Interview: Sloppy Meateaters


interview by michael peaslee


With their hybrid blend of pop punk, emo and alternative rock, Sloppy Meateaters has gathered a cult following across the country, grabbing ears town by town. Described as a cross between Blink 182 and NOFX, their latest album has a cleaner pop rock tone. The vocals are slack, but clear and plaintive. Their over-all sound is middle of the road, with thick guitars, growling bass and pogo drums. The one thing that stands out: these guys can fucking write a chorus.

Mild-mannered Singer-guitarist Josh Chambers, drummer Kevin Highfield and bassist John Elwell grew up in Rome, GA. Josh had just disbanded NOCLASS, a dismal failure spanning three years, three states and four bassists before it mercifully crumbled in San Diego. Josh Chambers and Kevin Highfield formed the band two years ago in a little podunk berg called Rome, Georgia. Within months and without a bassist, Josh and Kevin recorded ‘Shameless Self Promotion’. Florida high school student Travis Gerke joined on bass, commuting every weekend to Rome for band practice in Kevin’s parent’s laundry room. As soon as he graduated, the band set out on tour. To be more precise, they abandoned everything they knew and have stayed on the road since July of 1999.

The touring paid off when they were quickly spotted by Fremont, CA indie label Orange Peal Records, who re-released first album in July 2000. Using the web as their primary promotional tool, they built a following – a rabid following. Their online support won them an appearance on a June 2000 taping of Farm Club with Destiny’s Child, American Hi-Fi and a whole list of other big name acts. Millions witnessed their 7 minute performance and the Sloppy Meateaters suddenly found themselves on the way to being a national act.

Burned out from non-stop touring, Travis quit the group. Former Nuclear Saturday guitarist John Elwell stepped in to fill his shoes just in time to hit the studio in January, to record ‘Forbidden Meat’ for Orange Peal, which hit the stores in early June.

Along the way, they’ve picked up a sponsorship from Slim Jim after opening an Atlanta concert presented by the mighty spiced meat manufacturer. The opening slot turned into a regular slot on the Slim Jim and Hoop it Up’s Rebelli-ache Tour. They also just finished seven dates on the Vans Warped tour. Forbidden Meat hit the stores on June 5th. I met up with the band backstage on June 6th at Rebelli-ache’s stop at Great America in San Jose, CA.

Your record just hit the stores the other day and it’s already on the second pressing right?
Josh: It’s a slow process for a band our size on an independent label, but we’re doing good. We’re getting into stores and the buzz is getting around. Our goal is just to have our CD in any store. To me, that’s making it – if we sell a million or a hundred. Of course, that will all change once we’re there and I’m like, ‘we need to sell a million records!’
Kevin: We have to go gold by next week!

How do you keep your sanity on the road?
Josh: Everyday is a different day. You wake up a in a different atmosphere, different people. It never gets boring to me. Maybe if I was doing it for 50 years, I might get bored. Right now I crave it. I have to have it.
John: It’s never boring. Sometimes it’s harder than other times, but it’s never boring or redundant.
Josh: Today is a perfect example of what I like. I didn’t go to sleep last night. We flew out here. We get here – we come straight here. After we leave here, we shoot some video and then we go to another show. Then we go sleep for a few hours and then we go back to Georgia.

Give me some weird ass shit that’s happened. You couldn’t be on the road this long without running into some weird situations.
Josh: We were backstage (In Houston) loading up our stuff, in the back alley of the club. She comes up; she’s like, ‘can I have a dollar?’ We were just kinda messing with her. We were like, ‘we’ll give you a dollar if you show us something. So she showed us her boob. I like boobs of all kinds, shapes and sizes, but this was really gross. I was like, ‘I’ll give you three bucks if you flash us downstairs,’ and she did. Her bush started at her bellybutton down. It was like European 80s stuff. It was awesome.
We pretty much go in, we play and we leave. We don’t party.
John: That’s where all the crazy stuff happens.
Josh: We’re lame. Wait until we get into the heavy drugs when we get real rich.

What kind of drugs?
Josh: Dude, I gotta do heroin. I’m the singer.

What about you? Don’t bassists normally get into coke?
John: Oh yeah, coke is where I draw the line.
Josh: It’s all about the blow!

What do drummers normally do?
Kevin: Alcohol. Alcohol and speed.
Josh: Hey man, there’s nothing wrong with it as long as you don’t abuse it.
John: Mushrooms are amazing.

But that’s not really hardcore.
John: It can be.

You’d have to take a lot of mushrooms. That’s not really a party drug.
Josh: We’re not like partiers. We like to feel good and be in our own little concave nothingness.
John: We could be with like 5 people and do all these things and have a really good time. We don’t really like being around the big party scene. A bunch of people we don’t know and it’s all shmoozing. We’re like a pain pill band. Bands like to drink alcohol. Not us.
Kevin: I’ll down alcohol if I drop some pills first.

What kind of guitar do you play?
Josh: I play an American Strat with EMG-85 bridge pickups. That’s all you need man.

What kind of amp do you use?
Josh: I use a… well (John), how would you describe that?
John: Josh, you use a Marshall JCM 2000 with a Marshall 4×12 cabinet
Josh: but…
John: Along with a Marshall JCM 900 and a Marshall 4×10 cabinet to create stereo.
Josh: It sounds like there are two guitars. I can turn one guitar off during a bar and then kick back in.
John: It helps for right now.
Josh: We have a lot of 2-guitar parts on the CD so I have something kicking in, since we’re just a three-piece. It’s a pretty cool thing. We just started doing it a couple weeks ago. It works pretty good.

What kind of rig do you play?
John: I play mesa boogie bass cabinets – One 15” on the bottom and 2×10” on the top with a tweeter and a David Eden Traveler head. 300 watts, solid state and a shitty, shitty, shitty Yamaha bass that plays really good and can sound good if you really fuck with it. I’m not proud of that. I want a Fender Jazz bass really bad. Kevin’s got a drum set that keeps on breaking fucking bass drum heads.

That’s rare.
Kevin: When you mic the bass drum, it gets in there and it causes little rips sometimes and that little rip becomes a big rip.

What kind of cymbals. Sabian and Zildian.
Josh: We just play what we got.
Kevin: If I had it my way -if we had some money – it’d be totally different.
Josh: Everywhere we go, we make sure we go to a copy center to check our e-mail. Of course we’re not going to pay for it. Every town we go, we run out. That’s our excitement. We run into a restaurant, we eat a big meal and we run out of there. There’s nothing better than like eating a big full meal and not having to pay for it. That’s it. If they catch you on your way out, you say you forgot. They can’t really say you were lying. The one time we ever tired to skip on gas, we got caught. We were like, ‘Oh, I thought he paid!’ On the east coast they’re all laid back. You pay after you pump. Me and the drummer worked at a gas station and we were stealing money to pay for the first CD. We stole so much money. We actually got caught. They fired us. On one tour stop, we were at the mall and the drummer (Kevin) was nearly arrested for shoplifting a TRL video. He walked out and the beeper went off and he ran into another store and threw the video out. People came after him and made him go back in.
Kevin: The clerk made me walk back through the sensor and it didn’t go off, so she said, ‘well I guess we got the wrong guy.’ I got away by the skin of my teeth.

Did you at least get the video?
Josh: We wanted to go back and get it, but we couldn’t. Of all the things he could have stole, he nailed a TRL video.

So that’s how you survive – by basically following the Robin Hood approach – by thieving?
Josh: That’s exaggerated a bit, but we do what we can. We just scavenge. We take personal handouts from fans – stay at their house – and on occasion, we’ll ditch and dine. But that’s normal. If we didn’t do that, it wouldn’t be normal.