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Only Living Witness - Their last show ever?

Loud From The South 2008 had quite a bunch of great bands on the bill, and one of those bands was Only Living Witness, who played their ´last show ever´ in Eindhoven. We spoke with singer Jonah Jenkins and guitarist Craig Silverman about ´last shows´, shady record deals, beers, Metallica, politics and much more. We started with the fact that original drummer Eric Stevenson wasn´t present.

Jonah: Eric is a good friend of ours, he had a problem with his hands and he got diagnosed just before our reunion shows in Boston right before we wanted to go on tour. It was better for him to sit it out, we don't want him to hurt himself.

Normally your last show is in your hometown, why did you end up in Eindhoven?

Jonah: Our 'first' last show sold out in three days. Most of our friends didn't get tickets. So we booked another one. We did the second reunion show so our friends could see it. Eric told us that he could not play in Europe, so we had to train another drummer in 1,5 months. That's all he had.

Quite a bootcamp..

Jonah: So he did an amazing job. He knew the first album already, the second one not so much. But he got it done..Benny Grotto is pretty much a trooper. And we just went with it!

I did see a few weird glances on stage..

Jonah: Oh yeah. The "What the fuck just happened" glance!

So, this was your supposedly last show ever. Can you elaborate why you ended up in Eindhoven?

Jonah: Tjerk Maas (Loudnoise bookings) called us. He said: "I like you guys, I want to fly you over for the show". And how can we refuse that kind of offer?
Craig: Would you say no to a guy who paid for your planeticket and hotel for a few days? No!

To be honest, you guys are playing on this festival as the only band who put out their last album a good 15 years ago. Who is going to show up?

Jonah: That's what we thought as well..
Craig: Hey, that's how I felt back one is going to show up at our show.

The last time you guys were in Holland I was around, 10 or 11 years old.

Craig: June of '94 if I remember correctly. We played a few shows with Leeway
Jonah: Those were really great shows. We got treated very well at the places we played, and they would walk up and tell us and say that we were awesome. Or actually own one of our records. We played a few shows with Sick of it All as well, and they were fun. But the small shows, particular one in Belgian; it was so much fun. It felt like playing in Boston. We got treated well by the people that promote and book the shows and people got excited about the music. It was really fun.

This location isn't really a small show (unfortunately), and you have people from Germany and France rocking it out at this festival.

Jonah: We got the offer to play here, and if we had to do a full tour, it wouldn't be possible. The finances would get complex, really quickly.
Craig: Not being an active band, renting equipment, etc. It makes it hard. We talked about it though, and I would have loved to do 6 or 7 shows and play in Germany and Austria. And we don't get any tour support from Century Media, they don't even list us on their website anymore as well!

To be honest, I'm a new fan to the band. The first time I heard of Only Living Witness was Jonah's work with 36 Crazyfists. So that's when I checked out the music and realised that this stuff came out when I was 12. That was pretty funny. You guys are up there with early Helmet, Quicksand, Life of Agony. Some of those band got big, but OLW only did 2 albums and it was done.

Craig: If it wasn't offered to us, we wouldn't have been here.
Jonah: Tjerk was nice enough to let it fall into place, and the original plan was just to have one reunion show in Boston, with friends that haven't seen us in fifteen years. After that, we somehow kept going!

36C's Brock was pretty bummed out about that, since 36C was on tour when that happened!

Jonah: I told him; we're playing the shows, be there!

And he thought that you probably played a show in Boston one day..

Craig: Well, probably not in Boston. Maybe in a couple of years in a place like this, but you never know.
Jonah: Never say never!
Craig: There is a lot of beer you can get here that you can't get in the States!

So what do you think about Dommelsch beer?

Craig: So far it's great for drinking from a plastic cup!
Jonah: We have been spoiled since yesterday we were in Brussels.

Ah..the beer-capital of the world.

Jonah: And I`m going back there as well. I`ll be going to Prague as well, but I`ll end in Brussels. The last three days, there is a beerfest over there.
Craig: I've been drinking Chimay Blue for the last few days. And a lot of Duvel.

Seems to me that you guys are quite the beerdrinkers..

Craig: No!
Jonah: What?

This is funny, because most Americans always say that Heineken is the best..

Craig: No way..
Jonah: Well, if you get it fresh, it might be better.
Craig: To me, it has a weird, unplacable taste. If I had to choose between Budweiser and Heineken..I would go with Budweiser. And that's like the worst.
Jonah: Black Label is worse..I`ll drink that instead of Budweiser.
Craig: If you want to drink shitty American beer you have to drink Miller Highlife. It's cheesy and it sucks.

You have a lot of microbreweries over there?

Jonah: We have a lot of them, and we're quite spoiled in Boston.
Craig: I think the best beer from Boston is Harpoon IPA.
Jonah: I think that's the best one for the money. My favorite beer is called Smuttynose IPA, it has a seal on the label.
Craig: That's from New Hampshire. They make a real nice unfiltered IPA with a lot of sediment
Jonah: And it's very strongly hopped. And I like lots of hops. It tastes citrousy. They don't have beer like that over here.
Craig: I think they do!
Jonah: The first drummer for OLW, he only drank Budweiser.
Craig: Like, -only- two cases a day.
Jonah: His comments did make sense, he didn't want to drink 'that gravy beer'.

Craig: I could talk about beer all day.

What did you guys check out so far, beerwise.

Jonah: Tons.
Craig: I can't really remember everything since last night, I think I had almost 25 different kinds? I remember Palm. At the trainstation I had two Hoegaarden, on the train I had two Palms. When we got here I had three Duvels. At a bar I had like, a few Bavaria. After a while I just drank what people gave me.
Jonah: I left early. That's because I'm going to spend time in Prague and Brussels, great beer cities.

Craig: Jonah, you have all that lint shit on you.
Jonah: It's from the towels! And it was already weird to have towels.

Yeah we saw that, looked like dust coming of the towels or something. Quite weird.

Craig: Leffe Blond. I also loved that!

Funny thing is; there is actually a small abbey near Eindhoven were they still brew their own beers.

Jonah: Really?
Craig: You can get all this stuff pretty much anywhere, but that local stuff usually is the best. We never played in Eindhoven, that's too bad. I would love to play in the Dynamo, just like Testament! But I don't think the Dynamo festival exists anymore, right?

No, unfortunately, not anymore. It grew bigger and bigger, until it had like 120.000 people coming. The Germans were barbequing on the freeway, that many people travelled there. But the government made new rules for having official security, cleaning, catering, etc. They had to move around a lot and pay debts. It just slowly died. It's a shadow of what it used to be.

Craig: That sucks, I would have loved to play there one day.

Funny thing is that the Dynamo club is basically starting over again with a small festival on a square next to the building.

Jonah: I saw a flyer for that!
Craig: When I was a 'kid', I had a bootleg from Slayer playing at the Dynamo festival. That must have been way back. It was huge.

Good thing the Dynamo club still exists, maybe they'll get back on track one day.

Craig: It reminds me of a club in Boston, it was called "The Channel", it was huge and big. It had bands like Slayer and Pantera in the late 80s and early 90s. It was always packed but it went banktrupt. But they were hooked up with the maffia, maybe that had something to do with it. The owner of the club who was linked to the maffia got murdered.
Jonah: And they owed Budweiser for 50.000 dollars, but they couldn't pay it. This is all folklore tho..

Good think that things are still maffia-free over here. Let's get back to music. Jonah, you did a lot of guestvocals with bands, like with Converge and 36C. How does it feel when people tell you that you are such a big inspiration?

Jonah: I don't feel special at all. I don't consider myself to be a special person. I really like to sing and write words.

Is there a band that you would love to play with?

Jonah: I don't think so. There are a lot of bands whom's music I love to sing over, but I'd rather make music with friends. That experience is much more important to me. Craig and I have been playing for so many years, it's almost instinct. It's fun to play with bands and I`m always honored when they ask me.

More like "I`ll be happy to do it". I read that you had quite a history with bands like Milltown.

Craig: That was fucked up.
Jonah: But it got me out of Century Media's contract!

I read that Century Media owed OLW for a few more records?

Craig: Not anymore!
Jonah: The contract says 'in perpetuity, in the known universe'. According to their legal writing, the contract renews itself when a band breaks up and gets back together. So now they would get 7 more albums, since the first ones don't count at all. I`ll never sign a record contract that's more than one page long. If it's a friend of yours they'll treat you honest. But if they put so much into a contract, they will find a loophole. When Milligram signed with Overcome records, it was just one page. It was completely honest. It said what we and they could and could not do. It was very fair.

But these days people can create and distribute their own music thanks to the internet.

Craig: record labels aren't necessary anymore. Thank god.

So what would you do these days?

Craig: For me it isn't about money. I don't want to be forced to do anything for anybody just because they say so. When we signed that deal, we were young and naieve. We just wanted to make music and put out a record.. I could go to five stores in Boston and find my record. That was awesome and good enough for me.
Jonah: We also needed someone to pay for that recordings. Most of us had shitty jobs or no jobs at all, and we were a lot younger. We needed someone to help us. Looking back now, if we would stuck it out and paid a little bit more ourselves it would have been better.

Seems like you did everything the hard way..

Craig: Oh yeah..yeah we did.
Jonah: When we figured out to deal with this contract, Nirvana got big. You don't have to spend a lot of money to make a good record. Nirvana didn't spend much money then. But when they ended up selling millions of records, they made profit. But labels don't want the bands to make profit.
Craig: With us, when I look at bands like Nirvana, they weren't expected to sell at all. But Century Media really expected us to sell a shitload of records with no promotion at all. The biggest problem with us is, we were self-managed. You cannot deal with record labels when you are young and naive without anyone looking out for your best interests. You don't know a damn thing about the record business, and I still don't. And I'm almost 40. Labels use that ignorance and capitalise it. That's their business. When I was a kid, I hated them for it. But now I`m older and I see that's just how it is. We didn't have anyone looking out for us.

Jonah: We only had a lawyer saying "it's not getting better than this, so you should sign it"
Craig: That was quite a stupid lawyer.

I read somewhere that the most money you ever made was on Shadows Fall's cover of 'December'.

Jonah: Correct. The main reason for that was because of the fact that Century Media structured the contract that when you tried to recoup money, they could minimise the money that you could recoup. In the end we still ´owe´ them 40.000 dollars, based on the recoupment structure in their contracts.
Craig: I don't hate them at all since, in retrospect, we made a lot of mistakes. They didn't do anything 'wrong', but they could have done more.
Jonah: There were a lot more advertisements for the second album, after we had broken up..
Craig: They didn't do anything for the first record.

It's still weird that you guys come from a great 'era'' regarding rock music and nothing really happened.

Craig: It's timing. Our timing was great, but when we signed our record deal, that was bad timing. The wrong label at the wrong time.
Jonah: You make mistakes, and you live with it. You can't keep trying to relieve the past.

Jonah, you have Raw Radar War going on; do you still want to pursue music as a fulltime job?

Jonah: No, I have a great job. I work in academic libraries. I worked at MIT for the past 9 years, I worked at Harvard before that. Just library work. And I learn everyday, I hang out with people who are also creative. Our jobs facilitate our creative live. That's what I want. I want to be able to travel, I can take up extra time, that's what I want.

Craig, you work in restaurants?

Craig: I work for a large restaurant corporation. I'm kind of the 'fix-it' guy. I remember sitting in  the Holliday-Inn, and drinking coffee and looking out a window. I had a flashback back to 1989 and remembered that I used to get coffee at McDonalds with my last dollar and try to sip it as long as possible. And now I was drinking coffee in Eindhoven. It's just funny how those things go.
Jonah: We would stay on friends' couches when OLW was still active since most of us didn't have steady jobs.
Craig: Now what I do is, is when a bar is messed up they call me in to go fix it.

You're like a Winston Wolfe.

Craig: I fire people, I hire new people, and stay a while to check out if things work out all right.

Reminds me of Gordon Ramsay..

Jonah: Is that that guy from the TV shows? He is such a bastard!
Craig: So am I! But most good chefs I've met are like that.

Probably because a lot of chefs consider themselves to be artists.

Jonah: They should write poems. So you could say that you want that poem of your meat! I don't need your advocado-poem! I love food and I cook all the time, in a different life I would love to be a chef. But I much rather try to enjoy myself as with music, doing what I like to do, instead of trying to make money of that.
Craig: We all play music now because we love playing it. It's a hobby.

Instead of having obligations?

Craig: We all own houses and have bills to pay. Music doesn't pay, and it never has. I never did it for money. Now I`m playing music in Eindhoven, they've payed for our hotel and tickets and I was psyched with that! I'm playing music with some of my oldest friends. We got a vacation out of it as well!
Jonah: And we'll go back to our regular lives when we get back.
Craig: And we share a rehearsal space with our bands.

So you can't get rid of each other after all those years?

Craig: That's not a bad thing!
Jonah: Imagine being 37 and retired and being very bored. I might sit around and listen to my record collection (more), but you don't learn anything from that. There is no action without friction. And friction is necessary, in any field. If you don't create a situation where you are not going to be pushed you won't do anything special of interesting. I rather be pushed than sitting at home and watching TV or something. We had very crazy upbringings, but I`m not going to sit there and dwell on that.

Talking about crazy stuff, any views on the American elections?

Craig: I`ll be happy when it's over.
Jonah: It's a very difficult situation. I don't have any particular allegiance, but at the same time I want things to 'change'. And I don't like to use that word. But I want a different dynamic. If the opportunity is missed by the American people, it could be devastating. Already, the economy is terrible.

Well, It should be better than the previous administration.

Craig: Yeah, but that's what we thought after the first four years of Bush!

From an European point of view, McCain will probably still be a step up.

Craig: My problem is this: I hate all politicians. I take the Peter Steele approach. I`m not a racist; I hate everybody equally.
Jonah: Especially career-politicians. It's just like career-musicians. I don't hate career musicians, but I don't have to respect them. If you want to be a career musician it means that you are beholden to your benefactors to create something.
Craig: The last few presidential was like: "They all suck."
Jonah: I was actually a fan of Clinton, not necessarily his policies but as a diplomat. He was a great speaker.
Craig: Presidents aren't allowed to mix their personal lives with their jobs. But look at Clinton..or Kennedy. Kennedy was hooked up with the mob, but he was a good president. Same for Clinton. He might have been a scumbag, but he was a good president. You don't have to be a good person to be a good president.
Jonah: I don't know much about him or it might be the culture in England, but Tony Blair is an amazing speaker. He is so eloquent, he makes Bush seem like an infant. I don't hear anything terrible about him, but maybe in England they don't want to hurt his name.

At this point, our time was almost over and we were discussing the pros and cons of musicmagazines and websites.

If you read magazines and their interviews, oftenly they don't add anything that you can't read on the internet.

Jonah: That's why we appreciate this interview, it's a conversation.
Craig: And we can talk about beers all day..

Final question: What did you have hear from the new Metallica?

Craig: It's better than 'St. Anger'..
Jonah: I get the idea of what they are doing. But I have not been a fan since Justice.

I still wonder what Rick Rubin had to do with it.

Jonah: Kerry King said it best: "He can't write that shit". He cannot write Metallica stuff.
Craig: It's like when he produced Johnny Cash's last record. What the fuck are you going to do for him? He is way more important than you will ever be.
Jonah: And as far as I'm concerned, Rick Rubin ruined The Cult. Their first two records were amazing, but I don't want to hear The Cult as AC/DC. But he did great things for Slayer.
Craig: Reign In Blood, you have to respect him for that. But I think Slayer already sounded like that and he just recorded it.
Jonah: He probably said 'Shorten your songs a bit" and record them one after another. "Play that 6 times, not 16".

Did you hear the Iron Maiden cover they recorded for the Kerrang! tribute CD?

Craig: No, but I saw Iron Maiden a few months ago for the first time since 1985. They're still kicking it.
Jonah: Except for that extra guy.. (referring to Yannick Gers)
Craig: I hate that guy!

This was pretty much all the time we had for this excellent talk, thanks to Jonah and Craig for their time! And hopefully we haven't seen the last of Only Living Witness..

Details Written on 2008-11-18
Writer @Carn

Tags: #Only Living Witness