Into the wild valley of Death by Stereo
There's nothing particularly scary about Death By Stereo singer Efrem Schulz -- not off stage at least.
But put him before a crowd and those within earshot and arm's reach of the 28 year-old dynamo are in grave danger.
"I don't know why, but we seem to be this magnet for trouble," Schulz said during a recent interview. "Every place (we play), something wild always happens. Most of the time it's kids going off and going crazy, so it's always pretty interesting to see what happens."
Schulz is lying through his teeth, of course. The native of Fullerton, Calif., has a storied reputation for being the hardest charger in the mosh pit at his band's shows.
"All right, it's mostly instigated by me," he said with a laugh. "I get bored watching."
Death By Stereo apparently has a problem standing still as well. Touring is a hard-won philosophy for the band: Its members are road warriors who've taken very few days off during their five years together.
Death By Stereo's current 17-date tour, which takes them from Victoria to Quebec City in as many days, is the latest in a long line of exhausting treks staged by the band.
Excessive touring has its consequences. Earlier this month, during a handful of hometown California dates with their idols, Bad Religion, Death By Stereo's overworked set of wheels, the Death Van, finally gave up the ghost, Schulz admitted.
"We definitely push ourselves and our vehicles to the limit."
Flush with a brand new Ford passenger van, the group's fourth in five years, Death By Stereo is back on the road in support of their third full-length release, Into the Valley Of Death, which has quickly become the group's biggest-selling effort to date.
The album has been in stores just over three weeks, but the positive reaction Schulz and his band- mates -- bassist Paul Miner, guitarists Jim Miner and Dan Palmer, and drummer Todd Hennig -- have encountered is more than they could have hoped for.
"We thought it could go either way. A lot of people that never would have liked us before might start liking us now, and a lot of people that already do might not. We took the opinion that we were going to make the songs we wanted to make and write about what we wanted to write."
Fans and critics have praised their unique fusion of metal and punk, their steadfast political views and -- believe it or not -- their humour.
Schulz has always aimed at striking a balance in his songwriting that gives equal time to social issues and acerbity.
"A lot of punk is fixated on crying about something like 'My girlfriend blah, blah, blah.' It was a pretty dark year in the world, and personally some of the guys went through some dark times. We wanted to make a really heavy, dark record, but at the same time keep it really sarcastic and let everybody know we're not full of ourselves."
Humour takes a back seat to ferocity on stage, however; Death By Stereo performances frequently end in a mess of broken instruments. But even when Schulz gets injured during a show, which he has numerous times, his level of enjoyment never wanes.
"I get bored having people just shove stuff down my throat and scream at me all night without ever cracking a smile. You know what? You've got to be having fun up there, man. You've got to like something about doing this."
Schulz, for one, loves what he does for a living. And with the financial support of his group's label, punk bastion Epitaph Records, he was thrilled to head in a slightly different direction for the recording of Into the Valley Of Death.
Most of the 13 tracks were recorded at Paul Miner's house, in a spare but effective home studio. In a surprise move for a hardcore punk band, the group also splurged and booked four days of drum tracking at L.A.'s legendary Sound City Studios, where Michael Jackson, Nirvana, Bob Dylan, Charles Manson, Guns N' Roses and Johnny Cash have all recorded.
The storied room perfectly captured their new punk-metal hybrid, which incorporates more System of a Down and Bad Brains-style heavy metal into their hardcore punk.
While their sound has become darker and more slickly produced, there' still a message in Death By Stereo's music, Schulz said.
"With punk rock and hardcore, there's supposed to be this message and this ideology behind it, but it's only ever heard by punk kids.
"We said, 'Let's get the message out to everyone this time. Anyone who likes heavy or fast music at all should be exposed to it.' "