Sunday, March 29, 2015

Interview with Kayla Cohen of Itasca

Itasca's Unmoored by the Wind  begins with an ambling, finger-picked guitar instrumental hovering above chirping birds. The album's creator, Kayla Cohen, having moved to Los Angeles, mirrors the expansive, at times empty, landscape, a populated strip impossibly situated between an ocean and a desert. As much as finger-picking gets its strength by exploding the component parts of a chord, it also makes the journey between changes and words more apparent. There's a distance between the notes, sort of how like when you boil down the science of touch, there's always a fraction of space, comprised of a mere molecule or two, between our skin and the touched object. But in music there's also overlap, like a hand with interlocking fingers. It's not so much a touch as an enfolding.

Kayla goes a little further, creating something organic out of her musings, similar to the lyric from her song "Dream of the Water Bearer," where the protagonist is "walking into my dreamworld." It evokes a distinct time, place, and mood, one that the listener may have previously encountered in a trance or on a journey. It combines the allure of the unknown and natural with a thirst for knowledge. Itasca is curious, prying, wondering, and wandering.

For a better example of her music, you can check out this link to a live recording on WFMU and check out the Itasca Soundcloud page.

Jordan Reyes: Tell me a little bit about your experience in Los Angeles. You always hear that LA is sort of materialistic and I don’t know if it is more than any other place.

Kayla Cohen: I think people from Hollywood or on the West Side are like that and maybe people over here where I live that I don’t know. I always tell people that I think LA is kind of post-apocalyptic because sometimes it doesn’t really seem like there’s anybody here and you can stay in your house or drive and barely see another person. I was talking to my friend about this, who’s also a musician. He plays bigger shows than I do. He was saying that he goes to New York and plays in front of five hundred people or so who are “into music” and it’s unfathomable to think that there’s that here. It’s cool because it’s kind like you’re operating in a vacuum.

KC: I was driving around this morning around 8 AM. There was all this fog and I drove over a hill where you had a good view of Eagle Rock neighborhood near where I live. It was cool that you could see that. I was just in New York for a while a couple weeks ago and you never see any nature. You see people.

JR: Do you prefer the openness?

KC: I think it’s conducive to thinking. Any place that’s more dense has you going from person to person without thinking about what you’re saying - you’re always talking.

JR: Has that changed your mindset in regards to music and having a personal life?

KC: I think it has. Having more solitary time changed me, for better or worse, though, you know? I have a job that’s solitary too. In a way it’s cool, but I wonder if it’s erased a lot of my social skills. I don’t know if that’s a bad thing.

JR: What’s your job?

KC: I work freelance for a company that gets artist visas for musicians. I do a lot of graphic design, layouts, and also proofreading and copy-editing.

JR: Did you go to school for that?

KC: No, I just went to school for English - reading and writing.

JR: I was an English major too.

KC: I think it’s fun. Reading and writing (laughs). It definitely helped me with copy-editing, knowing grammar. My job is fine. It allows me to make music, travel when I want to, and pays my bills.

JR: Obviously, you’d prefer to only do music though, right?

KC: Yeah. I was just talking to someone in the licensing world, who licenses their music. That’s an interesting thing to get into. I would do that. It would be great if I could just think about music all the time, of course.

JR: So you’d license your own music or other peoples’ music?

KC: I’d license my own music. I’m not actively against that.

JR: It’s a good way to get it out. I have a friend who does a lot of Jazz standards and she had a song on a Jersey Shore spin-off. It was a very surreal moment. She’s coming down this line of like Ella Fitzgerald and Bessie Smith and there’s like the total end-of-the-road ruin of capitalism being the backdrop of the whole thing.

KC: Yeah, that’s weird.

JR: Do you watch much TV?

KC: No, but I’m kind of obsessed with one TV series. I don’t think it’s embarrassing, but maybe it is, to be obsessed with a TV show. I’m really into Nashville. It’s immediate gratification. It would be cool if it were a little deeper and you had to think about it, but I’m not really into violent TV shows.

JR: Does country music at all inspire you?

KC: Yeah, definitely. Recently I’ve been listening to a lot of random country records, the ones that skate the line between rock and country that some guy made in the 60s and 70s. Let me see if I can find this one I was just listening to (looks in collection). Oh! This album called North Mountain Velvet by Jamie Brockett. I don’t really know anything about it, but it’s pretty good. I’ve also been listening to Dwight Yoakam a bit.

JR: How’d you find the Jamie Brockett record?

KC: There’s a store by my house called Permanent Records that had it.

JR: My friend Lance owns that store!

KC: Oh yeah, I know Lance. That record store is great. They always have things that are unexpected. Last time I was in there, I bought this four dollar record that was pretty bad, but it was recorded in a town right by where I grew up and no one there makes music. Today I’m listening to this album by Jeff Cowell. Have you heard that? The one Numero just reissued?

JR: No, I actually haven’t even heard of him! What kind of music is it?

KC: It’s on the border of country music. He’s a bit of a psych-folkie from the 70s, but it also leans towards country.

JR: I love that label, but it’s hard to keep up with. They put out so many records.

KC: Oh my god, I know. So many.

JR: One time I was in Permanent Records in LA and I saw a test pressing for Joy Division’s Substance and I was close to pouncing on it. It was pretty expensive, but that band has meant a lot in my life.

KC: Did you buy it?

JR: No, no, I did not.

KC: They had this record that was $400. It was another album that Numero reissued called Sixth Station. Have you heard of that one?

JR: I have not.

KC: Like the stations of the cross. He was a Christian musician.

JR: Is that the station where Jesus is about to go up on the cross?

KC: I don’t know off the top of my head, but I could see that happening in that part of the sequence. There’s a place here up in the mountains that’s a monastery, though I don’t know if there are still monks. They have the stations of the cross there and I like to walk around and look at them.

JR: Do you see yourself drawn to religion and mythology?

KC: Yeah, I like having that come out in music and I like reading about it. It’s alien in a way. Man has created this thing that’s deep and complex that ultimately doesn’t really mean much. Well, to some people it really means a lot. It’s strange having something that means a lot in some peoples’ lives and not others.

JR: Yeah, and the reality of it only comes through how much the beholder believes in it. It’s always sort of self-fulfilling. My mom does Bible study - that’s her job. I grew up in a very devout family so that’s always been part of my life. Do you think religion, spirituality, metaphysics come out in your music?

KC: I think it’s interesting to use the vocabulary from those subjects. When people from the 60s and 70s were making records from that point of view, they were making records to describe their religious experience, but now those records hold up as reflections of the human experience. It’s thought-provoking how that stuff can change and be applied to different things.

KC: If you’re using a human language to write lyrics, you only have so many words, so you need to branch out. I think the amount of ink that’s been spilled about religion is a good well to dig from because it is often very lyrical in itself.

KC: I also read a lot of non-religious poetry. Well, a lot of poetry can’t help being religious or reverential.

JR: What do you revere?

KC: Well, by default, I guess my music gives reverence to the act of being emotional or having emotions because that’s what I write about. Or mundane things that I try to turn into others metaphorically.

JR: Do you think the mundane things we go through do mean more than just being mundane?

KC: It depends on how the artist looks at it. Some of my favorite records are about the most average things. Sometimes those are the best songs. It’s all about how you spin it.

JR: There’s this great movie called Cache and it’s a bunch of events that seem ominous but that may not have any connection. So the connections that is made through them is only…well, obviously the director has made these events occur so that the viewer thinks they’re related, but there may or may not be a connection in this stuff. I do that a lot. I look for signs and symbols and messages and I never know if they exist.

KC: I feel like that’s a natural thing to do. I think some people resist it more than others. It makes life more interesting, looking for ways to make our lives more meaningful.

JR: Do you think it’s like a Sisyphus myth, though?

KC: (laughs) Yeah…but I have a lot of answers. You can get caught up in that and not go anywhere. I feel like being religious implants that in you - that everything is a representation of something bigger. Sometimes that can be a bad thing if you take everything to be too meaningful. You have to approach it with a grain of salt.

JR: How do you think it could be bad?

KC: Oh, I’m talking about people who are obsessive-compulsive. People wired that way see symbols and take it to a deep level. A while ago, I used to do Tarot readings for people. I stopped because there were events that were too much and I didn’t want to get that deeply involved in other peoples’ lives.

KC: I was doing a reading for a person I didn’t know and it became apparent through the reading that he was mentally unstable and may have been taking everything I was saying a little bit too seriously. That was a red flag. It was clear that that person was obsessive-compulsive.

JR: Did you stop using the Tarot entirely or just doing other peoples’ readings?

KC: I read about it, but I don’t do readings. I haven’t done one in a long time. I’ve moved on to other things, not that I left it behind - it’s just in the background right now.

JR: I’ve never gotten a reading because I’m too scared of it.

KC: I respect that.

JR: I’ve gone into stores with the intention of having one, and totally chickened out. I’m really terrified of changing or warping the unknown.

KC: I don’t think that’s a bad thing. You definitely have the power to change any reading that you have. In a way, it’s most compelling to see what reactions you get out of a reading and learn about yourself through that, like the ways any of the positive or negative symbols affect you.

JR: I read a lot about runes, divination, and all sorts of things, but I’ve never had the guts to go through with any of it.

KC: It’s fun to read about. I think it’s more engaging to read about it because there are a lot of books that use that sort of thing as a starting point for other stuff. I have this book called Meditations on the Tarot that’s really long, but it has a lot of good philosophy in it.

JR: So it’s worth reading…?

KC: It’s worth reading even if you don’t do any divination.

JR: There’s a lot of learning for learning’s sake. I think a lot of academics is learning for learning’s sake. The idea of a professor who has to do research, sometimes beating a dead horse by working into more and more of the minutiae.

KC: (laughs) Yeah, and you can learn a lot about the modern world too through studying that stuff. Maybe not even directly, but indirectly. For a while, I really wanted to be a professor of Hermetic studies. I’m still into that, but it doesn’t seem as much like a viable career path.

JR: Hermetics is kind of like the strain through every religion, right?

KC: Yeah. A lot of Ancient Greek stuff, but it’s also Masonic studies.

JR: Women aren’t allowed to be masons, right?

KC: No, but women are allowed to be Rosicrucians, which I’m not at all. There’s so many people who are really into the secret society stuff in LA. There’s a temple in my neighborhood for one of those groups left over from the 70s and I’m not really down with it. I just like reading about it. I actually think my music has moved away from that aspect of things in the last year.

JR: Where does it go to?

KC: I guess more into the idea of singing about daily life and those kind of experiences rather than mystic stuff.

JR: Yeah. How was it releasing the LP on vinyl?

KC: That was great! I want to put out like fifteen or twenty LPs in my life. Just keep going. I just think about people who in their recording career have put out like twenty or twenty-five albums and I think that’s so cool. I want to do that.

JR: Have you started working on another one?

KC: Yeah, I’ve been writing since I finished the last album and just started putting it together in the last two weeks and recording demos.

JR: Do you often get to play with other people?

KC: Not that often. I played with a flute player named Lizzie a few times, with whom I’ve really enjoyed playing. I’ve also played with this guy Dave who records as David Kenneth Nance who’s playing drums for me, and I’ve been playing with his band. He’s recording an LP too.

JR: You just record yourself right now?

KC: Yeah. I have a couple four-tracks, which are what I’ve used in the past. I also use Logic, which is not my favorite, but is the most effective for what I need. I have a reel-to-reel that I’ve been meaning to use, but it’s sort of broken. I don’t think the fidelity on it will be much better than the four-tracks now.

JR: I think there’s a lot of power from recording on a four-track sometimes.

KC: Yeah, I just don’t want it to have that tapey sound. I think you can use a four-track and not have it sound like that though. I wanted to get a Tascam eight-track, but they’ve become a lot more en vogue lately. I saw one on Craigslist for $1500 recently. Are you serious? They used to be like $600 or $700.

JR: So you have the songs for this record done but they’re just not demoed out and recorded?

KC: Yeah, I’m just fine-tuning the lyrics. It does take me a long time to record because I’m a little bit of a perfectionist about it. I’d like the next record to be a bit different.

JR: What do you mean different?

KC: I want the record to have more instrumentation and be more straightforward. I want the guitar songs to be just guitar and vocals - maybe dual vocals if I want to do harmonies.

JR: I hadn’t heard you until I saw you at Haley [Fohr] and Ben [Baker Billington]’s house, but Ryley [Walker] had told me about you the night before. I had told him that I was excited to see Daniel Bachman and he said “You should see Itasca! She’s really gonna blow your mind!”

KC: That show was great. That was a high point of that tour.

JR: Were they all house shows?

KC: No. I played at some venues. In New York I played at someone’s house too. I feel like I booked that tour a little too last minute or something because they asked me to do the Chicago show and I just figured out the other shows on the go. I could have done a better job. Also, it was the middle of the winter so it was still snowing. That kind of affected attendance a bit. I’m doing another trip in May. I just met up with my friend and we’re working on booking that - it might be out to the South on the East Coast.

JR: Would you make it to Florida?

KC: Probably not (laughs). I really want to go to Disney World, but probably the furthest South we’ll go is New Orleans or Atlanta, but how far is Miami from Atlanta, like 10 hours?

JR: Yeah, about that.

KC: I would love to go to Florida some time.

JR: It’s a commitment. You have to make the trip back out. You can’t go forward. You can only reverse out of it.

KC: (laughs).

JR: Anything else in the future for you?

KC: I’m playing at a festival in Topanga canyon in LA in the first week of May. It’s something I’m curious about because a lot of cult members used to live there and it’s a bit mysterious to me. It’s up this long, winding road. I’m also putting out this cassette tape I just finished with instrumental guitar and I don’t know when that is going to come out yet. And then I have that LP that I’m not finished with yet. I’m trying to play a lot of shows. Eventually I want to go to Europe, but it sounds so intimidating. It probably happens to some people where they just get an e-mail: “Hey, so you’re coming to Europe and we got you a driver and a hotel room and you’re going to play all these great shows and we’re going to buy your plane ticket!” I should probably just wait for that magic e-mail.

JR: I have no idea.

KC: I don’t know how that works, but it seems to happen to people.

JR: A lot of my friends tour Europe and I just think “Man, I can’t even take a trip there. How are you doing this?”

KC: The people who book the tour buy the plane tickets. It all gets figured out and then you go. One of these days. Maybe after this next LP comes out. I’m also trying to get started on the Festival circuit. I want to break into the country festivals where I play in between bands that have banjos and all the women are wearing frilly skirts and yelling and stomping while singing. It’ll be fun.

JR: I think you’re right.

KC: That’s one of my goals.

JR: That and 20 LPs, right?

KC: Yeah, over the course of the next three decades.

JR: I think it’s doable.

KC: Me too.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Interview with Cherubs

I did a short review of the new Cherubs record 2 Ynynyty a couple weeks ago. After almost twenty years, the seminal Austin, TX noise rock three-piece has reunited to blast out a poignant, confident, heavy ten-song collection that picks up right where they left off, albeit with higher fidelity. The first pressing of the preorder sold out immediately, if that's any indication of how people feel about the record, though the marketing behind it capitalized on the zeitgeist of music in a digital age. You want to be sure you'll like the album before purchasing? Okay, game on. Brutal Panda Records lets you stream the album in advance, a tactic that surely paid off, rewarding listeners old and new to simply trying something. (stream is at the bottom of this interview too)

And that's where the band gets a lot of its success. Cherubs isn't the reunion band coming back to "save rock n' roll!" Matter of fact, Cherubs seem pretty okay with the gradual relegation of the genre. There's an underlying understanding that people, places, and things change and it isn't bad - it just is. Obviously, when you take twenty years between albums a lot is different. Here are a few things I can think of. The last time Cherubs released an album, there was no sense of wariness that an airplane would end up in a skyscraper rather than on a runway. The last time Cherubs released an album, the majority of people still bought encyclopedias to look things up. The last time Cherubs released an album, Anakin Skywalker never had the chance to be a moody teenager who liked Natalie Portman's skin because it wasn't at all like sand (spoiler alert!).

So things change. People change. Industries change. And even if you can find similarities between the sound of Cherubs' music now and 20 years ago, you can be certain that the band has changed. The album stream is at the bottom of the interview by the way.

Jordan Reyes: Let's start with an obvious question. You guys haven't put out a Cherubs record in close to twenty years. Why the resurrection act?

Cherubs: We're still here. Still around each other. Still drawn to the same core soul of things we've always been drawn to. Some tangible dark thing that is not nasty or evil or gross - just dark. And the songs, providing a nice moist growth medium to fester, just started to grow. And it seems like these specific tastes came back around just as we were doing it. So - maybe more a fortunate confluence of variables than a resurrection. Or maybe these poor dark people just needed some sustenance. Takes a lot of water to wet a rock so dry

JR: Are you surprised that you're getting the reaction that you are? Seems like a lot of people are very, very excited about the record, myself included.

Cherubs: Well, yes. We just figured that this kind of music was dead. It's rock, which is pretty antiquated. It is not the fresh sound of today. It feels pretty dirty and unkempt. Maybe the positive reaction is a gut rebellion against pristine pop for now people. We don't really know. We like the record ourselves - but that doesn't always translate to the consuming public. We are itchy cavemen - there must be more of those out there than was previously thought.

JR: As long as it's been, you guys sound comfortable and confident as all get out on 2 Ynfynyty. Had these songs been rolling around your heads for a while? How long had you been working on the record?

Cherubs: We'd been demoing and tinkering for a couple years before we got serious. These final ideas were culled from about three times as many - then bludgeoned into songs. Some came out finished (crashing the ride), some took some finessing (sandy on the beach), some had been around but needed to simply be interpreted (Sunday Mondays), some were hacked at until they were unrecognizable and left for dead (party ice), some were monsters that needed to be fed (we buy gold), and some were gems that just needed to be held up to the light (monkey chow mein). 

JR: What was it like going back to the studio to record this? Did you guys have any difficulties?

Cherubs: We had the same ol’ difficulties - being cooped up together and making aesthetic decisions together is hard for us and we had to go round and round some. And we had to stomp out and come back. There were some magic moments, and some flat out jank bullshit that had to get sorted. In retrospect, it went down very similarly to the Heroin Man sessions. We broke up a couple times then too, but we kissed and made up and got the shit done.

JR: Tell me a little bit about the lyrics on this record. What ideas were on your mind while writing them?

Cherubs: Watching someone you love bottle up and go away - never to return. Watching someone you love slowly destroy themselves. Watching yourself turn into something empty and not be able to do anything about it. Finding strength in primal, animal forces. Finding strength in stubborn pride. The freedom of letting petty first world problems go. The realization that you have to put your whole unvarnished self into the fire if you want to get something true and lasting forged. Man against man, man against nature, where’s my Coke that I hid in the fridge, heading back to Home Depot for the right toilet part, who's picking up the kids, what the fuck can we make out of these three stupid things for dinner. Am I just a cloud? Shit like that.

JR: The cover of the record is a golden balloon and the name is 2 Ynfynyty (I assume pronounced "To Infinity"). Both the image and name seem kind of hopeful to me, which isn't typically a feeling I would associate with noise rock. Do you think there's an element of hope on this record and do you think the name/cover are parts of that?

Cherubs: You are dead on. It's all about spirit and hope. Really, all our music is. Our music is the intersection where exasperation/desperation is churning into hope. It's the grinding of gears to get into low to get up the mountain. We are not mean, or dark for dark sake - everything we do is full of hope. We may just toil in the dirty cave instead of out in the light. We are a necessary counterpoint to rainbow brite.

 JR: I'm curious about 90s Texas noise rock. What was the community like? Did you guys find yourselves competing with other bands or was it more of a collaborative experience?
Cherubs: We didn't really hang out with other bands. We were consciously apart and we were serious about our mystery. We wanted to be good and we thought that the more we worked and stayed out of the scene, the more explosive we would be when we showed up. We may not have acted like it, we were probably very coy - but we were very competitive. We felt like that the only way we would get better was if we were kicking everybody's ass. And we got our asses kicked a lot - but we kicked some too. Now we try to surprise and impress ourselves - we are extremely snobby and uppity about noise. How ridiculous is that. Brilliant.

JR: Have you guys been living in Texas the whole time since you had last recorded music? Were there any particular important musical experiences you've encountered there that influenced this album?

Cherubs: We've just been writing and writing and writing. We got cut short and we're picking up where we left off. We want to put out things that feel important to us and that might make a difference to others. There is nothing like being blown away and inspired by musical output. Just when you think nothing can surprise you or cut you to the quick - bam, something comes along that tears you asunder. We would like to have that effect on people. And hopefully we will. If we can get healthy, we will play live somehow, and we'll certainly keep putting out records. We're working on new material right now - so we're not going to disappear again for a bit.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Release of the Day: Broken Prayer - Misanthopocentric aka Droid's Blood

Broken Prayer isn't satisfied with humanity. On the opening track "Kid," from their blistering synth-dripping, hard-hitting record Misanthropocentric aka Droid's Blood (stream in the link) on Sorry State Records, Scott Plant, the vocalist, laments "It wasn't supposed to be born this way/it wasn't supposed to be born this way/so ugly/so dumb." What's so disfigured? What's so broken? A lot of things. And a lot of things that are way-the-fuck-out-of-line. Scott took a moment before playing "White Children" when I saw Broken Prayer in August of last year. The Ferguson shooting was still fresh and as a St. Louis native, Scott took a moment to talk about what it and the subsequent unrest meant for him. But Scott also touched upon the idea that we're so used to seeing people of color as the victims of police violence. What happens when the radius of violence trickles into other neighborhoods? What do you do when the perimeter of your circle of (what was actually fragile) idealism is breached?

Mark Plant, Scott's brother and lead guitarist of Broken Prayer, and I actually talked for over an hour at the Mousetrap, a DIY spot in Chicago, about what had been going on in Ferguson. He knew a lot more than me about what had happened and what this meant for St. Louis and furthermore what this meant for people like us who weren't in authoritarian roles. And it scares the shit out of me. And I'm a dude who passes for White without a second glance. I can only imagine what sort of fear a Black American or any person of color feels on a daily basis. Another way to think of Scott's lyric "How could God let this happen to White children" is "How could God let white children end up becoming the monster cops we see on TV strangling minorities and shooting kids?"

That's what's so ugly and so dumb. This cyclic violence. The creation of self-conscious authority ready to attack "the other." The idea that only some should feel safe. And beyond all that, this fucking stay-at-home-and-watch-people-get-hurt apathy.

This record stays with you, especially in light of recent (and recurring) events. It's catchy enough for the lyrics to get lodged in your head, and thought-provoking enough to make you want to do something about it.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Interview with Ben Greenberg and Michael Berdan of Uniform

One of the greatest pleasures in being a music fan is discovering where the artist ends and where the person begins. You find this at most hardcore shows. As violent as a show might get, the people behind the music and mosh pit are often kind and welcoming. Why is that? Well, because people are complicated. Have you ever met those people who think that life is only beauty and everything is zen and happiness? First of all, it's total shit. Secondly, it's a one-way ticket to a bottled-up emotional outpour. Ever come across the phrase "it wasn't supposed to go like this" coupled with a beet red face? Negative emotions are like heated up particles - if you trap them in a bottle and keep the heat on, the particles make more and more motion until they eventually destroy their container. Sometimes this requires the heat to reach new watermarks, but, let's get one thing straight: no container is shatterproof.

Ugly, violent music provides an outlet - the act of performing live is an exorcism - and afterwards, some of the negativity within an artist is diffused. If you were to only know Uniform through their show or music, you might mistake their presentation for their life outlooks without ever getting to entirely understand the thoughtful, kind people behind the symbols of the sickle and cross. Let's be clear: neither Ben Greenberg nor Michael Berdan is a stranger to darkness. But though Uniform's lyrics and mood are submerged in mindfully heavy negativity, it informs rather than consumes.

Outside of all things Uniform, Berdan and Ben love pie and considerate conversation. Matter of fact, we were supposed to conduct this interview at one of Williamsburg's premier bakeries The Blue Stove, not far from their houses. Unfortunately, though the shop had pies galore, it did not have a good nook for an interview, so we walked to a nearby coffee shop to discuss their music, playing live, and "chocolatey treats."

Jordan Reyes: So you guys have a record on 12XU coming out, right?

Michael Berdan: Yeah, the record will be out hopefully by the end of May or so.

Ben Greenberg: Yeah, he’s putting it out here and then Luke Younger from Helm is putting it out on Alter overseas.

JR: Luke’s a great dude.

BG: Yeah, they're both good pairings and I’m excited and flattered about the release.

JR: That's cool. It's hard to get distribution abroad.

BG: It’s hard to crack that if you haven’t done it before, but it’s like everything else where it gets easier as you do it.

MB: And both labels are very established in their own circles. It’s nice to be on a label that cares about guitar-based music on one-end and on the other end gets a little more experimental.

JR: Yeah, is there anything by guitar on Alter?

MB: Yeah, the Deas thing even though it doesn’t sound like it. There’s some others sprinkled in there. But they’re both labels that like to take risks and it’s fun to be a part of that.

BG: They’re also both labels that only put out records that they really like. That’s their only barometer for whether they will put something out. There might be a little more drum-machine in our music than what Gerard usually puts out and a little more rock n’ roll in our music than what Luke is putting out, but they’re both really into it, which is cool.

JR: There aren’t enough labels that do that.

BG: That’s true. People tend to settle themselves into one niche or another.

JR: Blogs too.

BG: Yeah.

JR: To get a following sometimes, you have to cater to a group of followers, and I think that's a shame.

BG: Everything seems to have narrowed over the last five to ten years. Everything has gotten more specified to reach a certain crowd into one subtype or sub genre. And that’s across mediums too.

JR: Do you think you guys fall into that or are more expansive?

MB: I hope not. (laughter)

JR: That’s a totally loaded question. (laughter)

MB: No it’s fine. To piggyback on what Ben is saying, things are very niche. “This blog does this thing. This label does this thing. This store does this thing.” But I don’t think “this person does this thing.” I don’t think I know anyone who’s truly a purist where they will only like this one specific thing. “I only like black metal. I only like hard techno. I only like acid.” Well, you’re kind of full of shit. All of these things come from other places. It’s cool to be really into something, but if that’s the be all end all of your identity, cultural or otherwise, it’s pretty fucking boring.

MB: As a band and individuals, I really hope we’re not that easy to pigeonhole. We wanted to be a rock band and we wanted to keep it to the two of us. The more people involved, the more complicated it gets. A drum machine and a bass synth seemed like an easy way to achieve those ends. We’ve gotten more playful with it in some regards and less playful in others. At the end of the day, it’s just a means to an end. We’re still a band with guitars. There are other things to it, but, you know. Fuck it. (Laughter)

BG: And it’s also new. This is our first full-length. We’ve only done one other thing, the 12" single. I think there’s a big jump. It doesn’t sound like a different band between the two records, but I think there’s a change in scope. We’re going to keep figuring out the things we can do with these basics, but expand: that’s what keeps a band interesting. You have to keep changing but still retain the essence. And you also can’t overreach. I think everyone is wary of bands doing that. I also think audiences like to hate on things.

JR: Do you guys have more instruments on the new record?

BG: Same set up. There’s some changes in instrumentation here and there, but by and large it’s the same thing. It’s still in mono.

JR: Do you own a studio? Is that how you can produce and work on so many records?

BG: I’m a freelancer. I used to own a studio down the street, but since that closed, there are about eight different studios in the city where I will work. There’s also a studio upstate that I’m actually going to tomorrow where I’ll be for the next three days and then sometimes I go to Electrical Audio in Chicago.

JR: I’ve never been inside there, but I have a bunch of friends who record there.

BG: Oh it’s the best. I really love all the places I get to work now, but that place is amazing. It’s the kind of place where you walk into a dark room and you reach your hand to the left and you immediately hit a light switch because they know exactly where you will be reaching and where to put things. And you can smoke, which is amazing.

JR: Are you a smoker?

BG: Oh yeah. (laughter). Many studios have a lot of strict rules about that sort of thing, but they designed Electrical Audio to be a smoking studio. The whole ventilation system brings the air to the back of the room away from the gear and it’s great. There are ashtrays next to all the mixing boards.

JR: I used to smoke and it was helpful sometimes for me. I drive a lot. And on the road it was an easy way to stay alert.

BG: It helps you pace yourself.

MB: I miss it terribly. It’s the one thing that I still can’t get out of my head. I very much romanticize smoking. It calms you down when you’re tense and it speeds you up when you’re sluggish and it looks and tastes great. It makes you more attractive and better at everything (laughter) but unfortunately it also over a period of time kills you and it’s not worth it.

JR: Being an addict is tough, but I think if you're wired for addiction, you can use it to your advantage. You’re uninhibited and focused for something and if you turn that scope to something more positive, which I think is possible if something sparks endorphins or serotonin. If you’re geared to be an addict, your body will go out of its way to get that “happiness” plug. It’s why I run so much. It’s one of the few ways for me to get high anymore. Music does it too.

MB: There’s an obsessive discomfort that comes with being a drug addict or a drunk. When you take the booze or drugs away, it doesn’t mean you’re not you anymore. It just means you don’t have the thing that brings you the comfort so you have to deal with it in all these other ways. Running, exercise, and music become of critical importance because they’re the things that keep your awful emotions at bay.

JR: Are awful emotions for you channeled into music?

MB: Largely, yeah. Music helps more than I can really put into words. Besides that, meditation practices, exercise, eating right. It’s a serious thing. If I do these things, I’m okay. If I don’t, I might flip out, get high, and then everyone will hate me again (laughter) because I do terrible things. I’d rather not deal with that. All the bad shit has to go somewhere so I’d rather it be constructive.

JR: What do you talk about it in lyrics, usually?

MB: It depends on the day. A lot of the new record is about getting to a point in your life when you realize you’re in a different place than a lot of your peers, physically, emotionally, or spiritually. You’re still tethered to people with whom you may not have anything in common emotionally and all the roadblocks that brings out. Sometimes it’s the recurring thought “we don’t even get along as people and yet we consider ourselves friends and wind up in these states of conflict.” That might be because of our political ideologies or our spiritual lives are different or you have a bunch of kids and I don’t like kids.

MB: Part of it is about accepting that and part of it is looking at your past and considering the things you once thought to be great ideas that wound up fucking you in the long run and hurting you in the process and realizing that you can never quite atone for that, but you have to find a way to forgive yourself all the same. A lot of it is about accepting the fact that you have existentialist urges and dread. Are you going to take that out on the world? Are you going to take that out on the people you love? Or are you going to accept the fact that we’re living at the end of days and we need to make best use of our time?

MB: And a lot of it is about the fragility of my psyche and knowing that it is going to one day erode and if I’m lucky I’ll die quick, but chances are that I’ll slowly forget everything about who I am and my character. Either my body or my brain will go and if my body goes, I’m fine with that, but if my brain and my spiritual self is to crumble and my identity is to evaporate, I don’t know how I’d deal with that.

MB: So the record is exploring existential dread. Very typical college-level existential dread. (laughter).

JR: I think everyone - well, maybe not everyone - has those thoughts. If I didn’t have my legs, I’d probably shoot myself. If my identity were to crumble, I hope someone would be kind enough to do it for me.

MB: The fact that you’re never really talking to the same person on the day to day and we’re these constantly evolving beasts, sometimes devolving, and changing, in some ways it’s beautiful and in other ways it’s terrifying. I like who I am right now. I don’t like who I was five years ago. I have no guess as to who I am right now.

JR: That’s a terrifying thought.

MB: It fucking sucks! (laughter) That’s what the lyrics are about and where the songs come from. Basic shit that everyone thinks about or that I think that everyone thinks about. I could be entirely fucking wrong. I’m probably wrong.

BG: It’s just you. It’s just you. (laughter)

MB: I haven’t had a unique thought in my entire life.

JR: No one has.

BG: What about the Peanut M & M’s and popcorn?

MB: I stole that.

BG: They’re delicious.

JR: Oh, you mean together?

MB: Yeah.

JR: It might be a unique idea.

MB: It’s not a unique idea - I stole it from somebody, but I don’t know who. I may have popularized it in our shitty little circle, but it’s not my own. Go to a movie, get buttered popcorn, and put Peanut M & M’s in it, mix it up, and you’ve got a chocolatey treat.

JR: Sounds great!

MB: It’s going to make you feel terrible and you’re going to be so happy.

JR: I already feel terrible. (laughter) Ben, do you get some of those same ideas?

BG: I never approached thinking about what lyrics I would write for this band because I knew that I wouldn’t have to worry about it. I write songs all the time in other bands and projects. I certainly relate to Berdan's lyrics. I think we’re on the same page, but I have the pleasure of not having to focus on the words for this, which is nice.

JR: I imagine it’s a weight off your shoulders?

BG: It is in a way.

JR: You write lyrics in other bands?

BG: Yeah, well, I was in the Men for two years and I wrote songs for that band. That was complicated because there were three songwriters for that band. It was me, Mark, and Nick. It’s Mark and Nick’s band - they were the original guys in it. Then it was them and Chris [Hansell] and then it was them and Rich [Samis] and then they had me and it was the five of us for a bit, but before that I was in Pygmy Shrews. I’ve been in bands since I was eleven.

JR: I’ve never been in a band. I don’t know if I work well with people, to be completely honest.

BG: Sharing music with people can be intense, but it’s the sort of thing that gets easier as you get older, I’ve found out. Like we started talking about roles. Now I don’t have to think about lyrics because I’ve got my contribution. Yeah, there’s crossover in certain areas, but getting settled into a routine where you can count on someone else is nice.

MB: You do all the work and I hit myself (laughter).

JR: (to Berdan) You’re a very visceral performer.

BG: Yeah, you’ve gotta be.

MB: You’ve gotta put in the work. I’m not holding a guitar. I don’t have a synth or a drum machine in front of me. I do in other things, but not in this. In this project, Ben handles all the hardware and he’s doing a tremendous amount of work. It’s only fair to the band and the songs that I give it my all. To do a band like this and go half ass is pointless.

BG: That’s the whole spirit.

MB: You look like a clown and you feel like you’ve done disservice to your work. Giving anything less than all of yourself is fucking stupid.

BG: You just have to embody what you’re doing. If we sounded like Mazzy Star it wouldn’t make any sense, but this is just naturally what we do. I’m not head banging at a Hubble show - that would be weird (laughter).

MB: I’m not jumping up and down at a York Factory Complaint show. We do different things in different bands and express different facets of ourselves.

JR: Did you make the sickle and cross of your logo?

MB: (laughs) Uh, no.

BG: Well, you designed it.

MB: I kind of designed it. It’s funny. We couldn’t come up with a band name for a while and Ben suggested getting a logo together. So I figured we should use these conventional symbols of death and oppression - a scythe and a cross. So I sent it to Mark McCoy who drew it and did a great job.

BG: Yeah, he made it look awesome.

MB: We had the logo before we even had the band name. I think the idea was to kind of go more by the image than the word. The word is somewhat meaningless. The image evokes a sensation for me.

BG: I really like how it turned out. So far it looks good on everything we’ve put it on. We just got stickers. Stick it on other band’s gear. Other band’s records.

JR: Other band’s band members? (laughter)

MB: One of the ideas, not to be too critical, would be to even cross out the name. 

JR: What’s even in a name at this point?

MB: It’s awful! Band names are tedious and terrible at this point.

BG: It’s such a bummer of a process. It’s the hardest part of starting a band at this point. I feel like the only interesting names in the English language today come from bands that don’t even speak English.

MB: Hell, I don’t think anyone has had a good band name since Steely Dan, and they’re the worst band in the world.

JR: I don’t mind that band.

MB: They’re fucking terrible.

JR: I should have not said anything (laughter).

MB: It’s fine. They’re a tremendously polarizing band. They’re the cilantro of music. (laughter). But man, I fucking hate cilantro and I fucking hate Steely Dan.

BG: I think they’re more of the cilantro martini of music. (laughter).

MB: However, great band name. Kudos. And that’s cool. If you’ve got a band name that operates on multiple levels like that, it’s great, but so few bands do. It’s really hard. There’s another band called Uniform in Atlanta. Turns out the band members are people with whom we played in our prior bands. I’ve listened to them in passing and they’re really good. They’re a good, fast hardcore band and their imagery seems cool and their themes seem cool. So they’re Uniform Atlanta. We’re Uniform New York.

BG: Yeah, it’s also funny that there’s another band named Uniform. That’s like the whole point! (laughs)

MB: I would like to name our band Acme. Just generic, roadrunner shit.

BG: Or “Unimax,” the tattoo supply place.

JR: Is that where you work?

MB: Yeah. I hadn’t put two and two together that Unimax and Uniform were similar (laughter). I asked my boss one day what Unimax meant and he said “well, uni as in ‘universal’ and ‘max’ as in ‘ultimate’ and just put them together.” I like the idea of a name just being like a fuck you.

BG: It’s not some obscure line of some play. It’s a signifier and it means us. You get us when you see that.

MB: See the name, come to the show, buy the record or don’t. (laughter). It’s totally cool if you don’t want to as well.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Release of the Day: Into The Thicket - Dark Night of the Soul

Ritual is a bit of a loaded term. Alone, it doesn't mean much other than "a repeatable instance" but it can take on much greater spiritual, metaphysical tones or become low, conniving, and greedy.To begin, let's think about the Casino. A professional gambler may go through the ritual of blowing on dice, wearing glasses to the poker table, ordering the same drink with each hand, all done in serving the god of chance. A baseball enthusiast might wear a "lucky hat" to a game to invoke the god of sport. A priest in a Catholic church goes through ritual upon ritual in schooling in order to eventually perfect the rituals of sacrament and performance in worship of the Christian God.

But ritual is also not a snap. It is the preparation for the harbinger and its eventual fruition. To bring us closer to the idea of Into The Thicket, in Chaos Magick, the magician starves him or herself, prepares his or her magickal weapon, takes hallucinogenic drugs, deprives him or herself of sleep, and prepares the olfactory, visual, and auditory aids to summon a spirit or demon. Through disorientation and provocation, a monster tears through the veil. I can't say that I've seen Into the Thicket engage in one of their recording rituals, but judging from their music, and the few pictures and videos I've seen, I imagine that I'm not too far off in thinking they may have some knowledge of the aforementioned practices.

Into the Thicket makes ritual industrial music using the bones of animals, electronics, and more. But there is a vision too that certainly has a lot to do with their locale. The group comes from (and lives in) the Florida swamp, encumbered by its miasma and distaste for "civilization." This isn't to say that the music is unwieldy, but rather that CT Corrigan and Ryan Debile are familiar with the idea of nature's dominance and know how to engage it and appeal to it. Rather than be afraid of the sublime, Into the Thicket takes the role of the shaman, channeling it, which is ultimately where the release gets its power.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Interview with Greg Benedetto of S.H.I.T.

I wish I had gone to Not Dead Yet last year. The Toronto punk festival boasted one of the more memorable lineups in recent years with Hoax, Forward, Marked Men, A Cold World, Earth Girls, Rash, Destruction Unit, Perfect Pussy, and dozens more. And it's run by Greg Benedetto of mutant hardcore band S.H.I.T., a band both unsatisfied with bland punk for punk's sake and unimpressed with your distaste in the disinterested world at large. What's a complaint without a rallying cry but a whine? I'm not saying that S.H.I.T. is some sort of charity band: what I'm saying is that S.H.I.T. ain't fucking blind - they're going to hold the scars of a broken system up to the light and look for some next steps.

But there's also an element of the whimsical in the band, right? I mean, the name S.H.I.T. can be an acronym for a million things, but when you get down to business, it spells out "shit," you know, fecal matter? Ever heard of it? So there's this self-conscious absurd side to the band too, especially if you get down to songs like "Generation Shit," "Mind Fuck, and "Muscle Mag." Sometimes you have to laugh through the ugliness.

But, as Greg says below, getting started with your community is a great way to begin change, and one hundred percent necessary to the upkeep of a positive, thriving DIY scene, which Toronto has, in part because of the band's own venue S.H.I.B.G.B.'s, which is coming up on its first year anniversary. This stuff makes me happy. I'm a cynical fuck who often gets trapped in the idea that things only ever get worse, but hearing about positive community growth gives me hope that my grinch-sized heart can grow three times its size.

Jordan Reyes: Let's start with a little bit about Toronto. Are there any bands that you'd recommend checking out?

Collective Unconsciousness 7"
Greg Benedetto: There are a slew of excellent bands right now. Lots of good shit. TRIAGE, VCR, ANTI-VIBES, THE BRAIN, GAUCHO, ABSOLUT, MOCOSO, HASSLER, THE FLQs, FARANG, SEVERE, CONUNDRUM, BELT FIGHT, COLUMN OF HEAVEN, ABYSS, HIRED GOONS, WILD SIDE, STRAIGHT TRUTH, BILE SISTER, NEW FRIES. I'd go on record to say Toronto / Southern Ontario has one of the best DIY punk scenes going in the world right now.

JR: Another question I'm asking out of ignorance. Is there a history of punk music in Toronto? Do you ever feel like you guys come from a "historic line" of punk bands?

GB: Legend has it that, there was a band from D.C., named after a Ramones song, who used to practice playing Viletones' "Screamin Fist" before they had any songs of their own. Toronto had a scene that was on par with first wave punk in NYC, London & LA. We just weren't a major center at the time so it's not nearly as well documented. Only recently has it started to come to light via things like the books "Treat Me Like Dirt," & "Perfect Youth," and the documentary "The Last Pogo Jumps Again." We also have a pretty impressive history of hardcore acts that followed. Unfortunately, a lot of those bands released their works on cassette tapes, so they're still difficult to track down in the age of the download. YYY's "Sin" is a veritable classic though, no doubt. I'd recommend tracking down the TOHC '83 comp that was finally pressed to vinyl a few years back. It's a great snapshot of what was going on here. From 90 onward, Southern Ontario's lineage is indisputable. Chokehold, Left For Dead, The Swarm, No Warning, Haymaker, Violent Minds, Fucked Up, Career Suicide, Cursed, Urban Blight etc etc etc

JR: Toronto boasts one of the best music festivals around in my opinion - Not Dead Yet - do you guys have anything to do with organizing and helping the festival? Do you think it's a positive event for the city?

GB: Yeah, that would be me. My partner and I work on it with the help and support of a number of individuals, some of which are my bandmates. Measuring it's effect on the city is a bit difficult. I definitely think that it's helped the scene in the city grow, perhaps because it gives kids a touchstone and something that is from the city but respected abroad. It also helps embolden relationships with punks outside of Toronto, which is a huge asset. At the same time, festivals are not how things actually are. They falsify the record a bit. They're rarely the best conditions for a gig. Every year we think about what we didn't like about the year past and how we can push the festival to be the best one out there.

JR: You guys have a handful of cassettes and 7"s out right now. Are there any plans for an LP?

Generation Shit 7"
GB: We currently have no concrete plans for anything right now other than gigging here and there. Any future recordings will come when they come. Our latest recording will appear on a compilation on Beach Impediment records, due later this month.

JR: A lot of your songs deal with decay or are along the lines of things getting worse or even just being in a bad situation. Do you think punk is a response to this (even a measure of combat against it) or just another way to keep the trajectory going?

GB: Personally, I participate in punk because of hope not because of want for decay. The world is already shit, why would we want it to get worse? I think we're more interested in drawing attention to the shit, putting it in peoples faces, in the hopes that they realize they need to do something about it. 

JR: Do you think it's necessary for punk to be in response to something else or can it be played for its own sake?

GB: In 2015, if punk is being played for its own sake it's just rock music. In 2015, I think playing rock music is about the most boring thing you can do as an artist. Punk needs to be volatile, concerned and done for a reason beyond vanity. 

JR: Do you think you guys fall into the category of being "world-weary" and if so, does that affect the music you play? Let's put it another way. If the world were better off, would you still play punk/hardcore?

GB: I can't really answer that because I live firmly in the world that I see. Maybe if the world wasn't so rough these days and we were all at peace and there was no looming food crisis or other apocalyptic scenario we could chill out but that's just not the case. 

JR: I got to catch you guys in Chicago last year, which was a really great show. Do you get to tour as much as you'd like? Do you have plans to tour again any time soon?

GB: I'd say we play a sufficient amount for a band that has full time work and other obligations. We are not musicians first. We are human beings living under the same systems as everyone else. We just did some dates in Texas and Mexico. We will likely play out a few more times over the next few months when we can find the time. When we're not doing that, we focus our efforts locally on helping the scene here.

JR: What all is in the near future for S.H.I.T.?

GB: Our venue is approaching it's one year anniversary, so there's a milestone. Beyond that, who knows?

JR:Anything else you'd like to say?

GB: If you're not contributing to your community yet, start!