Sunday, April 9, 2017

A Sunday Conversation With Steve Janiak Of Devil To Pay

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 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?

My parents had a weird mix of LPs and 8-tracks that I remember: Mitch Miller, The Ventures, Johnny Horton, 5th Dimension, Paul Anka. We listened to a lot of radio, oldies and 70s stuff. I guess my first rock and roll epiphany was Johnny Cougar's "Uh Huh" which came as one of those unsolicited Columbia House cassettes when I was 12 years old. I opened it before my dad had a chance to send it back. Soon after that it was AC/DC's "Back in Black" and ZZ Top's "Eliminator". By the time I discovered hard rock, it was all over. I pretty much bought everything I could. Guns N Roses became a huge deal to me, before they broke nationally. Then by the time "Garage Days" came out, Metallica finally clicked for me. From there my mind was melted by Soundgarden, Bad Brains, Danzig, Masters of Reality, that first Nirvana record, Slayer and then Faith No More. That was my teenage brain, soaking it all in. Monster Magnet? Yes, I was a hard rock goner by that point. Much later I stumbled on and it happened all over again, Queens of the Stone Age, Kyuss, Goatsnake, re-discovering my love for Sabbath... the list is almost endless.

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?

There have been exceptions, but riffs are paramount. I mostly like to write from scratch with the entire band jamming with the tape rolling. Sometimes the magic happens, but every time, in a small way, you're still evolving as a group, learning how to communicate musically. I sometimes will sit down and riff out by myself and good things will come out there too, like 'Yes Master'. I do think you can overdo it though, and knowing when to walk away is just as important. But being inspired is the key. Listening for that riff that transcends and takes you back into the zone, that is what I have mostly been about. Arrangements come later, more jamming. Melodies can come out during those jams, but lyrics almost always come last.

Who has influenced you the most?

Really tough question, there are almost too many to list and many are absolute favorites. Probably not a popular band but the all amazing individuals I've been fortunate to jam with over the years. My friends Brady Wren (R.I.P.), Chris Coy, Shane McCorkle, Kevin Rhodenbaugh, Jeremy Hammond, Larry King and on and on up to my current bands.

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

Everywhere. Getting inspired by seeing my peers excel, watching killer shows, trying to find that next killer album or great melody. I like catchy pop songs as much as the epic riffs. I feel like I'm always looking. Sometimes they come in a dream.

We're all a product of our environment. Tell us about the band's hometown and how that reflects in the music?

Without disparaging Indianapolis too much, my feeling was there is an expectation that you can never have much success living here. People don't always take it as serious as you do because you're a 'local band' from 'Indiana'. That is probably me projecting for 20+ years after trying to catch a break. But there are and have been exceptional bands and artists here just like everywhere else.  As far as the effect on the music, I suppose it's why DTP sits outside traditional genre labeling. I can't fathom having every song sound the same. I am willing to ignore all of that because ultimately, nobody gives a shit, you're from Indiana. haha.

Where'd the band name come from?

I have this old book of cliches. I used to sit around on my breaks at work and try to come up with decent band names. It was a way to kill time while dreaming the dream, you know? Devil to Pay was in there and it didn't sound too terrible, I guess. We put the band together in a hurry because we signed up for a battle of the bands as an alternate and got called up. My only other ideas were Hog Leg and Brontosaurus. Sounds so heavy, man... haha.

You have one chance, what movie are you going to write the soundtrack for?

2001 A Space Odyssey?

You now write for a music publication (The Ripple Effect?).  You're going to write a 1,000 word essay on one song. Which would it be and why?

Probably Hotel California. Mainly to piss people off. I doubt I could write 1,000 words about any topic though.

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

Let's see, you've already heard the cornchip crunch / doctor wicked story (in the Ripple zine). I guess I could dig in to the archives and tell you about that time Neurotic Box got heckled by a skinhead so bad it nearly broke up the band? We were opening for Engine Kid at the Patio. Neurotic Box sounded like a more progressive version of the grunge thing. Doing Soundgarden riffs in 7/8 in 1994. There was this punk rock shithead there, his name was Bud. It was a weeknight. It was dead. Turnout was low. I didn't know much about Engine Kid at the time but it was Greg Anderson's (Sunn o))), Goatsnake, Southern Lord records) old band. So we played our shit, probably a song or two when this character walks up to the stage and stands there flipping us off. When we finish the song, he yells "YOU SUCK!". Jeremy Hammond, our quick-witted bassist and onstage banter person, replied "a free CD for the young man in the sock hat." "NOBODY WANTS YOUR FUCKING CD!" he replied. He walked towards the back of the room in awkward silence. We played another song or two, and he continued to heckle us, "FUCK YOU, CANDLEBOX!" and other assorted shit. Eventually we finished our set, dejected. We loaded out the backdoor and there was Bud, with a fat black marker, writing on the back wall of the building (which was painted white). The messages read "Bud kills hippies and faggots from Muncie". Another one said something like "Neurotic Box sucks dicks" or something. Those were the only things on that back wall for like the next 10 years, by the way. At the time though, I was getting agitated and wanted to just leave. We decided to head home because of the b.s. and missed Engine Kid. As we pulled around to the front of the building, Bud was standing outside the front door of the venue. I rolled down the front passenger seat window as we went by and yelled, "FUCK YOU BUDDY!" He immediately started running after us. We got to the light and it was red, as he got to the side of the van the light turned green, he hocked a giant loogie on our van as we turned the corner. We broke up a couple months later.

As far as Devil to Pay, in 2006 we had a bunch of hijinx on our west coast tour with Eldemur Krimm. Our Seattle show was notable, it was at El Corazon, which had a big room and a small room. The big room was where all the big Seattle bands used to play. We played the small room. It was Halloween night.  Fred (from Eldemur Krimm) got a little tipsy and after pissing off and running out three girls dressed in costumes for no reason, he snuck into the big room and pulled out his giant bowie knife and started scratching his band's name in the wooden stage floor. Someone caught him and they threw him out, so he threatened to drive their van through the giant side window, but we talked him out of it. The next morning he and the bass player were sitting in the van after getting coffee and cigarettes. Someone in this neighborhood called the cops. They got a full shakedown treatment. By the time we got to Palm Desert my voice was completely blown out, it was terrible. Eventually we made it to El Paso and I was having a bad night. The club had bad electrical wiring and I got shocked repeatedly. The next morning my stomach hurt. We drove across west Texas as the pain got worse and worse. Finally I knew something was really wrong. We stopped in Fredericksburg since they had a hospital. I found out that not only was my appendix about to burst, but my blood thinners had me off the charts. So they would have to give me vitamin K injections until my blood was back to normal. That next morning I had an emergency appendectomy. The bands drove on. I waited for my parents to come get me and we flew back. It sucked. Krimm played the next few shows without us, and got completely harassed in Pennsylvania or something. Cops looking through every dirty sock.

Tell us about playing live and the live experience for you and for your fans?

For a long time I really didn't enjoy playing live. It seemed like a lot of stress and effort. I was so enraptured by the improvisations and writing part of being in a band that I lost what made playing live fun in the beginning. These days, however, I look forward to that energy transfer. There's really nothing like that give and take between the band and the crowd. I feel that watching great bands too, it's inspiring.

What makes a great song?

Oh boy. Let's see, riffs are important but the melody makes or breaks it. I love a good hook. There seems to be many bands that play well, write great riffs, excel live and all of that, but their songs sometimes leave you flat. They don't stick. When you wake up two days after listening to a song and that song is bouncing around in your head? Chances are that is a great song. Different genres can change the rules.

Tell us about the first song you ever wrote?

It was an acoustic little ditty. Nothing to write home about but it had lots of hope in it. My second 'real' song was much more entertaining. It was a not-so-great hard rock anthem about parental expectations called "Bad Situation". I wasn't the singer in my high school band, we had my friend Scott singing in this shrill Axl Rose type of way. It's fair to say it doesn't hold up today.

What piece of your music are particularly proud of?

Always, always, always, the last record. "A Bend Through Space and Time" is me finally feeling like my vocals and melodies were as strong as I heard them in my head. Next record I will probably disagree though.

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

Bruno Mars writes great songs. Dude is amazing. Ripple Music constantly puts out kick ass records, no question. I haven't heard any new Eldemur Krimm in a while but I will go on record as saying they are my favorite band of all time, and I am stoked they are back together. They have always kicked my ass. The kind of band that makes you want to be in the band. Midnight is another band that kicks my ass.

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

I love vinyl. I love cassettes too, they literally make me feel younger. I like CDs ok. I like physical media in general, but I do really like the instant gratification of digital. I guess I want it all.

Whiskey or beer?  And defend your choice

Beer. Nothing against whiskey, I just can't drink it all night long and function the next day. Beer is like eating a fine meal, sometimes you eat a little too much and need a nap. Whiskey is like doing bigger and bigger lines of cocaine until you're all messed up. Ok, that's a terrible analogy. You're never going to wake up feeling shitty on cocaine because you're not going to bed. But having to go to work after a night of whiskey should be a crime. One time my old band Pub Sigs entered a 'Drunkest Band' contest. We had 64 cocktails / beers between 3 people in like 4 hours. I woke up face down on the floor with my pants undone. I got up, went to work for about 45 minutes, then went home and slept for 2 days. I thought I was dead. We won though. I'd rather drink ayahuasca in the amazon. Why aren't mushrooms a choice here?

We, at the Ripple Effect, are constantly looking for new music. What's your home town, and when we get there, what's the best record store to lose ourselves in?

Probably Indy CD & Vinyl or Luna Music. I spend all my hard earned money on the internet these days.

What's next for the band?

We're going to write a triple LP concept album about Forensic Files, then only release it on reel to reel. Seriously though, we've got a backlog of song ideas. If I could get everyone to quit their jobs, we could knock out an album every three weeks for the next two years.

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

Don't believe the hype. And don't ever let anyone tell you your gut instincts are wrong, it's your dream and you gotta live it. (unless you're planning on committing a major crime, then just get some help)

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