Mar 25, 2008, 07:45AM

INTERVIEW: Sam Garrett of Yukon & Hex Screw

Finger-tapping noise punk Sam Garrett plays in two of Baltimore's wildest underground rock groups. Not bad for a college freshman.

The following video was included in this article:

Sam Garrett is a 19-year-old college freshman and the guitarist for the Baltimore-based bands Yukon and Hex Screw. He graduated from the Friends School in 2007, although he has been playing shows in and around Baltimore since his sophomore year in high school. His work has been released by MT6 Records, Terra Firma, Defective Bat, and Human Conduct, among others. His spidery, high treble sound is very distinctive in a field of bland math rock and noise bands, and the physical, and sometimes violent, aspect of his live shows has attracted a growing audience. He joined Yukon in 2006, and has since gone on two tours throughout the U.S. with them. His side project, Hex Screw, is a blast of hyper-violent noise rock, whose releases can range from structured guitar songs to full on noise assaults. We sat down for Indian food and chocolate milkshakes last week to talk about his music and what he’s been up to lately.

ST: When did you start Hex Screw and why?

SG: Initially, Hex Screw was called Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates. It started when I was around 15 or 16. I started it initially because I was frustrated with a lack of musically committed people at my school. I didn’t really know anyone who wanted to play music, or at least pursue it seriously. And that drove me crazy. I made a MySpace page, pieced together a bunch of recordings I had done since I was 12 or 13, and we mixed it, added some guitar overdubs, and posted it on MySpace. Nobody gave a shit, but nobody should’ve, so…[laughs] and then eventually it became Hex Screw as I started to develop more, and then I emailed some stuff to Alex [Strama] from MT6, and that would later become the Anthologon CD-R. That was around 2005, during my junior year in high school; so I started Hex Screw because the people around me weren’t interested in being in a band, ever.

ST: Why is it that the majority of Hex Screw’s released material errs on the side of harsh noise rather than the more structured guitar type stuff?

SG: It was mostly out of frustration. For the Newagehillbilly split, it was me, Nick Shamblott, and another pothead kid from my school…we got together and fucked around, we thought it sounded cool, like real decrepit noise rock, and thought it was good to release. Some of that stuff was intentionally composed to sound like it wasn’t, and other stuff was just thrown together, justified in some way in my head, but the new stuff is pretty structured. Maybe I’ll have a guitar part that is more texture based, but it’ll have its part in the big picture of the song. Like “Grappling Hook”, for example, the scraping in that song, obviously you can’t compose that stuff, but it was a composition in that it was a planned piece of the song.

ST: Do you use alternate tunings or is your stuff in standard?

SG: For the noise tracks, the stuff that wasn’t recorded when I was 12, a lot of that stuff was just a sample…manipulated enough, like, if there’s a pretty chord, you can pick out the notes, and then you put a certain amount of gain on it, you have an overtone series of really pretty sounding chords, I tried to do that on the Newagehillbilly split as much as I could, but that’s only on one track I think…but that was initially a sample of me playing one chord over and over again. But the guitar tracks, that’s a mess. There’s a lot of shit going on there, but to be honest a lot of it is haphazard. The way I approach that stuff is initially there’ll be a part, like a drum part or something, and you write a guitar part over it, usually in standard tuning, and then you keep layering guitar tracks over it, and those guitar tracks can be anything from Drop D to just a completely ridiculous tuning, like sometimes you tune the strings down all the way just to get contact with the pickups…so yeah, I use a variety of different tunings, but there isn’t like a set Hex Screw tuning. Aside for tuning in tritones, but I’ve only done that successfully once.

ST: How did you develop the sound you have today?

SG: Pretty haphazardly. I really like mid-90s bands, like the Skin Graft stuff, Colossamite, U.S. Maple, that stuff was a huge influence. I always really liked that sort of sloppy sound, like the first Gorge Trio album. Natural Dreamers, all the Skin Graft stuff…those guys favored weird tunings, dissonant chords…and this sort of pushed bright sound, like they’re not playing through a [BOSS] DS-1 or anything, it’s like, this is just a trebly guitar, and it’s so effective. In Yukon I use a distortion pedal, although I try not to use a lot of pedals…but don’t get me wrong, I love pedals. I have a huge pedal collection, or had one, but I prefer to use chord voicings, the inflections in which you play stuff, that to kinda produce stuff that you would normally use a pedal to make.

ST: Did you take guitar lessons or were you self-taught?

SG: I pretty much grew up around music, and my dad is a guitar teacher.

ST: And you teach guitar, right?

SG: Yeah, I taught guitar for a while. I guess until I started taking guitar lessons I was self-taught, pretty much just learned Nirvana songs. Then I started learning jazz more academically, and that was a big influence on my playing, like the chords I use, but it was also a setback, in my opinion. I learned a lot, but it also put me in a box. It’s a trap.

ST: What is your songwriting process? Do you even have one?

SG: For the first two Hex Screw releases, or three I guess including the Hrd Bp split, that stuff is just like miscellaneous methods and improv. I’ll develop it, and if I thought it was cool sounding I would put it out…but with this latest thing, the Needle Gun split, I’m putting a lot more effort into it, like they’re pretty much crafted songs, with tons of overdubs.

ST: How did you end up joining Yukon?

SG: Well I met Nick [Podgurski, drummer for Yukon] at a New Flesh show I booked at Friends for a coffee house, which was a fucking ridiculous show, one of the best. So they came, and they played, people were freaked out, but it was a good night, they ended up selling like $50 in merch. Anyway, Nick and I jammed throughout the year, just getting together and dicking around. This was around my junior year, when I was 17. Then, the day I finished my final exams, I was at Shamblott’s house, and I got a call from Denny [Bowen, former guitarist for Yukon]. He was talking about how Tom [Ferrara, former guitarist for Yukon] had quit, and they were going on tour in the Midwest in a few weeks, and they needed another guitar player, and I was just like fuck yeah, absolutely. Before that, my parents wouldn’t let me tour, but this time they ended up letting me go. We got shot at on that tour, some guy tried to hold us up. It was a growing experience for sure.

ST: What have you guys been doing since Denny left last November?

SG: Denny quit, then we had kind of a gray period, then we regrouped…we’re going to pursue it, we’ve written pretty much an entire set. Nick’s gonna be back from the Extra Life tour next week, and after that we’re just gonna start practicing a lot, because we have some shows in New York in May. I think we’re playing a Baltimore show in July. That’s gonna be our show back, I guess.

ST: Why did Denny leave?

SG: I kicked the shit out of him one night on tour and he just couldn’t face me anymore [laughs]…no, he wanted to pursue his other bands, Smart Growth and Double Dagger full time. Denny plays drums in those bands, and he’s not a guitar player. I mean, he’s a great at guitar, but he’s not a guitar player. He would just rather be doing drums, I guess. It was an amicable split. There was no animosity whatsoever. We’re all still friends with Denny for life.

ST: How did you juggle music and high school?

SG: Pretty much what happened was—I’m not saying that Hex Screw or Yukon is anything important in the scheme of things, but Yukon was way more active than anything I had ever done before. Going on tour after my finals, it was great and exciting, but all of a sudden I realized I had to keep my shit together or I was going to fail out of school. It’s like getting a boner, and then losing it all the time. But there were consequences. Before the end of senior year, I assumed I was going to go to the New School for jazz or something, but with Yukon I pretty much just stopped playing jazz altogether. I had teachers cussing me out for whatever reason…but to me, in retrospect, everything worked out in the long run. It was a great time, because it was exciting, but by the same token, this was my future, my college education.

ST: Did you enjoy high school, or did it conflict with what you were doing musically?

SG: I think I enjoyed the second half more…I enjoyed it more because I wasn’t there as much, but the first couple years of high school were pretty uneventful, me listening to a lot of At the Drive-In, Hella, Don Caballero, that kind of stuff. I liked listening to a lot of music in the hallway at school. It was just something I had to do to go home every day.

ST: What new releases do you have coming out?

SG: The Needle Gun split, and that’s probably gonna be the last Hex Screw thing, and then I’m probably gonna have to kill off Hex Screw, but it’ll live on in some other form. For now though, it’s gonna be on hiatus for a while, since Yukon is such a time commitment, and my issue with the first three Hex Screw releases, even though I’m glad I did them and put them out, they were pretty much thrown together, and with the Needle Gun split, I’ve been working my ass off to make it as cohesive as possible. So, it’s more of a logistical decision, because if I took on another Hex Screw release right after this one, it would take way too long, and I wouldn’t be able to focus. But Yukon’s got the Medallion EP coming out this summer I hope. If I’m lucky, a three-track thing I wrote in composition class at college might be coming out soon. Hopefully the Yukon full-length with the new line-up will come out later this year or early next year.

ST: Being a fan of At the Drive-In, what are your feelings for The Mars Volta?

SG: I used to love that band, all those fucking demos, man. It takes me back, when I saw them on On Demand, they had some 20-minute long videos. It’s like, Omar can fucking solo better now, but who cares.

ST: And he has more pedals now.

SG: Yeah…more fucking Line6 pedals. I wanna go back to the [BOSS] DD-5 days.

ST: I would love to see them play again, but that’s never gonna happen.

SG: Fuck no, dude. I would kill for that. That’s probably the most important reunion tour that will never happen in my lifetime.



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