A Sunday Conversation with Venomin James

Brutally heavy, doom-filled, devastating heavy metal. That's what Venomin James brings to the table. Fueled by a rage that could only be created by the war machine, Venomin James' new album, Left Hand Man, left an indelible mark on the ears of all at the Ripple Office. You can only imagine we were all too eager to share our red leather interview couch with the boys and hear what they have to say.

When I was a kid, growing up in a house with Cat Stevens, Neil Diamond, and Simon and Garfunkle, the first time I ever hear Kiss's "Detroit Rock City," it was a moment of musical epipha
ny. It was just so vicious, aggressive and mean.

What have been your musical epiphany moments?

Erin (bass): I was riding in my Grandfather's Cordoba in downtown Cleveland with my Dad, I was probably 7 or 8, and I heard "The Pusher" by Steppenwolf. It totally blew my mind. So fucking groovy and powerful at the same time. That old school shit still bounces around in my brain case.

Joe (guitar): Listening to "Stairway to Heaven" shortly after it was released with my 2 uncles, who were in Junior High at the time. We sat in the dark, with those burnout skull candles burning, and they played me a lot of records, including Zeppelin IV - just kinda educating me about real rock music. Of course as I got older and started listening to stuff on my own, I heard the first Sabbath record and was totally hooked. It was so evil and dark, and I knew I had to try and pay my respects to it and write my own songs. I think I was 12 when I fully understood what Sabbath meant, and I never found another band that makes me feel that way. "Sweet Leaf" was the first song I ever learned to play.

Tomasz (guitar): Going to Gold Circle (local dept. store) with my Dad, and buying "If You Want Blood, You Got It" by AC/DC. Sorting through a wall of records of my Dad's and listening to the ones with cool album covers. It was then that my father said, "Here, listen to this, I bet you'll like it". It was Black Sabbath S/T. It was over after that!

Jim (vocals): When I was a kid my mother was always jamming Fleetwood Mac, I've always loved their vibe. However I would have to say the first band that just really struck me and to this day I can listen to repeatedly is Alice in Chains. Their music is so dark, ominous and sincere. Sabbath is obviously a no-brainer. I'm still amazed with what they did almost 40 years ago. I was a big GnR and Skid Row fan in junior high school.... "Youth gone wild"....fuck yes.

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?

Erin: Songs come from feelings. You have to feel something before you can play it. You can think all you want with music, but that just fucks it up.

Tomasz: Riffs usually come first from jamming with the band, though I dust off some of my older riffs since I'm in a band that shares a vision!

Joe: For me, it comes from jamming through some riff ideas. I'll play around with some patterns until I find something that seems catchy and evil enough, and I build on it. When we're together as a band in the jam room, one of us starts playing a piece of something, and we all start filling in the gaps until we have something we all think is cool enough to be Venomin James. Then we try and take it a little further, trying to to keep it from being ordinary or something that any other band might do. We get easily bored.

Jim: Yeah, it starts with the instrumental for us. As far as the lyrics go I kind of give it a really focused listen and try to be ultra receptive to whatever emotions, visualizations or ideas shoot forth. They usually do immediately and I just try to capture that feeling etc. and build on it from there. I let the song come to me, I don't chase the song. Most of the time it is almost effortless, it just comes to me in a very natural way. I feel good about that, it is not something contrived.

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

Jim: I find inspiration everywhere. I've been inspired by books I've read, documentaries and what I perceive is going on in the world around me. I've seen a lot of fucked up shit for someone my age. I've been in the middle of a combat zone on the other side of the globe, worked a pretty lengthy stint in a state penitentiary (talk about a f'n trip) and I had the typical dysfunctional fucking childhood. I've got plenty of shit to write about. I generally try to write about what is going on in the world today though, I have been very disturbed by current trends..

Joe: I look everywhere - movies, books, records, but most of all I try to find aggression that needs to be exorcised, and I focus on putting that into mountain-crushing riffs. When I was reading through some Salinger and Vonnegut books during the writing of "Left Hand Man"-era songs, I noticed that it definitely stimulated a new release of song ideas. Take "Cat's Cradle" or "Nine Stories" for example, and you'll notice a theme of nascent depression that is easy to focus into musical themes. Talk about feeding the doom - go read some J.D. Salinger.

Tomasz: I use angst as my motivation, but not psychotic bullshit. I use my guitar like a punching bag to get out my energy - and, hey - there's something new to be pissed about daily, so it's a renewable resource!

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

Joe: Doom Metal. I think we take bits from a lot of different places and genres, but if I had to put my finger on a sub-genre, it would be Doom Metal.

Jim: I feel we are a hybrid of sorts. I think we appeal to a lot of different people for different reasons. We are definitely a heavy, bluesy, doomy and organic sounding band..it's really undeniable. We kind of straddle the line between hard rock and metal.

Tomasz: I'd say simply "Hard Rock".

Erin: I hate that question. What are pigeonholes?

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

Joe: I'm natural pessimistic and depressed, and I think my musical ideas definitely sound that way. When you put all of us together, all the hopes, anger, fears, and pride we all feel is well-represented in the final songs. Our overriding musical intention is to play music we would want to hear as a fan. We're just regular guys - there's nothing pretentious or "rock star" about us, and that's who we make music for. We want the audience to be able to listen in and hear what we are thinking and feeling, and then realize they can totally identify with us.

Tomasz: I want the listener to feel the energy - to feel part of it. To be "in the bubble" with me.

Erin: I try to make the audience sore the day after a show, from all the head bobbing. Whatever emotion it is that makes someone yell "Fuck Yeah!"

Jim: I concur with Joe on this one. We are not a bunch of posers trying to conform to what we think will make us fit in with what's hot or what might get us signed. I think what we do is very honest and authentic. We do what we enjoy and hopefully it strikes a chord with the listener, that is the big icing on the cake. I'm fucking pessimistic and depressed half the time as well so I guess that vibe definitely manifests itself. Fuck..I'm probably manic-depressive or some shit and don't even know it. I need to get evaluated...

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?

Joe: It's hard to think of trying to make money from this, because that's a fantasy. First and foremost, we do this because we have to. If we weren't playing music in Venomin James, we'd be five of the most miserable sourpusses you've ever seen. This is therapy and brotherhood. This is belonging to something that is bigger than you, and realizing that you are not alone. This is music that is pure and from the heart. We do it real and we do it because we are unable to do anything else in life with as much passion and honesty as this. To move this forward, all we can hope for is for more and more people to realize that we are something to be reckoned with, and are playing music that is of a higher caliber than a lot of the manufactured songs you hear in the mainstream. To that end, we continue to play with bigger and bigger bands, send out the records to anyone that has a passing interest, and spread the word on the net as much as possible. I register this band on every site that allows it. Slowly but surely, people are beginning to pay attention.

Tomasz: I'm with Joe on this - but I'd like to add, that if I didn't wail on my guitar, I'd be wailing on somebody!

Jim: Music has been an obsession my whole life, it has gotten me through some very challenging times. This is the one thing I do for myself. I work, have children and am going fucking broke like everyone else out there right now. I don't do this for the money but I sure could use it...help a brotha out! Buy our albums!

Erin: I couldn't give two shits about the music business. Music is my motivation. Tomasz on the other hand, that dude is just in it for the Todd McFarlane Venomin James action figures in the basement arena with working smoke machines. Get on it Todd.

Describe to us the ideal (realistic) record label and how you'd work with them, and they with you.

Joe: That's a tough one. First, the label would have to believe in us. There could be no expectations of platinum success. Look at Clutch for example: they have many, many killer songs and they play all year round. They have a career that allows them the freedom to be Clutch, and yet, they've never sold records into the Gold range (500,000) that I know of. They are well-respected and sell out clubs all over the world. We hold Clutch as the prime example of measuring success. We strive to have their track record.

A label that decides to work with us would soon realize how self-sufficient we are. In this band, we have graphic & web designers, printers, cinematographers, editors, engineers, and mixers. We could potentially save any label a bundle of cash because we can do everything ourselves. There would be minimal label expense beyond some tour support, helping out with merch costs, and getting records pressed and distributed. There are no $50,000 video budgets or anything else. Give us a little money for some gear, and we'll get it made. There is no payroll needed for a webmaster or anything like that. All we ask for in a label is to help with the exposure and distribution. I guarantee a return on their investment of time and money. We work hard, and we would go until bloody to make this band work.

Tomasz: Um, yeah - this is why I let Joe answer first, you know, so I don't say something stupid like: "I give you (label) music, you (label) give me $$! (laughing)

Jim: I am not very well versed on the music business, I know the basics. I'll be honest I refer to Joe on any of that stuff, he seems to have a much better grasp on the ins and outs...

Do you have a particular sound in your head that you try to bring out? Or is the creation process random and spontaneous? Or both, or neither?

Joe: We all listen to so many different bands, and that gets filtered into the sound you hear. There is an underlying sound that is hopefully a signature thing, thinking of the way our guitars and bass sound with Jim layered on top of it all, but we definitely will never limit ourselves to a specific type of sound. The best example I have is Black Sabbath's "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath" album. That record has all kinds of sounds and textures all over it: piano, strings, keyboards - but retains the signature elements of Sabbath. Listen to the arrangement on songs like "A National Acrobat". Any normal, "ordinary" band would have five or six separate songs from that one song. However, Sabbath takes us on a journey, rarely returning to the beginning. That's our blueprint. We never want to overstay our welcome with a specific riff or idea, and we try to take the listener to new places within one song. There's nothing over thought in our songs though - this is the way they come out. We do a lot of self-editing, because as I said earlier, we get bored easily, and don't want our listeners to get bored. I guess what I'm getting at is that, in the end, there are no limits to Venomin James, so you you never know where we might take the next batch of songs.

Jim: I think we just do what we do and that's what gives a bit of a unique sound, we definitely don't try to conform to any kind of mold...when you hear a Venomin James song...you KNOW it's Venomin James.

Tomasz: I believe our "secret formula" is not having a formula - though I think if keyboards were on a Venomin James song, I "might" draw the line!

Where do you see you and your music going i
n ten years?

Joe: Nice follow up to the previous question! In ten years, I clearly see us making a new form of the music we make now, like Zeppelin did with their music. Over the course of their career, Zeppelin never made the same record twice, unlike say Nickelback or Godsmack, who always make the same record over and over again! From "Led Zeppelin" through "Coda", there was a marked difference and evolution, but you still could easily identify who it was. Now, I don't dare say that Venomin James could compete with Zeppelin, because they were pioneers, but we can use their career as a blueprint to study and compare. For us, in 10 years you will know it's Venomin James, but you will notice that we've taken you on a journey to an evolved Venomin James. We'll retain the essential elements, but will refuse to keep making the same record again and again. Hopefully by that time, we will be known enough to tour a few times per year, and record as much as possible, and have this band be the only thing we need to focus on. We hope to keep having at least one new album per year, if not two.

Tomasz: Hasn't Angus Young said that AC/DC has made 25 of the same records? Ah yes, but they rock - anyway, I'd like to see us keep forging ahead and putting out records, or whatever they will call them in 10 years.

Erin: In ten years, only the Mad Max style survivors will be making music after the great apocalypse.

Jim: Hopefully I live that long...I'll try to keep my head down...

What makes a great song?

Joe: To me, a great song gets stuck in your head. There is something about a great song that connects with you emotionally or physically. You want to hear it again the minute it's finished. At the same time, a great song can be playing in the background and blend into the atmosphere wherever you're at - it can become a part of your daily routine, whether you're sitting and actively listening, or just have it on as background noise or a kind of soundtrack to daily life. We want you to hear a Venomin James song, and have it be associated with memories of your life, the way any of us can listen to our favorite bands and relive the times we heard it playing.

Tomasz: Um, what Joe said, but one more thing: TONE!

Jim: What Joe said. I think it is pretty obvious who the official band spokesperson is...long winded motherfucker.

Erin: A human makes a great song. Not a machine.

Tell us about the first song you ever wrote?

Joe: My first real song was called "Crown of Thorns", and I have a cassette of my first band playing it. It's actually not that embarrassing! I was heavily influenced by Black Sabbath and Metallica's first 4 albums, and I attempted to mix the two together. Needless to say, the results are interesting!

Jim: It was called "Covet". At the time I thought it would not be long until I was touring the globe with a gang of hot broads. Instead I'm touring regionally with a bunch of bearded men. Yeah..."Covet" pretty much sucked. You gotta start somewhere though.

Tomasz: My first song was pretty lame. I think it was really a Judas Priest song.

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

Tomasz: Vinyl, by far. I grew up with it. CD is ok. Digital blows - the frequency response is like half that of cassette - it's a sham.

Joe: Vinyl for the sound and the artwork, CD for the ease of listening and carrying, and digital for nothing. I really don't dig the digital revolution, but I use it when that's what's available. We spend all this time making sonically superior and powerful music, and then digital takes all the power and sonic integrity right on out. I know it's necessary, but I don't have to embrace it. What happens when we lose data? At least with CDs or Vinyl, you have an archive copy.

Jim: Whatever I can afford, which is not much.

Erin: Hydro Electric Acoustical Recording Device, or H.E.A.R.D. for short. Recording on pure water is the wave of the future.

What's the best record store in your town?

Joe: That's easy - Ultrasound Music in Eastlake, Ohio. A couple of us went to high school with Gary, the owner, and he's been there since then. First he worked there (when it was Wax Stax), and now he owns it. He has the best selection of stoner/doom and metal in both CD and vinyl, and he really knows and supports the scene. I often order stuff through him that I can easily get on Amazon or something, just so I can go in and browse. I can't say enough good things about Gary and Ultrasound. Anyone around here can testify to that.

Tomasz: Yeah, I'll go in there and be perusing the aisles, and he'll put something on that I know he knows I'll probably dig.

Erin: Gary will receive an honored throne next to Crom for what he has done.

Jim: Ultrasound by far...I would spend a lot of money there if I had it.

Joe: You can't escape that place without blowing a ton of dough.

Well, I'm heading to Cleveland soon, so I'll hope to catch up with you guys and we can blow some dough together. In the meantime, there should be a new Venomin James album coming soon, so keep your eyes out!


What a well spoken bunch, and humorous at that! And how can you question a band who references Crom? C'mon!

Long Live Venomin James!

Anonymous said…
Anonymous said…
Fellas, once again you have honored us! Doom on! Be on the lookout for the new album...you'll be getting one of the first copies....VJ