In Dayton, Ohio the first Friday of every month offers a downtown event that is free to the public. This typically includes gallery hops and free covers at bars on Dayton’s Fifth Street (the Oregon District). Fortunately for local business, this encourages burb dwellers and yuppies to make their way downtown and patronize local business once a month. Unfortunately for me, the event also meant navigating a sea of douche bags in an attempt to get a beer at Blind Bob’s…until Enabler started playing…
Jaws dropped, the sea of white hats (whose iPods likely consist of “Ants Marching” and “Sexy and I Know It”) thrust their fingers in their ears and flowed toward the exit, and Milwaukee hardcore/metal/thrash crossover band Enabler inked themselves onto the top of my favorites list. Not only did they make it possible to quench my thirst, but the band played some of the most creative, pissed off heavy music I’ve ever laid ears on.
It should come as no surprise that Enabler destroys considering the pedigree of Milwaukee by-way-of Greenville, Ohio vocalist/guitarist Jeff Lohrber, who cut his teeth in Eyes Upon Separation, Trap Them, Shai Hulud, Harlots and the like. And his band, consisting of bassist Amanda Daniels, drummer Andy Hurley, and guitarist Greg Thomas are nothing to sniff at either – they’ve done time in Racetraitor, Misery Signals, Killtheslavemaster, Arma Angelus, Fall Out Boy and more. We recently caught up with Lohrber as he and Enabler prepare for a massive Summer tour to discuss his background, the band’s new label (Southern Lord), songwriting, and the band’s forthcoming record, All Hail The Void. Here’s what he had to say…
You Indie: You are originally from Dayton right?
Jeff Lohrber: Actually, I’m from Greenville, Ohio originally. I technically only lived in Dayton with some friends for a few months when I was 17. No one knows where Greenville is though so I tell people I’m from Dayton.
You Indie: What are some of the venues that were your favorite when you were here?
Jeff Lohrber: The Knights of Columbus Hall had so many good hardcore shows. I don’t know how many times I saw Twelve Tribes, Rune, Dead Blue Sky, etc. at that venue when I was a kid. Good times…
You Indie: Did your inspiration from seeing those guys inspire you to begin playing with Harlots?
Jeff Lohrber: Well thanks to my parents taking me to see Def Leppard in 1st grade, I’ve wanted to play in a band since I can remember, so no. Harlots wasn’t actually my first band, either. I played guitar in a band that I’m not sure anyone will remember called Adamah. Adamah was along the lines of bands like Undying, Morning Again, or Day of Suffering. We recorded an EP with Chris Common in 2001 and then broke up. Speaking of which, I’d love to work with Chris Common again. He just continues to get better. He’s done some excellent work in recent years with Pelican, These Arms Are Snakes, Minus the Bear, etc. Maybe for the next Enabler record I can track him down.
Anyways, I decided to start playing drums after Adamah broke up. Within a few months of drumming, I read on the Lambgoat that Eyes Upon Separation was looking for a drummer so I said “fuck it, I’ll show up and try to play their songs.” I was 16 years old. I played one show drumming for Eyes Upon Separation with Twelve Tribes and Blood Has Been Shed at the Dayton K of C Hall and then the band broke up. From there I went on to do short stints with Surcease, Suffocate Faster, Dead to Fall, and Above This Fire. I got tired of jumping around from band to band and I decided that I wanted to start my own band. Harlots was started with Brandon Hawk, Eric Dunn, and Joel Wright in December of 2002. Brandon left after the first year, and Joel left maybe a year later, but Eric and I kept it alive with a number of people until Christian Fillippo joined on vocals and Josh Dillon joined on bass. We did three full length records and two EPs before playing our final show in 2009. I also drummed for a few bands in between…
You Indie: So in 2009 is when you started doing the Enabler stuff and moved back to guitar then?
Jeff Lohrber: Yeah. I’d been working on writing songs for Enabler for a few years, but it wasn’t called Enabler yet and it was just sort of a project of mine, originally called Savior for a Fallen Hero. I was on drums, and I had a full band lineup that ended up falling apart pretty fast. We played a few Enabler songs (“End of the World Party,” “Survival Kits”), and recorded a three-song demo. After things fell apart with SFAFH in early 2009, I thought “I’m writing lyrics and guitar for all of these songs, why the fuck am I drumming in this band?”
But, it all really started when Kevin Schindel (Neon Warship, MOTA, Twelve Tribes) and I wrote and demoed an entire full length for a hardcore band with Shane Shook (Twelve Tribes) on drums and Christian from Harlots on vocals called Kiss the Cobra in 2006/07. We never even got to play a show! I also wrote and recorded demos for an entire Harlots record that never saw the light of day. Kevin really showed me how to demo out songs with drum machine and what not. From there I began writing my own songs. There has been a number of Kiss the Cobra songs that have ended up in Enabler (“Mercenary,” “No Love No Hope No Fear,” “Lost Cause,” “Death Refuge,” etc.)
During that time (2008 – 09) Harlots went on hiatus, and I began taking on drummer for hire gigs, which got really disheartening. I took on hired gigs from Shai Hulud, Dance Club Massacre, and finally Trap Them. A month after I got back from tour with Trap Them, Harlots played our last show and it felt like it was time for me to go back to guitar and focus on these songs that I’d been working on for years. Within a couple months we had our first lineup and I’ve been writing more and more material ever since. There are years of songs to pick from.
You Indie: I read that you wrote like 30 songs for this record and then whittled it down to your favorite 11.
Jeff Lohrber: Yeah, I looked at all my demos and there were 30 songs. It was a lot. I felt like the majority were all really good songs so it was really hard to pick the songs that I felt like should be on the full-length. Even when I picked what I felt were the best 11, we ended up dropping one and adding two more when we were in the studio.
You Indie: Do you think it will take some of the pressure off you as you tour in support of All Hail The Void to know that you have a significant amount of material in the can towards the next full-length?
Jeff Lohrber: It will definitely help. A lot of bands put all their effort into writing that one really good record, the record that will break through for them. Then they tour forever in support of that and when they go to write the follow up record they face the problem that it has been a year or two and they haven’t written a new song. Then they just get thrown into the studio and write the follow up record on the spot. I’m not opposed to writing something or changing something on the spot, but the way I write allows me to lock in on material and make changes to detail to make the song better than what I wrote on the spot. There always seems to be a set of songs that get pushed back because I’ll write something new that I get super stoked on and think is way better than the songs what I had before. Someday there will probably be an Enabler record that is a collection of all the songs that didn’t make the final cut.
You Indie: All Hail The Void was done with Shane Hotchstetler, who you’d worked with before, correct?
Jeff Lohrber: Yes and no. Almost every recording we’ve done, aside from the split with Ambassador Gun was done with Shane at Howl Street Recordings here in Milwaukee. He’s a good friend, got us in when we needed it and is really easy to work with. For this record we recorded the drums with him, but we tracked everything else at FC with our guitarist Greg Thomas, who also took on a production role on the record. Drums were done in 3 days with three takes for every section and every take is different too. So there is one take where it is solid, no drum fills, another with the regular amount of drum fills, and a take where Andy just goes off. Then Greg sorted through all the takes and edited them down to make the best possible drum track.
Greg has been awesome to work with on this record. When you have one person (myself) writing everything, the material can get a little dry. I write all the guitars, drums, bass, and lyrics. There is only so much one person can do. So Greg would approach me and say “hey this part is cool, but maybe you should do this instead.” I felt like I got a lot of good advice in the studio, and I feel like this is a record that is worthy of repeated listens.
You Indie: It is great that you have that kind of working relationship with your new bandmates. Do you think that this will be the Enabler lineup for the forseeable future?
Jeff Lohrber: Yes. Greg, Andy Hurley, and Amanda Daniels have been awesome to work with. They are all very encouraging of my writing and never try to take away from my vision, opposed to some previous members trying to make me into some commanding band leader and throwing songs out because they’re on some sort of ego trip. When you’re in a working relationship with people, the last thing you want to do is step on their toes. Andy is an amazing drummer, definitely a perfect fit for the band, and the last thing I want to do is control what he’s doing. The drum machine is like a coloring book, and I want Andy to fill in the color as best he can. Greg also owns Silver Bullet Studios in Connecticut and plays guitar in Misery Signals, so there may be a point when there are scheduling conflicts, but we’ll work that out when we get there.
You Indie: I actually met Andy in the 90s when my old band played with Race Traitor…
Jeff Lohrber: I loved Racetraitor when I was younger. I used to go see Burn It Down play in Indy all the time, and I remember picking up the Racetraitor / Burn It Down split. I bought it because I loved Burn It Down, but I thought the Racetraitor side kicked the shit out of their side. Another band of Andy’s worth mentioning is Killtheslavemaster with Karl that was in Creation is Crucifixion. That EP kicks ass. It’s funny when you go back and look at 90s hardcore and see where some of those guys went. When Fall Out Boy got big, a lot of people that were into hardcore and metal said, “I can’t believe the guy from Racetraitor is playing in this band.” Now I think a lot of new faces who never knew about Race Traitor and say, “I can’t believe the guy from Fall Out Boy is in Enabler.”
You Indie: Is he enjoying getting back to his roots?
Jeff Lohrber: Absolutely. Andy is an awesome dude and has always really loved this style of music. I think a lot of people in our circles who listen to music can be pretty judgmental. They act like you’re only allowed to like one kind of music, or they are just jealous of someone else’s success. Both hardcore and pop rock have different things to offer the listener. Both can be great but can also be terrible. If people in hardcore bands only listened to other hardcore bands, then the genre would become dull and regurgitated (which in some circles, it totally is). I’m sure there are people who are probably writing us off because Andy is in Fall Out Boy, but those same people will come see us play out of curiosity and be like, “Oh shit, that band was fucking awesome.” I hope that people realize that they’re wrong when making assumptions about music that way.
Andy being in Fall Out Boy has never seemed weird to me because of my past with Eyes Upon Separation and the fact that JT went on to do Hawthorne Heights. Not very many people want to play metal or hardcore forever and it is fully acceptable to go play other styles of music. I could probably play drums in a rock band of that nature if the opportunity came up, but I don’t think I could write anything that wasn’t obnoxiously heavy and fast and pissed. What it all boils down to is playing in a band with your friends is one of the best things you can do with your time, and no one has the right to take that away from you no matter what style of music it may be.
You Indie: It seems like there is a growing audience for metal that we haven’t seen in the past. For a long time metal was sort of the bastard stepchild of music, but now it seems way more widely accepted as a legitimate output. Southern Lord is leading the charge there. How pumped are you to be working with them?
Jeff Lohrber: I got the e-mail from them the day before Christmas. What better Christmas present could I have asked for? I was stoked that Southern Lord was going to have a hand in our next record. I think that when you are a band who is looking for a record label, one of the most important things is signing to a label run by people who play in bands. They are able to understand what it really means to be in a band. A lot of bigger labels just have so many bands they can’t even keep track of them and they have a staff that only work with certain bands. A lot of those people have never been on tour, they’ve never sat in a van for more than 10 hours at a time with five other dudes, they’ve never played a show to four or five people, etc. When you are on a label that is run by people who get it, who know what this really is when you are trying to get out there, they are going to treat you differently. They aren’t going to have the a and b and c level bands like a lot of other labels do. They just have bands. Some bands do better than others, but they don’t seem to think less of a band because they sell fewer records.
A lot of bigger metal labels will sign 10 bands, put out their records all at once and then hope that one of them really sells and then not give a fuck about the rest. That is where labels like Southern Lord, Deathwish, etc. are different. They see which bands are working and try to make it happen for all the bands who are putting the time in. We could have signed to another label that is run by interns or something and cross our fingers that we sold 10,000 copies of our records just so someone gives a shit about us. I don’t know if that would be realistic for us. We don’t sell that many records, but I feel like the people that do buy our records are listening to them from front to back and really like what we’re doing.
There is definitely a rift in the scene right now. There is all the commercial garbage stuff that you see at Hot Topic, a lot of whom got big on Myspace when they were 16, and then there are the bands and record labels who are out there really doing it, who are being themselves and not giving into trends to make a quick buck.
You Indie: How many dates are you doing on your tour with Neon Warship?
Jeff Lohrber: We’re doing four dates with them.
You Indie: And those guys are your tight bros?
Jeff Lohrber: Yeah, I’ve known Kevin, Matt, and J Bird for years. Like I said earlier, Kevin basically taught me how to write music the way that I write music. I remember him showing me the Twelve Tribes Midwest Pandemic demos and they were almost the exact same thing as the finished record was. It totally blew my mind and made me realize that I could do that too. He is a favorite songwriter of mine and has definitely been a huge influence over the past however many years. J Bird is great drummer as well. He played in a really awesome metal band years ago called Etherea and I don’t think he has gotten the credit he deserves. I still have both Etherea demos. I’m very stoked on Neon Warship, they are a great band.
You Indie: After you do these dates you head out on the Southern Lord tour?
Jeff Lohrber: No, it’s part of a separate tour. The dates with Neon Warship are just a small part of an entire west coast tour we’re doing by ourselves with regional bands (At Our Heels, Northless) on the weekend shows. We haven’t actually done a west coast tour with Enabler yet so we wanted to get out there prior to the new record coming out. This is the 8th tour I’ve booked for the band, and I think it may be the last since we just started working with Ryan at Think Fast Booking. We got offered the Southern Lord tour at the last minute, which is June 19-July 14 with Black Breath, Martyrdod, Burning Love, and others on select dates. Altogether, we currently have about 50 shows in the next 4 months in 24 states and 1 province.
You Indie: When is the record coming out then?
Jeff Lohrber: The record will be out in time for the Southern Lord tour, with Southern Lord handling CD and digital, and Halo of Flies / Creator Destructor handling the vinyl. The official release of the CD and digital won’t be until August, but the pressing got pushed up in order to have them for this tour. The record is almost finished! Greg has been putting a lot of extra hours into mixing and editing this thing to attempt to have a near perfect recording. The first batch of rough mixes I got back sounded like an overblown version of …And Justice for All, which was when everything was still all in digital. Recently, Greg has dumped the entire recording onto 2” tape, where the guitars will be re-amped onto through a collection of amplifiers. I absolutely cannot wait to hear this thing….