Category Archives: Interview

PRIEST: Talking New Flesh with the Puppet Master

 

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So, Priest is finally putting the full-length release out. The Pit was a fantastic lead-up and New Flesh delivers on The Pit’s promise.

Thank you! I’m glad that you liked it. You never know how people are going to react once it’s released into the world.

Just for background, when did Priest come together as a band?

When we first started talking about it, it was 2011, so the idea has been there for a while. In 2015 we really started to pull everything together. That summer is when we first went into the recording studio with Alpha producing. But then everybody had their own things that they had to do so we just recorded when we could get together.

How many people is Priest comprised of in total?

Priest has three members; Salt, Sulfur, and Mercury. There’s one singer and then two guys running the synthesizers, electronics, and electronic percussion.

Before New Flesh you guys released The Pit. Is that meant to be an EP or single?

Actually, I really don’t know! It started out as a single but then we released a second single. I can see how that could be a little bit confusing.

Either way, it was Priest’s first official release and a precursor meant to lead up to the full-length…

Yes, exactly.

It’d probably be a good time to address the past with the inevitable curiosity about the affiliation with Ghost. Without really giving that anymore attention outside of clearing things up, what was the affiliation with Ghost? Did that have anything to do with the way Priest came together?

Alpha produced the first Ghost album, so there is that connection. It may be that seeing how fans responded to the mystery and anonymity of Ghost kind of served as a catalyst of sorts for the way we might approach some of the visual aspects of Priest. I guess maybe it even served as a springboard for us to dare to do what we have with Priest. I would say that it might be considered a bit of a learning process as far as stepping into the unknown is concerned.

So in that respect, Priest was affiliated with Ghost, but no other significance. How about yourself, personally?

Let’s just say that I was something like a marionette within the band back in those days. The other two guys in Priest we’re not in Ghost, however. But you know, that was a great period of learning in my life. I loved playing in a group with such great musicians.

For you, is Priest an artistic project or is it something more substantial and long term?

It was always meant to be a band. We have a lot of ideas and plans for the future. We haven’t done it full time yet but we will get there. I’m sure that some people probably see it as a project but it’s something much more for us. Priest is something that we’re all serious about.

The release of the group’s first full-length album is certainly a step in that direction. The material has a significant crossover appeal. How did Priest’s sound begin to make its shape? One album in and there’s already a discernable stylistic approach established, it seems.

I guess you could say that our sound is like a broth of what we grew up listening to. We wanted to write an album that shows what we love and where we come from, so we went back and listened to recordings from bands we’ve loved for a long time because we wanted to see how they were recorded, the way they used their synthesizers on album’s like Music for the Masses and other early albums. The production also gave the songs a different touch, I think.

When did you begin the sessions for New Flesh?

We began recording that material in late 2016 and January of 2017.

Had all of the songs been written prior to recording them or were they done in the studio?

Most of the songs already existed when we got to the studio, but a few were completed once we went in, like “Populist,” for example (an album highlight – Ed.).We wanted to experiment a little once we got there. A couple of the songs were taken from long, long pieces on a computer and given to Alpha to be cut and arranged. It was a little bit of a strange way of working but I think we manage to find some good things that way. But I think it’s always great to be able to find something new in creative experiments like that.

The so-called ‘happy accidents’.

Exactly.

How did you guys go about writing the material?

We have one main songwriter, but there are some collaborations between him and Alpha. The first song on the record is a collaboration between him and Mercury, which was written a while back. Of course Alpha came in and put his touch on it so it was a completely different piece after that. But for this album we just had one main songwriter. In the future we will experiment much more with a lot of different ideas that we have floating around. It would be nice to just go away for a week somewhere, to a house or something and plug in our synthesizers and equipment and see what happens. There are so many different ways to go about doing something like that.

b5377fff506b5e755f33d3bd822acf86.960x960x1You mentioned having a lot of different ideas to work from. Is there more music that didn’t make it onto the album for whatever reason? Whether it was due to time, continuity, or something else?

We actually have a lot of songs, we’re not going to run dry. I mean, we have songs that have been written over time, maybe the span of 15 years or something. That’s a lot of songs!

I’m sure it’s safe to assume that the years yielded a lot of music.

Yes! It’s kind of like a gold mine. With so much material, that gives us a lot of music to experiment with. It gives the future some security, knowing that we have so much music to go through and work with.

I would think that would make you feel a lot more free to explore further reaches of your spectrum.

Yes, I guess it does. It’s kind of like insurance or having a backup.

The influences of classic artists and bands comes through but you guys manage to keep your sound your own while incorporating some of those elements really well. Is the possibility of turning younger listeners on to that early music that you love something you’d like to do?

Oh, absolutely. It’s a compliment to hear that you can see those influences in our music, so thank you. We did reach back into our pasts to bring this music out.

So, is that something that the group will continue to do?

I don’t know, honestly. Maybe we could reach back centuries and try something with classical music interpreted through modern technology and music machines! Of course, whenever you’re lost you can always go back to Bach. You can always find something within his music.

C76by_tVQAAhWDzWith regard to the creative aspect of writing, what inspires you? Outside of music, I mean. Is it scenery? Is it film? Do stories inspire you? Where do you find that kind of thing in the world?

I have vivid dreams. When I was young I used to dream about things like robots and technology. I guess I found some inspiration in electronics. I used to dream in pixels, something that looks like that, anyway. I also find creativity in things like video games or movies. I have a lot of ideas that are inspired by movies. Not all of the lyrics were inspired by movies on New Flesh, necessarily, though the title comes from the David Cronenberg movie Videodrome. I think that a lot of inspiration can come from daydreams. But sometimes that’s very hard to understand. I mean, how do you interpret that? How do you grasp that and turn it into something real? Is it in sounds? Is it in words? To be truthful, I think that I can find inspiration in just about anything that can affect me and any kind of way.

What kind of standards would you say that you’ve set for yourself? Creatively speaking, I mean.

For me it’s really important that words and music fit together. It all has to be one entity. I absolutely feel like it has to work for me. As long as I get it and it means something to me, that’s what matters, I think.

What about the creativity where the visual aesthetics concerned? The masks are effectively ominous in their own way.

There were a lot of ideas that we put through the grinder. It took a while. We didn’t know which way we wanted to go. I found some bondage masks online and I picked one that I though looked pretty cool. I thought, “Let’s put that on with the priest’s collar to see how it works. Then, bingo!” There it was. It was one of those moments that you don’t really have to talk about it because everyone just knows. Since everybody really liked it, naturally, that’s what we decided to do. Then we decided to use the bird masks for the other two people. It’s kind of like the image of Odin and the two crows. Of course, with the bondage mask, there’s a little bit of a Hellraiser influence, as well!

What does Priest’s foreseeable future hold where touring is concerned? Has that been discussed?

We’re actually planning for our live show now.

23551110_766973936829695_2498252667320934479_oAny substantial plans to speak of?

We have two shows coming up: Vienna on December 7th and Copenhagen on December 9th. Then there’s going to be a showcase for industry type people and close family members. After that it’ll be a matter of finding a good team around the band for us to work with. We have some great ideas that we want to do the right way.

Are there any places, geographically speaking, that you’d like to shoot for?

Well, at this point it’s easiest and makes the most sense to focus on Europe. We’d love to play around the U.K., but all of Europe should be fairly easy for us right now. Especially compared to places like North America, Australia, or Asia, though we do want to visit those places, too. In the long-term we’re focused globally.

It’ll be great to see these songs live with a top-notch show to go with it.

Hopefully it will be much sooner than later.

Well, thanks so much for your time today. Good luck with the album release. It’s certainly one of my personal favorites for the year. And good luck with the tour plans. Be well!

Thank you! I appreciate your time, as well. It will be great to make something happen. Good bye!

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New Midnight Song Revealed

Finally, another new track taken from Midnight’s eagerly awaited LP, Sweet Death and Ecstasy. “Crushed By Demons,” the album’s opening song, is a crushing new piece of music that wastes no time showing off a more dimensional sound for the band’s infamous go-for-the-throat attack that Midnight has mastered by now. It’s presence is deliberate and flattening.

Check both new songs out immediately below. The first part of an ongoing interview is posted below, as well. Be sure to look that over if you haven’t already.

Over the months, I’ve spoken with Midnight’s helmsman, Athenar, about the activity involving the band during 2017. Cleveland, OH’s Midnight doesn’t really need much of an introduction. Earlier this year the band was tapped to participate in the 2017 annual Decibel Magazine Tour in North America. Sharing a billing with metal icons Kreator and Obituary introduced Midnight’s trademark sonic sleaze and debauchery to thousands of unsuspecting metal fans across the country, no doubt adding yet even more numbers to their already robust, maniacal hordes around the world.

Midnight has cultivated a highly impressive following and reputation with relatively small amounts of traditional ‘promotion’. While talking about touring and it’s employment as a utility of self-promotion, Athenar says ”Yeah, that’s why I haven’t really done a whole lot of it.” He doesn’t have an aversion to live performances, he’s just not real into the concept of the whole self-promotion thing. It has to make sense. Fair enough. Midnight signing on to the 2017 Decibel Magazine Tour—coming at a time immediately following the Shox of Violence EP release and only months before the release of their third LP—,made sense.

The worldwide release of Midnight’s Sweet Death and Ecstasy is set for December 15th. It’s the third studio LP and it’s primed to be their finest collection of carnal depravity yet. Check out the first in a series of conversations with the one and only Athenar.


0f9f6bda-1807-47c9-a89a-2fd3c8ac967dHow did the tour go?

Everything was good. Maybe it was too good! When I came back I was waiting for something to go wrong somewhere because everything was great on the tour. I felt good, the van ran well, the shows were good, so I was wondering, “What’s the catch?”

So you’re waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Yeah, exactly!

I guess everyone on the tour got on with each other without any major drama?

Everyone was great, no drama to be had. Kreator did their own thing, everything was smooth there. The Obituary guys were always just down to earth dudes. Horrendous were cool. They’re young guys. We definitely had a lot of fun, they’re just dorks like us. It was great, everybody had a good time.

The new album, Sweet Death and Ecstasy, has been finished for a long time now. Was there anything left to do once you got back from the tour? Did you get to work preping the finalities for the new album?

Yeah, but that didn’t really take very long. It was maybe an evening or something like that. It was just a matter of getting together with Eric, from Hells Headbangers, and going over the layout and stuff like that. It was like, “That looks good, that looks good, take that out, change this to blah, blah, blah.” I did start recording some new a new album…

Another new Midnight album?

Yeah. I kinda got ahead of the game around the time No Mercy for Mayhem came out. That album took a long time to come out. It should’ve come out a year before it did. I wasn’t happy with the way the mix sounded so I kept mixing it, and mixing it, and mixing it, and mixing it. Then, finally, it just came to a point where I knew it wasn’t going to be much different anymore. I would take a mix and sit with it for a month or so, then I would take forever trying to change things around and sit with that for a month or so. That kinda dragged on for about a year, but in the meantime I was writing new songs, so that put me ahead again.

I remember you telling me about the material back when we first spoke a long time ago. That’s the material you’re releasing now, Sweet Death and Ecstasy.

Then I pretty much did the same thing with this album. It’s been done for a while now. I’d got everything recorded and the record was ready to go, but then some things happened and I didn’t even feel like putting it out after that. Sometime went by and I was like, “Oh yeah, I’ve got that album.” I got sidetracked, I guess.

aba1fb0e-0b6c-4e0b-a197-68c116e020caJust to be clear, you’re saying that you’ve got yet more, newer material for a release to follow Sweet Death and Ecstasy.

The songs are written, the music’s been recorded, maybe some vocals are all that’s left.

Obviously you’re not looking to release another album right away, like back-to-back full-lengths. Do you have some kind of two, three, or four year plan mapped out? What’s going on?

Actually, I thought “I could put out something like Physical Graffiti or Exile on Main Street, do a double album,” but I really don’t think it’d fly. Maybe I could put it out right after Sweet Death and Ecstasy. I could do something like Sweet Death and Ecstasy II: The Positive Side. Not really, but who knows?!

With all of the time you had there and the constant writing, I’d imagine you left a few off of this new release for some reason. Maybe to rework or to save for another release at another time?

No, it’s like 31, 32 minutes long, just like the other albums. There are a couple of tunes on there that are a little longer then usual, they run past 6 minutes. Maybe I got into an early Manowar kind of phase, I don’t know. The two longer songs I probably my favorite ones in the new album.

What is it about those two new songs that you really like?

I think it’s because they have some good hooks in them. Not the hokey hooks like you find in a lot of choruses, I just think they’re really catchy. I like the lyrics in those songs, also.

Without going into a cheesy, romantic ‘analysis’ of the musical trajectory, would you say that you might’ve expanded upon Midnight’s sonic presence, where your personal expectations are concerned?

That’s a good way to put it, yeah.

To be continued…..

EVIL INVADERS: On a Strict New Diet

714_EvilInvaders_CMYKOne of the best things about writing about the music I’m diggin’ on, is speaking with the artists who make the music I love. The older I get I’m finding that closing my mind to certain musical genres as a young person was really ridiculous. But heavy metal always made the cut, speed metal being among the favorites. The 90s were dark for the majority of those fans, so now that things are full-circle and the youth has managed to catch on and give the scene some new wind. And it’s been great, for the most part anyway. Belgium’s Evil Invaders is a band I fortunately came across really early in their evolution. Their vocalist, Joe, and I eventually struck up a rapport so it’s been awesome to watch them take shape as a band. Just recently, I spoke with Joe again about this awaited new LP, Feed Me Violence. Apparently a lot has transpired for the band since release of their debut LP, just about two years ago, now.

“I think it’s the best we’ve ever sounded,” Joe says with regard to the state of the band as they gear up for the new album release and another busy cycle. It doesn’t take long to hear developments within Evil Invaders’ overall sound. Since their first album, Pulses of Pleasure, they’ve maintained a fairly hectic schedule filled largely by touring and festival participation. As a result, over the past two years they’ve sophisticated their sonic presence to become a sharp, intricate killing machine—kinda like Joe’s guitars;>) They’ve gone through some necessary personnel changes, which turned out to offer new perspectives that certainly helped to cultivate their already stellar attack.

Opening the record up, “Mental Penitentiary” doesn’t waste any time showing of an elevated level of songwriting, and Joe’s vocal diversification, which he goes on to really drive home in a fantastic way throughout the rest of the album. “As Life Slowly Fades” opened their ‘In For the Kill’ EP last fall, so as it turns out the band had given us a quick peek at the new full-length.

Joe pointed out that “Broken Dreams of Isolation” and “Among the Depths of Sanity” are the band’s slowest and fastest tunes ever, respectively. So, Feed Me Violence is essentially an album of polar opposites. The former is the only cut on the album that is comprised of material held back from the Pulses of Pleasure sessions. “Sometimes there are parts have to sit for weeks, months, or even years before it can find its way into a song,” he explains. “Just because you have something doesn’t always mean it’s worthy of being used.” Talking to him, I can hear his resolve, distinctly. That particular song also clearly demonstrates Joe’s newly revealed range as a vocalist. The song definitely stands out as a clear album highlight.

Feed Me Violence boasts nine tracks that both carry over the band’s initial musical direction and establishes a platform for Evil Invaders to expand their creative energy. They’re not the kind of band that fits a bag-full of riffs and sections together for the sake of amassing a quantity of material to occupy maximum area on a disc. “I would rather spend the time writing 10 great songs that will all be used, rather than writing 20 alright songs to pick through.” Personally, I’m completely with that. It’s always a good thing to get another new release from a great band but if more wait time means receiving a higher grade of material, waiting isn’t the worst thing in the world.

And then, again, there’s a brand new band lineup, which features new guitarist Max, bassist Joeri, and Senne behind the drum kit. Feed Me Violence absolutely benefits from having the new perspectives. Not to mention the escalation of musicianship and technical executions. Every single cut feels inspired, kinda like they’re a new band with everything to prove. “Max is a better guitar player than I am, everyone in the band is great,” Joe acknowledges. “I want to have people that are better so the band and the music will continue to get better every time, and it pushes me to be a better guitar player.” Being a relatively young band of hungry musicians, Evil Invaders’ Feed Me Violence is but the next logical step for a band that lets their music do the talking, and it’s promising great things are still yet to come.

JOE’S CUSTOM J-AXE GUITARS

Take a look at the guitars Joe plays. Those headstocks, the sharp, sleek body contours, the unique colors and finishes; he makes his own guitars. That’s what he does with his manufacturing imprint, J-Axe. There’s also a photo of bassist Joeri in action with a customer J-Axe piece. If I had a better personal situation and steady income flow, I’d commission a J-Axe guitar in a heartbeat. When you go back and listen to his maniacal performances within his songs, you can get a pretty good idea of how guitars’ capabilities and performance. Give him a look or a shout, here.

GRIDFAILURE: David Brenner’s Systematic Deconstruction of Sound

cover_1487091033310542cover_1493917271467036With the release of ‘Scathed’, it was decided to run this little feature on Gridfailure by you for several reasons. One, the prime directive here is always to laud the artists we dig, with the faith that people will run across across something previously unknown to them that they can sink their proverbial teeth into. Two, Gridfailure is one of those projects that emanates an air that’s as hard to point out as it is to shake it from the memory long after it’s over. Three, the new album has dropped and Gridfailure is gonna be a name that you’ll wanna be hip to since there’s even more material coming atcha, so you won’t be in the dark when your pals are playing tracks into your ear–letting it creep into your subconscious to influence your dreams–during a horrid-yet-hilarious prank in case you’re first dork to fall asleep. Enjoy!

Working within the realm of extreme music, you’re gonna likely run across Earsplit PR, so David Brenner is someone I’ve built a fairly familiar correspondence with. As a publicist for a premier publicity house, label operator, musician—notably, the former bassist for the blackened post-industrial power drone metal band Theologian—David has a lot going on at any time. Unfortunately, since email has become civilization’s primary means of real-time communication, even telephonic communication takes the second chair most days, so getting an opportunity to speak with David about Gridfailure was a welcome change-up.

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Owning paralleled thoughts and opinions kept us on the phone for a good little while before I realized that we’d been rapping for almost two hours (My bad David, didn’t mean to keep ya😅). Hailing from Valley Cottage, NY, Gridfailure wasn’t necessarily born of politics or any one set of ideas, per se, but sometimes the sounds created tend to reflect the climates of the times.

Keeping David’s personal perspective vague, certain political views in this case, Gridfailure’s existence was essentially conceived during the most recent—and most fucked, ever—U.S. presidential campaign. With that in mind, the ‘Hostile Alchemy’ EP might be the most telling up to this point. So, when you hear that material, you can draw your own conclusions.

Maybe what David does with Gridfailure fits within the ‘electronic’ realms due to his use of synthesizing equipment, effects pedals, and the employment of his computer, which really serves as a means for recording the instruments and vocals. Broad stroke genrefication would be the closest you could get to appropriately categorizing Gridfailure’s natural sonic disposition; think about an experimentation in biomechanical power-electronic deconstruction with dark interstellar ambience. Something as innocuous as a stream running through a meadow on the countryside can become as malignant as grotesque transmissions with hellish interdimensional origins pointing toward imminent abominable demise, in seconds.

David is an artist who began making music when playing an instrument meant learning to handle that instrument and effects were available as pedals and processors rather than downloading the sound simulation software, which is probably an important point to view his work from. When he’s talking about working with the sounds, it’s clear that using authentic instrumentation is important to the process. As he explains, “I’m really getting into working with MIDI and things like that, but I don’t like the idea of using a computer for creating ‘electronic’ music.” He continues, “I don’t like pushing the keys on a keyboard to sound like a guitar. I can’t play guitar well at all, but I want to try to play it instead of faking the experience.”

Open ended experimentation is at the center of what Gridfailure is, and becomes. “What I’m doing with Gridfailure is as much like an art class as it is a musical project,” David says. He takes a given sound, voice, riff, or section, and carves until he’s satisfied with its qualities. It’s less like an architect, who is deliberate and builds with logic and reason, and more like a sculptor who chips away and ultimately creates an abstract form capable of eliciting inner responses and feelings, without plan. Gridfailure wasn’t really a part of any plan. It’s origins are literally natural; the recordings of sounds that occur in nature. “I love recording weather,” he says. “There are these field recordings, which is really what started Gridfailure, and I would just take recordings of the elements in nature and I would put them together with the other noises I was making. It was a much more immersive experience rather than just writing guitar and bass and everything you do when you’re making studio music.” So in essence, Gridfailure developed as organically as those recorded sounds occurred.

Amid what might seem like scores of ideas, recordings, and collaborations, David’s work with Benjamin Levitt has yielded some success and favorable attention with their concerted EP release, ‘Dendritic’. “Ben plays accordion, so I had him out to see what would happen,” David explains. “ Once we began, it started to sound like this weird, psychotic, fusion of bass, accordion, didgeridoo that was something like this fucked up world music with two dump trucks fucking!”

If you’ve not had the opportunity yet, be sure to give ‘Dendritic’ a go. They’ve managed to capture some great, unlikely results with their interactions that have been layered and delivered though David’s unique filters.

“Ben would probably be the first person I’d team up with to take on a live situation,” he continues.

That’s the next logical segue, and a point of certain interest; will there be live Gridfailure appearances that we can look toward? At the moment, there’s a lot going on that demands David’s attention. “There’s still so much source material that I’ve had for more than a year and some of the stuff is new, but I’m literally working on it every day,” he explains. “I plan on having six or eight more albums out this year on different formats.” And with each new recording, he could conceivably have 8, 10, even 12 different collaborators–many of which are familiar names from bands like the Melvins, Caustic Resin, Vastum, Wolvhammer. That’s a nice selection of choices and options to take out for live engagements. He can drive down the eastern seaboard, fly down to Texas or even way out west as far as California, and find someone who has contributed material that could easily be worked into a performance.

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Gridfailure probably won’t embark on a full-scale touring cycle the near future but performances aren’t out of the question. ”I might take the equipment and pedals that I used in recordings and do something completely spontaneous well live set. I like to keep things in moment and that would be a fresh performance every time, one-of-a-kind kind of thing.”

When it comes to Gridfailure, whether it’s an LP, EP, split, collaboration, or a potential live event, above all other things, David wants the audience to be aware. “More than anything else,” he digresses, “I want people to have felt something, thought something—ideas, something they want to see, something they want to change—I want them to finish with something more than they had before the experience.”

2017 has been a busy year for Gridfailure, partly because the name appears on three releases so far. ‘Scathed’ just dropped on June 2nd. You can get that digitally, for free, and the physicals through Darker Days Ahead. You can also get every last digital Gridfailure release, together. Check it out, starting here, and support the artists that move you!

WHITE REAPER: Tony Esposito on the World’s Best American Band

White Reaper’s eponymous debut EP played at a fast pace with relative urgency using a well-suited lo-fi vocal approach. It kind of reminded me of a young 21st century Midwest Ramones. After upping the game with the last album, ‘White Reaper Does It Again’, their 2017 LP, ‘The World’s Best American Band’—produced by Kevin Ratterman—presents White Reaper as a band that seems to know how to utilize its potential to go big and really hard with their notably youthful enthusiasm and a strong ability to write some big, arena-style rock & roll songs that’re packed with dense substance and massive rock & roll balls.

Speaking with the band’s singer/guitarist Tony Esposito about their newest record, it was evident that the guys from White Reaper understand what they’re doing, musically. But it sounds like they also understand that of the spirit of youth that exists between them as close friends—including two brothers—will no doubt be a key element in the consistent turning out of top-shelf material in the ensuing years. Oscar Wilde once said that “Youth is wasted on the young.” He’s generally right about that, and a you know that a lotta people would probably agree. But White Reaper is an easy exception. The energy of youth runs through their music like currents of electricity, and most potently through ‘The World’s Best American Band’.

 

ca608173-2b66-4271-8a97-cf6b87a4e0c5‘The World’s Best American Band’ hasn’t been out too long. How are you feeling about record, thus far?

I’m feeling really good about it. I’m glad it’s finally out.

Polyvinyl was running a pretty substantial ad campaign, building a lot of heavy hype for this new one.

The label has always been good about promoting what we’re doing. They’re really good people, easy to work with. I’m glad the relationship is what it is between us.

“Judy French,” was a good, sturdy lead single to begin with but after hearing it in context with the rest of the LP increasingly curious about that lead single choice.

That song was one of the first songs that we recorded for this album. When it was finished it kinda gave us an idea for the album’s direction.

So, I’m guessing that “Judy French” was probably the first real song you guys had for the album, then.

Yeah, actually it was! I think it put us in a mindset to go forward and start writing new songs. At first, we only had a few riffs, pretty much. Once we’d finished that song, I guess it helped us find some direction for the rest of the album. So we thought it would lead the album really well.

The way it opens up, with the higher registered riffing, it sorta walks with a strut. Honestly, it kinda reminded me of some of the early Van Halen tunes introduced with the ringing riffs and it’s active movement…

Ha ha! Thanks man, that’s really cool to hear.

Absolutely! Did you guys happen to find influence from a lot of the huge ‘classic’ sounding rock and glam from the days of bands like Cheap Trick, Thin Lizzy, KISS, ‘arena’ rock bands, for a lack of better comparison?

We all love that stuff! We weren’t trying to really sound like those bands from that time, but I know some of it was bound to come out in some of the songs. We definitely didn’t try to avoid some of those influences.

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Once you began the creative process, did you guys have an idea what you wanted to do with the album’s direction, musically? What was the writing and recording of the album like this time around? Did you put a lot of pressure on yourselves to get this record done?

It was crazy. We booked like 20 days in the studio and I only had a few different things to show the band. And they weren’t full songs, either. So, we ended up writing a majority of the record in the studio. We took a ton of time to think about each individual song, but then we realized that we weren’t going to have it all done, so we cut it little bit short. We did like 18 days–this was February of 2016. We went down to play SXSW and then we came back and finished the record. It probably took about 10 more days. That was during… April and May, I think.

So then, you’re new album has actually been done for about a year now.

Yeah, the record’s been done for a very long time.

Was there any specific reason the record was help up for so long?

The hold back was mostly on our end. There were a lot of things that we just weren’t really sure about. We’d just pulled the songs out of thin air, so they were still really new to us, we didn’t have any idea about the cover for the album. There were just a lot of things we weren’t really sure about yet.

I’m glad that you mentioned the cover. That is you on the cover, right?

Yeah.

The relatively minimalist nature of the artwork works really well with the album’s large sonic presence. Is that a live shot that was manipulated , or did it come from a photo shoot somewhere else?

We got a box of Franzia and some beer and shot it in the same studio that we recorded this record. It was kind of those old Mac/PC commercials with everything surrounded in white. We had a lot of fun that day.

Since I can remember, I’ve always been curious about album covers/art that shows one person—like Vince Neil’s crotch on Mötley Crüe’ ‘Too Fast For Love’. Were there any inner quarrels about who was going to be the one representing the band and the album Who knows? Maybe Mick Mars wanted it to be his! Were there any debates about whose photo would be the one picture that made the cover art?

Oh no, there wasn’t anything like that!

Going back to the title track really quick, is it the plan for White Reaper to charge forward with the purpose of becoming the world’s best American band?

Well, it’s always a lot of fun to act cocky and confident onstage. We all just really like this record so we really want to tour. We want to play these songs for the people.

41cZs3sXkaLAnyone who looks back, starting with the 2014 eponymous EP, their full-length debut ‘White Reaper Does It Again’, and now, 2017s ‘The World’s Best American Band’, can see the some real significant development of White Reaper’s sonic maturity, by this point. Compared to the categorically minimal lo-fi presence found on the past releases. What kinds of steps have you guys taken to match White Reaper’s newer and fuller musical mass live?41vpU3rf8TL._SY355_

We’ve added another guitar player who’ll be with us out on the road, and Ryan has a bunch of new keyboards and other equipment he’s adding. From there, we’re just going to turn everything up really fucking loud.

As far as the new songs go, had many of them been played live prior to the release of the new album?

Yeah, actually I think all but three have been included in one live set or another.

Which new cuts do you think work exceptionally well in the live capacity?

“Judy French” is a really good live one, but that one’s been a part of our sets for a while now—since back in the fall—so we’re used to doing that one live. “The Stack” is sounding great live, and “Little Silver Cross” too. That’s one that’s really fun to play.

Going back to the writing process during the recording sessions, did you find yourself writing in a new way since you had to create the songs in the moment? What was the process maybe more democratic or collaborative, to use a better description?

Oh absolutely. Everybody had a lot more input into what was going on and how the songs took shape. It was great too, because I think it gave the songs more texture, which gave the album more texture whilst adding layers to the sound which is something that we hadn’t really done so much before then. It was really fun, too.

Rather than one primary voice or point of view, you guys effectively utilized an entire arsenal of ideas from the added perspective this time around.

Exactly, and I think that’s a big part of what makes this album so good and standout next to what we’ve already done. I loved that experience, so I’d like to continue doing that from now on.

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SARAH SHOOK: A Darker, Rock & Roll, Sweaty Kind of Country

This spring, Sarah Shook & the Disarmers released their debut LP ‘Sidelong’ with Bloodshot Records. Musically, the band takes threads from Americana, neo-traditional country, folk, rock & roll, and fabricates a sound that’s familiar enough to be accessible on a broad scale, while it manages to stay young, intriguing, even dangerous.BS256_cover_1 When Sarah sings, her voice is distinct and creates an impact that drives home those essential feelings of grief, anger, love, loss, hurt, inversion, self-awareness, introspection. The band’s schedule is crazy at the moment but Sarah stopped to answer some questions, which you’ll find below. I’m stoked that she did because ‘Sidelong’ is one of my favorite albums of the year to this point. It’s always cool to be able to get some inside information from the artists who make the difference in our lives, for whatever the reason may be.

It’s always cool to see what gets an artist to where they are in that moment when they hit their greatness. Without trying to do as much, Sarah’s earliest influences and inspirations might confuse those with a limited stream of understanding, who would otherwise pigeon-hole any artist’s origins. She’s not your garden variety ‘country’ artist, stuck drawing from a shallow well of inspiration. Her future is something that has boundless potential. So this is as good a time as any to hop on board the inevitable bandwagon.

Sarah Shook & the Disarmers are actually out on the road this summer in support of ‘Sidelong’, and they’ve got a stop at the Nelsonville Music Festival on Friday, June 2 on the boxcar stage at around 2:30PM.

What kind of musical styles and genres did you grow up hearing and listening to? Were there any outside influences who turned you on to different kinds of music, early on?

I was raised in a strict, conservative, Christian household so my music options consisted of “worship” music and classical music. We had this cassette tape series with all the great composers, Bach, Beethoven, etc. but Vivaldi was my dude, man. I loved the hell outta some Vivaldi.

It wasn’t until my late teens that I got to dip a toe into contemporary music, Belle And Sebastian, the Decemberists, and Elliott Smith. In my early 20s I got way into old school country and my love of all the punk greats, Adverts, Sex Pistols, the Damned, Adolescents, the Saints, and so on, came about within the last couple years.

What recording(s) and/or artists really spoke loudly to you when you were just discovering things? Were there any artists or albums that really grabbed your attention right away that might’ve directly or indirectly inspired you to explore your creative potential?

I loved Elliott Smith from the word go. He has a big place in my heart. He was a remarkable songwriter and was incredibly gifted with writing melodies and chord progressions that were beautiful and unpredictable without seeming chaotic or confusing. Plus I just fucking love me a sad song and his are poetically tragic on an almost Greek level.

How long have you been actively making music? When did you decide to really hone in and start intentionally writing and creating your own music?

I wrote my first song when I was about 9 and played around with it, taught myself to play enough piano to write a complete song with lyrics, melody, chord progression, arrangement, the whole deal.
When I was 16 I decided I wanted to learn how to play guitar and I taught myself that instrument as well. That was a big game changer, I wrote a handful of songs in my late teens. When I moved to North Carolina I had no friends there, didn’t know anyone, so I worked on guitar and writing a bunch.

Fast forward through an escape marriage and divorce, I was independent for the first time in my life and my writing became much more focused, intentional, and consistent. It’s totally cathartic to write a song during the hard times and there were plenty to be had as a 23 year old newly single mom.

You’d already released at least one record called ‘Seven’, right? Would you mind giving a little background for those just finding your work? Tell us how you came up and arrived up to the present with ‘Sidelong’?

My first band, Sarah Shook & the Devil, played together for a solid 3+ year run. “Seven” is a 7 song EP we put out in July of 2013. My guitarist, Eric Peterson, and my pedal steel player (then lap steel player), Phil Sullivan, We’re both in the Devil, we go back a long damn time.

The Devil broke up in October 2013 but Peterson stuck with me, we kept meeting, figurin’, and plotting out how to proceed. We started a band called the Dirty Hands that was fun but short lived. A few months down the road the Disarmers started taking shape. We brought in John Howie Jr. on drums and found an upright bassist. The songs really started coming together and the sound was exactly what I wanted in comparison to the Devil, it was harder, darker, a little more of a rock n’ roll, sweaty breed of country.

SarahShook_Disarmers_poprockphotography_horiz (1)I’d been approaching the Disarmers like it was still the Devil, only playing a handful of local shows, getting wasted at every single one, and was basically in it to party. The chief engineer at Manifold in Chatham County, NC, had been after me for awhile, wanting to talk making a full length album and I was droppin’ the ball on that big time.

So Peterson basically said, “Look, if we’re just gonna be a local band with no album, no merch, and no tours on the books, fine, but you need to just tell me that so I can adjust my expectations.” Wanna talk about lighting a fire under somebody’s ass, boy howdy! I hopped to. I met with Ian that same week, we set recording dates for Easter weekend April 2015, and we did the damn thing. And it’s been goin’ great.

SarahShook_Disarmers_Live_Don_ONeil_HiResHave you always been comfortable performing for audiences or did you begin with some apprehension? Was it everything you thought it’d be, or afraid it was going to be?

Ha ha! I recall calling my mom to tell her I had booked my first show back when I was performing solo. There was dead silence on the other end of the phone and I finally said, “Mom? Are ya there?” And finally she sputters, “You’re… going to perform? On a stage?! In front of PEOPLE?” I was a painfully shy kid, I mean painfully. I’m totally introverted by nature. I got past that mostly, and I was determined that trait wouldn’t keep me from performing.

The first shows I played I had a music stand and I had to close my eyes, still too awkward to even look at the audience. I finally said, “Fuck it!” Tossed the music stand, and brushed off any remaining qualms. At this point in my life, there are very few things I love more than striding out onto a stage with my band and being totally caught up in the music and the words.

Are you situated in a place, geographically, that you can look to for lyrical inspiration? Or musical inspiration, for that matter? How does your day-to-day living environment help to provide you with things to take in and influence your work?

I live out in the woods in Chatham County, North Carolina, surrounded by forest, creeks, rivers, trails, you name it. That’s the only environment I need to stay on the safe side of sane.

How did you and the Disarmers all become involved? The vibes in the songs sound like there’s a groove and synergy that far exceeds that of the typical ‘artist and their backing band’. Had you guys been friends or acquaintances before the band? What brought the band together?

Hard to believe Peterson and I are comin’ up on seven dang years of playing together, Lord! Cumulatively, the two of us have been playing with Phil Sullivan for about four or five years now, and at various points Howie and Peterson played in different bands together in their teens and twenties.

Sarah_Shook_Disarmers_Horiz_Couch_Photo_by_poprockphotographyPhil and I were part of a crew out in Chatham that partied a lot back in the day. I’ve certainly known him longer than I’ve known anyone else in the band, I think we’ve been friends for comin’ up on a decade now. He and Peterson both worked at Carr Amps in Pittsboro, NC, together or a long damn time, so there’s some history and relationship there, as well.

When Peterson and I started lookin’ for a drummer, Howie offered to try out and needless to say he got the job. One of those “totally meant to be” musical moments.

What the things that you find yourself writing about most? Generally on ‘Sidelong’ you’ve got some loneliness in longing, some sadness and pain of heartbreak and loss, intermittent bits of self deprecation. But you’ve also covered some fortitude of inner strength and some blatant defiance.

The main deal is, sometimes I’m fucking depressed as all get out. Sometimes I’m provocative and sarcastic. Sometimes I’m feelin’ pretty fucking good and I wanna say so. The entire mood, motive, energy, of “Sidelong” is the unapologetic owning of whatever one is going through and the feelings they’re experiencing. Not gonna back down from my feelings, not gonna back down from life, not gonna back down from anything. And you don’t have to either.

To be fully human one must experience the full spectrum of human emotion… it’s just as important to understand sadness and what purpose it serves as it is to understand elation, although the latter might be more pleasant.

Do you ever find yourself with heavier really focusing on more socio-political issues in your songwriting than you might’ve thought you’d be, especially where the apparent fucked up state of U.S. society appears to be resting at this point? Unfortunately, many women still find themselves fighting against the despicable currents of sexism, ridiculous notions about orientation, lame archaic preconceptions?

I think the songs I write often have a way of challenging gender roles and societal expectations of women in this very non-assuming, non-combative way. As someone who often feels like the observer when I’m writing a song, not the writer, it’s incredibly fascinating to watch my subconscious order everything neatly, saying only what needs to be said and nothing more.

Obviously, as it is said, ‘art and beauty is in the eye of the beholder’, but your musical approach is certainly coming from a more ‘classic’ or ‘traditional’ artistic perspective. Is carrying any kind of tradition of high importance for you? Musically? Even personally?

To hell with tradition. The last thing I need is another set of rules and regulations I’m expected to adhere to. I make music that comes from the well of who I am, not what anyone else has done before me.

Are there any parting words for your fans and your inevitable growing following?

Y’all means all. Be kind and love ’til it hurts.

THE EVOLUTION OF SARAH BETHE NELSON

Burger Records released Sarah Bethe Nelson’s new LP, ‘Oh, Evolution’ around mid-February this year. Burger is usually on point so any release on the label is worth a spin. It turned out that ‘Oh, Evolution’ was one of those albums that can play again and again, eventually lodging itself deep inside the limbic system, bouncing about on a long-term basis. I read somewhere that ‘Oh, Evolution’ was largely conceived while on the road for her ‘Fast Moving Clouds’ LP. She laid it out for me in her kind timbre, saying “Since we were traveling on tour, I think that had a big effect on the music, as anything that you’re doing while you’re writing would. So writing many of the songs while on tour was simply circumstantial.” If you’ve ever toured to any extent, you know that there’s a high potential unique circumstances and all of them can be meaningful in their own ways. It’s only logical that an artist is compelled to draw from such a well, seeming almost limitless.

160611_SBN_VJacketSarah, who holds a masters degree in creative writing, says she really likes to write from the present and her perspective. “I’ll write about the things that are going on around me at that time,” she explains. “A lot of it is probably self therapy to some degree, getting things off my chest and putting them out there so I don’t have to carry them around anymore. Once it’s out there you can live life without being crammed up inside your head.” She wound up creating engaging reflections, many of them being personal of experiences had in the nomadic capacity of touring.

As the events that actually produce her colorful collection of material transpire, she says she doesn’t give too much thought to how it’s affecting her writing. It’s not until after all is said and done—the music and vocals are recorded and the songs are ready for sequencing—that Sarah looks back and reflects on what the album really means for her as an artist.

A lot of what’s focused on is the evolution of relationships; from platonic to romantic, and vice versa. “I think the space and the movement, having the freedom of things like taking long drives, walking to fields, the desert, everything that makes up visual, and then the emotional aspects inside meet and come together.”

When it comes to her music, Sarah says that she does most of the general writing, though she has a musical synergy with guitarist Rusty Miller, who does some fine-tuning and contributes much of the mood and feeling to the material. The way she describes that part of a the process it’s clear that she regards and respects Rusty, and her band, with full sincerity.

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Changing up the usual modus operandi a little bit, Sarah made a conscious choice to scale back some on the instrumentation and include more vocalization. It’s the movement of the songs and the way they flow that really represent what it is she wants to accomplish. “I think with the last album it sounded a little bit trapped in a way, maybe I was feeling a little stagnant, she explains, but with this record I feel think that there’s a little bit of a release and movement.”

An admitted “aggressive editor,” at the same time she says she’s always conscious of the listener’s experience and what it’ll be once they hear the material. “Hazy” was a song she mentions that she’d had some uncertainty about. “Sometimes it’s not a matter of adding or subtracting something, rather deconstructing and starting over again,” she explains. After some last minute reworking she wisely opted to include the track, ironically as the album’s opener—the all-important ‘first impression’.

“The first song is important because a lot of people sometimes don’t listen past the first song or two,” she says. Being that the release of ‘Oh, Evolution’ would be headed into springtime, she wanted the album to reflect that feeling in certain ways. “Hazy”, reflects a warmth to kick the album off with. Sarah explains, “I like the way “Hazy” kind of shimmers and then the next song, [“Evolution”] has the harder, fuzzed out guitars and the difference in feeling.” The two songs together to provide a good juxtaposition because of Sarah’s inherently soft voice, which she is ever cognizant of. It’s important to her that people see the potential for her dynamics. “I wanted to show that I’m not just some soft-voiced girl,” she says. “I have to be really careful of that because I don’t want to be categorized into a genre that might not be accurate all of the time. The song “Deadbolt,” however, was always an intentional closer. “I wanted that one at the end of the album because of the fadeout of the music and the really open-ended feeling that it ends with,” she says.

Calling the new album ‘Oh, Evolution’ is as true and fitting a name as it could be. But hanging just anything on the record won’t work. There’s a kind of pressure of responsibility attached to that aspect for Sarah. “Naming something is kind of like bringing it into existence,” she explains. “It can be impressive and enamoring because that’s like the materialization of a vision that will be sustained.”

While Sarah, herself, knows that the collection as a whole represents where she is in that moment in her life, she felt a slight concern, at one point, that the songs that she had sounded like different parts from different collections, nothing relatable to anything else. But as it turns out, that variety is a huge asset that shows us the complexities of the perspectives and shades of an artist’s personality as they’re continuously growing. That’s something that she says is important for her to express in her art. “Every aspect of our lives and the world is in this constant state of change, whether or not we can even notice it. Somehow I’m trying to n it out or at least understand it.”