Oklahoma-based rockers, Hinder, have been criss-crossing the country in support of their new album, Welcome To The Freakshow, which is scheduled for a December 4th release. We were able to track down frontman, Austin Winkler, and learn more about the creative process behind the new album and just how, as a band, Hinder clicks.
Blog Rocking Beat (BRB): What was the mindset going into Welcome To The Freakshow?
Austin Winkler (AW): Whenever we jump into an album, we are always writing about personal experiences. We don’t attack an album like we are set out to accomplish something specific. We try to go in with an open mind. We wrote about 25-30 songs for this record. We wrote 70 for the last one. There was only one that we recycled that was written for the last record that we used for this record. I think we really just laid all of our cards out on the table and I really think the most honest ones made it on the record.
BRB: This time around, Cody [Hanson, Hinder drummer] co-produced the record in a hometown studio. Why the decision to go that route this time instead of the traditional “Big L.A. Studio” with a big rock producer?
AW: I think we just really got to the point where we didn’t want a lot of outside influence anymore. I think it shows on the record that we stuck to what we like and what we grew up listening to. I think that Marshall [Dutton, co-producer] and Cody did a fantastic job on the production of this record.
BRB: You hinted that this time out, you are doing things that come a little more naturally. Do you find that you guys are the type of band that will tinker with songs quite a bit before you consider them “ready” or does it come together pretty quickly for you guys?
AW: When we are writing, we tend to know right away if a song is going to be worth a shit or not. The songs really come alive, then, when we start to demo them. If we demo it with just acoustics and vocals, then nine times out of ten it has a real shot at making the record. It if sounds like it could be a hit like that, then it’s most likely going to make the record.
BRB: Has that changed throughout the bands career? The longer you do this, does that feel more comfortable doing it that way?
AW: Yeah. It was kind of a change for us going from writing 70 songs for the last album and just 25-30 for this one. At first, it was hard to get used to, but now, you learn that sometimes you have to let go of some of the songs that you love, at least at this moment. You can’t get too attached. All the songs are our babies, but you can’t get too attached, because you just can’t put 100 songs on a record.
BRB: When it comes to choosing which songs go on the record, is it a democratic process or is it a situation where everybody has to agree?
AW: Cody and I have this unspoken vision, sort of a chemistry, when it comes to picking songs. I think we just naturally pick the same ones. There are times when, for instance, there some songs that didn’t make this record that I would have loved to have had on the record, but an album is like a story or a movie where all the pieces have to fit in order for it to make sense. We picked the obvious songs where we could say, “Hell yeah, this is a Hinder track” or “This one is a single,” then we just built around that.
BRB: So you guys have this short acoustic tour going on. For a band that is really known as this loud, bombastic, sort of rawkus live act, what made you decide to unplug everything and go that route?
AW: Well, it’s like you said. We are known for doing these really loud rock shows and getting into these really nitty gritty, sort of dirty rock shows. But we really wanted to give our fans the opportunity to see some of the songs really stripped down and at their most vulnerable spots with just acoustics and vocals. I think a lot of people are surprised at just how good it sounds. For us, that’s how the fun usually starts and we wanted to give fans the opportunity to see the “unfinished product,” so to speak.
BRB: Well, you guys do have some songs that are naturally more acoustic-oriented, which sort of leads to this next question. Over the years, you see certain bands talk about how they feel a little handcuffed into having to play certain songs, because those are the big songs. Do you guys ever feel that way about songs like “Lips of an Angel” and some others?
AW: Well, I’d be lying if I told you no, right? You know, you get to the point where you play a song 457,000 times and it can become like clockwork or something robotic. Anybody who is a musician and has to play a song that many times and is up there saying, “Oh no, you know, we love playing it,” well, they’re full of shit. I mean, we wrote the song; we don’t love the song. You really have those days where you’re like, “Motherfucker, really? Okay, here we go. Let’s do it again.”
BRB: What’s one band you’d love to tour with, but haven’t had the chance to yet?
AW: The Rolling Stones. That’s the one band that’s up there that I would love to play with.
BRB: You guys are known for having more of a classic sound, at least compared to other contemporary bands like The Black Keys, for example. Coming from that position, what bands out there today inspire you or make you take notice and say, “Those guys are doing it the right way?”
AW: Any band that really sticks to their guns and doesn’t change just because something else is popular at the moment is inspirational. Yeah, any of those bands that you can tell are sticking to their roots and doing what they really love are bands that we really look up to.
There you have it, folks. You can catch Hinder out on tour right now. And even though Welcome To The Freakshow is still a few weeks away from release, you can hear the first single, “Save Me,” right here.
To say the last year has been an eventful one for Nonpoint would be an understatement. To be blunt, they went through more changes in a year than some bands go through in an entire career. With the departure of two bands members, the addition of three new ones, the change to a new record label and an array of other pet projects, it’s a miracle they found the time to record a new album.
But they did.
We caught up with singer Elias Soriano to go over all the changes in the Nonpoint camp and what it means for band that has worked relentlessly to amass one of the most dedicated fan bases in all of music.
Blog Rocking Beat (BRB): The last time we talked was about a year ago and it has been, from the outside at least, a crazy year for you guys. So let’s rewind about a year and lay all this out, okay?
Elias Soriano (ES): Sure.
BRB: After Ken and Zach left the band, I reach out to Zach to get an idea of what was going on. He said that the relationship had become “toxic” and it was clear that it was time to move on. Would you say that is accurate?
ES: The truth of the matter is that we wanted to move on without Zach and we let him go. We weren’t feeling the vibe on stage. We were getting comments from friends and family. Just the overall vibe of the band was getting to the point where I felt like he was just up there going through the motions. So we asked him to leave.
He and Ken had become good friends over the year-and-a-half he was in the band. Ken decided that he didn’t want to continue if Zach wasn’t in the band. So Robb and I said, “Okay, but we are going to continue with the band and move on without either one of you.” That’s basically what happened.
BRB: Following that, then, how did you guys get hooked up with Dave, Rasheed and Adam?
ES: We’re friends with a lot of people in the industry and Robb asked a couple of his friends if they knew of any good guitar players who would fit our style, a friend of ours passed Dave’s name along. We got in touch with him immediately and he started sending music right away, which was really our biggest complaint and concern with Zach can Ken; there was really no music writing going on. It’s like we were sitting back and waiting for things to happen, so we took the reigns and went forward. Dave immediately started sending music. After picking up Dave, we decided we were going to fill the rest of the slots right away.
As it was, Dave was in a band with Rasheed and Adam and had been for at least a year. They were called Inn Cinema. They all had a great chemistry. We invited those guys to join the band as well and they hit the ground running.
BRB: So it wasn’t so much a conscious decision to go to a 5-piece outfit as it was a happy accident?
ES: That was actually the catalyst that started everything. We wanted to add another guitar player. It was something that Robb and I felt very strongly about. Musically and performance-wise there were some things that were lacking and we wanted to have them in the band. When the subject initially came up, Zach and Ken were really against it. So when we had the opportunity to do it, we did.
It’s not really about the money. I understand that you now have to split the money with another person, but if it makes the music better that’s always going to be our goal.
BRB: So it sounds like they were all involved in the writing process.
ES: Absolutely! They wrote pretty much ALL the riffs. I think Robb contributed to the two of the riffs on the record. They all wrote their own parts and we ended up with 30 songs by the end of the writing. In 15 weeks we had zero songs with Zach and Ken. In less than eight weeks we has 28 songs with Dave, Rasheed and Adam. Their heads were in the game. They weren’t jaded. They weren’t lazy. They wanted to get in and do the work. They wanted to write music. The relationship is great on stage. We get a lot of great comments on Rasheed and his singing—
BRB: I was going to ask, is it nice to have another guy in the band who can sing is ass off?
ES: My God, man! When I have friends, like our brothers in Sevendust and Taproot, coming up to us and saying we never sounded better, it’s great. These are friends and peers and I respect their opinions because they know what we’re about. They know what we have been trying to do for close to 15 years in this band. These new guys, their hearts are gold and they really want to do this. They jumped in with both feet and it shows.
BRB: One of the other changes is that you guys are on Razor & Tie Records now. How did that come about? Did they approach you or did you approach them?
ES: We’re being managed by Split Media and Izzy Zivkovic and he’s really good friend with the people at Razor & Tie; they are in the same building. When we decided we weren’t going to release another record through Rocket Science, we were shopping around. We like that White Stripes approach of going in and doing one record with people and not getting locked down for a ridiculous amount of records or giving away too much percentage. And if the label really wants you, then they really want you.
So Izzy approached them about picking us up because they had such good success with All That Remains and what they are doing now with P.O.D., we loved the idea. Their staff is really aggressive. They are intuitive on the smartest and most current ways to promote bands. They have great connections with music writers and producers. Next to MCA from way back, it is probably the best label staff we have ever worked with in the last 10 years.
It’s good to have these guys. You can tell they really care. They are not letting anything fall through the cracks. They are not willing to let us do things that are mediocre. It’s really good. It’s like having another band member who is just as hungry as you are, without making it seem like they are just there to sell the records.
BRB: So going into the album, then, with all these changes, did you feel like you really had something to prove this time around?
ES: I think that with every record, just because we haven’t had ridiculous amounts of mainstream success—yeah, we’ve have singles and airplay, but when it comes to like Disturbed big… let’s be honest—with every record we feel we have something to prove, because we are trying to stay relevant and stay alive out here. This band has survived 15 years because of the music. This time around, more so than in the past, it was about making the fans understand that we’re still here and we have gotten better. We are writing better music. There is another chapter of Nonpoint and there is probably going to be another five chapters of Nonpoint. But I feel like this record and the music that we wrote and the response that we’re getting from the new music is proving it for us. We like to let the music speak for itself, but we went in with the intent of having a record that had 13 or 14 amazing songs on it and we weren’t willing to stop writing until we felt we had that.
BRB: Nonpoint, as a unit though, strikes me as the type of band that, as long as you keep putting out solid records, the fans will keep coming out to support you, regardless of whether you never have another radio single again.
ES: I have to credit that to one of our very first A&R guys at MCA. His intention was to get us that Pantera type of core following, so that we wouldn’t have to worry about radio. So even after we left MCA, we still toured that way. If there was a town where we were popular, we would hit that town four or five times each year to take care of those people who were supporting us.
It’s about keeping a smart business plan when it comes to the business side of the music. And the best part of this is that is my business and it’s fuckin’ rock and roll, man. It’s fun. It’s fun for me to have to schedule interviews like this. Every once in awhile, you have to put your head in the books to make sure that, financially, everything is alright and that your future is set. I mean, I have a daughter now. So it’s so nice to see when things fall into place as well as they have for us this last year. But I credit all of that to us starting out the right way and having managers teach us that we only spend money when we really need to. And I think we’ve been waiting for this moment in our careers to put everything into it.
BRB: Still, was there any worry about how the fans would take it, especially with Ken’s departure?
ES: Oh yeah. With Ken’s departure and his decision to leave, it was actually a surprise, because I know how much he likes to perform, but I understood why. People were butting heads and it just wasn’t working anymore. But once I saw videos of our new members, I really didn’t worry about it too much. The guys move around a lot on stage, just as much as Ken did. So we are really looking at trying to wipe that background away and focusing on moving forward from here.
BRB: Isn’t that part frustrating for you right now, though? I mean, you’ve got this record written, recorded, mixed, mastered and ready to go. Aren’t you chomping at the bit to get it out there and unleash this on the world?
ES: It drops in September, but I’ve been chomping at the bit since probably February! It’s been a long process for me, but the label really just got the record at the end of June. As soon as they got it, though, they were immediately on it. I’m not worried about them shelving it. They are on it, without a doubt.
BRB: Good, because it seems like it’s that one last piece of the puzzle.
ES: Oh, I know. The drop date for now is the 18th of September—maybe before, but also possibly after. There have been a lot of things I have historically worried about with the releasing of records, but the game has really changed. A lot of the months that used to be bad months are turning into the better months for sales. Things like album artwork now having to translate to an iTunes thumbnail take time. There are a lot of things for Razor & Tie to get around and when they say, “This looks like the time we should do it,” then I trust them.
BRB: More about the record, who was at the helm this time?
ES: We did 90% of the record with Johnny K and he’s a really great producer and great mixer. We did 12 songs with him. When we went to the label, they wanted us to do one more song. So we went back with Brian Virtue and Rob Graves. When we sat down with those guys, I had a song that I had been hanging onto with a riff that the guys just loved. We didn’t have time to get it done at Johnny’s studio. So when they asked for another song, we said, “Well, yeah, we do have another song.” So they said they’d like to bring in a writer who had worked with All That Remains, Skillet, Red and other hard rock acts and asked if I would mind sitting down and shooting some ideas back and forth. Now, I have never worked with a songwriter before in my life. And maybe four records ago, I might have been leery. Now, it’s like, how many more things am I going to write? I could use a fresh idea! So I stayed open-minded to working with a writer and from the first instant I sat down and start talking with Rob Graves, I was like, “Wow!” It was just great idea after great idea after great idea. It was really exciting and we definitely want to work with him on the next record, too.
It’s just nice to work with someone who gets the sentiment of what we are trying to deliver and to be able to trust that person so you don’t have to take care of every single thing yourself. When I hit a wall, he’ll say, “What if you sing this note here,” or “Since you already talked about this idea here, why don’t you change the subject a little in the next verse?”
BRB: So was most of the work done lyrically or with arrangements?
ES: This time it was with melody more than anything else. We covered things like cadence and where I would sing. And together, it got things going really smooth. It really polished it out. It was cool. I was really floored by the process. I mean, this time around, between Johnny and Brian and Rob, I felt like we made a record—a real record. In the past, the label gives you money and tells you to go in the studio. You come out with some songs. They pick a single. And that’s it. This time around, though, I felt like I was really in it. We wrote for months. We recorded for 10 weeks. It was just great for us. I just can’t wait for the people to hear it.
Nonpoint is currently on tour. The first single is “Left For You.” If you haven’t heard it yet, here’s a listen.
For a decade, 12 Stones has been churning out records and carving out a name for themselves the old-fashioned way: by touring their asses off. This year has been no exception. With the recent release of their fourth studio album, Beneath the Scars, the guys have been out on the road winning over more crowds and proving why, a decade after they hit the scene, 12 Stones has become a must-see act.
We talked with 12 Stones back in April and vocalist/guitarist, Paul McCoy and drummer, Aaron Gainer were gracious enough to take some time to meet with us again to talk about, among other things, songwriting and the trials of being on the road.
Blog Rocking Beat (BRB): The last time we talked, you guys were just getting on the road again. It’s been a couple of months since then. Are all the kinks worked out?
Paul McCoy (PM): Yeah, this is show number nine so far. Once you get that far back into it, you really feel like you’re into it.
Aaron Gainer (AG): Yeah, you really get fine-tuned. All the kinks are worked out. All the dust bunnies are gone. You go through nine shows in nine cities and you really feel like you are back in shape.
BRB: Paul, you recently switched to Michael Kelly Smith guitars. Nine shows into the tour now, how are those working out for you?
PM: Great. I love them. I have names for the them. The black one is called Murderface and the other one is called Betty White, because it looks vintage. But they play great. I love them.
BRB: Let’s talk songs. How do you guys know when a song is “ready”?
PM: In this band, we’ll write a song until the wheels fall off. We’ll write it. Unwrite it. Rewrite it. Share a piece of it into another song. Borrow a piece from another. And you can do this until you finally say, “Enough, that’s how the song is going to be.” But, even after that, it’s never really done, for us. If you let me, I could work on one song for two years.
AG: Then, when you get out on tour and play it hundreds of times, you start to inject things that you maybe didn’t think of when you were first recording it. These are mainly things that don’t change the songs, but add flavor here and there. Like on “Soulfire,” we’ve learned to stretch out the instrumental section and jam out over it and let things happen a little more organically.
PM: That’s important for us. It’s the emotion and the feel of the song. You can add a million different elements to a song. In the end, for us, it’s all about going out there with two guitars, a bass, drums and a voice. Everything we do on top of that is icing.
BRB: I think there is a misperception that because a band has a song on the radio and a tour bus that they are rolling in cash and everything is great, which is far from reality. You guys are out their working really hard to make a living like the rest of the world. Have any of you ever thought, “I just don’t know if it’s worth it anymore”?
PM: Just about every day.
AG: I know I think about it a lot.
PM: It’s not so much “Is it worth it,” though, it’s more about “Can you do it?” For us, it’s always worth it to go out and meet friends and fans. It’s worth it to hear that we wrote a song that means something to them or changed their lives in some way. The way everything goes, though, at the end of the day, it’s hard to survive out here. People may think that we have five cars or multiple houses, but it’s not like that all. It’s nowhere near that. I don’t even have cable at my house right now.
AG: But that’s not that bad; you watch way too much television, Paul.
PM: Hey, I like television!
AG: Back to your question, the other aspect of it, though, is that there is the financial struggle. And there is the fatigue struggle. Then there is the struggle of being away from your family. I thought I was going to be able to see my son in August. I found out two days ago that I won’t. He was extremely excited, but now I have to explain to him why his dad won’t be able to have the trip with him in August. It’s just tough stuff. And it’s a reality every day. You enjoy that time you are on stage, but the rest of the time, you are aware of the challenges. You try to forget the things that hurt and enjoy the things you can.
BRB: Building on that, then, we recently talked with Rick Allen of Def Leppard and asked him what keeps them going after they have accomplished nearly everything a rock band can accomplish. He said, and I’m paraphrasing, “We do this for each other now, because we are friends.” A decade into this, do you ever get that? Do you look at each other and think that 12 Stones keeps going, in part, because it is part of your personal friendships?
AG: I think we had those types of experiences more when we were younger and growing up together while becoming a band and coming of age, especially when it came to things like releasing a record. Now, all of us have been doing this long enough, we all understand what’s a “given.” We know what’s expected. Still, I don’t like a lot of things that happen peripherally in this business, but I love playing drums.
PM: I love when you play drums, too. It really fills out the sound.
BRB: After having done this for about a decade now, what still surprises you?
PM: Not much. I don’t really get surprised anymore. I’m surprised, and a little excited, that people are coming out to shows as much as they are. It’s been rough out there lately.
AG: It’s been rough for everybody. One thing that surprises me still, is when I meet someone who says, “I started listening to you in junior high school,” and they have their kid right next to them! It’s amazing to me what can happen in a span of 10 years, but it’s awesome that they have stuck with us… and they are bringing their kids.
BRB: If you could talk to the 12 Stones of 10 years ago, what would you say to them?
PM: I’d punch them in the face! I would really punch me square in my face. Seriously, though, I’d tell me to put my money in the bank.
AG: We were told to do that by Cowboy Mouth, the first band we ever went out with, and they weren’t shy about it either. Fred Leblanc and the guys in Cowboy Mouth put a finger right in my chest and said, “Put your money in the bank, you idiot!” They were serious, because they knew. It was a cool thing that they warned us, but, you know, it didn’t happen.
Younger bands ask us for advice and we tell them the same thing, too. We tell them that and I tell them to stay single.
PM: What I tell them is, “Put your money in my bank.”
AG: Yeah, put your money in my bank and stay single. Do you want to be a husband or do you want to be in a band? Maybe we just can’t have it all at the same time. Do one thing for awhile, then do the other. I wish I would have known that.
BRB: Is there anything we haven’t covered that you’d like to?
PM: We run our own social media. We try to be very involved with our fans as much as we can. We’d also like people to just come out to live shows, whatever band it is. It’s doesn’t have to be 12 Stones, although that would be nice, but it would be nice to build the genre and support the bands that are out there. It’s nice to buy the CD and crank it in your car, but so few of those people come out and pay for a ticket and actually interact with guys like us.
AG: I’d like to piggyback on that and say there seems to be this perception that there is this competition between bands. To me, I don’t see that at all. There are people who like music and if you write something that connects with them, they’ll like it. It’s not about who is better than who. We all like each other.
PM: That has always been my thing. You open for a band or tour with a band for three months at a time and you get to know them like your own band at some point.
AG: And when they do well, you’re happy for them. If they get that gold record, you are genuinely happy for them. It’s not like, “Hey, they took our fans!” It’s not like that at all. There’s room for everybody.
12 Stones newest album, Beneath the Scars is in stores and on iTunes. Catch them on tour this summer and support live music.
Def Leppard has achieved what only a very select number of rock bands ever do. More than 100 million albums sold, a career spanning more than 30 years and overcoming adversities that would have spelled the end of other bands. When you reach that level, what else is left? Well, if you are Def Leppard drummer, Rick Allen, it turns out there is still a world of possibilities to explore.
We recently caught up with Rick to discuss his new visual art project, his Raven Drum Foundation, the upcoming summer tour with Poison and more.
Blog Rocking Beat (BRB): Let’s start with the Electric Hand Project. This is a really unique project. Could you talk a little bit about exactly what it is we are seeing in the images?
Rick Allen (RA): What you are seeing in the imagery is basically me playing a whole performance; then, through long exposure photography, we were able to capture the entire performance in one frame. So, in effect, I’m using light sticks instead of paint brushes.
The interesting thing for me was how it revealed things about myself that I knew, but I hadn’t really brought those hidden realms or hidden worlds into this reality. So it was very interesting to see the finished result and realize there were a lot of other aspects about myself. For instance, naming the project and naming the individual pieces—it was so obvious because of the things I’m passionate about. The project reflected that; it was very profound.
BRB: Did the final result of each piece turn out like you envisioned it? Or was it quite different?
RA: They only showed me a few of the frames, so it was good to keep the mystery about what they were going to look like and just allow me to play and express myself. So, the end result is really a reflection of the individual. For instance, if you were to do this, you would create a completely unique footprint that only relates to you.
What I really want from all this is to inspire people to remember parts of themselves that they have forgotten—to realize that if you are artistic in one way, it can be interchangeable. You can move into different areas and express yourself in other ways as well.
BRB: How did the project come about? Was it your idea initially or were you approached by another artist?
RA: Scene Four came to me with the idea. They showed me some interesting examples and I just jumped at the chance. I keep hoarding all my pictures. One of these days, I’ll put some of them up on the walls. I literally have tens of thousands of pictures and have never done anything with them. So, for somebody to approach me and say, “We can help you take this from start to finish,” made me realize that this was a wonderful opportunity for me to express myself in different ways.
BRB: Is this something you can do on tour? Maybe as a way to commemorate live shows?
RA: Well, there’s quite a bit of setup. Initially, I invited them up to my studio. Fortunately, the live room doesn’t have any windows, because we needed a really dark room. Then we took it from there.
BRB: Do you think this willingness to step outside of your normal realm of being a drummer would have happened if not for the changes you had to make earlier in your career to re-imagine the way you have to play drums with one arm? In other words, did that challenge earlier in your career open you up to these possibilities of expressing yourself in different way that you might not have otherwise thought of?
RA: Actually, that’s a great question. I can use one of the pieces as an example of how we can be different from one day to the next. There is a piece called “Shapeshifter” and initially, I didn’t particularly like it. Then we tweaked the colors and, all of a sudden, the piece became one of my favorites. We had several different versions of the same image and it really struck me that we really are shapeshifters. The people we are today are not the same as the people we were yesterday because of the experience we went through yesterday. I like the idea that you can be in the moment and change at any moment.
So to answer your question, yes, it opens your eyes and horizons to other projects. I think this is a huge blessing that, as human beings, we have this ability to discover new things about ourselves in this way.
BRB: Speaking of which, I’d love to talk about the Raven Drum Foundation and what, exactly, it is.
RA: It’s a foundation I put together with my wife. We’ve worked with many parts of the population through art and drumming. More recently, we’ve been working with the Wounded Warrior Project using drums to help with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
BRB: It’s pretty well-known that different types of art forms can be very therapeutic. Are you finding that using drums and drumming in this way is proving beneficial?
RA: Yes, especially if the rhythms are trance-like. The drumming just creates a vehicle that lets you get into a zone while you are playing the rhythm, and it doesn’t have to be complex. If you are playing in a circle where you have quite a few drummers playing a dominant rhythm, then it’s easy for people to get into that zone and get their head out of the way, so to speak.
Then there is drumming with intention. You have to ask what your intention is. What are you trying to achieve? Then you can start to fill that space up with the things that matter to you. It’s a great process. I love being involved with it and seeing the help that it gives to people.
BRB: It sounds like that this is something that touches multiple layers of the psyche.
RA: Exactly. There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all solution. It’s a combination of modalities that helps, which is what we do. We facilitate a range of modalities of which drumming is a complementary type of modality. There are other modalities that are just as powerful, if not more powerful.
BRB: Okay, time for some Def Leppard questions. You guys have sold as many albums as anybody. You have played every corner of the planet that has electricity. You pretty much have creative freedom when it comes to making music these days. What does a band that has reached Def Leppard’s stature set for goals anymore?
RA: Playing new countries, meeting new people, and continuing to write good songs. And, having said that, I think the foundation of the band is friendship and doing what it takes to maintain that friendship after the things we have been through, such as losing Steve (Clark, guitarist) or me going through my accident.
At some point, you ask the question, “Why are we really doing this?” Sometimes, an unusual answer—especially within this band compared to other bands—is “Well, we’re friends.” That’s a huge motivation, especially this far into our career. There’s that and the ability to write good songs and make a valid contribution to music in general. We are still constantly striving to be better.
BRB: You just mentioned losing Steve. After that, of course, Vivian (Campbell, guitarist) joined the band. With regards to the group friendship, then, how did that dynamic change when you lost one friend and brought another one in?
RA: It wasn’t really difficult at all. Vivian grew up in a similar culture in Belfast. He was listening to all the same music we were listening to and hearing the same news. So, even though I didn’t meet him when he was a kid, it was a similar experience. It was lovely to meet somebody like Vivian. It was very refreshing. In its own way, it was also consoling to be able to lean on Vivian.
BRB: You guys have a big tour coming up with Poison this summer. What can fans expect from a tour that is marked by two bands known for the extravagant nature of their live shows?
RA: That’s right! And it’s really going to be in celebration of the Rock of Ages movie that’s going to be coming out. They’ve made a feature-length movie of the stage production for Rock of Ages. Tom Cruise is Stacee Jaxx and he sings his ass off. He actually sang all of the songs that are in the movie. It’s pretty amazing.
For the live show, though, we actually brought back a guy we met way back in 1979; he was our lighting designer back then. Since then, he went off and did his own thing and it’s great that we’ve been able to keep in touch with him over the years. Now, we brought him in as a production manager. The look of the stage setup is very exciting to say the least. You should come out to see it.
It’s 2012, and odds are that if you dropped the term “The Seattle Sound” in conversation with young music fans these days, you’d get a bewildered look. It was just two decades ago that the influx of rock bands from The Emerald City was the most significant geographically-centered American musical movement since The Motown Sound of the ‘60s.
At the tail end of that Seattle influx came Candlebox with their self-titled debut album that would go on to sell more than 4 million copies. Songs like “Far Behind” and “You” earned them a permanent place on rock radio as evidenced by their regular airplay some 20 years later.
They were often bagged by critics of the day as not being grunge enough. Of course, they never claimed to be a grunge band, just a rock band from Seattle. The result is that, all these years later, the biggest bands from that initial Seattle nucleus, still sound as if they are making music that will always be known as, and associated with, grunge. Meanwhile Candlebox has just dropped its fifth studio album, Love Stories & Other Musings, which, like its predecessors, is a straight up rock and roll album full of catchy riffs and soaring vocal hooks.
We recently had the opportunity to catch up with vocalist, Kevin Martin, to talk about the new record, the state of the industry, and, well, other musings.
Blog Rocking Beat (BRB): Let’s talk about the new album, Love Stories & Other Musings. Having been at making records for 20 years, what was the mindset going into this one?
Kevin Martin (KM): Where do we start? Ultimately, you can only hope to go into the studio with the idea of where you want a record to begin. If you go in with one mindset, 99% of the time it comes out tarnished. For us, we try not to prepare ourselves too much for going in the studio, so that when we get in there, we can allow ourselves to be as free as possible with the music. So, for us, the mindset was, “Let’s go in there and make the record we are capable of making—something that will maybe open us up to a newer audience so that, if we are still doing this 10 years from now, we’re sure we are capable of doing it on our terms.”
For years, we made records that were kind of forced onto us by our label. We took some time off to get out of the deal with Maverick Records. We came back and took some time to write that last record (2008’s Into the Sun). We aren’t the most prolific band, but when we get into the studio, this is the kind of music you get. With this record, then, we thought, “Let’s set ourselves up for our future.”
BRB: You guys had what every young band dreams of: great success right out of the gate. Some bands publicly complain about having to always play the “big hit” from earlier in their career. Does it ever get tiresome for you to be expected to play songs like “Far Behind,” “You,” and “Simple Lessons”?
KM: No. Those songs, when we wrote them, were so personal to us. We’ve always written our own music. I think bands that get themselves into the position where they don’t want to play their hits are idiots, because they should always want to play their hit songs.
I think that, a lot of the time, it may be that the song was a hit for them in a certain radio format and they didn’t want that or maybe they just aren’t those type of people. For us, though, the songs are so personal. They were written for our friends and about parts of our lives and times of our lives we don’t want to forget about. They reflect a certain part of our past and every time we play them—even though they are a part of our history—they take on new meaning with experience.
There always going to be people at your shows with a “Far Behind” story and what that and other songs meant to them. It’s special for us to play those types of songs. They still pay the rent. We love being able to have that type of history.
BRB: The current lineup has been a pretty stable one for you guys, with Adam (Kurry, bassist) being the newest member who joined five years ago. There was a time where you guys were juggling members. How does having this stability affect the songwriting process?
KM: It’s funny. I do a lot of my writing Dave Krusen, who was the drummer on the Happy Pills record, because I live in Los Angeles. Then when Bardi (Martin, bassist) left and we brought in Adam. I had already been working with him in The Hiwatts, so we had already had a pretty great working relationship when it came to songwriting.
I think the biggest adjustment was for Pete (Klett, lead guitarist), because he had never worked with Adam or Sean (Hennesy, rhythm guitarist) in a songwriting environment. He had to learn the dynamic of Adam, Sean and my writing process, because we write really, really fast. We’d go to the studio every Monday and, starting in January, write two songs a day and have them finished by the following Monday so we could build a catalog of material. That doesn’t mean it was done and ready to go on the record that way, it just means that we could get it to the point where we were all comfortable with all the elements that needed to go on each track.
Pete doesn’t really work that way, so he had to evolve into this new type of writing process. It took him a little while and I’m sure he got frustrated several times, because we don’t really fart around with tones and things like that. We just get it done. Once we get into the studio, then, we’ll make the record. That was probably the strangest thing. Still it only took him about six or seven months to get used to it. Now he’s right there with us.
BRB: When you are writing, do you still get the butterflies about taking new material out on the road to see what kind of reaction it will get?
KM: Yeah, and that’s always the challenge. You never really know what a fan or an audience is going to think of your song. It doesn’t concern us too much, though, because our whole thing is, “Is our audience going to have a good time listening to this when we play it live?” Sometimes, that leads us to weed out some good songs we might like to put on the record. It has to be a good live track, because we love playing this music live. Sometimes we need to make the decision of rethinking a song or putting it away for awhile to focus on something else.
Still, there is always the fear that you are going to play a song and not get a response out of it. No one’s going to clap and it’s going to feel like you are naked at school or something.
BRB: That said, would you say you feel more comfortable in the studio or on the stage?
KM: I’m a reluctant lead singer. I prefer the studio. I get nervous before every show. It keeps me focused, but it also keeps me stocked up with tequila and Jack Daniels. I was a drummer before I was a singer. To this day, I still wish I was a drummer.
BRB: Since you guys first started making records, technology has changed the face of the music industry completely, from file sharing, to streaming services, to more indie labels and even having your music licensed for video games. What does that mean for a band like Candlebox and do you feel you approach the business end of your career differently because of it?
KM: Oh yeah. Everything is about the Internet now and working in a digital world. We embraced it a long time ago. When we were re-signing in 2006, we were putting up demos on our Myspace page and at other places and saying, “Here! Listen to this.”
We knew a long, long time ago, even back when were still signed to Maverick Records that, inevitably, we were going to need a web page where we could allow our fans to come and go as they pleased, rather than making them hold out until they could come see a show and do meet-and-greets and things like that. That was back in ’96 when we were asking Maverick to make us a web page and they were like, “What are you talking about? A web page? What do you need a web page for?”
I had friends who were working at Microsoft and developing websites for other types of entities, such as television, video games and that kind of stuff. Maverick was a step behind. For us, it has always been about embracing social networking and making the music available to the people who deserve it: the people who have been the fans and stood by us for a long time. They’re the ones who help us, as musicians, be able to continue making music. They pay the rent when they buy the tickets to come see the show.
This has always been our approach and I’d like to say we’ve embraced the available technology to the fullest. We run our own facebook page, our own myspace page and our own twitter account. You can actually reach us at our email addresses. Accessibility is everything. Some rock stars say, “I don’t want to be accessible.” Well, you have to be.
BRB: They say with age comes wisdom. If you could go back in time and meet the Candlebox of 1993, what would you say to them?
KM: Fire your manager. Protect your money. Get off of Maverick Records as soon as you can.
BRB: You guys are on tour right now. What can fans expect when they come out to see you?
KM: If they’ve never seen a Candlebox show, they are going to have a good time. It’s a blast. You’re not going to hear the songs exactly how they are on the records. You’re going to hear some cover songs in the middle of the set. You’re going to hear a lot of new stuff. And you get to see some pretty talented musicians play some damn good rock and roll.
We’ve never been the band that gets into pyrotechnics or the crazy lighting systems. For us, it really is about getting out there and playing the songs and bringing our audience into our world. We get a little wrapped up in it sometimes when we are on stage, which I will admit. Some of the bands I grew up with and had the great opportunity to play with in the ‘90s, such as The Black Crowes and Oasis were like that. Was there a lot of movement going on? Not really. Did you leave the show overwhelmed at how great those bands were? Absolutely. I’d love to be able to put Candlebox in that same category.
It’s an unseasonably cool late-April day at the infamous Machine Shop Concert Lounge in Flint, Michigan. I take a seat in the venue where, in a matter of hours, 12 Stones will go on to deliver an absolutely incendiary performance in support of Memphis-rockers, Saliva. Within moments, I’m greeted by 12 Stones drummer, Aaron Gainer, who has recently rejoined the band after a brief hiatus. His soft-spoken demeanor betrays the rock star appearance of his long blonde hair and tattered jeans. We commiserate over the early exit of our favorite hockey teams (Red Wings and Penguins) from the NHL playoffs while singer/guitarist, Paul McCoy does a quick sound check with his new Michael Kelly guitars for which he has just garnered an endorsement deal.
For the boys in 12 Stones, it’s a new day. From an explosive new record and record label, to new endorsement deals and even a new bass player, there is a renewed sense of energy for these 10-year rock veterans and they are looking more bulletproof than ever.
Blog Rocking Beat (BRB): Let’s start with the new album, Beneath the Scars, which is set to drop on May 22nd. What can fans expect?
Paul McCoy (PM): We did some different things on this album. We incorporated some loops and strings this time around, which was different for us.
BRB: So would you say that the technology influenced the material this time around?
PM: Kind of, but I think it’s more about us keeping an open mind and a willingness to try new things. We had talked about trying to do some of these things in the past, but we were always thinking about the live show and trying to make sure whatever we put on the album was something we could play live. So now we are running some loops in the live show and just trying to do some new things.
BRB: How has the move from Wind Up Records to EMG affected the band in relation to creating the new album?
PM: Well, it’s hard to say. It was a big change for us. When we had made the decision to leave Wind Up, it wasn’t easy. They had been the only people we had worked with for eight years. We didn’t know if anybody would be interested in us or not or what that would mean for us as a band, but the people at EMG were interested and they’ve been great to work with and very supportive. As for making the record, I’m not sure. I just know that we were excited to get back to work again. After 2.5 years, it seemed like a long time. We at least knew that we could get down to making a record and taking it on the road and seeing the fans again.
BRB: For the new record, you guys worked with Skidd Mills again. He’s been one of the most sought after producers of the last five years, working with bands like Saliva, Egypt Central, Saving Abel and so on. What’s special about him?
PM: He’s just so knowledgeable and efficient. He knows the technology really well and he makes everything very comfortable. For example, this time around, I tracked all the vocals in the control room right next to him instead of being in a vocal booth with the glass between us and going back and forth. So I could do a take and hear it right there after I did it.
He’s got such a good ear, too. He can—I’m not sure this is the right way to put it—“polish a turd.” I mean, you could put down some takes, whether it’s vocal or guitar or whatever and he can use the tools to take what you have and make it sound like the sound that you hear in your head, so you don’t have to keep retracking over and over to get that “just right” sound.
Eric Weaver (EW): It’s nice to be able to move quickly like that from song to song. You feel like you are working with someone who gets it and, from a practical standpoint, when you are paying for studio time by the day, it’s important to work with someone who helps get the sound you want and does it quickly.
BRB: You guys write about socially-aware and spiritually-aware topics. You have gone on the record as saying you are not a “Christian band,” per se, but what has it been like to walk that tightrope for years?
PM: We appreciate all of our fans. Some have come to us because we write about topics that are relevant to them as Christians and that’s okay with us, but I don’t feel comfortable stepping up as a leader of something like that, because I don’t know enough about it and I don’t want to be perceived as hypocrite when I make mistakes.
I grew up as a Southern Baptist and was in church twice a week growing up, so it’s something that’s been a part of my life. We are all human, though, and those are the things I try to write about; the things that make us human. If you read the lyrics, I don’t think they are preachy. They ask questions like, “How am I going to get through this,” or “Where do I get the strength?” I think these are questions that all people relate to, including devout Christians.
I don’t want to write about sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. When I look back at this part of my life, I want to feel like, when I had the opportunity, I had something to say. I want to feel like I used my position to make connection with people and wrote about something important.
EW: We have people come up to us at shows and tell us, “That song got me through a really rough time in my life,” or “I heard that song at a time that I really needed to hear it,” or sometimes even, “That song saved my life.”
PM: If a song only helps one person or five people, then I feel like we are doing something positive. If some kid identifies with it and it make makes a difference in his life or gets him through some struggle, that’s a few kids who, you know, who knows? Kids can be mean. People can be mean. It can be really hard out there.
BRB: You just said, “Kids can be mean.” Let’s talk about that and the “I’m Like You” anti-bullying campaign you guys did. How did the idea come about and, of all the possible worthy topics to address, why this one?
PM: Well, first of all, we have kids. We’re parents and our kids are getting to the age where they understand this kind of thing and I want them to know where we stand on this and that it is not okay. I had great parents; I knew they always had my back. Not every kid has that. Kids need to know they are not alone and that there are people who understand what they are going through. They need to know that it is not okay to bully or be bullied.
Personally, I got bullied a lot when I was a kid. I was deaf in my left ear and had to have some surgeries on it. Sometimes my ear would drain and stuff would run down the side of my face and I got bullied for that for years until I decided I wasn’t going to take it anymore. I sort of became a vigilante and started “taking care of my business on my own time.” And sometimes, I would take care of other kids’ business, too.
The thing about bullying, though, is that that there isn’t anything wrong with the person being bullied. You could be the richest person in the world, or the smartest person on the world, or the most successful person in the world and somebody will find something to bully you about. It so common and there is no reason for it.
BRB: Band membership in 12 Stones has seemed like a revolving door at times, with some members leaving and new ones joining and some members departing, then returning later. How does this affect momentum? Do you feel these changes bring energy or is it sometimes difficult to get everyone on the same page?
PM: It’s a challenge sometimes. With Eric and myself being the guys who have been through it all since day one, it can be challenging. You do a lot of teaching. For instance, our new bass player, Will (Reed) doesn’t know all the songs. So we get requests sometimes, but we can’t just drop them in the set list yet. It comes with time.
No matter who is the band, though, we just strive to put the best out there, whether it’s that one riff or that one lyric that people can grab onto.
BRB: It’s interesting that you say that, because it seems like music, perhaps more than other art forms, has that ability to grab you. That one riff or that one lyric can hit something inside you that makes you have a physical reaction, whether it sets off an adrenaline rush, or makes you want to cry or whatever.
Aaron Gainer (AG): It does. It changes your thought processes. One line leads to something else or the way certain parts come together trigger new possibilities and soon you find yourself in new place you might not have been if not for the music.
PM: I remember when I was 13 and I had this little amp with a headphone jack. I’d go to my bedroom at night and my parents thought I was sleeping, but I had my headphones plugged in and I was playing some of the worst guitar you ever heard! But it was so good for me. It was like therapy. Just something about playing felt so good and it didn’t matter that the playing was terrible.
BRB: Okay, back to the present. How great is it for you guys to be on this tour, already being friends with the guys in Saliva and Royal Bliss?
PM: I think it’s great. It’s been so long since we’ve been out here that having friends out here with with us on the road makes it seem like it hasn’t been years. For us, though, just getting to meet the fans again and talk to them feels good.
We judge how we are doing by what happens at our merch booth. I’m not talking about just how much we sell, but by the number of people who enjoyed what they saw on stage enough to come back and say hello to us, maybe get a picture or have us sign something.
We had a guy at a recent show come up to us with two shirts on his arm. He said, “Before tonight, I didn’t like you guys. After watching you up on stage, though, I’m a fan now.” That right there lets me know that the hard work we are putting in is paying off. After 10 years of doing this, we’ve been fortunate enough to win some fans like that almost everywhere we play. And after 10 years, it still feels just as good as the first time.
BRB: Is there anything we didn’t cover that you want to mention?
EW: Just that the album, Beneath the Scars comes out on May 22 and that all your readers should come out and get it, then see us when we come to town.
Fueled by the lead single, “Tear it Down,” Burn Halo’s new album Up From the Ashes has been making a serious dent in hard rock charts everywhere. The album combines an in-your-face attitude coupled with familiarity that sits comfortably in your rock sensibilities. Once you meet ringleader, James Hart, however, you learn that Burn Halo couldn’t operate any other way.
I arrived at Dirtfest 2011 in Birch Run, Michigan a few ticks past noon. Burn Halo had a one o’something set on the main stage, so I positioned myself right up front. As 3 Pill Morning was tearing down, Hart was helping the band move their heavy gear off stage as he helped Burn Halo get their gear on stage. He then proceed to do sound check for all the mics, get bottled water for ready for all the band members, then rock out an explosive set that left the audience in dizzying, slack-jawed bliss.
As the set ended, I made my way to Burn Halo’s merch booth to find—you guessed it—James Hart. He had finished the set and sprinted to the merch booth to peddle CDs, shirts and posters. Winded and dripping sweat, he signed autographs and posed for pictures with anybody and everybody. When he asked if he could go change his shirt before our interview, I said, “Of course.” It was the least I could do for the hardest working man in rock ‘n’ roll.
Blog Rocking Beat (BRB): Since you left 18 Visions, it seems like it’s been a whirlwind of activity up to this point. Has it really been as chaotic as it seems from the outside?
James Hart (JH): Yes. Totally! It’s a different day in the music industry. A band at our level can’t really shell out money to have all these people working for us, when we can do it ourselves and put in the extra blood, sweat and tears. Sure, it’s tough and it’s draining, but this is our job. It’s what we do for a living. It’s how we pay our bills at home. It’s what makes it okay for us to leave our families behind. If we are not able to support them or chip in, then we are not able to do this at our age. We’re not 19 years old anymore and living with our parents. It’s tough on the band, but we feel it’s necessary to do those things.
BRB: There are a lot of differences between the way the first album was written and record versus the second one. Walk us through that.
JH: The biggest difference is that there were more songwriters on this album. The five of us came together and worked through all the songs. Aaron (Boehler, bass), Joey (Cunha, guitar), Brandon (Lynn, guitar) and I wrote mostly all of the music and that was the most important thing for us. We wanted to write this record as a band. There were only two songwriters on the last album. We brought in a third here and there for some riffs. So that is the main difference in the approach.
I wish that on the last album, I would have brought in a guitar player like Niel (Tiemann, former guitar player who currently tours with David Cook) a lot sooner. I think the tracks would have turned out more aggressive than they did. I think that’s why this album is so different. You have guys like Brandon, Joey and Aaron always writing riffs. They are guitar players and bass players; that’s way they do. They spend hours just playing and writing riffs. That was really important for us this time. We were able to hone in on their skills as both musicians and writers. In the end, we feel like we came out with great album.
BRB: To add to that, one of the things I found most notable on Up From the Ashes was the overall breadth and balance of what you cover. From these big riffs to sing-along choruses, it’s all done well and balanced well. Was it a conscious decision to do that? Or is that something that just comes organically from the way you guys write songs?
JH: Actually, everything came really naturally for us, or at least everything you hear on the album did. Some of the stuff we were writing early on felt a little forced. We were writing more along the lines of what you heard on the last record. That sound, though, just wasn’t them as musicians and writers. They could write that stuff, but you could tell they were having to force the direction.
So, we flipped the script. We played for ourselves and did what we wanted to do. We channeled our influences and our desires as musicians, which led to the album that you hear in Up From the Ashes. The music became a really organic, steady flow of songwriting from that point on.
BRB: Let’s pick a song to go through. How about “Dakota”?
JH: Brandon wrote the music for that song a couple of years ago. He brought it to the table in the early stages of the writing and that song was the one that really steered us in the direction of doing what we wanted.
He was in a band for few months and they were called Dakota. So we kept that name for the song before there were lyrics or anything. In fact, it was the only working title we kept. That song is really important in relation to the whole album. It was the one that convinced us it would be better to tap into our individual influences and write the album we wanted to write.
Lyrically, it’s a song about despair and depression. It’s about somebody who is lost and can’t find their way out of their own black hole. And they continue to neglect the help and support of the people who love them. You know, somebody who is really lost.
BRB: What are some of the songs you really look forward to playing live?
JH: I love the energy of “Tear it Down” as well as “Dakota.” It’s mainly the songs that have more of an aggressive feel to them. There are a couple of songs we have not played live yet, such that last track on the album, “Shine,” which I love. Another one is “Give Me a Sign,” which is another great one we look forward to getting into later this year and early next year.
With that, our interview came to a close. It was far from the last time we would see Hart during the day. As the concert rolled on into the night, Hart and other members of Burn Halo could be seen hawking CDs from the front of the stage between other bands’ sets. It’s par for the course for Hart, who has learned to take nothing for granted in the current music scene.
As the night wound down and we said goodbye to Egypt Central, Stealing Betty and some of the other bands we hung out out with, I noticed a glow coming from the front seat of Burn Halo’s van. A closer look revealed Hart, still working, updating the band’s Facebook page before heading off to the next show… to do it all over again.
Today, KYNG’s Trampled Sun hit stores. To say we like it is a bit of an understatement. Check out our Trampled Sun review. A few weeks ago, we met up with Eddie Veliz (guitar / vocals) and Pepe Clarke (drums) at the Machine Shop in Flint, Michigan after they finished an absolutely scorching opening set for Drowning Pool.
Blog Rocking Beat (BRB): KYNG is a new kid on the block. How did you guys come together?
Pepe Clarke (PC): I played in a band with Tony (Castaneda, bassist) and he previously played in a band with Eddie. When I was playing in the band with Tony, we had talked about starting another project. He said, “Man, I have the perfect person for this,” which was Eddie. So that’s where it really began. We starting jamming and it immediately clicked. At our first rehearsal, I think we had two songs done.
BRB: So there was a really chemistry from the start, then.
Eddie Veliz (EV): Oh, sure. I love Tony to death. I’ve loved him for years, because we played together. When he told me about this band idea, I said, “Bring it on, man. Let’s see what happens.” I showed up a Tony’s house and we were riffing out, because I wanted to see what he had. He had a few riffs ready, like the riff for “Falling Down.” And I was thinking, “Man, that’s a really good riff.” It was inspiring.
When Tony and Pepe’s band left on a tour, I took the riffs Tony had and started playing to them and adding to them. By the time they got back from the tour, I had music and lyrics for “Falling Down,” “Pushing & Pulling” and something else.
PC: I remember going home to Mexico for Christmas and they emailed the stuff they had and I thought, “Wow! This is awesome!” So I started writing real drum parts to it. When I got back to L.A., we were able to start jamming to those songs.
EV: The chemistry was just great. The chemistry between Pepe and Tony was great. The chemistry between me and Tony was great. So meeting Pepe, it was like being brothers right from the beginning.
BRB: So when you all finally got together and started working as a group, how did the songs come together? Did they start as jams or do you each come in with musical ideas to get things started?
EV: It’s all of that. Tony is always writing riffs. I’m always writing riffs and songs. And Pepe has ideas up the yin-yang. He’ll say, “Dah, de-de-de-de- dah! You got this? Play this!” (laughs)
PC: Sometimes it’s frustrating not being able to play a melodic instrument. (laughs)
EV: But, yeah, someone comes in with an idea and the others will say, “Okay, let’s start building on that.” And by the end of the session, we usually have a song or at least a great start.
BRB: As I was listening to Trampled Sun, from song to song I could hear so many different things in there. Old school Chris Cornell—
EV: Oh, yeah.
BRB: —Tim Narducci from Systematic, and just a mish-mash of things I love.
PC: That’s because it’s a mish-mash of things that we love. We just really wanted play music we love. I’m playing very metal parts on drums, because I love metal, but the band isn’t metal. It’s very much a rock band. I feel like we have made this whole fusion work pretty well.
EV: Or main goal with KYNG was to be seamless in crossing over. We want to be able to play with anybody, from death metal to straight up rock and roll and even blues acts. And so far we have. Because of Pepe’s drums, we can play with metal bands. Because what I do pulls on so much ‘70s and ‘80s vibe, it’s a real classic rock feel, too.
BRB: That makes sense, because you can hear the Soundgarden and Kyuss stuff in there, but it seems more like you guys are pulling from the same bands that influenced them rather than pulling from those guys directly.
But when you say you want to be able to play with anyone, is that something that is a conscious decisions that goes into the songs during the songwriting? Or does that naturally evolve?
EV: We try to keep it open to have that appeal. We have some songs that are completely acoustic. In fact, we just did an acoustic set this afternoon, and we love that, too. You can make like a campfire thing or a Blind Melon thing or even a country thing. I don’t want to sound cocky or anything, but that sort of thing comes easily to us because we click like that.
BRB: It comes across that way. Not cocky, but effortless. Yet, it doesn’t lack passion at all.
EV: We go out there every night and try to win people over. They are coming to see Drowning Pool, but we have to win them over. Right now, because the record isn’t out especially, it’s an uphill battle. But we give it our all in hopes that some people will walk away saying, “Wow, that was a really good band.” And every night we see the same thing. The first three songs, people are standing there with their arms crossed. By the fourth or fifth song, their heads are bobbing. And by the end of the set, they screaming, “Yeah!”
PC: It’s like chopping a tree. You keep wacking away at it and you think, “When are they gonna finally break?” And when they do, it’s just the greatest feeling.
Few rock bands have taken as many strides this year as Egypt Central has. Their sophomore album, White Rabbit has been well reviewed. Their second single from that album, “Kick Ass” is making a serious dent in rock radio and opening new territory for them all across the country, not to mention the “grid iron” mix known as “Kick Off,” which is rocking NFL stadiums from coast to coast. Supported by relentless touring, they are one of a handful of modern rock bands on the cusp of a major mainstream breakthrough.
At DirtFest 2011, in Birch Run, Michigan, we sat down with guitarist, Jeff James, to talk about some band history and how the rise of Egypt Central led to an endorsement from Peavey.
Blog Rocking Beat (BRB): You recently started sporting Peavey guitars and amps exclusively. What’s that all about?
Jeff James (JJ): Right now, I’m playing through the
Peavey ValveKing 100. I also have an Odyssey II and a Tomb II in terms of guitars I’m playing.
BRB: Did you contact them or did they contact you? How does that work?
JJ: Actually, that was done through management. My manager, J.D., made that happen.
BRB: What were you playing before the Peaveys?
JJ: Before the Peaveys, I was playing PRS [Paul Reed Smith] guitars and Mesa amps.
BRB: What about pickups? Your favorites?
JJ: I play EMGs—the 81/60 combination. I like ‘em. They run hot. You can get those nice squeals from them.
BRB: How old were you when you first started playing guitar?
JJ: I was around eight years old when I first started playing.
BRB: Wow. That’s really young. What kind of stuff were you cutting your teeth on at eight years old?
JJ: Early Green Day stuff got played a lot. Dookie was huge for me. Offspring’s Smash was big. Soundgarden—
BRB: SuperUnknown or BadMotorFinger?
JJ: Both! In fact, I still have both of them on my iPod.
BRB: Did you start a band shortly after that? I imagine there weren’t many other eight-year-old to start a band with.
JJ: I pretty much stayed in my room and jammed to the radio a lot. In hindsight, it sounds kind of depressing. I didn’t do too many band things. I did talent shows in middle school and high school. Egypt Central is actually only the second band I’ve ever been in.
BRB: Let’s do the math then. Egypt Central started in 2002. That’s actually a pretty big gap then until the first album came out in 2008.
JJ: Actually, I didn’t join the band until late-2004. The band had previously recorded the first album in L.A., which ended up not being released, but a handful of copies went out. Everything was redone in 2006, but finally didn’t come out until 2008.
BRB: Did you know the guys before that time, then? Or was it a situation where they were looking and you auditioned?
JJ: I got to know the guys through my best friend from high school who was doing security for them. I had moved to Florida for a few months, then came back. I met up with him again. He was hanging with those guys, so I started to as well. You know, sleeping on the couch—kind of half living there. Next thing you know, they needed another guitar player so it was like, “Well, let’s ask the guy on the couch.”
BRB: Talk about being in the right place at the right time.
One of the biggest perks of running Blog Rocking Beat is that we occasionally get to sit down and talk to bands we have followed for years. What you learn quickly, however, is that some people are full of canned answers. When we sat down with Elias and Zach from Nonpoint, what we got was a surprisingly candid look at what it really means to be a rock band in today’s musical landscape.
Blog Rocking Beat (BRB): You guys have had a lot of changes this tour cycle versus past tours. There’s a new(ish) member of the band, you’ve been doing a lot with Facebook to stay in touch with fans. How did that all add up this time out?
Elias Soriano (ES): On this last run, we were looking to push the promotion as much as possible, because it was out first album with new management. We were looking to find new ways to be in touch with the fans, involving them with what we are doing and giving them something different than what they are doing with other bands. So it was definitely a plan of ours, and we think it has worked out great.
BRB: Statement came out in 2000, so you guys are into this going on 12 years now. What keeps the fire burning?
ES: Our fan base and radio are always asking for new stuff. They come to pack the shows. When you get that, you can’t help but continue. Why get off a winning horse?
Zach Broderick (ZB): A lot of it is about how you spend your money, too. Some bands live a bit too extravagantly and we like to keep it buttoned down. We don’t expect a lot. We’re appreciative of what we have and we know we are fortunate. At the end of the tour, it all pays off.
BRB: That seems to be something that a lot of bands are talking about now, that business side of things.
ES: All the prices are still elevated. The same old industry numbers are still controlling the market. People think they can’t find a sound guy for less than $3,000 a week, and it’s like, some doctors don’t even make $3,000 a week! How about $500 a week? And in this down economy you should take it.
ZB: If we are taking the hit, they need to take the hit, too.
ES: Bus companies are doing the same thing, too. They are lowering their prices to board more bands. You have to do it just to survive.
BRB: There is no middleman for most bands out there, because there is no big label involvement for that stuff anymore.
ES: There is no more traditional label model. The ones that are still around are powerhouses, because they have the capital to do stuff. But it’s more about having the passion for the band that motivates everyone to actually work and not miss those phone calls or other opportunities.
BRB: That brings up another question, then. Why the split from Beiler Bros.? Was that a mutual decision?
ES: We felt like we had ceiling-ed out with those guys. We felt like we exhausted all their avenues of promotion in getting us to the level where we wanted to be. They said, “If you feel like you want to try something different, then feel free.” So we felt free.
BRB: A little while after that, Andrew (Goodrich, Nonpoint’s previous guitar player) left the band asnd Zach came on board. How did that change the dynamics of the band?
ES: That was about a couple of things; it was about chemistry and motivation / focus on the band. That’s what we were looking for. Robb (Rivera, drummer) was looking around and found Zach through a mutual friend. They got together and started talking and Robb came back to us and said, “This guy’s really got his shit together.”
With Andy, that was more of a mutual decision between Andy and the band. He really didn’t want to do music anymore. The business side of things is not easy to deal with on a daily basis. After dealing with it for as many years as he did, it was enough for him. We could see his passion start to fade, too. So that was the main thing behind the split.
BRB: So Zach’s personality played a role in getting the gig?
ES: Oh, it was more than that. It was about the passion, too. You have to have that.
ZB: Anyone can play the songs. There are a million guitar players out there who could school me.
BRB: What was it like for you, Zach, to join such a well-established band that already has a built-in fan base rather than working with a band from the ground up to build that audience?
ZB: There was a lot of pressure and that part was pretty nerve-wracking. At the same time, though, I had a lot of fire and was excited to do it. The guys were also telling me, “We want you to write stuff, too.” So there was a lot of freedom at the same time. I was really pumped for it.
But there was pressure, too, when you replace a guy who had been there for 10 years and the fans are used to seeing him. I felt like I really had to fill those shoes. It was just good, nervous excitement.
BRB: What are some of your favorite songs to play live?
ES: For me, I really like “Shadows.”
ZB: I really like “Dangerous Waters.” That always seems to get the pit going.
ES: “Hands Off” is cool.
ZB: Yeah, I like “Hands Off” a lot, and “The Truth.”
BRB: You guys mentioned on Facebook that you are itching to get back in the studio. How hard is it to write on the road? Is that something you guys do a lot?
ES: We wrote Miracle off the road. With this current lineup, we haven’t been out there writing on the road. Maybe a little here or there.
ZB: Sometimes we get time at soundcheck to just jam and think, “Oh, that part sounded good; let’s keep that.”
ES: Robb and I both have ProTools on our computers, but we mainly use it to just get ideas down so we don’t lose them.
BRB: What younger bands are out there that you think are really putting it down?
ES: There’s a band in L.A. called Chasing Avalanche; they are a really great young band. There is another one called Sent By Ravens that is an insanely good Christian rock band. In fact, we tried to get them on this tour.
ZB: Gosh, new bands? Most of the bands I’m really into are older bands. I think the last new record I picked up was the new Foo Fighter’s record [Wasting Light] and I think that one is awesome. As for newer bands, I can’t think of any now. Maybe at the next interview I’ll have some.