An homage to past greats that lives and breathes with the same thrill.
Words by Luis (@heaviestofart):
On July 1st, the latest from Municipal Waste, Electrified Brain, will hit physical and digital shelves through Nuclear Blast Records, astounding anyone keen for a high octane listen. As the mind-blowing (pun intended) James Bousema cover would suggest, the record is a non-stop joyride through the unbridled craft of the Pennsylvanian ensemble that lets its compositional intentionality speak for itself. James' art is a proper entry for what you'll encounter within. More than it being a standout offering from the consistent unit, it proves that the band have never been one to settle, continuously pushing themselves musically to deliver a record that showcases elite ability and a burning soul that shines as bright as it ever has. It's an audiovisual homage to the history that drives Tony Foresta, Ryan Waste, and the rest of the joyous Municipal Waste ranks.
We go Behind the Cover of Electrified Brain with Municipal Waste frontman Tony Foresta and James Bousema to learn of the illustration's historic influence, its development process, the never-ending energy present within the band, and more:
As we near release day, it's important to note that for you all, a lot of your success and a lot of the energy that you bring into your music and stage persona is driven by the community support that is present from the moment you release a new single or bit of information. How much of that would you say has impacted you all as musicians as you continue to develop and grow up until this point?
Tony: You don't want to let anyone down, but you also don't want to let other people's opinion about your work make you make certain decisions and create different creative processes. We love our fans and we don't ever want to let them down, but you gotta get into that mindset where you don't let that totally influence the way you write and create things because you definitely want to keep it interesting for yourself, and it's not to be selfish. Sometimes, especially when you're in the creative process, you want to keep it somewhat fresh, at least to yourself, and then hopefully, it crashes into your fan base as well. You don't want to be doing the same fucking thing over and over again.
The fan support and feedback essentially comes by default, especially with you being insular in the way that you write and compose the music.
Tony: Oh yeah, I think so. I don't think we're catering to anything or dumbing our shit down. We've never been like "hey, we're gonna write this song so it can be our radio song" or whatever. That's never really been a conversation we've ever had, so it's always been just joking and making fun of each other throughout the way.
That's representative of the boundless creative freedom that you have. You're pretty much just doing whatever the hell it is that you want and having fun while doing it, which extends to the visuals, and it's a feature signature to the thrash metal visual identity. The new album's James Bousema cover certainly captures that. Judging from the Nuclear Blast video you shared early on, it seemed like you all kind of pretty much knew what you wanted from the jump, right?
Tony: Ryan did, yeah. We were bouncing ideas back and forth within the band and then Ryan had this great idea that came to him as he was working on his guitar. I think that was kind of what triggered the idea because he was just looking at that a lot. Our friend Gerardo, once we explained the idea to him, was like, "I got the perfect guy for it," which is when we starting looking at James' work. We were like, "Holy shit, this dude is incredible." He was just right with us on the same page as far as what we wanted.
Looking back at it, we fucking went back and forth with Andrei (Bouzikov) for 'Massive Aggressive' (2009). We went back and forth like over 100 times just working out the face of the monster on the fire. We were so picky, so this isn't a slight towards Andrei in any way. We were lucky to work with Andrei who is such an amazing artist. It's more of a comment on how picky we are with our shit. That was such a weird cover to work on.
For this record, it just seems that we were all on the same page and even really wanted the back cover too. Have you seen the back cover yet? I think like it better than the front. It's crazy. It's like this grim reaper adjusting the knobs and like the speakers are on fire.
I think I've caught a glimpse of it. Similar to the artwork on the tour poster, right?
Tony: Yeah, the Northwest line with the Grim Reaper. It's got the same colors, we wanted to stay consistent. Again, it seemed like everybody was pretty much on the same page. The entire collaboration was seamless, which you can't really attribute to any one thing. Sometimes, bands go through like an extensive back and forth and we didn't want it that way. Before you know it, it can take you three, four, or five months to get something done, but with this collaboration with James, everything just kind of clicked initially. It's a testament to how hard James works and how fast he can turn something of quality around. It's unheard of.
He wasn't burnt out about it either. I know a lot of artists, tattoo artists especially, that just don't even do artwork for bands anymore because bands are a pain in the ass to work with. You're dealing with a lot of opinions and a lot of people and sometimes there's a lot of inner turmoil and disagreements within the workings of a band. There's always back and forth with how they want things to work, so then you go to artists who unfortunately have to deal with all those personalities. Sometimes that's the case, sometimes it's not. With James, it seems he's not burnt out on any of that. It's always a lot of fun to work with artists that are not jaded and just passionate to create something. I've had dudes that aren't that way. I'm not gonna say any names or anything, but there are dudes who I've worked with in the past that would just start complaining about my ideas.
If you're not feeling it with the artist, just don't don't pursue it. If you're not clicking, that's cool. You can still be my buddy, we're cool, we don't have to do shit together if it's not working, you know? With James, there wasn't any problem. That's why we just kept doing shit with him for this whole album cycle.
The beauty of it too is that it comes off as organic, nothing was forced. Sometimes less is more and as you note, the band wanted something simple yet effective in terms of content. With that in mind, James, how did you work within those parameters to achieve this? You truly nailed it.
James: Thanks so much! I think it's about balance and artistic intent. There are some convoluted album covers I love, there are some extremely minimalistic album covers I love. With 'Electrified Brain', we were obviously dealing with subject matter that was inherently over-the-top, but I think we wanted to temper that with making it a piece of imagery that made an immediate clear impact. We did away with any background or secondary figures and instead gave you exactly what the album name promised in a way that no viewer could mistake for anything else. It's a declarative statement via brain chunks and guitar strings.
The message is clear and effective! Going off of Tony's enthusiasm, it would appear that this was as seamless and enjoyable as a collaboration could be. How would you describe that entire process from your end?
James: The dudes in Municipal Waste were such a pleasure to work for. We had lots of discussions over what they did and didn't want but also had a great time talking about the types of art that inspired the aesthetic we were going for. Luckily, we had very similar tastes, so bouncing ideas back and forth became very natural and fun. Lots of "Oh, then his eyeball could pop out like in Evil Dead 2" and "Oh yeah, make the electricity look like old hand-animated lightning effects," etc. I had a great time geeking out about the details with those guys!
Like the music, it just radiates 80s and James notes a 'Powerslave' (1984) influence, even in the color palette that was utilized for the album cycle. Let's talk about the DNA that's present there, especially with Municipal Waste being a contemporary version of that same energy of the 80s and early 90s.
Tony: Thanks! 'Blackout' (1982) by Scorpions also had that kind of vibe we were going for as well. That's just shit we love. Those Maiden posters were on my brother's wall, they were my first introduction to metal. Being a little kid and just looking at my older brother's room and wall was amazing. He had the 'Pyromania' (1983) poster a bunch of other old Iron Maiden posters and I always thought it was so cool. I still remember all of that imagery. I remember how that shit just stuck out to me. It was kind of scary for a kid in elementary school, but I was curious about it, and then I loved it once I heard it.
I can't tell you how many other musicians and artists have that same experience. One can say that visual identity is a key to bands and metal as a whole.
Tony: For us, it's extremely important. Since the band was weeks old, we were working on imagery. I worked at a screen print shop for almost 20 years and I was 15 years or so when we played our first show. We had like six songs. We had T-shirts put it in and spent so much time at Kinko's printing stuff. We had our friend hand draw this like Monster that I called Hector. He was coming out of the sewer and he was this like awesome zombie looking guy, which was pretty cool. We would just make Kinko's posters of it and would give them out at shows, you know? So yeah, that's always been a huge thing for us.
Coming from the punk scene, it was a little bit weird for a band that only had a 7" out to have like four different shirts. Now, I guess it's a little bit more common. I was just printing shit out left and right of anything we could have an image of. We lived in the area of VCU (Virginia Commonwealth University), which I guess is still a pretty big art school. At the time, our friends were going there for that stuff, so we had a ton of artists. We were able to crank things out really fast. That's really what makes the culture, it's ingrained in the DNA.
Definitely. Everything was DIY - bands putting up show posters across town, screen printing their own shirts, etc. Scotty at Tankcrimes is really good at all of that grassroots promo for his shows and bands. James, do you still find yourself looking back at those Derek Riggs and classic covers to inform your work?
James: Totally! You can't do metal covers without thinking of Riggs' iconic work. 'Powerslave' is probably my favorite Maiden cover and its use of primary colors (yellow, blue, and red) was an aspect MW wanted from the start. From 80s metal records to old VHS box art, it was definitely a shared love of retro illustrated covers that stuck with us - the kind of art that you hang posters of in your teenage bedroom.
With all that in mind, I made sure to use more textured digital brushes to give a more painted/airbrushed look to the cover. There's a charm in the more tangible nature of hand painted work and I did my best to try and achieve that even though it was through completely digital means.
Again, you excelled. Touching back on the back cover that Tony mentions, did that derive from the same visual inspiration? That could've been a crazy front cover too, but I'll consider it a neat bonus for those who purchase the physical copies.
James: With the back art, we really wanted it to tie directly to the front. Initially, we even wanted to be able to have it fold out as one long piece, but once we settled on the front, it was tough to figure out exactly how to approach it. The idea was to have the guitar cable on the front to be plugged into a Marshall amp on the back. We tried a couple approaches with a single amp head and speaker, but it just felt too simple. It was definitely not matching the front's insane energy.
We ended up going over discarded early ideas of having a grim reaper shove the guitar through the front guy's face, and thought that we could instead incorporate that character into the back. That's when we really started having fun. The idea eventually evolved from the guitar on the front being plugged into a Marshall on the back, to it being plugged into a gigantic stack of exploding Marshalls with the electricity coming from a Grim Reaper playfully turning the amps' volume knobs all the way up. Go big or go home was the way to go!
You gotta love that interplay with the two sides of the gatefold. Tony, even though you've got to this point in your career, you continue to have a crazy work ethic with constant touring, album releases, merchandise sales, and so on. It's obviously what musicians need to do nowadays to stay afloat, but do you feel that it has become second nature for you all, especially coming from the punk scene?
Tony: I don't think we ever expected it to be like a career kind of thing, but it has definitely turned into that sort of thing now. This is what we do. We all have other jobs and stuff, but we think about this is as a job that has taken over our lives. We're not gonna half ass anything, and we never have. After the worse of the pandemic, we kind of decided not to overwork ourselves. We have a lot of shows. a lot of tours, but it isn't destructively overworked as it was in the past. When we first started, it was out of control. We'll always work hard, but I don't think we want to do this until the wheels fall off. We want to pace ourselves for longevity at this point.
Definitely, and you all have families and other priorities at this point too. Looking back at your trajectory up until this point, in what state of mind did 'Electrified Brain' find you in? You've matured and learned and continue to do so from album cycle to album cycle.
Tony: I'm really proud of it. I mean, I don't hate any of our records and that's weird. I've had bands where I hate some of the shit I've done. As far as Municipal Waste, I feel we're consistent. We haven't slacked and the sound quality on this recording is incredible. For me, I feel like Arthur got really the best sound he can get and I think it's the best sound he's ever got in all of our records. The vocals are mixed killer and I really liked the songwriting too. It wasn't as stressful to write music. I live in Florida now, so I thought it was gonna be a pain in the ass, but it's actually actually been working out a million times better. There's just a lot of good things about the writing process this time around.
This is also the second album Nick (Poulos), our guitar player, does with us. I feel like he's really hitting his stride and starting to click a lot better with how we're writing shit. It's all coming together. We're still living and growing as a band. We're not stagnant. There's still some killer output going on here, and I'm really proud of that.
For bands six, seven, eight albums into their existence, it can get easy to phone it in and become comfortable. Shoutout to Arthur too, he gets the best out of bands. How significant a role do you feel that camaraderie played into the the entirety of this album?
Tony: A lot! We recorded it during a pandemic and I hadn't seen him (Arthur) for like a year. It was crazy. It was like, borderline emotional. I was away from my dudes for a long time, definitely the longest I've been away from the band. Everybody had crazy stories from that timeframe. It's cool that we're all back together again, which was all very exciting once it happened. There really wasn't a stress level for this one, there was more so excitement for seeing your dudes and getting back in there and being creative together as one unit, like how we usually do it.
You're all one family. As noted, James, you also did the poster artwork for the band's recent run with Pig Destroyer and essentially built the band's visual identity for the 'Electrified Brain' album cycle. Where do you feel that you and the band have found your strengths in terms of this entire partnership?
James: Yeah, it's been wild to provide so much of this album's aesthetic through not only the album art, but promo material, shirt designs, and even more to come! The MW boys have given me the chance to be a part of their musical journey and I couldn't be happier with how the collaboration has turned out. They pushed me to bring out the best in my work and I like to think I helped them better realize their creative ambitions. We had an idea of what this album would try to visually communicate and I think we achieved it! Fans and the metal community in general seem to really be responding well to the art since it's been revealed. It's an honor especially since this felt like my first big professional step into the metal world that I've loved since childhood. I can't wait for everyone to hear this killer record and see more of the art that's in store!
In closing, you've of course been sitting on this new material for some time now, same with James' cover. Is it cathartic for you all to finally see it out in the world about to be released?
Tony: I think when it's out, like when I can actually pull it up on on Spotify or wherever, that's gonna be the final breath of fresh air. It's fucking out there, you know? It's the final sigh of relief. We're all still kind of biting our nails. We had three videos lined up that are all incredible and we have great visual shit coming. I feel like the songs are really gonna hit when it starts rolling out to people. Everything is still new and exciting.
Once you take it on tour, it'll live and breathe with improvised parts and respond to crowd feedback too. It's one thing to hear it in studio, and it's another thing to hear it live.
Tony: I mean, the live interpretation is a whole other thing. I can't wait to start adding songs to the set, moving shit around and getting some of the new stuff to play. That's what I'm thinking about when we're writing a song too. I want to see what kind of energy the songs will push to a crowd, you know? You always gotta have that in mind because eventually, this album's gonna get out there.
Electrified Brain arrives on July 1st via Nuclear Blast Records (Order).