INTERVIEW: PHAETASM

PHAETASM really set a few bars for me when I started playing shows back in the early 2000s: energetic stage presence, an ability to seamlessly bridge dissonant and melodic riffs, live sound, and songs that were equally catchy and chaotic. With the inclusion of PHAETASM in this issue, I’ve now highlighted the full trio of bands responsible for my sticking with “band life”: SONS OF AZRAEL, THREEBELOW/FROM THIS DAY, and PHAETASM.

I still love their Romancing Zelda demo to this day.

Recently, vocalist, Wayne Kubiak, and guitarist, Cory Kurasz, were kind enough to throw some input at me on life from PHAETASM’s perspective from 2001- 2004. Let’s check it out:

1. When did you guys officially start up?

This is a little nebulous because I joined post-initial formation but we started up somewhere around 2000-2001, the band was founded by Aaron Juliano (bass), Dave “Davey Phaetasm” Crawford(drums), Derek “Dub”(guitar) Knopp, and Jerry Sullivan(vocals) as a noisy deathcore band. I was in another band just starting up with Cory Kurasz(who would later join on guitar) and Derrick Sadkowski(Sons of Azrael, Ritual Quarantine) and Davey had joined us for a bit. As that project was waning Phaetasm asked me to join as a second vocalist. In the process of writing new material with the both of us the dynamic had shifted and Jerry left the band and Cory joined us to fill out the sound. I believe we had a recording session booked not too long after and we scrambled to write a whole set of new material for our first demo.

2. How did you come up with the name?

Funny enough, this was before me and I don’t have a really good answer to this. It was a word created by Dave but the meaning had kinda faded away over time.

3. Tell us (for those who don’t know) the meaning behind “39”.

“39” is the biggest kept secret but also was largely just left up to everyone to decide what it meant to them. It more or less became a de facto logo synonymous with the band. Coincidentally it’s also Aaron’s birthday!

4. Tell us all about your first show and how you think it went, despite how you may feel about how your material evolved.

The first show with Phaetasm as a whole is pretty hazy to me, love it or hate it we always were seeking to have fun, we were a bunch of goofy kids in our late teens to early twenties and regardless of the crowd or if folks liked us or not we had fun with it. Though I do remember at least being warmly welcomed at most shows.

5. Discuss some of your fondest memories of the scene from when Phaetasm was an active band, from venues, to bands you shared the stage with, to road trips, etc.

Kinda following up from the last question, most of our adventures together were always a good time. Every friend we made along the way always felt like it only added to it; from our local band buddies like Three Below, Now In Stores, and Sons of Azrael to our regular out of town compatriots A Perfect Day To Die, we definitely made a lot of lifelong friends! Just talking about that alone makes me miss a lot of folks I haven’t seen in quite some time. We always managed to have this unique sense of camaraderie with other bands, it never felt like a competition or a weird air around it. We were all there together as one big loud pile. Outside of that even, I always felt super lucky to have been able to play with so many great bands and get to play at so many awesome and unique places. I wish I would have shown even more gratitude to everyone that gave us a chance.

On a more specific set of things though, there’s a few things that stand out.

I always loved playing at Voelker’s Bowling Alley(RIP), the shows were such a different energy. It was more of a hangout that we also happened to play at and somehow they always paid great. Similarly with Xtreme Wheelz as well, there was always fun to be had when we played there and it always felt like folks were having a good time all around.

I think every time we were out of town something wild happened. We played a show in Ashtabula sometime in the dead of winter and on the way there Dave’s van died. In the process of figuring out what to do Aaron took one of those disc sleds that happened to be in one of our vehicles and went sledding on the side of the highway and almost into the road. We decided to pack all our gear up and jam everything and everyone into two cars to go play the show regardless. Then we left Aaron and Dave there overnight to stay with I think one of the promoters which ended up being pretty sketchy and they ended up wandering around the town till they could get picked up. Another time we were driving to play somewhere in PA and the printed mapquest directions we had (pre-GPS days) and instead it took us to a random house in the middle of nowhere. We played a friend’s party in Toronto and ended up in a really bad snowstorm on the way home only being able to go like 20mph on the highway and it took us like 5 hours to get home. I don’t know how none of us got seriously injured or died with every chaotic trip.

6. Which were your favorite songs and why?

I think the two songs we put on the last demo, “Romancing Zelda Until You Finish the Game” and “Clairvoyant” are easily my favorites. They were really the culmination of everything the band had become along with how our writing had evolved. The lyrics were probably the most “me” of everything I wrote too. With “Romancing Zelda” being a chaotic look at delusion and parasocial relationships bleeding into someone’s life through the lense of video games and ‘Clairvoyant” dealing with my struggles with mental health they always felt like two sides of what I desired to portray with my lyrics.

7. Talk about your all-time favorite local shows AND out-of-town shows with Phaetasm.

My favorite out of town show we played was at a sportsman club in Meadville, PA, it was this little trailer of a venue in the middle of nowhere. It was right around the fourth of July, we stopped and grabbed fireworks on the way, most of the day there was almost no one there and we spent most of the day goofing off and making things explode. Right before the band before us played a huge amount of kids showed up and packed the place and were going nuts. I don’t think we’ve ever had that much support at any out of town show. Tony Lorenzo(Sons of Azrael) was filling in for Dub on guitar and Aaron cracked him in the head with his bass and left the most mega goose egg. It was such a wild time!

As far as local shows, there’s two that stand out the most to me. We played a hilarious “battle” show with the band Phantasm which we were often misnamed as (super nice folks by the way). During one of the blast beat sections Dave picks up his snare with one arm and completely circles the crowd while blasting. The other being our last show, we played with Dead to Fall and Dead Hearts at Showplace Theater which was like our local home, all our friends and fans were there singing along, it was the perfect way to go out.

8. As sort of a “Where are they now?” segment, talk about your current projects, or if you’re not currently making music, discuss your most recent bands AND where your respective careers have taken you!

In the infamously mistranslated words of Street Fighter’s Guile most of us have moved on to “Go home and be a family man!” but that’s not to say we haven’t been involved in music here and there. Post Phaetasm breaking up Aaron, Cory, and I formed It’s A Trap! with Vince Mayer(One’s Own Blood, The Last Reign, currently Grizzly Run) and played for a few years before going on to do other things. We recorded an album and recorded some new vocals for it a few years back before I moved out of state. One of these days we’ll get it mixed and mastered and release it.

Outside of music these days most of my energy is spent making video games mostly doing 8-16bit style art/pixel art. I’ve had some great opportunities to work on a bunch of awesome titles like The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth, Retro City Rampage DX+, Cave Story+, and Freedom Finger. I also have my own studio with Anthony Swinnich (HangOnGetReady) and two other amazing folks called Neon Deity Games. We released a game called Shutshimi in 2015 and are working on an NES style action platformer called JUNKPUNCHER currently.

Though I really miss making music, I’ve been gathering some gear so I can do some home recording and at least contribute to some musical projects.

9. Back in the early days of Phaetasm, who were the bands influencing you the most to play the rather avant-garde style the band was known for?

While I can’t speak for everyone’s influences, it was a big mix of hardcore and metal and punk acts. I was always into chaotic music like earlier Every Time I Die, Converge, Drowningman, HORSE the Band, and Kid Gorgeous. But I grew up listening to a lot of stuff like Snapcase, Earth Crisis, Ensign, and Strife as well as punk like CIV, Pennywise, AFI, and The Offspring. Really just a lot of energetic music with heart always (and still does) spoke to me.

10. If I remember correctly, the last show was in the fall of 2004, and the first time I can remember seeing you guys was with Jerry Sullivan on vocals at Courtney’s backyard show in the summer of 2001. So, were you guys really only a band for three years? It just feels like so much longer.

Haha, right? It felt like we were a band for an eternity but I guess we managed to live an eternity of events in that short time. I guess also after Dave leaving the band we kinda floated around hanging on to continuing Phaetasm before becoming It’s A Trap! so some of that gets combined in the collective consciousness. Funny enough that show with Jerry was the first time I ever performed live with a single song from the pre-Phaetasm band too. That too feels like an eternity ago!

11. What are some closing thoughts you might have on the Phaetasm days that we may not have covered here?

I covered a lot of the little stuff, but the Phaetasm days were a lot of my fondest times with best friends that I miss. I’m sad we didn’t get to continue what we really started to form and become, but also super grateful for everyone that dug what we were doing, let a bunch of goofy kids on to their shows to give us a chance, came out to said shows, hung out with us, played with us, and is reading this now. I’m glad we could bring some of the good times we had to you.

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