Thursday, January 14, 2010

Surly Brewmaster Talks Thrash

The February 2010 issue of Decibel is just hitting the stands (or you can buy it here) and my Brewtal Truth column in that issue features Todd Haug, guitarist for ’80s thrashers Powermad and the brewmaster at Surly Brewing. Since space is short in the column, I figured I’d put up some additional material from my interview.

We know you were a fan of drinking good beer as a young thrasher, but where did you get the itch to start brewing it yourself?
Todd Haug: I started home brewing when I was 21. And then from there it kept going as far as my interest in where the flavors came from in the raw material side of the brewing. Then I got a part-time job at a local brewery—they’re big now, but back then weren’t too big—called Summit and that worked out pretty well with my writing and rehearsing schedule. [Brewing’s] just kind of become more and more ingrained in my life as far as not only as a career or a financial income—certainly I’m still playing music—but [brewing’s] taken over a little bit more than music.

So, what does being the brewmaster at Surly entail?
Haug: Part of my background is mechanical, so I do a lot of welding and mechanical stuff to keep the brewery running. Also, all the recipe formulations are mine and part of my job. Omar [Ansari] is the owner; I’m not the owner. Me and my wife own a small restaurant in our neighborhood in Minneapolis and because we hold a liquor license, there are some tied-house laws that prevent brewery, distillery and winery owners from having a liquor license in their name, so the bottom line is that even if I wanted to be an owner or me and Omar wanted to partner up, it would be difficult for me at this point. So this works out kind of well for me. I have no risk, so I get a steady income and as it has grown, it’s nice to be compensated.

Has the recent resurgence in thrash gotten more people looking for old Powermad material?
Haug: Yeah, definitely. Especially in Europe. We have a lot of rabid fans who still want to hear us, still want us to play live. We did a show at a festival in Germany a couple of years ago and that was great. We’ll hopefully be done writing some new material this winter. A lot of people still ask for new stuff. So, yeah, there’s definitely an interest. What we see in the younger listeners who weren’t around for us originally, they’re discovering us on Youtube. It’s kind of funny to see younger listeners who weren’t even born in the ’80s excited about us. That’s kind of cool. That’s certainly a testament to metal in general and to this country’s finally accepting it as a big part of the music scene.”

Is any of the old material still available?
Haug: Our old record company, Warner Bros., is not interested in supporting any of that, as far as re-releasing anything, so [vocalist/guitarist] Joel Dubay has done a lot of work trying to get either all of that stuff on iTunes or whatever.

[Powermad T-shirts are available at the band’s website.]

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