Interview with Punishment (feat. ex-Slik Toxik guitarist Kevin Gale)

INTERVIEW WITH PUNISHMENT
Date: 
June 20, 2017
Interviewer:
Tyson Briden

NOT TOO LONG AGO, I WAS INVITED TO TAKE IN A REHEARSAL WITH TORONTO BAND PUNISHMENT. FOR THOSE WHO DON’T KNOW, THIS GREAT BAND IS MADE UP OF SINGER BRAD SEARL, GUITARIST KEVIN GALE, BASSIST MARK JOHNSTON AND DRUMMER PAT CARRANO. PUNISHMENT HAVE BEEN MAKING QUITE A NAME FOR THEMSELVES ON THE SOUTHERN ONTARIO SCENE AS OF LATE. THEY HAVE OPENED UP FOR SOME GREAT KNOWN ACTS AND THEIR RECENT CD ‘REMNANTS OF THINGS LEFT UNSAID’ HAS BEEN GETTING GREAT REVIEWS.

KEVIN GALE AND I HAD BEEN CONVERSING BACK AND FORTH FOR THE LAST COUPLE MONTHS TRYING TO FIGURE OUT WHEN I COULD MAKE IT WORK AROUND MY SOMEWHAT BUSY SCHEDULE. MY JOURNEY TO MISSISSAUGA TO ATTEND THIS REHEARSAL DIDN’T START OUT AS SMOOTHLY AS I HAD HOPED. ABOUT HALFWAY ON MY DESCENT TO MISSISSAUGA, MY PHONE’S GPS SYSTEM CONKED OUT. I WAS ON THE HWY 401 TOTALLY OBLIVIOUS TO WHERE I WOULD END UP. LUCKILY MY SAVING GRACE WOULD BE A PHONE CALL TO MY WIFE. SHE IMMEDIATELY WENT ON HER IPAD, LOOKED UP THE ADDRESS AND GUIDED ME THROUGH THIS VERY FRUSTRATING JOURNEY. IF THAT’S NOT LOVE, I DON’T KNOW WHAT IS.

WHEN I FINALLY ARRIVED, A HALF HOUR LATE I MAY ADD, I ABRUPTLY WALKED INTO THE REHEARSAL SPACE, ASKED THE FINE GENTLEMAN AT THE DESK WHERE I COULD FIND PUNISHMENT. HE PROCEEDED TO LEAD MY IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION. AS I APPROACHED THE ROOM, I COULD FEEL MY HEART BEATING FAST, THE DOOR THEN QUICKLY FLEW OPEN AND THERE WAS SINGER BRAD SEARL. RIGHT AT THIS TIME, KEVIN GALE LOOKED UP AND PROCLAIMED “TYSON, YOU MADE IT MAN”. SEARL THEN INTRODUCED HIMSELF. “TYSON, WE FINALLY MEET IN PERSON. HOW ARE YOU?” AS I ENTERED THE ROOM, I COULD FEEL MY BODY TREMBLING SLIGHTLY. GALE PUT ME AT EASE THOUGH. HE INTRODUCED ME TO THE OTHER BAND MEMBERS AS WELL AS HIS WIFE, SEARL’S WIFE, A FRIEND OF THE BAND AND ANOTHER GENTLEMEN LIKE MYSELF WHO IS IN MUSIC MEDIA (AT THIS MOMENT HIS NAME ESCAPES ME WHICH I FEEL BAD ABOUT BECAUSE HE WAS A VERY FRIENDLY INDIVIDUAL). SEARL’S WIFE IMMEDIATELY ASKED ME IF I’D LIKE A DRINK. SHE THEN PROCEEDED TO MAKE ME A JACK AND COKE ON THE ROCKS IN A RED SOLO CUP.

AS I CALMED DOWN FROM MY SOMEWHAT STRESSFUL DRIVE, GALE AND I BEGAN CONVERSING ABOUT GUITARS. HE SAID “YOU’RE HERE MAN, JUST RELAX”. IT WAS AT THIS POINT THAT SEARL PROCLAIMED “HEY MAN, CHECK THIS OUT, THERE IS THIS REALLY COOL ROOM OVER HERE. HAREM SCAREM JUST FILMED THEIR LATEST VIDEOS HERE”. IT WAS VERY SURREAL TO BE HONEST. I HAD JUST WATCHED THESE VIDEOS, SO IT WAS FRESH IN MY MIND AND I QUICKLY WANTED TO CHECK IT OUT.

THROUGHOUT THE REHEARSAL, THE BAND WOULD STOP AND WE’D HEAD OUTSIDE FOR A QUICK BREAK. DURING THIS TIME WE WOULD JUST CHILL AND TALK ABOUT VARIOUS THINGS.

FROM MY TIME WITH THE BAND, I WILL SAY THIS ABOUT PUNISHMENT. THIS BAND WORKS VERY HARD, SOUND TIGHT AS HELL AND ARE FANTASTIC PEOPLE THAT MADE A SOMEWHAT NERVOUS GUY FEEL SO WELCOME. I COULD NOT HAVE HAD A BETTER SATURDAY AFTERNOON.

Sleaze Roxx: Kevin, I’m curious to know how you came up with the guitar tuning you use. The E string dropped down to B?

Kevin Gale: It was Zakk Wylde. He had used it on one of his albums. So I starting messing around with it. At first I was using 10 – 46 gauge strings on my guitar. It didn’t really have the right feel and sound. So I spoke with my guitar tech. I asked if maybe I could try a heavier string, what would you suggest? So he said try a 60 gauge.

Sleaze Roxx: So you’re using strictly Gibson Guitars?

Kevin Gale: Yes, this Gibson gold top is actually a studio. I am a Gibson guy. I have tried other guitars and they just don’t feel right.

Sleaze Roxx: And those are PAF pick-ups?

Kevin Gale: Actually there 490’s.

Sleaze Roxx: I noticed there are no covers on the pick-ups on the Gold Top? Did it come stocked like that?

Kevin Gale: Yeah, everything is stock. I haven’t touched a thing. The Black Les Paul Studio I am using has the same pick-ups just with the covers still on.

Sleaze Roxx: Your Mesa Boogie head just sounds amazing. Sitting beside it, I just crunches.

Kevin Gale: It’s me playing it. If you plugged in it probably wouldn’t sound the same.

Sleaze Roxx: Like when Ted Nugent plugged into Eddie Van Halen’s gear.

Kevin Gale: Yeah, it didn’t sound like Eddie Van Halen. It sounded like Ted Nugent plugged into Eddie Van Halen’s gear [laughs].

Sleaze Roxx: Do you make any modifications to your amp heads?

Kevin Gale: I really don’t see the point. When you go into to store, the reason you buy it is because you like how it sounds. A buddy of mine and I went to see Iron Maiden, I asked Dave Murray’s tech if Murray made any modifications to his heads? His tech said, they take them out of the box, put them on top of the cabinet and plug into them.

Sleaze Roxx: Brad, let’s talk about how Punishment got back together.

Brad Searl: As you mentioned in your review, the EP came out in 2009. We went on hiatus I guess you’d call it. Kevin and Mark were playing in another band in London. I was in a band with Gene Scarpelli. Kevin and I decided that we really had great chemistry together. We decided to get back together. I was still playing with Scarpelli. I was going to do both, but Punishment was busy, so Scarpelli found another singer.

Sleaze Roxx: The album cover for ‘Remnants Of Things Left Unsaid’ is very cool. Is there a story behind it?

Brad Searl: Actually, I met this guy from Peterborough named Brad Rose. I found out he was doing album covers. We started talking, but we weren’t sure what direction we were going to go in. Do you remember the ice storm last year? A friend of mine had taken a photo from that ice storm. It looked very cool. The ice hanging off the trees. It was funny because in the photo, there was actually one of those hydro boxes in it. So I sent it to Brad, he worked with it and that became the cover.

Sleaze Roxx: And the title for the album?

Brad Searl: I had initially came up with ‘Revenants Of Things Left Unsaid.’ But a friend of mine said ‘Revenants’ was too close to a movie that was out at the time. So then it just came to me one morning — ‘Remnants of Things Left Unsaid.’ There is a meaning behind it. A few of the songs were actually written back in 2010 before we went on hiatus. So those are ‘The Things Left Unsaid.’

Sleaze Roxx: What’s the basis of the lead off track “Once Were Gods”? Can you give me an idea of what your thinking was?

Brad Searl: It describes the fall of rock stars. Comparing them to Greek Gods who once resided on Mount Olympus. Hence, they once were high.

Sleaze Roxx: So you have country roots as well as rock? Do you try and incorporate that into your sound?

Brad Searl: Yeah man. I incorporate all influences — country, rock, blues, folk etc.

Sleaze Roxx: A question for Mark, who influenced you to start playing bass? And how do you incorporate that into Punishment’s music?

Mark Johnston: Geezer Butler was my biggest influence. That guy to me is larger than life! I don’t know if I really incorporate his influence into my playing, but I would have to say, it’s all in the fingers [laughs]! Playing with fingers against a pick. Most of your tone is in your fingers.

Sleaze Roxx: So growing up besides Sabbath what else were you listening. Are you more of a ’70s or ’80s guy?

Mark Johnston: Eighties — I listened to everything from punk to hardcore when I was younger but I was definitely a fan of the hair metal scene. Even the Sabbath stuff. I’m a Ronnie James Dio fan over Ozzy. Dio’s voice really pulls the Black Sabbath sound together.

Sleaze Roxx: The ’80s genre is so wide. Were you into the early stuff Crüe, Maiden or the later ’80s stuff.

Mark Johnston: Wasn’t a fan of any of the Maiden until Bruce Dickinson came along. My first brush with Mötley Crūe was I believe early ’83 when a friend from the States sent me their original Leathur Records release of ‘Too Fast For Love.’ Hooked instantly. Prior to enjoying the punk and metal, I was listening to stuff like Jan and Dean, Beach Boys, etc. Then came across one of my uncle’s albums — Alice Cooper. That started the change. The first friend I made in London, Ontario actually turned me on to Sabbath’s ‘The Mob Rules.’ That song still gets the blood flowing.

Sleaze Roxx: That’s funny because I was the same. Crüe’s ‘Too Fast For Love’ on Leathur. I got the tape for Christmas.

Mark Johnston: My Dad hated that tape. I think he purposely left it on the dash of the car to warp it. I just pulled out the guts and put it into a George Thorogood housing [laughs].

Sleaze Roxx: In terms of gear, what is your set up?

Mark Johnston: Very basic really. No frills. I use an Ampeg SVT7Pro and an 8×10 classic cab, Line6 G50 wireless and Dingwall NG2 basses.

Sleaze Roxx: The NG2 basses are five string?

Mark Johnston: Yes, my NG2 is 5 string.

Sleaze Roxx: Great, do you think the five string works better for what you’re doing in Punishment? Good bottom end or is this something you’ve always played.

Mark Johnston: I’ve been on to five strings for 15 years. I like the added depth it allows for. Kevin also has a very deep tone and together it adds more of a sonic depth and dynamic to the songs.

Sleaze Roxx: You guys play so well together. Very tight. How did the whole thing come together with Punishment?

Mark Johnston: Punishment started long before I was involved so I can’t really say much about the earlier days. As for my joining, Kevin and I had played in another project together that just wasn’t working for me. I ended up leaving. A short time later, Kevin and I were talking. He had mentioned about wanting to start writing with Brad again. What they do together works. Kev and I also work very well together. Almost like you know where the other person is going before they get there. I mentioned I would be interested and it happened. Pat has been a good friend of both Brad and Kevin for many years and when it came time that we needed to fill that position, he was their first pick. And dammit, it works [laughs]!

Sleaze Roxx: So when you guys are writing the music, how do you work in relation to Kevin’s B tuning. Does he have a riff, then you just play along? Does he just say it’s in this key, etc.?

Mark Johnston: Kevin’s tuning isn’t an issue. I’m tuned BEADG. He has one guitar in B and one in D. More of a hassle for him than me. Kevin is usually the one who comes up with the initial idea and we work together from there to build the song. The odd occasion, one of the rest of us has an idea we will work with. One thing I’ve found with this band as opposed to others I’ve played in, is that during the writing process, nobody questions what the other is putting towards the song. We all trust in the vision that each of us has for a song and we run with it. I have huge respect for the guys I play with in Punishment. Each person owns their talent and are very humble about it.

Sleaze Roxx: Pat, how did you meet up with the guys in Punishment? My understanding is that you are not the original drummer.

Pat Carrano: I met Kevin I’d say about 25 years ago. The band I was in had a rehearsal space in Toronto. Slik Toxik rehearsed across the hall from us. We kind of lost track of each other for a while — for a few years actually after Slik had split up. Then it was actually Brad who I actually met about 25 years ago in Barrie. He called me up out of the blue three years ago and asked if I could play in his band for a show opening for the Tea Party and Rival Sons.

Sleaze Roxx: What influenced you to start playing. Drummers. Favourite bands?

Pat Carrano: My earliest influences were hearing the Rolling Stones’ “Get Off Of My Cloud” on the radio at the age of four or five. The drum intro to that song still gets me. The Beatles too had made a huge impact on me. Deep Purple’s Ian Paice had the chops and groove I loved. As well as Mr. John Bonham of Led Zeppelin. Both heavily influenced me. Neil Peart of Rush and the Police’s Stewart Copeland too. I loved KISS’ ‘Alive!’ with Peter Criss’ solo on “10,000 Years.” Those are the early influences. Later on and up to now would be the teachers I’ve had the privilege of studying with.

Sleaze Roxx: Kevin, getting back to the album a bit. How did you guys write the album? Did you record parts, give them to Brad or did you write together?

Kevin Gale: The majority of songs are written on the fly at rehearsal. Myself or Mark will come up with a riff. We work on it arranging, etc, then Brad takes that and writes melodies and lyrics. That simple. The songs are a band effort.

Sleaze Roxx: As I was watching the rehearsal, I actually dug your use of the wah pedal. You made it throaty. Sounded cool. I guess Michael Schenker made a living playing all his solos with the wah all the way down. Were you a Schenker fan?

Kevin Gale: That took a ton of practice. Schenker is one of my heroes.

Sleaze Roxx: So who else were you listening too when you were younger?

Kevin Gale: Scorps, Priest, Maiden, Sabbath w/Dio, Ozzy, Queensryche, Rush.

Punishment teaser video:

Punishment teaser

A teaser for the release of Toronto’s own, PUNISHMENT for the release of “Remnants of things left unsaid” due out summer of 2016.