All In - Balancing Values, Success and Fun in the Extreme Metal Business

By Emily Lynn

  Walking Corpse Syndrome  from left - Leif Winterrowd, Nocktis, Tana Starkey, Matthew Bile, Mr. Grimm

Walking Corpse Syndrome from left - Leif Winterrowd, Nocktis, Tana Starkey, Matthew Bile, Mr. Grimm

“Alright everybody, shut the fuck up!”  Tana called sternly as she pulled the black Excursion and its utility trailer into the dark parking lot.  She turned around from the driver’s seat to face the rest of us.  “Okay, kids, these are the rules.  Matt is going to go check in.  We are going to stay here and be quiet.  When it’s time to go in, we’ll go two at a time, because we aren’t paying for six people to stay in the room.  So stay put, be quiet, and we’ll have a place to sleep.”  There was obedient silence as Matt jumped out of the passenger seat of the Skurj, the band's emergency credit card in hand, and disappeared into the hotel lobby.   

Twenty minutes later I found myself crammed into a quaint hotel room in Great Falls, MT, with five members of the band Walking Corpse Syndrome, most of whom were at various stages of intoxication and undress.  Backpacks, sleeping bags and boots littered the floor.  It was 3:30 am, and the drive back home to Missoula was scheduled to begin in a few short hours, just in time to get the band into town to record a radio spot.   

Forest Murphy, the band’s bass player, elbowed me gently as I looked around the room, feeling a little out of place.  He flashed me a cocky grin. 

“You wanted to know about tour life, Emily,” he said, winking at me.  “This is tour life.” 

I smiled back at him.  Walking Corpse Syndrome, an extreme metal band based out of my hometown of Missoula, MT, had invited me along to document their fall 2017 tour.  I had been following the group’s progress for some time, initially as a diehard fan and now as a slightly overwhelmed journalist.  The band, formed in 2006 with four albums under their belt, had achieved some notable success in 2015 with their album Human Delusion, a feat not easy to come by for a band from the relatively untapped market of metal music in Montana.  The album had been featured in Revolver, and then picked up by MetalSucks, which ultimately translated into the album landing a spot on Emperor Rhombus' national Best Of 2015 list.  The band had been riding that wave of interest for a couple years, touring consistently and prepping music for a new album.  Scheduled for release in 2018, they hope this next creative effort will be their true breakout success.   

I'd been a little nervous when Walking Corpse Syndrome extended the invitation for me to tag along, my history as a music blogger and event photographer preparing me for the job but not the harsh realities of working on the road.  But now that the tour was in full swing, I was having a blast traveling with the band.  They were enthusiastically folding me into their chaotic world, introducing me to the business and the life of touring as an unsigned band, and I was basking in every minute of it.  It apparently doesn't take long for touring to push and shove its way into your heart. 

 From left - Leif Winterrowd, Matthew Bile, Nocktis

From left - Leif Winterrowd, Matthew Bile, Nocktis

“We’re getting up at 7:30. Be in the Skurj and ready to roll by eight, please,” Tana Starkey, one of Walking Corpse Syndrome’s two guitarists, was saying as she unrolled her sleeping bag onto one of the beds.  I'm not sure anyone heard her as Nocktis Frazer, who makes up half of the band’s heavy-duty percussion section, was loudly sharing his own announcement.   

“If anyone needs to use that bathroom, do it now,” Nocktis said, pointing across the room. “Because I’m taking a goddamn shower.”  

Matthew Bile, Walking Corpse Syndrome’s manager and second guitar player, grinned deviously as he dropped his backpack and bolted for the bathroom in his underwear, leaping over one of the queen-sized beds on the way.  We heard the shower turn on, and Nocktis sighed.  

I claimed a spot in the room for myself and my gear and tried to settle in, but sleep was looking elusive.  The show that night had gone late, and it had gone well.  It was the second night of the tour, and the band had spent it headlining one of Montana’s biggest annual metal festivals, the Freaker’s Ball.  Despite the long day of travel across the state and the late hour, it seemed like the whole group was on a pretty solid post-show high, and I was feeling wired myself.   

Forest was now wandering the room in a pair of women’s panties he had bought earlier in the evening from a merch table at the show, still apologizing to no one in particular for the crash pad he thought he had secured for the night falling through.  Matt finished his shower and Leif Winterrowd, Walking Corpse Syndrome's vocalist, merrily pranced into the bathroom next, his brown and blue dreadlocks bouncing behind him.  Nocktis sighed again, this time in defeat.  He laid down on his cot.   

I laid down too, and watched the night wind down for the band.  Matt and Tana were now making the most of the limited rest time, with earplugs in and eyes closed.  Nocktis lay curled up on his cot, fiddling with his tablet.  Forest was still pacing the room, cracking jokes until Tana reached up and flicked off the lights at around 4am, when he finally laid down in the bed next to her.  Leif emerged from the shower, naked and looking disappointed that no one was still up.  He  threw on some clothes and unceremoniously plopped down into a pile of sleeping bags on the floor.  For awhile, the room was quiet.  I must have been exhausted, because I felt that elusive sleep coming on much quicker than I had anticipated.  

Looking back, I wish I had stayed awake just a little longer.  I had no idea that the next few moments in that hotel room would alter the trajectory of the tour, and the components of the band itself. 


"They fucked up, man.  What the fuck were they thinking, firing the bassist in the middle of a tour?”  Forest slapped his hand on the bar, punctuating his last word.  I shifted on my seat as I took a sip of my beer.  It was nearly a week after the show in Great Falls, during a weeknight break in the tour.  I was perched on a stool at a Missoula dive joint, and next to me was an agitated Forest, who had been abruptly dismissed from Walking Corpse Syndrome a few days earlier. 

He sighed and looked at me wearily.  “You know, whatever.  I don’t even care that they fired me.  It’s being accused…  Being accused is fucking bullshit.” 

Though I had entered into the experience of touring with few to no expectations, I certainly hadn't anticipated being caught in the middle of this complicated situation, simultaneously interviewing and comforting a morose musician who seemed to be looking to me for answers.   

 Forest Murphy

Forest Murphy

I had no answers for him.  I had been as surprised as anyone when I heard that Forest had been let go.  Initially, the band had been uncharacteristically mum about the reason, citing only a personality conflict.  But after they played the next two shows of the tour without him, fans were getting curious and Forest was pushing to tell me his side of the story.  After some discussion, the band somewhat reluctantly agreed that offering an explanation was probably necessary, which is how I found myself in the bar with Forest that night, trying to approach the situation with objectivity and care.  

"What happened, man?" I asked him gently.   

Forest leaned back and shrugged his shoulders in frustration.  “It was after that first weekend of the tour,” he said.  “Matt called and fired me – a personality conflict, he called it.” Forest picked up a beer he had ordered quite some time ago but had yet to drink.  “I was really confused.  I had played all the songs perfectly, those first two shows.  I didn’t know what I had done wrong.  But he wouldn’t tell me.  So when I met up with Leif and Matt to clear out my stuff from the practice space, I asked him again.  I needed to know.  And then he told me why.”  He put down the beer again and tossed his hands in the air.  “And I told them - guys, you know me!  I wouldn’t hit on Tana!  Come on, man.  She’s lying."  Forest sighed again.  "But none of them backed me up," he continued.  "None of them backed me up.”  

To do what we do, we have to be all in.  We have to trust each other.
— Matthew Bile

“It’s that whole 'C'mon, bro!' mentality that I wasn’t going to stand for,” Matt told me later on, standing in his living room as his seven year old daughter played a homemade board game near our feet.  He sighed, and leaned in closer.  “The thing is, Forest fucked up, and he expected me to understand,” he continued, his voice hushed.  “And maybe I do understand...  I’ve been that guy.  Maybe we’ve all been that guy.  But I feel bad about that.  And it doesn’t mean I have to ignore it when other guys do it.” 

 Matthew Bile

Matthew Bile

Matt glanced down at his daughter, playing on the floor of the sparse trailer he had just finished moving into that week, somehow finding the time in between tour dates and finalizing his divorce.  “I’ve done things I’m not proud of,” he continued, looking back up at me intently.  “But I feel like it’s my responsibility to not turn a blind eye when other guys do wrong things.  The women in my life deserve that much.  All women do.”  

Forest had been added to the band less than a year earlier.  A seasoned musician, he had moved to Missoula from Hawaii to take advantage of its thriving music scene, and had answered the open call Walking Corpse Syndrome had put out for a new bassist.  He made the cut just in time to help the band prepare for their spring 2017 tour.  That tour had gone smoothly, and Forest was kept on for the next six months, though he had been less involved in the creative process and the day-to-day aspects of the band than the other members.  Despite this, he still seemed to be taking his dismissal pretty hard.  

“I just wanted to play the music,” Forest had said to me in the bar that night.  “I didn’t want the drama.  I'm really not a bassist, I’m a singer and a guitarist.  But they needed a bassist, so I just went for it.”  His words didn’t do much to mask his feelings, which seemed to be wavering between regret and indignant anger.  “I flew halfway around the world to play for Walking Corpse Syndrome!" he continued loudly.  "I came here to back them up.  And none of them backed me up?"  His eyes locked on mine.  "You were there, Emily!  We were all giving each other shit!  Sure, I tried to keep up with their bullshit, but all I really wanted to do was play." 

 Forest Murphy

Forest Murphy

Through my talks with Forest, Matt and eventually the rest of the band, I found out that Tana had confided in Matt that Forest had aggressively hit on her that night in the hotel room in Great Falls, and had touched her inappropriately - a charge that Forest vehemently denies.  Since no one else in the room was awake at the time, it had become her word against his.  As a result, the band had been faced with a difficult choice; keep Forest on despite Tana's discomfort or let him go and absorb the fallout and the repercussions on the tour.  They took a vote and ultimately landed on the latter. 

“I think Forest was transgressing the boundaries of a normal friendship relationship with Tana, and I was concerned that it might happen again," Matt had said during our conversation in his living room, seeming poised but uneasy.  "To do what we do, we have to be all in.  We have to trust each other.  We had a problem with trust in this situation.  I was worried that what happened might happen to one of our girlfriends, or wives, or fans.  I couldn’t live with myself if I knew there were red flags, and ignored them, and something else happened.”  

From a performance standpoint, I’m not concerned.  We can handle this.  I don’t like our sound to be compromised, but this was the best option.
— Tana Starkey

“The bottom line is, Forest made me uncomfortable,” Tana had told me as she piloted the Skurj and trailer down a gray, gloomy highway a week later.  We were headed to Jerome, Idaho, where Walking Corpse Syndrome was scheduled to open for Suicide Silence that night. Tana steered the loaded vehicle through an exchange as she continued, her shoulders tense and her words deliberate.  “And he had been making me uncomfortable for awhile.  Since I’m not a cis woman, I really felt like I didn’t have the tools to respond to what Forest was doing.  I’ve never been in the position of having to say no repeatedly before.”    

As a trans woman, Tana has fielded a lot of questions, judgement and negativity in her years as a musician.  But she doesn’t seem to let it bother her.  In fact, she almost seems to take it as a challenge – rising above has become her way of coping with almost everything. 

 Tana Starkey

Tana Starkey

“You know,” she continued, over the sound of the Skurj's engine complaining as she pulled into the oncoming lane to pass a slower vehicle.  “From a performance standpoint, I'm not concerned.  We can handle this.  I don't like our sound to be compromised, but this was the best option.  I'm happy Forest is gone.  I hope he re-evaluates how he treats the women in his life."  She took a long swig of the Starbucks she had been clutching between her knees as she drove, leaving Montana and the turmoil behind.  

The choice Walking Corpse Syndrome had made to fire their bassist was not something the rest of the band had taken lightly.  It was more than simply bad timing to lose a band member, it was crippling.  When the decision was made, there were still eight shows left to play on the tour and no time to train a new bassist. 

"When I realized that we would be touring without a bassist, I had a slight sense of panic," Mr. Grimm, the other half of Walking Corpse Syndrome's dynamic percussion duo, told me later on.  "Of course I want to look like a full package when we go out.  A complete force...  A freight train looks odd when it's missing a car.  But, I knew we would be just fine."  Mr. Grimm, known in real life as Greg Frazer, wasn't in the hotel room with us the night things had gone awry in Great Falls.  But he and his older brother Nocktis are responsible for making up a lot of the lost punch when they perform without a bassist. 

 Nocktis, Mr. Grimm

Nocktis, Mr. Grimm

"It had me concerned, for sure," Nocktis had said, echoing his brother’s sentiments.  "We've played shows before without the bass and I missed that low end.  But I knew we could handle it.  I love the fact that all the members of the band are super adaptable.  We talked about it and we all agreed that, no matter what, we could still play every show like it was our last."   

Leif had also been hesitant.  “It sucked, you know?” he told me one night, a few weeks after the tour had ended.  “I don’t like having problems in the band.  We could get by without him, it obviously wasn’t a game-ender.  We did the tour.  But I wish we had him there.  I wish we had a bass there.”  Leif sat in his kitchen, fiddling with one of his dreadlocks as he spoke.  His usual chipper attitude seemed muted whenever we talked about Forest.  He sighed and picked up a tall can of beer that was sitting on the counter in front of him, chugging the remnants of it.  “Our music still has balls, without the bass,” he said eventually, grinning and crushing the can in his fist.  “Just…  Not enough balls.”  The grin faded and he shrugged deeply.  “But what do you do?  Situations happen.” 


Walking Corpse Syndrome seems to take these situations in stride almost as a rule, whether it’s the sudden loss of a band member or the panicked realization moments before a show that a crucial piece of equipment is missing.  Despite the mayhem that arises just by being a touring band, they handle their business as professionals because that’s just part of the gig.  This was never more obvious than when we got to Jerome for the Suicide Silence show.  They had just begun unloading into the venue when Tana realized that the bucket she keeps all her instrument cables in had inexplicably not made the trip with us. 

“Oh, my God.  Oh, my God.  Oh, my God.  Oh, my God.” Tana was pacing back and forth between the venue and the Skurj as she spoke, her hands flapping at her sides like she was trying to fly away.  There was a wild look in her usually steady eyes.  After unsuccessfully ripping through the trailer one more time, she relented her search, standing for a moment in the rain at the top of the trailer ramp.  With her eyes closed, head tilted up towards the stormy sky, she took four slow, deep breaths.  

“Okay,” she said softly.  “I can handle this.”  She shook her head slightly, bounded down the ramp and disappeared back into the venue.   

 Tana Starkey

Tana Starkey

Ultimately, Tana's missing cables weren't a big issue.  She managed to borrow what she needed that night, and we got to make an unscheduled but entertaining stop at a Guitar Center in Boise the next day for her to replace them.  But Tana took the oversight hard, because making sure the gear is all accounted for in the trailer is a task she adopted for herself and turned into an art.  Her day job as the lead steward at a university cafeteria has left her with an impressive talent for making what looks and feels like a million cubic feet of gear fit into 600 cubic feet of space.  Her commitment to perfecting this task might take a little longer than just cramming things in wherever they fit, but she almost always knows exactly where any given thing is and where it belongs when it’s done being used. 

“Get me the drum racks!” you can hear her calling at the end of every show, standing at the top of the trailer ramp.  “And now I need the Fuck-Off Box!” she'll yell, after the drum racks obediently appear from out of whatever venue has been the band's host for the night.   

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The Fuck-Off Box is the massive percussion gear box that Nocktis built for transporting the drum kits.  It's awkward, heavy and could easily fit two people inside of it, but Tana can shove that damn thing right up the trailer ramp alone, adding “badass” to the long list of her surprising talents, which also includes the ability to eat nearly her own weight in pizza or ham sandwiches. 

Walking Corpse Syndrome also travels with an intimidating amount of merch, which Tana somehow finds space for, plus the DIY merch booth the band built together.  The booth is ingenious.  A self-contained rolling box, it unlatches and opens up into a table, complete with built-in storage space and lighted display areas.  It can be a problem to fit the booth into the often tiny spaces allotted in a venue to merch tables, but fans gravitate towards it in droves, making it worth the trouble.  On this tour, the band had brought along their friend Billie Flatt to staff the table.  Billie had accompanied the band on several previous tours, and it wasn't hard to understand why.  That girl really has her shit together when it comes to staging and selling the band’s wares.  She's also funny as hell and her company and conversations with me on the trip were some of my saving graces from being entirely run over by the experience. 

 Billie Flatt

Billie Flatt

“What are you up to?” she asked me one afternoon, as I sat on the front steps of the tattoo shop that was hosting the band for the night in Boise, ID. 

“Oh, just…. Writing.” I told her, trying to explain my disorganized mess of notes, snack wrappers and frustration. 

“Ah ha,” she said, smiling.  “You’re trying to turn all this dysfunctional chaos into brain-thoughts and mouth-words.” We both laughed.  I cried a little, but only on the inside.  “Good luck with that!” she called, continuing on to wake up Leif, who was sleeping off a hangover in the Skurj. 


One of the things conspicuously missing from the gear the band hauls around is any sort of stage lighting or special effects technology.  After spending a few years fighting with some lower-end equipment, they decided their resources were simply better spent elsewhere.  Personally, I don't miss those visual distractions.  There is something special about a stage show that is stripped down, simple and raw.  It's something you don't often see in the metal scene anymore.   

A Walking Corpse Syndrome show feels personal, in-your-face and gritty, something akin to an underground punk show.  When there aren’t lights and smoke obstructing the stage you not only feel the band’s energy and passion, you get the chance to see it.  The audience gets a clear view of the unhinged facial expressions and theatrical gestures Leif incorporates into his vocal performance.  Matt’s animated, rhythmic violence as the music he creates overtakes his body.  Tana's hair and fingers flying as she brings her guitar wailing to life, like a priest presiding over a musical exorcism.  

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Fans often take advantage of the personal nature of Walking Corpse Syndrome shows, jumping onstage to head bang, take selfies, crowd surf or, in one case, do yoga for a few songs.  The band lets it happen because, according to Matt, “It’s safer for us and the fans to just let them do their thing.  If we try to remove them from the stage, someone could get hurt.”   

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Though they're often nearly hidden behind their respective (and large) drum kits, Nocktis and Mr. Grimm both shoulder a good portion of the visual aspect of their shows.  Their coordinated, sweeping movements bring a massivity to the display as effectively as any light show would. 

I’m just an ordinary guy who likes to bang on the drums. I’m just doing what I love, and people seem to like it.
— Mr. Grimm

I never did quite figure out whether the staggering lock-step the Frazer brothers incorporate into their performances is the result of their talent and years of practice, or more a symptom of their close relationship.  Those boys are brothers to their core, keeping each other both entertained and frustrated throughout the band’s travels. But when they are at their kits, they seem to operate from inside of one brain, with Nocktis generally providing the baseline rhythms and Mr. Grimm "seasoning the meat" his brother lays down (his words).  As they have no ear monitors to hear each other or the rest of the band, they operate solely by watching each other's movements and memorizing their own in relation.  If you can get close enough as they play, you can catch their eyes darting towards each other as they keep themselves and the other in time.  The sound that results is multi-layered, all at once intricate and thunderous.  A pair of giants dancing the tango. 

 Nocktis

Nocktis

 Mr. Grimm

Mr. Grimm

In real life, Mr. Grimm and Nocktis - whose real name is Shawn - are family men, with wives, children and careers.  Shawn, one of the two original founding members of Walking Corpse Syndrome, works for a company that builds drones in Missoula, and Greg is a veteran, employed by the state prison system in Deer Lodge, where he is also working towards a degree in addiction counseling.  It was a rough tour for Greg, who has a problem with gout that decided to act up during the second half of the trip, causing him incapacitating pain in his foot.  But in true Walking Corpse Syndrome fashion, he wasn't spared from the band's incessant teasing as he limped "with a gangster lean" into and out of a Boise, ID pharmacy to pick up medication at 3am after a show. 

 From left - Nocktis, Mr.  Grimm

From left - Nocktis, Mr.  Grimm

Teasing each other is as natural as breathing for the band.  Whether it's over their various medical issues, Matt's eating habits, Nocktis' nicotine addiction, Leif's farts, or Tana's age (she's the oldest member of the group by several years), nothing seems to be off-limits.  But instead of alienating each other, this badgering seems to draw them closer as they use humor to navigate their unique situations together.             


A frenzy of curses flew from Tana, snapping me back to reality from where I was dozing lightly in the third row of the Skurj.  The car in front of us had decided to turn abruptly off the two-lane Montana highway, and we were suddenly much closer to their bumper than anyone was comfortable with. 

Tana leaned hard into the breaks and we all lurched in unison, the heavy equipment trailer propelling us from behind.  Next to me, Matt's face turned as white as the snow falling heavily onto the highway as he instinctively threw his arm out in front of me to brace against a possible collision.  It was likely he was being violently reminded of the time he was driving the band back home from playing a show with Soulfly in Wyoming, when the Skurj and its trailer fishtailed on a patch of ice, jack-knifed and slid off the road, landing in a ditch.  Miraculously, no one had been hurt in that incident and there was very little damage to the vehicle, but the memories were obviously still fresh.   

 Tana Starkey

Tana Starkey

“Stupid mother fucker,” Tana grumbled, expertly keeping the vehicle and trailer safely on the road. 

"Hey Tana, what has two legs and bleeds profusely?” Leif suddenly called up to her from his seat in the middle row. 

"I don't know, what?" Tana called back, shaking off the momentary road rage. 

"HALF A CAT, Tana!  Half.  A.  Cat."  Leif let out a burst of laughter and then went back to sleep.  Leif is the only member of the band who finds it easy to sleep on the road.  He refers to band travel as his “time warp”, often managing to fall asleep in one city and wake up in the next. 

This band is really just a bunch of children with ADD.
— Nocktis

Warm and easy-going, Leif seems to be living proof that you don’t have to be tormented to be an artist.  His lyrics are gymnastic and semantically brilliant but often brutal, verging on murderous at times.  His vocal delivery is savage, but none of that seems to translate offstage.  In real life, Leif just seems to be on a mission to find joy, wherever that takes him. 

 Leif Winterrowd, Nocktis

Leif Winterrowd, Nocktis

 Leif Winterrowd

Leif Winterrowd

When he isn’t percussively barking out lyrics on stage, his song topics ranging from torturing child predators to the dangers of mob mentality, Leif is a reluctant farmer.  He inherited his family’s fifth-generation wheat and barley farm in Brady, a town of less than 200 people located in northeastern Montana.  He once pulled up a map of the town on his phone and showed me where each of his parents, grandparents and great grandparents had been born and lived, only a few miles from the farm he now owns.  Though he has since moved across the state to Missoula, he still spends several months a year there, which ends up amounting to Walking Corpse Syndrome's off-season. He also works as a volunteer firefighter and seasonal post office worker, and somehow finds time to create stained glass art in his spare time.   

I want to push myself.  I want to be inspired, and I want to see people listening to our music and being inspired. 
— Leif Winterrowd
 Billie Flatt, Leif Winterrowd

Billie Flatt, Leif Winterrowd

Leif may also have a mild SnapChat addiction, which he relentlessly teased Billie with during the tour.  He relished telling awful jokes and recording her reactions, his eyes crinkling like Santa Clause from underneath his shroud of dreadlocks.  Each dread thumb-thick and past his shoulders, he’s constantly twirling, tying and poking them into things.  I’m pretty sure he grew them just to have a toy to play with all the time.   


“This band is really just a bunch of children with ADD,” Nocktis likes to say, when antics start to get out of hand. 

"Well, we don't play metal music because we're emotionally stable people," Matt retorts, as Nocktis rolls his eyes.  Nocktis' grumpy exterior doesn’t do much to hide the fact that he loves the shenanigans as much as everyone else.  He and his brother can be especially mischief-oriented.  That is, when they aren’t having staring contests, surfing the band equipment across a parking lot or insulting each other mercilessly.   

 From left - Leif Winterrowd, Nocktis, Mr. Grimm

From left - Leif Winterrowd, Nocktis, Mr. Grimm

“I’m just an ordinary guy who likes to bang on the drums,” Mr. Grimm was saying to me backstage at a venue in Everett, WA one night.  “I’m just doing what I love, and people seem to like it.” 

“Nobody else likes it!” Nocktis enthusiastically interjected from across the room, where he was methodically piecing together a cymbal stand. 

“I never lie.” Mr. Grimm continued, ignoring his brother.  He grinned before adding,  “But I rarely tell the truth.”   

“He’s lying about that!” came the immediate response from Nocktis. 

We do all this - being in a band, playing music, touring - because we want to feel connected to other people.
— Matthew Bile

The comic relief the band delivers, to each other and whoever else is within earshot, was one of my favorite parts of the tour.  Pit stops on the road made for good entertainment, too.  I quickly got accustomed to the suspicious (or downright horrified) looks a half dozen or more road-ragged, grungy metal heads inevitably receive as they pile out of a vehicle and converge on satirically small, conservative towns.  To be honest, I began to enjoy that part quite a bit.   

 Leif Winterrowd, Matthew Bile

Leif Winterrowd, Matthew Bile

The band always makes the most of the few minutes of physical freedom by stretching, playing hacky sack, and anything else you can’t do when stuffed in a vehicle.  The smokers smoke.  Leif buys things like pickled green beans and gas station burritos, proving his stomach has become as road-hardened as his sleeping habits.  Fast food seems to materialize out of nowhere and can become part of the fun, as Nocktis and Mr. Grimm toss fries around to be caught by sometimes-unsuspecting mouths. Tana has taken to running laps around the parking lots, her pent-up energy bursting as she leaps over parking barriers and bushes like a slinky, black-clad character in a Mario Bros. game.  

 From left - Tana Starkey, Billie Flatt, Mr. Grimm, Leif Winterrowd, Nocktis

From left - Tana Starkey, Billie Flatt, Mr. Grimm, Leif Winterrowd, Nocktis

Matt often spends this time returning business calls, huddled away from the action to maintain his privacy.  Aside from managing and playing for Walking Corpse Syndrome and parenting his two little girls, he also owns an online marketing business and writes dark fiction and poetry professionally on the side.  Matt seems to thrive on pressure, his creativity sparking when he has a problem to solve or a deadline to make.  His intense personality is reflected in his communication style, which is a dizzying conflux of high-brow conversation and low-ball humor.  While sometimes exhausting to follow, this made for some interesting discussions on the long drives between shows. 

 Matthew Bile

Matthew Bile

As the other founding member of Walking Corpse Syndrome, Matt is one of the band’s main creative driving forces, though he has become less protective of that title as the band has grown into itself the past few years.  His vision has changed dramatically with each album and as members have come and gone, and while he admits that he once was rather strict about stylistic and creative direction, he says that he's relaxed a lot about that in recent years. 

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“We definitely used to butt heads a lot more,” Leif told me when I asked about that.  “I’m an extreme metal guy, and Matt used to be a lot more about the melodic stuff, the choruses and the catchy stuff.  We would get into the studio and I would suggest something and he would just say, 'Uh, no, this isn’t going to work…”  Leif chuckled at the memory.  “But now, we’ve evolved, and Matt doesn’t try to control that process as much,” he continued.  “None of us do.  It just kind of goes where it wants to go now.  It might not be as catchy, it might not get us on the radio.  But we’ve evolved into a heavier sound, and it’s pushing us to get better and faster.  Our new album, it's going to be brutal and it’s going to be fast.  And that’s what I want.  I want to push myself.  I want to be inspired, and I want to see people listening to our music and being inspired.” 

 Matthew Bile, Leif Winterrowd

Matthew Bile, Leif Winterrowd

I had seen this sort of inspiration materialize throughout the tour.  I saw the fans connecting with the music - moving to it in unison, singing along, giving the band hugs or gifts after the shows.  I heard stories of how their music had helped someone through something difficult, or given someone a ray of hope.  I got to see the band members inspire and motivate each other to become better people through their creative efforts, through their friendship, and even through the parts of touring and being in a band that are difficult or just plain shitty.  And in turn, through experiencing these moments with them on tour, I had been energized myself.  It moved me to have more confidence in my own journey, as a journalist and as a person.  I have plans to do more touring in the future, and I’m excited to see what Walking Corpse Syndrome does with their next chapter, however it turns out. 

Even Forest was ultimately motivated through the unexpected turn of events.  After taking a brief sabbatical from Missoula, he has formed a new band and is now back to doing what he loves: playing music. 

“We do all this - being in a band, playing music, touring - because we want to feel connected to other people,” Matt explained to me, once the tour was over and the dust had settled.  We sat in his living room, which now had more furniture and even a few pictures on the walls.  “We aren’t making money.  We actually lost money on this tour.  We lose money on every tour.  All of us struggle financially, to do what we do.  But connection, that's a basic human instinct."   

 From left: Nocktis, Tana Starkey, Emily Lynn Haacke, Leif Winterrowd, Billie Flatt, Mr. Grimm, Matthew Bile

From left: Nocktis, Tana Starkey, Emily Lynn Haacke, Leif Winterrowd, Billie Flatt, Mr. Grimm, Matthew Bile

Matt shrugged, his eyes searching the ceiling.  "Music creates connection, whether you’re making it or listening to it." he said finally. "Some anthropologists believe that music pre-dates speech.  They believe that we were dancing and drumming and making music before we, as a species, could even talk.  It’s astounding to think about.  And it's beautiful."  His eyes dropped back down, looking at me intensely once more.  "That’s why we do this," he said.  "All the hard work, the disappointments, the emotional and financial costs of it, it’s hard.  Of course it is.  But we do this to feel connected to each other.  Music, I think, is the deepest form of connection.”  

 

Emily Lynn