What have been your musical epiphany moments?
When I was in high school I remember hearing Sun Ra and Brutal Truth around the same time, and both records were just examples of opening up and making weird, aggressive music that was still very cerebral and artistic. Basically those records told me I was allowed to go way further with what sounds and structures I could use. Like, it made me realize my imagination was the only limit.
The next one was when I heard Band of Gypsys and WAR - these were dark, heavy songs that carried a lot of groove and anger, in a very minimalist way. So that changed my expectations of what I could do as a songwriter from within the rhythm section, how you can drive the song and the melody without actually being the melody. It was also just the moment, combined with Black Sabbath, where I was just like "fuck the 70s were cool as fuck."
There've been a few others - the harmonized guitars on Metallica's Orion, the time changes in Happiness is a Warm Gun, the trippiness of a Lee Scratch Perry dub, the raw energy on KISS's Eddie Kramer-produced Electric Ladyland demos, and Hawkwind's all out sonic assault on Space Ritual.
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?
Usually there's a riff and a title to start. I build on the riff to make some variations on the theme, and then maybe try to figure out if what I have is a verse or a chorus, or an intro or a bridge, and then write the other missing pieces to compliment it. We start jamming that, and working on transitions and embellishments. While that's happening, Sarah is writing and researching lyrics based on whatever the song's about, and then we all come together and see what happens. Sometimes the band doesn't hear Sarah's final vocal parts until we're in the studio.
Who has influenced you the most?
In terms of songwriting, probably Black Sabbath and the Beatles, followed by Hawkwind. As a bassist, still probably Geezer from Black Sabbath, but also Paul Jackson from the Headhunters and Billy Cox from Band of Gypsys, and then maybe Cliff Burton. The Melvins and Soundgarden played a big part in our early sound, or at least what we were hoping for.
Where do you look for continuing inspiration? New ideas, new motivation?
Everywhere! We are always reading science fiction, history, fantasy, and weather books for more inspiration and just because they fascinate us. Musically, you get to a point where you don't always want more inspiration - as much as I love a lot of contemporary bands, you get scared of accidentally digesting someone else's riff or sounds, and so you don't always want to listen to other stuff that just came out or even other heavy, bluesy bands. I try to listen to a lot of music outside the heavier genres, both to keep my experience fresh and because I'm obsessive about hearing some of everything that's available. So I like disco and funk, and dub reggae and space age jazz and pop. A lot of the grooves and production tricks are really inspiring and can offer some new and different ideas that maybe aren't as prominent in underground metal.
We're all a product of our environment. Tell us about the band's hometown and how that reflects in the music?
Well Richmond has a reputation for excellent punk and metal bands, a competitive scene, and a lot of DIY knowledge, dating back to bands in the 80s touring "Black Flag style." All three elements have been hugely influential - from your very first shows, you're surrounded by bands and fans that have seen and done it all, so you have to really bring it if you want to impress anyone enough to make a buzz. You also get a really good education in how to behave and take care of business as a band - if you do something stupid like piss off the soundguy or take 30 minutes to break down after your set, you're going to hear about it, and you're going to see how it should be done. Same with how to treat people and how to try and book tours - there's a lot of smart and experienced people here that can help you. There's also, at least for me, a lot of pressure to live up to the reputation Richmond has for exporting kickass bands.
Where'd the band name come from?
I barely remember now. It's so hard to come up with an original name that isn't terrible, and that one just sounded mysterious and nerdy, so we said "fuck yeah" and that was that.
You have one chance, what movie are you going to write the soundtrack for?
Ghostbusters. I didn't even have to think about it! Second choice is obviously Caddie Shack but Ghostbusters would be so fun.
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?
Sister Ray by the Velvet Underground - I feel like I'd need all 17 minutes of music to find enough to write about. It's such an abrasive and aggressive song, about such a dark situation, but it always puts me in a great mood. And it doesn't make any sense, musically, they just do a 300 bar freakout in the middle! And if I ran out of stuff to talk about I could always just tell stories I've heard about 70s NY to fill space.
Come on, share with us a couple of your great, Spinal Tap, rock and roll moments?
We had a festival gig and no van so I tried to haul the gear in a Uhaul trailer on my Honda Civic (DO NOT ATTEMPT). Our friend Garrett told us not to do it but I was like "fuck it man you gotta do what you gotta do" like a total dumbass. So we made it to the gig and the following gig, but then we had to drive through the mountains. We made it to that gig but it was literally like the momentum was all that was keeping the axle in place. As soon as we pulled into the gig, everyone was staring at my car like it was on fire. The entire back left wheel had pretty much fallen off. We had to push the trailer against a retaining wall and chain it to a light pole while we got my car fixed. It sucked but that seems like something dumb enough for Derek Smalls to try. The punchline, I guess, is that the festival defaulted on all its guarantees and we didn't get paid.
Another time I brought a book on tour, which I had actually stopped doing because I always lose them. So I had this book, and I was like 400 pages in, and I put it in a bag when we got to the gig. Sarah and I were drinking free beers all night and there was a food truck that mostly had burgers and bbq. We don't usually eat meat so we just got the cheese fries, and it turns out they were really very greasy and bad. So later after the gig we're driving home and our tummies are feeling kind of fucky. Sarah all of a sudden has to puke, and so she does the reasonable thing and pukes in the bag holding my book. So I had to order a new copy. The funny part there is that the ending of the book was really lame and boring. The universe was trying to warn me not to finish the book.
Tell us about playing live and the live experience for you and for your fans?
It's a crazy thing. We're not really a huge band, but we'll show up in some town we've never been to and there's a few fans there and that just blows my mind every single time. Then we feed off of that energy and if everything goes right, there's sort of a feedback loop of energy. Pretty rad stuff. There's also a touring and playing community, so there's always some awesome catchup and reunion vibes. You make these friends and see em a few times a year in random parking lots and bars, and it's just like adult summer camp or something. Just one of those times you feel young.
For my performance, I like to have a few minutes alone, to do some stretches and breathing, but we've had shows where we had to go straight from the van to the stage, so you can't really count on a warmup ritual. But I do like to take about 30 seconds to do a breathing exercise before we start. It just lets me be in a similar mental place for every show - not nervous or wound up or anything like that. You've got a 30-45 minute set so there's no time to get into a groove, you've gotta come out fully.
I don't know what it's like for our fans because I don't generally look at the crowd; I want to try to give the same performance whether it's a full house or a slow night, and also because if I see a friend I might laugh. A lot of my friends are assholes, so it could even be intentional.
What makes a great song?
Really, I think it's a sense that it's going somewhere. Whether it's building to a freakout, or to a chorus, or whatever, people need to feel that same suspense and forward propulsion they'd want from a good book or movie. So you need tension and transition, basically. A good melody is important and so is a strong groove, but you can get away with not having those if the song feels like it's taking you somewhere. It's never a bad idea to add harmonies and a shaker, but that's just personal preference.
I also believe really strongly in hooks, and that doesn't have to be a catchy melody. It can be a unique drum sound, or a vocal tic, or even an ugly chord. It's just something that makes the song sound like itself and nobody else. A unique identity.
Tell us about the first song you ever wrote?
It was terrible. I was maybe 11 and pretty much only liked Nirvana. I think the song was a 100% ripoff of Purple Haze by Jimi Hendrix, and the only parts that were different were because I didn't know how to do what the song was doing. I heard myself on tape and was super bummed out. Lesson learned, I guess.
What piece of your music are particularly proud of?
The newest single, Hollergoblin, is something I'm really proud of. It's kind of suicidal to write 8 minute songs with long jams and solos - people are like "who do you think you are with that pretentious shit" so if you do it, it's gotta be good, and have a reason for being so long other than you like Dopesmoker and want a long song. So this one has melodies and variations, and distinct sections with distinct moods that match the story being told. There's some clean guitar and synth that was a bit of an experiment and it came out great, and Sarah's lyrics and melody are creepy and fitting. Finally, the bassline is one of my best I've done. I took lessons this past year for the first time in a while, and we really focused on my groove and melody around chord progressions, and you can hear it paying off on that song.
Who today, writes great songs? Who just kicks your ass? Why?
Necrot and Blood Incantation have just been writing the best extreme metal lately, and it's great to see them both blowing up as a result. A lot of times, really good bands don't get rewarded like that, so it's really cool. Spellbook killed it with their last release, and the new JaketheHawk record is pretty unstoppable, they really upped their game and sound this time. One that came out of nowhere for me was Holy Monitor - I'd never heard them before and their new record slapped me in the face it was so good. Heavy and eerie without getting ugly - right in my sweet spot. And then the band Vvlva - they really knocked me out. It's sort of a Krautrocky prog thing but very melodic without being sugary or overly earnest.
In terms of live ass kicking, I think Horseburner, Primitive Man, and Toke are just unfuckwithable. Horseburner and Toke are super fun, whereas Primitive Man was so heavy they basically gave an entire venue an anxiety attack. Like it was just too heavy, which I didn't know was possible!
Vinyl, CD, or digital? What's your format of choice?
I love vinyl and collect it to some extent. I was raised with vinyl being like the holy grail and a lot of my adolescence and young adulthood were spent digging in used vinyl crates, so that's always going to be special for me. And there's no feeling in the world like putting on your own vinyl for the first time. You just feel linked into history or something. That said, I'll absolutely put on a digital album at home before I go looking for the vinyl. For one thing, our needle sucks and you have to add a bunch of bass back in to make it sound right, but it's also just a convenience thing. And then in the car, it's usually cd's and in the van it's tapes. So a mix, but vinyl has the most sentimental value.
Whiskey or beer? And defend your choice
Beer, for sure. Whiskey is fine but I got to an age where shots just feel like fire in my chest for two days after. Beer is cold and delicious, and it's very seldom gotten me into trouble. Whereas liquor just seems to bring misbehavior with it.
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?
Richmond, Virginia! We actually have a few amazing record stores - Vinyl Conflict specializes in punk and metal, Plan 9 has a bit of everything and lots of used vinyl, and then there are a few small ones like Records and Relics and Funk Trunk where we go to get rare vinyl - we just got Stevie Wonder and Herbie Hancock ones from Funk Trunk and I think Technical Ecstasy from Records and Relics.
What's next for the band?
Occult New Age came out on May 7. Now we're back to writing and I hope booking shows soon. It's almost time! Canada and the American Southwest are calling our name . . .
Any final comments or thoughts you'd like to share with our readers, the waveriders?
Yeah we just want to thank all of you for being dedicated to this music and keeping a scene alive. It's just kind of been a shitty year and knowing that there's all you fine folks to come back to has made it a little better for everyone. So thanks not just for your interest in us, but in all the other bands that benefit from this support network.