Ron Jarzombek interview with The Wendy

1. Your CD has been out for a few months now, it’s been released fairly underground, how have the sales been going?

Really good. Dream Circle printed up 2500 copies and we are doing the second batch right now, probably another 2000 or 3000. I am just handling the orders off of the internet. We have a few distributors here in the states. The distributors overseas don't have too many copies left, so they better get that second batch done.

2. Your music is pretty unique, rather hard to categorise. How would you describe the style of Spastic Ink to someone who was interested but wanted a concrete idea of what the music sounded like first?

That's kind of rough. I just say it's instrumental progressive metal. That doesn't really justify it because there are all sorts of different styles on the CD. I don't think the word "jazz" fits. Maybe a metal fusion. "Squeakie" is more of a cartoon filmscore, "To Counter" is a classical counterpoint with a groove. "A Wild Hare" was actually written by two Walt Disney composers in 1939, and we turned it into a progressive metal piece. As far as what the music sounds like - we are playing our asses off, and don't try to dance to anything, you might hurt yourself. Head banging also may be difficult. The actual songs are not just some solo guy ripping over simple chord changes, while the other guys are taking a breather. All three of us are playing the whole way through. I would suggest to anyone who is on the web to download the audio (wav) files and listen to the clips of the songs. There is a sample of every song.

3. The music is so wild, the time changes and weird measures are hard to keep up with. It’s not something you hear every day. How did the idea for SI’s music concept come about?

Bobby and I just went back and forth with sheet music and tapes, and that's just how it came out. It was also fun writing because there were no limits to what we could do. It was cool pushing ourselves to see if we could actually play what we were writing. Bobby came up with the name of the band, which is supposed to imply crazy writing of music. At first, believe it or not, it was Spastic Pencil, but I though that sounded stupid.

4. How important is creativity and originality for you?

That's the whole thing. What is the point of doing something that has already been done? I think the best way to come up with something original is to stop listening to whatever style you are writing in. You can get different ideas from other types of music and then incorporate it into what you are doing. I come up with rhythmic patterns by taking apart phone numbers, morse code (like YYZ by RUSH), geometric shapes, circuit boards, and anything that involves numbers. WatchTower did a few tunes with the "Chromatic Alphabet". It's a system we created where you assign the letters of the alphabet to your guitar starting with the letter "A" as your low E. The second letter of the alphabet "B" would be the note F on the low E string, and so on.

5. The songs sometimes sound so wild, a lot of time it sounds like they were created during crazy jam-sessions. How much of the songwriting happened spontaneously?

Just about everything was written individually by myself and Bobby, on our own time. We would exchange tapes and sheet music back and forth dozens of times before we had a song. When we got together live to put songs together, we naturally added dynamics and little quirks here and there. It was great to finally get in the same room after working out the structures of everything and play things off of each other.

6. Why did you include the stories behind the songs’ in the CD booklet? Most of the time bands want to leave their songs open to interpretation, but to my big surprise I discovered the explanations on your Website and in the booklet.

Yeah, you figure that most people are still lost after they read the write-ups, imagine what would happen if they heard the CD without any explanations. I wish there was an accompanying video for "A Wild Hare" and "Squeakie". That would clear things up. For anyone who has the CD, you really should rent the video for "Bambi" and check out how we used the melodies, and dialogue from the film in "A Wild Hare". It's very interesting. Put on "A Morning With Squeakie" and try to follow the story along with the music. You will understand it. Some of the songs shouldn't be open to interpretation because they were written with a very detailed story in mind. I always liked the way Rush told 2112, with the actual story included. The story of a guy who finds a guitar, presents it to the priests, and they smash it to bits. The album is a masterpiece by itself, but the story actually takes you to 2112. I'm into reading inside stuff about recordings. You put yourself in the musicians place and imagine what it was like being there. The story of how "Mosquito Brain Surgery" happened is cool, and I wanted to let people in on how Spastic Ink came about. Just about everybody who listens to "See, And It's Sharp" doesn't believe that a 4 1/2 minute piece can be constructed with only two notes. They wouldn't have known that if we didn't point it out. I also felt that a lot of the music was composed around the actual theory in the pieces, somewhat replacing lyrics.

7. Friends of mine were convinced after listening to The Mad Data Race that that was written while being on speed. How do you feel about boosting one’s musical creativity with substances?

No, I had to be on my toes to write that one. The only substance I come into contact with is wine coolers and maybe a vodka and 7 up every few months. I have only written one tune when I wasn't all there, it might appear on the next Tower record

8. What’s your favourite song? And why?

Mosquito Brain Surgery. It was just magic how it came together. It was the beginning of Spastic Ink. We had so many scattered parts for songs and just put a few together that had similar tempos, and went with it. I remember Bobby and I sitting down with the individual parts of the song like it was a jigsaw puzzle, and we just put the sections where there were supposed to go, and everything fell into place. "The Mad Data Race" is also very high on my list.

9. Do you still consider it “metal” in any way?

Oh yeah. The whole CD is very "metal", although you might get a headache trying to bang to it. There are only a few parts in various songs that I don't consider "metal". "Squeakie is more of a cartoon score so it needed some nice parts, but it takes off when the dog scares the shit out of Squeakie.

10. Was it hard to get a record deal? This kind of music is totally NOT commercially justified. I remember reading that Spiral Architect (Norwegian progressive/ technical band) once distributed 40 demos among labels, and only received two replies.

I totally belive that. That whole thing was very frustrating. We sent out a hundred tapes or so, and got maybe five replies. I got sick of hearing "Yeah, this is cool shit, but where is the singer?" and "We can't do anything with this, it's a bit too off the wall". We knew people dug it, but we didn't know how to get it out there. At that time, I wasn't on the net, and was very limited. Now I can get in contact with anyone in any country. Now that the CD is out there, I am getting distributors all over the country emailing me, asking if they can carry the CD. I don't know what would happen if I was actually trying to get distributors. I'm thinking that if Ink gets out a second CD, or Tower gets "Mathematics" out, there won't be any outside label involved. We'll have to see when we get to that point.

11. Have Dream Circle put any pressure on you?

None at all. If anything, I am putting pressure on them to get the CDs done and distributed.

12. What do you listen to yourself these days?

I listen mosly to filmscore composers. Right now, I'm into Elliot Goldenthal, and Danny Elfman. I have some VHS tapes with Bugs Bunny cartoons that I refer to quite often. I just get tired of the instrumentation with a guitar, bass and drums. I don't really buy CDs. Once in a while I'll pull out a Rush or Yes album.

13. The music scene has changed a lot. It seems most of the scene is stuck. Bands copying each other, rehashing themselves. Still that is what’s commercially successful. Doesn’t that ever become irritating?

Of course, but that's the way it works. All of the true musicians are going broke, and the rap and alternative bands are on MTV with blondes with big boobs. It's really a shame that it's a reality. You have to understand that the listeners are pretty stupid. Rap music is the most popular form of music in the United States. Doesn't Rap rhyme with Crap? There needs to be an alternative to alternative. It is also difficult for me to give lessons because most of my students listen to alternative garbage. There is so little guitar work there, no solos whatsoever. I end up showing them crappy songs with power chords, and try to brain wash them into listening to something else where there are actual guitarists in bands. I have converted quite a few of them.

14. Your demos have made quite an impression in the underground. Lots of people into technical, and progressive music have heard about Spastic Ink. There’s been a lot of demo-tape trading going on, no doubt the same will happen with your CD. How do you feel about tapetrading? In the end, will bands benefit from it or not?

It really hurts sales. But what is everybody supposed to do. Underground bands have such a hard time getting their recordings out there, someone finally gets a hold of it, then everybody has a 10th generation copy. I think WatchTower lost a lot of sales because of tape trading. We got letters from people saying that the songs on "Control" were the same songs on the demo, so why should they buy the album. I think we only sold a few hundred copies of the 1987 demo. "Control" sold an estimated 40,000 copies, so there was some serious tape trading going on. It's cool that "Control" sold as well as it did. If I put myself in the tape traders position, I would probably do whatever I could to get hold of recordings of bands that I like. For instance, if I found out someone had a copy of Rush studio outtakes from "Hemispheres", or Yes outtakes from "Close To the Edge", I would pay to get a hold of that. If the recording was actually released, I would be the first in line with my money. When a final product is released, with much better sound quality than their tape-traded copy, and with lyrics, write-ups, photos, and nice packaging, fans should buy the damn thing. It doesn't do anything for the band, if fans don't support them. The band will eventually go broke, and then there won't be any tapes to trade.

15. You have a very professional Site, you even have your own domain name. How did the idea come about to make your own official site?

I though it was important to have a cool web page. When I first got on the net, I checked out other bands sites and it seemed like a great opportunity to reach more people. I stayed up till 4 am for about a week and a half learning HTML coding and wrote the page. Being familiar with computer programming, it was just following commands. I wanted people to hear what Ink sounds like, so I got the sound (wav) files on the page. With your own domain name (, it's easier to remember and more convenient for people to dial in, rather than dot, com, backslash, spastic, dot, hold the pickles, com, forward slash, ink, hyphen, etc... and I just thought it would be cool to have the domain name. Quite a few artists have their own domain name, including Steve Vai and Joe Satriani. It costs an addition $100, and $25 a month, so I said why not. I rang up ridiculous bills to get the CD out, including $460 for a studio bill that we totally scrapped. $100 for the Walt Disney mechanical license that we probably didn't even have to bother with.

16. How important has profiling on the IN been for you, and for the underground in general?

I would highly recommend every band to fire up a web page. I have made so many contacts through the internet. I know it's something that a lot of people are doing just so they can say they are "On the net", but if you aren't online, you are seriously limiting yourself. I wish I would have been on the net before we hooked up with Dream Circle, so we wouldn't have to keep bugging them. I have received email from Japan, Germany, Turkey, Holland, Spain, Australia, ...everywhere. There is no way in hell I would have made those contacts without the internet.

17. I understand there’s suppose to be a Watchtower Site coming soon too, courtesy of James Mullis. Now, I’ve heard a lot of things about the return of WT or at least another WT project. What can you tell us about that?

Very true. James emailed me and told me that he was going to do that. His site is cool. I will probably do one myself, once we get the recording going. WatchTower is currently trying to put together the third record which will be entitled "Mathematics". I had a little chat with Doug and Rick when they came to town a few weeks, and we agreed that we have nothing to lose by finishing up the record. I told them that the Ink CD was doing great, and I was receiving non-stop email from Tower fans. We are rehashing the material that we wrote years ago, and figuring out what to keep, work on, and trash. We had over an hours worth of music written, but no lyrics. Doug and I are talking about concepts. I wasn't too thrilled with the last few songs that we wrote, which was part of the reason why Ink started. It just seemed like we were getting lost with our musical direction. The whole thing could still blow up. We'll see what happens.

18. Any ideas about a vocalist? I heard rumours about Jason McMaster from DT?

Yep, that's it. Another reason why WatchTower stopped writing was because we couldn't find a vocalist after Alan took off. Jason was on the first Tower record "Energetic Disassembly". I think we could look around for another vocalist, but Jason has always been the voice of WatchTower. We all cringe every time we listen to Alan doing the "Control" songs. I want to rerecord some of the songs on "Control" on the next release, but have Jason sing them how they were supposed to have been done. I also want Jason to sing on some of the computer stuff that I am working on. I am tempted to say that if Spastic Ink does another CD, there could be a vocalist, but the whole purpose of Ink was to go full force instrumentally, and not have to back off for vocals. It would be easier to market, but it's kind of defeating the purpose.

19. There’s been a recent trend, a lot of thrash bands are releasing albums again, like Forbidden, Exodus even Testament and Sadus. How much of a WT reunion depends on the success of their CDs?

I don't really look at it that way. WatchTower is a little different than those bands, so the market isn't the same. I think we will try to find where the progressive music is happening. I understand Japan is into progressive bands. We always had a strong following in Europe.

20. What do you think about bands like Cynic and Spiral Architect, very talented progressive bands who claim WT has been a major influence?

Asgeir (Spiral Architect drummer) and I email back and forth. They are coming to Texas to record in September. I really hope they take off. I agree that they may have a little bit of Tower in their blood, but they are doing their own thing. I don't care for bands blatantly ripping off song titles, and I won't mention any names, but if a band has a similar musical direction, I think that's fine. WatchTower wouldn't exist without influences, so what's the difference?

21. What are the future plans with Spastic Ink? What about a tour? Perhaps even a European tour? Is that even a likely possibility at this moment?

We would probably tour if we wouldn't go broke. I saw quite a bit of Europe on the "Control and Resistance" tour. I'd like to see some other places. Japan would be cool. Being the frontman for Ink would be an adjustment. I was used to Jason or Alan up there introducing songs and bullshitting while Doug and I tuned up. I don't know when I would have a chance to grab a cup of water. Bobby would have to do a drum solo after every few songs, or Pete would have to give instructions on how to chug a few beers. I hope Ink release another CD, but right now I am working on the Tower recordings.

22. Do you play live at all?

No. We were supposed to open up for Yngwie here at a club, but he cancelled the tour. That was the only time the possibility of a gig came up. Bobby, Pete and I were all fired up after we recorded the tunes and started shopping it, and just ran into a wall with labels. Everybody just continued doing what they were doing before, and that's where we are at right now. Bobby and Pete are gigging with bands in town, and doing occasions studio work with RIOT. I am still teaching music 6 days a week and working on Tower and computer stuff. If there is a tour that comes up, great, but we are not going to stop our jobs and go broke touring like I did with "Control".

23. You built your guitars yourself, when did you start and how? Some of your guitars are really weird, where do you get these ideas?

My dad showed my how to use a jigsaw when I was twelve or so. He is a master wood working machine. We made some birdhouses or something. My first guitar was a flying V, made out of an old door. It sounded like crap. It was painted like Eddie Van Halen's guitar with the black electrical tape all over it. I get ideas for building guitars just by looking at shapes of things, and seeing if it would work as a guitar. The "hand" guitar was a perfect idea. It's a great guitar for playing onstage, but practicing sitting down is difficult. The "dog" guitar which is on the "Control And Resistance" cover was a little bit of a stretch, but it worked out.

24. Do you also built them for others or exclusively your self?

I just build guitars for myself. It takes too much time to build one for someone else, and I don't want to listen to them bitching that it wasn't how they wanted it. I am picky with guitars and don't want to modify something off of the shelf, because I can just build it on my own. I had a guitar endorsement when Tower got back from the European tour, but I lost it because my guitars played better, and I was calling up the company telling them what I wanted changed, and we just said forget it.

25. I heard you use Chinese massage-balls to warm-up your fingers. How did you come up with that?

It seemed like a lot of guitarist were using them, and I thought they were stupid. After my hand had all of the surgeries, I needed something to relax my hands after I did exercises. Billy White (ex-Tower guitarist) used to swear by them. When Tower toured with Coroner, Tommy had a few sets. I remember walking on the bus watching him twirl 'em around, and I used to tell him "Put them stupid things up". They really help you relax before and after practicing. I have four sets.

26. Any tips for beginning or aspiring guitar-players?

Get the Chinese health balls! Learn proper technique, and some music theory and how to apply it in your music. Look around for an open minded teacher who will guide you in the direction that you want to go.

27. How often do you practice?

Right now I'm doing about two hours a day. I am also trying to write some new parts for WatchTower songs, but that doesn't really apply to physically practicing guitar. It's hard trying to find practice time.

28. Beside music, what else do you do?

Music occupies most of my time. I teach music six days a week. On my free time, I write music and practice. I like watching the Dallas Cowboys play football, when they are not sniffing cocaine and picking up hookers. I watch "Pinky And The Brain", and "Bugs Bunny" cartoons. To relax, I go to a water park and hit the slides.

29. Is there anything you’d still want to do or accomplish before you die?

I'd like to take a few lessons from some of the guitarist I really admire. I'd like to sit down with Trevor Rabin, Steve Vai, Allan Holdsworth, Alex Lifeson. I'd like to stop giving guitar lessons because I'm tired of baby sitting a bunch of dumbshits. I'd like to get into scoring films or cartoons.

30. What are some of the weirdest things you’ve done? Have you ever written for a commercial for example?

I haven't written for a commercial, but that would be fun. Video games would even be cool. Right now I'm trying to write a full CD of progressive Ink type metal, mixed in with filmscore and cartoon music. Some of the songs sound like "Data Race" meets "Edward Scissorhands". Some are just cartoons. One of the tunes is a telephone message someone left on my answering machine, and I scored music for it. It's hilarious.

31. Do you know what Bobby’s set-up is?

I think he uses Pearl, I'm not too sure. Some drums and cymbals or something.

32. Have you ever given clinics, or would you if you were asked?

I have been teaching music for over 12 years, so I'd have tons of ideas. Clinics would be fun.

33. Is there anywhere where you’d absolutely love to tour with SI?

When WatchTower did the European tour, I didn't really appreciate where we were because I was too busy. Also, when WatchTower was in Berlin recording for seven weeks, I hardly ever got a chance to get out of the studio. I would like to see Japan with SPASTIC INK or WATCHTOWER.

34. What do you aspire for SI’s future?

I hope the the CD does well enough to where we should do another one. It is a shame that we had to just sit on "Ink Complete" because we didn't know how to get it out there. Right now, my main focus is to get the third WatchTower record going. Bobby called me up a few weeks ago and suggested getting something going again. That is in the future, but not immediate.

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