Ben Katzman's DeGreaser has never been a band to step aside and let industry gears decide its fate. In fact, Katzman started his label, BUFU Records, in part to influence the direction his band went and on what terms. He believes fortunate hands he's been dealt have been random. "Everything is so up to chance. Any sort of success, no matter how hard you've worked, feels like you've won the lottery," he notes. "Sometimes the next step doesn't come, and it has nothing to do with you." When all is said and done, Katzman and company just want to rock.
Having observed the industry's influencers and the flippant way trends are discussed and capitalized on, Katzman feels ready to step back into the realm of creator.
"I love running a record label, but I do really wanna rock again. I've been playing in other bands like White Fang and Guerilla Toss," he says of the past couple of years. He views writing his new EP as a return to form. "I'm a metalhead. This is a metal record, inspired by Judas Priest, Metallica, bands some might look at as cheesy now but were so honest in what they were doing. The pure honesty and work ethic, as opposed to looking at what worked the last time."
The new EP in question: a mini concept album of pyrotechnic rock that never slows down.
"It's called We Bled to Shred. It's a heavy-metal concept album," Katzman explains. "In the not-so-distant future, there's a musical machine-beast called the Bloggernaut, which curates the taste of the youth. DeGreaser is on a speed-metal mission to bring it down." The plot might sound like a monster-movie-esque romp, but there's a deep-seated motivation behind the steady riffs.
"It's hard for a lot of bands to make it out of their hometown. It's hard to get to the next level. Bands have tried getting booking agents, publicists. You grow up thinking these will be the things that will cure your band," he reminisces, noting how his experiences in the business have soured some of those expectations. "It's hard not to look at the industry and think, This is so fucked," he says with a pang of disappointment.
But he also knows that success can and does strike, if in a somewhat unpredictable way. "A lot of hustlers do just rock, and it magically works. Now, because of the internet and people releasing their own music, it's a wildcard," he says. "It doesn't affect whether you like to rock or not. It might affect if you have to get a full-time job or not."
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What else would accompany a conceptual four-song bender than a hand-drawn comic book of Katzman's own creation? "The comic book is the more cartoon version of my life," he muses. "In it, DIY has become a salable fashion trend; you've got DIY fidget spinners and DIY candy and shit. There's a rock show happening, and the DIY police come, these cyborg robots, to shut down the show. They trap people with these webs called the Internets to curtail everyone's opinion of the bands," he says. Then his tone turns somewhat sage. "I'm trying to make light of a situation a lot of bands can relate to."
Even with the serious messaging contained in the music, Katzman is still pleased with his record label venture. "Things are going well. Tall Juan is touring the world and getting heard, which I'm stoked on. We've got records coming from the Memories from L.A., this band from St. Pete called Glove I'm really excited about," he says breezily. "Things are goin'." But he's most excited to be stepping into the booth for more DeGreaser this fall, leading up to a new full-length release early next year. In the meantime, fans have the brief but potent EP We Bled to Shred to tide them over, a taste of what to expect if you catch DeGreaser when it takes the stage at Gramps this Friday.
Tall Juan and DeGreaser
With Wastelands, Ordinary Boys, and the Jellyfish Brothers. 9 p.m. Friday, June 30, at Gramps, 176 NW 24th St., Miami; 305-699-2669; gramps.com.