(By Pat ‘Riot’ Whitaker, Senior Writer/Journalist, RiffRelevant.com)
When it comes to the deepest depths of the underground music realm’s southern sludge genre, there is one band that embodies all of the prerequisites: CHOKE.
From their headquarters within the swampy bayous of Lake Charles, Louisiana, CHOKE first gasped air in 1994. It was a time when bands like Exhorder, EYEHATEGOD, and Acid Bath, were well upon their ways to putting Louisiana on the beneath-the-radar musical map.
Feeling their own need to sow sonic discord in the haunts and recesses of extreme metal fanatics, the CHOKE quartet – Tracy McGinnis (vocals), Bryan Hood (drums), Jason Fusilier (bass), and Jeromy Boullion (guitar) – soon recorded the ‘I Am Meat‘ EP and hit the road. Their live shows were a bewildering spectacle for those in attendance. CHOKE‘s chaotic live expulsions were riddled with the aurally violent transmission of feedback-emitting guitars, oozing rhythms, audio samples, and a dynamic range of vocal styling.
A year or so after their formation, CHOKE added second guitarist Jerry “Boon” Businelli of Golgotha (pre-Acid Bath), and ratcheted up their touring within the U.S. The band was quickly becoming a favorite with music fans from coast to coast and all points in between, even performing to a sold out crowd at NYC’s famed CBGB’s.
This experience was something that vocalist Tracy McGinnis recently spoke to me about, saying.:
“CBGB’s was in 1997. We were on a U.S. tour with Soilent Green and Anal Cunt, but Anal Cunt did not play the NYC show. CRISIS headlined that night.“
During that period, CHOKE issued two incredibly well-received albums, 1996’s self-titled ‘Choke’ and 1999’s conceptual masterpiece, ‘Whatever Happened To Mark Twain’s America?‘. These records were monumental milestones in the evolution of CHOKE, especially the latter’s insightful look at Americana amid a mix of abrasively caustic metal and emotionally-riveting alternative rock.
McGinnis offers this about the album:
“Mark Twain’s America is about the fall of innocence and values in America. This concept album is about decay and sadness. ‘Merica has gotten worse since… maybe it will be time for Mark Twain Part 2 soon? That will be a truly scary album!“
1998 would bring the replacement of Boon with guitarist Charlie Frye, while CHOKE continued to incessantly work the touring circuit of the U.S. The truest of “road dogs”, during this period the band seemed to remain on the well-traversed highways and backwoods byways without end. However, they would eventually begin work on writing and recording a new album once the new millennium arrived.
That album, titled ‘Human Are Cattle‘ (click title to stream), would be wrapped in time, but little did the CHOKE crew know that a proverbial storm was a’ brewing… literally. That storm would strike, and do so with such severity, such resounding impact, that nothing would ever be the same again. Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast in 2005, and along with the massive loss of lives, property, sanity and more, came the loss of CHOKE‘s masters for their new recording.
Also gone were their studios, management’s offices, record label, and as if this all wasn’t terribly tragic enough, their hometown region was hit by Hurricane Rita less than a month after Katrina. This powerful one-two battering by Mother Nature effectively detoured CHOKE, altering the band’s trajectory with rippling effects for years to come.
Tracy again expounds on these events:
“During Hurricane Katrina, Jimmy Bower and Pepper Keenan evacuated with their old ladies from New Orleans to stay with our bass player Jason here in Lake Charles. 3 weeks later they had to leave along with us because Hurricane Rita was hitting us, which turned out to be a bigger [less covered] Hurricane. This KILLED the thriving NOLA metal scene. There were MANY newer bands that were poised to be “next” in the metal scene… we were a middle tier band… one of the bigger bands in NOLA but on a small indie label. The hurricanes washed away all those dreams of bigger things. If you were not already known… the door was now SHUT!!!”
The next decade would see drastic changes for CHOKE, as they struggled to keep members, all while finding themselves contained to a home-centralized live schedule. They remained more localized, only playing a couple of live shows per month. As with most things, life intervened into the CHOKE musical tapestry with marriages, children, jobs, etc. and their once meteoric rise now leveled off as that aforementioned life went on.
Though CHOKE remained active on a smaller scale during the interim, 2017 would see a rejuvenated spirit grab the band by their collective throats. Comprised of earlier members Tracy McGinnis, Bryan Hood, and Charlie Frye at the time, the trio were joined by guitarist Skot Alexander that year and the foursome found themselves writing new music for the first time since the hurricanes.
Fast forward to now, 2018, and CHOKE are once again making moves of magnificent magnitudes, their second shot at the brass ring in full swing. First, CHOKE has teamed up with Salt Of The Earth Records for the release of the two-song EP, ‘The Devil Has A Pretty Face‘.
Recording is underway with producer (and current live C.O.C. touring drummer) Taylor Bourque, with a fall release expected. The two-track salvo of “Southern Fried Debt Metal” from CHOKE is just what we need and they are sure to deliver as a precursor to an eventual full length release.
Speaking of delivering, CHOKE leave this very week for a Japanese Tour alongside GUNSHIP666, where they will surely deliver the goods as only they can. The band is poised to put themselves right in the midst and mix of things once again, eager to resume their domination of the live music scene… but on a global scale!
CHOKE‘s Terry McGinnis wraps things up nicely like this:
“We fully realize the music industry is a different beast than when we started in 1994. Gone are days of metal bands getting rich. This was never our concern.
“We were there in the beginning of the ‘now famous’ New Orleans metal scene. Only a handful of those bands we used to share stages with are still around… Crowbar, Goatwhore and EYEHATEGOD. We never quit even without label support. We continue to do this because… it is who we are! We never faked or phoned in ANYTHING!!!“
CHOKE & GUNSHIP666 Japanese Tour 2018:
Fri. – Sept. 14 @ Ikebukuro Chop, Tokyo
Sat. – Sept. 15 @ Club Junk Box, Nagano
Sun. – Sept. 16 @ Soul Kitchen, Nagoya