A re-formed Static-X is working to enhance the living memory of the industrial metal band’s debut album and band frontman Wayne Static, who passed away in 2014.
The Wisconsin Death Trip 20th Anniversary Tour features a reunion of original Static-X members bassist Tony Campos, guitarist Koichi Fukuda and drummer Ken Jay along with a lead singer shrouded in mystery.
To judge by ticket sales, fans are eager to share in old and new memories. Static-X initially were booked for a just a U.S. tour but have since added dates in Australia and Europe, and they’ll go out for a second U.S. leg in November and December.
Static-X will bring the tour, appropriately, to Wisconsin, performing Thursday at Rock Fest north of Cadott. They’ll take the stage at 7:25 p.m. at the Who’s on Top Stage.
Told the strong reception is a tribute to the band, Campos paid forward the compliment.
“It’s a tribute to the fans, really,” he said in a phone interview. “They come out really in such high numbers and so much support.”
Besides Static-X, the three-day Rock Fest will feature headliners including Evanescence and Mastodon on Thursday; Five Finger Death Punch and Breaking Benjamin on Friday; and Rob Zombie and Marilyn Manson on Saturday. In addition, those with three-day passes can attend a Wednesday Night Bonus Bash, which will feature Jackyl and Stryper, among other acts.
To make the tour more of a commemoration of Wayne Static, the three original band members chose not to reveal the identity of the new frontman, so he’s known as Xer0 (pronounced “Zero”) and wears a mask onstage. Although some media outlets have made guesses about who the musician is, Campos explained why it’s important for them to stick with the plan.
“We didn’t want the focus to be on — here’s Static-X with their new singer,” he said. “That’s not what we’re trying to do here. We want to keep the focus on remembering Wayne, the anniversary of the first record and the original lineup. So keeping his identity under wraps, so to speak, I thought was the best way to do that. We didn’t want to have a Van Hagar situation,” a reference to when Sammy Hagar joined rockers Van Halen to replace original lead singer David Lee Roth.
Xer0 has performed admirably, in Campos’ view.
“Yeah, he’s doing a great job,” Campos said. “No one’s ever going to sound like Wayne — Wayne was such a unique guy. But I think what Xer0 does is he captures Wayne’s delivery and Wayne’s vibe on stage. … He’s stepping out of his comfort zone and doing things that he necessarily wouldn’t but fits for what he’s trying to accomplish. I think he’s hitting the nail on the head.”
In addition to getting up to speed with Static-X’s new singer, Campos said, he also has enjoyed revisiting the platinum-selling “Wisconsin Death Trip” material, including the furiously paced hit “Push It” and hard-driving songs such as “Bled for Days” and “Love Dump.”
“It feels good,” he said. “I haven’t played these songs in like over a decade. ... Just the energy, the vibe of it been good, fun, heavy music and I had forgotten how fun it was to play again, and getting to play this stuff is really cool. And getting to play with Ken and Koichi again is such a blast that just adds to that fun vibe I’ve missed for so long.”
The subject matter of the “Wisconsin Death Trip” book would seem appropriate for a group whose sound accentuates dark themes. The 1973 nonfiction book that inspired it has attracted widespread attention and has been cited as the source of a couple of operas as well as novels and films. An actual film production of “Wisconsin Death Trip” was released in 1999.
Written by Michael Lesy, the book features stark black and white photographs from the late 1800s by Jackson County photographer Charles Van Schaick and news accounts from that period. It depicts subjects such as madness, crime and death from suicide as well as disease in a grim but straightforward manner.
The book captured the band’s attention after Wayne Static brought it into the rehearsal space.
“We were all just tripping out on all the pictures,” Campos said. “People posing with dead people ... pretty trippy.”
At Rock Fest, Static-X will perform the majority of “Wisconsin Death Trip” along with other popular songs of theirs. “So we’ll be playing a lot of stuff I think people will want to hear,” Campos said.
Although it’s been some years since the three musicians were in Static-X, Campos was pleased to find they got back in sync right away.
“Everything just clicked like we’d never stopped playing together,” Campos said, although there was an interesting twist.
“It was funny,” he recalled. “The stuff of ‘Wisconsin Death Trip’ and the earlier stuff — that just came back like muscle memory. It was the later stuff from the subsequent records that we were like, how does this go again? We had to pull up a YouTube video and listen to the song” — he laughed — “like, oh, that’s how this goes.”
In another nod to Wayne Static’s memory, Static-X will release the new album “Project Regeneration” later this year. It will feature the vocals of Wayne Static on almost all the tracks.
That project came about, Campos said, when a friend gave him five demo recordings he had received from Wayne Static shortly before he passed away.
“I kind of sat on them for a couple of years and had some downtime so I started writing and I revisited these songs,” he said.
He talked about them with Fukuda and Jay, with whom he had stayed in touch. Because only one of the original five demos Camps received had Wayne Static’s vocals, the band decided to call in prominent friends to do the singing. But then they discovered more recordings that had Static’s vocals.
Now only one guest vocalist was needed, and they were able to gain the service of a major talent in the hard rock realm: Al Jourgensen, who leads the band Ministry, a group Campos played in after leaving Static-X.
“I’m really lucky to have worked with him on and off since 2008, and really lucky I can say is a friend,” Campos said.
The recording happened when Campos paid Jourgensen a visit.
“I went over to his house with the track and hung out with him for the day and watched him work his magic,” Campos said. “It was really cool. The two bands Static-X ripped off the most were Ministry and Prong. To have Al sing on the record was pretty monumental.”
Campos does have other irons in the fire. The next thing “on the burner,” he said, is helping to complete a new record with another of his projects: Asesino, an extreme metal trio whose other members are guitarist Dino Cazares and drummer Emilio Marquez. The two band mates have been writing material for the record.
“So hopefully by the time I get done with this at the end of the year I can go in and scream some obscenities in Spanish and we’ll have a finished Asesino record,” he said.
Campos added that he’d love to work with Ministry again, since the Static-X reunion tour kept him from joining Ministry on their European tour. However, he spoke approvingly of who was chosen as his replacement on the tour: Paul D’Amour, Tool’s original bassist.
As for Static-X, the musicians haven’t decided what will happen after the new record comes out.
“We haven’t really thought that far ahead,” he said. “We’re just kind of enjoying the moment right now and enjoying each other’s company again, enjoying playing with each other and we’re really just trying to make sure we do this right and put all our effort into doing this right by the fans, doing it right by Wayne’s memory, Wayne’s family — it’s important we do it right by them.”
However, he said of the group continuing to make music as Static-X, “If it’s something the fans want, I’m certainly not opposed to it.”
So while the surviving members of Static-X are helping to preserve and enhance the band’s place in hard rock history, they also are adding a chapter or so to it as well.