Black Pyramid

Photo by Hillarie Jason
Posted 12 August 2011   Interviews

TBR:  Your last LP, “Black Pyramid”, was released back in 2009 and got a very positive reception.  Looking in the rear-view mirror, are you happy with how everything played out?

Clay: Extraordinarily. Everything came together perfectly for that album. We banged it out, had it mixed and the artwork was totally on point. We worked with people who were energetic, positive and did their best to help us. It’s nice when circumstances such as those receive such positive feedback.

Andy: Yes, for the most part.  We were a bit rushed at times, and it was our first album, so it was a learning experience.  All in all, I’m pleased with the result, it’s a bit dryer than I had envisioned it, but it also doesn’t pull any punches, so there’s a nice balance.  All in all, it’s a great way for a first album to turn out, and the response was certainly unexpected, but not unwelcome.  We’re a welcoming bunch.

Gein: As far as debut records go, I couldn’t have asked for much more. I’m really happy with the album, sonically as well as aesthetically. I was blown away by how well it was received. I still love playing those songs live too.

TBR:  In what ways has the band grown since the last record?  Have you made any conscious, deliberate changes to the sound or has it been more of a natural progression?

Clay: I’d say it’s been a natural progression. There was no real need to address anything or take on radical new ground, musically speaking. We just have continued to do what we do and the songs get worked out in one way or the other. We don’t aim to ‘sound’ like Black Pyramid when we write. Just as before, either we like the way something sounds and how we play it or we don’t and discard it. There is no “don’t mess with the formula” nor is there any “we better raise the bar with this one”. We just continue doing what we do and let everything else work itself out.

Andy: I think we’ve always had the attitude of embracing things as they come to us.  The sound is going to evolve as we evolve as musicians, as our musical vocabulary grows, and as we accept different, newer ideas while continuing to learn from traditional styles and forms.

Gein: I think we’re just progressing, not only as individual musicians, but in how we work together as a band.  We’re all pretty open to trying new ideas. If something works, cool… if not, we figure something else out. I think it’s key to not be locked down to any specific sound or formula. Things can stale pretty quickly that way.

In what ways is it different from the recent “Stormbringer” EP or are they very similar?

Photo by Hillarie Jason

Clay: I think Stormbringer is indicative of our sound at the moment. It wouldn’t sound out of place on the new album. It’s a great single with a great B-side, in my opinion.

Andy: We’ve recorded and released a good chunk of material since the debut album, and most of it shows up on the CD version of Stormbringer.  The two tracks from the Stormbringer 7″, they aren’t too much of a departure from what we’ve been doing, and yet, they stand for a point in our development, a bookmark into this particular chapter of the band’s history. “Stormbringer” is one of our more uptempo, galloping war metal tracks, while “The Cloud Of Unknowing” is what I like to call a more “meditative” track.  We don’t perform those tracks live very often, they are meant as a variation, where we can explore a different angle or flow than the ones we have previously on the album.

The other tracks on the CD version are “Illumination”, which was the first track off of our split 12″ with the band Old One.  It’s our longest track, clocking in at over fifteen minutes, and features a keyboard heavy, keyboard inspired bridge that we came up with.  “Warswine” was the other track on that split 12″, it’s one that Gein came up with most of the rhythmic and melodic ideas for, though we fleshed out a totally unique arrangement for it.  Neither of the songs on that split are like anything we had done on the album, in my opinion.  The last two songs are “Macedonia”, which was an instrumental Gein came up with that we used as a bonus, vinyl only track for the 2xLP for the self titled album, and “Caravan”, which was the b-side to the “Visions Of Gehenna” 7″ that Electric Earth Records put out.

Gein: Stormbringer seems to mesh pretty well with the newer songs when we play it live. It is definitely in a similar vein to the tracks on the new record.

TBR:  Here’s the question everyone wants to know:  What’s the ETA for the release date on the new album??

Andy: The official release date is January 31st, 2012.

TBR:  Do you guys have a working title yet??

Andy: Yes, “II.”  The second album really is the logical follow up to the first album, so we all felt the title was appropriate.

TBR:  Has there been any particular inspiration leading the writing/creative process? 

Andy: The album is actually much darker thematically than the first one.  With the first album, it was like we were creating a separate world, filled with big riffs, ethereal effects, epic battles, and fantastic tales, and then we were using that world as a filter to view reality, whereas with this album, it was more like reality pervaded us in all of its ravishing grimness, and the Black Pyramid world was altered as a result.  Our natural order reversed, but in the end, the outcome was the same, we wrote and arranged ideas into coherent songs.  Some of the ideas needed more wrangling than others. but everything ended up working out great, and we’re very pleased  with the results so far.

The actual inspirations were the usual fare: Lovecraft, Robert E Howard, Edison’s second book “Mistress Of Mistresses”, a little more Norse and Indian mythology this time around.  A big influence as far as source material was Grant Morrison’s “The Invisibles.”  There are a couple direct references to the series.  The music itself, the guitar riffs and arrangements are at times a bit more death metal and black metal influenced, but it’s not like you’re going to be hearing any fry or actual guttural vocals on this album.  It’s more that I listened more and more how these two styles in particular traditionally have thought outside of the box in terms of melody and arrangement.  The styles were quite compatible to study, in terms of what we were looking to introduce on a sophomore album.

On the new album, a lot of times we expanded on themes that worked well on the first album, both musically and conceptually, but we also allowed ourselves to be a bit more playful as to where inspiration would lead us, and where we would be willing to follow.

TBR:  Lyrically, are there any recurring or conceptual themes or is it more of a song-by-song, “each song stands on it’s own” type of album?

Andy: Lyrically, this album is very much like the first one.  It’s like a book on a culture’s mythology, there are many stories contained therein, and stories within stories, and lessons within lessons.  The first album represents a book of nine different stories, from our own private mythology, the Black Pyramid mythology.

This second album, II, it represents another nine stories from the same book, but as we mentioned, these are significantly darker tales.  It’s like the first album prepared us for fantasy disguised as reality, but this album prepares us for realities dressed up as fantasies, so the fantasies had to become darker, with more moments of blinding intensity, more compassion, more cruelty, the music is both more human and more inhuman at the same time.

Photo by Hillarie Jason

TBR:  It was great to see updates on the web as you guys were recording the new album.  It seems that the sessions went pretty smoothly.  Who is producing/engineering it?

Clay: It’s pretty much the same deal as every other release except that we brought in Justin Pizzoferrato to help out with drum tracking this time. It’s much easier being able to focus on the drumming rather than running back and forth, trying to work on both the sound and the performance. I’m still engineering the rest of the stuff and then Justin is coming in to mix the album. Prior to Black Pyramid, he worked with Palace in Thunderland. He’s mixed all of our subsequent releases since the debut album so there’s no learning curve or whatnot. We all work together quite well. So yeah, same deal as last time. We’re producing it ourselves and having an outsider mix it. Seems to have worked so far.

Andy: Justin has always been great to work with, he lends an extremely creative ear to a mix, and he captured some unique drum performances.

TBR:  Was it a similar experience to recording your previous albums or were there any changes or differences this time around?

Clay: Same studio, same players, but new tunes and Justin on the final mix. On the last album I was able to engineer the drums because I had time to experiment in the studio with mic positioning, drums, etc. I don’t have that kind of time anymore unfortunately so it just made sense to have Justin track drums so I could just play and not be running back and forth to the control room. He’s excellent at his craft so there was no shadow of a doubt we’d get killer takes and sounds. Everything is still tracked at my studio so that keeps some costs down and allows us to take our time, insuring that we get the sounds we want and the performances that everyone can be happy with, not just that “it’s good enough…the clock is running” performance.

Andy: It’s been both the same and different.  It definitely feels like making an album, but it seems like we’ve had to be more flexible and adaptive in the process of getting these ideas out, things have not always lined up as neatly, but they have so far worked out for the best.

Gein: For me this experience was similar in a lot of ways to the first album. Though, this time around I spent a little more time in the studio, which was definitely a good thing. It’s not always easy to hear subtleties playing at full volume in the practice space, so in the studio there was more of a chance to experiment with different ideas and hear what works best.

TBR:  Interesting to see that there was a bit of studio talk for the gear-heads out there.  One update mentioned “a huge variety of amps and effects”.  What are you guys getting the best results from?

Clay: Well, I’d say that having a wide array of amps at our disposal is certainly allowing us the freedom to dial in more specific sounds. We’re certainly not using every single amp for the sake of using it. If the sound we need is available, we go for it. Fender Bandmaster, Marshall Super Bass, OR 120, the V4; they’re all sounding phenomenal for the applications in which we’re using them.

For drums, Justin brought in a Gretch bass drum from the 1950′s that sounds unreal. It’s some magical kick that sounds like a 26″ drum but punches like a 22″. That was one of the highlights for me, as a drummer. It just had presence beyond belief. We’re still recording as I type so who knows what else might stand out and make an impression.

Andy: I used a lot of amps and effects making this album, but I could have used a lot more.  We just happen to have a good selection of amps that can be utilized to create sounds specific to our music.  I also did pull a whole lot of old tricks from my bag of effects.

Gein: I used two amps for this album, the Fender Bassman 300 and a mid 70’s Marshall Superbass. Both amps have their own unique tone, so it was cool to have options. I’m really pleased with how the bass sounds on this album.

Photo by Hillarie Jason

TBR:  For both guitars and bass, which are your main axes?  Stock pickups or have you replaced them with some thing different?

Andy: I usually use a Gibson Les Paul Studio, it’s got a red quilt finish, I really like it.  I always figured having a Studio was good for a working, touring musician, as it’s a lot cheaper to replace if something were to happen to it on the road, but it’s a solid axe.  I’ve actually come to really love that guitar, not sure I would play a Custom or even a vintage one if I could afford it.  It’s mostly stock, the pickups are definitely stock, although the tuners and bridge have been swapped out.  My backup is an Epiphone Les Paul Standard, it’s got the D’Alnico pickups, the Grover tuners, and it’s black.  It’s been great live the few times I’ve had to play it, and I’ve used it for the variety.

Gein: I play a Fender Precision Bass with a black finish and a mirrored pickguard. I replaced the stock pickups with Seymour Duncan Quarter Pound Basslines and the stock bridge has been replaced with a Leo Quan Badass II bridge.

Clay: When it comes down to drums, a good performance will always trump the gear. But yeah, a good sounding snare and nice cymbals sure help the sound.

TBR:  Do you guys record any experimenting that might be happening in the studio or do you prefer to rehearse, get it tight and stay focused during the recording process?

Clay: Inevitably, things always sound different in the studio than the rehearsal room. That being said, we certainly don’t write songs in the studio. When it comes time to track, the song is, for all intents and purposes, done. Sometimes you think, “well, that’s okay but what if we tried doing it like this instead?” We can afford to do that since we’re recording at our studio and more often than not, we’re very surprised by what comes out of that mindset. We never intentionally declare ‘we must use _____ on this track’. The song will present itself to you and you can see what might be worth investigating, sonically speaking. Our general ideology is that “Let’s try it. If it sucks, we can delete it.” If a song needs just a single acoustic guitar, then that’s all it needs. No one has ever been hell bent on using something simply because we have it.

Andy:  Any experimenting we’ve done in the studio has been for the focused purpose of utilizing it within the context of an existing song, a track we’ve been working on.  I feel like in that sense, we experiment a great deal.  We might rehearse something a different way, and some of the more intricate guitar work, by my standards anyways, it needs to stay pretty fluid in a live rehearsal.  In the studio, it takes on a whole different fluidity, because we have more freedom to layer guitar tracks during more prominent or extended instrumental sections.  As long as there is space within the mix, if we can get the ends of the performances to carry into one another properly, it creates a whole different flow.  That’s something that we came up with from experimenting with different techniques, of placing an emphasis on what happens with a guitar sound before and after the respective part has been played and recorded in the studio.  We experiment to try to come up with feedback, swells, effects, little nuances that will give character to a guitar part beyond the actual notes that it’s playing, so that a guitar part is already effecting the atmosphere of the mix before it has played a single “pre-written” note.  We certainly aren’t the first band to use this kind of an approach, but I feel like it’s something that we’ve experimented with a great deal over the course of our various releases.

TBR:  The last LP came out on Meteor City in the US.  Being that the Electric Earth label is on hiatus and your latest EP came out on Hydro-Phonic, what label(s) are releasing the new LP?

Andy: Meteorcity released the CD, and they are based out of the United States.  They will also be releasing the CD version of Black Pyramid “II.”

TBR:  Anything exciting to say about your relationship and the process of working with the label? 

Andy: Always great to work with Meteorcity, Dan and Melany have been nothing but tops to us, and the label has an awesome roster.

TBR:  Working our way back in time a bit, I’m interested to know a bit more about the band itself.  Some of the history is out there already – you (Andy) and Clay met in Connecticut after you left Georgia as the story goes – but I’m wondering you can talk a bit more about the relationships and personal dynamics within the band and give us a feel for  “Who’s who at the zoo”.

Clay:  Well, we basically all just kind of get along, as boring as that sounds. Just ask anyone who has ever had to interact with us as a band, we’re pretty boring! There isn’t really an iota of drama involved with us. Our personal lives rarely affect our relationship as a band. If any of us need some time, for whatever reason, it’s done. We all love what we do and strive to do our best with the band but we certainly won’t personally sacrifice our health, family or well being. I’m not discounting what we do but if we’re not happy on a personal level, it will almost certainly effect the band in a negative way. Running a small studio along with a band and keeping my happy family is certainly not the easiest thing in the world. I’m fortunate to work with people who understand how real life works sometimes. So in short, the relationships and personal dynamics really boil down to ‘mindfulness’. Everyone respects the contributions of the others so there is no infighting, ego flexing or Machiavellian nonsense.

Andy: We’re different people thrown together based on our mutual interests. We drive, fly and walk around the world, playing music, living, sleeping and eating together for short and intensive periods of time.  That’s life in a nutshell, we’re on his Earth flying around an orbit in circles for an undetermined but tangible amount of time, just doing what we have to do, and trying to make the best of it.  That’s Black Pyramid too, we just treat it as a natural part of our lives, or what we do, and the rest tends to fall into place nicely most of the time.  We just keep things in perspective, try not to let your head get too big and block your vision, try not to believe everything that you read, all those nice things that the nice people have to say about you.  You keep your own focus, be mindful of your part in the role, and look out for one another, because we are all in this together.

Gein: We’re all pretty mellow guys for the most part. We’re respectful of each other’s personal lives as well as equally driven to make Black Pyramid the best band it can be. So, thankfully, there are no real issues with egos and that nonsense.

Photo by Hillarie Jason

TBR:  In your own words, can you describe the personalities of the other guys and how each of you tend to participate in the creative process?  (who’s the good cop/bad cop, straight man/funny man…)

Clay: I’m interested to hear how I’m perceived! As far as the creative process, it always boils down to an arrow-like process: “Who has an idea? Let’s try it. Can we work on this and does this work as a song? Okay. Do we all like it?” Since we’re all big fans of actual ‘songwriting’ and not just ‘riff-grafting’ songs together, we take it pretty seriously but don’t get our panties in a wad if an idea doesn’t work. We all try to avoid the “good enough” and focus on something that both interests us, goes the extra mile and works with the song. The best part about the entire process is that, as I stated before, no one has any quotas to fill. If someone has an idea and it works, we use it. If it doesn’t, there aren’t any hurt feelings. By doing what’s best for the band, it inherently rewards you in the end. I’d rather contribute nothing than something that didn’t work or wasn’t up to par with the rest of the output.

Andy:  Clay is generally the most down to earth, although he has a seeker’s side, which is probably why he can tolerate me.  I’ve generally the most out there, but sometimes in the music business, that means you’re unfortunately the most equipped to make sense of a totally irrational situation.  For Gein, there is no down to earth, there is only the Earth itself.

Gein: If I were to liken us to The A-Team Clay would Hannibal, Andy would be Murdock and I’d be Face. We’re just missing a B.A.

TBR:  What are the tour plans?  Have you guys played in Canada yet?

Andy:  That’s a very good question.  I’m supposing we’d like to go back to Europe in the Spring of 2012, that would be quite a nice surprise.  Also, we’ll tour as much of the states as we can in 2011, and then travel the U.S. some more after the album drops, that would be the tentative plan, but everything is up in the air.  We’ve quite focused on the album right now.  As far as Canada goes, we’ll see what happens once we have our touring situation squared away, but I hope we can make it to Canada, I love the country.

TBR:  If you could put together two other acts to tour with:  one current band and one other band – “living or dead” – who would they be?

Clay: This will sound pretty generic but seeing the Melvins every night wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. Given their penchant for creating excellent set lists and entertaining shows, that’s a pretty safe bet. The other “living or dead” band? I dunno. Maybe the Who in the late 60′s, early 70′s…The worst part about being on tour is the downtime and you have to admit they had a real knack for conquering that. Since we’re bonafide dullards on the road, we derive great amusement through the hedonism and nihilism of those around us. Oh yeah, and they kicked major ass back then. Yeah, I could definitely watch them every night, both on and off the stage.

Andy: I’ll go for some less obvious ones, I guess.  I’d love to tour with Slough Feg, as I think they’re one of the most consistent and insightful metal bands in the world.  They’re distinctive characters with interesting perspectives on existence and aesthetics, it would be an honour just to observe them doing their things.  It would also be interesting to note which things change and which stay the same each night.

As for a defunct band, I’d say Jerusalem.  I think it would be a unique experience touring in a different era, with a young band that never peaked, burned out, or faded away.  Rather, it would be interesting watching that meteoric rise to creative potentials that sometimes seems so inherent in the youthful doctrine of rebellion against traditional forms from within the very forms that they are rebelling against.  It would be interesting experiencing that as it unfold in front of you, first hand, a band that felt confident enough that they had captured the essential creative forces beyond form in a brief career, so they opted to call it quits before structure and the natural consequences of time took their toll on their youthful abandons.

Gein: Well, as my bandmates would expect, I’d have to go with Iron Maiden for sure. I wouldn’t get sick of seeing them every night, plus they seem like interesting guys. As for the other band, I’ll go with Motorhead, because they rule.

TBR:  Not to say that Black Pyramid sounds “retro” in any way, shape or form, but there’s definitely a Give me a few current or newer bands that you’re listening to and what it is you like about them.

Clay: I love the direction that Om is heading. Not to discount their earlier work because I genuinely love all of it, but their last album really blew me away. I’m really hopeful that they continue down the path that led them to create “God Is Good”. Also, Crossed Out gets a lot of play in the van. They’re phenomenal. They renew my faith in hardcore or whatever it has become. I’ve been listening to a ton of Bohren & der Club of Gore, specifically ‘Black Earth’. Just amazing stuff. It’s my evening ritual at this point.

Andy: I’m into a lot of different modern music, but much of it is “retro” in some aspect.  Indian gets a lot of play from me, their latest release is a phenomenal development in terms of expanding the definition of what heavy music can be.  In terms of more traditional metal, The Gates of Slumber, Argus, and In Solitude all released excellent albums this year that have had high replay value for me.

Gein: I don’t listen to a ton of newer bands; the bulk of what I listen to is from the 70’s and 80’s. With that said, I really dig Graveyard and Witchcraft. I think they are both solid, 70’s style heavy rock bands. They’re not re-inventing the wheel or anything, but they write good riffs and both bands have great singers.

What are the three top cities you look forward to playing and why?

Andy: London, because I’ve never been there and obviously have heard so much about it.  Paris, because I took six years of Parisian French, it would be nice to actually utilize it and be laughed at by the actual culture in their capital for pretending to have an understanding of their language.  Also, Pompei, for obvious reasons.

Gein: London – Never been, lots of great history. Rio – Seems like a really interesting city, plus they really dig their Metal in South America. Istanbul – I’ve heard it’s a great city and I’d like to see more of Eastern Europe.

Photo by Hillarie Jason

 

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THANKS to Hillarie Jason for the outstanding photos!  www.facebook.com/hillariejason