"We're an extreme metal band," Troglodyte founder and guitarist Jeff Sisson declares. "I mean, we sing in masks about Bigfoot. It's kind of alienating, but people really get behind it."
The notion of guys in horror-movie masks performing ear-blasting death metal to themes of make-believe monsters sounds ridiculous. But since 2005, Troglodyte has built a devoted fanbase in this niche, and the band celebrates it Saturday with nine other metal acts during Troglodyte's Summer Stench at the Riot Room.
We caught up with Sisson by phone during Troglodyte's short West Coast tour.
The Pitch: All of your songs are about Bigfoot, or Sasquatch. What's with the obsession?
Sisson: Probably comes from when I was a kid. My aunt was a teacher, and she would do anything that would get you to read. I was very into monsters and stuff, and she was always bringing me these books about mysterious monsters, about Bigfoot and the Loch Ness monster. When you're a kid, that's a very easy draw, and it was a great way to get me into reading, and it stuck with me.
You think about Bigfoot and it's kind of silly, but it's not so much Bigfoot. It's the idea that something exists among us that you don't see. It's the unknown. That's the magic of it. It's very easy for me to mine material from this particular thing. And our fans really love it. I tapped into something that people love, and I kind of made it my own.
Those masks are incredible. I know you make them yourself. What inspires them?
When I was a kid, I loved horror movies and special effects, and I always had an interest in making masks and stuff. It was the mid-'90s and late '90s, and I had the opportunity to make some friends and work on movies. In 2001, I moved to L.A. to do special effects for movies. I did some acting, whatever I could to survive, and I moved back here [Kansas City] in 2004. When I was in L.A., it never seemed feasible to get a band started, and when I moved back I was like, I want to get this off the ground, this ridiculous idea.
Performing in masks — that was smart from a marketing perspective. It was gimmicky, and it would get people's attention. I also didn't want to worry about if someone knew who I was or knew my name, just the music. And everyone was wearing these same ghoulish masks, and that was what we were doing. We wanted to take away the identity of the person, do the anti-rock-star thing. We wore the same shirts and masks.
Now we're morphing into a different style and getting a different character look. We wear different ones. It's not as uniform anymore. We've got a whole tote of them that we take with us, and we're destroying these things as fast as we can make 'em. People seem to get a kick out of 'em, so we'll keep doing it.
How do you come up with them?
Sometimes I'll do sketches and stuff. I remember working on another project, creating a bunch of different characters that had these creature designs. The project fell through, but I kept sculpting these creatures. I've been blessed — I feel like I'm a decent sculptor. The initial masks that we used, I spent a couple days sculpting, then another day refining. The mold is a longer process, a couple weeks. There's a couple weeks of pretty stern work. After the mold is made, there's another day of pouring latex and painting and waiting for those things to dry. There's two or three weeks of work that goes into them.
How did Troglodyte's Summer Stench get started?
This is the first year that we've done anything like that. Gary, our guitar player — it was kind of his idea. He was wanting to do something a little out-of-the-box. We have a band from Italy coming in and some regional bands — not just KC bands. It's a chance to get some bands that we like from where we've played around to come out.
The band from Italy is called Corpsefucking Art, and we played a fest with them in L.A. It's the first time they're coming to Kansas City, and they're really excited. There might be, like, 30 people who know about them [in the area], and that's the idea. It's extreme music, so it's not for everyone, but we wanted to make it special.
You have all been around as Troglodyte for nearly a decade. How has metal music in KC evolved?
It's funny. We'll sit and talk about it and the bands that we were playing with when we started, and most of them aren't even bands anymore. People grow old or they have falling-outs or they grow out of the extreme heavy music. It's a tough sell, and it has its ups and downs, but we've tried to create a brand and stick with it and weather the storm of people's musical tastes. KC has an amazing pool of talent, and a lot of these bands that we started with don't exist, but the people have created other projects and moved on.
Having the opportunity to play other markets has also been amazing. It makes us realize that KC really has a pretty decent thing going on, and I don't know if people ever really see that.