3TEETH's fury road: Into the desert with industrial metal's doomsday insurgents | Revolver

3TEETH's fury road: Into the desert with industrial metal's doomsday insurgents

How Alexis Mincolla left L.A., made an album and gained an "off-world perspective"
3teeth 2023  cover main image , Jim Louvau
3TEETH's Alexis Mincolla
photograph by Jim Louvau

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Under a clear blue sky in the Mojave Desert, Alexis Mincolla is back behind the wheel, hurtling down a dirt road to treacherous parts unknown. And he's going fast, cranking up Slayer's brutal "Mandatory Suicide" on the stereo while bouncing his truck over crevices and gravel, past Joshua trees and dry brush, leaving behind a cloud of dust in the blistering summer heat.

In the rearview mirror are road signs with bullet holes, but Mincolla looks perfectly relaxed. This is home now for the singer and mastermind behind 3TEETH, the supercharged industrial-metal band from Los Angeles.

The city he's left behind is at least two hours away, but it seems more like a thousand miles from the cab of this customized truck, roaring through the high desert on 35-inch tires, with satellite GPS, floodlights, recovery gear, tools, first aid, a tent, and room for a survivalist's supply of water, beer and fuel. Mincolla is fully prepared for the apocalypse, or a party in the wasteland.

3teeth alexis driving desert, Steve Appleford
photograph by Steve Appleford

"It's a place you don't even make plans," he says of the terrain. "You're like, yeah, we'll just do something — get a bunch of ammo and beers and steaks and camp out somewhere and have a vibe, you know? It's almost like the environment informed a new aspect of my psychology. Every time I go back [to the city], I feel like I'm going back into a cage. There's such a freedom out here."

When I last met up with Mincolla in 2019, the band's third album, Metawar, was about to be released, and he was busy preparing the rollout from his Hollywood apartment. He was living a kind of elegant, Gothic existence then, with historic artifacts and paintings on the walls, and a real human skull of unknown origin gifted to him by his friend, guitarist Adam Jones of TOOL.

Mincolla was a city dweller in black leather, with a dark Italian mustache and boots laced up to his kneecaps.

Then came COVID-19 and the costly cancellation of the band's 2020 U.S. tour behind Metawar. Everything stopped. And amid the waves of panic and quarantine, things began to feel claustrophobic in L.A. "People were doing jumping jacks outside their apartments, like a prison yard workout," Mincolla recalls. "I was like, 'This is crazy. We gotta get out of here.'"

The band's label, Century Media Records, was talked into renting a house in the far-out desert community of Joshua Tree for 3TEETH's five band members, including guitarist Chase Brawner, keyboardist Xavier Swafford, bassist Andrew Means and drummer Nick Rossi. The idea was to make use of their unscheduled pandemic downtime and begin work on a new album.

The ultimate result was this year's highly anticipated EndEx, a collection of 12 calamitous tunes — fueled on big ideas, grinding industrial metal, and moments of subversive melody — that deliver 3TEETH to the front end of a revitalized industrial-metal movement, continuing a story propelled through the decades by the tectonic sounds of Ministry, Skinny Puppy and Rammstein. The album's cryptic title is military jargon for "end of exercise," suggesting one chapter ending and a possible turning point for the band.

With the album completed, most of 3TEETH eventually wandered back to the big city, but Mincolla stayed behind. Now he's gone full desert rat. His beard is grown out, and he's dressed like a next-generation Mad Max, ready for the Thunderdome in desert camo pants tucked into brown combat boots, a camo cap with a Chevy logo and wraparound shades.

As a totem to his musical roots, he's also wearing a faded Morbid Angel T-shirt, with cutoff sleeves revealing tattooed arms covered with interplanetary scenes, ancient Egyptian figures and geometric symbols.

3teeth alexis mincolla arms crossed, Steve Appleford
photograph by Steve Appleford

He spent his weekends here customizing his Chevy Silverado Trail Boss, preparing it for speed and survival. A big step up from his old Chevy Tahoe SUV, the new truck opened up the map to him, sending him deep into the Mojave where there are no roads or cell phone towers.

"I didn't go full doomer on it," he says. "I'm still pretty optimistic, but I think we all learned during COVID how fast and weird things can go sideways. A lot of us learned not only the importance of self-reliance, but also how the further you are from the power structures, the more likely you are just to die."

That blunt assessment will be recognizable to fans of 3TEETH, a band known for their fascination with history and culture on the cutting edge of doom, of imperialism and the corporate mentality. The new songs remain dense with content and meaning. The brutal "Xenogenesis" opens EndEx amid smoky, ominous effects and an encroaching beat, as Mincolla sings of heritage and biology.

More mantra than song, the chorus erupts with Mincolla's industrial-powered shriek: "Searching through my insides/Tearing up my past lives/I was never yours to create!"

While the album's tracking order moved around, "Xenogenesis" was always set as the first, to establish a threatening, ultra-heavy tone. "Xenogenesis is a concept of biology where an organism can be born without any relation to its parent," Mincolla explains. "It's this idea that we can sort of break our psychic scars of the generations past as we move forward and start anew."

That could easily describe the place that Mincolla now finds himself as a newly minted desert denizen. Most of the belongings from his city life are in storage now, as he moves from one Airbnb house rental to another in and around Joshua Tree, embracing the freedom and inspiration he's discovered there. For the singer and the rest of 3TEETH, the gorgeous, unforgiving environment offered all the inspiration they needed.

"At some point, after doing enough LSD and hiking and getting into the zone, there was a very clear idea," says Mincolla, known to many friends and admirers as Lex. "I didn't want to make a record that felt so sociopolitical anymore. Coming out here, I really felt like we were getting an off-world perspective, looking back at earth.

"So I wanted to do a big wide-angle perspective on everything. That allowed us to create some weirder, slightly more cryptic allegorical storytelling."

He's got a friend who sometimes stays with him, a former Marine with years of combat experience. He's noted Mincolla's new lifestyle and told him: "I feel like I'm a redneck masquerading as intellectual, and you're like an intellectual masquerading as a redneck."

"I think a lot," the singer explains. "It's hard to turn it off. I'm not sure that has brought me a ton of happiness per se. So I'm trying to enjoy a little bit more and turn off a little bit and actually soak in nature more. I don't think I abandoned being who I was. I just don't think that metropolitan areas serve me as much anymore in this life."

Back at the house he rents in Joshua Tree, he's got a scorpion in a small plastic habitat. Mincolla bought the nasty-looking Asian forest scorpion (Heterometrus spinifer) to cameo in 3TEETH's video for the new album's "Scorpion." It cost $30 at a local desert pet store, where the singer was briefly interrogated by the dude behind the counter.

"He's like, 'What do you want it for? You gonna let it sting you?' I'm like, 'No,'" Mincolla recalls. "Then he's like, 'I let him sting me sometimes.' And I'm like, 'I don't really want to get into this.'"

The scorpion hasn't been named yet, but Mincolla has decided to keep it. He sometimes watches as the creature feeds off the grasshoppers jumping amid the woodchips in its cage. The scorpion is venomous but not deadly to humans.

"He's definitely a monster more than a pet," he says, describing how it will sting its insect prey, then decapitate and slowly devour the insides with its mandible claws. "I did hold him once and I could just tell he wanted to kill me."

Trucks in desert 3teeth cover 2023, Steve Appleford
photograph by Steve Appleford

There were fewer predatory arachnids where Mincolla grew up in Boston, surrounded by a wide variety of music, including the kaleidoscopic jazz fusion of the Mahavishnu Orchestra records his dad played at home. His father is an author and practitioner of holistic health (associated with Deepak Chopra), and a sometime musician. But Mincolla owes his early taste for extreme music to his older brother, a devoted '90s metalhead who exposed Lex to death metal at 11 years old.

"My brother was the type of dude who would make it more scary for me," he says with a laugh. "It's almost like you have to go through the scary thing to be like, 'Actually I like this.' And then it becomes your suit of armor."

That early Nineties era was still feeling the effects from the previous decade's full-blown Satanic panic and Tipper Gore's PMRC morality crusade — and public fear and loathing was still very much directed at metal as the genre continued to rise on the charts and receive heavy MTV rotation.

Christian activists regularly picketed outside concerts, and daytime TV talk shows alarmed viewers with stories of kids lost to the spell of demonic rock stars and hidden messages. Even hippie parents who came of age in the years of "Sympathy for the Devil" and "Voodoo Child" were concerned.

"I remember my mom finding my older brother's Slayer South of Heaven cassette tape. If your parents find the lyrics of 'Mandatory Suicide,' they're genuinely scared," Mincolla says now. "For us it was, 'This is dope! This sounds awesome!' But for a parent looking in, it was potentially something scary. There were definitely some cassettes that were thrown out."

He graduated to industrial music after hearing his brother's copy of Nine Inch Nails' 1994 classic The Downward Spiral. While his brother played in some metal bands, Mincolla never considered life as a musician, and instead got into visual art. He studied political science in Rome, and found his way to Miami and New York before landing in Los Angeles, already a vibrant setting for sounds loud and industrial.

He dove into that scene as a fan, and created his own underground party there called Lil Death, gathering hordes of "Techno Pagan Party People," as its Facebook page declared.

3teeth full band 2023 black and white uncropped, Jim Louvau
photograph by Jim Louvau

3TEETH was born after Mincolla met Swafford at Lil Death, a spontaneous reaction to their shared excitement at the scene swirling around them there, and at groundbreaking L.A. clubs like Das Bunker and The Complex. The idea of recording their 2014 self-titled debut was less a career move than about the simple desire to have it as a personal accomplishment. It turned out there was a hunger for the album, which hit No. 8 on the iTunes Electronic Music Chart.

"At the time that we came up, there was a resurgence of a scene and a lot of cool bands. I feel very blessed to have been part of even that small moment," he says. "We're still an L.A. band. We'll go back and rehearse there. I remember writing the first album's lyrics on the Red Line [train] going from Hollywood to downtown. It definitely informed a lot of what we do, and we will always have to pay homage to it."

3TEETH were still a new band known mostly to hardcore industrial fanatics when they were recruited to tour in support of Tool in 2016 and, later, Rammstein and Danzig. Mincolla got used to playing bigger rooms. The band's reach expanded further with the album <shutdown.exe> in 2017, received then like the second coming of classic industrial metal.

And in 2019 3TEETH dropped their first for Century Media, Metawar, and prepared to spread their message deeper to the masses with a fully realized manifesto of techno-horror, Chase Brawner's vicious riffs and Mincolla's socio-political fact-based paranoia. That trajectory was interrupted by COVID, as it was for the entire music industry, but Mincolla says now that he's grateful for the "serendipity" of the pause in momentum, which led to his unexpected arrival in the desert.

"That was the weird sort of left-handed blessing of COVID. I think it forced a lot of people to have to do a little bit more inward work. It uninstalled a lot of bullshit," he says. "It obviously created a lot of extreme trauma for people having to deal with that stuff. But I think that maybe wasn't the worst thing for people in the long run." He pauses, then adds, "But that's a tough perspective."

The new EndEx was recorded in and around Joshua Tree and the high desert, which has a long legacy of loud music. There are several studios built in homes nearby, including Rancho de La Luna, which has hosted sessions with Josh Homme, Dave Grohl and Iggy Pop, among many others. The album was partially recorded at the home studio of producer Nick Rowe, just up the street from Mincolla's place.

All of the vocals were tracked there. Guests and collaborators on the album included Ho99o9 (on the chilling "Paralyze") and acclaimed video game soundtrack composer Mick Gordon (known for Doom: Eternal, Wolfenstein II) as a producer and player.

3teeth alexis mincolla 2023 portrait uncropped, Jim Louvau
photograph by Jim Louvau

The hard-hitting "Slum Planet" is all crushing beats and noise, as Mincolla describes the planet as a real-life dystopia, owned and marketed by the usual corporate interests. The singer sounds almost giddy reciting a grim sales pitch: "I don't care if you live or you die/As long as you're willing to buy!" In the accompanying music video, Mincolla is in the cockpit of a spiky alien aircraft, soaring over a sickening urban wasteland, keeping watch over what's left of life on earth.

There's also "Acme Death Machine," a title in part a playful echo of the old Looney Tunes cartoons, where the gadgets used by Wile E. Coyote in his mission to kill the Road Runner were always bought under the same Acme brand name. The music is punishing and relentless, as Mincolla explores the idea that corporate America is hazardous to our health.

"I feel like every day there's a new product that's banned because they find out it's giving you cancer," Mincolla says with a grin. "At some point do we realize that our food supplies are just poisoned? Is everything that we do killing us in some way or another?"

The sound of 3TEETH also expanded with "What's Left," a notably slippery, danceable track layered with Mincolla's panicked growls and whispers, set to a machine-gun beat and a fuzzy, frantic Gordon bassline. He describes it as "almost industrial surf rock," partly inspired by a picture hanging in the studio of surfers wearing hazmat suits.

The album closes with a cover of "Everybody Wants to Rule the World," originally recorded by '80s synth-pop band Tears for Fears and a major hit around the world. Turning up-tempo pop hooks inside out as something more ominous has been a 3TEETH specialty.

On Metawar, the band transformed indie-pop outfit Foster the People's bouncy international megahit "Pumped Up Kicks" — with its startling lyrics exploring the mind of a school shooter — into something scarier that cut much closer to the bone of the song's meaning.

For Mincolla, the Tears for Fears tune — the title alone which spoke to the singer's bleak view of international power struggles — was overdue for industrial reinterpretation. 3TEETH turn it into something menacing but understated, with overlapping beats and effects creating a shadowy new context for the original's bright melody.

"It seemed like the right time for that, as we sort of nosedive into World War III," he explains. "I had a harder time with this cover, because of how much we all liked the original. We almost scrapped it and then one day we figured it out and we're like, 'Ooh, this is awesome.'"

3teeth truck alexis mincolla, Steve Appleford
photograph by Steve Appleford

The ideas and songs piled up, to the point that organizing a coherent album seemed like an impossible task — until everything finally came into focus, both creatively and personally, for Mincolla.

"Somehow by the end of it, when it's all organized and put together, it helps me realize things about me," Mincolla says. "It's almost like you can't see the forest for the trees, but when you finally get a bird's-eye view, it's like getting a clear perspective in your own brain. And you're like, Oh, that's what I was going through for three years."

Leading up to the album release, the band shared clues to the new sounds and visions through a series of singles and dynamic music videos: "Paralyze," "Merchant of the Void," "Slum Planet," "Scorpion" and "Drift."

While the EndEx videos are not big-budget productions, and usually created while rushing toward a release deadline, they represent an essential visual side to the 3TEETH mission. They are nightmarish short films of crushing, industrial-strength rage and anxiety, and unfold as cautionary tales of the virtual and flesh-and-bone.

"It's an opportunity to add another dimension to what we do," the frontman says. "I've always thought that 3TEETH is an art project built on the chassis of a band. So the band is in many ways just a vehicle, a reason to make more art."

In that, he's learned from the example of his friend Adam Jones, who not only crafts TOOL's epic, growling guitar riffs, but as a filmmaker created the band's groundbreaking early music videos. Those productions benefited from the expertise Jones learned as a Hollywood special effects artist (Jurassic Park, Terminator 2) in the years before TOOL fully took off. Now that he's relocated to the desert, Mincolla sees Jones less often, but the guitarist's influence still reverberates.

"Adam in many ways is forever my mentor," Mincolla explains of their conversations about art and life within a creatively ambitious metal band. "This is a guy that always told me: 'You have to chew glass for it,' basically saying it's never going to be easy. And if it's worth doing, it's worth suffering for it, and it's worth struggling for it. That dude is forever a hardworking tortured artist, despite the level of success."

3teeth alexis desert blurry, Steve Appleford
photograph by Steve Appleford

It's late afternoon, and the sun is beginning to slip behind the mountains when Mincolla steers his souped-up Chevy Trail Boss from the highway and onto a bumpy dirt path leading to a place called Giant Rock. It's located on federal Bureau of Land Management property in Landers, California. At its center is a gigantic boulder about seven stories tall, a regular gathering place for off-roaders.

Nearby is the rotting husk of an abandoned car. Whatever it was in the past is unrecognizable now. It seems to be upside down. Giant Rock is also known as a spiritual meeting place, a landing zone for UFOs.

Early the last century, a peculiar German miner named Frank Critzer dug a cave beneath the boulder and built a 400-square-foot home there. When the feds came knocking in 1942, he blew himself up with dynamite under mysterious circumstances. His friend, George Van Tassel, followed in his place, telling stories of alien encounters in the desert, and for 20 years hosted the annual Giant Rock Interplanetary Spacecraft Convention here for true believers.

Mincolla rolls up to the boulder and a crowd of hot-rodded buggies and trucks. Some are spinning their wheels in the sand, sending up huge clouds of dust. He admires one of the newer trucks, a limited- edition Ford he notes probably cost $130,000. "He could have bought a Ferrari. That thing is fucking crazy," he says admiringly.

He leans out the window and shouts to the driver, "Is that a Raptor R?"

The guy laughs. "Yes."

"I could tell from that supercharged whine, dude. Damn, I've never seen one. That's fucking sick. Nice fucking truck. Very good, bro."

A few minutes later, Mincolla is rolling through the dirt again, with ATVs ripping past on one side, trucks on the other. He spins his truck around and hits the gas, racing against another vehicle back toward Giant Rock, bouncing hard over the earth. The adrenaline is at full boil, but it's not always like this, he says.

On other visits, he'll just as likely come up here with a couple of folding chairs, with a book or some firearms, to drink from cold cans of IPA and take in the sunset.

"I climb out here sometimes, do some bouldering," he says. "It's awesome."

As the dusk finally turns to dark, Mincolla heads back toward home, ripping down the dirt track, with only the floodlights on his truck to guide him. Back on the paved road, he pulls over at a cantina called the Giant Rock Meeting Room.

The tattooed redhead behind the bar brings us each a shot of artisan Mexican tequila and bottles of Modelo. A small pizza is on the way. On the patio is a birthday party being serenaded by a band playing Led Zeppelin. "Damn," says Mincolla with a smile, "we got 'Dancing Days,' bro?"

It's just another night in Mincolla's new life in the desert. Now that he's in what he calls "my feral 40s," the experience continues to refuel him, delivering new ideas and experiences, and it's fed into his work with 3TEETH. There will be a couple of big shows this fall in Los Angeles and New York, but the band will let the album sink in for a bit before touring hard in 2024.

He remains committed to making the most of that.

"The fact that it's gotten this far is like, yeah, we should still bleed for it," he says. "We should still chew glass for it and ride it out. And whether or not this is the last record, you should still just give it your all or not do it at all. There's nothing worse than being half-in on something."