MÖRDWÖLF – Bringing Gasoline to the Fire
Written by Liam Sweeny on March 15, 2019
I love a sound that just opens the throttle. I want music that makes me want to speed, or at least justify the speeding that I may do unawares. Good, strong rhythm, melodies that can nudge a Ouija board, that kind of thing.
MÖRDWÖLF is like that. Don’t let the umlauts (the two dots) fool you. They’re American, they’re local, and they dot their vowels because it’s a free country, and why the hell not? Guitarist and vocalist Karl Von Heilman III, bassist Vinny Padula, and drummer Rocky Semeraro bring the shit in a ten-pound bag.
I sit with Karl Von Heilman as we unpack that bag.
RRX: You guys have had a long musical history and have bled for the 518 quite a bit in that time. Were you running in the same circles when you found each other, or was there random chance at play?
Karl: Well it’s kind of a funny story, and it really goes to show you just how small of a world it is… Quite a few years ago now, one of the bands I used to play in, either The Erotics or Blase Debris, had a show with The Clay People and Bishop. That’s the first time I ever saw Rocky and Vinny play. Bishop was the band they had with their other brother Tommy. They had this super full sound as just a three piece and made quite an impression! Very groovy… and these huge guitar riffs. Good stuff!
It’s kinda funny about that night, because I also ended joining up with The Clay People a couple of years ago and recording on their latest album “Demon Hero” as well. Albany is definitely a cool scene where you run in the same circles with bands and musicians. But check this out… It gets even crazier how small of a world it is!
So this guy John Delehanty who had recorded The Erotics, as well as my other band Blase Debris (who also had members from The Erotics, Trauma School Dropouts) was playing in The Clay People at the time when I did that show with Bishop. A few years later, I ended up joining a band with Vegas (who is also now in The Clay People) called Selfish Needy Creatures, and both John and Rocky were playing in the band. So that was the first time that I actually got to jam with Rocky… Hell of a drummer!
After I left most of the bands I was in, I went through about a year of recording demos and songwriting, and the stuff was coming out good enough that I decided I needed to form a band. Rocky and Vinny were at the top of the list of musicians to ask. I’m just happy they wanted to jam!
Rocky: All bands in 518 know each other in some way or another….I knew of Karl before jamming with him in Selfish Needy Creatures (SNC). After my short stint as the drummer for SNC, I mentioned to my brother Vinny that I really enjoyed jamming with Karl and just sort of ‘knew’ we’d meet up in some way to play music.
Vinny: I actually first briefly met Karl (then Rachel Toxic) over 10 years ago while working as a photo assistant during a shoot while he was in The Erotics at a local club, not knowing we would connect a few years later and form a band together.
RRX: You’ve got a hard-driven sound, a very direct sound. Definitely worth cranking in the car on a drive where fifty-five’s just a suggestion. How do you keep that direct sound and still explore musically?
Karl: Haha! I have had a few people tell me that they drive faster listening to MÖRDWÖLF! You can thank the drums for that. The riffs are the catalyst, but the drums drive everything! As far as exploring musically… We’re certainly not reinventing the wheel when it comes to hard or fast music, we’re just adding our own twist and keeping it fun! We haven’t really explored too many genres either… We sorta do what we do and that’s that. Whenever I’m asked to describe our sound, I’ve always said that we’re “Too Punk to be Metal, and too Rock to be Punk”. Take what you want from that.
Rocky: All the years of playing music, my ears and heart gravitate back to music/bands that have the hard driving sound MÖRDWÖLF puts out. …you could say it’s my ‘happy place’. And my motto is that I need to play music that makes ME happy first..otherwise don’t even bother.
Vinny: Well said Rocco. We were drawn to Karl’s riffs and songwriting because a lot of it is on the same wavelength of what we grew up on. Rocky and I cut our teeth on Helmet, Quicksand, Biohazard type stuff. And then there was the speed metal of Anthrax, and the almighty Pantera. Motorhead, of course. I think the thing that really brings the sound together is what I call our “classic rock background.” Rocky and I spent quite a few years doing classic rock cover band stuff with (Jeff) Mrozek, (the Dirty Girls.) Karl of course does the Toys In The Attic thing also. I’m rambling…but you can see how all of this inseminated one another to form a giant wad of pounding sound!
RRX: You guys, at different points and in different times, have toured with some big acts, like Godsmack, Anthrax, Deftones, Disturbed, others. Is the crowd size the only difference than opening for say, a big local “buddy-band?”
Karl: Having played some bigger shows, I can tell you that there are definitely quite a few differences. There’s obviously a lot of pressure when you’re performing in front of thousands of people, but at least for me that all goes away as soon as you start playing. It can get kinda surreal up there, and it’s always over too soon. It’s also a bit harder to connect with the audience when there’s so many people and you’re not right there at eye level with them like in a club, but when you do, and you get that feedback from the audience, it’s amazing!
I remember playing the state fair out in Du Quoin Illinois with this band I was in called The Dogs Divine, and at the end of our set we launched into “Ace of Spades”, and the crowd went wild! I don’t care if it’s your own song or not, the energy you get from having 5000 people singing a chorus with you is pretty damn cool!!! I really do love playing small clubs though, and as long as the stage isn’t like playing in a closet and there’s some room to move around, there’s nothing like being up close and personal with the audience… You’re all in it together and it’s a great feeling. Some of my favorite shows that I’ve ever played took place at downstairs Valentine’s!
Rocky: I agree with Karl…sure when you play in front of a huge audience, you’re getting the opportunity to present what your band has to offer to a lot of sets of eyes at once. BUT, (especially for the drummer)…that entails playing on a way larger stage, and I’m so far away from the audience that it’s difficult to get that face to face read on whether people are digging what you’re doing. The only thing you get is the audience’s applause. Whereas when you’re in a small club, you get immediate feedback …even someone’s sweat in your eye from a raucous slam dance pit!!
Vinny: I don’t care where we play, as long as there are people that are enjoying it and rocking out to that. That is the most important thing for me. I love the energy that people give off when they are truly enjoying what we are doing. That in itself makes it all worth it.
RRX: Now MÖRDWÖLF is a three-piece. But you’d never know it if you just heard the music; a very full sound. Do you think that you have to be tighter with each other as a three-piece to compensate for fewer players?
Karl: Thanks! The full sound really comes from Vinny… He’s a hell of a bass player and has this huge sound that fills up the spaces where you might want a second guitar. Vinny and Rocky have been playing together for over 20 years as a three piece band with Bishop, so they really “lock in” with each other and groove.
Most of the bands that I’ve been in have had two guitars, and I have always enjoyed the ability to be able play off each other, but when it came to forming MÖRDWÖLF, I just wanted to keep it simple. I would consider adding another guitar in the future if we ever felt like we needed it, but it doesn’t seem like we do, and I really enjoy it just being the three of us.
Rocky: Uhmm…as Vinny’s older brother, I should take credit for his sound seeing that I’ve honed his sound after so many years playing with him…LOL!
Vinny: Thanks man! Well I have worshiped at the altars of Peter Steele, Dug Pinnick, and Henry Bogdan since I was 9 years old. My first true inspiration – someone you never heard of, Tom Doyle, the bass player of Dead Bishop, which was Bishop pre – me. Tom was the best – and what inspired me to pick up the bass in the first place. And Rock, I will take credit where my credit is due thank you!!!! But really I’m not that good – just have learned a lot about holding down a groove from playing with my brother for so many years. Its about the drums, the bass, the guitar – everything as a whole. Its a team sport for sure.
RRX: Rocky and Vince, you guys played at the Woodstock Festival, the “infamous” one, so I take it the one in ’99. So, a survivor’s perspective; why did it end up so “infamous,” do you think?
Rocky: It was “infamous” because when you mix hot temperatures with obscenely overpriced water people get nutty (plus, booze, drugs, etc)… Hence you get the whole “screw this crap—burn it down” mob mentality. Little bit of trivia—at the festival, they had a ‘staging’ area for some of the bands in a small bar/ tavern outside the base….the Erotics were there, and I’d like to say that Mike Trash suggested we get a tray full of shots prior to getting driven into the base.
Vinny: I was 14 years old – I got hammered at the bar with Trash and others. I remember the cute bartender – thinking I wish I was older!!! The performance is on tape somewhere. No one believed me at school that I was there.
Karl: I was also there in ’99, what a fun and crazy weekend! Would have been really funny if we’d all have met back then, but I wasn’t living in the Capital area at the time and had no idea who Bishop or The Erotics were. Small world though, LOL! At the end of the whole weekend the Red Hot Chili Peppers took the stage to close it out, and at the end of their show they played the Jimi Hendrix tune “Fire”… I remember people were taking lighters and setting fire to the piles of cardboard that were laying all around on the concert grounds. One pile went up in flames right behind me, and I said “That ain’t good!” My sister and I got the hell out of there as quickly as possible. It was a few hours of a drive to get home, and we had no idea about what happened there afterwards, til we got home and heard the news about the riots and everything… Craziness!!!
RRX: Mördwölf is playing at the Strand Theater in Hudson Falls on April 6th. What can you tell us about it? Do you have any surprises in store for fans? Who else is playing? Have you guys ever played at the Strand before?
Karl: The Strand Theater… Now there’s a place with some history! Opened in 1923. I love that they are using it as a music venue! They are really bringing some great musical acts to the area, and it’s an honor to be a part of this benefit! Any surprises for the show? If I told you, then it wouldn’t be a surprise, would it? Haha! We always try to change up our shows and bring something new. A new original song, a new cover tune, sometimes we’ll bring up an old band-mate as a guest singer… We try to keep every show different and entertaining.
Rocky: Never played there before…I’m definitely looking forward to it!
Vinny: It’s gonna be a blast! Come see us and lets hang after!!
RRX: Here’s where you get to answer the question I didn’t ask. Who would you like to show some love? What projects are simmering on your back burner? What’s the rest of 2019 look like?
Karl: Oh man, so many bands and people I’d love to mention… especially the fans of the local scene who will come out to support bands, even on weeknights! But I definitely want to give a shout-out to Greg Nash. He was the original drummer for my project way before it came to be called MÖRDWÖLF. He’s a great guy, a hell of a drummer, and I have played with him in an Aerosmith tribute band called Toys In The Attic for many years now. He stepped up and filled in for Blase Debris when we did 8 dates for The Warped Tour back in 2008. Check out any band that he’s in, he got quite a few! As far as projects and what 2019 looks like, we will be working on recording a new album which is very exciting! I love the studio atmosphere, being able to create and then share it with people. We’ve got some great tunes that I’m stoked to let you all hear!!!
Rocky: I’d like to show some love to ALL the 518 bands out there…keep on playing out – it can be a bit frustrating at times – but know that you are keeping the scene alive!!
Vinny: Shout out to my dudes in the Bypass – catch them at Swifty’s in Delmar sometime, great classic rock originals and covers – Matt, what’s up!!!