Theory of Pride in Tragedy
CoC chats to Ben Falgoust of Soilent Green
by: Jackie Smit
Whichever way you care to cut it, heavy metal has taken its share of underhanded knocks on the chin over the course of the last eighteen months. From the untimely and tragic passing of Dimebag Darrel to the media backlash in the wake of the now infamous stabbings at a Corrosion of Conformity show earlier this year, there are some who would easily be able to justify labeling the genre's inherent aggression and violence as a self-fulfilling prophecy. In the midst of this sits Ben Falgoust -- the lead growler for one of the scene's most malevolent exports, and in 2002, the victim of a near-fatal car collision. Told by doctors that he'd likely never walk again, Falgoust's grim determination and subsequent recovery is documented on his band's latest opus, _Confrontation_ -- a snarling beast of a record that very easily kicks dust in the face of its predecessors, and stands as a testament to the overwhelmingly positive values that (despite the perception of its detractors) powers this music for the majority of its fans and exponents.

CoC: Given the events of the last couple of years, I guess the best place to start is to ask how you're feeling at the moment?

Ben Falgoust: I'm doing pretty good, man. I think that to anybody out there who didn't know me that sees me these days, it would look like nothing happened. For myself personally, I can't run the way I used to just because of the situation with my ankle and stuff like that; but overall I can't complain, because at least I can walk around and I can do stuff like I used to do before. I just can't do certain extreme elements. Overall, it's close to being pretty much at 100%, and it took a lot of work, but after being in a wheelchair and being told by doctors that I was never going to walk again, you're kinda like: "Fuck that -- there's no fucking way."

CoC: A lot of the information that we've seen through the media has obviously been pretty sketchy, so just for the record: what was the extent of your injuries?

BF: I broke both of my legs, both ankles and I tore my left heel off. I went through nine different surgeries. A couple on the legs and ankles, where they had to put rods and screws through those. Then for my heel, what happened was that my foot had gotten trapped and smashed underneath the seat, and they had to take a bunch of skin and tissue from my lower stomach and basically create a new heel. So I went through a bunch of different surgeries for that, and then I had to be in a wheelchair. What was difficult about that was that because of my feet, I couldn't be upright, so I couldn't get the blood flowing, which made the healing process go a little slower, and meant that recovery took that much longer. So there was a lot of stuff, you know, but while I was in the chair I was working out and trying to do as much stuff as I could -- not to be fucking huge or anything like that, but just to keep toned and keep healthy and so that it wasn't a case of me just sitting around doing nothing. Then once I was finally able to get on my legs, I went to a gym and started doing this pool therapy stuff, because that has less impact on your joints and it helps build muscle again. But yeah, I'm just the kind of person that can't sit around doing nothing; I have to be doing something, you know? So when I was in the wheelchair, I was just trying to do as much as I could whenever I got a chance.

CoC: This accident came off the back of some already pretty traumatic stuff that had happened to the band. Did the thought cross your mind after it had happened that you were not going to be able to perform again?

BF: Yeah, it was a possibility, you know. But I mean, the doctors are always going to give you the worst outcome. It sucks, but they have to, to cover their asses in case anything drastic does happen. So I was being told that I might never walk again and that they might have to amputate my left foot because of the situation with my heel -- I was thinking: "Shit, if I'm stuck in a wheelchair, I could probably still do music and probably still get on stage, but I just wouldn't be in my element." I've got to have movement, if you know what I'm saying. I need to be able to get into things, so this wouldn't be the right thing. So, in the back of my mind I was thinking that if I can never walk again, I was going to have to resort to some other thing, like becoming a fucking cripple comedian or something. You know, it's one of things where everyday you just face it and you wait to see what the outcome will be. Actually when I was at home, they put on a benefit show for me in New Orleans and Goatwhore -- the other band I play in -- did a set, and I got up on stage with them and I did a few songs in the wheelchair. It looked odd, but it was kinda cool all in all. But it's not something I would have wanted to do if I was in the wheelchair for good. So, if it had been a permanent thing, then I don't know what I would have done. Probably start taking part in the special Olympics or something; it's just a day to day process.

CoC: I don't want to placate you here, but it's a very inspirational story and I'm sure that you have been and are going to be a role model for a lot of people in the future.

BF: That would be great, man. If I could be the Lance Armstrong of metal, then I'd be fucking happy. <laughs>

CoC: What kept you motivated and kept your spirits up during all of this?

BF: You know with Soilent Green, there may be two new guys in the band, but me, Brian [Patton, guitar] and Tommy [Buckley, drums] have been together for such a long time. We've been together for over ten years and it starts to create like this family orientated situation; you bond with each other. After the accident they'd come around a lot, and they'd ask me where my head was at and whether I'd like to continue, because they wanted to go on; and I just didn't think about quitting. I was like: "Fuck yeah, I want to do it no matter what." I'm going to find a fucking way to do it when I can get out of this chair and get back into action again. Those elements -- family and friends and fans. You know when something like this happens, you see this outpouring of fans and you didn't even realize that you had such a big fanbase. As a musician, you play your music and you do your thing, and Soilent Green isn't a huge band. We're not a fucking Slipknot or a Lamb of God. We go out and we play our show and we have to come home and bust our ass on our day jobs. But we enjoy what we do and we've been doing it for a long time. A lot of people could say to us: "You've been doing it for a long time and you're not getting big, you may as well quit." But it's not about that. We do something... we have something internally between us that just clicks, and I think that we bring something different to extreme music. There's all the jazz elements, all the blues, all the rock right up there with the death metal and the grindcore. We're all in our thirties, and we have a lot of elements that we bring to the table that's been around for a while and that maybe the newer generation doesn't know about or they're not familiar with it. You know, a lot of bands stick around for a couple of years and then they break up because they can't tolerate this or that. We've just been in this so long together and we've stuck it out for so long together.

CoC: There are some obvious similarities between _Confrontation_ and the earlier Soilent Green material, but what I do find striking is that the material on the new record feels much angrier and more alive. Did the accident and the subsequent things you went through following that have an effect on how this record turned out?

BF: I think it did. You know with that question, it's hard to answer, because I don't want people to think that Soilent Green are going to need another horrible accident to write a fucking ferocious album, you know what I'm saying? It's a catch twenty-two where it's like: "Shit, look what we did, but what are people going to say?" Are we going to have to get back in a van to write another crazy album? But it's not even like that, because I think that the accident just formed an element of the writing and I'm actually really excited to see what the new stuff is going to be like, because we have two new guys in the band (Tony White and Scott Kroche) and they were involved only slightly in the writing for _Confrontation_. Now that they've been with us and they've been involved in the recording process, their influences will start rubbing off on us and I'm very eager to see what they will bring to the table with the new stuff. Them being fresh and having that young hunger to do something new will rub off on me, Tommy and Brian as well.

CoC: What made you decide that Erik Rutan, of all people, was the man to produce _Confrontation_?

BF: Well, first of all, I will say that he was fucking phenomenal in the studio. You couldn't ask for anybody else, man. The job he did was amazing and he made the album sound unbelievable. I think that he brought the best out of Soilent Green out of anybody and any album so far. Anyway, the way that it happened was through a friend of ours who used to work with Morbid Angel, and was really good friends with Erik Rutan, and he put the idea to us. So when we were on tour we dropped in at his place in Tampa and had lunch, and after that he'd call us every other day, which really showed us that he wanted to work on this album. A lot of people were trying to steer us away from him because of the death metal connection, but it's a shame because with Erik being an engineer, he wants to expand his possibilities as far as that. Even though he has a style that he plays constantly, he wants to branch out as a producer and as an engineer, and it shows too, man -- he's done the Soilent album obviously, he's done the Premonitions of War album... so he's expanding and showing that he can do different styles within extreme metal and not just the death metal stuff. So, it was our choice to do it. People asked us if we were sure we wanted to use him, and there was no doubt whatsoever.

CoC: Well, I definitely agree that he did a good job and I think that he added a lot of 'weight' to the music, in the sense that, like the new Hate Eternal, it sounds very in-your-face and very attacking.

BF: It's interesting that you mention the Hate Eternal album, because he was doing that while he was doing the Soilent album, and it's crazy with that too, because he was saying all along: "Man, I'm doing a better job on the Soilent shit than I'm doing on my own album!" He was highly focused on the whole thing and he was a great person to fucking work with. He was more into it than we were sometimes. He'd constantly encourage us and tell us if he felt a particular part could be done better, you know? He would offer new ideas to us all the time and let us let loose and experiment. I think that he knew in the back of his mind that if he didn't do a good job on this album, then it was going to show.

CoC: How does it differ working with him in comparison to the other producers you've been with in the past?

BF: Let's see, on _Sewn Mouth Secrets_ Keith was real good: he was one of those guys that was like in the background and just let us do our thing until it was right. Dave [Foreman]: he does Evanescence and shit like that now -- he was really hyped and really involved; really energetic. He'd really push you to the limit like where you'd do a take and think it was fucking perfect and he'd tell you that he'd just scratched it. Erik was a bit like Dave, but he was probably more connected to us because of his background in extreme music. Also with this recording, where we would normally record close to home and basically go to work and then come afterward and start doing the album for a couple of hours every day; with this album we left the city completely. We stayed in Tampa with Erik for almost a month and that helped us greatly, because I think it gave us more focus on everything -- we didn't need to think about shit like work the next day, and you were able to say: "Well, we'll fucking record until six in the morning and then go to bed for ten hours and do whatever else afterward." We had days where I was doing vocal tracks from midnight until fucking six o' clock in the morning, and then go to sleep for a while and do some more stuff. So, the schedule was really free and focused and you didn't have to worry about going home and getting to bed and going to work the next day.

CoC: What's new in Goatwhore? I know you guys just signed with Metal Blade, if I'm not mistaken?

BF: While I'm out with Soilent Green, those guys are at home busy working on some new material and we're hoping that we can get into the studio at some point at the end of the year. But the priority right now is Soilent, because that really has to be pushed a lot right now. I'm in touch with them though and they've sent some of the instrumental stuff that they've put down on to a four track, and I can go over it while I'm on the road, and then when I get home, I can start working on things. So hopefully by December or early next year, we'll be in the studio and the new album will be out toward the middle of 2006 on Metal Blade. That will also open the doors for us to bring Goatwhore to Europe finally. Both those bands though -- I give a hundred percent to both, and I know that it's difficult to say that, but it's true. You'll always have a few little conflicts here and there, but when I'm there I give it my full fucking effort, and I push myself as much as I possibly can.

CoC: So, what's next for you and for Soilent Green? I know that you're coming round to my neck of the woods in September with Nile and Hate Eternal.

BF: Oh man, that thing is smashed. We're not going to be on that anymore, because Relapse pulled support for us to come over. You see, this album is the last album that we're contracted to them or anyone else to do, and we never actually re-signed, because we were so focused on getting _Confrontation_ out and on pushing it. But the thing about it is that with it being the last album, they don't really want to put support forward for us to go to Europe. It's actually aggravating, because we really want to get over there, because we feel like we have a lot of work to do there. There are talks of us possibly going over in October for three weeks with a band called Breecher, but that's up in the air too as far as Relapse giving us support for that one. I mean, we want to come, but it's restricted at the moment until we sort out what happens with the label situation.

CoC: It's bizarre that Relapse would not want to give you guys the support you need to promote this album properly, particularly since you're going to be faced with the decision of who to sign with very shortly.

BF: It's great that you say that, because it's silly. You have Nile, who's on Relapse already, and you wouldn't have to spend half the cost for tour support, but who knows? Maybe they think that Soilent Green isn't popular enough. We try not to let all that shit -- all that bullshit industry stuff -- get in our way, and we just do what we want to do. We don't want to be one of these bands who are torn apart because of all the industry bullshit. If the label doesn't want to support us going to Europe, then we'll do what we have to do and tour the States, and if things don't work out then we'll do a deal with another label and then hopefully that will branch out into something better.

CoC: So with all of this happening, what's your relationship with Relapse been like since you've signed with them?

BF: Actually everything was really good with them, but in all honesty, shit got really bad after the accident. I'm just being honest about the whole situation, and if they don't like me saying it, then that's too bad. They just acted like we were non-existent. They called _Deleted Symphony for the Beaten Down_ a dead album and said that we weren't going to do anything else. They didn't think that we were going to come back and do another album and just keep rolling with it, you know? And then we did, and we told them that we were going to the studio, they kept trying to hold if off and they told us that we couldn't do it and that they didn't have the money to send us to the studio. It got to the point that we're at now, where they're saying that they don't know what the future is with us and that they don't know whether they're going to be able to support us going to Europe and whatever. But they were always great before. I know that we aren't a Dillinger or a Mastodon or something, but we're a pretty decent band for a company at their level. The situation right now is frustrating, but it's just something I want to leave in the past, because you can let it boil in your head and let it tear your situation apart, and we don't let ourselves get brought down by shit like that. There's a million fucking bands that have had that happen to them, and it's a major thing that's never really brought up very often, because a lot of labels try to cover things up. They don't want people to know how they do stuff, when at the end of the day, is it a cool thing to do to a band that has just come off the back of two tragic accidents? To call the album dead and to say that they didn't think we'd do anything else ever again? That's really fucking cool to say that to some dudes who have just been through stuff as crucial as that. It's not even like we were driving on the fucking interstate drunk or something, you know? It was just obscure situations. The first one was in a van sliding on some black ice and the second one was a fucking eighteen wheeler that piled into us and just crushed the car that we were in. Hell, I don't even drink!

CoC: Just listening to all of this, I'm amazed that you guys are still together, and as I think I mentioned before, Soilent Green will be an inspiration for a lot of bands and a lot of people in the future.

BF: It's not like we're trying to do this to be anything special. We just like doing what we do, and we pursue it as much as we possibly can.

CoC: You've always had a reputation for being quite energetic and active on stage. How has the accident affected your performance on stage?

BF: Actually it's been pretty much back to normal. You know, early on, I'd have problems on stage because my legs would get tired before the rest of my fucking body would. But you try and work out as much as you can, and you try and get back to normal as much as you can. These days I think it's more mental than anything else, and sometimes I'll want to do something and I'll tell myself not to, because I don't want to twist my fucking ankle and I don't want to pay for it the next day. Other times the show is really good and I think to myself, "Fuck it, I'll pay for it tomorrow." I just go all out. So, if it's a show where the crowd is kinda so-so, I'm not going to go overboard, but if the crowd is fucking insane, then I'll risk something -- I don't care about tomorrow morning.

CoC: Ben, thanks very much for your time. Do you have anything else to add?

BF: No man, I think we've got it pretty much covered. For new readers and new people: give us a chance. I know we aren't part of the whole new metalcore scene that's really big right now, but I think we've got a lot to offer and I think that people can really get into us if they like extreme music.

(article submitted 22/8/2005)


ALBUMS
4/27/2008 J Smit 10 Soilent Green - The Inevitable Collapse in the Presence of Conviction
6/29/2005 X Hoose 8.5 Soilent Green - Confrontation
10/19/2001 A McKay 7.5 Soilent Green - A Deleted Symphony for the Beaten Down
10/12/1999 M Noll 8 Soilent Green - Sewn Mouth Secrets
GIGS
5/25/2000 P Schwarz Crowbar / Eyehategod / Soilent Green God Hating Human Beatings
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