“People have told me that I seem intimidating,” says Todd Jones, his voice a little sad. “It’s not an aspect of myself that I like. In fact, I really dislike it, because I’m a big believer that you should be able to go up to a band member and speak to them as a peer. I wish that people would feel the same about me.” That hint of vulnerability is the last thing one might expect to hear from the formidable frontman and driving force behind Southern California hardcore/metal hybrid Nails. Their sophomore LP, Abandon All Life, which came out earlier this year on Southern Lord, is strong stuff. Most songs barely break the two-minute barrier, and the riffs come thick and fast, impenetrably distorted and narrated by Jones’ ragged howls. On tracks like “Pariah” and “No Surrender,” he sounds feral and unhinged. It’s a far cry from his offstage demeanor: that of a humble, chilled-out family man who’s genuinely taken aback by how much attention his band is receiving.
Though Jones is a veteran of the hardcore scene, he decided to let his gloomier metalhead roots hang out a little more after the band’s explosive 2010 debut, Unsilent Death—and they do, in abundance, through the blasts of grindcore, Swedish death metal and sludgy powerviolence that tear through Abandon All Life like shrapnel. Nails—which includes guitarist Saba, bassist John Gianelli and drummer Taylor Young—doesn’t often play live or tour due to familial and professional commitments, but when it does, Jones has noticed more and more metalheads raging alongside the hardcore contingent. Nails is getting harder and heavier. “Usually that translates to less people liking the music,” says Jones. “Clearly, I was wrong.” Even after the album was leaked, dedicated fans (whom the band refers to as “Tyrants”) flooded social networks with photos of their shiny new Nails vinyl and marvelled over the sheer brutality of the album itself. Hints of Napalm Death’s callous brevity and woozy, Iron Monkey-baiting doom tempos ricochet off burly riffs and slam into debilitating breakdowns that wouldn’t sound out of place coming from Jones’ former hardcore bands, Terror and Blacklisted.
Growing up in Oxnard, CA, Jones first discovered aggressive music through the comforting glow of ’80s and ’90s MTV metal show Headbangers Ball, then found himself entrenched in the Southern California punk world, drawn in by its camaraderie and in-your-face aesthetic. “Part of the reason I grew up in the hardcore scene was because I’m more into the personal vibe of shows,” he says. Despite the barbaric vitriol he spews on Abandon All Life, if there’s one aspect of himself, and of the band, that Jones wants to hammer home, it’s their humanity. “I can tell you that we feel everything on the record, that it’s real, not fake, and it blows my mind that people seem to have an emotional response to it. The goal isn’t to try to connect with other people; the goal is to try to connect with yourself. Because if it’s not good enough for you, how do you expect it to be good enough for anybody else?”