Violent Pits, Knife Fights, and Being Shot: An Interview with the Notoriously Violent King 810
Beatdowns & breakdowns, AKs & underemployment
Flint, Michigan's KING 810 put on the most violent live show I have ever seen.
I first saw the group at Dirtfest 2009, a local music expo in Flint which presented the Summer Slaughter Tour as its main stage that year. KING 810 played a concurrent set with Ensiferum and within sixty seconds, they'd drawn the entire main stage crowd away. Their fans danced, pitted, and broke down fences. Singer David Gunn climbed the small tent over his band's stage and broke it. Police entered the pit to quell dissidents, and were ganged on by KING 810's fans, many of whom lit fireworks and aimed them into the crowd. Eventually power to the guitar amp and vocals were cut. Gunn kept audibly barking his lyrics. Through the smoke and police, the fans kept moshing and singing—they knew every lyric.
KING 810 was unsigned then, but their fan base's loyalty was powerful—many of their fans shared the 810 shin tattoos that Gunn and his bandmates proudly display. 810 is the area code for Flint, Michigan, a city known the world over for its prolific street violence and staggering unemployment. That violence rears its head in Gunn's music, as well in the outbursts of his fans, who have shut down concerts and, more recently, carved the group's logo into their skin.
KING 810 released the independent Midwest Monsters EP in 2012, which made its way into the hands of Roadrunner Records. The band signed to the label and recently released their second EP Proem, effectively elevating the band from local troublemakers to nationally-exposed artists virtually overnight. King 810 played Columbus's annual Rock on the Range festival this year and are prepping for the UK's Download Festival and the annual Mayhem summer tour. The violence is spreading.
Gunn sat down with NOISEY to talk about the band's (and his) troubled past.
NOISEY: Your EP was released in 2012, what's happened with the band internally since then?
David Gunn: I got shot and we took a year where we didn't care about our online presence. We went back to the drawing board. It was our turning point for the music after that happened. My head was in a different place. We didn't feel like we could play the same stuff anymore—we had to make it a more true representation of what we were doing at home. Have you ever read Malcolm Gladwell? He talks about near-miss psychology. After you get shot, you feel a bit like... he uses the the bombings of Dresden, those people who were bombed every day. You feel... confident I guess would be an understatement.
Will you tell me the story of how you got shot?
It was a robbery. I was walking home and a truck pulled up next to me. They had a shotgun. Basically one dude stepped out with a knife and I wound up getting into it with him. So I had a little knife fight with this kid and during that the other guy decided to take a couple shots at me. I just wouldn't give them anything. It was one of those situations like 'give me your bag' or 'give me whatever you have,' and I just wasn't going to. I didn't care about guns and knives or living, so I just wouldn't, and I got shot a couple times.
Well I'm glad you're alive.
Me too, some days.
I've seen the "Killem All" video, and it seems that gun violence has become a prominent theme in your music. What is your relationship with firearms?
That song has elements of social commentary to it. It has a lot of artistic textures in it. It's a heavy song, but it's just trying to be a true representation of where we came. It's a true to the events documentation of violence. It has parallels to what we experienced growing up here in Flint. It's dangerous here. It's a part of you that's always there. There's people who are tired of hearing about it but we don't go a whole day without seeing a gun, or knife fights. To get you to understand what I'm talking about I can't leave that out. A lot of people will look at that video and think it's just a bunch of clips, but we didn't create that footage, it's all real stuff that really happens—I don't understand how anyone would be offended by it. It's not a glorification of violence at all, but we can't tell our story without it.
If you look at comments on articles about your band, or on the Youtube video itself, people accuse you of being in a gang. Do you have any answer to those accusations?
I don't care what anybody on a computer has to say. I don't know anybody in a gang who is commenting on youtube videos. I guess when you put yourself out there it's easy to be judged. I don't get what that means, I guess. But I guess, by definition without the social stigma... gang, yes, we're a gang of people. It's a large group of people that feels the same way about the same thing. Gang has a negative connotation, and if that's what they're getting at, then it's obviously not there. Gangs don't create art at this level.
Gene, your bassist, is black. There's been a lot of talk in the metal scene lately about racism, but has your band dealt with any issues regarding race?
Yeah we've run into the same group, I imagine, that are online leaving comments, that school of people. Gene is my brother, I've known him since we were little kids. We live in a black state, to be frank, you can't get a handful of people together without a couple of them being black. That never comes to my mind. Six out of ten people in Flint are black. To me, anyone who grew up like we grew up... race is an afterthought. To me, I feel like heavy metal, or rock is a new genre, it's not as old as the blues or classical. People looked for it because it was more extreme, and they became kind of like a family, where they felt that this was their thing, and they were the minority. It's the same people under this umbrella that felt like the bastard fans of music because it wasn't heavy enough. They weren't getting that from other genres of music. These people are the same narrow-minded people that bring race and politics—politics as far as social politics—into the equation. Just like the gang thing, to come around full circle. We're creating art. Color? I don't understand what that means to people, I especially don't get where one of the newest genres of music, the one that's supposed to be the place you go where all the other musical genres aren't hitting the spot, has grown to bring up details like race. The metal community is just like any other group, and they do care about these mindless details instead of understanding that we're creating things that aren't usually created, especially nowadays. I thought, if anywhere, this genre would be a more accepting group, but I've had to learn that politics like race and other things are not a lost issue amongst them.
Your band has a notoriously rough fan base in the mosh pit. When did that start?
Yeah. They're kind of crazy. This is a representation of where we're from. We talk about violence being ever-present, for better or worse, so when we play live there's something there. When you see us live there's differences, and we identify with people that are different. I feel like the music is [performed] such a way that it plays into these types of people, or something in these people that it causes a reaction.
When I saw KING 810 in Toledo, you said somebody put a security guard in a coma. Have they ever gone too far?
I don't think that people went too far. Of course putting people in comas is not something that we advocate. But I do know that the people that follow us are a close group of people. I've seen this happen where somebody—and i'm not saying this is what happened with that security guard—but someone messes with someone who has seventy five or one hundred people behind them at the show. They're going to stick up for one another. Putting someone in a coma, is that crossing the line? I don't draw the line.
Is there any particular show that you've played which stood out to you?
They all kind of feel the same to me. Whether it's crowd surfing, or fighting to get to the stage or putting people in comas,I know what that is. People do that every day. That's not exceptional. People don't do what i'm talking about every day—people don't go to work every day and move people as an occupation. That is all the shows that people come out to. That to me is my favorite part of the show. The crazy things that happen? Those are just the humorous details that are afterthoughts almost.
You're about to be exposed to your biggest audiences ever at Download and Mayhem Fest—will that behavior continue, or will it be diluted down?
I just hope that the way people feel, the unity and camaraderie and family values of it continue to grow and get bigger. I hope everyone in the crowd feels the same way. I hope everyone can find something in what we're doing. I don't know how it's going to go.
You don't have a day job; how do you, and the rest of the band live?
Sometimes we live together, sometimes we don't. There aren't jobs here. You can look at the unemployment, and the poverty percentage. We're not an anomaly in this time. That's the norm. That's not an issue, we just do what we can to get by like everyone else here.
Well then, how did you buy your first instruments?
I think we were so young that we stole them. We wanted them, and we didn't know how things work. So as a small kid, if you wanted something, you just ran in the store and took it and ran out. That's how I got my first instrument. We grew up with poor families. There was no way in hell I was going to ask my parents for a guitar. It doesn't matter how much it cost—one hundred? Two hundred? Doesn't matter. Too much. That's how it's always been. This was always the plan; there was no college degree, or plan B. We crossed that bridge and burned it behind us. If this is what you're going to do with your life, and this is what you're going to be, why would you have a problem running into a store for five minutes and stealing something? Where we're at the odds aren't against you—they're just not there. Nobody leaves Flint.
Are you driven by money? Is that a thing you care about?
If money mattered, I would have been dead a long time ago. In the same way I don't believe in going to work and trading your time for money, because it's not worth it, I don't believe you can put a price tag on the things we create. Putting a price tag on moving people is wrong. When you trade your time for money you don't get one of those things back, ever. It's unfair in any capacity. So money is a non-issue. We never had it growing up. And I had to learn how to get it, to provide and sustain, but money is just a result. It's not a focus of any kind. We would be doing this regardless of what it paid.