By: Marc Gaffney
Photo by Raymond Ahner
It is not often when listening to a band that you discover you are virtually picked up by a tornado of assaulting riffage and bombastic kick drums and tom fills, ones that made the day seem that much better because there was an outlet that you had been searching for similar to Homer’s Odyssey. I mean the vibe is driving you to simply rock the fuck out and let the inner monster that yearns for the 4 on the floor to get his fix of the R.O.C.K. You find yourself remembering why as a kid you bought tapes and blasted them on your Sony Walkman and felt in that time your whole being was transported in that wooden tennis racquet that was your Gibson Les Paul; or in this scene, a beautiful Monson Shifter guitar.
You would let the good in with a thunderous strum and the bad out with an air drum hit or high kick that uncannily notified your endorphins the beat was ramping up, the hammer has been dropped and you my friend are feeling the vibe that turned you into Dancing Rick from Starsky and Hutch.
Upon the first time I had heard this power duo my opinion of the drummer was, “Holy Fuck, I had been trampled underfoot by a double bass drum filled with dynamite and rail road thunder from a mountainous groove of ash burning percussion” and the singer/guitarist, I said, “If Charlie Hunter loved Motorhead and enjoyed pulverizing the soul of listeners then you have, people all around the world, my favorite caustic 2 piece, with fangs of venom so strong, the only antidote is to turn the fuckup and let your auditory system attempt to defend the swiftness like Rikki Tikki Tavi.
My friends and others of the ilk, I give you the kings of the rock jungle, Black Cobra.
Sit back and dig on my discussion with Jason Landrian regarding everything from the album, recording process, the history and the amazing tour they will be embarking on in September overseas with Yob.
Gaff: Thanks so much Jason and congrats on the album
Jason: Oh thank you so much
Gaff: Can you discuss wood shedding these songs and the process of bringing them to the studio?
Jason: Sure man, we start writing riffs and that is how all of our albums have become. I mean it is one of those things where we map out ideas either on tape or hard drive these days. I mean we don’t sit down and say we need to write riffs today, I will come up with ideas and Raff is a pretty accomplished guitar player as well, I mean he played bass in Acid King. So he will come up with ideas as well, so we will both have these ideas to start with and then once we feel like the creative need to write, we will hash it out on the studio. That is how all of the records have started from the very beginning. I mean we record a ton of riffs and almost like make a mix CD and start listening back to it and we start picking and choosing, saying I like this idea and this one needs to develop some more and then we start to get a feel for which ones would start to work with each other.
We always put the music together first before we start doing the vocals or lyrics, that is how all of it starts and over time we piece together ideas and then go back to the studio and hash them out and see if they work together. We do a lot of trying to separate ourselves when we are listening to it from being the people who are writing it. Trying to judge if the songs are good and will work for us and once we feel that the song has a really good structure to it then we start adding rhythmic placement or rearrange the riffs to fit the vocals better, shifts and moulds as we keep going and very last thing, add the lyrics and during the whole process we are talking about what are we trying to say with this, what are we into, what are we reading and watching and what is influencing and interesting to us that we want to write about.
Gaff: Are you ultra critical of yourself
Jason: Absolutely, you know the saying, “You are your own worst critic” and I think that applies as I try to be pretty critical. I never listen to something and say we are “So Awesome” I think more like ok this works. You know it is tough trying to make that judgment call. I feel like Raff and I use each other, do you like this? We are the only 2 so is there is less filtering to go through but we are the ones that have to give it the stamp of approval. It is tough but rewarding in a way as when you put it out you know you really like it, it is rewarding. You can feel confident about this.
Gaff: Where was it recorded and by whom for people that do not know?
Jason: We recorded “Imperium Simulacra”, in Gainesville, FL at Black Bear with Jonathon Nunez who is the bassist of Torche. I am a huge fan of Torche and he recorded and if he didn’t record their records he had at least a hand in it. We have known Jonathon for a long time having toured with Torche over the years and as Raff and I grew up in
So it was a no brainer. Florida
We played a show in Miami when we were on tour with Shitstorm which is his grind core band. We kind of started talking about how we were writing these new tunes and if he would be interested in recording and he was totally on board. We are really happy with the recoding. It was awesome working with Jonathon because we have known him forever; it was like hanging out with your buddy.
Gaff: It takes a bit of the stress off not wanting to punch someone.
Jason: Ha, yeah right, but he lent a critical ear.
Gaff: Did he mix it also
Jason: He mixed it and we were there for the whole mixing process. Then it was mastered by John Golden who
has done all of our records.
Gaff: Are you guys hands on in terms of the mix or do you rely on his ears or both?
Jason: We are both, when we get to the point of mixing, there is a lot of preliminary stuff that he needs to done so we leave him alone to get it done. We will come back at the end and he will have a song done and say, “What do you think?” It is a back and forth type of thing as we will listen to it back and then give him our notes and we like this or that or do not like this or that about it. We will go back and forth and work together on it. We did the same thing with Kurt Ballou on “Invernal”, it was the same process where he would do a mix and give it to us and ask “what do you think about this”? We would make notes and I thought that was a pretty good process because when we recorded “Chronomega”, with Billy Anderson, we were there are all day with him and to be honest, I think it is easier for the engineer to have that freedom to do it without the band hovering over him. I think, I like all the records and also it gives us a time to take a break of being so immersed in the songs for a minute and then you can go back to it. Also, give a break to your ears.
Gaff: You need that break for your ears because everything starts to sound the same. I personally have to get the fuck out or I go nuts.
Gaff: You guys are utilizing the studio, the tracks are thick as you are a 2 piece, do you enjoy using the studio for adding a few things into the final mix?
Jason: To a degree, the one thing in our mind when writing and recording is, can we do this live? We treat every song as we will be playing it live, so we do not want to do too much studio trickery and be impossible to pull off live.
Gaff: So no “Pet Sounds”?
Jason: Sonically, as far as tones, there is probably, with the studio it is way easier to get tones because you can mic everything, you have the time to do it, obviously there are time constraints but you have more time to sit with your pre-amps and pedals and get it actually right and how you want it. You get the EQ from the board, so getting that is a lot different from a live setting where you have your amps and pedals and just go for it. As far as with trickery, we do not want to do anything that is outside of the scope of what we do live. We have a few solos here and there, nothing too crazy but it is stuff that we can do live. We can play those songs out.
Gaff: the tonality of the album is fucking insane my man.
Jason: Thank you man
Gaff: It was like a pack a Bison just destroying stuff then stopping to enjoy a cigar.
Jason: Jonathon man, he got some great tones and we are really happy with it and I think the drums sounds are amazing.
Gaff: Oh, under the album it said, “Raff is a fucking monster”.
Jason: Yeah, he really killed it.
Gaff: If you don’t mind; talk to me about the gear you used to record.
Jason: I used for guitars, only a Les Paul. Well my Les Paul was stolen a few years ago and Raff has the same guitar and said use this until we can find something to replace it. I was using that guitar for like the whole year we toured and ended up using that guitar exclusively in the studio. I try to not go to crazy as I like the live tone, so I used my MXR Double shot; that is my main distortion pedal. I used a bunch of pedals, I took pictures of them, a few that Jonathon had, boutique style pedals and then I used a bunch of MXR stuff, their delay and bass octave pedal on some of the overdubs to get the heaviness of the tone, more for like solos and melodic lines with that. As far as amps we used Jonathon’s SVT head he uses with Torche, a Solid State Sunn, modded JCM 800, a Bogner Head, we always do a combination of guitar and bass amps, which is what we do live also. But, we can dial it in so much more in the studio.
Gaff: You had that which is crushing in the studio, what is your live rig?
Jason: For the past couple of years I have been using a Hi Watt head for guitar, it is a custom 100, going through a Marshall JCM 1960 b cab, on top a Peavey that I have had for a while, has the Butcher series tolex, 85 Celestions in it, for the bass head is a solid state Gallien Krueger running through a 6-10 Ampeg cab in which we had to replace the speakers as when we first started touring we were blowing speakers all the time, with bass amps they would want a different frequency, especially when we would play higher, so we ended up getting these speakers, a company in Marin just across the bay called Tone Tubby and the speakers were Eminence in it so we replaced with the Tone Tubby’s which are made of hemp so they are indestructible,
Gaff: So you are running 6 of those in the Ampeg?
Gaff: What was the onus of you all wanting to do a 2 piece, cuz I love it.
Jason: Raff and I have known each other for a long time and have always wanted to play music together and we were in a few bands together in Miami. When we started doing Black Cobra, we were writing these riffs and coming up with ideas and really Thrones for me, I had seen Jucifer a long time ago, when I heard Thrones, it is one guy, so we have at least 2 guys so we should be okay. That was the idea at least. Let’s do it with 2 people. With the tunings we were experimenting with I thought we could make it work as we’re covering the whole sound spectrum and then when we write, it is always present in our mind. I mean this is our 5th album so I guess it is enthroned in our minds that we make sure we fill the whole sound spectrum, you know writing riffs with the beats that fill that whole thing up. That is something that Raff is really good at is utilizing his whole kit, using everything to fill it up and give a nice feel to the songs.
Gaff: But even with that, there is still some beautiful unused space that you can vocally float over rhythmically. Some 2 pieces for me are so Kinetic I don’t really know what the fuck is going on. With you all, it has such a great chug to the groove and nothing gets lost. You know it is a 2 piece but it is so full, if you close your eyes and just listen to it with your earphones on, you would be like, “That bass player is fucking sick.” It is Charlie Hunter -esque.
Jason: Yeah, like I was saying, when we write vocals they are in a rhythmic way so we sort of listen and say where can we fit in vocals and as if it was another instrument. We do some instrumentals also so we really treat the vocals as an instrument because it is another thing to fill that whole spectrum of sound, another weapon in our arsenal; that whole spectrum.
Gaff: You being a guitarist and singer, are you more comfortable just playing guitar or doing both?
Jason: I am way more comfortable just playing. I really don’t like being on a microphone at all. But I mean it is something we thought we needed, vocals in the band so I said fuck it you know initially, but now I have gotten way more comfortable on stage. Black Cobra to me is Raff and I, when we played live, that is way up front to. We are both parts of the band and I think it would be weird if I was up and he was back. We have had to play a few gigs with him in the back because of the set up, I feel weird, up front by myself.
Gaff: You have to see each other 2x2. That is the way, old jazz style. You see a lot of 2 pieces and the poor drummer is in the back with the popcorn machine. It is ridiculous and really way easier for you guys to vibe off each other.
Jason: Exactly man, we rehearse the same way as we do live. We want the same feel as the stage you know.
Gaff: Right on! So you have all that going on and tell me about the prep work being done for the Yob tour?
Jason: So we are prepping now. Putting together songs we want to play, plane tickets, thinking of what songs vibe well with Yob’s vibe and stuff like that. I feel like at the same time most of our songs vibe well with their songs. We did a previous tour with them and we have done this before so it is easier to make decisions. I am really looking forward to this tour; Yob is one of my favorite bands,
Gaff: What is going on before you split in September?
Jason: We do not have much lined up, really getting ready for the tour. The tour starts September 11th in Tilburg, NL, so we will be hashing out in the studio rehearsing and maybe hashing out some new ideas and riffs. We have, I mean usually when we finish a record we have a lot of stuff we do not use so we might even go back and see what we didn’t use and maybe work off of that if we think there is something worthwhile.
Gaff: Do you enjoy going over to Europe?
Jason: Yeah, it has always been a little more welcoming to this kind of music or should I say attentive to this type of music. The audience, I mean there is a definitely an audience in America for this type, but I guess receptive is the word I am looking for. It is always great going over there, the fans are really cool and the venues are really cool. I mean you know just over the years we have found great places to rent our gear from places where we can get the same set up as we have in the states over there. It makes it really easy. It is cool being able to play your music for all these people in different countries. It is definitely a totally unique experience.
Gaff: That is great that you get out to tour with a band that u all love. Are you working on 2017?
Jason: Yea, probably we are looking at stuff for the end of the year. I mean we are trying to be as busy as we can be. Just getting out there and giving it our best and tour and do what we can to promote the record and bring it to everybody.
Gaff: Last question, how much do you love your Monson guitar? I play one.
Jason: I played a Les Paul for 15 years and then Raff’s for another so I literally got the Monson from Brent on the Bongzilla tour and played it that night. It felt so great. I didn’t really have time to mess with the tone or dial in anything on my amp. I literally just plugged it in my amp. I was playing with these lace pickups so when we had some time I could mess with it. Once I get my settings set it up it really started to shine for me. It is such a beautiful guitar, feels great and sounds great. It just took a few days as I had everything dialed up for my Les Paul. But I am definitely getting another one so I can have 2 as I travel with 2. I really want another Monson.
Gaff: I got it and played it that night as he had the pickups that I wanted as I sent it off to him so I plugged in and holy fuck, here we go.
Jason: Yeah I adjusted to the Lace pickups, one day, awesome and it is by far my main guitar, I love it. Ordering the guitar from Monson really made me think about gear. With the Monson I can take some time to research and get what I want. When I was looking at a guitar, it was so awesome to get a guitar from someone. Actually, Nate from US Christmas had given me his card years ago because he plays Monson guitars so he was like you need to check this guy out. So I went on and checked out his website and saw that Mike Scheidt and Scott Kelly plays his guitars, Nate Hall, so he has people you know that tone is really important to him. I had wanted one for a while so I was planning on saving up and getting one down the road, but when my Les Paul got stolen I was trying to replace it and I was like I can get some antique guitar that I am going to take on the road and might get stolen again or get a new Les Paul that is not going to sound the same that is factory made. You know for me it was so cool to get something from an actual craftsman. It was amazing and I love the guitar and I am planning on getting another down the road, at least one more. The next day he asked if I wanted to be on the roster and it was so cool and I whole heartedly support what he is doing as it is such a great thing.
Gaff: Christmas came early
Gaff: By far the best guitar I have ever played in my life, so easy to play.
Jason: I have had the Monson for a few months and I really love it. Definitely need to give a shout out to Monson.
Gaff: Right on, for what you guys are doing I cannot thank you enough, it is so motivating listening and please keep it going.
Jason: Man, thank you and that means so much and we will go as long as we can.
It is when speaking with someone such as Jason that you realize that he is fulfilling what he and his mate were put on the world to do, and that is to play music for the rest of us to digest, marinate in and wait for their brand of motor speedway boogie to collapse the cochlea of listeners from sea to shining sea.
The only way that the music can be topped is by knowing what a genuine cat I was conversing with. You at times can get the Rock Star answer or the cool and nebulous proclamation that when it goes to print is lost like that mitten that did not really fit well and the aunt you thought was a fucking nightmare supposedly knit for you, only to find out, she took them from the Elks lost and found.
Jason is a true musician but much like his touring mate Mike Scheidt from YOB, an actual better person than a musician as the their heartfelt sentiments ring out in their honest and thoughtful answers and they are in it for the correct reasons, not from sifting through too many Hit Parader mags while smoking menthol cigs in the family roadster.
Believe me, musicians come in many moods, tones and head spaces, it is the ones that in a simple hello, you know that you are in fact dealing with the real deal and thus owe it to yourself the writer, to truly show that you are speaking with a true artist and a genuine mother fucker that has it embodied in his soul that the rock will always roll and thus he has made it for the listener that truly gets off on the music and needs it for the regularity of this fucked up world we dwell in.
Do yourself the biggest favor, grab their music and if you are in Europe, please check out the Black Cobra caravan and YOB locomotive rolling into your town.
Until next time, please remember that just because you have a bat doesn’t mean you know how to swing it.