This December was supposed to be a time of creative solitude for L.A. industrial-rock band 3TEETH, a month dedicated to completing the follow-up to their acclaimed self-titled 2014 debut.
"We were touring a lot this last year," explains frontman Alexis Mincolla. "So after our Halloween show in Detroit, we'd planned on just saying, 'Hey, we're done for the year — let's just focus on finishing this album.' Then in November, I hear from Adam: 'Hey, we're going to go out on tour, and we want to bring you guys.' I'm like, 'Guess we're not working on the album right now. ..."
The Adam in question was Tool guitarist Adam Jones, and the tour in question was Tool's first U.S. tour in nearly two years, a three-plus-week cross-country jaunt that begins January 6th at San Francisco's Bill Graham Auditorium, and which also features Primus on the bill. It was the type of opportunity that most bands would sell their internal organs for — so now, instead of polishing up their new songs, 3TEETH are focused on making their stage show as arena-ready as possible for their opening slot.
"A lot of our show is already built for bigger spaces," says Mincolla. "But we're trying to give everything a grander level of scale, since we're going out with two of the best bands in the world. It's gotta be amazing, you know?"
Now that the Tool tour announcement has put 3TEETH squarely in the spotlight, they've also been doing a lot more press than usual. "We'd been sort of flying under the radar, really doing things on our own terms," Mincolla laughs. "It wasn't really until Adam decided to put us on the tour that everybody went, 'Hey, who the fuck are these guys?'"
Mincolla and 3TEETH keyboardist Xavier Swafford originally met about two years ago through Lil Death, a regular underground party thrown by Mincolla in downtown L.A., which he describes as "this strange sort of cross-section of culture — everything from industrial to Internet culture to dark techno and really strange, dark trap music. It was a really interesting forum or creative space for people to come in and try different stuff."
3TEETH initially merged Mincolla's flair for visual art with Swafford's keyboard and production skills. "The whole project, from Day One, was more of a multimedia art project than a band," Mincolla explains. "Before we even started writing the album, we sort of had this idea of what this thing could be. It started out with me and Xavier trying some stuff, and it was like, 'Hey, this is pretty cool.' And then we met Andrew [Means], who programmed great drums for us, and is a phenomenal musician across the board — great guitar player, great piano player — and then we decided we needed a guitarist, and he knew Chase [Brawner]. It was a real organic evolution."
3TEETH's self-titled 2014 debut — which featured such standout tracks as "Nihil," "Pearls 2 Swine" and "Master of Decay" — was heavily influenced by the uncompromising sounds and dark social commentary of such industrial forebears as Ministry, Nine Inch Nails and Skinny Puppy. "That's something that kind of drew me to industrial music in the first place — there was so much substance there," Mincolla explains. "To me, industrial music was a transgressive art more than it was a sound; as a kid in the Nineties, industrial music seemed to me like a way to suck the poison out of the mass-production society and spit it back in its face, and we wanted to bring some of that stuff back. We pretty much decided to make an album because I was like, 'I want to make some shit that I want to hear.' The fact that anyone liked it was sort of a bonus."
The band takes a similarly "old school" approach to their live shows, which mix state-of-the-art sensory overload with a take-no-prisoners level of aggression. "I remember it felt kind of dangerous, going to industrial concerts as a kid," recalls Mincolla, who makes a compelling focal point with his growling vocals and muscular, mustachioed stage presence. "It was like, 'Oh, shit, this is crazy!' I wanted to bring that back to music, because I felt like it sort of got lost along the way. We definitely try to bring an intensity to the stage that hopefully resonates on that same level ...
"Industrial music has really been watered down in recent years," Mincolla continues. "It sort of became a bad word, even — 'Industrial? Where's the gas mask and the green dreadlocks?'" he laughs. "Well, that's not the industrial that I like. We want to bring it back to some of its roots, I guess. I don't claim to be some sort of cultural aficionado of what industrial music is; I just know what I like, and I know the parts of it that felt true to me, and that's what I wanted to focus in on."
Though there aren't many obvious similarities between 3TEETH's music and Tool's, Mincolla cites the legendary progressive metal band as a huge inspiration. "Not so much musically," he says, "but I've always really appreciated the way that those guys navigated their career, as far as always doing things on their own terms. I was a big Tool fan growing up, and I always appreciated their trajectory, and the level of integrity to everything they did. Everything they put out was amazing, and very conceptual — something where there's layers of meaning, and you can kind of go down that rabbit hole and keep exploring and learning new things about it.
"Like them, we sort of do everything ourselves in this band," he continues. "I design all our own stuff, and me and Andrew edit all our videos, and we produce all our own stuff, as well. We're a totally self-contained unit, a little autonomous zone."
Mincolla first met Jones about a year ago at a mutual friend's wedding. "I was the best man, and Adam was a groomsman, so we sort of had time to connect there," he explains. The two discovered a mutual interest in video games, and, upon returning to L.A., began playing PlayStation online together. "We were playing a lot of Grand Theft Auto," Mincolla laughs. "It was right when Heists came out, so we were a little heist team — and there was this zombie game where we were just fighting off zombie hordes. So we developed this funny rapport over video games."
Throughout their regular gaming sessions, Mincolla never once mentioned the existence of 3TEETH to Jones; the subject only came up once the latter stumbled across one of 3TEETH's videos online. "One day, Adam said to me, 'Hey, I feel like I've been living under a rock — I just saw your band, and it's really cool! Why didn't you tell me?' And I'm like, 'Because you're in Tool, and I figure everyone's like, "Hey, look at my band!"'"
"One day, Adam [Jones] said to me, 'Hey, I feel like I've been living under a rock — I just saw your band, and it's really cool!'" —Alexis Mincolla
Mincolla invited Jones to see 3TEETH perform at the Viper Room in West Hollywood this past August, and the Tool guitarist was obviously impressed — just three months later, he called Mincolla to invite 3TEETH on tour.
"I'm a big fan," Jones told Rolling Stone of 3TEETH. "The other guys in the band really like them too. They're kind of a cross between Ministry and Nine Inch Nails meets Rammstein. They're just these young kids and they're really talented. They make the heaviest music and they're really fun. We're really excited about having three bands on the bill and having a great night."
"It's such an honor," Mincolla says. "Tool and Primus are no joke, and we're talking 10,000-, 15,000-seat arenas that are already sold out. We always had this sort of dream of playing huge places like that, but we're only, like, two years old as a band. But then we get the call from Adam, and it's like, 'Oh, guess we're doing it now. ...'"
Such, apparently, are the benefits of being a good team-player when it comes to killing zombies. "Oh, totally," laughs Mincolla. "Something about playing video games together, you feel like you're collaborating. So in the end, it was like, 'We make a good zombie-fighting team — I suppose we can hit the road together.'"
Additional reporting by Kory Grow.