By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
For the record, Efrem Schulz does not regularly hang with Gwen Stefani. "We've been to Europe and talked to people from magazines, and it's really funny," the front man of SoCal metalcore outfit Death by Stereo says on the phone from his home. "They're like, 'Oh, Orange County. So how often do you guys see Korn and No Doubt?' And I'm like, 'Um, never? On MTV, maybe?'" He laughs. "We don't know anybody. We're just some dudes."
This seems believable; after all, to your average hollaback girl or freak on a leash, the members of Death by Stereo are certified nobodies. But to a widening group of heavy-music fans tiring of the dwindling distinctions between punk rock and heavy metal, Schulz and his bandmates--guitarists Dan Palmer and Tito, bassist Tyler Rebbe and drummer Todd Hennig--are as significant as Orange County's higher-profile exports. On Death for Life, DbS's fourth album, the band combines hardcore's breakneck tempos with metal's dinosaur-sized guitar chug, while Schulz alternates between a punk-schooled bark and a full-bodied heavy-metal bellow.
Barely a minute and a half into the album's opener, "Binge/Purge," Palmer peels off his first solo, a confirmed no-no in punk, as Schulz vows to "destroy your Babylon" and "watch your empire burn"--a more overtly political threat than most metalheads usually muster. In the disc's best tracks, such as "I Give My Life" and the excellently titled "Don't Piss on My Neck and Tell Me It's Raining," DbS sets up a compelling contrast between melody and noise, vulnerability and brutality. The music is aggressive enough to satisfy your need for a physical outlet, yet complex enough to meet your emotional needs, too.
"We're all about breaking down barriers," Schulz says, "and being like, 'You know what? Punk rock dudes, heavy metal dudes, let's all hang out in the same room, because we've all got a lot to learn and benefit from each other.' It's about blasting out those doors and getting people together. We totally dance around in between all the scenes."
Schulz says that's been the band's mantra since he and Palmer formed Death by Stereo in 1996 in the fertile ground of Orange County's world-renowned punk scene. (All you know of the O.C. is Mischa Barton and fancy dinner parties? Allow me to introduce you to the Offspring and Social Distortion.) Though he says the scene today is a less "important and relevant thing to the world and society at large" than it was 15 years ago, he doesn't hesitate in describing the value it still holds for him.
"There definitely is a community that we grew with that was very incestuous," he says. "All of our bands had all the same people in them, and everybody started touring. There's just some cool-ass fucking people here. I think we're really, really, really, really lucky." He points to bands like ascendant O.C. metallers Avenged Sevenfold--whose singer, M. Shadows, contributes vocals to two tracks on Death for Life--as an example of whom he considers his peers.
Still, Schulz is realistic about the permanence of those bonds. "There's not a magic community where everyone hangs out and knows each other," he says with a laugh. "From that original scene, everyone grew and everyone kind of separated a little bit, just because we can't all be in the same place at the same time."
Nor should they be, the singer says. "A long time ago, I'd hear constantly, 'Punk is really diluted. It sold out; it's on MTV and in the malls.' But you know what, dude? For 20 years, people were fighting and fighting and fighting to be who they are, to look how they want, to be able to walk down the street with a Mohawk, to dress a certain way. And punk won. Mission accomplished. Maybe what's next is that now that we're here and we've done it, we can all be happy and go hang out and create something new by bringing everyone together."
Schulz admits that that's easier to do in our technologically advanced environment than it once was, when kids who don't share a local scene like Orange County's in its prime can still connect and hash out their ideas. "The age of the Internet really trips me out, man," he says. "I'm like, 'Wow. Kids now grow up with the Internet.' I never even fathomed having a computer in my house. I can't imagine what that's like--I would have been jerking off fucking 30 hours a day if I had the Internet when I was a kid."
After saying this, he laughs, but Schulz recognizes the serious possibilities; anything's possible when metal and punk kids can play together with fewer barriers.
"Every person I meet has a CD," Schulz says. "I'm like, 'How'd you do that?' 'Oh, I made it in my bedroom.' That's awesome. It's insane that a kid can meet a kid from another country and trade music. It rules. It's so much easier now to get the word out, to change someone's mind-set. The tools are all there; it's just about motivating people."