Scott Crouse of Earth Crisis

Scott Crouse of Earth Crisis
Earth Crisis started it all, pretty much. Opening the door for countless metal/hardcore hybrids and setting the bar for politically motivated heavy music, Earth Crisis trailblazed their way through the '90s with a series of landmark releases, particularly the Firestorm EP and Destroy the Machines. Recently, the group reunited, toured a bit, and recorded their first new record since 2000, To the Death. Guitarist Scott Crouse gave Exclaim! a call from his California residence to fill us in on recent events, as well as give some insight into the band's history and convictions.

Since you guys are an openly political band, could you give a brief overview of what the band stand for in the present day?
Earth Crisis will always be about earth, animal liberation, and human rights struggles. Overall, Earth Crisis will always be about peace. We have some extreme viewpoints as far as how to attain that, but our lyrics will always be about solutions for making the world a more calm and peaceful place.

What inspired you guys to form the band in the first place, music, politics or a combination of both?
I'd say music. Karl [Buechner, vocals] had been trying to do this band in 1989, and he originally played bass. We had another band going on at the time called Framework. Everyone in the band was vegan and straightedge, and it was a lot more melodic musically. He contacted us after there were some line-up changes and said "this is what I want, you guys are solid musicians and have the same ideals as I do, and that's really what I'm looking for in a band." We combined the two ideas -€“ took Framework and put Karl in front, and changed the music up. Karl actually wrote a lot of the music -€“ the All Out War seven-inch was a lot of material he wrote.

What inspired the desire to reform the band at this point in your lives?
In 2001, when we decided to call it quits, it wasn't really due to the typical band issues. There weren't any concerns about musical direction or personal issues. We were just burned out a little bit -€“ we had toured from 1991 to 2000, and a lot of things like family and career goals certain people had there just wasn't time for. Everyone felt like they should spend more time on their personal lives, so we decided to end it. In hindsight a hiatus would have been more suitable, and it's what we were all thinking, but we just didn't know how to get that out. We stayed very close over the years, and we started getting a lot of offers to play as Earth Crisis again. I missed it, and everyone else did too, so we decided to take it slow, do a couple of shows and tip our toes in the pool again to see if we all felt comfortable. Then we did a tour, and then we decided to do a record.

How would you say that hardcore and metalcore has evolved since you've been away, and how do you guys plan to adapt at all?
I think that it's evolved in the sense that musically, bands are really good right now. Musicianship is at an all-time high -€“ a lot of these younger bands are very skilled. When we were coming up, I felt there was a lack of musicianship. People weren't really trying to become masters of their instruments. It was more about feeling and emotion, which needs to be there too for sure. A lot of these kids nowadays have really taken the time to learn their instruments, which is great. The downside is that there's a lot of personalized lyrics, which I don't have a problem with at all, but when everyone's saying the same things it tends to get a little boring.

Do you see reforming the band as a long-term venture, or a sort of "final round"?
I don't think we really have too much of a goal. It's more like: "let's tour when it's enjoyable for us and it makes sense to do it, let's put records out when we're inspired to do records." Now we're really inspired to do stuff, and we feel like we recorded a really good record -€“ maybe our best one ever. The first time around, Earth Crisis ran our lives. This time around, we want to have more control over the band.

So you guys are at the point where you don't want it to be a career at all, and basically just put records out and tour when you feel like it, like Zao, for instance?
I personally think that when you put a record out, there's a certain amount of touring you have to do. I'd be lying if I said I loved going out on the road for 30 days solid. I have a good time with it and I love playing the shows, it's the other 23 hours I dislike. I also feel like if I'm going tp put my all into a record, we need to follow though on that and make sure it gets out in front of people and they understand that we are active. For everything we put out, we will be touring. The reality is that this is a live form of music, and we need to get out there and let people see it in it's natural state.

The new record combines chunkier elements of your older material with some of the more metallic elements of your mid-period. Would you say this was conscious, natural or otherwise?
Some of it was conscious, but a lot of it was how things evolved over time. A lot of these songs date back four or five years, and others we wrote a month before we went in to record it. I have a home studio and had been demoing stuff that I thought might be Earth Crisis material someday. I had a lot of songs to bring to the table, and we collaborated through email a lot. Ian [Edwards, bass] would have an idea, then I'd change it and send it back -€“ we fine-tuned the songs, and everyone added their own little flavour. It was one of the most painless records we've ever recorded. We knew it was going to be a straight up Earth Crisis record -€“ heavy.

Do you ever feel like the listener's perceptions of the band's politics have interfered with appreciating the music? Was it agreed early on not to compromise, even if it limited your fan base?
Yes, it was. I do think it definitely limited our listener base, and we're okay with that. We knew from the get-go that these were things we would stand by, and still do almost 20 years later. I've been getting a lot of messages from people who don't necessarily agree with the ideas, but respect that we're standing up for something we believe in. They'll say: "Is it a problem if I like your band and I'm not straightedge or vegan?" and my answer is always "No, of course not." This is our vehicle to vent our frustration and anger, and you can like it for strictly the lyrics, strictly the music, or even better -€“ both. We're a band for everybody. We listen to everything in our van from Prince (who happens to be vegan, maybe not the greatest example) to Slayer, who lyrically we have nothing in common with. We may come across as violent through our music, but our lyrics don't necessarily reflect our attitudes daily.

Your last Victory release, Slither, caught some flak for incorporating more modern influences into your sound. The new record seems to feature less melody and experimentation. Were you happy with Slither, and how do you feel it affected writing To the Death, if at all?
I definitely was happy with it. I think we were looking to challenge ourselves. We had run the gamut of what we felt we could do, and with Slither we wanted to think outside the box a little. Looking back on it, for us I think it was a great success. I still listen to it from time to time and think "Wow, we wrote some catchy, different stuff that we didn't know we were capable of." In hindsight, I don't think it was a good direction for the band, but we're all pretty proud of the record itself and that we did something outside of our comfort zone. I understand where fans of the band were coming from, but we wrote the record that we knew we wanted to write knowing that it would turn some people off.

Do you feel it's important for socially aware hardcore to band together despite some opposing viewpoints, or that it isn't important to convince those who don't want to be convinced?
I feel that the core ideals should always be there, and people should look at them as the thing that brings people together, and put the petty little details aside. It becomes a pissing contest -€“ "I'm more vegan/straightedge/spiritual than you," etc. Can't we find the common ground that we have, instead of lifting up rocks trying to find the uncommon ground? At our second show in Ventura, there was a huge fight over Christianity. There was a Christian band on the bill who had said something about it on stage, there was another anti-Christian band, and after the show there was a huge fight. All the members were straightedge, either vegan or vegetarian, and had a lot of the same political and ethical views -€“ DIY hardcore and all that. They were finding the one thing that they disagreed on and fighting over it. It's self-defeating -€“ no one is ever going to agree 100 percent across the board, and that even goes for members of our band. Let's celebrate the things we do have in common, not the things we don't.