Photo | Courtesy Joe Gaston
From left: Doug Lane, Joe Gaston , Jim May, Raheem Foreman, Holly Clark and David Zaharski.
Band: Crowbar, Lo-Pan, Modown, D.R.E.A.D., Dark Con of Man
Date: Tuesday, Aug. 20 at 8 p.m.
Venue: Alabama Music Box, 12 S. Conception St., alabamamusicbox.com
Tickets: $15 adv./$18 day-of available through Ticketfly
Alabama Music Box is giving Azalea City metalheads a good reason to take in a show on a Tuesday night. New Orleans metal band Crowbar will be bringing its iconic sludgy, stoner metal sound to Downtown Mobile.
Grind rockers Lo-Pan will be lending their support as well as a trio of Gulf Coast metal groups. Daphne’s Modown will provide an onslaught of complex riffs and roars. The classic thrash of Mobile’s D.R.E.A.D. will perpetuate the evening’s metallic vibe. Dark Con of Man will be showcasing a merciless, classically inspired metal sound for a new generation of metal aficionados.
Dark Con of Man also features a legendary figure from the Azalea City metal scene’s past. Dr. Joseph P. Gaston, Ed.D., who is an assistant professor of educational media & technology at the University of South Alabama, serves as both the lead vocalist and lyrical master of Dark Con of Man. However, old schoolers might know him better as “Joe Mutant” of Mutant Speed (and later, Soulcore) fame.
In the early ’90s, Gaston, drummer Sam Mutant (Sam Gaston), guitarist Jason Feinstein and bassist Greg DeBlase used their relentless style of thrash metal to gather a dedicated following that still exists. The success of this group in Mobile and beyond served as a catalyst for the growth of the local metal scene, which Gaston describes as being pretty much nonexistent at the time.
According to Joe Gaston, Mobile only had a couple of metal bands at the time: Mutant Speed and an “insane but great” band called Months Later. Even though they were not considered metal, Gaston also considers underground madmen Loppybogymi as a part of Mutant Speed’s pocket of the scene. Mutant Speed’s unforgettable shows at the American Legion on Government Street not only gathered Mutant Speed’s local following but also encouraged young metalheads to form their own groups.
“At the time, there had been a lot of punk bands and hardcore bands in Mobile, and metal was just starting to come around when we started,” Gaston said. “It was interesting to watch it grow in those early years. It took on its own life after a little while.”
Eventually, Mutant Speed’s popularity grew beyond Mobile. Decades before the Music City indie revolution, the band decided to relocate to Nashville where they found a following that consisted of “kids of country stars who weren’t interested in country.” Gaston says Nashville lacked the metal venues that Mutant Speed needed to flourish. However, they did make a friend in Mike Lawler of Allman Brothers fame. Gaston says Lawler provided guidance and took them into Castle Recording Studios.
Mutant Speed found more fertile sonic grounds in California. The band’s rhythmic metal was a fresh addition to the West Coast’s extensive metal scene. They also began embarking on elaborate tours, which Gaston says forced the band to live on the road. The group added bunk beds to their van and traveled the country. Mutant Speed balanced their spartan style of touring with a number of memorable shows including one with showmates Crowbar.
“Probably one of the craziest shows that we did was Crowbar and Acid Bath, and the big headliner that night was 2 Live Crew,” Gaston said. “It was this really weird mix of bands. It was at Club La Vela in Panama City. That turned out to be a pretty crazy night.”
As Mutant Speed evolved into Soulcore, the cost of living forced the band to transition from California back to Mobile in an effort to find a “cheaper place” to keep their belongings while touring. Unfortunately, Gaston says Soulcore’s booking agent encountered health issues. This led to delays in touring, which kept the band in Mobile for long periods of time. The need to pay the bills forced Gaston and his bandmates to acquire day jobs.
“Things happen and life goes on and you have to pay bills,” Gaston explained. “It wasn’t really intentional to be here. It just worked out that way.”
After Soulcore disbanded, Gaston and his brother united with Self Inflicted guitarist Jeff Dunnam, Pfeel bassist Shane Brown and percussionist Joel F. Andrews to form Breccia.
However, something that had troubled Gaston for years began dominating his creative process. Even though he found satisfaction with making music, Gaston became frustrated over his need to work a regular job in order to make a living.
After years of performing and touring, Mutant Speed, Soulcore and Breccia had not reached a satisfactory level in the music industry for Gaston. He also realized success in the music game was sometimes determined by factors beyond a musician’s control. In his mind, bands could be good and secure gigs and tour. However, he also believed a band’s ultimate success was determined by the music business. Gaston wanted to be happy with his work. Music became more of a burden than a pleasure
“I wrote a song one time called ‘Blessed Curse,’” Gaston said. “That’s exactly what [music] was to me. I had this drive and passion and desire to do music and write and express myself musically. At the same time, it was a curse, because I wasn’t where I wanted to be with it. So, why was I cursed with this drive and this desire if I wasn’t able to achieve want I wanted? It was a mixed blessing for me.”
Fortunately, Gaston had another interest in teaching. When he had the opportunity to focus on a career in education, he took it. After finishing his degree, he entered graduate school. While working on his doctorate, Spring Hill College tapped him to take on adjunct duties, which forced him to put music totally aside. However, Gaston found self-satisfaction with a job in which he commanded his own successes. Joe Mutant had become Dr. Joseph P. Gaston, Ed.D.
“Going back to school and getting an education and working hard to be a good teacher was something within my own control,” Gaston said. “I was enjoying the opportunity to be successful at something that didn’t rely on forces outside of myself.”
Gaston’s return to the metal scene happened by both chance and his daughter, Brittany. Gaston says his daughter barely had remembered his stint in Breccia. Now she was old enough to get into bars, Brittany wanted nothing more than to see her father performing on stage again.
Gaston explained to her that putting a band together is not an easy thing. Then, two faces from Gaston’s past rolled into town on their way to a Gulf Coast Metal Alliance event in Saraland. Guitarist Harly Johnson and drummer Raheem Foreman are notable members of the Florida music scene and longtime friends of Gaston’s.
When the two stopped to visit with Gaston, he decided to join Johnson and Foreman at the metal show. Eventually, the conversation led the trio to collaborate on a new project, which became Dark Con of Man.
“I came home that night and told Brittany, ‘You may have gotten your wish, and I might be doing something,’” Gaston said.
Gaston says his return to the metal scene has not only been surreal but has also reignited his desire to perform and compose. He says Dark Con of Man had a very busy summer filled with live shows.
After Johnson had to leave the band for personal reasons, guitarist Doug Lane stepped into his place as a temporary guitarist. Now, Gaston says the lineup has settled with bassist James May along with guitarists Holly Clark and Dave Zaharski. With the lineup in place, he says Dark Con of Man will start penning songs for a full-length album.
The metal scene is much different from the days of Mutant Speed. Gaston says all the changes he has noticed have been for the better. He owes these positive changes to the Gulf Coast Metal Alliance.
Founded by Jason Few (D.R.E.A.D.), Shane Renaaux (Dark Star Coven) and Kerry Thibodaux, the Gulf Coast Metal Alliance is a conglomeration of regional metal bands that provide a positive network for gigs and information. Through alliance shows, Gaston has noticed the scene is not just made up of “old guys trying to relive their glory days.” He notes a number of young, up-and-coming metal bands and fans. This has created a great environment for this seasoned metalhead to journey into the future.
“In some ways, there’s more camaraderie and more support now than there was when we were younger,” Gaston said. “It’s been really impressive to me to see the system working and what’s been going on. It’s been amazing, to be honest.”
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