INTERVIEW: JOE BRZOZOWIEC (SHALLOW TEETH)

If you know Joe Brzozowiec, you might be accustomed to associated him with guitar, but in the wake of his previous bands, Amputecht and The Mariana’s Embrace, comes Buffalo hardcore/metalcore outfit, Shallow Teeth – an impressive look back at the sounds bands like The Dillinger Escape Plan and Converge first hollowed out, and at the same time, a fusing of such ideas with modern hardcore and metal. Joe, as you can see, decided to pick up the sticks for this band, and it’s been quite a journey for him so far. Let’s check it out.

1. First and foremost, talk about the conception of Shallow Teeth. How did the band start and what were your original ideas for the project?

So, this started when George Borowski (vocalist) reached out asking me to play guitar for his older band, but then ended up being asked to jam in a new band. The initial line up was himself, Kyle Benes (guitar), and I. The original intent was for me to play guitar, but when the drummer we had lined up stepped out, everyone immediately recalled me playing the skins in Something Better. By virtue of that, we have the lineup now.

With the 3-piece set, we worked our way through several musicians who came along and tried out. Some I wish def stuck it out, but they are on to better things and making big life moves (shoutout to Oliver, still love those bends in Wolf Blood).

As time progressed, we came across our lil lovebug Henry Starzinski, filling in the chonk.

The initial idea was a Dillinger meets ETID kinda vibe, with a hardcore vibe encasing it all. We started out with Kyle and I just jamming in our space, trying to put stuff together. He’s one of the most unique guitarists I’ve ever worked with, so it was fun writing together with him. We spit out “Wolf Blood” and “Knife Fight”, and the move was to go heavier. We started writing a song with someone who was trying out at the time, but due to creative differences, they left with the bassist they brought along. He was cool with leaving the bones of what we were working on, and then kinda hit a point where we wanted to get the lineup set.

This was when Henry came around, and from there we’ve just kind of vibed our songs out. Him coming along was a blessing, since he unintentionally opened the doors of the way we write/sound now.

2. Have you been playing drums as long as you’ve been playing guitar? Did one come before the other?

I wish….. Drums were what I wanted to play honestly. I fell into guitar by virtue of a high school friend taking guitar classes in school. He was having a hard time, and myself having played saxophone for 5 years at that point, he assumed I could help. It all just kinda clicked, and I didn’t really take it seriously aside from helping him learn his course material. From there, it hit a point where he asked me to help teach him “I’m Charming” by The Black Dahlia Murder. Having not been into melodic death at that age, I had no clue what I was getting in to. When I scoped the tab and showed him how to swing it, things fell into place and I got my 1st guitar from an old friend, Tommy. Nice lil First Act Les Paul with a flame decal and pocket amp.

I was introduced to drums when I was in jazz ensemble in 7th grade, but my parents were 100% against me playing them…. So once middle school ended, music kinda vanished until summer of 9th grade. Myself and Justin Frost started hanging out a shitload (basically daily). He had a basement chock full of musical gear and video games, but we skated more than anything. But here is where me falling into guitar occurred, but he had a drum set….. so I acted like I could learn anything, and we jammed Coheed songs and switching instruments because we wanted to play everything.

So long story short, guitar came first, but I’ve studied the elements of drums for about as long as I’ve been playing. And 100% did all I could to learn while taking all my theory courses and self-study do understand the role of rhythm.

3. Talk about some of your favorite drummers influencing your approach to Shallow Teeth drums right now.

Hands down the biggest influences are Billy Rymer, Chris Penne, and Thomas Pridgen. Having been only playing for like 5 years now, it may not shine through technicality wise, but their concepts and compositional approaches inspire me. Especially Billy, he plays with so much feel and intensity…. Pranced was a banger of an album, his drums were the perfect balance of spastic, jazzy, and post hardcore….. Gets me goin’.

So I can definitely say with the newer material, it’s a bit more obvious. The earlier songs, I was just playing to the tune, and not really trying to do anything I wanted (I never really wanted to drum for metal. I was hoping more for post/math rock/funk/neosoul type stuff. I don’t exist in those circuits though). That’s where people like Craig Reynolds tend to have a bigger impact. The struggle for me is finding music relative to my instrumental counterparts. We all have TOTALLY different musical backgrounds/influences, so its digging through what they pull from and finding things I enjoy to mix in.

Outside them, Thomas Pridgen, Matt Gartska, and Chris Allison. I’m hoping soon to bring the chops I’ve been working on of theirs into my rapport with Shallow Teeth’s new stuff, but time will tell.

4. Are you contributing to the riff-writing process at all? Given your signature guitar writing style from the Amputecht days, I’m detecting a lot of cool, groovy, single-note, bendy riffs in Shallow Teeth that “sound like you”.

Absolutely!!!! In ways I love, but some who have worked with me in the past may not expect. I tend to focus mainly on rhythms and compliments. A super enjoyable element of this band is getting to exploit chord structure in ways that all my prior melodic endeavors never accommodated for (though Amputecht had some wild sections chord wise… But writing against yourself leads to predictable outcomes)

The biggest struggle is hearing leads I would like over things, but given that I’m not playing guitar, they just exist in my head…

I played a much heavier role in the guitars in our first songs. Even then, just writing with Kyle, I’ve gone out of my way to not play the role of main songwriter in this band. It was a bit much back in the day… I still have a backlog of tunes that were for Amputecht that never “made the cut” (hoping to put those out, but debating on carrying the brand along with it).

“Wolf Blood”’s verse is 100% influenced by those groovy bits from Amputecht. But, oddly enough, Kyle and Henry set the pace more often than not for the songs, since I’m objectively focusing on drums first, and anything else I bring is a secondary outcome. Though I will say, one thing I giggle about often is when Henry says, “DAMMIT JOE, WHY ARE YOU RIGHT?!”, when I throw ideas out to change the vibe of what they are playing. It’s never a right or wrong scenario. I just propose creative suggestions. It’s all love at the end of the day

Anyways… The color I add to these tunes is more in the way the rhythms work. I compliment the base chords constantly, and do everything I can to avoid unison guitars to help build dynamic push/pull. The end of “Trust” is a good example. We just vibed out on a typical b5, but once we got into the bouncer section, I played every inversion and chordal harmony I could think of that didn’t ruin the part. It’s super funny to me, but sounds unique from a listening perspective.

5. Talk about a few drum grooves or sections in Shallow Teeth songs that you are most proud of, or are the most fun for you to play.

I know it’s not a part, but the entirety of “Carrier” I am super proud of. It pulls from some of my favorite drummers, applies some of my favorite techniques, and also the fill into the first slow down SLAPS. Yeah… but that transition in particular is super fun, and it just feels as intense as it sounds when I’m playing it.

Up next, the end of “Trust” is super fun. I kept it simple in the recording since it was the newest song we wrote, and didn’t want to go too crazy. Live though, it’s my improv time. Things I never expected to do in a metal band, but I just build and release and build and release. The fact that it’s slow enough for me to calculate the next move, but bounces enough to ride it out and keep it simple. It’s such a fun part….

Lastly, I would say the 2nd verse in “Black Mirror”. It’s not this repetitive loop, and has some super random jumps. When recording the EP, Nick Borgoz noticed that I don’t use my toms that often, and that part kind of explains why. It’s way more use of cymbals, kick, and snare to play the role of the fills. I don’t call too much attention to myself, but my arms are everywhere for that part. (laughs)

6. “Carrier” from the self-titled Shallow Teeth EP has serious Converge/Dillinger Escape Plan vibes, while other tracks are more straightforward in terms of time signature and overall structure. Anything you can divulge about the direction the band’s music is heading for future releases? Are you guys still “finding yourselves”?

Well, where we started was partially undecided. I’ve never been in a band where there wasn’t a main songwriter, so its been a breath of fresh air to work in a collaborative environment. As of now, we kind of have a dynamic where someone comes in with either a riff, an idea, or just a vibe we want to pursue. From there we just kinda write what we feel.

We haven’t really limited ourselves to a particular sub-style of metal/hardcore, so to say there is any outcome to expect aside heavy and all over the place would be tough to do. The most we marry ourselves to is keeping our influences in mind when we write stuff. Having such a mashup of influences does lead some to being more objective songs than completely out of pocket, but it’s never the whole group trying to do something we don’t all enjoy!

All I gotta say, is that with the EP, we are definitely working towards a healthy balance of straight forward “jammers” (as Benes would say), and some crazy spastic and abnormal stuff as well. Keeps us entertained on all fronts.

7. Even though we’re supposed to be sticking to “rhythm sections” with this issue, I’d love to know about any new stuff you’re writing for on guitar that we’re allowed to know about.

I mean, drums have definitely become a forefront for me. Not to say I haven’t played guitar or written anything since Amputecht, but guitar and songwriting top to bottom has returned to something I do for myself. There is plenty I have posted up that I’ve written by myself, but having the opportunity to write alongside Kyle and Henry allows me to get my fill of guitar writing.

Anything I’ve been writing has been either calm stuff, ambient jazzy nonsense, or random heavy riffs that are too prog for Shallow Teeth. It’s all just passion material and my audio diary. That’s the thing that got away from me for awhile, and its had huge impacts on my mental health having that part of guitar back again.

8. Please plug anything relevant. Leave some links for your bands, plug important songs, videos, upcoming shows, etc.

Welp, here’s all the Shallow Teeth stuff:

Facebook: Shallow Teeth

shallowteeth.bandcamp.com

We’ve got a show in Rochester September 4th at Montage Music Hall, and another show in Erie PA September 10th.

And for the shameless self plug of material I’ve been working on myself, keep your peepers out on my SoundCloud. Got some backlog I’ve been revisiting that I am comfortable with sharing with the world!

9. Talk about the gear you swear by. Discuss any brands or fun, new equipment specifically for drums that drummers need in their lives.

Well, I still see myself as a relative noob to the drum game. I’ve played many a kit over the years, but find myself on the Tama train. If you were to ask me why, my answer wouldn’t be much beyond favoring the centered tom mount and that they’ve sounded the best compared to any kits I’ve played in the past. I started out on DDrum and really like the punch of my Defiant kit, but that’s my live burner kit until I dive all in and get me a nice maple/birch kit. Will I stick with Tama for my shells? Time will tell, but Starclassic has a reputation I can’t deny, and kind of want to be in that club… (laughs)

One thing I can say for certain though for Shallow Teeth, I’m a big fan of Paiste cymbals. The signature and 2002 series combo I have going takes the beating I put them through, and balances very well with the sound of the group. My 18″ crashes blend super well, having a power and regular crash. I didn’t expect them to blend so well together, but after taking the dive, these have made me much happier than their Alpha line ever did.

But I will say, I’ve grown fond of Zildjian K Customs recently…. I’m maining my 21″ Custom Dark Ride. It’s got an interesting attack for Shallow Teeth, but can take a beating as well, and doesn’t crash too aggressively which I personally enjoy. I’ve been looking into getting a separate set since for anything non-Shallow Teeth related, since I’ve been getting into more jazz and progressive styles of drumming to satiate my desire to play things other than metal.

When it comes to pedals, I’ve become quite the fan of my Pearl Demon Drives. After playing chain drive on my old Mapex Falcon, these were an insane upgrade…. As well, the direct drives play so much smoother, and have a response I couldn’t get from my Falcons. Not quite cool enough for heel-toe 16th note double bass while blasting the 32nds in-between… But these have upped my game speed wise for sure!

10. How much have your favorite bands changed over the years? Who were you listening to the most in high school versus now?

I mean, I can’t deny that there is one staple that will never leave me: The Dillinger Escape Plan. I’m still praying they put out another album and say, “PSYCHE, WE STILL DOPE”, but one can dream… Then again, Greg Puciato has been releasing solo material that fills that void rather well. 100% recommend. He’s taking his whole bag of tricks and putting out some really eclectic NIN, tDEP, and The Black Queens type stuff in a package that really flaunts his ability as a songwriter.

I will say outside of them: Iron Maiden, Coheed, Periphery, NIN, Limp Bizkit, AaL, SabrePulse, and The Black Dahlia Murder have stuck around since high school. Everything else has been in a perpetual flux in and out my whole life. His being genre-wise as well as specific artists I keep in my back pocket.

I used to have a horrible habit of listening to a band to a point where I can hear 3 notes and basically listen to the song in my head… I’ve gotten very far from that in order to make sure I appreciate the subjectivity of it, and not just leave a band behind because I beat them to death. Some days a song hits ways it didn’t. Giving myself that option has shown me to appreciate music more for the vibe than how technical and well written it is.

That point aside, I can say as of late I’ve been super heavy into modern prog rock (Plini slaps, Tigran Himasian is a beast, Fox Capture Plan is just anime enough to not feel too lame to enjoy). But just good vibes, tight grooves, challenging rhythms that still bounce, and well structured complimenting of the instruments together.

Lastly, music in the vein of Lucky Daze, Anderson, Paak, Iophile, Anamagucci, Sia, Fiona Apple, Deon Custom, Hail the Sun, and Dirty Loops would be my new “favorites”. I just kinda slap on anything from them, and Spotify takes me down rabbit holes that never let me down.

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