He’s been in and around the Cleveland, Ohio, sludge scene for about as long as it’s been there for him to be in and around it, and as guitarist in bands like Fistula, Ultralord, King Travolta, Necrodamus, Sollubi (in which he played bass), Bibilic Blood and Morbid Wizard, Scott Stearns has helped shape the misanthropic, vitriolic sound of the Midwest. Seated on the left in the picture above of his latest band, Morbid Wizard, Stearns has also contributed album art to both his comrades’ bands and to those outside Ohio‘s borders, and his graphic style is as manic and terrifying as the music.
Credited occasionally as Wizard or Wizardfool or some derivation thereof, Stearns is also intensely prolific. This year, Morbid Wizard made their debut in the form of Lord of the Rats (review here) and his duo Bibilic Blood released their third album in three years, Blood Butterfly (review here). Though the projects are vastly different — the one a who’s who of Ohio sludge players and the other a nightmarish horror-psych two-piece — Stearns brings something unique to both in his playing and his art. There’s no bullshit in either. No compromise of form. No play to accessibility. Any one of his visual works on your notebook would get you immediately expelled from high school, and his music is all viciousness and disaffection — the stuff of landmark sludge.
His mastery of underground forms notwithstanding, I wanted to hit up Stearns with Six Dumb Questions to talk mostly about how Morbid Wizard came together around musicians from Fistula, Rue, Sollubi, Accept Death and others — those being drummer Corey Bing, guitarist Bahb Branca, bassist Mike Duncan and vocalist Jesse Kling — but there was room as well to discuss the terrifying nature of Bibilic Blood and his work with bassist/vocalist Suzy Psycho in that band, as well as his development as a designer and artist. Even so, this is really just the beginning of Stearns‘ portfolio, and for more, you should check out his website at stearnsdog.com.
Please note too that the art accompanying the Q&A is all by Stearns and that any images can be enlarged by clicking on them. Hope you enjoy the following Six Dumb Questions:
1. Morbid Wizard brings in members from many different projects. How do you all find the time to get together and how did the band form in the first place. Is Morbid Wizard the priority for everyone involved?
Morbid Wizard was formed by me and Corey Bing. We had gotten together and jammed a couple times but hadn’t really done anything for a while. The last band we were both in was called Blackwell that was a hardcore band with Larry Gargus from Don Austin on vokills. Blackwell recorded an album and then fell apart but me and Corey were always trying to get something going over the winter and finally we just said fuck it and booked two days at SUMA Studios with Paul Hamman. SUMA is an awesome studio where Grand Funk recorded their first albums, Bloodrock, Shok Paris, Destructor, Integrity and a lot of other classic bands. Paul let us use some of his vintage Marshall cabinets and a HiWatt head, I also used my SICK head and the plan was to just get completely retarded with high volume. Corey got Bahb from Fistula to play second guitar, Mike Duncan from Black Mayonnaise on bass and noise, and Jesse from Sollubi on vokills and noise. Morbid Wizard is not really a priority for anyone, it’s just something we are going to keep trying to do when we get the chance. Everyone has their main bands that they are dedicated to. We are working on new material, so hopefully we will get it done and have an EP or another record out next year.
2. Talk about the sludge scene in Ohio. It seems like there’s a really dedicated group of people (many of whom are in Morbid Wizard) who’ve been in bands with each other for a while now. Did it really all start with Sloth and Nunslaughter? What’s the area like, and where do the best shows happen? How did it begin for you, and what do you think allowed the community of bands that’s there now to develop?
I got into it in the ‘80s when I was in high school. I was into punk at first, like Black Flag, G.B.H., The Bad Brains, X, Suicidal Tendencies, Dead Kennedys, and I would go to punk shows but then I started getting into metal and thrash bands like Metallica, Mercyful Fate, Slayer, Exodus, Venom, Voivod, Hellhammer, Celtic Frost. My favorite local bands were Destructor and False Hope. Destructor is still playing today and some of the guys in False Hope went on to play in Keelhaul and some other good bands. Nunslaughter has been around playing death metal since the ‘80s. I think the people that have been around forever have a true love for making heavy metal, punk, noise, sludge, whatever.
My first band that I played guitar for was Die Hard, with Aaron Melnick, Dwid, Chubby Fresh and Stork, that was the band before they became Integrity. We recorded an album in 1989 called Looking Out for Number One.
I think my first Introduction to sludge metal was doing artwork for Sneak from Shifty Records. He gave me a whole bunch of awesome CDs: Fistula[‘s] Hymns of Slumber, Church of Misery, Weedeater, Abdullah, Cruevo, RUE, Sofa King Killer, Mugwart, Rwake, Beaten Back to Pure. Then I met Corey Bing around 2002 when Fistula played a festival with Weedeater, Soul Preacher, Bongzilla, Red Giant, Boulder, and Mastodon before they were really big. I was playing guitar in Madman Mundt, which I loved but I also wanted to do something much slower so we recorded the first Necrodamus EP at Rock Solid Studio in Cleveland and I called up Corey and asked if he would be interested in singing on it. Then after that, we recorded the first Ultralord record, Act 1.
I live about 30 miles east of Cleveland. Lake Erie is two blocks down the street from where I live. Most of the people are just regular working stiffs, there are a good amount of mutated Chernobyl fallout hillbillies around here but they keep it interesting and give it a creepy 1950s small town feeling. The best place to see bands is at Now That’s Class over on the west side of Cleveland. Peabody’s also has some good big-name metal bands that come through Cleveland and the Beachland and Grogshop have some good bands closer to where I live.
3. Your art graces many of the covers for these releases and of course others as well. How did you get your start as an artist and what can you say about the development of your style? Is there something behind your decision to use color for one piece and not another?
Growing up I was very heavily into comic books, Dungeons and Dragons, Heavy Metal and Epic magazines, Frank Frazetta, H.R. Geiger, and H.P. Lovecraft. Then I went to high school with some of the guys in False Hope and did flyers for them. It wasn’t until a couple years after that Dr. Maxar Berezium from 100,000 Leagues Under My Nutsack asked me to do the cover of his first album Welcome to the Fold. He was a big influence because he was always asking me to do artwork for t-shirts and stickers and posters. He would go all over the country and Europe putting up stickers with my art. Then other people would ask him about the artwork and if they could get me to do something for them.
I have just recently started to experiment with color using Photoshop. Trying to figure out how to do it has taken a while but I think I’m getting better now. For the Bibilic Blood records I used color because Suzy Psycho specifically wanted the alien on the first cover to be green and we liked it a lot so we decided to make them all color.
4. How did you get involved in Bibilic Blood, and how does that compare to the other bands you’ve been in? There’s something so horrifying about Bibilic Blood’s music. Not that I think there are animal sacrifices or anything, but what’s the atmosphere like when Bibilic Blood is writing songs? Where does this stuff come from?
Bibilic Blood is mine and Suzy Psycho’s band, we started out by just making noise on a 4-track, then started recording on a digital 8-track. Bibilic Blood is different because our studio is set up in our living room so we can practice and record whenever we feel like it. We don’t do any animal sacrifices because we love all the furry little creatures that live in the woods, but it is very easy to imagine some of the weirdos that live around us are doing some animal or human sacrifices right now in their living rooms. Part of the atmosphere is that we are always aware that the outside world is full of horrific nightmare people and places, so we are just grateful that we can hang out and have a good time and play music together. We have a black light we turn on, then Suzy comes up with some riffs and we jam them out and record it when we get something we like. Then Suzy does her vokill tracks and then I will do the guitar parts a little at a time over the next couple days.
5. Do you see yourself as bringing something consistent across the board to the many different bands you’ve played with, or do your contributions depend on the other players involved? How does your visual art play into that? Is it harder making covers for a band you’re in or someone who’s hired you from the outside?
Yeah I think all the bands I’ve played in are mostly about coming up with a couple good heavy riffs and tying them together. I always look to my favorite bands for inspiration Slayer, Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Mercyful Fate, DIO, Ozzy, Venom, Celtic Frost, Cirith Ungol, Suicidal Tendencies, Black Flag, Saint Vitus. I am always happy to do art for the bands I play in because for me the artwork is a really important part of the band. There is some more pressure doing art for other bands because I always want it to be as sick as possible especially when it’s a band I am a really big fan of.
6. Any other plans, new releases or closing words you want to mention?
We are working on new Morbid Wizard songs for hopefully a 2012 EP or album, Bibilic Blood is going to have two new songs on the SLUDGESAPIENS tape compilation put out by Quagmire located in the barbarian Russian wastelands, and we are working on new Ancient Sickness.