THE FOUL TASTE OF CENSORSHIP - ROC'S INTERVIEW WITH PRO-PAIN'S GARY MESKIL
By: John Woods
"The Truth Hurts" is the title of the new album by PRO-PAIN, on Energy Records. The stinging honesty of the lyrics and polished hard-core, yet brutal grooves that identified PRO-PAIN on their first release "FOUL TASTE OF FREEDOM", are taken to a further extreme but still within the original PRO-PAIN concept of a blue-collar band trying to get by.
Before the new album has even hit the streets there has been a flurry of controversy over its lyrical content and the cover art. The booklet accompanying the CD contains 10 black & white photographs taken from the New York Police Department archives, each depicting various crime scenes. The cover photo shows a post-autopsy photo of a young woman. In the photo the post autopsy stitching of the incision can be clearly see starting at the woman's navel, and going up her stomach where it Y's out over each breast. From the dress and appearance of each person in the photo's, it is clear that all were taken in the early 1900's or the 1920's.
Energy Records has been informed by its distributor that a number of the retail chains will not handle the album with the artwork as is. Energy will change the cover, but still make the original artwork available to anyone who wants it. We caught up with PRO-PAIN vocalist/bassist GARY MESKIL to find out what his feelings were about all of this. We were not surprised to find that he was indeed not happy. Not to play off the title of their first album, but PRO-PAIN joins the ranks ot musicians and artists who are finding out that so-called "freedom," in today's America does indeed have a foul taste.
ROC: We understand that some real controversy has arisen about the new album, "THE TRUTH HURTS"?
GARY: Yeah, you know it's kinda unfortunate because we didn't think that it would pose a problem, and being an independent band and all, we didn't think that it would pose that much of a problem because our priorities lie within the realms of artistic freedom, you know. So to have this happen does kinda piss us off, but it really goes to show what some of these people out there are made of and just how conservative the music business really is. I can't really put any of the blame on our label because they're always behind us 100%. Energy has always been great. They approved the cover right along with us. It was a matter of our distributor getting in touch with the chain stores and sending the initial records out, and the chainstores not accepting them. So, it definitely caused somewhat of a problem and it pushed the release date back a couple of weeks. You know, that's the politics of the music business.
ROC: Who are the specific chain stores having problems with the new album?
GARY: I don't know who off hand. I'd have to consult with the label with that. You know we just didn't see the big deal. After all, it's not like we're going out and postering the town with all this stuff. It is after all our record and it was going to be distributed to stores and available to anybody who seeks to find it, similar to the purchase of a book in a bookstore, or somebody going and take out a book at library. It just goes to show that, as I said, the record companies and everybody involved in the record business, the highup's are just conservative, and the bands aren't, so there's a big problem.
ROC: Yeah right, absolutely. Some of the recent shows we've set up at you can really see that. We've just done a number of shows with PANTERA, SEPULTURA, and BIOHAZARD. No conservative ideologies on that tour.
GARY: Oh yea, totally! You know with the politics of the business it's almost like we put out something like this and you have a bunch of people who kinda take this "how dare you" attitude. And it's like, "what do you mean," you know? They just seem to forget there's real artists out there, and the sole purpose behind their art is to create something that pleases themselves, not these people. It's out there for the kids. The kids know where we're coming from, but the higher-ups at the record companies and the people who run these chain operations, they don't know what's going on.
ROC: Are the objections to the new album about the lyrics as well, or just the photos on the sleeve?
GARY: I spoke with our retail guy over at Energy and he said that with the lyrical content they're kinda being forced to throw a Parental-Advisory sticker on the album.
ROC: Yeah, I was gonna ask about that because I noticed the CD we got didn't have one, but perhaps it was an advance copy.
GARY: Yeah. You know it's discouraging for me because, and I mean it's kinda a setback in our ways because we always figured we're going stay independent because we can be real and genuine about our art. Now it kinda like really makes you question that. I can't even imagine us, you know, if we were on a major label what would they do? Would they make us rearrange all our songs?
ROC: Sure! That happens to bands all the time.
GARY: Really? Fluff up the packaging and you kinda sit and ponder about even putting material out at all. Like just let me go back to writing stuff in my room and throwing out a few tapes to my friends.
ROC: I don't know if it's a good example to use, but one incident that comes to mind is the band JACKYL. When K-Mart / Wal-mart refused to stock, their last album, Geffen did a special fluff package just to appease these stores.
GARY: That's what I'm saying. It really sacrifices integrity, not only of the band and the songs. but the label and everybody involved. I mean I just don't see the point. I mean if you go into a bookstore and say you wanna get a book about World War II, or maybe a book about the Irish Mafia or something like that. There's gonna be graphic material and certain language in there. I just don't see the big difference in regards to an album.
ROC: Yeah. As for your new album, I mean those crime scene photos are nothing when compared to what's been all over the TV in regards to the O.J. Simpson case, and I'm sure they've been published before?
GARY: Yeah, the majority of these photos that we used were published before, and they can be found in any different books that are available. We couldn't buy the exclusive rights to them because they're property of the police archives. So I mean, a lot of people have published those photos before without problems, but when we put them into our packaging in the form of a CD in a jewel box, then all of a sudden it's a big problem, you know.
ROC: Another thing I noticed is that all of them appear to be from the early 1900's or 1920's based on the clothing and stuff. So they're all fairly old right?
GARY: Exactly! I thought that alone would just distance those pictures from the audience anyway. It wouldn't be deemed as such a big deal. In fact, the cover photograph, I think is really a peaceful photograph. But, because the woman happened to be stitched-up and deceased, then it's a big problem because people like to associate death with horror movies.
ROC: You touched on the issue of warning labels on records. What is PRO PAIN'S feeling about them? A lot of bands tell us, "oh well, they're cool, they help us sell more albums, and they do this and that. "What do you guys think about it? Do they hinder your artistic freedom in any way?
GARY: Yeah they do! I don't want any warning labels on our records. There are bands who do, just because it means a few extra sales. Some young kids will go out of their way to find something like that. We could have had one on the first album (FOUL TASTE OF FREEDOM) because there are some curse words used on it, but we just didn't want anything like those stickers on our records. Now there's substantially more curse words on this record, so our retail guy, as I said, is kinda saying, "well I think we're gonna have to do it on this record." I'd rather not have it on there.
ROC: I assume you're aware that a lot of the chains around the country don't even stock anything with the sticker? And some, like in our last couple issues of THE ROC we've been calling for people to boycott places like MUSICLAND, because they have their own little in-house sticker they attach that says, "Must Be 18 Years Old To Purchase: ID Required." What's your thoughts on that?
GARY: ID Required?
ROC: If your under 18.
GARY: I think it's ridiculous! As I said, us and the rest of the bands who have this kind of material, we're not out postering the town. These kids aren't part of a mailing list where we're mailing this stuff to their house and feeding them this information. We are just simply making it available like any piece of literature or anything else. You know, to be published and packaged. So you have to get inside it, and you have to buy it to check it out and look at it. But there shouldn't be such limitations put on art. I think that's a very dangerous thing.
ROC: What's your thoughts as to why the so-called "powers that be," are so afraid of kids hearing this type of material?
GARY: I just think that the powers-that-be are not in touch and they're not being realistic. Kids have to know what's going on, and I think that a lot of this style of music whether it has curse words in it or not, which is just part of every day language, you know, used by some four year olds that I know. I think it's important for them to be subjected to a lot of the stuff that rap music has to say, and that hardcore music has to say, because it's the way it is, and if these kids grow up without that sense of reality...I mean, it should be up to them if they choose to find it, and if they find something in that music which relates to them, I mean, they should be judge and jury. And their parents, I mean they grew up on a whole different set of guidelines and rules. Times have changed and it's time to make changes. I don't think we can live by their standards anymore.
ROC: Our position on that is that it really goes a lot further, far beyond just trying to protect kids from hearing curse words on albums. We think they're really afraid of some of the ideas about how fucked-up society is today and the need for change being put out by bands like RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE, SEPULTURA, BIOHAZARD, PANTERA, and PRO-PAIN. What do you say to that?
GARY: Yeah, they're trying to put a cap on it, and trying to blame the behavior of a generation on bands, and I don't think that's right. Right now the big issue is gangsta rap that whole thing. I listen to a lot of rap music because I find the positive messages in it. I mean it's graphic and brutal but you're gonna get out of what you want to get out of it. That all comes back to how you were raised by parents. If you were raised to be a positive person...I mean I think I was raised to be a positive person. I think I can read between the lines, and I can get a positive message out of a lot of rap music because I'm open minded enough to get a positive message. But those who are out to seek only the negativities in rap music and hardcore music are gonna get that out of it.
ROC: They hear what they wanna hear, or what they think they hear.
ROC: We see you have a song called "Put The Lights Out" on the new album on which ICE-T appears. He's dealt with a lot of this censorship shit before. Has he been able to give you any advice on how to handle all the flack over THE TRUTH HURTS?
GARY: We never really discussed it that much. I mean during the BODY COUNT tour there were enough police protests and whatnot, and it posed a bit of a problem for the tour, but everything ran as smoothly as it could. Just getting together for this project, the last thing I wanted to do was drag him down into something that could be seen as controversial. So I made our song more positive and uplifting. I just wanted to offer something cool artistically for the kids and have ICE-T involved. I thought that was really a cool thing. I mean, he certainly gets his share of controversy, so I mean, I don't think he needed me to like, fan the flames.
ROC: Yeah. I remember reading in your press kit where you said you didn't want to exploit your contact with him, and his being on the new album.
GARY: Yeah, right. I just don't write anything for the sake of being controversial. So many things that we've written has been seen as being controversial when it wasn't supposed to be that way. So when writing the song that we were going to collaborate with ICE-T, we had that in the back of our minds and we said "all-right, we can't leave anything open to interpretation this time, it's gotta be real straight forward and positive." And that's what we did with "Put The Lights Out."
ROC: As you were saying before, even though ICE-T has taken a lot of flack for some of his songs, he has many others out I've heard, and one can hear many positive messages in them...
GARY: Oh definitely!
ROC: But you never hear or see anything in the mainstream media about any of these songs. All you hear about is "COP KILLER."
GARY: You know these people, the press and the media make their living on negative issues. It's like they don't think the public wants to hear anything positive, which I don't think is true but when something happens to somebody, just like this O.J. Simpson case now...I mean if it was somebody else you'd never hear about it, and just because O.J.'s going through this trial now, and because his ex-wife was murdered, now over half the news is filled with stories along the same lines. Now you're hearing that somebody in Jersey murdered his ex-wife and this and that. These are stories you'd never hear of if it wasn't for the O.J. Simpson case. So it really makes you wonder about the media and their motives for doing certain things.
ROC: Gary, as a musician what do you think musicians in general could be doing more of to combat censorship?
GARY: Ahhhh! Wow! It's something that's always been in the back of my mind, and now with our album cover being handled the way it's been handled, it's given me some first-hand experience. I never thought it would be such a problem because we've always tried to be as independent as possible. Now that it's a problem even for independent acts, I think there's gotta be more positive press on the bands side to come out. Because as I said, the bands are not anywhere near as conservative as the rest of the industry. I think that bands just have to... it's gotta come from the bands, the bands have to be as genuine about their art as possible, and you know, keep forging on, and hopefully the barriers will start to loosen after a while. But when the bands start giving in and fluffing up their packaging to meet the requirements of these higher-ups, that's not gonna help at all.
ROC: And on the other hand what can we, the record buying and concert going fans do to help?
GARY: In our case, even though there's a second cover coming out for our album for the chain stores, we're still going to have the original art available for anybody who wants it, by means of a self-addressed stamped envelope to Energy Records. And I think it's gonna make kids go out of their way to support independent record stores as well, because they can get the original art work first hand. So I think that's a good thing, and to play some of these shows and to talk to the kids about what really is going on and what really went on behind our situation I think will help things a little bit. These kids really have to be enlightened as to the reality of what's going on. All they see is a sticker on the album, or they might not be old enough to buy it, so they have one of their friends buy it. They don't really know these higher situations or behind the scenes of this whole thing.
ROC: Right, and that's what we hope that we're doing with THE ROC. We try to point out some of the things going on that people basically don't hear about. And that's also why whenever we can get band and management approval we have our booths at shows to reach people and get the word out. We also have a petition against the warning labels on records that to date we've collected over 70,000 signatures on.
GARY: That's great. I think it's all gonna come down to like if the chain stores that don't handle this kinda stuff, if it gets to the point in time feel that they're losing significant sales because they're not carrying genuine products which are out there, I think, you know... They all operate on dollars and cents, and that's the bottom line. Then I think they're gonna have to rethink their whole situation.
ROC: But in order to make them feel that, somebody is going to have to do like we're doing against MUSICLAND. They're gonna have to speak out and tell people to absolutely boycott 'em until they do that. Right?
GARY: Exactly! And the sorry thing is if this artwork or whatever, or the language was on a MADONNA record, you know, the chains wouldn't turn it down because they'd be losing significant sales. I just think they have to lose significant sales on a broader basis. More artists and the independent record stores have to be capitalizing on those things as well. Then there's gonna come a time when the chains are gonna have to weigh both sides of the scenario.
ROC: We understand that you're getting ready to do a tour with OVERKILL?
GARY: Yeah! I just finalized that tour today.
GARY: Yeah, we're going out with them starting on August 19th. It's gonna start in Albany, NY, and take us right til October 20th or something like that, so we'll be out with them for a while.
ROC: Really cool!
GARY: They have a new album out as well, so it's gonna be a real happening tour.
ROC: I'm anxious to hear OVERKILL's new album as well. It's been a while since their last.
GARY: It's probably the best one that they've done I think. It's real heavy.
ROC: We'll have to get an itinerary from Scott and see about having our ROC Booth at some of the shows.
GARY: Oh definitely do! You have set up at a couple of shows we've done in the past.
ROC: Yeah, in Florida, and I was at shows in Cleveland when you were with TESTAMENT and again with D.R.I.
GARY: Yeah right.
ROC: D.R.I.'s a real cool bunch of guys. We've worked with them quite a bit, and in fact, they did a benefit show for us awhile back in Columbus, Ohio at the Park Avenue. Unfortunately, it didn't do as well as we had hoped, but they were real cool about doing it.
GARY: Oh really? That's cool! Hey, if you guys want to put something together with us man, you know, we're always open to that. Hopefully maybe we can put something together in the near future. Yeah, we're definitely interested.
ROC: Great Gary! I believe you said that you've seen our paper and other material before, right?
GARY: Oh yeah, you know when your guys were at some of the shows I was always rapping to whoever the representative was, and picking up whatever T-shirts you guys had. I still got the "Censor This" shirt.
ROC: Hey man that's real cool. That shirt is the real popular one.
GARY: Yeah, Yeah, that's really cool man. I still have that one. I'm always down with you guys.
ROC: I'm really glad Scott called and told us about this. Is there anything that you'd especially like to say to THE ROC's readers?
GARY: Well, the album "THE TRUTH HURTS" will be available on the 25th of July, and check us out tour with OVERKILL starting August 19th. Look for us in mid-to-late August and the rest of September as well. That's pretty much it.
ROC: Sounds good Gary, and hopefully we can be at some of the shows in the areas where we have chapters.
GARY: Yeah, we're gonna do like 50 or 60 dates with OVERKILL, so we'll be all over the place. Hey man, we'll keep in touch and maybe we can do something in the near future.