Sunday, September 12, 2010

A Sunday Conversation with the Jet Black Berries

All the band members gathered outside the glorious rehearsal studio (actually our guitar player’s dungeon-like cellar) to share a few pops and answer the questions. It’s a beautiful mid-August night in upstate NY.

Band members:

Chris Yockel – lead guitars, sitars, psychedelic embellishments - Original member
Gary Trainer – bass guitar – Original Member
Mark Schwartz – organ, mellotron, piano – Original Member
Roy Stein – drums, backing vocals, recording engineer – Original Member
Johnny Cummings – lead vocals, piano, guitar, assorted keys – New Kid in Town

Great to have you guys back.  In the day, you were such a cool part of Enigma scene, one of the great lost record labels of the '80's.  Stretch your minds, if you will, and tell us bit about those heady days?

Gary: It was cool to be on the same label as 45 Grave, Devo, Green on Red, Red Hot Chilly Peppers, Smithereens, TSOL. It was a great scene to be a part of.

Roy: What about Poison and Ratt… I remember they paid the bills we ran up.

Chris: I don’t know about heady….I remember long road trips and a crowded van.

Roy: Actually the era had a great vibe to it and Enigma was a really supportive label.

Any particular shows you recall from the halcyon days?  Any crazy bands you play with?

Anonymous band member:  Well that Cherry Hill New Jersey show, gigging with the Psychedelic Furs, getting off the stage and going back into the dressing room to find literally hundreds upon hundreds of lines of some sort of powdery white substance made freely available to all band members…all of us of course passed the offer up…not sure what the Furs did…stuff wasn’t even on the rider.

Gary: Playing with Willy Loco Alexander at the Rat in Boston, We backed him for the show and he tore the stage up.

Roy: Ya….”Hit her with the Axe”, he was freak’in awesome. Also playing with the Pretenders. Two members of that band were so wasted they could barely stand. There was smoke coming out of Chrissie Hynde’s ears. I’ll thought she was gonna kill them both right on stage.

Your sound was always a wild combination of psychedelic, rock, and more.  Go with that.  How did your sound come about?

Gary: it’s a blend of Chris’ San Francisco style guitar.

Roy: and Gary’s New York Velvet Underground influence.

Mark: and the band’s interest in psychotronic films and avant-garde literature ala William Burroughs and Jean Genet.

 What was the peak of your early career?  And the low, what was the low?

Gary: Peak was "Love Under Will" getting placed on Return Of The Living Dead Soundtrack.

Roy: Low was playing a show in Milwaukie for a whole 6 people…who if I remember right were watching bowling on TV…..women’s.

Chris: High and low was sharing a hotel room with 7 guys when you bring a hot girl back to the hotel

How, why did the band come to an original end?

Gary: Our lead singer left the band to take a job in the music industry and it just seemed like the right time to take a break…..

Roy: for 22 years.

What had you all been doing in the ensuing years?  Music?

Gary: 3 of us formed the Atomic Swindlers, a female fronted Bowie-esque sounding original band. See:

Mark: played with a bunch of junkies.

Johnny: (finally speaks now that we are moving into the 90’s and beyond.) - being born and getting potty trained.

 So now, however many years later, your back.  What led to your reformation?

Gary: We were asked to do a reunion show in a great venue for a decent amount of cash.

Roy: And we went into the recording studio to record a one off single to help promote the show. Gary and I were behind the studio glass when Johnny started singing… he sang the first line to" Garden of Delight", “Jet black berries I do ingest, the body’s transparent soul comes to my bed” and Gary turned to me and said “holy fuck…” He sang great right out of the box and the reunion show was a rip…..everything was so easy we decided to keep it together and see where it lead.

Let's talk about the song-writing process for you. What comes first, the idea? A riff? The lyrics? How does it all fall into place?

Gary: It can happen in a variety of different ways. Sometimes the hook comes first, sometimes an instrumental riff, sometimes words or a phrase.

Roy: Ya…anything can come first, the song" God With A Gu"n was based on a story in the news last summer about some …um….pastor in Kentucky who regularly has sermons about how “God and Guns belong together”…and he asks his parishioners to bring their fire arms to church….I think he was trying to answer that eternal question, “what would Jesus pack”?

What're your intentions these days? What are you trying to express or get your audience to feel?

Gary: World domination

Chris: We want to take our audience on a psychedelic journey.

Roy: We want the audience to feel like evil mushrooms on parade

Gary: I want the record to be an epiphany for anyone hearing it

Johnny: Any musical endeavor is an attempt to recreate for others the magical feeling you felt when some piece of music really inspired you

Roy: Jesus Johnny….you’ve got more way brain cells left that the rest of us.

When I was a kid, growing up in a house with Cat Stevens, Neil Diamond, and Simon and Garfunkel, 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 epiphanies’ 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?

Chris: Hearing when the tone arm hits the groove on the first Quicksilver record

Gary : HendrixAre You Experienced, Ziggy Stardust.

Mark: Television

Johnny: Discovering the Beatles music for the first time

Roy: Early Procol Harum records. Live it was an eighties Cramps show. They were in a small club in Rochester, NY and the people in front had pulled Lux’s pants off. He was totally naked swallowing his microphone with his johnson waving at the audience, the drummer was pounding out a brutal tribal beat and Ivy was killing on guitar…the whole club was pulsating…to top it off Lux started pulling down the ceiling tiles above the stage, club owner tackled him…the band just kept up the attack…total mayhem….unforgettable rock and roll at it’s best……………

Come on, share with us a couple of your great, Spinal Tap, rock and roll moments?

Gary: Besides the cold sores?

Roy: Lucky for us we couldn’t afford props and such and we never played concert halls big enough to get lost in….and none of us would dare bring our girlfriends or boyfriends on the road, god knows with who and where they’d end up…and Enigma didn’t give a damn as to what our album covers looked like….in retrospect we had it pretty good.

 What piece of your music are you particularly proud of?

Johnny: I’m very proud of the record in general. I think it’s an authentic and honest album and I think it will really give the listener a ride

Chris: We got lucky on some things this time around

Roy: We made the record that we wanted to make…I was the engineer and mixer on this and I don’t want to sound corny but I was really proud of my mates…they just kept laying down good shit….bam-bam-bam, we never hit a wall. Easiest most fun music I’ve ever made in my life.

Older now . . . wiser?

Roy: Yes

Johnny: I’m older now than I used to be

Roy: Jesus, you weren’t even born when the first two Jet Black Berries records came out!!

The band has just left to fill up on more cheap Imported Royal Ultra Dark Rum, courtesy of Chris Yockel…the band’s medicinal go to guy for all these years.

Who today, writes great songs? Who just kicks your ass? Why?

Seriously….the band says nothing for two minutes while they sip on their various beverages. It’s a contemplative and respectful silence…Finally the general consensus is:

We’ve been in a cave for the past two years so we don’t really know what’s “hip”
Roy: Cormac McCarthy kicks my ass….does that count??

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

Chris: Vinyl

Mark: Vinyl

Gary: I’m a format whore

Johnny: What’s vinyl?

Roy:  Hey, I say whatever floats your boat but I love the ease of digital.

Band argues and comes close to blows

Whiskey or beer?  And defend your choice

Chris: It all works

Roy: Valium and Rum

Johnny: what’s vinyl???

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

Record Archive is the place to go, The Bop Shop, and The House of Guitars for the total musician’s experience

 Any final comments or thoughts you'd like to share with our readers, the waveriders?

Johnny: Chuck Norris once kicked a 50 yard field goal while having sex

All the guys: We’d like to share Postmodern Ghosts…and our thanks to the folks at the Ripple Effect for digging us out of the crypt and giving us the opportunity to say hello and be heard again…’s been a while, it’s good to be back.

Single, "God with a Gun" hits radio next week. Full length CD October 12th!!!

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