Sunday, December 21, 2008

A Sunday Conversation with East of the Wall


Following on the heels of their epic and mind numbingly brilliant release, Farmer’s Almanac, Kevin and Matt from East of the Wall graciously accepted our invitation to leave their butt prints in our interview couch. Check out what they have to say about their constant sources of inspiration and where they see their music going in the future.


When I was a kid, growing up in a house with Cat Stevens, Neil Diamond, Johnny Mathis, Perry Como, and Simon & Garfunkle, the first time I ever heard Kiss's "Detroit Rock City," it was a moment of musical epiphany. It was just so vicious, aggressive and mean. It changed the way I listened to music. I've had a few minor epiphany's since then, when you come across a band that just brings something new and revolutionary to your ears.

What have been your musical epiphany moments?


Kevin:
A few come to mind. The first one was probably when I heard “…And Justice for All” in 6th grade. Again about 2 years later when I heard “Disco Volante” by Mr. Bungle. Another a few years after that when I heard “Red” by King Crimson. Finally, last year when I heard “Barriers and Passages” by Dysrhythmia and “World Class Listening Problem” by Don Caballero.


Matt:
Tool’s Aenima really opened my eyes to what you could do with heavy music. The marrying of metal with atmosphere was so unique to me, and I think it really influenced a lot of what we did at the time. Bjork also surprised me with how intimate she could be in her vocals. Songs on Post and Homogenic were the most personal things I’d ever heard, and I felt like she was telling the world exactly what was going on inside her head and her heart, bearing her soul to all. Nowadays they just call that blogging…Meshuggah and Dillinger Escape Plan definitely expanded my understanding of rhythm. And Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring just all around kicked my ass. I think I tried to emulate that piece (poorly) for about a year. In that vein, Rachmaninov 2 taught me a lot about using themes. Failure’s Fantastic Planet is my favorite album to this day. Melody, impact, atmosphere, lyrics…it’s all there. Oh, and Isis’ Oceanic as well as Converge’s Jane Doe set new standards for me in terms of a complete and cohesive album. Those albums really feel like one song from beginning to end.


East of the Wall have a unique approach in that all of the performances are instrumental. Being such an uncommon approach in modern rock, what compelled the band to decide to go in that direction? Was there ever any discussion about having a vocalist?


Kevin:
Having not been in the band when that decision was made, from my perspective it’s not really necessary in the music we write. At the same time, I don’t like the idea of being confined to being an instrumental band. If we ever write something that calls for vocals, I’d like to think we’ll be smart enough to write them, and I know we have the capability to pull it off. Matt is a great singer as evidenced by his vocals with the Postman Syndrome, and Brett and I both do vocals in Biclops. So I don’t see any reason why it couldn’t become a part of what we do at some point. If Don Caballero tried it I guess anyone can.

Matt:
I wasn’t in the band in the beginning so I can’t give a total answer, but when I joined I asked “would you guys be opposed to my singing at all?” They all said not at all. There have been a few times where I’ve come up with vocal melodies for some parts, and once or twice I’ve even written lyrics. But in the end I was never satisfied enough with them to actually add them into the song. It doesn’t help that our songs are so long. Makes it difficult to write about any one subject. Chris was always the guy in the Postman Syndrome driving the cohesiveness of the lyrics. He’d really challenge me to improve how my lyrics could be explored over a 7 minute song. Now Conway gets to deal with that in Biclops I guess.
Oh, and I really hate singing and playing at the same time. It means I can’t throw my guitar around.


Genre's are so misleading and such a way to pigeonhole bands. Without resorting to labels, how would you describe your music?


Matt:

Let’s give this a real shot… the word metal is going to have to make an appearance in there somewhere, so that’s a start. I guess you could say there are some jazz aspects in there, but if you say the word jazz people think “improvisation” so we’ll go with scripted jazz. Lots of people say progressive but that word carries some serious connotations with it. So to avoid thoughts of Dream Theater and Return to Forever (nothing against either, we just don’t sound like them), let’s say progressional. Now, the most obvious label to slap on us is instrumental. But that doesn’t really say much, seeing that all non-acappela music is played on instruments of some sort. So we’ll go with non vocal. And of course, since the music doesn’t quite fit into any of these genres, we’ll throw a little post in front. The result? Post-progressional, scriptedly jazzy, non-vocal metal.


Kevin:
For brevity’s sake I would say experimental rock. I feel like we do a lot of different things, so any description would have to be sufficiently broad.


Farmer’s Almanac is filled with a wide variety of musical styles ranging from hard edged alt-rock to straight up jazz passages. First off, thank you for making the music so compelling that it’s damn near impossible to listen to it just once. Second, you gotta’ tell me how this approach to song writing came about. Who’s the mastermind or mad scientist? Is it a joint effort?


Kevin:
Really a joint effort. We listen to a wide range of music between the four of us, and I think that comes out in the music. I think we also have a certain chemistry that makes the songs turn out a certain way. Typically one of us brings a few riffs in, we all write our own parts to that riff, and then after that the song tends to just sort of write itself in the rehearsal room.


Matt:
This is just the way we’ve been doing it for years, since Postman. Back then it was all a little more dramatic. You’d have a total switch from death metal to funk without warning. Over the years I think we’ve really improved at making the different styles mesh well. We really don’t think about what genre of music will go next in a song. Whatever sounds best.



Talk to us about the song-writing process for you. What comes first, the idea? A riff? The lyrics? How does it all fall into place?


Kevin:
It seems to be the riff that usually ends up occurring first since I’ve been in the band, but we’ll have to see what direction the new record ends up going in. I wouldn’t be shocked if what we did ended up being a little more conceptual.


Matt:
Almanac is very much a riff-based album. Someone brings something in and we just play it every which way until we find the angles that are most appropriate for expanding it and taking it elsewhere. Plenty gets dumped: some that I miss and some that I don’t miss. Just the other day we went backwards and removed a few parts from a song we’re working on. I was never totally pleased with those parts so I didn’t mind ditching them. Other parts I’ve been totally into and we just weren’t able to fit it into the grand scheme of things, so goodbye. Sometimes you have to make personal sacrifices…
When Conway signed up for the band, we really started focusing on the metal. Not a conscious move at all, it just kind of happened. I really like how that worked out because Almanac has some good breather songs, and the last few songs we’ve written since then are pretty brutal. I like a good mix at shows.


Where do you look for continuing inspiration? New ideas, new motivation?


Kevin:
I try to soak up as much music as I possibly can. I have a bad habit of buying 30 records or so at a time. Out of those 30, I’ll listen to all of them once, and then probably 3 or 4 end up becoming a part of my regular rotation. But the rest of them end up being kind of like reference material to me. I need to hear a lot of stuff, good and bad, to keep the ideas flowing. I’m also very lucky to play with musicians as talented as the guys in this band, because it makes it easier to stay motivated. You don’t show up to rehearsal with your B+ game if you know everyone else in the room is such a great player.


Matt:
Other music certainly. Most recently, that Krallice album is constantly in my head. Necrophagist as well and Wolves in the Throne Room. Outside of metal, I picked up an old cd from this band the Mercury Program, and I like it a lot. The past few months I’ve spent a lot of time with Coltrane and Miles Davis. That’s thanks to the Murakami book, Kafka on the Shore, which really put me in the jazz mood, aside from it being possibly the best book I ever read. I’d be lying if I said I was not influenced by the Biclops tracks. And there are some other fantastic bands around here that have also influenced me through the years: Fake Gimms, Dilation, So is the Tongue, to name a few. I recommend them all and they are very different from us.


When you write a piece of music, do you consciously write from the mind set of being different than what's out there now?

Kevin:
I think what we naturally do is substantially different than what’s on the market currently, so it’s pretty rare that we would have to worry about that. That being said, I can think of a time or two where we wrote a riff that might have sounded a little too close to something else we had heard before. At that point, usually just by bringing the other players into the equation, it solves the problem.


Matt:
I don’t I’ve never been good at thinking that way. In order to do that I’d have to eliminate everything from my head that I might be thinking. Sometimes I just pick up and play whatever comes to mind until I maneuver my way into something new, and sometimes I’m really trying to emulate a sound that I’m familiar with. Maybe that’s not the most original way to go about it, but it works best for me. And it works in a weird kind of way actually. There are certain bands that I’ve tried to emulate a good deal in the past, but have been completely unable to. Engine Down is one of those bands. They have what I’d describe as a “soft” feel (not to say that they’re not hard at all, because they can definitely hit pretty hard), but more in their riffage. They can be very delicate in their playing and really bring out the characteristics of the guitar itself, which I love. I’ve tried to riff like them many times, and I never come anywhere close. However I usually end up with something I really like, even though it sounds nothing like what I wanted in the first place.
So there you go; I write all my music by first trying to rip off Engine Down. Could you tell?


What is you musical intention? What are you trying to express or get your audience to feel?


Kevin:
I think we want to convey a really three-dimensional experience. A lot of bands are really great at conveying one particular mood or type of imagery, but I want to express a broader range. When we have a song where there’s a heavy riff happening and all of a sudden the song gets atmospheric, it’s not because we’re trying to be weird or different. We want to express something that goes a little deeper than most songs do. We don’t want to be hemmed in by a particular aesthetic.


Matt:
I really want them to just forget about everything else when they are listening, at a show or the cd. When I listen to music it’s not much of a social thing for me. Sure it’s fun to scream along to Burnt by the Sun with a bunch of my friends at a drunken BBQ, but when listening by myself I just let it wash me away kinda. Let the twisting and turning of the song conjure up images. That’s one reason why I am happy with no vocals; it lets the instruments make things interesting.


The business of music is a brutal place. Changes in technology have made it easier than ever for bands to get their music out, but harder than ever to make a living? What are your plans to move the band forward? How do you stay motivated in this brutal business?


Kevin:
Since we don’t do a lot of touring we have to limit our expectations of what this band is going to be financially. The great part about that is it really allows us to create music that’s totally unencumbered by the music business. We’re never going to have our CD’s in Walmart, so we can pretty much do whatever the fuck we want.



Vinyl, CD, or digital? What's your format of choice and why?


Kevin:
CD. Vinyl is too impractical for me, but I still like having something that I can hold in my hands and look at. So that eliminates digital. A lot of purists complain about sound quality on CD. I think a well-recorded record will sound great on CD or vinyl. If you did a shitty job recording it, it’s going to sound shitty no matter what formant you release it on.


Matt:
I would honestly love to go digital but the formats just aren’t there for me yet. Mp3 sucks…it’s flabby and dull. And the Lossless formats are good but they don’t cut down the file size much. I’d need a terabyte ipod for all my cds.



We, at The Ripple Effect, are constantly looking for new music. When we come to your town, what's the best record store to visit?

Kevin:
I order the bulk of my music on the internet just because it’s easier to find the stuff that I’m looking for. If I’m actually going to buy music in a store, I go to Jack’s Music in Red Bank. They don’t always have what I went in there looking for, but I usually end up leaving with some pretty cool stuff that I didn’t expect to find.


Matt:
Jack’s in Red Bank is pretty good. A bit further away is Vintage Vinyl and also the Princeton Record Exchange, which has a pretty amazing used collection.


Guys, thanks for spending your valuable time with us, and thanks once again for treating our ears to truly remarkable piece of music!

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