Oozing Wound’s Zack Weil and Kevin Cribbin: Organic Offense
With technical, rhythmic riffs and nasty lead bass tones, this Chicago thrash trio takes the crude metal shtick outside the norm.
Claiming to be “Tipper Gore’s worst fears incarnate,” Oozing Wound isn’t exactly a serious act. Check out their videos: They murder posers, trample lion cubs to death, and pay tribute to recreational activities like shot-gunning beer and ripping bong hits. Their song titles include “Call Your Guy” and “Everything Sucks, and My Life Is a Lie.” Irreverence is more than a byword for them—it’s a core value.
The Chicago-based thrash trio spew juicy sarcasm on albums like Retrash, Earth Suck, and now Whatever Forever—nothing’s sacred and to hell with convention. Their music is fast and raucous—as thrash metal should be—and dripping in fuzz. And their sound, as you’d expect, is an exercise in excess. “I can always figure out how to sound properly gross in the mix—getting the grossness just right,” bassist Kevin Cribbin says. Oozing Wound is gross, and that’s the point. But they do it with a certain finesse that’s more than meets the eye.Cribbin, for his part, is armed with a bevy of ZVEX fuzz pedals. He works the band’s bottom end and keeps things gnarly. But despite his penchant for nasty, his formidable chops enable him to maintain the music’s intensity with clarity and definition.
It’s an aesthetic Cribbin shares with guitarist Zack Weil, although Weil keeps a stomp-free signal chain. “I’m not huge on pedals,” he says. “Every pedal I ever bought, I was like, ‘Okay, it makes this one sound. Cool. I can do that in part of one song.’ And then you’re just carrying this pedal around.”
After further examination, Oozing Wound’s shtick turns out to be much more than fuzz overload and cultivated bad taste. Their musical depth is rooted in disparate influences.“Everything I listen to is from the ’70s,” Weil says. “That’s where my mind is always at, then every so often I come up for air.” They’re as happy listening to bands like the Beach Boys, Yes, and Frank Zappa as they are listening to Lightning Bolt and fellow Midwestern heroes, the Platinum Boys. That diversity is part of what keeps the band’s music fresh and multidimensional. Inside jokes and faux bravado aside, they’re also sophisticated songwriters, with a keen ear for melody and a daredevil approach to odd meters, feedback, and noise.
“We want to be serious at making it as good as we can on the craft level,” Cribbin says. And they do that while raising a middle finger at decorum. Weil and Cribbin discuss their tonal formulas, go-to gear, and organic songwriting approach, plus Weil confesses his fear of changing guitar strings onstage.
Who are your musical influences?
Weil: I’ve been listening to a lot of Beach Boys—they’re my favorite band—I’m always listening to them. Five or six years ago I was probably only listening to metal, which is right around when I started Oozing Wound, but the Beach Boys have been a constant for so much longer. It’s just something I always go back to. I can’t write music like that, so it’s fascinating to me in a way that Metallica or Kreator is not as amazing—I hear what they’re doing, I get how they’re doing it. Whereas there is a real mystery behind what the Beach Boys do or Yes—probably being my second favorite band that I’m always listening to. I’m listening to a lot of ABBA lately, too. People never believe me about this stuff, but that’s what I listen to. It’s pop music. I get a lot of ideas from that, way more than I ever do from metal.
Cribbin: The obvious answer is that I was really into Les Claypool. But my mom and my uncles were all heads in the ’70s, so I was exposed to a lot of Devo, Frank Zappa, the Police, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, and all those bands. Bass was an interesting component to all those records—their presence. Everyone in Oozing Wound is into strange, non-metal music. We listen to different genres that don’t resemble what we produce. We like the Beach Boys and shit like that.
How does listening to pop music influence your metal writing?
Weil: We do breakdowns, go against rhythms, and do things that a band trying to play to a style would probably never think to do or would never want to do. We try to keep things interesting or catchy or at least bizarre. Playing off Kevin helps because I write way more straight than he does. I come up with two parts that I think will go good back and forth and it’s usually rhythmically strict. He’ll come in and put something over the top of that. You couldn’t transcribe what Kevin does, but it’s pedals and noises and he plays with his fingers in a way that makes most people, if they start watching him, go dead in the face staring at his hands. I would say the combination of the two of us writing against one another is how we come up with these weird things. If we were only listening to metal, I don’t think we would do it the same way.
To create a huge wall of guitar sound on Whatever Forever, guitarist Zack Weil recorded one track of guitars on the neck pickup of his Flying V, and a second guitar part on the bridge pickup. Weil also uses two or three amps, then doubles them, so the effect is like hearing six guitars.
When writing songs, do you bring in riffs or do you do a lot of jamming at rehearsals?
Weil: I’ve structured out songs before and I was like, “Here’s the four parts. Here’s how we’re going to do it.” And it never turns out the way I think it will. That used to bum me out. But now that’s the magic of it all. It’s always a collaboration, no matter how much I’m doing. If I write 90 percent of it, the other 10 percent is really important. Kevin’s brought in a couple riffs, but for the most part it’s me wanting to move onto the next thing and he’s good at making what I do weirder and more interesting. It’s a real partnership.
Cribbin: Zack comes up with these really weird riffs, so, do I play what he’s doing? Do I emphasize certain notes? Do I treat it rhythmically? Do I play his riff backwards over it and make it sound weird? Anything goes. A lot of that stuff is organically trying to make things interesting on a personal level.
Zack, your rhythm playing is intricate and pretty difficult. Do you have different techniques you use either for playing that way, for practice, or to maintain consistency?
Weil: Not really [laughs]. I never used to play metal—that was a discovery in my mid-20s that I could even do it. For example, for some people palm muting is impossible and they get caught up on that. You build up these small little things that eventually you can combine. There were skills I picked up when I was a teenager. I listened to some proggier, mathier stuff when I was in my early 20s and that all fed into it. I was playing with a bunch of different people in bands and you hear this thing and you’re like, “I can do that rhythm.” Then you play it and everyone is like, “Wow, that’s difficult.” And you’re like, “I guess so?” To me, I never feel like I’m pushing my ability too hard, but sometimes listening back I’m kind of shocked at the stuff I hear. But there’s no real technique or thing I’m practicing or anything like that. I’ve gotten better at speed picking—it doesn’t hurt my arm anymore.
Weil: When I first started, I had to change how I held the pick. But a few little changes and suddenly everything was super simple.
Zack Weil is a minimalist when it comes to gear. A Gibson Flying V is the only guitar he plays, so he makes it a
point to never break a string onstage. Photo by Kevin Gras
I’m sure touring helps a lot, as well.
Weil: Kind of. You get tighter and looser at the same time. You start screwing up things that you’ve never even questioned before. I get freaked out halfway through a tour. The guitar playing part is always easy, but all the vocal stuff, I start losing my voice about halfway into it—or just even a couple of days. I get real moody and I can’t drink as much or I have to drink room temperature water and try not to talk. It’s kind of maddening.
Does playing loud help? It can loosen up your attack.
Weil: Yeah. I used to play some folkie stuff, but eventually I realized I would rather see people having a good time in the crowd than crying, weeping, or moping. Loud goes with the territory. It’s more fun. If you could be really fun and quiet then maybe I would do it, but I have yet to see that happen.
What amps do you use?
Weil: I use a Peavey 6505 Plus. Before that I was using a Peavey Ultra Plus. I worked with the guy who records us, Matt Russell, at a Whole Foods right when I was starting Oozing Wound. He was the most metal guy I knew who recorded bands. I asked him, “What do I need to do to get that sound?” He said, “Buy a Peavey Ultra Plus. Get a Marshall 1969 cab. And put Zakk Wylde pickups in your guitar.” And it totally worked [laughs]. He’s kind of a genius in that sense. It was a real budget way to get the right tone. I’ve been using the exact same thing ever since. Same pickups. I’ve been trying to use different cab setups, but the restriction is always money and finding this shit. I want to have giant orange and green cabs or something, that kind of thing, the loudest most horrifying thing, and someday maybe I will.
Do you get your distortion from the amp?
Weil: Yeah. It’s built in. There are two levels of distortion on the 6505—there is a crunch and then a high-gain channel. I keep it on the high gain, cranked, everything to full. It is the most basic thing you can possibly do. That has always been my goal, to keep it simple and don’t mess with it. You don’t need to add to this. It is good on its own.
Do you use any reverb?
Weil: No. The amp might have a built-in reverb, but I think it was broken, so I’ve never used that. Also, with the amount of chugging that we do, it’s already hard to discern what we’re doing to a certain extent. I feel that reverb would just make it impossible.
How about guitars? You have the V. Do you have a backup on the road as well?
Weil: I’ve magically never broken a string onstage with Oozing Wound. I’ve had it happen in other bands. The last time it happened, I changed it in less than a minute. I feel confident that I can do it onstage. Even though that’s the weirdest feeling in the world.
Why? Because everybody’s staring at you?
Weil: Staring at you trying to do essentially one of the simplest tasks on guitar that is somehow impossible to do in front of people—because you’re also panicking. It’s probably going to be out of tune when you play and you’re going to try and fix it while you play. Great feeling.
Kevin, you have an amazing technique where it looks like you use your index finger as a pick. Talk about that.
Cribbin: I have this other band called Unmanned Ship, it’s a more spacey, instrumental band and we do a lot of soundscapes and weird stuff. I had some songs that I would play like that, but it was
all really slow. Then I started playing with Zack and Kyle [Reynolds, Oozing Wound’s previous drummer; current drummer Casey Marnocha
joined in 2016] and they were playing thrashy, fast, crazy metal riffs. I wasn’t used to playing like that, but it was the only thing that made sense because
I never learned to play with a pick. It would have been too awkward and strange to learn picking technique because I was already playing for about 10 years with my hands. So, by playing loud and moving your hand really fast, you don’t have to dig into it—you don’t have to physically play like a jackhammer to play that fast.
Are you saying the volume helps because you can have a light touch yet still get a huge sound?
Cribbin: Yeah. It’s anchoring your hand with your thumb and wiggling your finger around really fast. Basically, I just turn it into a pick and that way you are free to do whatever else when you’re not picking. People would ask me about it and I’d be confused because it just sort of happened organically playing with Zack and Kyle in this new format.
Otherwise you use alternate fingering. Do you add a third at times as well?
Cribbin: Sometimes. It’s whatever makes sense or feels good. There’s some three-finger stuff, there’s just strumming it with your hand, some Les Claypool thumb rip-off shit, or whatever makes sense. Because I’m playing stuff that is so
distorted all the time, it’s easy to make it sound like complete garbage and muddy and fucked up, so I do a lot of muting. Whatever fingers are working are also doing something else.
Kevin, talk about your bass tone. Is the fuzz from your amp or are you using pedals?
Cribbin: I’ve always had just a clean amp. But over the last 14 years I’ve collected this chain of ZVEX pedals. My tone is all that stuff cranked in different combinations. For Oozing Wound, specifically, it’s designed to be as gross, broken, and distorted-sounding as possible. When I started playing with Oozing Wound I was like, “I’m just going to use one pedal.” Just one thing so I don’t have to worry about anything and I can force myself to have a limited palette. The only thing that made sense when playing with them was the ZVEX Woolly Mammoth pedal and that thing is pretty much on all the time.
On our new record, it’s pretty much that, but then I’ll sometimes use a Jonny Octave, the ZVEX Machine, and the ZVEX Fuzz Factory. I have an Electro-Harmonix Memory Boy with an expression pedal to make a lot of weird, chorus-y, fucked-up noises. Any combination of those pedals is all the distortion and weird noises I need. ZVEX pedals are killer pedals. Each pedal is its own instrument unto itself. For about a decade, pretty much all my tone has been ZVEX stuff and figuring out how to make this insane, unwieldy, fucked-up tone controllable.
Do you sometimes kick them all on?
Cribbin: Oh yeah.
Kevin Cribbin got a Peavey Milestone II bass for Christmas at age 15. “It’s the same bass I’m still playing now,” he says. Photo by Kevin Gras
Do you find that using multiple distortion pedals sometimes has an opposite effect and limits the sound?
Cribbin: Totally. But generally, those pedals work nice together and playing them all at once sounds insane. My tone is generally the Woolly Mammoth all the time with other things to make it more or less insane. One of those pedals by itself is like the color blue, and then two together are two other colors, and you get this new thing. It’s like a puzzle to figure out how to make these tonal options work for you in a song. “What does this need? Is Zack playing a high shreddy riff? I should get really low and disgusting.”
Do you ever go clean?
Cribbin: Nah [laughs]. Not in this band, not yet.
When you record, do you generally show up with your live rig and go for it?
Weil: Yeah. I wish we were capable of doing something different, but it’s because of the amount of material that we have to cover and how the performance has to sound. We do everything live and then try to do punch-ins. In the past, Kyle would do a perfect take, or close to it, and that’s the take we’d use. Then we fix the stupid crap that we somehow messed up on guitar or bass. Then I do a second guitar over the top of it to balance it out. That’s how we go. It’s the fastest possible way we can do it and still, there is never enough time. Even with the four days we had in the studio, we could have easily doubled that to make it sound better, to add more stuff. There is always some song where we’re like, “We could put horns right here, that would sound cool. Well, we don’t know any horn people right now and we only have three hours left. So, I guess we’re not doing that.”
I can’t imagine horns on an Oozing Wound song.
Weil: I’ve heard them in my head a couple of times. I wish they were on there. It makes me sad that people don’t get to hear it the way that I do. But it is what it is.
Cribbin: We’re always chasing the clock. It’s kind of insane. We had a little bit more time to experiment with some stuff and tonally things I think are more representative of how we sound live on this record. There was time to fix stuff, experiment, get that right weird little sound there, get the right feedback. That’s another thing, feedback is great, but suddenly you’re in the studio and you can’t make it work how you want.
Do you find it’s harder to generate feedback in the studio?
Cribbin: Yeah, it is—trying to find a live room that can duplicate your weird practice space or basement that you’re used to playing in. You want everything to be controlled, so you are in this box and everything is dry. A lot of times all this distorted bass stuff sounds like a dumb synth blasting in your face and the feedback sounds disproportionately loud. Basically, trying to get a live room for my bass shit was the goal and we succeeded for sure. You get that weird room noise and that feeling you get listening to the bass through your toes and not like in your ear.
Do your second guitar parts double the first or do you create variations?
Weil: It all depends. There were a handful of times I’ve done variations, but for the most part it’s just exactly what I’ve played before. I remember reading that Keith Richards says that you should have a different guitar for your second track—like tracking only Telecasters is going to sound like one giant Telecaster. The way we’ve done it is, I usually record on the neck pickup and then I do the second guitar on the bridge pickup. It creates this huge guitar sound. They sound funny on their own, but together it creates this big wall of guitars. When we do that, I’m also playing out of two or three amps. Matty [Russell, recording engineer] rigs some stuff up, he'll use a second head—whatever he can find that matches or complements the Peavey. I’m running out of two or three of those at the same time and then I double that. So technically there are six guitars.
Your riffs are often in an odd meter. Do you do that on purpose or does it just work out that way?
Weil: More times than not I am like, “It’s easy guys, this is in four. Come on you can get this.” We’ll work on it for an hour, I’m counting it out, and I’m like, “Sorry, this is in five or seven or nine or a compound seven and eight.” All that stuff sounds natural to me like, “What? You don’t feel this? Just listen to the flow. It loops back around.” But I’ve never purposely said, “I’m going to write a song in seven.” At least, I haven’t in a long time. I used to do that stuff as an exercise, but now they all sound the same to me. Seven sounds the same as four, eight sounds the same as five.
Cribbin: It definitely isn’t planned. Zack might come up with a weird riff and say, “This is a weird riff in five or something, I don’t know.” But we’re not geeking out on, “Whoa, check out this fucked-up time signature.” It’s more how the riffs and parts connect and how we play over them that dictates that stuff more than any sort of preconceived tech ethos or anything like that.
That’s probably why it works, because it’s organic.
Weil: Yeah. I remember Soundgarden used to talk about that a lot. Everyone’s like, “You play this song in 11.” And they’re like, “It’s just what it is. That’s what the riff is.” It’s what sounded catchy.
You aren’t one of these ’70s prog bands.
Cribbin: No. We’d like to be. We’d like to do a Yes Relayer album if we had the time. If we didn’t have day jobs and we could get government funding, we’d make the most fucked-up Emerson, Lake, and Palmer thrash album ever.
This clip gives a good view of the fury behind Oozing Wound bassist Kevin Cribbin’s fingers. His bass gymnastics are formidable, as is the unique way he and Kevin Weil play off each other.