Interview: Jay Cross / Hammer Smashed Radio 6th anniversary
Metal Made in Canada is proud to present you an exclusive interview with Jay Cross, radio host at Hammer Smashed Radio, CKCU fm, Ottawa, about the 6th anniversary of the radio show. Jay is also drummer in Accursed Spawn and Mortör, among other things.
theBlackHull: The name of your radio show is a nod to Cannibal Corpse’s tongue-in-cheek “Hammer Smashed Face”; it’s stereotypical, metal, and it’s perfect. How would you describe the boundaries of Hammer Smashed Radio in terms of stylistic palette?
Jay: Hahahaha, man I was so proud of myself when I came with Hammer Smashed Radio! But I’m glad you like it, because in my head it kind of made sense the show is called Hammer Smashed Radio. It’s a pretty effective warning that you’re about to listen to a show that plays death metal.
In terms of our stylistic palette, I’d say we play extreme metal with a particular focus on death. Admittedly I have a bias, as outside of the show I play drums, so I tend to play a lot of bands that have great drummers. Nile, Cattle Decapitation, Misery Index, Origin, Gorguts, all those guys come to mind. I suppose all those bands also tend to be quite fast so there’s definitely a sub-theme of speed in there as well.
My amazing co-host Katrina also brings in some incredibly technical bands. She probably listens to the more intense music out of the two of us, hahaha.
And of course we’re in Canada, so, when the weather gets cold, we play black metal. First snow of the year is mandatory At the Heart of Winter by Immortal. At this point it’s become a tradition.
theBlackHull: It’s true that black metal is only a seasonal or only a component of your show, but it’s not something that is consistent.
Jay: Yes, it’s a seasonal thing. I’ll be the first person to admit it.
theBlackHull: When I actually listen to you describing your show, one of the things that surprises me is that you haven’t used the word “brutal” once [pause] although your show actually uses [a very brutal] title, picture, and the whole extreme end that you pinpointed. It’s not extreme atmospheres like extreme doom or extreme X, Y or Z. It’s technical, but for me HSR is extreme in a brutal way. There’s a lot of American death metal into your show which for me speaks to your brutal roots. One of your recent posts was that in your life the common answer to everything is always “Slayer!” For me, there’s a common root with your show.
Jay: Hell yeah! You know, that’s a good point. It’s brutal, it’s extreme, it’s aggressive, it’s fast… Hammer Smashed Radio is the conglomeration of the music that I listened to and that I play. There’s no surprise that the drummer from Accursed Spawn is also one of the DJs from HSR.
theBlackHull: Going back to the extreme brutal genre of music, if you had to create a name for that style, what would it be?
Jay: I think it already exists, I like “extreme metal”. I saw this interview with Flo Mounier [Cryptopsy] on CBC, they had brought him on because he’s one of the best drummers in Montreal, and asked him “What style do you play” and he answered “Well people call us death metal–I like extreme music, because you know what, we’re just metal but taken to an extreme.” I always found that’s a label that works with me.
theBlackHull: In your show there’s also a strong mandate to promote the local scene. This is obvious for anyone who listens to your show for the first time. Bands have been doing interviews with you, bands have also been playing live, you are streaming a lot of their music, etc. Could you describe a few memorable souvenirs that you had with local bands in the last six years?
Jay: Honestly every interview is memorable for its own reasons. It could be someone coming in and being really shy… I had this one interview with Mark Phillips, he was playing with Immersed at the time. He was super nervous, he was on the phone at work (he was working at a dinner of some kind), and he called me from the bathroom so he could get some peace and quiet. Of course all of his coworkers followed him in there, and they kept yelling at him and he would just keep repeating throughout the interview “Oh I’m really really sorry, I hope I’m not ruining this for you! Oh fuck! Oh shit!! I’m sorry dude but fuck!!” And he just kept swearing. I’ve seen that so many times when people just keep cursing because they’re worried that they are “breaking the radio rule!” I always run with that when I see him.
Other than that, having bands in the studio is always very fun, like performing, because it smells like hell! I made Mortör do it before I made other bands do it because I wanted to know what the experience was like and it fucking sucks! I mean it’s really fun but it hurts: it’s hot in there, it’s gross, it smells so fucking bad. I’ve put …From the Deep through that, I’ve put Insurrection through that, and I’ll never forget just opening that door. My first reaction would be just laughing at them and saying “How do you like the sauna boys??!!” and both bands both loved it and hated it.
theBlackHull: The show has been around for six years now and that’s why you are celebrating it at the end of the month. Could you say a few words on how it started, how it was back then, what was your idea of the show and how it actually evolved over the years to become what it is today?
Jay: Honestly HSR is what I’ve always tried to make it. I’m really happy to say it. I remember when I first pitched the idea to David Sarazin [director at CKCU] saying I wanted to do a show about extreme music because there’s all these bands coming [to town], there’s all these local bands playing right now, there’s this great promotion company around, [and] I just wanted to help them all. I wanted to be part of that, I wanted to promote that stuff. The first show we ever did we had Christina [Abraham-Kasper] from Blackwidow [Promotions], and some of the guys from Deamon on. That was the first program ever. Fuck the Facts has always been one of my favorite bands ever, so it’s been great to promote their newest releases.
theBlackHull: You are wearing a FTF t-shirt right now…
Jay: I am! Having an opportunity to have those guys on, and to share their music with other and just talk about the local music scene, has been incredible.
My background is in communication; it’s fun to give people an opportunity to receive some early “media training” I guess. I have broken the chair of media for so many bands in Ottawa and it’s really cool because in my head I got this opportunity to be like “Ok guys, don’t fucking do this, do this, etc…” In my head it’s kind of a way to make sure that Ottawa bands just gonna be as professional as they sound. …Because our scene is amazing: we are situated between Toronto and Montreal–two major markets–so we have this little brother syndrome where we always have to prove ourselves. So the fact that six years later I’m still trying to do that is just cool.
We’ve had a bunch of changes over the years, [for example] I had a lot of different co-hosts throughout time and everyone has always brought a different flavor. One of my best friends Shawn Striker who used to play in Accursed Spawn was a co-host for a while; Kat and Jasmine who went on to do their own hair metal radio show were on the HSR show for a while; obviously Katrina right now; I had my friend Christine who’s now down in Florida, she had more of a Meshuggah flavour so we went down slammy for a little bit; Mike Bürch is almost the “half” co-host because he’s been around for so long.
theBlackHull: He’s the Robin of the show…
Jay: Katrina is now the official co-host, but yeah, he’s been the sidekick of the show for years, and again, he brought his own flavour. It has always changed a little bit but it always stayed the same at the same time; it always had the same goal of promoting the local scene and playing extreme music.
theBlackHull: How do you see your radio show in the context of a) CKCU and their philosophy, and b) in the Ottawa radio shows landscape?
Jay: I love CKCU, this station is just amazing. The goal of CKCU is to promote music that’s local and music that won’t have any other avenue.
theBlackHull: As opposition to music that has no future, right?… (laugh)
Jay: Sorry no! But if you go to CKCU and say you want to play Busta Rhymes and Kate Perry they will show you the door. They have no interest in promoting stuff that’s already having avenues. Same goes for bands like Hollerado who already have a home on Live FM or whatever. And it’s not to say we’re snobs, but we’re there to promote the little guy, we’re there to promote the blossoming arts. We want to find all those new bands that people should pay attention to, and that goes to every genre. I feel that HSR does that to a degree, you know, whenever I play out of town I am bringing back this cool band… Like when we played in Toronto we played with Nephelium so I was like “Oh, check these guys out”. Unhuman playing for the HSR birthday bash: I met that guy when Mortör was playing in Sherbrooke that happened to be Alex their drummer and he was part of Terramobil. I just like to go around and find these cool bands and bring them back and with any luck we’re one of the first places people can hear them. That’s within the mandate of why CKCU exists as a radio station. I think that’s why it has maintained popularity over the years, people know they can go to it and find something new.
theBlackHull: We can’t deny that your show has a certain popularity among them. Before your time there must also have been another show leading the way…
Jay: That’s the Metal Meltdown [still broadcasting every Mondays]. I had my start on CKCU because of it, Dimitri and Marcus. They taught me everything I know about initially broadcasting. I talked to Topon [Das] from Fuck the Facts and he has told me a couple of time “Dude, I grew up listening to that”. He listened to that stuff and I bet he found a bunch of music through them. I don’t cover the whole stoner and doom stuff, but that’s what Crossing Boredom do; Derek and Jennifer Bradshaw they kill it. That’s why HSR purposely play extreme, brutal music: because there are other shows on the station that cover together stuff.
theBlackHull: To celebrate your 6th anniversary, you are doing a birthday bash. Can you speak to us about it?
Jay: We did a live birthday show a couple of years ago with Deamon and Immersed; last year we celebrated it by having Insurrection playing live on air. This year, [it’s] because we haven’t had a Dekcuf [*Cafe Dekcuf–one of the Ottawa’s venues] birthday party in a while, and that used to be my favorite style of show: four bands playing Dekcuf Friday/Saturday night, just dirty as all hell, everyone just having their drink on and a really good time. No one put it in a while so screw it, HSR will bring dirty Dekcuf back! Unhuman is this amazing band out of Montreal that has never played in Ottawa before as far as I know and I thought it was a great opportunity to bring them.
theBlackHull: Yes, and it’s timely as they have released their album just before Christmas.
Jay: That record received so much positive attention and positive press, but… That is the record industry these days. Bands like First Fragment have fans around the world and they haven’t played outside of Ontario/Quebec! So I want to make sure Unhuman has the opportunity to hit this market before they explode. I think it’s cool for Ottawa and Montreal to share this scene, there are many mid-level bands in Montreal and Quebec and there are so much good stuff happening there so I was like “cool, an opportunity”. [Counting the other bands on the bill:] Obviously Accursed Spawn, I play in that band and we needed a show around this time [laughters] so screw it, let’s do it, and it’s always fun to play with these guys. Antlion is a really cool up and coming band, with Adam [Pell], our guitar player from Accursed Spawn (he’s singing for them now), and Andre [Lahoud], our former bass player, is in there. We also recorded the new Accursed Spawn at Aaron’s, the drummer [of Antlion], in his studio. Again, the Ottawa scene is just like a giant fucking family. And Venetor, the band opening, I met Shakes the vocalist when back in the day I found that Carleton University had a new metal society and he was the guy starting it. I messaged them, because HSR is from Carleton U, and I was like “Yo man, good job on starting this, let me know if you ever want to work together”, not knowing if he had a band or anything. Half a year later, I find that he has a band going and that they haven’t played downtown or the usual metal circle yet. I thought it was cool, that is why HSR exists, to give people an opportunity to play live. So honestly this line up could not have been more perfect in terms of: we’re showing people a new band that’s Canadian–because again HSR is all about the Canadian music.
theBlackHull: What are the kind of band requests you receive at the show, and what advice would you give to the bands contacting a radio show?
Jay: The general most obvious piece of advice that people don’t follow is if you gonna pitch to a radio station and a particular show, do research what the hell they play. I got these nu metal bands pitching me and I’m just “no” because if you just read the show title you know you don’t fit. Make sure you know the hell what you’re pitching to. I’ve got stoner rock bands pitching and I’m thinking, just because you’re distorted doesn’t mean I like you. You know, for example, one of my favorite bands from Ottawa is Alaskan, I think they are super fucking cool, but I’ll never play them on HSR because they don’t fit with what we do. Other shows like the Metal Meltdown will probably play them, Crossing Boredom will very likely play them, there’s a new show called Metal Morning, they’ve already played them–but they’re more general shows, HSR is more extreme, “brutal”, aggressive music and it has to fit with what we do.
theBlackHull: Now the bonus question. If you had a crystal ball (or a metal orb), where would you see extreme metal radio shows 10 years from now?
Jay: There are many that would think that radio shows will stop existing… but people said that forever. I think they might take a different form. I think for example you might see a larger focus from metal stations or CKCU in general to broadcast, to stream, to get involved in satellite radio, and all that sort of different avenues. I think there will be a push to find new avenues, to make the music readily available.
theBlackHull: Pretty wise. Any last few words?
Jay: Thanks to Metal Made in Canada. It’s really cool that you’re doing what you’re doing. It’s much appreciated and you’re doing pretty much what HSR is doing, and that is trying to expose the broader world both locally and nationally–and internationally–to Canadian music.
theBlackHull: Thanks to you Jay, thanks to Hammer Smashed Radio, and happy birthday!
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