Thursday 30 August 2012

Interview with BEARFIGHT!

Today on Sludgelord I am interviewing Matt and Jeff from possibly my fave Sludge/Stoner Metal Band around at the moment. BEARFIGHT!

I reviewed their brilliant debut album - GNARMAGEDDON just recently.

Well the guys have kindly agreed to an interview with me.

Q1 – For People not in the know – Can you tell them how the band came about, When you formed etc...

Matt - We all grew up playing in all kinds of bands around Savannah, Ga. Most of us grew up playing mostly in punk/hardcore influenced bands but have all played a super wide variety of stuff. We all knew of each other, some of our bands had played together in the past. Colin and I were working at a local music store and after a long list of bands that fell apart due to whatever bullshit reasons bands fall apart…

I had been playing drums in all kinds of working/wedding/event kind of bands and was just trying to keep busy playing, but was not satisfied just playing covers in bars and events that I would otherwise, in any normal situation, never be at. I was missing the shows of bands that I actually liked, and wishing I could be a part of the music scene that I actually enjoyed and grew up in, but 5 nights a week I was playing "Moondance" or "Take A Walk On The Wildside" with some great musicians and learning a lot…trying to learn to play styles I'd never played, learning how to groove with musicians of all backgrounds…but just being miserable while doing it. Just wanting to write real songs that I felt passionate about. 

So Colin would always hear me bitching at work the next day. Up until that point all of my experience musically had been behind a drumset, with the exception of one really shitty punk band that never played anywhere other than my parent's garage where I played guitar. I always told him how much I loved playing in that band, and I always played guitar still, but just by myself and never had the nerve to show anyone the songs I wrote or ideas I had. Finally he encouraged me to show him some of the tunes…probably mostly to just not have to hear me bitching about playing "play that funky music whiteboy" 65 times a week…so I showed him the material and we went into the studio that we both did some session work for here in Savannah and recorded rough versions of 5 songs where I played the drums and 2 or 3 guitar parts, he played bass, and I did the vocals…(very badly and nervously). 

I was proud of the material but still really nervous to show it to anyone else, until one night I was out bouncing around checking out different bands because in Savannah you can go out any night…bounce from bar to bar, get a beer, put it in a plastic cup, and walk right back out in the street to the bar next door and hear another great local band…particularly blues bands. We have a few really great local blues musicians that could easily be playing on way bigger stages and blowing some of the bigger names away. Anyway, I ran into Jeff at one of these bars. 

He and I had known each other since highschool…our old bands played together a lot during that time, our bands would have 500 kids packed into the YMCA because it was the only place that allowed all ages shows, and I knew him to be a really cool dude and kickass guitar player. So we were talking and I had a few beers in me so I had the confidence to tell him to take a walk to the car with me and played him the material. He seemed really surprised that it didn't suck because I'm sure I prefaced it with something like "hey dude I wrote a bunch of songs where I'm singing and playing guitar…it's awful…you wanna hear it?" But he said he'd like to play it…still seeming skeptical about me playing the guitar instead of the drums…but he was in. So we jammed with our buddy Jacob on drums and it was starting to sound pretty good and we were all stoked. We were out drinking a few weeks later with our buddy Christian, who had also grown up playing in bands around here and knew our old bands, and he was in a band that had become pretty popular in a city about an hour from here, Brunswick, Georgia. 

Jeff had shown him the recordings and we were just talking about them, he told me he really liked the direction it was going, and while talking I mentioned that I had always wanted to have 3 guitar players…one because of my lack of confidence in my own playing and wanting to compensate for that, and two because everyone layers the hell out of guitar parts in the studio, and live can't reproduce it. A perfect example of that is in a Doomriders (who are amazing) song called "Lions" it has the breakdown part that is super heavy and it plays just the chords for a minute…and its one of those parts that just makes you make a mean face and get really pumped no matter where you hear it…then the harmonized guitar lead comes in and the chords drop out….and it's still amazing, but I always found myself going…man I wish that chord part had kept going behind that! It seems like with only two guitars you have to sacrifice parts sometimes to have the next cool part come in. I always thought it'd be awesome (and a giant pain in the ass to organize) to have three guitar players to really fill out the sound. So he was into the idea, we all got together the next day, with gnarly hangovers, and showed him the songs, it sounded awesome, cluttered, but awesome. 

It sounded like too much at times, but at some parts it sounded so great that we realized if we took the time to really structure the guitar parts we would be able to do a lot of cool guitar stuff. So we just kept playing and writing, they came into the studio and added some of the new parts they had written and we were thinking we would actually release the cd when it was done. We ran into a speedbump with our drummer though because he is a chef at a really fancy, well respected restaurant around here and his life is in the kitchen. His schedule didn't allow him the time to take it as seriously as well all wanted to. He was a good drummer, definitely capable musically, but he just didn't have the time. So we just kept recording and writing, until a new guy got hired on at the factory that I work at. My boss kept telling me that this dude he was hiring was a badass drummer and that he just knew that I was gonna want him in the band. I kind of laughed it off, thinking we'll see how good he really is. 

So we met, right off the bat I could see he was a really cool dude, and when it came to drumming…super confident…maybe even a little cocky…haha…but when he played I totally got it. My boss had actually undersold the dude…he blew me away. This is a generalization, but most heavy musicians I know only play heavy…especially drummers. You can have the fastest blast beat playing, fastest double bass skills in the world, and put him in a quiet jazz club and tell him to play "Satin Doll" or some standard and just watch him choke. A big thing for me and all the other dudes in the band is being well versed in all forms of music and being open minded…you know…not saying "that band sucks" just because the style doesn't appeal to us…but rather "i can't stand the music…but damn that bass player had a solid groove"…or "man that singer was great". Colin said one time "There's only two kinds of music….good shit and bad shit" and I really agree. So I was super surprised when this dude sat down and stirred up a thunderstorm of mercilessly heavy drumming…then played a bossa nova groove, followed by a straight up funk beat. He didn't have a car at the time…so I gave him a ride home and showed him the cd on the way. He said "that's badass" and that he was in. 

So I told all the other guys about him. We got together, and after the first song we all instantly went from pretty stoked to hang out and play music together, to completely fixated on taking this band as far as we can. The next step was scrapping the album on which I personally had already spent 2000 dollars and a few months recording as more of a solo project in collaboration with friends, in favor of recording the whole thing again plus a few more songs with our buddy from another awesome local band, Slave Grave in his house in exchange for beer and some gear trading. We recorded it on small computer speakers…in 4 days, then I did the vocals at home in my closet…edited them and got it mastered by Anthony Stubelek at Rockstudio in Brunswick, Ga. He engineered and produced all the Circle Takes The Square records and a lot of other Georgia bands too. We got it pressed…had a release party…had a blast…and now we're talking to you.

Q2 – Which bands influence you on your music.

Matt - We all grew up in the heavy music scene, but have played and listen to all kinds of music, and no doubt all of our individual influences is what defines the sound of the band, but the most prevalent common influence between us however, is a huge love of classic rock…Sabbath, Zeppelin, Thin Lizzy, Skynyrd. Heavy, loud guitars, fearless exploration of self expression - they just wrote what they wrote, whether it was a ballad or a wall of sound heavy song, if you didn't like it, too bad. 

The other side of that is the modern heaviness of all the awesome bands we got to see growing up around here…High On Fire, Damad, Mastodon, Kylesa, Baroness, Black Tusk (and all the bands all of the guys in all these bands were in before landing in those bands)…getting to see all those bands so early on in their career and so early on in our love affair with music is probably the most dominant influence on the band, I know for me it is for sure…from the sound, to the intensity, the approach and the ethics we learned in that scene…all of that is hugely important to us.

Q3 – How has your music been received by fans and critics. Has it all been positive.

Matt - I mean…all we have to go on is what we see at shows and what people say. One great thing about the Savannah music scene is that there is really only one place to play for a band like us…and it is (in my opinion) one of the best venues in the southeast, The Jinx. All the bands we love played there, and it has kind of been the gate keeper for bands around here. If you go play there, and keep the crowd, and get to come back, that's a compliment to your band. Growing up the way we did, your favorite band is also at your show the next night if they are not on tour, and that can be nerve racking, and if you run them out of the place…it's pretty good indicator that you are not going to be invited back. 

 I love that about playing around here because it weeds out a lot of bullshit bands, and keeps the intensity up. When the feedback of the amplifiers dies down after every song, I nervously wait for "boooOO" and every time it has been a big crowd, excited, ready for the next tune….thankfully. Other than that we have had a few reviews online, a lot of sales from the bandcamp page…and fortunately…really no bad feedback. I'm sure it will come, it is inevitable, but we are our hardest critics. We know what we need to work on and where we can improve, and every day, practice, show, session, is a chance to grow and learn.

Q4 – Is the band a Full Time Project or do you have normal jobs to do as well to support the band.

Matt - We all have full time jobs, Jeff is an awesome sushi chef and works doubles 6 days a week, Christian cooks 3000 hours a week in the best local grass-fed burger joint (Green Truck Pub…definitely gets our bear seal of approval) Colin plays in various bands around town staying super busy, and me and Lee work in a factory all day and do odd jobs on the side as well as play in other bands. That being said…any minute that is not spent at work or at some other endeavor that keeps us from playing music, all of our efforts are geared toward pushing this band as far as we can. We practice late at night…get two hours of sleep and go back to work, we are online all the time promoting and booking, constantly writing and sending song ideas to each other…it's safe to say we are all complete slaves to our music.

Q5 – How do you cope with families, full time jobs and being part of a band. It must be a struggle at times.

Matt - It's tough, but we are all incredibly fortunate to have very supportive wives/girlfriends and families…we all have been at this for a long time on our own. We've all sacrificed and had our hearts broken in our other bands…missed all the birthdays, holidays, family events, been broke, been hungry. We are all uncompromising people, and such, have filled our lives with like-minded people who we are fortunate to call our friends and families, and who understand how important this all is to us, and support us all the way.

Q6 – What is the song-writing process like in the band. Is it a whole band collective or individuals that write the music.

Jeff - Well, as Matt stated earlier- Bear Fight started as a studio "project". He approached me with five or six songs that were basically finished and ready to be mixed. I wrote some guitar harmonies here, threw in some counter melodies there. I approached things with the mindset of painting a background rather than trying to change his ideas. I liked where he was going, just wanted to inject the songs with some steroids. As we started to play together more outside of the studio environment, Matt and I started trading guitar riffs back and forth and building off of one another. 

It became a little more collaborative at that point. When we decided to invite Christian to the band, the sky was the limit as far as chord structures and guitar harmonies go. We started practicing about twice a week. One practice would be just the three of us with guitars and the other practice would be the full band. I'd say that "Gnarmageddon" is a 60/40% type of deal where most of the song ideas originated with Matt. I was very pleased with the finished product because I know how bad he has wanted to bring these ideas to life, and its very cool to be a part of that. As of now, the song writing process is very collaborative. Each of us are constantly recording riffs here and there and emailing them back and forth. I feel like we don't get enough done at our full band rehearsals sometimes.

Q7 – How did the name of GNARMAGEDDON for the album to came about. And the amazing cool retro album cover as well. Really suits the album's tone and mood.

Jeff - If I remember correctly (which I probably don't), we were all out drinking one night (which is how most of our bad ideas start out) and we were having all kinds of fun with the band name. We were discussing "guitarmonies" and legal troubles such as "probeartion". We all have kind of a stupid sense of humor. For what its worth, we think we're pretty funny dudes. I vaguely remember walking through a rowdy area of downtown Savannah around last call. People standing in the middle of the road, fights breaking out, car horns blaring, flashing blue lights. Matt very calmly (and very drunkenly) looks at me and says "Dude, its fucking Gnarmageddon out here." 

Probably the most intelligent thing that has ever been said on that particular street corner. As for the album art, we have a really good friend by the name of Deighton Abrams that is a fucking fantastic artist. He is one of the few people that had access to our music before it was released. He drew up a few designs for us and we sent him some rough recordings periodically so that he could kinda get ideas for cover art. He blew us away. His brother, Schuyler Abrams, also did some fan-fucking-tastic artwork for us. The back of our CD as well as the face of the CD itself was designed by Schuyler (I'm not sure if you have a physical copy of "Gnarmageddon" yet, but the art is tasty). We plan on using some of their designs for shirts and stickers and such in the future.

Q8 – What is the gig scene like in your home town. Do you get a chance to do a lot of local shows or do you have to travel further away from home to get your music across. (I know there is a cool scene in Bearfight! home tome of Savannah. Home to Baroness, Kylesa and Black Tusk. But I still gotta ask for investigative purposes).

Matt - We have the opportunity to play a lot locally, in the early stages of the band we have taken every show we can get…to open for bands we like and respect, to get a buzz going. We've been kind of stuck with just local shows for a while though, due to band members' various legal situations…but as of now we are free and clear and will be getting out on the road a lot.

Jeff - We've been playing twice a month here in Savannah every month since January. I don't want to be the local band that everyone gets sick of. We try to keep our set fresh every time we play, but we definitely are ready to branch out to other cities.

Matt - We have a lot of stuff lined up around the southeast, and in 2013 will be doing a lot of touring.

Q9 – What is your view of bands and blogs giving away music for free. Lot of bands and people have different perspectives.

Jeff - My personal opinion is this: I play music that I enjoy listening to in hopes that other people will enjoy it as much as I do. If someone gets ahold of my music for free and really genuinely enjoys it for what it is, thats awesome. Don't get me wrong, its nice to be able to cover all band expenses with merch sales- but how do you promote merch sales without giving a little something away? In the early stages of a band like us or a band that is on a relatively small independent label, you aren't making enough money off of record sales to make a living in the first place. Nowadays, the CDs are what promotes the live shows. I just want our music to be as accessible as possible.

Q10 – Finally what are the future plans for the band.

Matt - We are currently writing and in October are going to a farm/survival compound that our friend owns and I work at on the weekends when we are not playing shows to record the next album. It's way out in the woods away from everything so we can get away from daily distractions and just focus on the music. Also we will be in our own element out there. We can hunt, fish, shoot, be outside and not hear cars and neighbors. All of us being from the south, we all grew up with an affinity for nature and that is a recurring theme on the next album, our love of the place that made us who we are. I can't wait. The new material is the music I've been wanting to write my whole life. It's gonna be a great time.

Jeff - Keep writing music and get filthy rich and have our own Bear Fight backyard petting zoo filled with all types of bears.

Well guys thanks for your time. Can't wait to hear your new material. And lets hope you don't have any Cabin In The Woods, Evil Dead or Tucker And Dale type dealings when recording it.

All the best from Sludgelord. Keep up the excellent work.

Check This Great Band Below: