Hailing from Canada, Skull Fist are probably one of the most important young heavy metal band right now; these last years haven’t been easy for these guys but now they’re no longer anyone’s slave, and they are back with a vengeance on their new album Paid In Full. Some time before the album release, I had an adventurous call with frontman and founder Zach Schottler.
…If if you hear a loud bang, it’s ’cause I crashed.
Well, let’s hope not! Are you driving the Skull Fist van that we saw in the videos?
No, I’m driving my Jeep… the Skull Fist van well, we took the insurance off a couple of years ago because there’s nothing to do with it right now.
So it’s a video prop as of now?
Right now yeah, it just sits in my driveway and pisses off delivery people because they can’t turn around very well.
Right. The first thing I wanted to ask you is about the album cover. Did you get the tattoo specifically for this album?
Yeah, kinda. I mean, that was what I wanted to do with the cover.
Originally, I couldn’t get a tattoo at the time because of the restrictions or whatever; so we did an original version of the cover, which is marker on my arm. And then when I ended up doing the actual cover, I just showed the guy the photo and made him marker it exactly the same way.
Okay, so that’s your handwriting?
Yeah, well, that’s actually my friend’s writing.
In a Facebook post you said that this is your first album in your control because you have been basically ripped off by your previous record label. Is that right?
Yeah, it was a pretty bad record deal. That’s for sure.
So did it change the atmosphere in the studio to be free and able to do whatever you wanted to?
Well, we recorded the record in 2020, so at the time we were still with that label. Technically though it was supposed to be the last album, to finalize the deal… but I fucking hated them so much that I was like, I’m going to try my best to not do this album with them.
You took a lawyer, right? You went the legal route and you bought the contract from the label.
I basically just had to pay them. I had to pay them a lot of money to get out of the record deal, it was $12,000 or something.
That’s a shame. Is this common for newcomers in the scene? Are there many labels that try to rip off young bands?
Yeah, most of them. It happens to lots of people – I’m not the only one, that’s for sure
Well it’s great that you told everyone about this. And now you’re back with a very strong album. Paid In Full to me sounded like almost a comeback to Chasing The Dream.
Way Of The Road was a very different album in terms of sounds, was it recorded in a different situation? Why was is so different, and why such comeback on the new album?
There’s not anything I can think about… I’m just making music. I think a lot of times people really think that there’s more to it, like I’m setting out with a plan, like I have a game plan. In fact, I don’t have any game plan, no plan at all.
Way Of The Road came out the way it did because I was particularly in a bad mood around that time. A lot of personal shit going on that was bugging me, so the album kind of came out a little bit whiny and also, vocally, my vocal cords were pretty fucked at the time. So I had to work with what I had. And this album… I dunno; I don’t think I’m smart enough to come up with a game plan.
Paid In Full is very… genuine. Skull Fist music has always been very “from the heart” and born out of passion.
Yeah, I would say that; maybe there’s never any intention. It’s just song by song; and when I finish eight songs, I call it an album.
You are the main songwriter in Skull Fist.
Yeah, I mean, I always tell the band that we are a democracy until I decide we’re a dictatorship. [he pauses, then laughs] Just kidding.
No, I just always wrote songs. If the guys write a song and it’s cool, we’ll use it! I mean, Johnny [Nesta, a.k.a. Johnny Exciter, former Skull Fist and now Thunderor’s guitarist] wrote the music, he wrote some of the music for the track Witch Hunt on the last record; and he wrote all the music for the song Don’t Stop The Fight on Chasing The Dream.
Johnny now, I read that he left the band amicably some time ago.
[sternly] Yeah. I hate him. I’m going to kill him. [he laughs again] No, it was a good thing. Me and Johnny, we’ve known each other for so long, there has never been a question about our friendship. The only issue was that we both were going into two different directions personally and musically.
And when we were recording Paid In Full, I realized that. So I just told him, man, you know, fuck, I love you bro, but playing in a band together, you know, maybe we shouldn’t do it, you know?
And so it was no big deal.
Do you miss touring? Were you excited to go back on the road?
I think… you know, there’s some things, a few things to enjoy about touring, but there are also a lot of things that are not enjoyable.
Touring is already very stressful for me. And at this point right now, with all this fucking virus stuff… It’s too much stress, too much financial risk. We’re pretty poor. To go out there and then catch omicron virus and cancel a bunch of concerts, we’re going to be fucked.
That that’s a very responsible thing to do.
That’s the first time anybody said that to me.
I love going to shows but… too much risk at a certain point.
Honestly, thankfully, most people get it; most people understand. I wasn’t sure if people were going to bitch at me about it, but thankfully so far it seems like most people understand that reasoning.
Well, good. Going back to the music; you released the song Red Leather under the name Saggan. This was some time ago, why did you post that single song, why did it not become a Skull Fist song?
Too heavy. It’s too heavy for a Skull Fist song. Also, the riff was so similar to Witch Hunt, I was like, nah this is definitely not a Skull Fist song.
I’m still working on an album for Saggan. Sometimes I’m fucking around making songs and they just come out way too heavy for Skull Fist and I don’t know where to put them: so I came up with Saggan.
Well I’ll be looking forward to hearing more of it. I really liked the song.
It’s fun. When I finished it, I realized that I wasn’t sure if I was trying to sound like Alice Cooper or Blackie Lawless.
I was about to tell you, it was kind of WASP-like. You know, The Crimson Idol and stuff like that.
Yeah, that’s right. But then sometimes it reminds me of Alice Cooper, so I don’t really know what I was going for.
It actually started as something else, one of the other songs that I had sounds like Bathory. I was just making music for like a skateboard video and the guy wanted something heavy. He really liked Bathory so I was like, oh, okay, I can do that. So I did this song and this really sounded like it would have been a Bathory song or something, but then I kept doing stuff and I ended up with Red Leather. That was basically how it happened.
Ah, that’s nice. I know you love skateboarding very much.
You broke your neck a couple of times.
No, I didn’t. It’s a lie. Jackie Slaughter [Zach’s pseudonym] broke his neck, you’re talking to Zach Schottler now [he laughs].
You’re not the only one in Skull Fist with a side project. I know that your drummer, JJ Tartaglia, he had Thunderor.
I think he did that out of spite.
The anti-Skull Fist. Yeah.
It is very different; I did an interview with him as well.
Did he say anything stupid? I don’t let him do Skull Fist interviews.
No. No, he didn’t. He said that he lost the drone while filming a video though.
Yeah, he likes that; he likes people looking at him. Jean-Claude-van-Damme-muscles going on there. I’m pretty sure he’s he’s flexing the entire time.
It was crazy. Your videos are very different for sure. You did two videos for Paid In Full, right?
I’m doing another one this weekend.
Oh, really? What’s the song?
You know, that’s one of my favorite songs on the album.
Yeah, me too.
That’s my favorite riff on that record. It’s like, it’s very caveman, like a Neanderthal song: [he mimics the riff] tah-du-duun-tun tah-du-duun-tun tah… Fun song.
It conveys all the energy that Skull Fist has.
That was the first song that I was going to release. I didn’t do that one because it was pretty heavy and there’s not much music going on there, it’s just so fucking basic.
It’s not a Thunderor song.
God, no, no. Like I said, it’s like caveman music.
Yeah. So were you afraid of the reaction from the crowd?
No, I don’t give a shit what anybody thinks. No, it is a great song and it’s really heavy, but it wasn’t musical enough for me.
You wanted to play it safe for the first single.
Well, I just wanted to pick something that was a little bit more up-tempo, a little bit faster.
Okay, it makes sense. Three singles plus the videos. You know, I was waiting for a new album from you guys, it felt kind of a long wait.
It always is. Something bad happens in between every record. I’m waiting to see what’s going to happen on this one; I’m fucking hiding because I’m paranoid.
What happened before Way Of The Road?
Oh, I broke my vocal cords and had to get surgery.
Well now your voice is great on Paid In Full.
It was better than Way Of The Road. That’s for sure.
You said that you stopped smoking before singing on this album…?
No, it was good. It was a good idea.
You sound better than ever really.
It just makes it easy.
Easier to sustain the stress of singing?
Oh yeah; smoking was a terrible idea.
Is it technically difficult, the singing in Paid In Full? In Skull Fist you sing with a very high-pitched voice.
It’s terrible. I hate it.
I don’t have a natural high singing voice, which explains the surgeries, although I smoked and drank a lot at the time which obviously didn’t help either. But I can’t change it now, too late.
We already did a bunch of records, so if I start singing low now, it’s going to be weird as hell
Yes, it would be. Your voice’s a trademark.
I’m kind of stuck like that now. If I could go back to when I first started Skull Fist, I would’ve sung everything a lot fucking lower.
My theory at the time was that well, just push really hard now and eventually you’ll get good and I never did, I’m still waiting to get good. I don’t know if that’ll happen there.
You are one of the most famous upcoming metal bands, I’d say.
Well, I’m still very poor. So I think my bank account disagrees with it.
It is what it is, I don’t mind. I like making music. It’s good enough.
You are not really the rockstar type.
No, I don’t think so. I thought I was in my twenties when I was younger. I thought that’s what I wanted to be. Well, I’m not a rock star, but I thought I wanted to be a touring musician.
And after I did it for a long time, I realized it was totally not worth it. Too much attention, you know? I just like hanging out with my dogs, bro.
Hanging out with your dogs in the middle of Canada.
Exactly. Hiding in the bushes.
Like the sets where you filmed the two videos.
Yeah. I don’t even leave my house to film Skull Fist videos! I make everybody come here.
So that’s your garage? It’s a very do-it-yourself way.
It’s that’s my shed.
Yeah, and it means I don’t have to go anywhere: that’s a great thing. I don’t like going places and the less people I have to work with, the better.
That explains why there are few people in Skull Fist.
Exactly! There you go! [he laughs] I’m trying to bring it down to two, trying to decide which one I can convince to quit, Casey [Guest, bassist] or JJ… or me. If I quit, then they’ll be a two piece.
Almost a one-man-band.
Exactly. It’d be like Darkthrone, there’s two guys in that band.
Well, is it Saggan a one-man-band, or did you record the song with other musicians?
Oh, that’s a one-man-band. That was great: it’s really good for my ego… and it’s fun doing it like that. ‘Cause… I don’t know man, I just like doing shit on my own.
The freedom that comes with it.
Yeah. And it’s peaceful, I don’t talk, I don’t have to do anything. I just make music. It’s easy. I fucking love playing the drums anyway; it was the first instrument that I learned when I was a kid.
I originally wanted to be a drummer, I used to go to my uncle’s house while he was at work, he gave me a key. But eventually I started bringing people over there and smoking pot in his basement, so he didn’t let me anymore. I had to pick a different instrument basically.
You switched to guitar and bass.
Yeah, I still miss those drums though.
Well does JJ lets you play?
No, he plays. His drum kit is set up so fucking stupid too, that I don’t even want to touch it. I told him, I’m going to write a song one day that has lots of quick symbol hits and catches so that you cannot physically do it.
Many thanks to Zach and everyone from Skull Fist for this interview! Paid In Full was released via Atomic Fire Records on April 22nd, 2022 and it can be found on Bandcamp. You can listen to Zach’s project Saggan here, and you can follow Skull Fist on Facebook and Instagram.
Photo credit: Sharon Ehman
The interview has been edited and shortened for clarity purposes.
Rick is a physics student from Italy, who besides loving metal music, also digs books, movies and science. He plays the drums, guitar, and kazoo.