Shari Black Velvet: One phrase that comes to mind when thinking of Earth Crisis – or at least the period of time between when you split up and then got back together again, is ‘don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone’. Did you feel that way after the band split up in 2001?
Dennis Merrick: I didn’t really feel that way. Actually, as soon as I walked off stage after our set at Hellfest in 2001, I knew and felt exactly what we had. I absolutely felt like I lost something after that show. Earth Crisis had been such an integral part of my life for the eight years that I was in the band. It meant everything to me and still means a lot to me. In preparing for that show, I knew what we had. Earth Crisis meant something to us and to our fans in such an intimate way. I felt the loss coming as soon as we decided to make that our last show. It was a very emotional time for us and for our fans, I think. We didn’t break up because we wanted to or because there were other things we wanted to do more than play in Earth Crisis. We knew that it was what had to happen at that moment in the history of our band. For me it wasn’t 'don’t know what you got till it’s gone'. It was more 'I know what we have and fuck, it’s going to be gone'.
SBV: In the eight years where the members of Earth Crisis went their separate ways, what did you most miss – about the band and individual members?
DM: We still saw each other almost every day even after we went our separate ways musically. And we hardly went our separate ways musically. Scott and I did Slave One and Karl, Erick, and Ian did Freya. I ended up playing in Freya as well for a while. Apart from music, we always hung out... so we didn’t have time to miss each other. What I missed most about the band was doing something creative that I felt made a difference in people’s lives. When we stopped playing together as Earth Crisis I was stuck trying to figure out, 'now what?' There was not a single thing I could think of doing with my life that I felt would be as meaningful as what we accomplished with Earth Crisis.
SBV: One of the reasons the band split was because you all had families and you wanted to devote some time to them. Now you’ve got back together do you think you can have more of a say in the touring side of things? Can you as a band decide on the length of a tour and how long you get to go home for in between legs to make it easier for families?
DM: This is absolutely true. We were on the road so much in the 90s that Earth Crisis had to be our sole focus. That meant that we had to make money at it and that, unfortunately, it had to be a ‘job’ in some ways. It never actually felt like a job, but we did have to treat it like a business if we were to continue putting out records and touring. Hardcore has so many strange contradictions when it comes to this. If we wanted to keep doing the band as we were, we had to treat it like a business and make money at it. In a way, that is sort of against what hardcore is all about. But it is also reality. We need to eat, pay rent, support families, etc. so we need to make money playing music. Now, we no longer do Earth Crisis as a career. We do it because we want to. The pressure to make money is no longer there as we all have other things going on at home to support ourselves. Now we can play simply because we enjoy it and we have an important message to get out.
SBV: I read that you personally are not always able to tour due to money problems. Does touring at the moment cost too much for you? Does the label not pay for touring expenses? Or is it the fact that you need money for the people back home that means you have to stay home and work a day job sometimes?
DM: It’s not really due to money problems. It’s because I have a wife and a 14 month old son at home that I can’t be away from for extended periods of time. That is not the way for me to be in my family. I also do have a job at home that pays very well and I can’t afford to give up. The way the music industry is right now, a band like ours can’t be the sole source of income for anyone. It’s just not practical.
SBV: Did you personally achieve any goals in the time away from Earth Crisis that you previously hadn’t?
DM: Absolutely. I met an incredible woman that I love and started a family with her. Nadine and I have an amazing 14 month old son named Emmett. I don’t think I could have done that while I was playing full time in Earth Crisis.
SBV: With the new album you’ve said that some of the parts on the album that Scott Crouse came up with helped you develop as a drummer because you weren’t used to the double bass style. Do you still feel you’ve got a quite a way to go as a drummer – ie. in learning new things? What do you think of your drumming skills as a whole? What particular drumming skills are you best at?
DM: I develop as a drummer more with each record; but with ‘To The Death’ it was even more so. Scott wrote most of the music (guitar, bass and drum parts) on his own, so it forced me to learn things that someone else created on a drum machine and make them my own. It was a different approach than we had ever used in the past. I hope that I have a long way to go as a drummer and that I will continue to improve. Otherwise, what’s the point of continuing to play? I am a solid player. I don’t get too fancy, but I feel that I lay down a completely solid backbone for Earth Crisis’s music that helps to make it what it is. There is a certain groove to how I play that makes my playing my own.
SBV: How would you say the band’s lyrics and songs have improved over the years?
DM: I feel that lyrically things have definitely changed. When Earth Crisis first started out, the lyrics were based more on emotion... a single one really - anger. They still have venom in them but they are also much smarter. Musically I feel that we are light years ahead of where we were 18 years ago. We have grown so much as musicians. Especially on ‘To The Death’, the music is just as aggressive as it always was; but this record feels like the record we would have recorded now, in this time, where we are as musicians, as if we had never stopped doing records. It is not too much of a departure from our earlier work; but it is absolutely a progression. The musicianship is better, the production is better, the writing is better. We have come a long way in 18 years. It would be pretty sad if we hadn’t.
SBV: The new album is called ‘To The Death’ and the title track focuses on ‘vegan for life, vegan to the death’. You’re all vegan. What words of advice do you have for people who are a ‘lone vegan’ and don’t know many others? Do you think knowing and being with other vegans has many plus factors? How do you think you’d feel if you weren’t in a band, were a lone vegan and didn’t know many other vegans?
DM: I think this is the situation for most vegans when we are outside of the hardcore community. Having that network of support is incredibly important; but when we’re not at shows and we are interacting with the rest of the world we are mostly alone. I know very few vegans outside of my family, my band, and the hardcore scene. In my day to day life I am a ‘lone vegan’ taking criticism and having to defend my lifestyle. Advice I would give to other vegans is that you are right and veganism is a truly ethical lifestyle. With the truth at your side you will have the strength to continue alone if you have to.
SBV: ‘So Others Live’ sounds like it’s about the murder of animals that live in the sea. Can you explain what particularly inspired that song?
DM: A couple of our friends from Syracuse went on a mission with the Sea Shepherds a few years ago. They are a remarkable couple of guys. What they did directly inspired that song. They actually risked their lives to defend whales. That goes way beyond writing or protesting or doing what Earth Crisis does. They are truly committed animal rights activists. Now, one of them owns and runs a vegan cafe in Syracuse called Strong Hearts.
SBV: Being straight edge you’re naturally against drugs and have written about drug dealers and gangs killing more than terrorists like Al-Quaeda in ‘Security Threat #1’. Do you see the world’s drug problem getting worse? What do you think the government should be doing to thwart the US and world’s drug problems/habits?
DM: I see the world’s drug problem not just getting worse, but getting bigger. It has now transcended the issues of kids getting addicted or overdosing or of crack babies. It has not become a war and part of war. What the US government used to refer to as the ‘Drug War’ 10 years ago was not a war at all compared to what is going on now. In Mexico and the US border states, it actually is a war. People are getting killed in huge numbers. Not only that, but the drug trade has become a huge part of what is going on in the war in Afghanistan as well. It’s not just drug lords and dealers making money anymore. Countries are making huge profits from the drug trade in many ways. It really is quite scary.
SBV: What are your thoughts when you open the newspaper and read about the latest celebrity’s drug taking exploits?
DM: I don’t read about that too often. It doesn’t interest me. It disgusts me and it’s sad but I don’t really care to read about what celebrities are doing. There are too many other important things to read about. It is crazy to me, however, that people that can have the world in their hands throw it away with bad choices.
SBV: One of your older songs, ‘Asphyxiate’ is about smoking. Not many people write songs that are specifically anti-smoking songs (or maybe I just don’t read enough straightedge song lyrics). Has anyone stopped smoking after listening to that song? What reaction did that song get when ‘Destroy The Machines’ came out in ‘95?
DM: I don’t know if anyone ever quit smoking after hearing that song, but the song got a great reaction from other people that hate smoking as much as we do. Smoking has to be one of the most idiotic things an individual can do. We all know what it leads to for the smoker and people still do it. Not only that, but cigarette companies test on animals which is a complete waste of life and is evil. In places where smoking is still allowed in public areas, smokers selfishly sicken non-smokers. It’s bad for the environment and it’s a waste of money. We hate smoking.
SBV: ‘The Discipline’ is one of your straight edge songs. Personally, I’ve never smoked, drank or taken any drugs and never felt a desire to do any of them. Did you do any and then give up? Did you ever need to discipline yourself in the early days?
DM: I am an Irish Catholic and alcoholism runs in my culture and in my family a bit. I started drinking when I was in 7th grade. I did not drink alcohol often, but I did do it at a young age. When I heard about straight edge, it made sense to me and I feared where I could end up if I continued to drink. But it was easy for me to stop because it never became a big part of my life.
SBV: Do you think it’s hard for people who do drink or smoke or take drugs to give up? Have you had any people close to you who wanted to give up any of those things but couldn’t find the will power?
DM: I’m sure it is difficult for people who are addicted to any type of drug to give it up. A user’s body develops a physical dependency and her or his mind develops a mental one. It must be tough to give it up once you get started. I am lucky to not have really had anyone in my life be an addict. I hope I never have to go through that with anyone I care about.
SBV: Is there anything you’re addicted to (or find it hard to be without) – be it music or potato chips or anything else? And is there anything you need discipline to do?
DM: I can’t go without music and I love cake. Bulldog loves doughnuts. He eats garbage bags full of vegan doughnuts. It’s scary. We like to discipline him.
SBV: What do you think you’ve experienced in life being vegan straightedge that non vegans and non straightedge people haven’t?
DM: Being vegan and straight edge has helped me experience a level of peace that people that are not vegan and straight edge probably would not experience. Making the commitment to be vegan, to change my diet, was such a fundamental shift in my life that has truly allowed me to be at peace with my own body (it is the natural way for us to eat) and with the earth and animals as it makes the least amount of negative impact of any diet. I feel that being straight edge has given me the clarity of mind that helped me to choose veganism and an overall, ethical and peaceful lifestyle.
SBV: What was the last, most recent thing you saw or read that infuriated you?
DM: All of the recent news about the H1N1 vaccine. This vaccine has been rushed to market without adequate testing or any real knowledge of what the short or long term side effects could be. And the drug companies that have produced the vaccine have been given protection from any lawsuits that may arise for a negative effect of the vaccine. That is scary. That is telling us that the drug companies are not confident that what they have produced for us is safe and that no one is going to take responsibility if it turns out not to be. The H1N1 vaccine is being pushed on the public through scare tactics. This freaks me out and makes me question what is truly behind this whole thing.
SBV: What was the last song written by another band that inspired you, lyrically?
DM: It has been way too long since I have been inspired by what a band has to say. That is pretty sad. I don’t think there are many bands out there that are saying anything ground breaking these days. There are a bunch of bands whose music has impressed me as far as the writing and performance, but I have to say that I have not heard a song in a long time that has made me think about anything in a new way.
SBV: Karl is included in the forthcoming ‘Edge’ movie. Have you seen the final cut of the movie and what did you think? Do you think having an Edge movie will accomplish anything?
DM: I have not seen the movie. I have only read about it and seen the trailer. It looks to be pretty well done. I’m not sure what it will accomplish. I hope that it will at least tell a balanced story about straight edge.
SBV: As a band you’ve always used your lyrics to get a message across to others. For any people reading this that don’t know much about Earth Crisis and haven’t checked out your lyrics, what message would you like to say or try to get across to them now?
DM: Every struggle for freedom and peace is connected. You can not separate the struggles for human, animal or earth liberation. How can you call yourself an environmentalist while you eat meat? The animal food industry causes more devastation to the environment than any other single industry. How can you believe in the rights of animals, who are unjustly tortured and murdered, then live a lifestyle that supports racist, sexist or heterosexist ideas? ALL struggles are connected. ALL unjust suffering is just that - unjust. To quote an old Earth Crisis song, ‘Eden’s Demise’ – ‘Don’t let your outrage for injustice end where your selfishness begins.’
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