Ghost Cult caught up with alt-Rock legend Scooter Ward, vocalist of the band Cold recently by phone. The band is riding high on the strength of their powerful and successful new album, The Things We Can’t Stop (Napalm Records). We spoke with Scooter who game many thoughtful answers about the message of the new album, his approach to writing, his feelings about bullying, why social media is bad for you, his hopes for the younger generation following Generation-X, the importance of his family, and a look back on his career. Check out our chat and buy the album now. Continue reading
We have some sad news to report today. Original Faith No More vocalist Chuck Mosley has passed away at the age of 57. Continue reading
Sevendust is a band that has an eternal quality to them. They have consistently put out quality albums, toured the world, and been generous with their fans for the entirety of their 25 years as a band, and 20 since the release of their self-titled début album on TVT Records, now defunct. After a one-off show this spring where they played that début album in its entirety, they have booked a few small tours where they continued to celebrate their legacy, as well as keep an eye on the future. Continue reading
In part two of Ross Baker’s chat with Steve Von Till, Steve discusses the impact he is trying to have shaping young minds, an update of a recent illness that struck the Neurosis family, and the status of the new, long-awaited album from his much respected and beloved band.
It should come as no surprise that Von Till is a teacher by trade considering his love of researching musical history. “I find myself inspired a lot by things children say. They have such inquisitive minds. It gives me hope for the future of the planet. You turn on the television and everything is so negative. It is like; “Good morning, the world is fucked!” you hear a lot about Terrorism and war and how corrupt the world is all the time. It’s important to remember that we have a choice. We can make a better world for our families.”
Speaking to Steve, you get a picture of the nature loving family man, a far cry from the rugged brute stalking the stage during Neurosis shows. While Steve may live in another state away from bandmate Scott Kelly, who resides over in Oregon, but when Scott’s wife Sarah, fell prey to a mysterious affliction which left her temporarily unable to walk or see Von Till rallied to his friend’s aid. “She has improved a lot thankfully. It’s been really hard for (The Kelly family) but we have all been there for them as much as we can. I saw Scott a couple of weeks ago and luckily she is getting the care that she needs. Scott is a warrior. He’s a great father and has not had the easiest life. I remember when I did my first solo shows. I was fucking terrified! I talked to Scott about it as he has done way more solo shows. He still gets nervous and shaky too. There is no volume to hide behind when it’s just you out there. I hope to do more solo shows this year. I am playing in London at the end of June and my wife is German so we want to do a few dates over there.”
That brings us to the subject of Neurosis itself. “We have the skeleton of the next record. Jason and Scott came down in February and we improvised some ideas. Steve Albini will be involved again. It’s our thirtieth anniversary so it’s important to make a great record. Making Neurosis music is instinctive. We are like a conduit for this beast.”
If you were to think of a single word to sum up the attitude of Steve Von Till, that word would be dedicated. The sun has yet to rise in his hometown of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho and at 5am he is already on the telephone to Ghost Cult, for this interview before he has to wake his children up, take them to school and drive the eleven miles to the Elementary school where he works.
It is this dedication, which has seen him forge an uncompromising trail in music via the bombastic and awe-inspiring Neurosis, the rural psychedelia of Harvestman and his solo work, steeped in the rich traditions of Celtic music and American folk. Considering Von Till’s hectic schedule, it is unsurprising that there has been little time to record the follow-up to 2008’s A Grave Is A Grim Horse platter.
“Making music with Neurosis is not a cerebral event. It is us surrendering ourselves to this beast that drives us. The solo material is my strange way of trying to honour those artists that inspired me. It has to have a depth of expression I require from music otherwise it is pointless. It is a challenge to craft something quiet and concise.” Indeed in the last seven years, Steve has been all but idle with Neurosis touring more frequently than they have for some time, running the band’s label Neurot and of course having time for family life it’s easy to see why new offering A Life Unto Itself (Neurot) took such a time to appear. “I am so bad with time. It doesn’t feel linear to me!” Von Till chuckles. “I wanted to continue to use the traditional Americana aspects like fiddle and pedal steel that informs my work, but also to use some of the textures I have crafted with Harvestman. Some of the techniques where the guitar sounds like a synthesizer. Other than ‘Chasing Ghosts’ which was written on piano and ‘Night Of The Moon’ which I wrote on electric guitar, the focus remained acoustic guitar and vocals. It’s the sound of me picking up a guitar when everyone has gone to bed and just seeing what comes out!”
It’s not hard to imagine Steve sat alone, guitar in hand coaxing out riffs before taking these skeletal structures to be fleshed out in the recording studio. Clearly a labour of love, created with absolute autonomy, Steve talked about what it was like to seek outside help in the shape of dedicated engineer Randall Dunn. “We’d met each other a few times. I have a studio at home so I could do it myself, but I don’t enjoy engineering. I don’t want to be responsible for capturing a good vocal take. Randall has a much wider variety of acts he has worked with. Of course he has worked with Earth and Sunn0))) but does a lot of stuff outside of our scene. We had some great conversations and his studio is excellent. It has a lot of vibe with a big vintage console. It was great having someone to bounce ideas off and get feedback from. We did recorded everything in just two days then we got the additional musicians in and did the overdubs. He brought in Eyvind Kang, who is an amazing viola player and composer. He asked me for some key words and ideas of what I heard. I gave him a few comments of what I heard, like references to the environments places and energies, very abstract stuff, but he took that and added so much. Sometimes the Viola parts sound like animals or take a Celtic feel. He had such a great intuitive nature. This album is a collage that occupies several different stories and emotional territory. J. Kardong our pedal steel brought a lot too. Not just a typical Americana feel. They read my mind, when I drove the six-hour drive home back to Idaho they really hit me. I realised this record was a brooding retrospective on my entire life. It’s traversing the mystical, emotion and mundane all mixed together.”
A Life Unto Itself may be a slight departure sonically from his earlier solo work, the lyrical content once again references nature as a metaphor with words like ‘Blood’ ‘Earth’ and ‘Moon’ all reoccurring. Greatly inspired by his rural surroundings, Von Till recalls what made him pack up his family and wave his home of San Francisco, California goodbye. “It’s like living in a beehive! Everyone is so busy and working on their next project. After my first daughter was born I could only see the filth around me. Needles in the street and condoms in the gutter. I knew I needed out when I was stepping past homeless people every day carrying a baby and four bags of groceries! If I didn’t give myself some space I was just going to hate everything. It has always been part of my personality that needs to be connected to nature. Humanity has lost that connection. If you live in a city you have to make a huge effort to connect with it. Now I live out here I have to make the effort to get to a city to go to a museum or buy some records but how often do you do those things? Pretty rarely. My drive to work is eleven miles down a country road and when I get home I am surrounded by twelve acres of forest. We have weather too here whereas San Fran is always so hot. Here you have to get your firewood and plan for the winter. I feel more connected to nature out here when I am a part of it.”
Listening to ‘A Life Unto Itself’ you find yourself transported to rural landscapes via the influences ranging from Celtic music to Steve’s take on traditional Americana. Neurosis love of a diverse cross-section of artists from Joy Division to Amebix to Pink Floyd is well documented, but as Steve tells us, these genres held his attention from an early age also. “My dad listened to John Denver and some of the more pop orientated folk music. It hit me who one guy with a guitar could be so powerful. I loved putting speakers by my head and listening to it. Growing up a metalhead and getting into punk you’d have thought that folk music would be the last thing for me when I was 15 years old and pissed off but I went back to it later via psychedelic. I love Tibetan monks and throat singing. Anything from another culture. I am obsessed with European folk traditions, they are where bluegrass and country come from! I loved going on that voyage of discovery. It all comes in circles the way people find these sounds and make them their own. I love the way people like Townes Van Zant and Gillian Welch have distilled these old traditions into new forms.”
A Kickstarter campaign has been launched by Magnetic Eye Records for a tribute album to Helmet’s Meantime album titled Meantime [Redux] tentatively due for a 2016 release. A deluxe edition of the set is also being planned and will feature bands covers songs off of Helmet’s Strap It On and Betty albums.
Artists reportedly participating include:
I Am Become Death
Fuck The Facts
Meek Is Murder
The Glorious Rebellion
Artists recruited for the “Strap It On” and “Betty” tracks include:
The Atlas Moth
More bands are expected to be announced soon.
Latin metal band Ill Ill Niño have had a lot on their plate with the release of their seventh studio album, Till Death, La Familia (Victory Records), a spot on 2014’s Mayhem Festival, and a tour in Russia, all while finding balance between their lives as musicians and as men with growing families. With about a decade and a half with the band under his belt, vocalist Cristian Machado gave us some insight as to how the creative process has changed over time as their lives have progressed
“We’re trying to be more mature songwriters and in different ways, not every album has the same approach. It’s just like you put it, every album has a very different flavor going on even though it can all be interpreted as Ill Nino, it’s got the very traditional Ill Nino signature rhythm and tones, but, I think every album is from a completely different point of view. On this album, I think we wanted to get back to our own instinctual place. I think we wanted to write more from a fan’s point of view and just ourselves in general, from the point of view of a fan, a music fan, and what we want to hear in Ill Nino’s sound. I know, personally, doing albums when you’re self producing an album, it can psychologically be this maze where you can get into the over-contemplation of a lot of parts, and different creative ideas, and things like that. We do try to get everything to flow very naturally, vocally. I was given some really awesome songs by Ahrue Luster, Laz Pina, Diego Verduco, and Dave Chavarri. I definitely wasn’t sure on any musical inspiration. I just wanted to come from the gut a little bit more; things that feel good. From a melody side, sound refreshing to my ear and tones that suit the songs as much as possible. As far as words and themes, I think that a darker side of me came out after going through the birth of my daughter and starting to realize that the world is really screwed up and full of violent images and has a very angry media presence. I think my defensive, protective, father side came out and perhaps it translates a little violently onto the lyrics but it’s really trying to do the opposite. I’m actually trying to not glorify criminality and try to make sense of the world a little bit more while still hoping for a better future. I think that a lot of that was just instinctual, you go as an individual and, hopefully, within a band, you grow as a musician and as friends. A lot of trust went into this new album, we looked up to each other very much and there was this very big, open creative space and there weren’t these huge battles about parts and I think that’s what music is supposed to be at the end of the day. When five or six people form a band, and they have a hugely successful first album, the fans can read into the creative decision making when a band feels comfortable and it will translate to them and they can relate to the music. We wanted to write as cool as we could write right now and take into consideration everything that we’ve done in the past, the grooves we’ve used, the bilinguality of the band, and the duality of our sound, but we wanted to be more refreshing, to feel more grown, and to, obviously, continue to grow and expand as musicians and song writers.”
You mentioned that you’ve noticed a change in yourself coming from a producing standpoint. When working on material now, do you actively see yourself switching into that producer mindset and then switching back into the musician?
On the two records prior to Till Death, La Familia, we were self producing and not really working with anyone outside of the band, and I think that was growth that we needed to experience ourselves before getting to present where we worked with Eddie Wohl who’s an amazing and very talented producer. Even though there really wasn’t this huge change to anything that I was bringing into the studio, there was the sense of relaxation, that I’m working with someone great, and that I trusted. On past records, I did have a battle within my own mind; where do I draw the line between recording the album with the band and getting down to where I need to do which is to write vocals and tell a story? On this album I was able to do that, I was able to focus on what I wanted to say and the tone that I wanted to bring to the band. At the end of the day, I wanted to compliment the songs that Ahrue, Laz, Diego, and Dave had written as much as possible. I was lucky, I’m very lucky and I wouldn’t want to go back to doing it the other way where we’re just self producing albums. For me, it was easier than Ahrue who wrote a lot of music and did a lot of arranging without having to record himself. Vocally, I was blessed this time around and I look forward to doing things this way where I can just focus on the creative element and not have to worry about too many other things. I think it definitely gets in the way of myself as a musician. In order for me to expand and grow as a song writer, I have to commit to that first and foremost. I’m very grateful for the way I was able to do this album. I have to give a lot of credit to the guys in the band and to Eddie Wohl.
Speaking of the guys in the band…You’re no strangers to lineup changes but you’ve had a solid core team for a number of years up until Daniel Couto’s decision to leave the group; what has the band dynamic been like with Oscar Santiago carrying Danny’s torch after his departure?
“Having Oscar in the band is a blessing, he’s probably the origin Latin percussion player in metal. He’s somebody that we’ve looked up to for years and Puya, his band that he’s played with for so many years has been a huge influence on us so having him in the band definitely changes the dynamic in that we want to start moving more towards his rhythmic direction. On this album it was difficult to incorporate everything that we wanted to but I think that having him in the band now is truly a blessing and we’re going to be able to move, rhythmically, closer to territory where we used to be while still keeping in mind the things that we’ve expanded upon. As a band with a fifteen year career, at our level, it’s very tough, it’s not like any of us are making a bunch of money. At a Metallica level, where a band is universally famous, there’s a lot of money to be made and it’s easier to stay in a band where you can support your family and have them travel with you. In our case, where we’re at that medium theater to large theater touring circuit, every penny matters and we leave our families at home a lot. Some of the people in the band felt it was necessary to have more time at home. The older we get, the more we realize why they left and we can’t really tour just to tour. It has to be something extremely worthwhile to the fans and it has to be worthwhile to us as well because we have to leave our families behind. As far as changing band members, Danny, who played percussion before Oscar, he’s staying home with family and recently had a baby. Jardel Paisante has a family as well. Besides that, we changed a couple of band members after the first album but that was a creative and personal difference more than anything else.”
ALEIDA LA LLAVE
To Lionize means to celebrate. And Maryland’s funky, reggae-infused hard rockers Lionize are celebrating their tenth year with their first jaunt into Europe, a new album, and a new label. Vocalist/Guitarist Nate Bergman sounds like a very happy man because life is pretty good at the moment.
For one, despite rarely being off the road in the US, this is the band’s first UK tour. “It’s been amazing, the first few shows were just awesome. I think we’re starting to like it a little bit better than the States; the audiences are incredible, people are very receptive and the press has been very good. Right off the bat people understand our band a little bit better here.” So what can people expect from a Lionize show? “I think our live show is exciting; it’s fast, it’s upbeat and you can expect to hear a different set every night. You’re gonna get a lot of classic rock flavours and get a little bit of Jazz and Dub-reggae and funk thrown in there as well.”
It’s a potent mix that garnered the band a dedicated following. Their new album, Jetpack Soundtrack, is their fifth effort and sounds like a band heading for the big time. “I would say by leaps and bounds this is our best record. I think the previous efforts were really good, but I think this is our most concise and focused point. Jetpack Soundtrack describes our approach, trying to take it somewhere new, somewhere fresh, into the future. It’s fast, and it sounds cool.” Anyone who’s followed the band over the years will note the reggae & funk influences aren’t as apparent on the new record as in the early days, continuing the band’s transition into a purer hard rock outfit. “I think through the evolution of the music we have figured out how to internalize the reggae sound more. It wasn’t a conscious effort, it just happened. The reggae is less overt; it’s still very much there in a lot of the rhythm and texture stuff that we’re doing, but it’s so ingrained in who we are now that I don’t feel that ‘this has to be the rock part, and this has to be the reggae part,’ it’s just all there.”
Produced by Clutch’s drummer John-Paul Gaster and Machine (who worked on Clutch’s Blast Tyrant & Earth Rocker), the band decided to mix up how they approached an album. “It was very focused on preproduction, very focused on arrangements beforehand and trimming all the fat, and making the parts individually as big and as exciting as they can be On previous records we’ve rehearsed the songs really well, arranged them to a certain point and then gone in and recorded it live, and this one was a very layered, very calculated effort.” After working with producer J.Robbins for their previous album (Superszar and the Vulture), the strength of Machine’s CV made them take a new direction. “We wanted to do something different, we wanted to do something fresh for us. I think a big part of that was how Earth Rocker sounded, I think that was a big influence on how we wanted to make the next record. I’ve been listening to Clutch for about 15/16 years, and it’s certainly one of the best. There’s not one track on it that’s bad or that’s close to boring. It’s a classic rock album.”
The effort seems to have paid off. Finally breaking out of the US, Lionize’s profile is bigger than it’s ever been. “I think this is the most exposure we’ve ever gotten, I don’t think we ever thought it was gonna be this great, especially here in the UK, people seem to be really taking to it. And I think a great deal of this is down to the way Weathermaker releases records. I think we’re touring a little bit harder, we’re playing a little bit better, and the album is great.“ Fortune hasn’t quite followed their increased fame yet, however. “We still live a very humble existence and we’ve very happy to do so to be able to play music.”
The band’s new label, Weathermaker, was set up by Clutch, and features a roster of bands with close ties to the Maryland rockers. “Weathermaker is hands down one of the best labels going and definitely by far the best label we’ve ever worked with. It’s run with the musician’s interest always in mind, there’s never an instance where it’s Us vs. Them, everyone on the label wants to be associated with each other and it’s all of us together. It’s a label with more of a Mowtown vibe.”
It’s clear that Lionize have a very close relationship with Rock legends Clutch; as well as touring together many times, Clutch’s guitarist Tim Sult has played on several of their records, their new album was produced by drummer JP and was released through the band’s own Weathermaker label. What’s the secret to such a close relationship? “I think it comes from a common interest in just wanting to make good music. We definitely have our own identity and have our own thing, but we look up to these guys immensely. I mean they’re hands down in my opinion the best rock band on the planet.”
“Everybody in the band is an immense talent. When you’re a younger band and you’ve got access to that kind of musical knowledge and talent you should do everything you can to absorb it. And I feel like we’ve ingratiated ourselves in that way, it’s a teacher/student sort of relationship.” But the Clutch ties go beyond being label mates and studio buddies. “My dad used to own a fish market and I think that was Neil’s [Fallon, Clutch vocalist] first job. Along with being a fish monger, he was also a doing a fair bit of baby sitting in the store and also still probably kind of feels like he’s babysitting. There is an element of being socially close and the way that Weathermaker and their tours are run means it is a family business.”
Obviously such close association means that Fallon & Co. often come up in conversations with Lionize, but Nate doesn’t see this as a bad thing. “I don’t think we really get tired of it, because we’re being associated with something that’s pretty great. People that know Lionize know that we’re our own entity, people that are Clutch fans know that Clutch is its own thing separately. Did Bad Company get tired of the Led Zeppelin associations?”
The Lionize celebration looks set to continue. The band just released a split with Clutch for Record Store Day, more international touring and then back into the studio for the next record. Come join the party.