On Friday, February 17, four friends in their 40s will take the stage in front of a sold-out crowd at Tacoma’s 700-capacity Spanish Ballroom to play songs they wrote in their late teens and early 20s. It will be the first time in 21 years these friends perform an entire set together, and as ridiculous as it may sound, there’s no doubt it will be an almost religious experience for many in the audience, with some fans flying in from as far away as Ireland to be there, as they witness the return of Botch.
Dave Knudson, Dave Verellen, Brian Cook, and Tim Latona formed Botch in the early ‘90s after meeting at DIY punk shows in South End community centers and all-ages spaces. They released their first full-length, the crushing, swirling ball of amplified madness American Nervoso, in 1998 and then went on to write one of the most iconic and influential metallic hardcore albums of all time, We Are the Romans, in 1999.
After touring the US and Europe with bands like the Dillinger Escape Plan and Murder City Devils and consistently selling out shows around the Northwest at venues like RKCNDY, DV8, and the Velvet Elvis, the band broke up three years later, at the height of their popularity.
The last time we saw these four onstage together was a sold-out sweat-drenched blowout finale at the Showbox on June 15, 2002, alongside scene staples Harkonen, Playing Enemy, and the Blood Brothers. Metal label Hydra Head released a DVD of the final show so fans could re-live the hilarity of a stage-diving man decked out in a gorilla costume.
The band’s post-breakup legend grew as members went on to form Minus the Bear, These Arms are Snakes, Narrows, Sumac, and Russian Circles. As the years went on and the ease of sharing music increased alongside the global popularity of aggressive underground music, Botch’s name became that of legend. Embracing the genre’s reenergized popularity, Botch’s musical forefathers like Judge, At the Gates, Gorilla Biscuits, and damn near every other bucket list old-school hardcore and metal band started to dust off their guitars and come back for another round of tour dates. For many, there was always that lurking question—would Botch ever get back together?
“It seems like every year somebody from a festival would be like, ‘Is this the year?’” vocalist Verellen says while sitting alongside his band members at the Factory Luxe bar on a Friday afternoon. “And we'd be like, ‘No.’”
“We want to do it on our own terms,” adds guitarist Knudson. “We don’t need to play a festival. We'd rather play our own show with our own support bands that we're picking out. We're not trying to make new fans at this point. We don't need a huge banner behind us and play at 3 pm on the stage when it's still sunny out. That does not sound like the way anyone should experience a Botch show.”
Fittingly, the seeds of what we will be witnessing Friday were planted in the most natural, no-pressure way one can imagine. No label rollout, no marketing meeting, no PR campaign. Botch came back together after one friend reached out to another friend with a song idea during the peak of pandemic boredom.
While working on music for his solo project, Knudson began experimenting with something a little more aggressive.
“I’m like, ‘I should find a heavy vocalist to sing on this’” Knudson recalls. “Like someone with a great voice. I will hit up Dimitri from Dillinger [Escape Plan] first.’ And then I was like, ‘Why would I hit him up when I know the best singer in hardcore?’”
“There was never any intention on my part to be like, ‘Oh, I'm gonna get the band back together,'” Knudson adds. “It was just like, ‘Hey dudes, here’s this song. You guys want to do shit?’”
“I think that's what made it fun,” says bassist Cook. “I think if there had been like a ‘Let's write a Botch song!’ It would have been like, ‘Why? Why are we trying to get this thing going?’ But he had this thing already mapped out and it sounded good to Dave singing on it. And then he was like, ‘Wanna play bass on it?’ ‘Sure.’ Then it’s like, ‘Why aren’t we having Tim drum on this?’ Then it’s just like, ‘Oh, we just wrote a Botch song by accident. Okay.’”
In August Botch released “One Twenty Two,” their first song in twenty years—the surprise drop lit the online metal world ablaze. The song is short and to the point, clocking in at just over two minutes, but it packs that same familiar gut punch of chaotic heaviness.
The way Cook casually discusses the beginning stages of this reunion almost makes you forget how momentous of an occasion it is. On October 20, one day after announcing they would be playing two back-to-back shows on February 24 and 25 at the Showbox, the band was shocked to see tickets for both nights sold out in just 13 seconds.
“I was like, ‘I think we're going to [sell out the show] in about two weeks or something like that,’” Verellen says. “And people were texting my wife, ‘What the fuck?’ And I came home from work and she was like, ‘Something's broken. It's all sold out already.’”
It’s obvious the band underestimated just how many people were dead set on seeing them one last time. A month later, the band announced another show, this time on their home turf at the Spanish Ballroom in Tacoma, with a large portion of the tickets set aside for in-person purchase only. The hometown crowd that nurtured them would get the first opportunity to scream the cutting lyrics to “C. Thomas Howell as the ‘Soul Man’” back at Verellen and company.
Given the magnitude of these three shows—and the impact their music had across genres and generations—it’s safe to say Botch had their pick of openers. They could have easily asked any number of bands to reform for the occasion. Instead, they assembled a solid lineup of heavy up-and-coming Northwest acts—Denial of Life, Sandrider, Dreamdecay, Filth is Eternal, Haunted Horses, and Erosion.
For the past few months now, the four have gathered in a practice space in south Seattle, inside the old Rainier Brewery two or three times a week to prepare.
“I wasn’t confident,” Cook says with a laugh. “I was nervous, but I was surprised how quickly it came together. I thought it was going to be a lot more labor-intensive. It seems like it went pretty fast.”
At a typical Botch show, during their prime, the band thrashed around frantically onstage, yet somehow they always managed to nail all the minute intricacies. Knudson wanted to make sure they could replicate what they became known for in the first place.
“We don't want to like, half-ass it, right?” Knudson says. “And we want to be fucking tight as we ever were, if not tighter. We want to have the energy, know the songs to be able to create this experience that we used to create back 20-plus years ago. We don't want it to pale in comparison and ruin someone's memory if they did see us. On the other hand, we don't want to disappoint a fan that's never seen us live. So, you know, it's all in or nothing.”
Drummer Latona is the only member who didn’t form another band when Botch disbanded. He started a family and pursued a love of traveling that was born from his time on the road with the band.
“I remember the feeling after a show,” Latona says. “I haven’t had this in 20 years and I’m so excited to have this again, of walking outside and it’s cooler outside and your body is just steaming and you feel spent. That was a catharsis in my life that I don’t know if I’ve had in any other way.”
Just this morning, Botch announced they're embarking on a US tour, hitting Chicago, Austin, Denver, New York, Los Angeles, and more on weekend stints from October through December. Label Sargent House added, "More shows may be added in other places and some point, or not." There will likely be more offers, more festivals promising the band obscene amounts of money. But with other musical projects, families, full-time careers, and kids, this time there’s a lot more that needs to be considered.
“Everyone in the band is having to make sacrifices to do this,” Cook says. “And I think everyone's stoked to be able to do it, and happy to make those sacrifices.”
Botch play Spanish Ballroom in Tacoma Fri Feb 17 and the Showbox in Seattle Fri-Sat Feb 24-25. All shows are sold out.