The Rise of 3TEETH: Endorsed by Tool and Rammstein, Driven to Shock and Provoke | Revolver

The Rise of 3TEETH: Endorsed by Tool and Rammstein, Driven to Shock and Provoke

Politics? S&M? Opening for some of the biggest heavy bands in the world? Alexis Mincolla isn't one to shy away.
3teeth_alexismincolla_credit_jimlouvau.jpg, Jim Louvau
3TEETH's Alexis Mincolla
photograph by Jim Louvau

Just inside Alexis Mincolla's front door, there's a human skull of unknown origin given to him by Tool guitarist Adam Jones, a friend and fellow online video game obsessive. They met a few years ago at a wedding, though Mincolla neglected for months to mention the existence of his industrial-metal act 3TEETH. He figured Jones had enough people pushing their music his way. But Jones eventually found out about the band, and even came out to a show at the Viper Room on Hollywood's Sunset Strip.

Then one night in 2015, they went to see Ridley Scott's The Martian together and were in line for popcorn when Jones casually said: "You guys should come out on this next tour with us. Do you want to go?"

Mincolla was overwhelmed. He couldn't answer the question or concentrate on the movie. 3TEETH had released only one album and never played to an audience of more than 2,000. Tool played arenas. Eventually, the singer gathered his senses and said yes. The first night of the tour was in San Francisco. Metallica were in the audience, which didn't exactly help Mincolla's nerves. He sang the first two songs with his eyes closed behind his dark glasses.

Then he heard applause. "I slowly opened up my eyes," Mincolla recalls. "I was like, This is fucking awesome. Fast-forward three shows and all I want to do is play arenas and get that feeling. You taste that arena blood and it's like slaying a dragon …"

Mincolla and 3TEETH have many more dragons to slay, after international tours supporting Tool and, later, German juggernauts Rammstein, put the Los Angeles quintet at the leading edge of an industrial-music renaissance. But the crushing sounds and visions are entirely their own, with special fanatical attention given to Mincolla's lyrics of a world on fire. Onstage the singer is a leather-clad menace, roaring about our crumbling 21st century and issuing a snarling warning about the impeding dystopian future that awaits us.

He's a modern dude also at ease with the ancients and finds infinite inspiration in the great fallen civilizations: the Babylonians, Sumerians, Assyrians, the early Egyptians. Each passed into the abyss many centuries ago, taking their secrets with them. "There's something humbling about that," says Mincolla, sitting in his Los Angeles apartment, black boots laced to his knees. His obsessions, both historical and forward-leaning, are on full display in the art that adorns his home (including a fanged Medusa face made of brass, and a large print of Jean-Andre Rixens' 1874 painting The Death of Cleopatra) and on 3TEETH's new third album, Metawar — on which Mincolla examines post-millennial decay within an abrasive and melodic storm of colliding electronics and guitars.

3teeth_credit_michael_mendoza.jpg, Michael Mendoza
3TEETH, (from left) Justin Hanson, Andrew Means, Mincolla, Chase Brawner and Xavier Swafford
photograph by Michael Mendoza

In writing for the album, Mincolla sketched out songs as intensely detailed diagrams of words and connections: from political and philosophical to emotional, psychological and sexual. Though the final, growling outcome heard on Metawar is less academic than it is visceral and furious. "What's sacred to me is creating a record that feels conceptually coherent. Front to back when you listen to it, you're getting an interesting narrative," he says. "There's more substance to it, there's more density. If I'm going to take a year of my life to create something, I want it to resonate on that level."

As a kid in Boston, things got loud early for Mincolla. His older brother was a Nineties death-metal fan who introduced the budding musician to the "really heavy shit," and by age 11, he was deep into the Brazilian thunder of Sepultura. As a part of the first generation to grow up with the internet, he soon discovered that the aggression and beauty of industrial music was a fitting soundtrack to an increasingly virtual world.

Mincolla studied abroad in Rome, and eventually landed in Los Angeles, already an especially vibrant setting for nocturnal enthusiasts of all things goth and industrial. He created his own underground party there called Lil Death, aimed at "Techno Pagan Party People," as its Facebook page declared.

At Lil Death, he met keyboardist Xavier Swafford, and their shared obsession with the music around them led them toward the beginning of 3TEETH. (Others in the band are guitarist Chase Brawner, bassist Andrew Means and drummer Justin Hanson.) "When we started this project, there was only so much back catalog I could continue to listen to. 'Fuck it, let's just make the record we want to hear!' That was really the only impetus for it."

All he really wanted out of the exercise was a vinyl album release that he could have as a personal accomplishment. 3TEETH signed to the small Toronto label Artoffact Records, and to the surprise of nearly everyone, people took notice. The band's 2014 self-titled debut hit No. 8 on the iTunes Electronic Music Chart. Their first L.A.-area show sold out at the now-defunct Complex, a tiny club with massive sound in suburban Glendale, California.

"Writing songs about societal collapse, L.A. is fairly inspiring," says Mincolla, who worked out lyrical ideas while traveling across the city by train with headphones blasting 3TEETH's evolving music, watching the faces of locals heading deep into urban sprawl. "In many ways L.A. is a perfect petri dish for what we created here. I don't think it happens in another place."

Ahead of Metawar's arrival this summer, the band released a pair of its songs as videos, starting with the chaotic trash dystopia of "American Landfill." They soon followed with "EXXXIT," which depicts a woman being pierced with hooks and then suspended above the floor.

"I knew it was going to get people to go, 'What the fuck?'" he says of the video, co-starring Jeanelle Mastema, an experienced suspension artist. For insurance cost purposes, he neglected to include the alarming suspension element on the written video proposal.

When Revolver visits Mincolla's home in mid-May, it's during a brief moment of calm for the singer. As he relaxes in a burgundy velvet chair with a cup of coffee, he tells us he's about to leave town for a funeral, but will be back in 3TEETH mode in a couple of days to shoot a video for "President X," a song partially inspired by the withering 1982 Psychedelic Furs tune, "President Gas." He's found that dealing with politics in the Trump era has only become more complicated.

"The first record was written during the Obama administration and it's extremely anti-systemic and there was a lot of heavy critique of centrist politics and things that Obama did that I'm still a huge critic of. But the minute I want to slam Trump, people are like, 'You fucking lib-tard!' What? I've been dishing out an equal serving to everyone, but you almost have to pull back with a basic attack on the system."

Closing the new album is a cover of "Pumped Up Kicks," Foster the People's bouncy international Top 40 pop hit from 2010. With lyrics that explore the mind of a school shooter, it was primed for an industrial reinterpretation. ("You'd better run, better run, faster than my bullet …") By setting the original's catchy melody within the band's relentless grind and hostility, 3TEETH emphasize the bleakness and tragedy at the song's core.

Just as 3TEETH were recording Metawar in late 2018, there was another shooting near Los Angeles at a bar filled with university students in Thousand Oaks, killing 12. One of the victims had survived a country music festival shooting in Las Vegas the year before.

3teeth_2_credit_nickfancher.jpg, Nick Fancher
photograph by Nick Fancher

"It wasn't hard to find inspiration," says Mincolla, himself an enthusiastic gun owner, but he insists guns shouldn't be easier to get than a credit card. "It's gotten to the point where there's so many fucking school shootings that you can't even keep track. It's almost like the school shooters are incentivized to now get a higher body count because otherwise they're not even gonna make news."

Mincolla says he's learned about attacking controversial topics from the example set by tour mates Rammstein. In particular, he observed how the Berlin act's recent "Deutschland" video stirred up some noise with graphic images of brutality from German history. Many people were enraged, but it also created a dialog, as Rammstein "got people to think, which is something that's always fascinated me," he says.

Rammstein also taught the singer a thing or two about going to extremes — albeit in the pursuit of good times — while 3TEETH were on the road with Till Lindemann and Co. "They still fucking go hard," Mincolla says with a smile. "Till is like a superhero. He is so inclusive and inviting to everyone. 'Hey, let's go to my dressing room and take some shots!'"

Mincolla's long-term aspiration for 3TEETH is that his band will be able to exist with that kind of balance. "I want to build an art project on the chassis of a band," Mincolla explains. "I just want to make weird shit and have fun with it. I want to get people to go, 'What the fuck are these guys doing?'"