Interview With The Challenger Deep: A Posthumous (Sorta) Interview By Jim Ruland

The first time I saw the Challenger Deep was their last show. It was a bittersweet moment. I’d been listening to their CDEP for weeks and really liked their music. They’re a trio in the mold of Pitchfork, Drive Like Jehu, and Hot Snakes—classic San Diego post-punk sludge. Thirteen years ago there were tons of bands playing rhythmic noise that was light on lyrics. Now? Not so much. But what makes the Challenger Deep interesting is that none of the members are from San Diego. In fact, the band is breaking up because the front man is going back to New York. So when the Challenger Deep announced they would be playing a reunion show less than a week after they broke up, I busted out the recording equipment and headed to the Ken Club.

 

The Challenger Deep are/were: Gregg Geradi (drums) Andy Kondrat (bass) and Rob Trout (guitar and vocals).

 

Jim: So whose idea was it to schedule a reunion show?

Andy: Actually, the other band I play in decided to book a show and really wanted the Challenger Deep to play it and to headline it. We’d already said that last Saturday was our last show but we got offered this and decided it would make a great reunion show. So here we are to rock out one last time.

Jim: So, basically for the money.

Andy: [laughs] I don’t think we’ve seen dime one yet. It takes time, it takes time.

Jim: So why is the Challenger Deep breaking up?

Rob: Well, that is a good question, one that involves a good answer. I’m moving back to the East Coast, where I’m originally from, for family reasons. I’ve been out in San Diego for about three years. I’m going to go back for a little bit, take care of some family stuff, and be closer to everyone. It’s been a good ride and these guys have been really cool with it and everything. It kinda sucks because we just started picking up some steam. I think we all realize that given another year we could have attained some minor celebrity in San Diego. We just love playing and that’s kinda what we’re doing. Unfortunately, the timing is a little off. We’re calling it an “indefinite hiatus” so that there’s no breaking up involved so we can get back together and surprise everybody.

Andy: Very Fugazi. We started this just for fun. We just started playing together without an ambition or goal. We liked the same music and today we sound pretty good. Unfortunately, we got off the ground pretty slow in terms of getting shows and recording, but once we finally did that we realized that other people like our music and want to listen to it. Just as that started to happen, Rob’s gotta leave. Seeing as we had no ambition to begin with, it’s not like this is ruining our lives. We started it for fun. It’s been awesome. I think we all had a great time. We’ve played some good shows. We play music that we really like and enjoy listening to and that’s the important thing. The fact that people are listening to us now, maybe more people will listen, but it’s too late to see us. After tonight it’s done.

Rob: You’re basically fucked.

Jim: So is there any truth to these rumors that after being named Punk Band of the Month in June on San Diego Punk.com that Rob can’t handle the pressure?

Gregg: That’s actually very true, I think. He started to crack up. Everyday it seems more and more. He gets shaky on stage. Hopefully he makes it through the set tonight.

Jim: Has Rob even been to New York?

Gregg: I’ve heard rumors. [laughs] Actually, five years ago we used to play in the same rehearsal studio in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, but we didn’t know each other then, never ran into each other. Met him out here and it turns out we practiced right across the hall from each other. Weird story.

Jim: So Gregg you’re from New York?

Gregg: Correct.

Jim: And Rob you’re from New York?

Rob: New Jersey, New York Metropolitan area.

Jim: Well claim a town for God’s sakes.

Rob: I’m from Morris County, New Jersey.

Andy: I’m actually from the Bay Area, California.

Jim: How long has the Challenger Deep been together? What was the genesis of the band?

Gregg: I think we’ve been together a year. August 2006 is when we started getting things together. I put up an ad on Craigslist and I think Rob answered first. We jammed. We liked it. I think we found Andy a week later. Everything sort of fell into place from there.

Jim: What was your first gig?

Andy: Zombie Lounge.

Gregg: Yeah, New Year’s Eve.

Andy: It was a fun show.

Jim: And where was your last show?

Andy: Chasers. Two blocks down from the Zombie Lounge on beautiful, historic El Cajon Boulevard in San Diego.

Jim: And Andy you were not feeling your best.

Andy: I had what was later diagnosed as gastroenteritis. To be completely honest, about two hours before the show, I started vomiting. Quite heavily. And after the show I was so weak and fatigued I couldn’t load my equipment into my car. We don’t have roadies yet, it turns out. I couldn’t do it. I spent the next couple days throwing up as much as humanly possible. Today, the night of our reunion show, was actually the first day I’ve been back at work since then. I’m in good health. I’m ready to make up for the fact that I almost passed out during the last three songs of our final show. No more gastroenteritis. No more IVs in my arm.

Gregg: You had IVs?

Andy: Yeah, I went to the hospital and I had to have IVs put in.

Jim: When did you go to the hospital?

Andy: The day after the show I went to the hospital. They gave me a shot in the ass to get rid of the nausea and it also knocked me out for six hours and they also gave me an IV for dehydration and that IV was in for about an hour and a half. Basically, this band is going to kill me.

Rob: You know what’s fucked up is I Googled that disease and it’s total bullshit. He’s playing in a Blink 182 cover band and was trying to get out of it.

Andy: Dude, we had just figured out how to play “Pathetic.” It’s taken three weeks to learn. We got the harmonies and the drum beat down. We seamlessly go from that into “Voyeur.” I really wanted to do that.

Jim: I remember during the very first song you were staring very intently at your E string and I was thinking, “Oh man, this can’t be good.”

Andy: Honestly, I could feel myself yawning while playing. Not because I was tired but because I couldn’t get enough oxygen into my lungs to continue. There was debate as to whether to cut the set short by a song, but the song was only two and a half minutes long.

Rob: Like all of our songs.

Andy: I could probably push through. At the end of the set, I just sat down on the edge of the stage for a good ten minutes and tried not to pass out.

Jim: Where does the songwriting process begin?

Rob: I think it comes from jamming. A lot of us have been carrying around riffs in our heads since high school. It comes out during practice. In practice we do a good job of working on stuff we’ve already written and jamming on new songs. The songwriting process is really smooth in this band, probably the smoothest of any band I’ve ever worked with. We all play off each other really well. If we work on a song, we can pretty much get it done by the end of practice: the basic chord changes and what we’re gonna do. We each go home with our homework and work on a transition here or there. It’s pretty seamless and for the most part it really goes well with our style of music because we all listen to the same stuff and we all have the same ideas.

Andy: What I think is good for us is that every song we have, maybe with a couple exceptions here or there, are written by the Challenger Deep. One of us—either Gregg starts the drum beat, or Rob has a full verse in mind, or I just have a riff to play—we bring it in and play off of it. We toss around ideas and try out a few things, but it’s definitely… I don’t think outside of “Grapeshot” have we come in and said, “Okay, here’s the song and here’s the structure and here’s how it goes.” It’s very open. We can write a song in twenty minutes based on the first riff that someone brings in that we can play live at our next show.

Jim: What is your most challenging song?

Andy: I think for all of us it’s something different.

Gregg: For me it would be “Cipher” with the little mini drum solo there at the end. Andy: It’s a crazy fill and a complex time. It goes from 4/4 to 3/4 kinda sporadically. For me, it’s “Convent Station” because the whole time I’m mirroring the guitar. It turns out that bass strings are bigger and farther apart than guitar strings. I use a pick I don’t use my fingers. It takes a lot of effort. I’m tired by that point and usually want to pass out anyway.

Rob: For me it’s “Convent Station,” too, because we always save it for last and we kinda have to save it for last. Parts of that song have a lot to do with when I was younger. It’s named for a train station in the New Jersey transit line. The lyrics… Whenever I play it live I really get into it, and there’s probably no way I’d be able to play it anywhere else in the set and be able to go on. The whole song is pretty quick and I pretty much blow my voice out on it every time.

Andy: It’s a huge pain in the ass to play.

Rob: It sounds good when we pull it off.

Andy: It sounds awesome when we play it but I’m fucking done! No encore for us. Not that we’re big enough anyway, but we couldn’t do one. We’d all be on oxygen tanks.

Jim: What is your deepest song? You’ve all been tricked, you realize that now.

Rob: That’s a good question.

Andy: You know, I don’t know what the deepest song is lyrically because I didn’t write the lyrics and, to be honest with you, I don’t really pay attention to them that much.

Jim: Typical bass player.

Andy: Come on, dude. It’s lyrics! I don’t care, but the song that I get most into playing and clicks the most is “3-5-3.” There aren’t too many lyrics and it’s pretty straight forward but it’s mostly an instrumental song. We can lock into it and it builds and builds and builds. We all get into the groove of the song. That’s my favorite song that we have. It’s also the one that we have the most feeling when we play each and every time. “Convent Station” has so much energy but it’s a little slower. It’s instrumental. That’s the song I would hope people connect to the most.

Gregg: For me I just have to say “Convent Station.” Just the whole energy of that song I think is incredible. I think it’s the best song that we’ve written. We just get so emotionally into it.

Andy: We jammed that. I remember the first time you and I jammed that.

Gregg: That was our first song, I think.

Jim: What does the Challenger Deep mean?

Gregg: It’s named after the deepest point in the ocean in the Mariana Trench. They named the deepest point down there after a British survey ship that went down there.

Jim: Near the Philippine Islands, right?

Gregg: That is correct.

Jim: Sailed over it a few times while I was in the Navy.

Andy: [laughs] No big deal.

Jim: Gregg, how many drumsticks do you own?

Gregg: Maybe twenty at any one given time. I think I break about two a practice.

Jim: How many do you bring with you on a gig?

Gregg: Usually I have four. The two I’m holding and two extras.

Jim: And how many fly out of your hands on any given night?

Gregg: [laughs] That Chaser’s stage was super hot and sweaty. I couldn’t hold on to anything that night. So I lost two that night. Hit Rob a couple times. I’m usually pretty solid on holding onto sticks.

Jim: Are you sure it’s not some cry for attention?

Rob: You should ask him if he secretly wants to wear drum gloves while he plays.

Andy: I think he does. I think he has a hankering.

Jim: Do you want to wear Spiderman drum gloves?

Gregg: I think every drummer does. Be like Tommy Lee and get those drum gloves going.

Jim: But you’re the only drummer I know who rocks the Starfleet Headset.

Gregg: I don’t want to be deaf when I’m old.

Andy: It’s his trademark.

Gregg: That’s my signature look.

Jim: Rob, do you write most of the lyrics?

Rob: Yeah, I write all the lyrics. They’re not very in-depth, but… I wasn’t into being the singer because I hadn’t done it before. We had tried someone out, a couple people, but it didn’t work out. At first I was kinda shy about it, to be honest with you. I wasn’t getting that close to the mic. I think recently I’ve gotten more comfortable. I think it’s worked out. Our lyrics aren’t very hard to sing. It’s very Rick Froberg-esque. Just staying in the same melody. It’s kinda like singing in the same note, but trying to make it sound different. It’s very high-pitched.

Andy: It’s kind of in the style of Froberg in that it’s not a big melody that goes over the music. The music comes first. It’s an important part of what we do. In Drive Like Jehu and especially Hot Snakes, the music is more important than the vocals. We use the vocals almost as a fourth instrument. The vocals came last. It was just kind of a “How can we punch this up? How can we add to the music that we created?” And also have some lyrics because the music doesn’t stand alone perfectly. But the music is what we want people to pay attention to so the music lyrics should accentuate the music.

Rob: Pretty much what I try to do is go along with what the guitar players are doing and it’s worked out pretty well. The hardest one to write was the “Convent Station.” The chorus I’d written a while back with the vocal melody, if you want to call it a melody, but I try to make it catchy. I don’t want it to be just screaming. I do scream sometimes, but it’s a little bit melodic. I try to write stuff that’s a little bit catchy so that when you leave or listen to the album it’s stuck in your head. For me, it’s always stuck in my head. It’s opened up a lot of doors for me with the vocal writing. Working with Andy and Gregg, they’ve been really cool with helping me out with what sounds good and what doesn’t because I’d never done this before, never experienced it before. It was new to me. It was a team effort. There’s no “I” in team. No “I” in Rob either.

Jim: Or in beer. [Takes sip] Okay, Gregg, this is a question I’ve been dying to ask you for a long time. Just exactly how long do you spend every day looking at yourself naked in a mirror?

Gregg: That’s a good portion. Usually a good hour, get up, get that first look. Sometimes midway through the day I want another good glimpse. Stand around for a while. And then again at night you gotta have one before you go to bed.

Andy: I can actually answer that one because he calls me when he does it. “Hey, checking myself out, naked in a mirror, thought you should know.” He also calls me when he’s done. Its usually averages two-and-a-half to four hours a day.

Jim: Gregg, when did you know you were a drummer?

Gregg: That would be after I did a semester at Berkeley College of Music playing jazz guitar when I was eighteen, nineteen. Then after that I needed a break. Like most people I know who go to that school, they burn out and need a break from their instrument. Same as me. After that, I bought a drum set and started playing.

Jim: What was your first instrument that you learned to play on, Andy?

Andy: The trombone, in the fourth grade, but I actually started on the bass. I decided outright that I did not want to be a guitar player. I started playing the bass in the sixth or seventh grade. It was only after that, a few years later, did I teach myself how to play guitar, but I’ve never considered myself a guitar player. I could never be in a band as a guitar player. From the beginning I was a bass player. That sounds much more awesome to me. I was a John Entwistle fan growing up, not a Pete Townshend fan. Keith Moon was cool but I don’t have the coordination. Daltrey was cool but kinda girly. Townsend can write, but I was an Entwistle guy.

Jim: Rob, what was the first record you ever bought?

Rob: I would say Nelson After the Rain. It was a good one.

Jim: I’m so sorry I asked that question. Okay, what was the best show you ever had, with this band or any other…your best musical experience?

Gregg: I would say playing the Knitting Factory with this band. I thought that was awesome. I think that was actually one of the first shows we ever booked and it rocked. That show kicked ass in so many ways.

Andy: We had a great set. It was the Knitting Factory. That was definitely up there. That and when I got to play the Middle East in Boston.

Rob: We played the Knitting Factory. I’ve played the Mercury Lounge in New York, but nothing compares to the experiences I’ve had onstage with Gregg and Andy.

Jim: So what’s so special about New York?

Rob: There’s really nothing special about it. I would say it’s just more about my family. For the time being, the next year or two, that’s where I’m going to be. I was actually talking to Gregg a little earlier on. I have three week vacation from my next job. So maybe we’ll take some time off and do a West Coast tour and do a couple of reunion shows. Keep the dream alive.

 

Check out the Challenger Deep at www.myspace.com/thechallengerdeep.