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The crew at Vitriol Records is an incestuous bunch, and at the middle of it all is Justin Smith, a.k.a. Jason Schmidt, the label president and guitarist/sometimes vocalist in three of its bands: Graf Orlock, Dangers and Ghostlimb—the latter of which caught national attention last year for their Infrastructure LP. Their follow-up album, Confluence (due out in June), is the second in a trilogy of releases from the band.
For a classic hardcore trio, Ghostlimb are unusually conceptual and melodic, to the point they've taken shit for it from some reviewers. But it's no matter to Smith, er, Schmidt—there's no need to apologize in the DIY game, in which he and Vitriol are becoming big players.
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OC Weekly: Justin Smith and Jason Schmidt—what's the difference?
Justin Smith: For a long time, in Graf Orlock, we used a separate set of names than our proper, given names for various reasons, including arrest, copyright infringement and generally annoying everyone we ever met. Hence, Jason Schmidt. Suffice it to say that having many names allows us to operate in two different realms of marginal fringe-music obscurity.
Please break down the relationship between Ghostlimb, Graf Orlock and Dangers.
There are several intermingled threads of incestuousness between all of the bands on Vitriol Records. Alan [Hunter, drummer] and I started Graf Orlock in 2004, and Ghostlimb started as a separate entity a year or so later with a separate drummer. Neal [Paul Sharma] has always been the bass player in Ghostlimb and was in the band Forming as well. [Hunter] had a one-year stint in Ghostlimb, and Alex [Tenaj, who played drums on the last two Ghostlimb LPs] used to drum for Dangers. One of the original guitar players of Dangers, Rollie [Ulug], who also recorded most of the records we have put out, now plays bass in Graf Orlock. I am still in all three bands. So you can see what a problem this is when it comes to executing anything in a decent time frame when everything pointlessly overlaps so much.
You've said that compared to other bands you're in, Ghostlimb "more accurately reflects what we are into." How is that so?
Ghostlimb are more specifically about ideas and have a trajectory different from Graf Orlock, which is almost all feel and whatever we want to do. Ghostlimb have always been about historical stuff, urban theory, literature, ecology—issues [Paul Sharma] and I have talked about for a long time. For me, it was always a way to write about things I hadn't seen people write about and play music in more of a melodic scope that I wanted to hear.
You're a history teacher. Which historical figure would you most like to see at a Ghostlimb show?
Confluence references Alexander the Great in one of the songs and overarching themes at the end of it. Although he was a true jerk in a lot of ways, there is a definite reason why people in the past 2,300 years have endlessly used him as a benchmark of world domination. Anyway, it might be interesting to see him at a show, asking for drink tickets, complaining about how loud it is and sad about there are no more lands to conquer in LA.
Do you ever feel jaded having been in the DIY game for this long?
Not really. There are things one would like to change about any situation, but for the most part, the only aggravating thing about DIY is people equating punk with being lazy or not getting things done. I think in reality it is the exact opposite. This stuff wouldn't exist if there weren't people working hard all over the world to bring bands from outside, to set up shows and tours, and to put out records. This is the only way any of our bands have been able to do anything.
This column appeared in print as "Brothers In Arms."