By Thomas S. Orwat Jr.
In 2012, when Dave “Gravy” Felton was kicked out of the Cleveland, OH based industrial-metal band, Mushroomhead, many music fans were shocked. Felton, known as “Gravy” in the band, was a fan-favorite, and the brother of group founder, Steve “Skinny” Felton. There are two sides to every story, but regardless, the family ties were not enough to keep the Felton brothers together in Mushroomhead.
Felton took very little time to rebound, and he did it in a loud, aggressive way, by unleashing a Heavy Metal/Southern Rock-influenced band called, Kriadiaz. Felton, along with Mike Ruz – vocals, Emery Ceo – Drums, and Bryan Trembley – bass, released the first Kriadiaz record in September of 2013, on Pavement Entertainment. The record was a-14 track, aggressive, passionate, and powerful display of “hillbilly” metal, fueled by Felton’s unique mix of metal and country-style chicken-pickin’ guitar riffs.
Kriadiaz is currently working on a new release, and has recently played several shows in both Ohio and Pennsylvania.
What follows is an interview with one of the most innovative guitarists in metal music today – Dave “Gravy” Felton.
Rock Music Star: I’ve been checking out some of your material on the Internet, and I have to admit, I’m really fucking impressed by your guitar playing.
DGF: Well, before I was in ‘Shroom, I was in a band where I actually showed off a lot more than I do in Kriadiaz. It’s not like it’s something new, it has just happened.
RMS: I want to start off the interview discussing Kriadiaz. It’s a great band. When you started this project, what was your mission statement? What did you want to accomplish with this group?
DGF: Well, before I was in ‘Shroom, me and three other guys that were in Mushroomhead started a band called (216), which was kind of similar to the Kriadiaz thing. I wasn’t soloing a lot or anything like that; it was similar riff-wise. That was the late 90s, when we started that band, and solos weren’t popular. So, we were kind of like, “Let’s just do a metal thing.” That band got really popular in Cleveland. We were drawing between 500-800 people a show whenever we played in Cleveland. So, we did an album, and the CD did real well. But, year after year, it just kept getting blown off because of Mushroomhead tours, and having to write new Mushroomhead records. And then, it’d start getting blown off for other side projects, and stuff like that. A couple of us in (216) were just scratching our heads, because this thing died because we kept blowing it off. After 10 years of waiting, I was just like, “Screw this, I’m starting my own band. I gotta do my own thing.” So, that’s why the Kriadiaz thing got started.
RMS: Kriadiaz has been around for a few years now. What’s your game plan from here? Do you plan on releasing anything in the near future, or do you have any upcoming tour plans?
DGF: Well, touring is kind of difficult for us, because everybody else has real jobs. I’m pretty flexible to do what I want. I was just talking to an agent about doing some ‘weekend warrior’ touring, so we’re going to see if we can do that, or if it’s even worthwhile to do. But, we are working on a second CD right now. We hope to record in the spring, and maybe release it in the fall, or something.
RMS: How does it compare – musically and stylistically – to your first release?
DGF: I mean, it’s along the same lines. It is different, though. When you’re writing for a specific thing – that’s kind of a ‘moment in time’ type thing. By the time you get to writing your next one, it’s always going to come out a little bit different. But, we sound the way we sound, and we play the way we play, so it’s definitely going to be along the same lines as the first one.
RMS: You’re definitely not your average metal guitarist, by any means. You have some very unique guitar skills.
DGF: I appreciate that. That’s the idea. We get the Pantera comparison a lot, but it’s not even…I mean, I like Pantera; I dig Dimebag. I like Crowbar a lot, both Van Halen and Ozzy, Randy Rhoads, the old Metallica, and all that kind of stuff. I think that’s where I get my structure. My song structure base comes from that older stuff. That’s what is different from the newer bands.
RMS: You can hear the influences, but I think you have a little twist to it, with your guitar sound. It differentiates yourselves from those other bands. You guys are unique, in that you’re not just another wannabe band.
DGF: Yeah, it’s definitely not like Pantera or Crowbar plagiarism. There’s nothing else to really compare it to. So, I think that’s why we get the Pantera comparison a lot. Plus, Mike’s vocals are just – he’s good. He writes kickass lyrics, and he sings in a cover band, so he can do the metal, like the heavy vocals, where people who listen to Adele are just going to be like, “It’s screaming.” But, people who understand metal are going to hear something different in the way that he delivers his vocals, I think.
RMS: Yeah, he’s a very powerful vocalist.
DGF: Oh, yeah. Yeah, he’s good.
RMS: Now, after you left Mushroomhead, were there any opportunities that came up for you to form, or to join already established bands, at all? Did anyone try to recruit you?
DGF: No, not at all.
RMS: Any idea as to why?
DGF: Well, I wasn’t allowed to be myself in Mushroomhead. And, for some reason, those guys were never able to capture my sound. So, listening to Mushroomhead, you’re not really hearing what I am capable of. So, I can understand why nobody established was like, “Whoa, we gotta get that guy.”
RMS: That makes sense.
DGF: In ‘Shroom, I was on a leash, totally. I wrote for that band, to try to keep it an artsy, quirky-type thing. I tried to shoehorn my style in there a little bit, but it never really fully came out.
RMS: That must have been frustrating for you.
DGF: Yeah, a little bit. The ‘Shroom thing is very strange. If you shine too much, it takes away from other people. I think there’s insecurity issues there, or something. Who knows? You would think he would want to exploit all of the strengths in the band, and not the weaknesses, and that’s kind of what it seems like they like to do.
RMS: Yeah. Over the career of Mushroomhead, there’s been a ton of people who have come and gone through that band. Is it because, when people shine- or try to shine- they were discouraged and ended up leaving, or being kicked out?
DGF: (Laughs) It’s a dictatorship. Mushroomhead isn’t a band, it’s a dictatorship. There’s one person calling all of the shots, and if you start questioning things, or trying to make your mark in a certain way or whatever, it’s kind of frowned upon by the guy in charge. So, the more you push, or the better musician you are – who knows – maybe you’re considered a threat; I don’t know. I was kicked out. I didn’t do anything wrong except question things.
RMS: I read they had an issue that you weren’t partying enough.
DGF: I mean, I don’t know if that was really it. I never really was a big partier, anyway. But, when you’re at a studio for 12-15 hours a day, and you’re not getting as much accomplished as you think you should because everybody else is getting loaded, they bitch about it. So, I guess I’m the dick.
RMS: Yeah, that isn’t right.
DGF: Party it up! I don’t have anything against it. Party it up. But, there’s a time and place for it. When you’re trying to conduct business, it doesn’t make sense. All you’re doing is slowing up the process.
RMS: When you left Mushroomhead – or when you were kicked out, I guess – I remember reading about it, and I was surprised; I never thought you would be the one leaving, since your brother is a big part of the band. I kind of thought that you were the guys running it, to be honest with you. So, that’s why it came as shock to me.
DGF: No, I never had a say in anything. I wasn’t an original guy. Me and my brother and Jeff were in a band before Mushroomhead called “Hatrix,” and that got blown off. They started ‘Shroom, and ‘Shroom took off. I was asked to join later, as a hired guy, because somebody was embezzling or something. So, they got rid of him, and I filled his spot.
RMS: So, right from the beginning, in 1999, you were just a hired gun in the band?
DGF: Yeah, I’m not an original guy. Actually, it was probably ’99-2000 when I got in as a hired guy. And then, they got the deal with Eclipse, and did the first tour opening for W.A.S.P. They couldn’t afford to pay me my hired show rate, so they asked me to join the band. So, it was like feast or famine with the band. Now you’re a member. But, of course, after I’m out it’s like, “Oh, he was just a hired gun.” So, yeah. I’m in the band when it benefits you, but when you want me out because I’m calling you on your bullshit, then I’m a hired gun. Okay, whatever.
RMS: I’m sorry this interview seems like we’re only focusing on the negative.
DGF: No, not at all, dude. I have no problem telling the truth about things.
RMS: It’s just very interesting. Now, when you mentioned the dictator of the band, were you talking about Jeffrey Nothing? Is he the one who calls the shots?
DGF: No, no. He doesn’t run anything, either. I’m not going to name any names, but I’m sure you can figure it out.
DGF: Yeah, there’s one guy that runs the show. Like, literally. If you question him too much, you’re on the shit end of the stick.
RMS: That’s terrible. How much of a relief was it, for you, to not have to perform with a mask on anymore?
DGF: Oh, that didn’t really bother me. I mean, you sweat on stage anyway, no big deal. The mask gimmick was never an issue for me. Having it being taken seriously – like too seriously, is how it ended up – that started to bother me. But, c’mon. This is a mask, you guys. Let’s relax a little bit.
RMS: Looking back on it, what do you consider as the highlight of your career in Mushroomhead?
DGF: Personally, or financially?
RMS: The one thing that you are the most proud of that you accomplished in Mushroomhead.
DGF: (Pause) I don’t know. That’s a tough question. I like a lot of the stuff I did, but at the same time, I know that it’s not up to it’s potential, so there’s a little disappointment there, as well. I think the song for the “Scorpion King” soundtrack – that was kind of cool. That was kind of the first tune that I wrote for the band. I wrote a lot of the music. I suck at lyrics, and that type of thing. But, a lot of the music, I came up with. That was like, the first one, and it was kind of cool to have that handed to you. That was when we were on Universal, so it was cool to get stuff from them before the movie was coming out, and all that stuff. They sent us videos and things from the movie before it was released, so that we could get the inspiration and come up with that tune.
RMS: Wow, that’s pretty cool.
DGF: I thought that was kind of neat. The “Solitaire Unraveling” video shoot was kickass. They flew us all out to California for that. So, that was like, four or five days of everything just being dropped in your lap- filming. There were a lot of cool things.
RMS: How about some of the touring that you guys went on? Mushroomhead played on some really huge festivals.
DGF: Yeah, Ozzfest was definitely cool. We did the second half of Ozzfest ’02, I think it was. That was definitely a blast. Can’t go wrong with festival tours, man. It’s a good atmosphere. There are a lot of positive vibes happening.
RMS: Kriadiaz would go over really well on a metal festival; a summer festival.
DGF: Yeah, I think so, too. We’ve gotta get the right people behind us to get that foot in the door.
RMS: Exactly right.
DGF: That gets back to that touring question – would weekend tours even be enough? Would we get good enough gigs at the level that we’re at, where we’ll even be seen by enough people for it to grow? There’s a lot of questions.
RMS: It’s rough out there. I guess if you were allowed to use “Ex-member of Mushroomhead” to help promote it, I’m sure that would definitely help the draw a lot.
DGF: Well, I can. I can use it any way I want. But, the problem is, I’m kind of on the fence about using it, because there’s been shows where people have come up to me and said, “Hey, I didn’t come to see you the first time because I heard that you were in Mushroomhead.” And I’m like, “What do you mean?” And they’re like, “Well, I didn’t want to see another stupid Mushroomhead side project.” There’s all these side projects where it’s industrial, or it’s artsy; there’s some kind of gimmick attached to it. Some people who like the type of metal that I’m doing are just not into that. There’s people that cross over, but I think the true, genuine metal fans don’t really dig Mushroomhead. So, attaching it what I’m doing is kind of strange. Like I said, I’ve literally had people come and say, “Hey, I heard what you guys were all about, and that’s why I came this time. But the first time, I didn’t want to sit through another Mushroomhead side project.” So it’s like, “Oh, okay.”
RMS: That’s interesting. You wouldn’t really expect that, but I guess I can see that logic.
DGF: Every promoter wants to push that angle, and then I explain that to them. I’m like, “I don’t know if that’s the best idea.” Because, if it turned people away before, it’s going to turn people away again. So, what do you do?
RMS: Back when you were in Mushroomhead, how popular was the band in Cleveland? Were you playing arenas, or where you playing big clubs? How popular did the band get there?
DGF: It’s always been pretty popular in Cleveland. Before I was in it, they played a couple shows, and people were like, “What the hell is this?” But then, they opened for GWAR a couple of times, and it just started to take off. So, it’s been filling clubs in Cleveland since like, the mid-90s.
RMS: Did it ever get past the clubs, though, into maybe a theatre?
DGF: Well, yeah. For Halloween every year, for the past like, 15-17 years – or however long it’s been – they play the Agora Theatre in Cleveland. So, that’s like, a given. And then, there was a couple times we played Blossom Music Center on different occasions. I think once, we did it as a headliner, but the pavilion wasn’t even full for that. It was interesting and cool to do. We did another one, where we opened for Disturbed there. We weren’t on the Disturbed tour, but we opened for them at that same venue. And that was great; that was really cool. But, the biggest it’s ever really gotten on its own was playing that theatre once a year. All of the other shows, including tours – even now, because I see where those guys are playing – some of them are just regular clubs.
RMS: That’s very cool. Not many bands can do that for as long as they have. You’ve gotta give them some credit, for continuing to be able to pull in that many fans. Have you ever thought about doing a solo instrumental guitar record? Or, maybe even just a couple of tracks?
DGF: Yeah, I kick that idea around. I just never really got around to it. I was always busy with other stuff. I could probably record a whole album of like, blues and country – I’ve got a ton of those songs.
RMS: I like how you incorporate that into the metal – it’s very unique. You have a very unique style. I think that would really interest a lot of people, if you did something along those lines. Even the solo you do on “10 Lives”- I was just blown away. I kept going back and repeating it, and watching it over and over again. I was just blown away by it.
DGF: Yeah, it’s definitely not your typical heavy metal solo, but it fits.
RMS: It does fit, yeah. And it’s cool, how it fits. Absolutely. That’s why, I think, if you do something like that, instrumentally, and threw some of that crap in, people would be like, “What the fuck is this? This is awesome!” You must have been working on that style for a while, to be able to play it like you do.
DGF: Well, I’ve always been kind of like, a bluesy player. I liked Black Sabbath, and all that kind of stuff, growing up as a kid. But, I also love Yngwie and Van Halen, and all that kind of shit, too. So, there’s little bits of that stuff, as well. I never really try to go for anything, it’s kind of whatever comes out. I just kind of dive on it to see where it goes. I don’t wake up and go, “I’m gonna do this today.” I kind of just let the tunes come out, and I just go from there.
RMS: Do you still practice a lot, or do you just pretty much play when you are rehearsing?
DGF: Well, actually, yeah. The past couple of years, I’ve been really working on my technique a lot more. When I started out, I was basically just jamming along with records and stuff when I was a teenager. I took some lessons and learned some theory things. With work, and girlfriends, and playing in five bands, and all that stuff, I didn’t really have the time to sit around for hours a day and work on specific things. So, for the past couple of years, because I have a seasonal job, I’ll sit around and work on my technique for a few hours a day, whenever I can. So, the past couple of years, I’ve definitely been back on a guitar regimen.
For more on Kriadiaz, please visit www.kriadiaz.com
Special thanks to Dana Kaiser for transcribing this interview.