers his lyrics to be apolitical and not overtly personal. "I went through that [political] phase," he says. "Late '80s, early '90s. I got tired of preaching. I realized, "You know what? I'm not really all that smart.'" His delivery doesn't make clear whether or not he believes his own statement. "Maybe I really don't have any grand things to say. Maybe I should try to do something that allows people to interpret it themselves, try to say something humorous, have fun, and not worry about preaching. I write lyrics one word at a time and choose every word very carefully, so it takes me weeks to write one song. Therefore, I'll leave [the preaching] to other people."
He does, and it works. Although Wisconsin Death Trip carries a parental advisory, the disc poses no major threat to America's youth -- which may be viewed as a mixed blessing to some pseudosubversive artists, but not to Static-X. "It's harmless," he says of the band's songs. "If anything, maybe it helps kids who are pissed off and have problems with their parents. Heavy music has always helped them identify with something. It did for me, when I was a kid. I'd come home from school and put on my Blizzard of Ozz record, turn it up really loud, and it made me feel better. I hope that's what our music does for kids as well."
It's a small but noble goal. And it's about all Static claims he wants: "I want to have a career. I don't care if I'm ever hugely famous or sick-rich. I just want to make a comfortable living and do what I do." Also unusual is the band's admission to "unhip" influences, revealed willingly and sans irony. Like many musicians in their early 30s, Static's first record purchase was Kiss Alive. Next, he confesses, came a Rush Hemispheres phase. The band is even quite proud of an award recently bestowed upon it by the rather shabby, glam-Goth-metal-leaning fanzine Rock City News.
"But the biggest influence for me, when we were creating our sound, was the Ministry Twitch album," Static continues. Then there's the more "credible" citing of Henry Rollins and his Black Flag cohort, Greg Ginn. "Rollins is a really cool writer. He has a dark sense of humor underlying everything he does," observes Static, whose own sense of humor is obvious, if often dry and droll. "I saw Black Flag twice in the early '80s, and he made me want to scream."
As for programmer-guitarist Koichi Fukuda, he left Japan to study at Boston's Berklee School of Music before moving to L.A. in the early '90s, to explore the city's then-fading rock-metal scene and attend Hollywood's eternally maligned Guitar Institute of Technology.
In halting English, the former sushi chef and tour guide admits, "It was just an excuse to go to America. I didn't like somebody teaching me music. I didn't like the idea. You can't teach music. You can teach theory, but even if you know everything about theory, it doesn't mean you are good artist," he explains, as Static nods in encouraging agreement. "I was 19, and I didn't speak English. Berklee was basically jazz school. I'm heavy metal guy. I have very shiny rock guitar. Everybody had thick-bodied guitar!"
Fukuda, Static-X's sixth guitarist, also admits to having the long hair, tight jeans, and guitar histrionics many current bands are now loath to admit as part of their history. But such dorky admissions are all a part of the unapologetic, up-front Static-X way of doing business -- with an emphasis on business. "In [previous bands], it was, "Okay, we gotta get this guitar player with long hair, so we can look cool and get signed.' That was all I cared about," remembers Static. "But then you get to a point where you don't care. You go, "We're never going to get signed. To hell with it. Let's just try to find some guys who aren't dicks and aren't worried about getting signed.'"
Static also made sure that band members were able to pull their weight, musically and otherwise. "You gotta help pay for the rehearsal space rent. You gotta have good gear and a car to get your ass down to practice," he says. When all was said and done, Static's seeming lack of massive ambition and steady acumen in running the band paid off. "I had a good job. I transferred with my company from Chicago to L.A. I started my 401K. I bought a new truck. I was making car payments, and I had health insurance. I was ready to settle into a nice life and just do music on the side," Static says. "I mean, I wanted to be Paul Stanley, but that was delusional. You grow out of that. The older you get, you realize that you gotta be yourself and just accept whatever comes your way."
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