CARMINE SCARINGI (EX-SNAKESKYN WHISKEY) INTERVIEW – PART 1:
June 1, 2015
“What happened to your band Snakeskyn Whiskey?” Within twelve hours of that initial late night message to Snakeskyn Whiskey’s talented guitarist Carmine Scaringi, the following candid and in-depth interview took place. Back in October 2014 I reviewed the Montreal based band’s ‘Against The World’ CD, which had been released in February of that year, and their song “Outta My Way” ranks as one of my favorite tracks from 2014. Given that I was going to be in Montreal in the next few months, I checked to see if Snakeskyn Whiskey had any upcoming gigs, only to find their Facebook page gone and their website no longer available. I tried to track down the Dibi brothers, to no avail, before I finally came across Scaringi to discuss what happened with Snakeskyn Whiskey.
Sleaze Roxx: What happened to your band Snakeskyn Whiskey?
Carmine Scaringi: Let’s just say, if you know of any serious bands that need a kick ass guitarist, I’m available.
Sleaze Roxx: That’s too bad, I really liked your CD.
Carmine Scaringi: As did I. Out of all the reviews the band had received, yours was the one I liked the most because it was real and honest (click here to read the review).
Sleaze Roxx: Thank you, I appreciate it!
Carmine Scaringi: Your review of the album pretty much says it exactly the way it is. Yours was my favorite because you’re not a personal friend of anybody in the band. Some of the other guys that have done reviews for us — those guys are known for being friends with all the guys and they always have something nice to say. They’re always a little bit overboard, but yours was honest. And the songs that you didn’t like, those are the songs that nobody else liked either.
Sleaze Roxx: (Laughs)
Carmine Scaringi: It’s true, you know? It is true. However, I was surprised that your favorite track was “Outta My Way”. I could see why when you had to make the decision that that was the best song because it was the song that had the most work put into it.
Sleaze Roxx: So… what happened to Snakeskyn Whiskey?
Carmine Scaringi: I can’t go into huge detail about the Snakeskyn break-up because I don’t even fully understand myself — and it is not my place or band to say. It’s not my place to talk. However, I was 25% of the band and you are the 200th person to ask me what happened!
Sleaze Roxx: It would be just your point of view and you can always preface everything with what you just said.
Carmine Scaringi: You see — one thing that I want you to understand is that I joined Snakeskyn Whiskey under false pretences. I thought that they were bigger, that we would tour and that my talents would be used and needed. That was not the case. We spent a lot of money — like $100,000 in the last year, year and a half. We were in the process of making new material. Our next album would have been so much better and our singer [Matt Dibi] was going to drop his guitar, focus on singing, and let me handle the guitar. It got very expensive. I got tired of spending with no return. I take it very seriously and to a certain point, we all did.
Sleaze Roxx: Why don’t you take me to the beginning when you joined the band?
Carmine Scaringi: Before I joined the band, I did some research first to inquire which bands in Montreal were rock ‘n’ roll and on fire. There are a lot of metal bands in Montreal but they are hardcore metal. I was looking for a rock band and in Montreal, it’s hard — it’s not like Toronto. What I found out was that Snakeskyn Whiskey was the band that had the most success in the local Montreal area. Now, when I first did a lot of research on Snakeskyn, I checked a lot of their videos and one of the main things that I noticed in the comments was that it lacked in guitar work, it lacked in vocal work and it lacked in overall musicianship. In other words, they had songs that were not quite ready. Actually, it’s hard to explain. If you’ve ever heard any of their earlier songs — like have you ever heard “In The Night” or any of the songs that had the previous guitar player on them?
Sleaze Roxx: I think I have but I can’t remember them to be honest.
Carmine Scaringi: Yeah, well, nobody can to be honest! Those songs when I joined the band, they made the mistake of rearranging them. If you heard that music — it was lacking. Snakeskyn was a band that had a lot of fans and was pretty well known, however it never had a lot of respect from the other bands in the scene. They weren’t respected much by other musicians. As a matter of fact, before I joined I had asked some people, “Hey, what do you think of that band Snakeskyn Whiskey?” because I wanted to hear responses and a lot of people responded negatively. I never told anybody that I was joining the band, I just wanted to hear responses. Despite the responses I heard, I knew that the problems that the band may or may not have according to other people’s opinions… I could have solved some of those problems. I could have come in and off the bat added a monstrous guitar tone, which I think the band really needed. I had the idea of trying to convince the singer to get off of being a rhythm guitar player and focus on being a frontman. I had the intentions of getting them to change their guitar from where it was a half step to a full step down. The main reason why I wanted to do that maneuver is because the singer Matt Dibi — anybody who listens to him sing or that knows music very well can tell that there’s a lot of strain in his voice and that he’s constantly working hard to hit the high notes all the time. A lot of people had made comments that he’s only speaking, so there’s never any flow. The reason for that is because the tuning that we were playing in was not the correct tuning for his voice and we would tune down to B standard and thicken the sound a bit. It is kind of like the way Vince Neil is a high-pitched vocalist — he wouldn’t have to scream so hard to reach certain notes and he could diversify the way he sings and this creates an opportunity to express himself better musically. These were ideas I was convinced I could implement when I was going to join the band.
Sleaze Roxx: How did you end up joining the band?
Carmine Scaringi: Two years ago, I was in need of a band that kicked serious ass and was on my level of seriousness. At the time, Snakeskyn Whiskey was pegged as the biggest local Montreal rock act. So I sent singer Matt Dibi a straight up email telling him that I thought the band was very good and that they had some weaknesses and that I could be a very valuable asset. That’s why I was a musician and a teammate. I told him that he should fire his guitar player [Justyn Vynn] and hire me. He never answered but I saw that he had read it and it stayed at that — and then a year after, Matt contacted me letting me know that the band was making some changes, that they fired their guitar player and that they wanted me to do an audition. I got the gig within the first five minutes!
Sleaze Roxx: How did it go once you joined the band?
Carmine Scaringi: I was under the impression that I joined a pretty large band and that with my help, the band could move along. When I joined Snakeskyn Whiskey, they needed to tell the world they were still on the map and that the break-up with their previous guitarist was not going to affect them. It was basically, ‘OK, Carmine joined the band. We have a new guitar player and we just got off tour. We are definitely not going to show the world that things are turning sour for us. We got to hit the studio immediately to make an album and show the people that we’re here, that we have a stronger guitar player and that we’re going to kick ass.’ So we hit the studio almost right after I joined. When we made that album they had a bunch of songs from a prior album — they had an album called ‘Vicious’ and an album before that called ‘Payments Made In Madness’. ‘Payments Made In Madness” was like a demo while ‘Vicious’ was the material that they used to take on tour with Crashdiet. “Endless Pursuit”, “Psycho-Maniac” and “Before I Follow” already existed on ‘Vicious’, and “Crazy Girl” is from ‘Payments Made In Madness’ — you understanding?
Now what happened is they basically taught me all those songs. So I learned them all consecutively and rather than trying to learn all the [former guitarist] Justyn Vynn solos, which I thought to a certain extent were weak, I just recreated all of my own solos. With my guitar tone, it really changed the way the songs sounded — it made a big difference. We released old songs that we revamped as new songs and discarded the previous band’s history as far as people know. Some of the local Montreal people that are familiar with the band’s history from the beginning knew that Justyn Vynn was in the band first and they were aware of the ‘Payments Made In Madness’ and ‘Vicious’ stuff. The band really went all out when I joined. They decided, “We got a new guy. He wants to tackle stuff so we’re going to go hard.” So we went hard and when we did the ‘Against The World’ album it did pretty well. We transformed “Endless Pursuit”, which I thought we shouldn’t have done, and they wrote the songs ‘History’ (which I thought was a pretty good song) and “Toxic Paradise”. I wrote the introduction riff to that which I’m not proud of because it’s an easy riff to write — it’s just a couple of notes, but when we were in the rehearsal they were like, “OK, hold on to that riff. We are going to elaborate on it to build it as a song.” When they took it home, finished it and brought it back, I was not satisfied with the finished product with what they did to everything after that intro part — and neither was the producer who recorded it. So that upset me a little bit and then the song that they focused all their energy on was “Outta My Way”.
Because of the fact “Outta My Way” was the song they worked a lot on, and because it was the one they wanted for the music video, it was the song that they were going to push. It was the one that was going to be the single off the album. There was a little bit more work put into it — not in the writing process, but in the studio. When you hear that song, it resonates when you listen to it — so you can appreciate that song a little bit more. At first, I really struggled to come up with a guitar solo for that piece. The other ones I just ripped through, but being used to writing my own material when they gave me that track I was like, “What can I possibly do in this piece that’s going to have a bit of impact?” And then what happened is I was playing one day and I was alone. I decided to just get weird, and when I got weird I discovered the first part of that solo — the first section. Then once I was into that, it was very easy for me through the rest of it and that happened. But to sum it up, we recorded that album very quickly. We did it in a couple of weeks and we only did it to say, “Hey! Well, we’re still around!”
Sleaze Roxx: Were you happy with how ‘Against The World’ turned out?
Carmine Scaringi: Unfortunately, we didn’t put the work we should have and I know that even the other guys in the band are aware of that — like Tommy [Tarantilis] our drummer, he wishes he had more time to elaborate on those pieces. And Matt Dibi wishes he had more time to make some better vocals and layer better. We’re all on the same page for that. Anyone of the boys in the band will tell you that it was a rushed album. We had plans for a new one this year — a good one, a really good one… too good (laughs). However, because of the fact that the band had played into some band’s hands in the past, they wanted to make sure we played out the next album and the attack strategy was different. My ideas were different than theirs, and that is truly when I believe the problems started. Who’s to say that my ideas are better than theirs or vice-versa? No one.
Sleaze Roxx: So what kind of problems did you encounter?
Carmine Scaringi: When we recorded ‘Against The World’ the producer told me that the band was not ready to be taken seriously, that I should give it one year and then make arrangements to find a different band. I knew that we were not ready for that album when we were recording it but knew what we were capable of. I disregarded his comment, however about a year later his advice started to kick in.
Another issue is that always being a bandleader — when I joined Snakeskyn Whiskey I had to swallow a bit of pride because I realized quickly that I was in their band. It was Matt Dibi’s band and he was the leader of his project. I said to myself, “You know what? I’m going to swallow my pride because Snakeskyn Whiskey has x amount accomplished and they got there by doing whatever formula they had so I’m not going to complain because whatever they are doing seems to be working.” So, for the first year, it was fine but I always wondered ‘when are we going on tour? When are we doing this? How come this is that?’ I started to have a realization that Snakeskyn Whiskey wasn’t as big as I thought they were but they were a band that had a lot of credibility. They were still bigger than all the other local bands, and still are technically, but there was a lot of work that they did themselves to bring it there — work that was done without industry support, without managers, without lawyers, without a team, without real support and without doing it correctly. They did it their way and they did it with a lot of hard work. It worked for awhile but you get to a certain point where everything you’ve got is not enough. You need to build a team around you to get stuff done and when you’re trying to be a singer and the accountant and the manager and the promoter all at once, you can’t ever do one job completely perfect. As for me, I put all my energy into being a guitar player and it shows — it really does!
Sleaze Roxx: I agree. I took another look at the review I did of Snakeskyn Whiskey’s ‘Against The World’ and I really liked the guitar work on it.
Carmine Scaringi: And that’s what they needed to be doing. Snakeskyn Whiskey was at the point where they needed serious help from the industry and from guys with experience — slightly before they did the Crashdiet North American tour. The fact that they didn’t get that part done, that they didn’t tackle that was a big deal. Then I was in the band for a year and they didn’t tackle it. Then during the second year, we didn’t tackle that. Two years of literally remaining at the exact same spot — which wasn’t a small spot, but it was not advancing and it costs a lot of money to do this the way we did it. When you’re at Snakefest, it was us that had to go and rent Club Soda for x amount of thousands of dollars. It was us that were responsible for bringing in sponsors at x dollars to cover costs because we did the show free of charge because we wanted bodies. We planned it one week after Heavy MTL so that we could give out tickets to people when they were leaving Heavy MTL. We gave out 3,000 tickets!
We really went all out, and the reason why we went all out is because we were supposed to do a kick ass album and get people ready for it. We did a major stage upgrade, had pyrotechnics and really amped up the theatrical aspect of the band. I challenge you to find another band that has no support other than themselves doing that stuff. It’s impossible, and then it gets expensive so I’m like, “Guys, what are we going to do here? Are we going to stop spending money on all this show stuff and spend money on people that are going to bring us to a higher level?” It was time to stop comparing ourselves with other bands in the same scene and it was time to start comparing ourselves to bands on a larger scale with real big bands — bands that had impact, you know?
Sleaze Roxx: Speaking of Snakefest, how did that idea come about and how did those go?
Carmine Scaringi: I kept hounding them. I kept saying, “Guys, we got to do a Snakefest. We got to get a bunch of bands together to pull in an audience and we’ll just headline the thing and rip some music. We got to get this done. I’m telling you! There is no alternative!” Let’s face facts, if you go on tour you know the reality — it’s all on a miniscule scale. You get these four to eight date band tours and you’re playing bars and little pubs and clubs and it’s always an attendance of 30 to 100 people. I’m not putting down the people that do that… I am not, because good for them. However I don’t know how many years we have been doing it — I was doing this forever and the guys in the band were doing it way before I even joined them. When you don’t see progress you start to get frustrated. You have to understand that that doesn’t pay — it doesn’t pay the bills. I’m not into the money, but you got to survive. Find me one musician that tells you he makes $500 a week and that’s his job — he just plays in the band. You are not going to get many, but that’s the reality and whatever money they make gets pumped right back into the band. You know, posting pictures of your trucks broken down on the highway in the winter has become popular — you know what I’m saying?
Sleaze Roxx: (Laughs) Yeah.
Carmine Scaringi: Now it’s like bands have grasped onto the fact that there is not much rope and they’re making fun of it themselves — you know what I’m saying? I’ll give you an example, I find cities are sharing audiences. There are so many bands it doesn’t make any sense. Every time I go to a concert I’ll recognize the same 20 or 30 faces at any show I go to. These are just local band supporters that are going to show up at anything — you get what I’m saying? They don’t have a real die-hard fan — you catch my drift?
When we did the first Snakefest, it didn’t do what we thought because we pulled together three or four bands that only pulled in 20 or 30 people apiece. Snakeskyn brings in on average a couple of hundred — 150 to 200 people. We even got the Club Soda, however we brought in so much money from sponsors and stuff like that that we didn’t lose and we were able to afford a second day, which was what was really important for Snakefest II. We thought that we wanted to cover the costs for both nights because the second night we wanted to do it for free. One expense that we had was we hired Goddamn Electric, which is a Pantera tribute band, to headline our gig. We knew that Pantera is heavy music and I knew that anybody that shows up for a Pantera concert is there because they like crazy assed loud aggressive music. There’s no way Pantera fans are not going to dig it to some extent, especially if I push it. We added some new songs that we were testing out which were heavier and we were finally starting to take the path that I hoped they would have when I first joined the band. The second Snakefest was a good gig! It was a good gig… I mean we kicked some ass. If you go on YouTube and you do your research, you’ll see we kicked some ass. There are a couple of videos out there (for example, www.youtube.com/watch?v=v2KvpiE7iN8) that are like one and a half minute videos that are just expressive of what we are. If you watch those, the first thing you tell yourself is, “Ah, you must be dealing with a band that is on a much higher scale” — and you must think these guys are rock stars.
Sleaze Roxx: I think that is the impression I got when I saw that you guys were organizing your own Snakefest. It’s like “holy shit”.
Carmine Scaringi: That’s the impression that everybody got exactly — “holy shit!” And that’s what I was trying to tell them. If we’re going to do a Snakefest and important people are going to say “holy shit”, and they did, then shit got serious. We got a guy that was a professional musician, like a genius that has his PhD in music and all that stuff and was affiliated with all the major schools. He came to a couple of practices to do an analysis of the band and he shot us straight and he goes, “OK. You, your drumming… this needs to be done. You, your singing… this needs to be done. You, at the bass… you need to go back to the bass and this needs to be done. This, this, this, this and that.” He even had comments for myself and he told Matt, “listen, I noticed that when you sing you’re singing and you’re playing guitar and you’re not giving either 100%.” And he goes, “Carmine is a strong enough guitar player that doesn’t quite need you to back him and that it’s actually causing more of a mess than anything.” And then the guitar was removed and then he tells him, “listen, you know I noticed from the way you sing that if you change the tuning, you might fit into it a little bit more.” And the next thing you know, we’re playing D standard all the way through and the band is sounding so revamped that I know we should have a lot more to offer. But in the pit of my gut I’m telling myself, ‘I don’t understand. A year ago when I made these fucking suggestions my word wasn’t good enough for them to be carried out but weight was given for some McGill [University] professor. I don’t get it. Didn’t I tell you when I joined the band that I came in to add some fucking value. I don’t understand.’ Anyway, I told you I swallowed my pride and I forgot after two years that I swallowed it. My pride came back when I was in that room and I said, “Fuck! I knew it!” And I’ve been telling my drummer for the longest time that certain things had to be done. We then had a discussion and to sum it up, because of the fact that they are brothers (like Alex and Eddie Van Halen) and me and the drummer are like David Lee Roth and Michael Anthony…
Sleaze Roxx: That’s exactly what I was going to ask you.
Carmine Scaringi: And to put it even in bigger terms, they are like Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley and Tommy and I are like Peter Criss and Ace Frehley. You can keep them out of the band all you want but if you watch the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremony, they went nuts when Ace and Peter showed up. Things speak for themselves. It is like people that deny that Yngwie Malmsteen is probably one of the greatest guitar players on our planet. Why are you denying that for? You are aware that what he is doing is crazy? It is like you know the people that are against Justin Bieber because of his success — you don’t have any legitimate reasons to be against him, you know?
Stay tuned for part two of Sleaze Roxx’s interview with Carmine Scaringi, which will start with the guitarist answering, “Were there any other problems that you think led to the break-up of the band?”