“We’d love to be plugging PRS guitars into Mesa/Boogie amps, but for now it’s an old, worn-out Gibson Les Paul Studio”: Return to Dust’s brand of grunge metal has millions of views on TikTok. Now they face the challenges of entering the real world

Return to Dust perform live
(Image credit: Matt Akana)

With sounds reminiscent of Stone Temple Pilots at their ‘90s height, and a festival billing alongside Slipknot, Judas Priest and Pantera, Return to Dust gave come out of the gate undeniably hot.

If you aren’t one of the millions who caught the vibe via TikTok, have a listen to The Black Road EP, featuring twin-guitar attack-led cuts like Belly Up – you’ll find yourself invigorated by the return-to-grunge sonic assault.

“We’ve been a band for almost five years now; it started over Covid,” guitarist Matt Joseph tells Guitar World. “But Sebastian didn’t join until two years ago. We settled in California, and a few houses down, we heard about this kid shredding Metallica in his garage by himself… we knew he was a perfect fit.”

Gonzalez – who’s 17 years old – was not exactly tuned into the grunge aesthetic; but despite his relative inexperience Joseph says he “can play most things he hears by ear.”

Gonzalez shrugs: “When I joined, I had just turned 16. I was shy and surprised these guys who had turned 20 wanted me to be in a band with them.”

“Sebastian was young, but we knew he could play,” Joseph counters. “The chemistry was immediate and perfect. We’d been searching for another member to find out the sound. Did we imagine it would be a teenager who sits inside and shreds thrash metal all day? No. But it worked.”

It wasn’t all that hard to make it work, Gonzales says. “I take influence from Ozzy, Metallica, Megadeth, and these guys had a vibe – but I loved grunge, too. That love brought us together, meaning it’s a combination of heavy metal and alt-rock, with plenty of room to shred here and there.

“There’s a lot to learn, but it helps that we have space to play for people on social media. Our success there is a testament to what we’re doing, – it’s a big space for discovering guitar music these days.”

Joseph agrees: “It’s how people discover music nowadays. Rock and metal are some of the last genres to hop on that trend, because pop spearheaded it. But now that we’ve had over two million downloads there, it’s catching up.”

Despite their success, Joseph and Gonzalez remain grounded: “It’s been wild,” Joseph says. “But we’re still the same people we were, and doing it the way we were.

“It’s funny because we’re still limited on gear. That may change, but we’re trying to remember that you don’t need expensive stuff to make great music. We’d love to be plugging PRS guitars into Mesa/Boogie amps, but for now it’s an old, worn-out Gibson Les Paul Studio. I’m learning quickly that their tuning issues are real!”

As they prepare for a big 2024, they’re excited – but aware of the challenges. Gonzalez sighs: “This will sound weird, but music isn’t the biggest challenge. For me, it’s not seeing family much.”

“I leave early and come home late, and I’m tired, so there’s not much time to interact with my parents. I know that’s only gonna get worse; I’m only 17, and I’m leaving the nest early, so that’s another big hurdle to get over and learn to navigate.”

Joseph has his own challenges: “People talk about gear acquisition syndrome, but I feel like I have skill acquisition syndrome. I love learning new things, and it’s been non-stop. We’ve got so much ahead, so much to learn, and so much to master. I feel like right now, we can’t fall into the mundane.”

He concludes, “As long as we keep our head about us and harness our restless spirit, things will remain beautiful. If we do that, I truly believe we’ll be able to do everything we need as a band, and there will be nothing but good things ahead.”

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Andrew Daly

Andrew Daly is an iced-coffee-addicted, oddball Telecaster-playing, alfredo pasta-loving journalist from Long Island, NY, who, in addition to being a contributing writer for Guitar World, scribes for Rock Candy, Bass Player, Total Guitar, and Classic Rock History. Andrew has interviewed favorites like Ace Frehley, Johnny Marr, Vito Bratta, Bruce Kulick, Joe Perry, Brad Whitford, Rich Robinson, and Paul Stanley, while his all-time favorite (rhythm player), Keith Richards, continues to elude him.