John Pettibone has been a stalwart presence on the metal/hardcore scene since the 1990s. Currently singing for Heiress (Satanik Royalty Records), John was also the vocalist for Himsa (Prosthetic Records) and Undertow. He’s also been involved with diverse bands such as Nineironspitfire, I Am The Thorn, and The Vows, as well as contributing vocal performances for Bleeding Through, Botch, and Converge. Lately he has been the production manager at El Corazon, a club in Seattle, Washington.
Editor’s note: Himsa had been scheduled to do a one-off European reunion tour supporting Darkest Hour at the time of this interview. The tour was unfortunately cancelled due to Covid-19, but we’re leaving the interview as it was given at the time, premature congratulations and all.
Congratulations on Himsa’s upcoming European tour with Darkest Hour!
Thank you, though I think it will be postponed with current situations with the new variant and European restrictions.
This is not the first time you’ve toured together, is it?
Yes, we’ve done a lot of miles with Darkest Hour. They took us on some great tours and always looked out for us. We both have the same road mentality and vision of how our bands work.
I assume you got along well?
Me and Mike Schleibaum [Darkest Hour guitarist and co-founder -Ed.] go back to the early ’90s when the band I was in, Undertow, played in the DC area. Lots of history together. Love them!
Is this Himsa’s first time in Europe?
No, Himsa toured Europe I think 5 or 6 times. And I had been over there before with Undertow and I also worked for Sick Of it All and Ensign as guitar tech/tour manager in the late 90s. It is an incredible experience to travel and play shows over there. Fans are extremely dedicated and loyal. Venues are very hospitable and caring. The sites and experiences are so memorable. Not sure what to expect but I’m excited to see some dear old friends.
What are your touring arrangements like?
We are most comfortable touring in a van as we are all old punk/hardcore kids with that DIY spirit instilled in us. Van life gives you more freedom to go and roam cities in search of good food/coffee shops or a local record store. Plus it’s usually easier to park. Then get a hotel room and take turns on who gets a bed. Touring Europe on a package tour usually consists of a bus with 3 to 4 bands all on it so it’s basically just 24 bunks and a bathroom. I find it uncomfortable and stale.
Any difficulties with visas related to Covid?
Not sure if visas were difficult, but renewing my passport was frustrating.
How much were you touring prior to Covid?
Heiress had a west coast tour for December that we had to cancel. Himsa is just doing this European tour for a fun time with Darkest Hour. We aren’t really a band again.
You joined Heiress just after Himsa broke up. Was that a coincidence, or were you pursuing something different?
After Himsa split I started a band with friends called I Am The Thorn and we played shows with Heiress and I really loved what they were doing. Thorn broke up after a year and Heiress’s vocalist left around same time. They asked if I could join them and became part of their family.
Heiress is much different from Himsa, sonically and aesthetically. Both heavy and both metal, but different.
Every band I’ve done has differences. It’s a product of all the bands that have influenced me. From Minor Threat and Bl’ast to Swiz and Neurosis to Negative Approach and At The Gates to Integrity and His Hero is Gone. They all come from a special time and place, and I never wanted to repeat…just expand.
You have been in a lot of bands…
Heiress is the only band I’m in [now]. Himsa did a couple shows a few years ago but it’s not an active band. If Europe happens, it’s the last thing we will do. I really love writing and playing with the guys in Heiress. They are incredibly talented and motivating. It’s an outlet and focus I really need in my day to day.
You’ve had some good label representation over the years, across your various bands. Do you think a band should seek out a label when it’s so easy to record an album at home and pay a nominal fee for digital distribution?
I personally like having and holding vinyl releases. The sound and the art combined has no comparison to streaming but I understand the convenience of it if your goal is reaching bigger broader audiences. Frustrations with pressing plants and delivery times make that decision to just release digitally much easier. Heiress’s new LP, Distant Fires has been finished for a year and we’re still on hold for the vinyl. We recently released it digitally, and hope to have the records by February.
What would you say was your best recording experience?
I’m really proud of this new Heiress record. We put a good amount of time in writing and recording. It sounds big and flows well. The songs are deep and thick. Was a heavy time personally and it helped me get through surrounding noise.
Have you ever had a mentor? Either as a musician, or at El Corazon?
I’ve had a few mentors in my journeys in both music and work and [Heiress’s new album] Distant Fires is that tribute to them. I’ll leave it there.
Let’s talk about El Corazon, where you work as a production manager. It has a bit of a history behind it, doesn’t it?
El Corazon has a long, rich history as a venue. In the ’30s-’40s it was a big band venue. Duke Ellington played here. Many years later it became The Offramp were all the Seattle bands played before the “G” [grunge] explosion started. Pearl Jam’s first show was here and they were billed as Mookie Blaylock. Iron Maiden even played this stage. I think of it as the CBGBs of the Pacific Northwest.
And The Funhouse, the “side bar” to El Corazon, also has a history. Wasn’t it in a different location?
The original was located near the Space Needle. Really cool dive bar/venue and so loved playing there. The city bought the land and tore it down for a condo high rise…go figure.
How did you come to be the production manager there?
I was booking hardcore shows here in early 90s which lead to a stage manager job at a venue called Rckndy thru a good friend Lori Lefavor who was responsible for bringing so many punk/hardcore/metal tours to Seattle and was really important in building the All Ages music scene here. She is one of those mentors for me. From there I was a door guy at alot of club and venues around town. I moved to NYC in the late ’90s and when I moved back in 2000 Lori was producing shows at Graceland (which is now El Corazon) and she hired me back. Been here ever since. My background touring and booking shows really helped with the skills I use today.
What’s your average day at El Corazon like?
Babysitting adults and egos basically, ha ha. Average day is keeping things on time and orderly. Every show is advanced ahead of time so it’s managing details and staying on track. And keeping the kids safe.
What happens with your responsibilities to El Corazon while you’re away on tour? Do you bring it with you?
I prepare my other managers with each show needs and correspond to tours who is their day of show contact. I still answer all emails and calls if I’m out on tour also.
Why should a band want to play there?
We might not look aesthetically pleasing as some of our competitors in town, but there’s a lot of history here and most of our staff come from a place of passion for live music. We try to give back that experience and feeling. We also have an immense love for local bands and all-ages shows. It’s how I became who I am and the owner, Dana Sims keeps that spirit alive here.
What are some recent shows at El Corazon that are representative of the venue?
Last night we had my good friends in Fit For An Autopsy. Incredible band that’s been grinding it out on the road for years and they doubled their attendance from 300 last time they were here in 2019 to 600 last night. Was an awesome night of stage dives, circle pits, and hard moshing. Everyone had smiles underneath their masks. We had Strangelove, a Depeche Mode tribute band back in October that nailed it from their sound to their looks. Depeche Mode is one of my all time favorite bands and Strangelove are the next best thing. Looking forward to Terror in the spring here.
How did El Corazon survive the shutdown?
Our owner led the charge here with Save Our Stages, which helped get grant funding for all the venues in town. He did some fundraising for our staff, which really helped us all. He’s a champ. Hardest working person I know. Incredibly grateful for it.
What are the biggest Covid-related challenges at the moment?
Biggest challenge is just staying mentally focused. Each day changes so quickly with bands/shows cancelled over members testing positive or staff shortages from same effects.
You’ve truly made a career out of music. How do you balance it all?
I don’t surround myself with toxic clutter or put myself in suffocating moments. I’m not on social media. I keep to myself, my family, and a small circle of old friends. My outlet is the band and my independence. Creating my own path keeps me balanced.