I'll Take the Blame!!!- A Chat with Jeff Scheel
by Peter Crigler
Gravity Kills were determined to be unique and different than most other 'industrial' bands, like My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult. Breaking out with the hit "Guilty" (1996), the band blazed their way across the country and made not only lots of fans but quite an impression with their dynamic stage presence. When the bottom fell out of the alt rock world, the band went their separate ways in 2003 but what they were able to achieve was more than a lot of other bands that ended up sounding like them were able to do. After a mid-2000's reunion that petered out around 2010, the band have announced a hometown show in St. Louis in November 2023 with the potential of more. I spoke with frontman Jeff Scheel around 2018 and then updated our discussion to get a sense of where the guys are now and what they hope to get out of this upcoming reunion.
PSF: How did you get interested playing music?
JS: I was always interested in playing music. Started playing the guitar at the age of 9, drums at 14 and picked up keys somewhere along the way.
PSF: When did the band come together?
JS: We came together in September of 1994. It's a really crazy story. You can read about it here.
PSF: What was the alternative scene like in Missouri at the time?
JS: At the time, St Louis had an incredible scene that was heavily supported by fans and bands.
PSF: How did the band come to sign with TVT? How do you feel about it now?
JS: We were courted by TVT, Atlantic, Capitol and Reprise. We felt we would be a bigger fish in a smaller pond at TVT. In hindsight, I think all the guys feel we made the right decision but I have thought about what might have happened had we signed with a major versus an indie. With that said, without TVT, we wouldn't have been on the Mortal Kombat sound track or Se7en. I feel that being in the movie Se7en is a huge part of our legacy.
PSF: What was the inspiration for "Guilty"?
JS: The inspiration for "Guilty" was just getting the song done. I came up with the melody and the lyrics in about 3 hours.
PSF: What was success like and how did the band respond?
JS: Success for the band happened so quickly that I never really enjoyed it. Of course, there were moments but I think all of us were just trying to keep up. Within a year of getting in the room together for the first time as a band, we had a record deal and were on two #1 movie soundtracks. We held it together and I think we responded very well. The band toured the first record for 2 years.
PSF: What was it like playing with the Sex Pistols?
JS: Playing with them was incredible. As a fan of music, whether you liked the band or not, you cannot ignore the historical significance of the Sex Pistols. Hanging around John was amazing. If you wanted to see him light up, you would ask him questions about PiL. Got to drink plenty of English and Irish beer with him.
PSF: Did you get the audience riled up to yell obscenities on a live radio broadcast?
JS: That is also true, I got 7500 people to yell "FUCK YOU" in unison at a Summerfest show in Milwaukee in 1997. We played Summerfest the next summer and the crowd stated chanting "Fuck you, Fuck you, Fuck you..." as our intro rolled. We were never asked back.
PSF: Do you feel the band suffered from the sophomore slump?
JS: I do and I don't. I think Perversion (1998) is a great record and the super hardcore fans will tell you that is their definitive Gravity Kills record. It obviously didn't sell what the self-titled sold but we had completely rejected the notion of trying to formulate the band and remake the first record.
PSF: What caused Kurt Kerns (founding member/co-songwriter/live drummer) to leave the band?
JS: Kurt and his wife had had their first child and his heart was at home. He made the decision based on what he felt was right for his family. The last show he played with the band before the 2005 reunion date was on January 10, 1999 at The Blue Note in Columbia. We were on stage doing sound check when a crew member came up and told us the show was sold out. I turned around to him and said "What a great way to go out." We both got a little emotional.
PSF: What caused the band's departure from TVT?
JS: Our A&R guy had left TVT in early 1997 and over the next several years, we became the red-headed stepchild of the label bouncing from A&R guy to A&R guy. At one point, Steve Gottlieb himself was our A&R guy which by definition was a bad idea. Steve had the best of intentions but was a business guy and not a music guy. I don't think he ever understood what we did.
PSF: What was the process like recording and releasing Superstarved (2002)? What was it like working with Martin Atkins (of Public Image Ltd, Ministry, Nine Inch Nails, Pigface, Killing Joke)?
JS: Recording Superstarved was a long and painful journey. We tracked 35 songs for that record. During this process we had a member leave the band, we got out of a record deal, went 6 months with no label, released a single on our own to alternative radio that got played on over 45 stations and only then would labels start talking to us again. A real rollercoaster. I personally became much more proficient in the studio and was in therapy at the time, so I had plenty to write about.
Working with Martin was personally challenging for me because Martin knew how to push my buttons emotionally and would do so at every opportunity. We would actually get in shouting matches in his home and he really made an effort to make me uncomfortable in the studio. You can hear that in the vocal performances on the record. With that said, I love Martin and have nothing but admiration for him.
As far as releasing the record, I was in London the day I saw the finished and packaged CD for the first time. I literally cried. We spent 2 and a half years making a record that at times we didn't know if anyone was going to hear it.
PSF: How did Sanctuary come into the picture? Was it a decent relationship?
JS: Sanctuary came into the picture about 6 months after we had parted ways with TVT. They wanted to give it a go in the US. I loved working with all the people that worked our record but they were a bit hamstrung by the head of the label not truly understanding what is took as far as money to work a record in the States. For instance, we had a single that was most added at rock radio but we didn't have the resources to mount a full-scale radio campaign.
PSF: How did the tour for Superstarved come to an end?
JS: We were in Illinois. We got on the bus after a show, all looked at each other and said "Let's go home." We were scraping by on the road and I think everyone was simply tired of the dogfight.
PSF: What caused the band to split up?
JS: At that point, I think all of us were just done. I don't even know that we were even friends anymore at that point. Sometimes, you just know.
PSF: What sparked the initial reunion?
JS: We just wanted to play together again. Without any pressure and let it feel good.
PSF: Was there a potential fourth record that never came to fruition?
JS: We have kicked around doing music again for a long time and have never really been able to share the same vision for whatever reason.
PSF: What is everyone currently up to?
JS: Kurt owns an architecture firm. Matt is an engineering consultant; Doug still owns Shock City and I am still booking bands.
PSF: What have you been up to since 2018?
JS: I have been in the entertainment business, selling entertainment to casinos and corporate clients.
PSF: What was the impetus for the November 2023 show?
JS: It started with a conversation with Kurt about doing a show so our kids could see us do it. We wanted to play again before we lost the physical ability to do a show that would represent us well.
PSF: What do you think the future might hold?
JS: Tough to say. We'd like to possibly play some festival shows in 2024 as well as play a show in our 2nd hometown of Chicago (we still don't like the Cubs though).
PSF: What do you think of the impact of alternative rock in the '90;s?
JS: Maybe because I was a part of it but I feel that the '90's was the "golden age" of alternative music. It was a time we lived more in a mono culture and if someone listened to Gravity Kills, maybe they listened to No Doubt or The Toadies... or The Spice Girls.
PSF: What do you hope Gravity Kills' legacy will be?
JS: That is a tough question. For most, our legacy will simply be "Guilty." Something you might not know is that KROQ named "Guilty" one of its top 105 songs of the '90's. Not bad for four guys from Jefferson City, MO. I think in a revisionist kind of way, the band now has a credibility that for some reason we lacked in the '90's. I have 18 and 19-year-old kids contact me through social media who are discovering our music for the first time and being blown away.
Maybe our legacy will be what the band was in the first place, four guys that liked guitars and electronic music that had something to say and wrote pretty good "pop" songs. In 2016, Martin Atkins of Pigface asked me to sing "Guilty" at the Pigface 25-year anniversary show at the House of Blues in Chicago. When he asked me, I said, "I don't know Martin, your crowd didn't really like my band." He said, "First, fuck them and second, everybody loves that song." It only took 20 years for the hardcore industrial scene to finally say, "those guys were pretty good."
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