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Started playing heavy death/doom as one of the great death/doom bands from the Peaceville label in the early 90s. They were often mentioned alongside Paradis...
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Having started out in the '90s with Pale Existence and Dawning, Steve Cefala's latest underground ventures have been as Black/Doom project No God Only Pain. It seemed like an appropriate time for a chat about how things are going in California.

Interview with No God Only Pain.

Today's interviewee: Steve Cefala.

(1) Welcome, Steve, and thanks for agreeing to be interviewed for Doom-Metal.com. Could we start with a formal introduction to our readers: who are you and where are you from?

Hey thanks for the chance to share some thoughts. Basically, I am a long-time underground metal musician. Currently, I live in "Steinbeck Country" in Salinas, California. Its a gorgeous retro looking large coastal town with lush fields of agriculture and a surprising number of awesome breweries. Plus a few too many drugged out homeless people to go with the territory. I fled San Jose last year due to overpopulation, decay, anarchy, and potholes.

(2) There's some YouTube footage around of a very young-looking Pale Existence performing live in 1995. So, when did you first get into playing music, and was that your first band?

I first got serious about music in 8th grade (1991) and wanted to be like Duff from GNR and Cliff Burton. Bought a cheap Epiphone Bass. Then an Ibanez Soundgear. Had lessons , plus played hours a day (while head-banging). Next year I joined a college aged jock preppy band. We jumped into the back of pickup trucks and played wild parties in the Saratoga Hills and I was excited to get free beer for playing live ( plus trying for college girls). I got sick of Metallica and jock-rock so quit. Answered an add at a guitar store and that's when I met Lorin Ashton (who is now known as DJ Bassnectar). Then we formed Pale Existence.

Pale Existence - Live at the Cactus Club, 1995:

(3) Mixed in with the Death Metal, there's some obvious Doom touches, and some raw Punk attitude. Were those your main musical influences, or were you inspired by other things - not necessarily just music?

Grief and their essential album Come to Grief would be the number one influence. Transcendence into the peripheral would be a close second (by Disembowelment). I had learned the first 5 or so Sabbath albums on bass earlier on. But Lorin and the drummer Brian Glover would blast that Grief/Disembowlment stuff so loud in their cars , and those were just brutal albums. Am also a huge collector of film scores, so bands like Tangerine Dream and Vangelis (and many others) affect my outlook on music. Hollowness, loneliness (despite connectivity) and other-worldliness are things that new age music and post-modern writers (like DeLillo) express effectively. Those aspects of humanity are more interesting to me than all this modern "we are all one" shit.

(4) You've been involved in a number of other bands since the mid-'90s: what would you consider the similarities and differences between them?

The bands I have been in are all very similar to me. None of them really conform very much to anything. And they all leave a lot open to interpretation the way post-modern film or writing does; or the way new age or ambient music does.

(5) How differently do you approach things depending on the type of band - you seem to have covered all the bases from being fully solo, through de facto band leader, to full teamwork? Do you have a preference for any of those situations?

It's hard to find other members who share your views. And hard to find others willing to put as much in work-wise or money-wise. So its always better to work alone if possible. Either way, I personally think that being a musician is actually fairly hard work. My experience has been that a lot of people are more in music as a hobby. That is a roadblock to those who are more serious.

(6) Aside from No God Only Pain, which of your other projects are currently active, and where are they going in direction?

The NGOP drummer and I had been jamming some grunge/punk/thrash. We decided it couldn't fit under NGOP so we decided on Rotten Copper as the name for that project. And we released some seven raw instrumental jams last month that are free to download. The drummer got very busy with work these last few months , but I have written yet another 7 songs. Am currently recording these brand new songs in more of a studio setting than the last few batches. These newest songs I would compare to going for a Danzig/Samhain/Misfits type sound. Am planning plan to do the vocals for that.

(7) Speaking of No God Only Pain: what was the underlying intention behind it, sound-wise and conceptually?

NGOP came out of a love of Hellraiser originally. There are some good themes in there that Clive Barker insinuated about masochism and mass psychology. We did a music video that focused on how far right religion can become masochistic too, since its like going to church just to get browbeat about how awful you are (I attended such a church before so I know ha). Later I wanted to broaden that out and apply it to how the US has banned God from everything to where they cant even say Merry Christmas. And how we are all slaves to the government taxes and regs. The other band-members didn't necessarily share all my views but they liked some of the irony in the concepts. They did share some of the overall negative world view and wrote some of the coolest song names.

(8) We reviewed 'Roads To Serfdom' recently: it's always nice to give musicians the chance to respond 'on the record', so are there any observations you'd like to make on that, good or bad?

The review was fair, and accurate. I enjoyed reading it very much. My music has fallen in between the metal genres quite a bit. So am glad that people will listen to something a bit different. Its also good that you listen through the thousands of dollars in overproduction that a lot of people are doing in a race to the bottom.

Here is why I wont spend much on production:

I can win more money on bowling , horseraces, or stocks or just about anything than in music. Music is a black swan - like swinging for the fence. Its a bit of a long-shot. So it must logically only be done for art, or as a small long-shot growth investment. The amount that people spend on their metal gear and recordings borders on virtual insanity. Instead, I primarily like the era of British metal where bands like Motorhead came in with really raw sounding recordings.

(9) More generally, how do you feel about the coverage and support given within the underground scene? Does it feel like there's enough of a shared spirit to describe it as a community?

Though I have always been jamming music, I only got involved online in metal in 2012 or 2013. At first it seemed like a lot of sites were praising the wrong bands. As time went on I began to realize that though my music's timbre has always been underground and hard to pin down, my tastes are ironically slightly more in the vein of mainstream metal than most of the underground sites. So I tend to agree with underground sites more often when its a retro sounding band these days. And I personally want to return to Hawkwind/Motorhead or Sabbath Mob Rules or even Hair of the Dog the era where rock / punk / and slower Sabbathy heavy metal were all more free to intertwine. Too many super-groups and too many side-projects are the some of the main problems with the metal community. As well as the obsession with tone and production over substance. But I don't blame critics for this. Bob Rock, Scott Burns, and corporate metal probably bear a lot of the impetus for that. I like their albums too but they don't age as well as pre-corporate metal did.

(10) And do you find you have a wider fanbase, or more favourable coverage, for any specific projects? What would you consider your most successful venture thus far?

Though I have enjoyed many collaborations, and they have taught me so much - a lot of local musicians have let me down in the end (usually through lack of commitment). But the crowds at the shows have always been great. To be honest my bands greatest success is that its given me something good to listen to at times where I was so sick of society playing crap like the Dave Mathews band. Listening to some of the bands I was in like Dawning has always given me a refuge in another world, a type of sanctuary from things like shitty trends.

(11) It feels like there's a strong thread of agit-Punk socioeconomic/political commentary and anger running through your work, alongside at least a couple of layers of meaning. Would that be a fair characterisation?

That is definitely accurate.

(12) So, if there is a deeper concept behind it, is the rough, old-school nature of the music meant to be a deliberate contrast with that? Or is just that your preferred sound palette, or a limit imposed by cost and resources?

The theme that connects the projects is survival in a really dark world. Its a weird Hobbesian perspective about survival in a world that's out to crush you economically and mentally ; a world that wants to enslave you to your job, girlfriend, government, and church. All the bands I was in since Dawning are essentially about the dawn of a new Dark Age. Dawning and Pale Existence reflected the mystical side of descent. While Nothing Left and NGOP are more of the tangible side of societal decay.

This new Dark Age globally is something we have seen unfolding before our very eyes, as so much of the globe is currently descending into chaos and tyranny. Whether its in the Middle East with ISIS, and the Sauds pounding Yemen, or in the liberal ghettos of America with weird social justice riots every time you watch the news: dis-order and decay are taking precedent over renewal and advancement. My bands have been attempts to look at reality without a rosy lens, and free of any strict traditional ideology.

It actually wouldn't make sense spending tons of money to produce music about survival. That's like wearing really expensive designer jeans with all the holes in the knees tailored in. Survival is a mental thing that involves mind over matter. In reality you can build a clay shelter with a simple shovel and survive. Most of what society wants us to spend on is a result of being bred us as consumer/workers. That's why the average American has so little savings, and why our government owes so much national debt. Frugality is an American tradition which has been done away with, unfortunately. A penny saved is a penny earned!

Video work in progress.

(13) You've been credited for various different instruments over the years, as well as vocals: do you have a favourite? Is there any particular equipment that you prefer or hold especially dear?

Bass guitar is by far my favorite instrument to jam away on. I feel a very strong connection to keys and classical guitar too. My classical training on guitar allows me to express myself with uniquely phrased riffs when I write on guitar. Originally, I was known as a killer bassist. I had really long hair and head-banged enthusiastically and it was easier to head-bang while playing bass. So that's part of why I like it. When I was 16 I got good enough to play fretless bass on the second PE recording and to play fretless live (with my eyes rolled up and head-banging). Sometimes I wish I could have stayed on bass more and not had to play so many other instruments - but it was necessary to get things moving.

I had bad luck joining other peoples projects since I wasn't into conforming to more standard genre acts, plus other genres held my metal background against me at auditions, though I had jazz band and classical trio in my background as well.

(14) How much have your tastes and influences changed since starting out? Do you feel they've evolved significantly?

I still have the exact same tastes as when I started playing death/doom metal. That can be a problem for me at times in relating to other contemporary metal-heads. Sometimes I feel like I time travelled in a time capsule like in the Cheech and Chong movie called Rude Awakenings (where they slept in the 70s and woke up in the 90s). The only major change is that I have come to embrace the mainstream rock / metal / punk influences of my musical background now. So now I am happy to blend in Danzig or Sex Pistols or even GNR influences to complement my underground sound. The real challenge for me will be to add vocals (about societal collapse) to the next Rotten Copper release, since I did the last one on-the-fly as an instrumental.

(15) One question I always ask: what do you consider to be the essential qualities of Doom, and how do you go about realising them in your music?

Doom is more substantive concept wise in some ways than black or death metal. Doom metal takes a reality and reality based approach to existence. Doom takes the world as it is, instead of how it is ideally supposed to be. Because doom metal takes an honest inventory of where society is at, it is better suited to be helpful in finding the proper ways to deal with things. Doom metal is actually healthy for people and is part of the solution. Also slow music is good for your heart, and low frequencies are also good for your health. A lot of people out there in society who are pissed off and depressed should put down the Prozac stop going to the shrink , and just crank up some loud doom metal in their truck or while on their skateboard. The world would be a better place. I am happy to help in that endeavor.

(16) You sometimes appear under a stage name, sometimes not. Is there any significance to that? What decides which it'll be?

Recently, when Hillary Clinton said a lot of Americans are "deplorable and irredeemable", I was pretty sure she was talking about people like me - who won't be easily force-fed bullshit garbage about this rosy outlook about globalism (which is frankly a failed crock of shit). A lot of my ex's seem to hate me too. The bassist wanted to have a song called Fuck Trump or something just to annoy me. Even my own band members lectured me in the parking lot that it was unacceptable to vote for so and so - like I was planning to. Before I moved away recently there were political rallies in San Jose where people with my political affiliations (which is like half the country's population) were targeted by an angry mob and beat up and the mayor condoned the rioting. It seems pretty unanimous. So I am proud to now call myself "Deplorable" Steve. And it's good to have the last laugh.

"Deplorable" Steve, with brother, at Bad Religion.

(17) On the commercial side, you started up Hate Your Guts Records recently. What was the intention behind it, and has it been successful?

I was mostly just tired of the YouTube thing. Am not a big fan of social media with all the commenting (but I guess its necessary right?). So Bandcamp is better from an artistic standpoint. My intent was to make more of an art gallery type thing with better artwork, plus upgraded sound-files. Have not been able to figure out how to tap into Bassnectar's fans with that PE recording. Its been slow steady progress (with some sales but nothing to write home about). Though the art itself is the main thing, I am also a business man so I am close to getting back to the break even point. Unfortunately I am not the most savvy marketer. However, the best sales I got were when I packaged vintage funeral hearse signs in the Dawning records. So the prize-at-the-bottom-of-the Cracker-Jack-Box was the most successful experiment $-wise so far.

(18) And, in the longer term, do you have any particular vision for where you want to head? Any idea how you'd like people to think of your work, looking back from sometime in the future?

The main thing is that hopefully some people would remember that I was a good composer and live performer, though I maybe sometimes lacked band-mates and resources.

Maybe some who knew me would think that I was non-conformist and held to a world view that progress in society (outside of a few things like modern medicine) in has been greatly exaggerated. Dawning predicted the rise of a mystical dark age and was hip to the occult Dan Brown type stuff, but way back before that was trending. Nothing Left pretty much sums up a lot of the Middle East these days, as well as lib hell holes like Detroit. Roads to Serfdom EP predicted anti-globalist revolution which is now being realized. The new Rotten Copper jams are in celebration of the collapse of the new world order, which I predicted on the bands FB site months and months ago. Some of these bands were a bit ahead of their time in my opinion, and I frankly do not think that fact will ever be recognized. This was the first generation whose standards of living did not exceed prior generations. A doomy outlook has been warranted (and confirmed).

From here, in the future I plan to combine my 90s underground influences like Grief with more mainstream stuff like Danzig. I like the irony of it.

(19) On a non-musical note, there's been a lot of unexpected political upheaval lately, most recently with Trump becoming President-elect. There appears to be a hunger for significant change: is that a good or a bad thing, in your view?

The grandiose collapse of liberalism has been thrilling and riveting. Whether its in England or in the US - working class people are tired of having their jobs sent overseas, while being taxed and regulated to death. We all know that liberals mean well - but the fact remains that government can barely even keep the streets paved , or keep the traffic moving properly. The prospect of the government being able to take care of every problem in society (real or imagined) is laughable. The US government owes 55k per citizen in debt by trying to be everyone's nanny. And after all that money has been wasted - look what we have to show for it: a bunch of unhappy snowflakes protesting and rioting in the streets.

I say enough is enough. Its time we paid our debt down and were more realistic about what a government can successfully achieve. The truth is that most of the government's greatest achievements came from infrastructure, warfare, and space-travel, not from social engineering and welfare transfers. So we have it all backwards. The achievements of private individuals and private businesses are what makes the world a great place. Not collectivism and big-gov.

(20) To close, I hope we've given you the chance to present a good picture of the band and your work as it is today, but if there is anything you'd like to add, the last words are yours.

First , a big thanks to all in metal who have given me a chance (listening-wise) regardless of whether they dug it. There has been a learning curve involved so thanks to those who were patient with me and gave me a chance. Also, I am glad to have been a foot-soldier in this recent political and cultural revolution towards realism. Finally, I still have faith that the American dream can be restored. It can be restored based upon good old fashioned basics such if it ain't broke don't fix it. Don't spend more than you have. Save money and being responsible. Don't try to save the whole world. And the idea of good old fashioned hard work. I honestly see myself as part of a larger picture, maybe as a messenger of sorts.

Then it only remains for me to thank you again for your time and in-depth answers, and hope that we'll be hearing more from you in future. Cheers bro!


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Visit the No God Only Pain bandpage.

Interviewed on 2016-11-22 by Mike Liassides.
Aesthetic Death
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