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.