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Interview with SubstAnce D


It has been a turbulent year for this band. All within the past year and a half, there have been illnesses, at least one hospitalization, the loss of a family member, afflictions to overcome and deal with on a daily basis, and uncertainties about the future. The three members of SubstAnce D know exactly what it means to face demons, but they also know how to remain strong and creative under pressure.

After a brutal performance to a sold-out crowd at the Whisky, Todd Chaisson (vocals, guitar) cooled off with a few beers, and gave his system a chance to return to normal. Todd was very engaging, and loves to talk. He met with me upstairs to discuss the ups and downs, and intricacies of life inside his body, and inside the body of work known as SubstAnce D…

Okay. Well, on a personal note, I am so glad you’re feeling better, but I have to know… what was the story with your appendix trouble?
What happened was, I went to Jack In The Box one morning – and this is the truth – and I got a Supreme Croissant and then, it was like 2 hours later I started going, “Well, that’s not feeling too good.” I just thought it was stomach flu. It had to have been about 5 days and there was a point where I was so sick, I wasn’t going in to work. Then I’m talking to my little brother, I felt something go ‘pop’. At that point, I just fell to my knees, and sweat’s pouring off of me, and then all of a sudden, everything alleviated.
It was like, “Oh, okay, I’m feeling much better”, when in fact, it was my appendix that burst and it was leaking out all this poison into my system. I went out the night after that and got totally fucked up.
You’re kidding…
Well, I was feeling great except for a little bit of a residual thing, thinking it was just the tail end of my ‘flu’. My fever broke; everything was good. About 5 days later, my side was all puffed out and just to barely touch it was like “WHOOOA!” So, I went and saw a doctor and I thought he was going to tell me that I had gall stones or some shit like that. I thought “Oh great, I’m gonna have to piss out a marble or some shit.”
Be he goes, “No man, your appendix burst. And I don’t even know how you’re standing in an upright position, let alone still alive.” He said typically you have about 48 hours, maybe 2 or 3 days before you’re in serious trouble. I went 5 days. He said I had anywhere from a minute, to about a day left before I was gonna be six feet under. Of course, at that, I was like “Cut it out! Get it out of me!”

It was the most unpleasant thing I’ve ever experienced in my life. I mean, I’ve had my face punched in; I’ve broken bones, been as drunk as anybody could ever be. But this…

The process that they go through to determine whether your appendix has burst is the most fucked up thing for a straight guy to ever have to go through. Let’s just put it that way.
I am so sorry!
Bottom line, according to the doctor, I should have died and for whatever reason I didn’t, thank God. Ever since then, it’s been fine. I’m 100%, I’m singing; we’re playing, we’re jumping around. I’m right back to where I was before.

You’ve been through some shit the past year or so.
It’s been a tough year.
It’s been an uphill battle for you.
It’s been the longest 12 to 15 months of my life. My Mom died in September. About 4 months after that, my Pops is diagnosed with terminal stomach cancer. Fortunately for me, he’s overcome it. After that, there was my appendix thing. It’s just like, okay, what next? Is my head just gonna explode? I’ll be sitting there smoking a joint, “Well, this is some good …BOOM!!!!”

How do you stay positive?
Losing my Mom was big. I come from a large family and my Mom was really my spiritual connection. 2 years before she died, I was a full on drug addict. A speed addict. I was homeless, living in a cardboard box behind Ralph’s on Lankershim and Magnolia.

I had found the very bottom and I enjoyed my life there. I carried a pistol and an 8-ball of speed, and that’s all I had. Everything since then, while it’s been peaks and valleys, has just been uphill. But my Mom was very instrumental in my getting sober, on the spiritual side. I come from a Catholic family, and she always had these little prayer cards for me because I was just a fuckin’ wreck.

I was involved in like, biker gang shit. I’ve never killed anybody but, anything above killing somebody, I’ve been involved in it. It’s nothing to brag about, but it gives you an idea. Like if you look at a homeless guy, and you think he’s never gonna go anywhere. They really can go somewhere. It just depends on the person and what their affliction is.

Anyway, so I’ve never had anybody close to me die before. Needless to say, her death has given me plenty of inspiration. Most people ask how it is that I haven’t put a bullet in my brain, but while life gets shittier and shittier, something good somehow comes from that. I elevate. The band elevates. I grow as a person and we grow as a band. And while I would do anything to have my mother back, it was a valuable lesson. I know she’s in a good place, so it’s all cool.

Was there something specific that made you choose playing bass over anything else you could have done in a band?
I started as a kid when ‘Kiss Alive – One’ came out.
That was a really important album for a lot of musicians!
Yeah, obviously!
(Todd points to his face make up.)
When I heard that, it was like “This is fuckin’ cool!” And it was never about the pussy, or the partying. It was all about being able to express myself. I was the kind of kid that every bully in school kicked my ass.
So, music was an outlet.
Yeah. When I was a kid, I was small. Now, I’m 6’2″, I weigh 190 pounds and not too many people fuck with me. While I was growing up though, I started on drums just because I needed to hit something. I come from, at best, a middle class family. My parents come from the lowest of poverty in far East Canada, Nova Scotia. You know, you gotta kick ass for sandwiches.
Are you Canadian?
My origin is Canadian, but I was born in Castro Valley, in Northern California.
Anyway, so it was drums, then it was guitar, but I realized I couldn’t play leads. I suck!

Then it was bass. It was bass for a long time. After playing with these guys for a while, we were trying to decide whether we were going to be a 3-piece or a 4-piece, but we couldn’t find anybody that could convey the emotion of what we were talking about. So I just offered to lay down some tracks so people could get an idea of what we were trying to do. It just kind of evolved from that. The guys said, “Well, we’re done looking”. And I said, “Really, who did we get”? And they said, “Well, it’s YOU!!” To that, I was like, “Nooooo, I just wanna play bass”, but here it is 8 years later with SubstAnce D. I’m fully comfortable with singing.

Had you played in other bands before?
You don’t know?
(Todd grins.)
You remember the glam band, Tuff?
(pause) Yes.
That’s me.
I was the bass player in Tuff. They had the major label deal. I did one record, one video, did the MTV thing. But I couldn’t hang. There was no way to express myself. I couldn’t give them any input, no lyrics. But with these guys, this is where my heart is.

They just go, “Here’s the riff. Whatcha got to say now?” And I’m like, “I was just in 12 hours of traffic, I’ve got plenty to say!” That movie with Michael Douglas, ‘Falling Down’? Yeah, that’s my favorite!

That is what I pictured when I first heard ‘California’ from the CD. Some guy totally going postal on the freeway.
You know what? I remember reading your first review, and no offense to you at all, but it was just above lukewarm. Then you had come to see us live at the Roxy and it was like you were 100% won over from that.
Oh, totally. It was like an awakening!
Yeah. You wrote about it and you were like, “OH my GOD, this isn’t the band I heard on CD.” And we’ve never been given the luxury of being able to take what we do in a rehearsal space or during a live show, and actually put that vibe on tape because we’re doing deals with Noise, and although they give you about 15-20 grand to do a record; you can’t do that type of sound with 20 grand.
Well, I really think I reviewed the CD too early. I had only heard it once or twice at that point. Now, I listen to it all the time. I still do. I love it. I want to hear the new stuff really bad.
I’m grateful. And I’m elevated by your comments. You know the situation were in. We’re on a small label, we haven’t had the big tours. So the press really seems to take a hold to us. Nobody in big business recognizes what we do. You’re our only saving grace, besides the fans. I appreciate the compliments and all the support you’ve given us.
I talk to people all the time about this band.
And the fans are so underground. I tell people what label we’re on and they’re like, huh? I mean, I love Noise, they’ve been really good to us, so no disrespect to them. But, I know that’s not where we’re going to end up. We need to raise above this plateau, and get to the next level and we need the support of a larger label to do that, I think.

You were there; you saw the show tonight. People were ‘pitting’ from the minute we came on. You gotta have something going on in Hollywood to make people raise their elbows and run around in circles. It’s one of the toughest crowds you can play to. After 8 years of being a band in L.A., I think we deserve that break we’re looking for.
So do I.
If we could just get some corporate people to pick up on that intensity, we’ve be able to move on.

Who do you admire?
If we’re talking, in the world; my mother and my father for having the strength to deal with the types of things they’ve had to go through. Musically, I admire any band that’s able to accomplish what we’ve yet to accomplish. All these bands that have been fortunate enough and talented enough to get that break, I admire that because they’re out there and they’re doing it. More than anything though, I think I admire the two guys I play with. We’ve been sticking it out for so fucking long. They’ve gone from me being completely ‘Joe Straight Guy’ to me being ‘Joe Drug Addict’ and back to ‘Joe Straight Guy’. They’ve put up with a lot of shit. So, I guess my admiration goes towards my friends and my family and to the little circle of people that have supported us no matter what. It’s like, “Yeah, there’s only 3 people here, but the three of us, we’re gonna ‘pit'”!

That type of shit just breaks your heart; in a very good way.

Other than music; what are you passionate about?
(Todd softens.)
My girlfriend. You know…I love her. She fuckin’, you know. Every time we have a show, I’m the fuckin’ Devil himself because I get so stressed out some nights, but she’s there for me. I’m passionate about her. I’m passionate about my boys that I play with.

I do some stuff on the side, business-related stuff on the Internet; I love doing that. I’m passionate about Dreamcast, The X-Men movie, Bud Light, chronic green bud! I’m passionate about friends. There’s a misconception about L.A. that people are fake, but it just takes you some time to develop real friendships, and I have that now. I’m basically passionate about whatever makes me smile.

How do you feel when you’re onstage? Are you nervous?
I’m always frightened. It’s always vocal-related. I feel like it’s something I can’t control. I could drink just water all day, be as healthy as possible and then go to hit my ups and fuck it up. Or, I could smoke cigarettes and drink beer all day and do fine. I never know if I’m gonna have a good show. I get nervous about it every time.
So, it’s performance anxiety.
Yeah, but once I hit the first note, it’s more about whether the crowd is into it. And the pit. People who fall down, there’s love in there. Pick those guys up, you know? It’s all about the crowd response. And intimate scenarios are good, but the energy comes from the big shows. The larger the crowd that’s excited, the happier I am.

What’s the worst drug on the planet?
Speed. Methamphetamine. It’ll fuckin’ destroy your soul, destroy your mind, destroy your heart, destroy all your friendships you ever had. The best drug on the planet is marijuana! Because you sleep, you eat, and you laugh! You know?
Yeah, you get fat and happy, and who cares?
Yeah. You can’t beat that.

How do you feel about MTV?
How do I feel about MTV. I feel they can fucking eat my ass, because they’d never play my video – but then again, I guess I’d have to have one. MTV is cool, they’re just trend followers, that’s all. If it’s hip-hop, that’s what they’re playing. If it’s Britney Spears, that’s what they’re playing. Over the past year, heavier music is coming back around and it’s still got that rap thing to it, like with Primer 55, Limp Bizkit, Slipknot. We don’t pull down that vibe, but I respect that. Anytime MTV does anything to support heavy music, I’ll bow my head and say “fuckin’ right on.” We just don’t fit the market. We’re ‘too aggressive’, we’re ‘too vulgar’, we ‘promote violence’ or what not.
Yeah, what do you think of MTV? That’s my response. Whatever.

Can you picture yourself in 10 years or are you the type that takes things one day at a time?
Every show I ever do, I view it as my last show.
Yeah. Tonight, I thought “This is the last show I’m ever doing. Have the most fun with it.” That’s the only way I can alleviate the stress. So, every date we play, I look at it like it’s the last one. The band doesn’t have the same opinion: this is only my opinion. But, I just look at it like it’s the last opportunity I’m ever gonna have to play bass for people or sing for people. Bottom line, it’s whether I suck or not, I gotta be having fun with it. Ten years from now, that would make me Rob Zombie’s age. I can still see myself doing that. If you are a tight unit, and you know the magic is there, whether your Cannibal Corpse or Britney Spears; you know if you’ve got something magical and something lasting. I think we have that.

What should it say on your headstone?
He loved his friends and family. And even if never achieve what I wanted to achieve, I’m grateful for what I got. That’s it.

Thank you, Todd.

Special thanks to Steve Joh at Noise Records, for arranging everything; and to Eric at Loudside for introducing me a long time ago to one Hell of an amazing band. Extra special thanks and all the very best to my new friend, Todd Chaisson and the members of SubstAnce D and their crew.

Lesa Pence

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