JASON GOLDBERG of BEAK – A Metal Odyssey Interview!
BEAK – Jason Goldberg is a founding member of Beak, a Post-Metal and Extreme charged band that has made some impressive noise in their hometown of Chicago, Illinios and throughout the Mid-West. Now, Beak has become an underground favorite from coast to coast; with their 2012 debut album Eyrie (Someoddpilot Records) receiving critical praise from heavy music media outlets, from Noisecreep to yours truly here at Metal Odyssey. Jason and his bandmates are seasoned musicians, with diverse musical roots that date back two decades. Recently, Jason and I conducted an email interview and I couldn’t be more content with the end result!
An astute musician, Jason elaborates (as you shall read) on both his knowledge of and proficiency at playing the Polivoks. Jason comes across as not only a friendly guy; he also comes across as quite an intellectual musician. Jason obviously understands “the big picture” of making it in the music industry and is justifiably proud of his band’s do-it-yourself work ethic. I’ve found Jason’s detailed answers to be enormously informative, insightful and admirably honest. Thank you Jason, I couldn’t have asked for anything more!
Here is what Jason Goldberg had to say:
Stone: Jason, based on your prior and current experience in the music industry, what is the most annoying obstacle for a band to overcome?
Jason: Shit. Where does one start with that? I could be facetious, and say that choosing to be in the music industry in general is the most annoying obstacle, but I’ll be more open and honest and less dumb. A dangerous question is this, as I’m beginning to feel license to bitch! There’s definitely a few that tie for first place; with a band like Beak, we do almost everything ourselves. We recently released our debut record, ‘Eyrie’, and coming from a six year gap between the last release of our last endeavor, The Timeout Drawer (an unconventional, instrumental post-rock outfit), and now, we didn’t bring a lot of recognition or fan base with us. There was some excitement in the more peculiar and critical circles, and it was of our own volition to start anew, but definitely not dismissing from whence we came.
We had to re-kindle our own defunct record label, Someoddpilot Records, originally a post-rock/electronica label, in order to release Eyrie with more command. We hooked up a digital distribution deal and are currently hoping to gain physical distro through the same and other outlets. We put our own records in local stores. We launched a Kickstarter campaign so we could press vinyl (thankfully successfully!) We designed and maintain our own website. We directed, shot and edited our own videos, however we have received recent help through the perked interest of, ironically enough, the same crew that works on the R. Kelly videos in Chicago. They want more metal videos under their belt. We book our own shows and tours. We design our own art, save for the Beak logo itself, designed by our friend Justin Fines of Demo Design. I guess you could say Beak is a grass-roots type, or D.I.Y. kind of band. Granted, this gives us illimitable freedom and no one to answer to, but it does take all of our time. And money.
At this point, I’m going to revert back to my original comment about the music industry itself being the greatest obstacle because there is little to be handed down from the outside. If you’re not making enough money to share with people who want to be there when the money is flowing, they’re not going to help you. There is no belief in the music anymore, regardless of what many say, only belief in the money you can bring. Unfortunately in the past we’ve had fans who worked at labels and booking agencies who were helpless to do anything for us. Bottom line on the obstacle: Accepting that the more artistic standards you try to maintain, the less support and success will you experience. Poor us, right? We’re also privileged people who like to bitch a lot. We recognize.
Stone: As Beak was forming as a band, was there a pre-determined level of heaviness to the music that would be written?
Jason: There was, in fact. The current line-up of Beak was the latest line-up of the aforementioned Timeout Drawer. Despite ditching our sound (not completely, mind you) we stuck together as friends and as a band, believing we had more to collectively offer. TTD went from ‘serene falling asleep in the bathtub on Valium soundscapes’ on its debut release, getting a little more intense with each successive release until the final sister LP and EP, ‘Nowonmai’ and ‘Alone’, respectively, shredding so hard and breaking strings in every song, yet still under the ‘polite’ and ‘mute’, almost censored umbrella of instrumental post-rock. We had more to scream about, more to pound about. Instrumentally speaking, we kept our formula. Two guitars, drums, the addition of dueling vocals, analog synth bass undulated from a Micromoog, and another particular analog synth – which I believe brings us to the next question. We didn’t quite know what Beak would be, or even that it would be called Beak, or even that it would be metal. We only knew that our hearts were heavy and that the music would follow suit. The yielding of ‘metal’, in this case I guess, isn’t all that surprising or accidental, as a couple of us dial our roots and relationships back 22 years, in punk, hardcore, metal, goth and industrial.
Stone: How were you introduced to the Polivoks? While we’re at it, your introduction to the bass as well?
Jason: In the Timeout Drawer days, I primarily played a Micromoog synthesizer, mostly for lead melodies, not to mention infinite atmosphere and sound effects. Our guitarist randomly coughed it up when we decided to be an instrumental act, and said, “Here play this, it sounds awesome.” It acted like the ‘voice’ of the band. You can dial it down to some pretty sub-sonic frequencies, so we also used it to track bass. Oddly, since there was no dedicated bass player, bass was one of the last things to get written. It was always a landmine path, as the songs would become quickly layered with interlaced counter-melodies. Anyway, the bass track got put on a laptop for live purposes and a click went out to the drummer. This allowed us to have as many tracks as we wanted essentially, so the Moog was employed to create a lot of the atmosphere as well.
When Beak formed, we didn’t want to deal with anything that couldn’t be played live. Human and technological error together is too much stress to stack up for a live performance. This would mean playing bass with one keyboard, the Micromoog, and, more conventional keyboard sounds with another. The Micromoog is analog and derives its sound by taking voltage from the wall and running it through an oscillator, or sound engine, at a chosen frequency and waveform. You can do anything with it from there, including achieving serious sub bass tones, creating a very monstrous sound, desirable within Beak. It’s sometimes asphyxiating. I would have used a second one for additional sounds and pads, but it is monophonic and can only produce one note, or voice at a time. We needed an analog keyboard with at least two oscillators (you can virtually make any sound in the world by mixing two oscillators), and one that was at least duo-phonic, capable of hitting two notes at once (to be able to make a simple chord). It also had to have a filter and envelope bank as bad ass as the Moog’s. Incidentally this was the Polivoks, as internet research soon proved, an early 80’s Russian knock-off of the MiniMoog, created to make such a thing available and affordable in the Soviet Union in the 80’s.
I ordered one of five available to the world at the time (to the best of my knowledge) on ebay. It took months to arrive. It was packed in an air conditioner window unit box. The keyboard itself, I shit you not, was wax sealed in a burlap bag. Within one month it had fried some circuits that were outdated in the states by at least 20 years. One year later, I found parts. Some kind soul in Holland had some extras (of course) and shipped them to me without even charging anything. Luckily, Chicago houses some mean analog keyboard servicemen. With the help of an archaic printout of the Russian schematics, it was re-birthed. As fragile as a Milton Bradley board game, and a filter pedal that attenuates via thread wound on a spool, it possesses some of the most terrifying, unadulterated sounds I’ve ever heard. A worthwhile wait, as it plays a significant role in what sets Beak’s sound apart from others.
Stone: I’ve discovered “Eyrie” to be a tremendous debut album for Beak, both musically and vocally and I’m not alone. Does critical praise motivate you and the band to dig even deeper into your creative thinking for the follow-up album?
Jason: Honestly, yes. Admittedly, I’m one of those (dare I say) artists that wants to hear what people think. I believe art and music are communal entities, meant to bring people together, meant to motivate feedback, and critique and what have you. It’s especially exciting, as well as terrifying, to hear what people have to say about one’s own art, particularly a debut effort embarking on a new sound. It’s invaluable in the way that it acts as the control group in an experiment – you learn from it. Regardless of how much direction you think you have in a musical effort, again with a debut, it’s more of a blind run than you may think. You really don’t know what exactly it is you’re doing until the record is done, unless your goal is to do exactly what someone has already done for the sake of classification and catering to a target audience. With The Timeout Drawer, I don’t think we ever listened to anyone. Everything was unconventional; the arrangements, the instrumentation, the sound – so when people would say, “I think you should add vocals”, we would think, “Fuck you.” At this point, critique is taken to heart, and modestly speaking, we’re nervous about not only living up to expectations, but surpassing them. One secret I can let you in on; there is a follow-up record that is almost finished being written. It might be called ‘Let Time Begin’. It might not. Right now, we’re combing over the songs to make sure they will be presented at their maximum potential.
Stone: The tempo shifts on “Eyrie” flow together so seamlessly; “Men At Arms” being the epic on the album, it can be interpreted as near theatric. Can this all be considered a “thinking mans Extreme Metal”?
Jason: Is this a loaded question?! If I said “no”, I’d be downplaying the chance to talk ourselves up, and given this is an interview, that would be a what the tabloids might call an “Interview Fail”! So, in all modesty, I’m going to say, “maybe?” Beak would like to think so, and I think the marriage of a concept record and a few unconventional elements (synths, synth bass, etc.) help support the notion that it is. Our drummer Chris Eichenseer’s artwork, lead vocalist/guitarist Jon Slusher’s lyrics, the imagery, the spacey progressions, are all intended at least to present a unified idea to reflect upon – ‘Eyrie’ is a vignette, or abstract about the inevitability of mortality. It is our hope that this is not too implicitly nor explicitly apparent; but rather, as aforementioned, something to reflect upon. It’s not rock and roll for its own sake and we’re not just here to have a good time, but we’re also not claiming to usurp John Lennon’s enlightening projections of world peace (rather just the opposite! J.K. Or..?). In addition, in my mind, metal bands these days are either trying to push the envelope of mental complexity or admittedly offering up the quick fix. Both are equal in purpose and justification, but the real magic for me lies in the grey area, in the potential to harvest and yield emotion.
Stone: Beak has tapped into an original zone of sound that is so rich, where influences may exist, only they are not jumping out of the songs. How difficult or easy is it to maintain such a consistent uniqueness to your music?
Jason: Our stubbornness and dick attitudes actually make it quite easy. We’re not so much trying to be different, more so we’re not trying to sound the same. Luckily, for our sake, this aspect of non-direction results in an organic originality of sound. When a few of us formed some of our first bands in high school in the late ’80’s, there weren’t as many common band influences as there were separate genre influences. I sang as if I were the son of a marriage between Henry Rollins and Nivek Ogre (I know, fucked up, right?). Our guitarist and drummer (our current drummer!) emulated Metallica and Slayer. Our keyboard player and bass player at the time, Depeche Mode and Guns & Roses, respectively. We sounded like a record store in a hurricane. This melting pot formula, if one could call it a formula, persisted throughout two decades of a sort of punk industrial madness, finally sputtering out in an instrumental post-rock calm, only to wind back up again into Beak.
It is the past that makes the present so interesting in this case, and the trace elements of our genre-laden follies that finally found focus in our current incarnation. To our surprise and advantage, the world actually has a name for this; post-metal; or…Neur-Isis! When the first reviews of ‘Eyrie’ started trickling in, I believe we all breathed a sigh of relief to know, for our own prosperity, if there’s ever to be any, we could be categorized! If we had guns to our heads to claim a common influence, I think we would all point at Killing Joke.
Stone: Which came first, the lyrics or the music when “Eyrie” was being written? Were any songs written acoustically first?
Jason: First music, then lyrics, no acoustics. Jon Slusher, our lead vocalist/lyricist/guitarist, paces back and forth between his living room and kitchen, with his strap slung extra low for ‘cool practice’, writing riffs. Then he writes some words. Then he arranges them and brings them to band practice. There, Andy Bosnak creates counter melodies and harmonies on guitar, while Chris and I iron out the rhythm section. Our friend, the Polivoks is added for support and some “flave”. Andy will also write riffs at home, usually, we suspect, sitting on the couch (his apartment is longer than Jon’s) with a glass of juice nearby and the most magnetized VHS copy of whatever Zeppelin concert looping on mute. We assume the latter because any time Andy has a party, it’s playing, and we assume it’s never been turned off. We just don’t see him pressing ‘Stop’ after everyone’s gone home.
Stone: What is it about Beak that sets this band apart from their peers? I am leaning towards the genuine melding of Metal styles that your music encapsulates.
Jason: I’m not going to claim Beak is the originator of anything, but set apart from our peers, we are. A lot of post and black metal acts are no strangers to keyboards. They add texture and ambiance, and a soundtrack-like feel giving the music a unique grandiosity. A strict rule regarding the synthesizers in Beak is the analog element (again not claiming originality here). Digital sounds too, well, digital, or sampled. An analog keyboard produces its own sound as does any real instrument, not just a reproduction of one. When Jon and I scream, we’re screaming as if our Sergeant demanded to hear our war cry – not too much emulation or predetermined mold going on there. The “call and response” vocal tactic may hearken back to some good old hard-core or even power violence styling, making it a little more boundary free. I feel current metal has more of a commonly heard prerequisite to it, if that makes sense. Happy accident, as well, is the triad of two guitars and analog Moog bass. The wall is so thick you would need a tractor to plow through it. Add the Polivoks on the accents and/or the one’s and shit, man…
Above: flyer for 2012 benefit concert in which Beak performed.
Stone: How are the live shows going for Beak? Are there plans for a cross-country tour in the future?
Jason: Shows are good. Within Beak, it’s kind of like the party we prefer to be at most, so we create it for ourselves, first and foremost. We’re also the last ones being kicked out the venue we just played. You just don’t want those nights to end. It gets really bad when we headline and our gear is still on stage! I genuinely feel sorry for the promoters and closers tapping their feet, shaking their heads with their arms folded as we take a chunk out of the door jambs with our cabs as we waddle out. But yes, we’ve been playing frequently, building our chops, mostly in Chicago, and spotting around the Midwest. Attendance and fan base builds slowly but surely and we’ve been blessed with rare opportunities to share bills with the likes of classic acts like Killing Joke, Pentagram, Anvil, etc. We do absolutely plan to tour more extensively, cross-country and internationally should the opportunity arise. A tall order to achieve these days, but one we certainly plan on striving for it. As of right now we’ve been offering ourselves up for support – any takers?!
Stone: What’s the buzz like, when it comes to “live” Metal in Chicago and the surrounding area these days?
Jason: There’s definitely a good buzz regarding metal specifically in Chicago and the immediate Midwest, and it’s definitely perceivable when you go out to shows, or play one with some good bands in town, or toil around the social media. At the same time, like any niche, it can seem totally transparent amongst other circles. I think I may be more biased, or sensitive to it though, being involved in it, or at least trying my hardest to be involved. It’s certainly a force to be reckoned, and it’s comforting (and challenging) to know that the scene is so dense and alive and will be for a long time. Having grown up with metal, and gone through and in and out of musical phases, I was surprised to see such an active scene when I came back around to it in the early 2000’s. And if the buzz is good in Chicago, it’s good everywhere. The thing with metal, it’s all so positive; out of all the genres, metal shows are the best time. And it’s weird, the darker the music, the more positive the vibe. Love it.
Hands Collide is taken from Eyrie. This music video from Beak is a thrilling sight and sound accomplishment! Watch and listen below!
Stone: The music video for “Hands Collide” has an eerie visual story that leaves much left for the imagination. Just a quality video from every aspect. Besides the music, was there any other involvement for you or any band member in the making of this gripping video?
Jason: The story for Hands Collide was conceived, directed and shot by our drummer, Chris Eichenseer. Running his own design shop for the past decade, Someoddpilot (sister to the record label!) he’s no stranger to video. He’s got the art of photography and conceptualization down to a T, and knows how to put them together, so it works out in our favor. I’ve also had stints with film and video work throughout my peppered work life, and helped Chris edit the video. Jon, our lead guitar/vocal man, is the “perp” in the story. We like to give the audience a couple of visual themes, or elements and let them draw their own dark conclusions. What an imagination can stir up is the most fun, and gives everyone a unique, yet shared experience, so our style is not to spoon feed. Be it with video, music, cover art, what have you. Chris, aside from being behind the main concept here, would also have the most involvement. That said, the house in the video is actually Chris’ folks house out in the Chicago suburbs where he and I grew up. So if this is the house he grew up in, why is he sending an agent of doom through the supermarket to collect bottles of bleach, then arriving to mask himself and creep into the basement, only to emerge in a garage strewn with empty jugs and bottles, leaving behind some unspeakable, unseen act? Perhaps a long, checkered past that needed cleaning up? If it were my house, I may have sent a bulldozer…but bleach was more in the budget!
I am, however, excited to say, that we just finished a video for ‘Billions of Eyes’, which should be up for public consumption within a few weeks! This was actually shot in the Mojave Desert, again, Jon as the hunter, and ex-Timeout Drawer guitarist, Chris Van Pelt, as the hunted. Again, I’m really excited about this – all modesty aside, it’s bad ass!
Stone: I see a grand Metal future for Beak, originality and stellar musicianship paves this path, in my opinion. With that said, Jason, let it be known and don’t be shy, what veteran bands do you wish Beak to open for on major tours?
Jason: That sentiment is certainly appreciated, Stone, thanks! It would have been really nice to continue on with the Killing Joke or Pentagram tours in lieu of providing one night of local support, but one can only ask for so much in life, or rather, get so much! Other respected veterans on the list may be the likes of COC, or EYEHATEGOD, although the latter may be a health risk! More appropriately though, how about a Godflesh or Isis reunion tour or some Neurosis support?!
* For more info on BEAK, click on the links below!
LONG LIVE JASON GOLDBERG.
LONG LIVE BEAK.
This entry was posted on June 13, 2012 at 7:00 am and is filed under Extreme Metal, Heavy Metal, heavy metal news, metal music, Music, post metal, rock interviews, rock music, rock music news with tags beak, beak interview, Extreme Metal, heavy metal news, jason goldberg, Metal News, post-metal, rock music news. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.