Shawn Smash (Total Chaos): I Learned to Play on Stolen Guitars
Total Chaos is one of the biggest names in punk rock music. They earned their place on the music scene already with their first albums Pledge Of Defiance from 1994 and Patriotic Shock, which was released a year later. Shortly after the second album saw the light of day, young punk Shawn Smash joined the band, which at that time was under the famous Epitaph Records label. Since then, the ever-evolving guitarist has been the band's main songwriting force. His lively playing is an important ingredient for the songs of Total Chaos. They recently released a new record called Mind Warfare, which was the perfect opportunity to catch up with their guitarist. How was the new record made? How challenging is touring the world with the band? And why does he like Les Pauls? Shawn Smash was happy to answer these questions for us.
Tell me about your new album Mind Warfare. Why the long lag between the records? The previous album was released in 2016, the new one came out seven years later. However, some of the songs from the new album were released as an EP or were on the split album with Acidez, am I right?
Some of the songs are from the EPs because they never got a full album release. They were remixed for the new album. The majority of the other songs were recorded in 2019 and set for 2020 release but then COVID happened and we didn't see each other for two and half years. We all live in different places and countries, so it got pushed back to 2023.
I'd say that Mind Warfare, but also the previous World Of Insanity has a similar vibe to the early Total Chaos albums where you weren't in the band yet. 2011's Battered and Scared had slightly more melodic moments that made me think of Anthems From The Alleyway. With the new album, did you want to kind of go back to the band's roots?
I don't wake up and say: "Today I'm going to write a song that sounds like old Total Chaos." That would be too contrived. I just come up with a riff and if it sounds right, we'll build on it. For Total Chaos, I try to delve into a heavier direction these days, I think we as a band are good at that style.
How does your creative process differ from your early days? You and Miguel are in the States, Geordy and Rob are in Europe. Were you in the studio together or did you send ideas and tracks back and forth?
During the pandemic, we did send some tracks back and forth. Although I wouldn’t do it again, either we’re all in the same room or don’t bother. It felt unnatural and sterile, recording like that. Rob and I tend to write 90% of the songs and have been doing that since the 90s. Miguel has a few songs he's contributed as well.
Is it that you now save the more melodic songs for your other projects like Smash 77?
Smash 77 sound is too rock 'n' roll for Total Chaos. So that's why I use those type of songs for Smash 77, those songs are my personal experiences so it fits best for that band.
What's the situation with Smash 77 now? Is the band currently on ice or are you planning something new?
It's pretty much done for now, I released the Best of 2007 – 2021 compilation with a few extra bonus tracks. I have not recorded anything else for it or have any plans to do so.
You have always been a very capable guitarist and I think your playing also made Total Chaos stand out from other bands of similar style. What do you think?
That's what people say, I just try to keep learning more things on guitar and try to get better. Some guitarists just stay in their box once they can play well enough. That's boring to me, you have to evolve and grow as a musician.
At what age did you start playing guitar and why did you choose this instrument?
At sixteen I started fooling around with the guitar. Some guys from school had broken into a guitar shop and stolen guitars and asked me if they could stash them in my garage. So I started playing around with the stolen guitars until the people came back for them. I learned fast and after they took the guitars back I bought my own guitar. Weird coincidence. I was really into Steve Jones, Sex Pistols, Ramones and punk 77 sound when I first started. However, once I could play that, I just started learning more styles to get better.
How would you describe the guitar player you are today?
Seasoned but always learning.
Why has the Les Paul remained your weapon of choice? You used to play Schecter guitars in the past, right? Do you still use them occasionally?
Those guitars just sound the best for me, they have a certain sound you don't get from other guitars. I haven't used Schecter guitars in years, the last time was on World of Insanity, I used a Schecter bass and the guitar for some leads and effects.
How has your amp configuration changed over the years? Are you the kind of guitarist who has to have a certain amp he's used to, or do you have no problem trying different types of amps at gigs?
It hasn't really changed, I have a certain sound that is the Total Chaos sound. If it's the wrong amp, it won't sound right. So I always have to make sure it’s close to what I play. I've played on different amps and hated the way it sounded.
Total Chaos is a very active band when it comes to gigs. Your schedule is really busy and you travel literally all over the world. Is this touring becoming more challenging for you as you get older?
It's always been challenging no matter what age. These tours are too long and we have too many shows in a row, It gets to be exhausting to the point where you just want to go home after a while. Honestly, I'm close to retiring from tour life, I've done this for almost thirty years and don't want to sit in a van for months on end playing a million shows anymore. Been there, done it! I'd rather be involved in the recording aspect, writing new music, being in the recording studio, doing session guitar on people's records.
I remember Miguel mentioning in some interview that every time he comes back from a tour he shuts himself up at home for a while, doesn't talk to anyone and just watches TV. How's that for you?
To some extent, you need to get some rest and get accustomed to a different schedule when you're home. Recharge the batteries and try to go back to a normal routine. I try to go to the gym, practice guitar, work on projects, do outdoor activities and hang out with friends.
Apparently, you don't get enough music even after long tours, according to your posts you often attend other bands' concerts when you have free time. What interesting things have you been to lately?
It just depends, I don't always need to be at a concert. It's good to have a balance, especially when you do this for a living. I was just at the Powertrip festival in Indio, California, with Metallica, Guns'N'Roses, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, AC/DC or Tool.
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