Thursday, October 23, 2014

Hollow Mountain interview with Steve Wichelecki and Esther Kim

I’ve been into Hollow Mountain for a while, and they may have gotten a bit heavier and a bit louder since I first heard them, but there’s something about the essence of the band that’s remained from the first demos recorded in 2012, before the complete lineup was even assembled.  There’s an essence of heavily toasted garage rock, brewed in the deepest pits of minimalism that’s still there, like an elephant in the room.  Chicago has been cranking out some killers lately, but there aren’t a lot of LPs that I’m looking forward to more than Hollow Mountain.  I’m admittedly a guitar guy.  I love a good riff, or even better, a face melting solo, but Hollow Mountain are in their own groove.  They’ve little need for the bells and whistles that it usually takes to sell people on a song.  This is not a band of pitchmen, or women for that matter.  Instead, Hollow Mountain simply rely on a tasty tune and capturing the amazing energy that makes the band tick on tape.  There are both equal parts Shonen Knife and Black Sabbath, and Ramones and Sex Pistols going on at most points.  It’s an interesting combination of minimalist punk and ballsy stoner garage rock all fronted by the pleasantly strident, dissonant vocals of Esther Kim.  Everything Hollow Mountain has to offer is packaged inside a tight, simple package, with no needless frills or complications that could result from them.  Their Demo 2012 cassette recently sold out from Maximum Pelt, but thankfully, they’re prepping for the release of a 7-inch EP on Tall Pat Records here before too long.  Incorporating one of the two songs from the digital Demo 2013 release, “Castle”, the Tall Pat single definitely breaks new ground for the band with out betraying their roots in the slightest.  They sound much more like a coherent unit as a band in these recordings, allowing the guitar, drums, bass and vocals alike to shine a bit brighter, while remaining perfectly in the vein of their earlier self-released digital material.  The Tall Pat single is killer and there will be a review of it up here soon, but it feels like a taste of things to come and I for one am stoked to hear what they have planned for the future.  Read on and become anointed in the sound of Hollow Mountain and remember to keep it Psychedelic Baby… 
                - Listen while you read:  

What’s the current lineup for Hollow Mountain at this point?  Have you all gone through any changes as far as that goes since you started, or is this the original lineup?

Steve:  Hollow Mountain is Esther Kim (bass, vocals), Steve Wichelecki (guitar) and Ben Simpson (drums).  Our first drummer was Brian from Big Colour and Raw Mcartney, but he had to quit the band in May 2013.  Soon after that, Ben joined in the summer of 2013.

Are any of you in any other active bands at this point or do you have any side projects gong on right now?  Have you ever released anything with anyone else in the past?  If so, can you tell us a little bit about that?

Steve:  Right now I’m just in Hollow Mountain.  I’ve been in many bands over the years.  Notably, I was in Catburglars from 2005 to 2010, a band which released several records.  I was also in Pink Torpedo from 2010 to 2012.

Esther:  I also play bass and sing in The Lemons.  The Lemons have a split 7" on Gary Records, and most recently, Burger Records has co-released a tape with Tripp Tapes and Gnar Tapes.

How old are you and where are you originally from?

Steve:  I’m thirty two and originally from the south west suburbs of Chicago, a place called New Lenox.

Esther:  I grew up running through cornfields in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, and I'm old enough to buy booze!

What was the local music scene like where you grew up?  Did you see a lot of shows or anything when you were younger?  Do you feel like that scene has played a large part in shaping your musical tastes over the years or in the way that you perform at this point?

Steve:  My friends and I were the "punks" of our high school and we all had bands and played shows in our parents' garages, basements and places like that.  There was a place in Homewood, Illinois, called Off the Alley that was an all-ages, alcohol-free spot where bands like ours could play.  A few famous bands got their start there in fact; I know Alkaline Trio is one.  At that time, that was the closest thing to a music scene that I had been a part of.  I don't feel this time was really too formative for me; it's just something that most musicians go through before moving off to the big city.

Esther:  There was virtually no music scene where I grew up; all the kids pretty much played Blink-182 covers in their garages or at the school talent show.  The way that this played a part in shaping my musical tastes, was that it made me that much more eager and passionate about discovering local music.

What about your home as a child?  Were either of your parents or any of your close relatives musicians or extremely interested/involved in music?

Steve:  My dad was a guitar player.  In fact, the Mesa Boogie amp I use in Hollow Mountain is his.  I wasn't particularly interested in music as a kid, I remember.  I just kind of fell into it because my friends in high school were learning how to play instruments and needed a singer for their band.  So I got my start singing and then learned drums and guitar much later.

Esther:  There was a lot of 70's prog and psychedelic rock blasting in my home when I was a kid.  It was just always in the background.  My folks would tuck me in, read me a story, and then put Dark Side Of The Moon on the record player.  I had a lot of weird night terrors during the ages of three and six.

What do you consider your first real exposure to be?

Steve:  I guess, I would have to say my first "real" band.  I played drums in a hardcore band called Def Choice in the early 2000’s.  We had a record on a label and toured.  At the time though, I wasn't interested in, or passionate about music.  That came much later in life.  I was just along for the ride.  I was basically in the band because the guys were my buddies and playing music was just what we did.

Esther:  Moving to the city and going to art school was definitely my first real exposure.  The art kids always seemed to know what was cool, and the less known it was, the better.  I remember being dragged to shows, looking like a deer in headlights, stars in my eyes, mind completely blown!

If you were to pick a single moment that seemed to open your eyes to the infinite possibilities and changed everything for you, what would it be?

Steve:  When I was in high school my friend let me borrow his Dead Kennedys CD.  It was Plastic Surgery Disasters.  I clearly remember sitting on the bus with my Discman, flipping through the amazingly cynical Winston Smith booklet and hearing those songs for the first time.  I remember thinking, "This is it!  This is the sound I've been searching for but couldn't find!".  The songs are so cynical and angry, and the guitar riffs so dark and perfect.  It really got me thinking that music is a great medium for expression.  That album, to me at the time, sounded like the alienation, frustration and confusion I was feeling as an oddball teenager living in the suburbs.

Esther:  Once again, living in the city, you’re surrounded by weirdoes, talented weirdoes, mind you.  We all eventually end up in the city for a time.  As for me, it was my first taste of something outside of the bubble.  Nothing was wrong, but nothing was exactly right, either.  I saw people create amazing art and horrible art, but it didn't matter because that's what they wanted to do, and I thought that was just great. 

When did you decide that you wanted to start writing and performing your own music and what brought that about for you?

Steve:  There’s no real answer to this.  Songwriting kind of just happened.  I bought a guitar as a teenager and just started jamming.  I probably didn't really realize I was writing songs, but before I knew it, I had a bunch of material recorded on a 4-track.  After college, we started Catburglars with all those songs I had written years earlier.

Esther:  Being surrounded by friends who are musicians, it was just a natural thing that happened.  Combine that with boredom, a feeling of having no direction, and a genuine love for music, and that pretty much sums up why I wanted to start a band.  But, in all honesty, it started as an outlet, a way for me to just screw around and be loud in Steve's basement after a hard day's work.

What was your first instrument?  When and how did you get that?

Steve:  I first learned drums.  I remember my parents wouldn’t let me have a drum kit in the house, so I had to buy an electronic kit because it didn't really make noise.  I took lessons and got pretty good.  Then I bought a real drum kit and kept it at friends' parents' houses.  This is when we started Def Choice, in probably 1999 or 2000.  Why did I learn drums?  I remember listening to Minor Threat as a kid and thinking that 16th notes played on high-hats and a ride cymbal sounded really cool!

Esther:  My first instrument was the piano.  The local church threw it out, so my mom dragged it into our tiny apartment at the time.  No one ever played it, or even knew how.  I never learned to play piano the proper way, but I taught myself to play by ear.  It's still one of my favorite instruments.

How did the members of Hollow Mountain meet and when would that have been?

Steve:  Esther and I met in 2010, but we didn't start the band until 2012.  We actually met Ben at our practice space.  It’s a shared space, and one day Esther and I were coming in and Ben was leaving.  We told him that our drummer was probably quitting the band and Ben said he'd be happy to drum for us if that happened.  A few months later Ben joined the band, in the summer of 2013.

Esther:  What Steve said.

When did Hollow Mountain become a band and what brought about the formation of the band?

Steve:  Esther wanted to start a punk band.  She’d never played an instrument or sang before, but wanted to try it.  I had a lot of experience, so I told her to buy a bass and practice amp and I'd teach her some punk bass playing and we'd start writing some songs.

Esther:  Yeah, I never really intended it to be a functioning band.  I just wanted to let off some steam and maybe learn to play some songs.  I remember telling Steve that I never wanted to play shows, I just couldn't do it.  I had intense stage fright and it just wasn't a desire of mine.

Is there any sort of creed, code, ideal or mantra that the band shares or lives by?

Steve:  My philosophy to Hollow Mountain is this: Be heavy without being heavy.  Our sound, at least our newer music, is kind of heavy, but not heavy, too.  Like, I love that we fit in with the garage scene, but aren't really garage.  No matter how heavy we get, we'll never fit in at a metal show, and I think that's a unique place to be.  Another tenet is minimalism.  I write songs that are very simple and straight forward.  I want a good riff, a good hook, something memorable and simple that sounds good.  No frills, nothing that doesn't have to be there.

Esther:  A few people have told me that we really need a lead guitarist, and I always tell them that that would completely change our sound.  Why do we need anything?  Hollow Mountain is just one big rhythm section, and I love that.  You get hit with this wall of noise, and the less layers there are to muddy it up, the more powerful it is.  That's not to say that I dislike leads, I think they're awesome, but for us it just doesn't make sense.

Your name fits the band almost perfectly.  Who came up with it and how did you go about choosing it?  Were there any close seconds that you can remember you almost went with?  What does it mean in the context of your band name?

Steve:  We took it from an old sci-fi film called The Beast From Hollow Mountain.  Esther and I were going through a list of old sci-fi films looking for a name and that one stuck out.  I remember the runner up was another film title, Tarantula!  Also, thematically, our lyrics have a lot to do with sci-fi and fantasy, and I think picking that name helped shape the direction we’ve gone in lyrically.

Where’s the band located at this point?

Steve:  Logan Square in Chicago, Illinois. 

How would you describe the local music scene where you’re at?

Steve:  The Chicago music scene’s great right now.  Many people describe a "golden age" or "renaissance" taking place here, and I would have to agree.  I've been into music here for about a decade and things have never been so exciting.  There’re so many talented bands, places to play, independent record labels, record stores, shows, parties; everything.  While you’ll always have people saying any scene is cliquey or elitist, I don't get that vibe at all.  I get the impression that most people here welcome new people and bands.  And to be part of the scene all you have to do is go out to shows and introduce yourself.  The music scene here is a motley group of beautiful weirdoes and I couldn't be happier with it.

Esther:  In the last few years, there's been this surge of energy and support.  I’ve never seen anything like it.  There’re more and more bands popping up and you can find a good show every night of the week.  It's hard to keep up sometimes!

Has the local scene played a large or integral role in the sound, history or evolution of Hollow Mountain in your opinion?  Or, do you think you all would be doing what you’re doing and sound like you do regardless of your location and stuff?

Steve:  As I said above, we’re part of that nebulous thing called the "garage" scene, which to me is basically like saying a "punk" scene.  Our music, though, really deviates from what other bands are doing.  We support the scene and the scene supports us, but I feel like we kind of came up with our own style and, luckily, people have embraced it.

Esther:  And by "our own style", he means that we're not real musicians, we just play music; except for Ben, he's an incredible drummer.  But, I think the fact that I'm not a trained musician or a technical wizard, but can still enjoy playing music is a reflection of this wonderful scene.  It’s accessible and accepting, which only stimulates more and more creativity.

You all have an awesome combination of sounds going on in your music.  I’m curious who you all would cite as your major musical influences?  What about influences on that band as a whole rather than individually?

Steve:  As time went on in the band, I got more and more interested in early heavy metal and stoner rock type stuff, and that really shows in our newer music.  Ryan from Flesh Panthers (Interview here) once described us as the Ramones meets Black Sabbath, and I think that's a pretty accurate assessment.

Esther:  Hmm...  Maybe Black Sabbath, Ramones, and Shonen Knife.

Whenever I talk to bands in these interviews I inevitably have to describe how a band sounds to our readers who may never have heard them before.  It’s a daunting task and sometimes it keeps me up at night, wondering if I’ve put too much of my own perception of things in there.  How would you describe Hollow Mountain’s sound to our readers who might not have heard you all before?

Steve:  Yes, that’s never a good question to have to think about.  I would say we're a punk band that takes influence from old heavy metal.  I try not to describe our band to people, because, like you said, your own perception creeps in and you may not even actually sound the way you think you do.  I'd rather just show people our songs and let them decide what we sound like. 

Esther:  I think Steve described it pretty well.  It's a strange amalgam of light, poppy vocals with proto-metal inspired riffs that just go on until you can't help but bang your head in delight or displeasure.  I think when I get on stage people kind of already have their minds made up about how it's going to sound.  They think, "Oh jeez, is she going to sing about rainbows and cats?".  One time after a gig, someone came up to me and told me how surprised he was by our set.  I think he said something like, "Wow, I never would have expected something like that from a little girl like you!".  I used to be self-conscious about this contrast, but I think it's just become part of us. 

What’s the songwriting process like for Hollow Mountain?  Is there someone who usually comes to the rest of the band with a riff or more finished idea for a song to share with the rest of the band?  Or, do you all just get together and kick ideas back and forth until you work something out that you’re interested in refining?

Steve:  Usually, I come to practice with song parts and get a yes or no from Esther and Ben on whether the riffs are cool.  Then, we all jam on an approved song idea and everyone voices their feedback, writes their respective parts and works out the kinks until the song is finished.  I do need to mention, though, that many of the songs on Demo 2012 have music that Esther and I wrote together.

Esther:  I like to think of the process as a group effort.  If any one of us has an idea, we can bring it to rehearsal, and we can try to flesh it out and see what we get.  Sometimes we'll get something good out of it, and sometimes we won't.  It's all part of the fun.

What about recording?  I’m a musician myself and I think that most of us can appreciate the end result of all the time and work that goes into making an album when you’re holding that finished product in your hands.  But getting to that point, getting stuff recorded and sounding the way that you want it to especially as a band, can be extremely difficult on a band to say the very least.  What’s it like recording for Hollow Mountain?

Steve:  Yeah, recording is exciting but also torturous and never fails to disappoint.  No matter what, the end result is never what's in your head, but you learn you just have to live with that fact.  Every time we've recorded, the circumstances have been very different.

Esther:  I would love every recording to sound live, but of course, the magic of live shows is something that can't be easily fabricated.  I feel that Ben and I are a little more relaxed when it comes to recording; we try to have fun.  Steve, on the other hand, can get pretty Phil Spector at times.  I guess it's good for us, though.  Otherwise we'd get nothing done.

Do you all like to take a more DIY approach to recording where you handle most aspects of things yourselves so you don’t have to work with or compromise on the sound with anyone else, or do you like to head in to the studio to record and let someone else handle the technical aspects of things so you can concentrate on just getting the best performance possible out of yourselves?

Steve:  I am very concerned with how we sound recorded and will usually assert myself into the mixing/EQ/mastering process.  I recorded the demos myself, so I had total control.  For the 7" EP we worked with a friend and his sound engineer buddy and recorded at the guy's home studio.  I was super involved with getting the recording to sound the way I envisioned it and worked very closely with the sound engineer.  For the Loud Loop single, I was more hands off because it’s really their project, not ours.  I made some comments about the mix, but I didn't have to fight anyone on anything and just let their sound engineer do what he felt was best.  I personally like working with a sound engineer, someone with the knowhow and equipment to make us sound good.  Not to mention that doing it all yourself is incredibly hard and stressful.  My perfect recording scenario is working with a good sound engineer who takes my comments and ideas to heart, and understands what kind of sound we're going for.

Esther:  Some of my favorite songs were recorded with a DIY approach, meaning that they we just recorded them at home.  I personally appreciate something like that because it captures that raw, no frills sound.  Of course, I also understand the importance of having a quality recording, but if you can sound good out of your room and out of the studio, you're gold.

Is there a lot of time and effort that goes into working out every single aspect of a song, figuring out exactly what a song’s going to sound like?  Or, do you all head in with a good skeletal idea of what a song’s going to sound like while allowing for some change and evolution during the recording process?

Steve:  Yes, I spend a great deal of time searching for the right riffs and melodies.  The songwriting process can't really be defined.  I never say, "I'm going to write a song today".  A song just happens.  You'll be jamming away on your guitar, and suddenly the riff will appear and a melody will enter your mind.  Then, I spend a great deal of time and effort finessing it all with Ben and Esther until there’s a complete song.

Esther:  I think the main rule we stick to when determining how a song should sound, is making sure it reflects how we play it live.  If a big, boomy kick drum is integral to one song, we’ll make sure it sounds just right.  Sometimes, happy accidents do occur that surprise us all, and that's the best part about recording.

People have been tapping into the altered mind states that psychoactive and hallucinogenic drugs create for thousands of years and harnessing it to make art.  Do they play a large or important role in the songwriting, recording or performance processes for Hollow Mountain?

Steve:  I have never experimented with psychedelics.  In fact, whenever I work on music or lyrics, I make sure I am totally sober.  I want to be as focused as possible.

Esther:  Can I just take this moment to say that I really love beer?  Sometimes, a real good IPA gets me going.  Whiskey works, too.

Now I know you are just prepping for the release for your debut 7” from Tall Pat before too long, but you’ve previously digitally released two collections of demos.  The first, Demo 2012 was also released on cassette by Maximum Pelt.  Can you tell us about the recording of the material for Demo 2012?  Was that a fun, pleasurable experience for you all, or more of a nerve wracking proposition?  Who recorded that material?  When and where was it recorded?  What kind of equipment was used?

Steve:  Demo 2012 was recorded during the fall of 2012, before the band really even existed.  At the time, it was just me and Esther writing songs.  The idea was this: We'd write a bunch of songs and record them with me playing drums and guitar, and Esther playing bass and singing.  Then, we'd shop the demo around to drummers.  We were having trouble finding a drummer and this was going to be the solution.  Recording Demo 2012 was a fun, yet arduous experience.  I remember that it took months and I was super stressed out.  I had to learn about recording, while recording it.  So, every step of the way I did a ton of research on how to do each individual aspect of the process; how to properly tune drums, mic placement, Garageband plugins, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.  I really knew nothing of recording up to that point.  Another hardship was the limitations of our equipment.  I used Garageband on a laptop, the most inexpensive preamp I could find, one SM57 for instruments and one condenser for vocals.  There was a lot of trial and error, but in the end, I think it came our pretty good.  In fact, it’s still my favorite Hollow Mountain recording.  It has this inimitable sound that just happened by accident because of all the limitations we had in terms of recording equipment and knowhow.

Esther:  I think I might have even cried a few times while recording that demo.

As I previously mentioned you released two demo collections, the second was a year later and Demo 2013 has only been released digitally at this point to my knowledge.  Demo 2013 consisted of two songs, “Castle” and “Strange World”.  Can you tell us about the recording of those two tracks?  Was it pretty similar to your earlier session(s) for Demo 2012?  Who recorded the Demo 2013 material?  Where was that?  When was that?  What kind of equipment was used this time around?

Steve:  The major difference with Demo 2013 is that Ben was in the band by then and played the drums.  Also, while Demo 2012 was recorded in basements, Demo 2013 was recorded in a practice space.  All aspects regarding equipment and the recording process were mostly the same, though.  Recording Demo 2013 was much easier because I had a working knowledge of how to record a demo by then.  The funny thing is that it sounds so much different than the previous demo, even though both were recorded pretty much the same way.  I think the different rooms affected the sound.  I'm pretty sure we recorded this during the fall of 2013.

I talked a little bit about it before, but you all have a 7” coming out on Tall Pat due for release around October this year (2014).  Do you feel like you’ve learned a lot since your earlier demo sessions?  Did you all try anything radically new or different when it came to the songwriting or recording of the material for the upcoming single?  What can our listeners expect from the upcoming single?

Steve:  Our 7" EP is a heavier, tighter Hollow Mountain.  We've re-recorded the song "Castle" for the record, too, so think of songs in that vein.  I personally feel we've come a long way since those demos and can't wait for people to hear our new recordings.  The most notable thing about the 7" is that we partly recorded on tape, using a Tascam 388 8-track machine.  We recorded the instruments to tape and then dumped that on to a computer.  Then, the vocals were recorded digitally because we ran out of inputs on the 8-track.  All mixing, EQ and mastering was done on the computer.  Using the 388 gives the record a gritty, mid-fi sound, which is what we intended.

Esther:  As Steve mentioned, the notable difference will be in the songs themselves.  They’re a bit slower and heavier, often falling into a groove of some kind.  Before this, our songs were shorter, faster, and a bit more juvenile in the best way.

Has Hollow Mountain released any other material that I might not know about, maybe a song on a compilation or another demo session that I’m not aware of, or anything?

Steve:  No, just the demos, the upcoming Tall Pat 7" and the upcoming Loud Loop Press single.  I should mention that Grabbing Clouds Tapes & Records who released the Slushy LP earlier this year (Interview here), are releasing the new EP on cassette, too.

With the release of the Tall Pat single quickly approaching, do you all have any other releases planned or in the works at this point?

Steve:  My goal is to do a full-length album, with new songs and probably some re-recorded material from the 7" and the Loud Loop single.  I'd like to have the ball really rolling on that by this time next year.

Esther:  Yeah, I like going with the flow and taking it one step at a time.  I'm just having a blast playing music with my best friends.

Now I know the single’s not out yet, but thinking ahead for people who dig your tunes and are going to want to pick up your stuff, where’s the best place to score your music going to be for our US readers?

Steve:  People will be able to buy it from Tall Pat Records.  It will also be on our Bandcamp page and Chicagoans will be able to find it at all the record stores, like Bric-A-Brac and Reckless.

What about our international and overseas readers?  With the completely insane international postage rate increases that have just kept going up and up, I try and provide our readers with as many possible options for picking up import releases as I can!

Steve:  I would recommend downloading it from Bandcamp.

And where’s the best place for our interested readers to keep up with the latest news from Hollow Mountain like upcoming shows and album releases at? 

Are there any major plans or goals that Hollow Mountain’s looking to accomplish in the rest of 2014 or 2015?

Steve:  Besides releasing a full-length album next year, we'd like to do a short tour in the spring.  We'd like to start booking that some time this winter.  From what I've been hearing, Chicago bands have been making an impression around the country, so it's a great time to get out on the road.

Esther:  I would love to get a proper band photo out there, ha-ha!

Do you all spend a lot of time out on the road touring?  Do you enjoy being out on the road?  What’s life like no the road for Hollow Mountain?

Steve:  Hopefully touring will be our next adventure.  I've toured in past bands, but it will be a new experience for Hollow Mountain if it happens.

Esther:  I've been touring a lot this summer with my other band, The Lemons.  It's definitely been a good experience for me, and I think it's something every band needs to experience.  There are definite highs and lows to life on the road, but it just brings everyone closer.  I'm looking forward to touring with Hollow Mountain in the near future.

Do you remember what the first song that Hollow Mountain ever played live was?  Where and when would that have been?

Steve:  Our first show was during May 2013 at the famous Cole's Bar in Logan Square. We opened for The Funs (Interview here) and Today's Hits.  I'm pretty sure the first song we played must have been the first song on Demo 2012, "Manhunt on the Moon".

Esther:  Oh man, I was so nervous that day.  I could barely sing because my voice was shaking so bad, and some guy kept flashing his camera.  I must have looked like a scared kitten.

Who are some of your personal favorite bands that you all have had a chance to play with so far?

Steve:  This is a question no one wants to answer for fear of leaving someone out, ha-ha!  But, I will say these Chicago bands are cool, however there are many, many others, too: MAMA, Flesh Panthers (Interview here), The Yolks (Interview here), The Sueves, The Rubs, Spike and the Sweet Spots, The Glyders, The Lemons, Slushy (Interview here), Today's Hits, Vamos, My Gold Mask, The Morons, Son of a Gun, Gross Pointe, Negative Scanner, Uh Bones, MTVGhosts…  I could go on and on ha-ha!

Esther:  I love playing with Le Tour; they're some of the nicest guys on the planet.  The Peekaboos are incredible, too; some of our wildest shows were with them.  We've only played with Today's Hits once, but they’re a band everyone should see at least once or twice, or thrice before they get too big!

In your dreams, who are you on tour with?

Steve:  People used to compare us to Shonen Knife from Japan, and it's true they did kind of inspire us to start the band.  I think it would be cool to tour with them.

Esther:  Definitely Shonen Knife!

Do you have any funny or interesting stories from live shows or performances that you’d like to share here with our readers?

Steve:  Not really…  But we did just have a show on Labor Day, and while loading our gear I really hurt my back, so I had to play the set sitting down, which was weird and a bit funny.

Esther:  Oh yeah, Steve messed his back up, so he had to sit on this chair that had stuffed animals on it.  While he was playing, the stuffed animals kept vibrating on the chair, it was so funny.  I think people were just stunned…  They didn't know whether it was a joke or not.  Also, anytime the crowd gets wild and starts knocking over microphones or throwing beer cans is the best.  At least here in the Midwest, if you get a beer can thrown at you, it's a compliment…  It means people are having a good time.  If it's a full can, well then, I guess they think you suck, but at least you get a free beer to drink.

Do you all give a lot of thought to the visual aspects that represent the band to a large extent, stuff like flyers, posters, shirt designs, album covers and that sort of thing?  Is there any kind of meaning or message that you’re trying to convey?  Is there anyone that you usually turn to in your times of need when it comes to that sort of thing?  If so, who is that and how did you originally get hooked up with them?

Steve:  We're lucky enough to know a lot of talented visual artists that help us out.  Esther, too, is a visual artist and did the covers for both demos.  Our friend Billy Sour did the artwork for the 7-inch.  He also makes really cool flyers.  Our very talented friend Michael Conway designs some of our posters/flyers from time to time.  For the 7" cover, I think the psychedelic colors juxtaposed with the image of decay and destruction work well together.  I hope people think the cover art looks the way the music sounds.  Honestly, the visual aspect of the band is an afterthought for me, though, I do appreciate that we know so many talented artists who can help us with those aspects.

With all of the various methods of release that are available to musicians today I’m always curious why they choose and prefer the various mediums that they do?  What about when you’re purchasing music?  If you do have a preference, can you tell us a little bit about what it is and why that is?

Steve:  Basically you take what you can get.  To me, the goal of any band is to release a vinyl record.  I think it legitimizes you.  Vinyl is such an expensive, inefficient way of releasing music, but it’s still the coolest.  A vinyl record is a big undertaking and it's a physical work of art, too.  It takes months to prepare and thousands of dollars.  It's not like with tapes where you can dub a ton of them in an afternoon.  To be honest, I don't get the tape craze.  I think it has to do with the fact that most people are poor now and tapes are so cheap and easy to make.  I would like to add, that in 2014 all that really matters is that you have your music on Bandcamp or someplace online for people to easily find and listen to.  Having a vinyl record is a goal and a nice marketing tool and novelty, but an online presence does so much for getting your name out there.

Esther:  I actually like tapes a lot.  They’re fast, compact and affordable, and you don't feel awkward carrying them around at a show.  Although you can't compare the sound quality to vinyl, I buy a lot more tapes than I do records now.  I like the idea that you can dub a ton of tapes in an afternoon and hand them out later.  I like that carefree, here-I-made-you-this-tape-today aesthetic.  There's this romantic, unpretentious vibe about them that's really refreshing to me.

Do you have a music collection at all?  If you do, can you tell us a little bit about that?

Steve:  I'm pretty poor, but I buy vinyl when I can.  I try to get many of my favorite records on vinyl.  Ninety-five percent of my music is on my computer's hard drive, unfortunately.

Esther:  I inherited almost all of my records from my parents, which were mostly blues, psychedelic and progressive rock.  I've since added to that, so you'll find a lot of punk, some no-wave, a lot of Velvet Underground, Beatles, and the rest is probably local bands.

Speaking of music collections, I grew up around my dad’s enormous collection of killer psych, garage, blues and just about anything rocking and heavy prior to 1980!  He really encouraged me to dig in and enjoy the collection, but beyond that he would take me out to the local shops and pick me up random stuff I was interested in.  I would rush home with the music, kick back with a set of headphones, read the liner notes, stare at the cover artwork and let the whole thing carry me off on a trip.  Having something physical to hold and experience along with the music always made for a much more complete listening experience for me.  Do you have any such connection with physically released music?

Steve:  I do agree.  I like the act of playing a vinyl record while staring at the album art.  It’s a different and more intimate experience than just playing something on iTunes.

Esther:  Putting on a record is a bit more involved than just hitting play.  I hate to sound hippy-dippy, but the act of taking it out of its sleeve, blowing off any stray particles, and carefully positioning the needle is an act of consciousness.  Even if you're completely wasted, you're still in the moment of putting on a record.  Also, the fact that a record is meant to be listened in the order in which it was pressed only supports that entire experience.  No, you can't skip around; you have to listen to it in the way it was intended to be listened to.

Like it or not, digital music is here in a big way.  The crazy thing is though digital music is just the tip of the iceberg in my opinion.  When you team digital music with the internet, then you really have a game changer on your hands!  Together, they’ve exposed people to the literal world of music that they’re surrounded by, allowed for an absolutely unparalleled level of communication between bands and their fan bases, and eradicated geographic boundaries that would have crippled bands only a few years ago.  It’s not all peaches and cream though, while people may be exposed to more and more music these day’s they’re not necessarily interested in paying for it at this point, and while people’s relationship and interaction with music is constantly changing, I’m not sure that digital music has done anyone in favors in that regards.  As an artist during the reign of the digital era, what’s your opinion on digital music and distribution?

Steve:  In 2014 all that really matters is you have your music on Bandcamp or someplace online for people to easily find and listen to.  I said it before, but having a vinyl record is a goal and a nice marketing tool and novelty, however an online presence does so much for getting your name out there.  There are of course many concerns with digital music/the Internet that revolve around money.  The way I see it, if you're in a band to make money, you're in the wrong line of work.  There's no money in music.  It's a very expensive hobby, actually.  I write, record, and perform music because I have to; I have a need to do something creative with myself, and music is that outlet at this time.

Esther:  As I said above, the digital era has indeed made music that much more available for the masses, which, I agree, does not help in terms of reeling in the dough.  Why pay for something you can just steal?  It's also difficult to convince folks to pay money for an intangible piece of music.  That's just the price of being able to reach more people, which I don't think is a big deal.  It's tough out there, and we don't all have the luxury to spend money as we please.  It also makes it that much more meaningful when someone does eventually send some cash your way; it means they truly enjoy and support your work.

I try to keep up with as much good music as I possibly can but there’s just not enough time to even listen to a percent of the sweet stuff out there right now.  Is there anyone from your local scene or area that I should be listening to I might not have heard of before?

Steve:  Check some of those bands I listed above.

Esther:  Slushy (Interview here) has just made a rad comeback with a full band; they used to be a two-piece.  I was recently in Japan, and the local bar I was at was playing one of their songs.  The Wet is now defunct, but their recent 7" is great; real snarly and dirty.

What about nationally and internationally?

Steve:  Unfortunately, my national and international knowledge is limited.  Check out Tweens from Ohio and Native America, who I think are from Memphis.  I like the European stoner bands Brutus and Electric Wizard, too.

Esther:  I really like Slutever; they're a grunge-punk two-piece from Los Angeles, solid stuff.

Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me and share so much about the band, it was awesome talking to you and I hope you all got a kick out of it.  Before we call it a day, is there anything that I could have possibly missed or that you’d maybe just like to take this opportunity to talk to me or the readers about?

Steve:  Nope and thanks!  This was really fun.  

Esther:  Thank you so much for this opportunity!   

(2012)  Hollow Mountain – Demo 2012 – Digital – Self-Released
(2013)  Hollow Mountain – Demo 2013 – Digital, Cassette Tape – Self-Released/Maximum Pelt (Cassette Tape limited to ? copies)

Interview made by Roman Rathert/2014
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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Electric Wizard - Time To Die (2014) review

Wake up children, it's Time to Die.

A track by track review of Electric Wizard's new album

Electric Wizard "Time To Die" (Spinefarm Records, 2014)

I don't give a fuck about anyone, or your society”, wails Jus Oborn in the first verse of Incense for the Damned, the opening track of the new Electric Wizard record, Time to Die. If anyone's being sincere about such a statement, it's these guys. They haven't been giving a fuck for over two decades now, and they're not about to start; this flare-bearing, SG-toting, dope-smoking, Lovecraft-worshipping outfit have never compromised their concept for any sort of commercial gain or mainstream acceptability. They've always been outsiders, and proud of it. In an age where rock 'n' roll is all too often watered down by marketing tactics, radio-friendly politically correct messages and a clean image, Electric Wizard are still loudly obsessing on vintage horror flicks, bad trips and murderers. This is, after all, the band that wrote the songs “We Hate You” and “Legalise Drugs and Murder”.... The only hits they're seeking are that of the bong. But their integrity and authenticity is what warrants them respect, and maybe that's why they're now finally achieving a broader level of recognition. They've become an integral part of any stoner-rocker's record collection; on the same shelf that is residence to Master of Reality and a grinder, is a Wizard album. They're a part of that scene, like Kyuss and Black Sabbath before them.... But it's gone further. Electric Wizard are now an iconic cult entity – shrouded in legend and mystique, they're the unashamedly dangerous, sleazy, outrageous ambassadors of the stoner underground, with a saga steeped in feuds, fallouts, bust-ups and injuries, all laced with acid, hazed with weed and drenched in booze. It's a stark and refreshing alternative to the bland, unoriginal, regurgitated product that can pass for good music in some circles these days.... but Electric Wizard are the real deal; a chaotic, aggressive, angry rock 'n' roll band.

Time to Die is the Wizard's eighth album. At just over 65 minutes long, it's their longest album to date, and the first to be released on their own label, Witchfinder Records. As the title would suggest, the theme of the album is death, and this may be the most violent release from the group yet; the entire album is an obsessive, relentless overdose of hatred, resignation and.... death. A recurring subject within the album is that of Ricky Kasso, a.k.a. “The Acid King”, an American teen who, in 1984, murdered his friend Gary Lauwers whilst tripping on acid. Samples extracted from a 20/20 documentary on Satanism are used extensively to convey the theme as the album progresses. The misanthropic strength of this album, however, may have a more personal undertone. The past year hasn't been smooth for the Wizard; turbulent line-up changes aside, the band have severed ties with former record label Rise Above. The parting wasn't pretty by any account, and seems to have sparked a bitter feud between both camps as much publicised in recent press articles and interviews, in which the band have spoken of the paranoia and resignation felt during the struggle to make the album. Those emotions are certainly well conveyed on Time to Die, which takes on an even darker twist once one takes into the account the band's recent history. It's an extremely morbid affair, but you know you're in for a tour de négatif when you buy an album by Electric Wizard, that's the whole point.

Immediately notable is the lineup; as well as cult leader Jus Oborn (“occult sciences, volume & drug dealer”) and accomplice Liz Buckingham (“feedback, riffs and Hand of Doom”), the bass is mysteriously credited to a “Count Orloff”, and, the album features for the first time in over a decade, original Wizard drummer Mark Greening (“violence & concussion”). It turns out that this reunion was ill-fated; Greening was out of the fold again by June, several months prior to this album's release, and the split was less than amicable. Nevertheless, Greening's [brief] return sparked a wave of excitement for some of the 'classic era' fans hoping, as per usual, for another Dopethrone, and it's certainly intriguing; whilst Liz Buckingham's membership in the group very much heralded the 'new dawn' of the band in 2003, Greening's membership represents the original lineup, two separate eras which are constantly compared an
d contrasted. The result is something fresh. Greening's busy drum work, alongside the dual axe assault, and the much welcomed growly, lead bass style of the mystery bass player gives this album a flavour of its own (as is the case with every Electric Wizard album thus far). It's a grand melding of the chaos of early Wizard, and the song craft of second era Wizard. Evident is conscious songwriting; structures and catchy hooks, but equally present is the 'raw' element that largely cemented the band's reputation in the 1990's.

The album kicks off with a sample of a trickling stream; a suitable juxtaposition for the following hour. A chaotic drum n' organ jam ensues, with news reports of the aforementioned Kasso case setting the basis of the story in which the theme of the album can be related to. This intro-to-an-intro, so to speak, is followed by a brief, bare bones progression that is definitive doom, until at two and a half minutes in, the track proper begins. Incense for the Damned is a corker from the get go; a highly groovy, nicely heavy riff really gets the album off to a good start, with a simple and catchy chorus to lure you in. With a bruising doom breakdown (featuring Oborn incessantly screaming 'DIE!'), and a mind-penetrating, continual chant of “We wanna get high before we die”, the track is a brutal but comparatively uptempo affair.

The album's namesake track is built around a typical Wizard riff. It's a strong track that again exhibits this band's perhaps surprising knack for writing memorable hooks and powerful, simple lyrical lines. There's some fantastic guitar work from Oborn and Buckingham here, full of both melody and suspense, especially during the ascending riff that haunts the chorus. As the track progresses, there's some balls-out psychedelic moments, largely invoked from Oborn maxing out the wah pedal, before the song reverts to the main riff.

I Am Nothing isn't the most memorable track on the album, but is nevertheless a well placed simple-and-solid number. It can feel like it's dragging out at points, as it dwells on a very basic riff, before things get more exciting in the second half, climaxing in a sonic onslaught greatly augmented by Greening's tribal rhythms.

As their 2012 Legalise Drugs and Murder EP proved, Wizard aren't afraid of shocking or offending with their song titles and lyrics. Such is the case with Destroy Those Who Love God. A highly atmospheric dabbling, the track would make a decent psychedelic horror score, featuring a brooding organ melody, and driving, busy percussion. The instrumentation is accompanied by samples sourced from the same 20/20 documentary used throughout the album, and continues the narrative of Ricky Kasso.

At this point, the album takes yet another unexpected turn, this time into the territory of aggressive garage rock. Funeral Of Your Mind is an exceptional track that wouldn't necessarily sound out of place on a Stooges or early Alice Cooper record, with an instantly catchy chorus and psychedelic lead guitar line, but the demonic verse riff firmly stamps the Wizard hallmark on this distinctive song.

Then it's straight back to potential Hammer-horror soundtracks in the form of We Love The Dead. A slow, morbid journey laden with suspense and an eerie vocal delivery from Oborn that becomes more powerful still at about four minutes in, as the weighty horror riff changes under the chorus line into a classic Wizard-style ascending riff.

Depending on whether or not you're familiar with Black Masses, Wizard's previous offering, SadioWitch is either a full-on, all valves blazing, piece of riff gold, or a track of self-plagiarism. It's true, there are certainly comparisons to be made between this song and Black Mass, owing to the similar base riff, and identical intro, but whether they should be accused of 'recycling riffs' or not is a different matter. It definitely stands as a good bridge between this album and the last, almost as a symbol of musical continuation, but the vocal content and structure is entirely different. Either way, it is a perfect example of 21st century Electric Wizard, and offers more riff meat than it's sister from the previous album. The lyrical content focuses on being enslaved by a dominant, evil woman. This fascination with sleaze is a crucial part of the Wizard concept, and recurs throughout the band's discography, as exhibited on previous tracks like Priestess of Mars and Venus In Furs.

The penultimate Lucifer's Slaves is firmly in Sabbath territory, where the foundations of this band's signature sound lies. Based around a grooved out Iommi-riff, this number boasts a catchy feel that's sure to lodge in the mind of the listener upon first play, with further instrumental venturing into atmospheric psychedelia, before melting into a chasm of sheer blood-curdling doom, finally resolving to the core riff. It's an unnerving song of resignation, and the Wizard's powerful misanthropic approach is lyrically at its strongest here, because “Losers got nothing to lose/We are sick of your abuse/The Chosen Few and The Living Dead/ We're all Lucifer's Slaves in the end.

The comedown of Saturn Dethroned is an unexpected but glorious sonic collision of stylistic chaotic drumming accompanied by an eerie melody from yet another appearance of the Hammer-style Hammond, both of which are dominated by overdriven but melodic bass work (possibly the best bass playing of any Wizard album), greatly reminiscent of the loose, busy and lead style of Lemmy during his Hawkwind tenure. It bears more similarity to Floyd on a bad trip than anything in the doom field. It's a great conclusion, and as crows caw and the music fades away, the trickling stream that greeted us as we came up fades back in to draw the album to a close, before a final sample, which continues the quote that appears on the band's third album. Dopethrone fanatics will know that “when you get into one of the these groups, there's only a couple of ways you can get out. One is death, the other is... mental institutions,” but it transpires, there is a third.... “you can't get out”. It's over.

This album is classic Electric Wizard. It's hatred, aggression and depression wreathed in dopesmoke and doom-laden riffage, but it's covering fresh ground, and it's addictive. It's a melding of the weight and grime of Dopethrone, with the song craft of Black Masses, but with added psychedelic edge, added groove and added anger. It should satisfy the die-hards who are nostalgic for the group's early output, and will strike again for the fans of their post millennia material, but, perhaps more importantly, this album may well serve purpose as a gateway drug for the non-converted. This is beyond the limitations of any genre.... It's a genuine, great rock 'n' roll record.

Review made by Haz Wheaton /2014
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Old Testament - Old Testament (2014) review

Old Testament “Old Testament” (Cardinal Fuzz / Evil Hoodoo, 2014)

Old Testament is a new quintet fronted by Dead Meadow singer/songwriter, Jason Simon. Unlike their riff-heavy fuzz monsters, Old Testament is more jangly Americana pop in the vein of Golden Smog, Dylan the Younger’s Wallflowers, and legendary 80’s desert dwellers, Green On Red, with a smidgeon of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s vintage swamp gas tossed in for good measure. ‘Skin and Bones’ gets you in the mood with some travelling music for a sunny afternoon with the AM radio blasting out of your shiny red convertible, but the swampy, bluesy snarl of ‘Trip Light” shows an affection for ol’ Neil Young and his Crazy Horse drinking buddies. Oak Munson’s wailing harp deserves special mention for adding the right amount of wrong to this appropriately trippy number.
                ‘Summer Grass’ suggests Simon’s been listening to a few of his Cracker records (right down to David Lowery’s trademark drawl), but it’s the ‘Smokestack Lightnin’’ riff that’ll grab your attention first and gnaw at you throughout. Nate Ryan’s revival-meeting organ grinding is at the heart of ‘Key To The Kingdom’, and I was all over the sleepy, drunken cowboy tale ‘Movin’ On’.
                Side Two offers more of the same, from the wah-wah, two-steppin’ ‘Dallas’ and the 99 bottles o’ beer on the wall singalong, ‘Let Me In’ to the train kept-a rollin’ chooglin’ of ‘Josephine’ and the lengthy (10 minute) bluesy shuffle of ‘Now As In Ancient Times’ that’ll prick up the ears of all you Canned Heaters and Brian Jonestown Massacreants out there.
So if you’re in the mood for some good ol’ sloppy, drunken, good-natured, good ol’ boys howling at the moon, then pull up a chair, take a swig of this here moonshine, and try not to fall into the campfire.

Review made by Jeff Penczak/2014
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RIP Hunter Gatherer

Our dear friend and writer, Hunter passed away. We will miss you so much. Your articles will live on forever. I'm pretty much speechless right now. Happy Trails, Hunter. We love you!

Hunter's work for Psychedelic Baby.

Friday, October 17, 2014

It's Psychedelic Baby Magazine issue #1 review on Something Else Reviews

Something Else Reviews wrote a very positive review of our first issue. We are super happy! Thank you! 
"Flooded with enthusiasm, knowledge, and relentless affection for the music it lauds, It’s Psychedelic Baby — which is written in English — promises moments of pleasure. Having produced an ace debut issue, let’s hope more are in the works!"
- Something Else Reviews 
Order your copy here!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Hot Knives - Hot Knives (2014) review

Hot Knives "Hot Knives"  (Got Kinda Lost Records {Limited Edition Bonus Pack}, 2014)

   Got Kinda Lost Records recently released a very well crafted release full of details and with an incredible liner notes about a less known folk-rock / power pop combo from San Francisco. In their time they only released two singles, but some time ago a friend label (Grown Up Wrong! Records) of aforementioned Got Kinda Lost Records found and prepared a CD release of Hot Knives' complete recorded works, which was discovered through an interview of one of their members.

   Hot Knives were a bit too late to catch original hippie train. Formation took place in San Francisco around 1972. Two singles were pressed, leaving a whole lot of material behind, buried for years to come. Their sound was influenced by early folk groups and later by lysergic West coast bands like Moby Grape. The band consists of co-vocalists Michael and Debra Houpt - brother and sister originally coming from New Town, Pennsylvania, where they were influenced by folk groups like Peter, Paul & Mary and others.
   In 1969 duo moved to San Francisco, where Houpt first came in contact with "Flamin' Groovies" and when '70s arrived Tim Lynch (guitar/vocals) and Danny Mihm (drums) of "Flamin Groovies" joined Houpt brother & sister and with addition of incredible bass player, Ed Wilson the band was formed and material started popping out, but only two singles were originally released, which are both included here. What we have on this compilation is a whole bunch of pretty intense material, which is mostly credited to Michael Houpt. People would say this is just another band, that were too late to be part of original "West coast sound" and are probably quite mediocre, but that's far from the truth.
   Hot Knives had members, whose influences and experiences varied and the result were Moby Grape/Jefferson Airplane inspired band with quite strange guitar work and absolutely crazy drumming, over the top there are vocals, which are perhaps the most prominent like Lynch once stated. I would say, there is something more to this songs, which I really can't describe with words. It's like major '60s characterized sound spiced with '70s and at times it also resembles to another lost psychedelic classic - Inside The Shadow by Anonymous. Got Kinda Lost Records also prepared a special limited edition vinyl bonus pack, which includes three 1.5" custom-made buttons in custom-packaging, and professionally-produced reproductions of original promo photos and flyers. I sometimes wonder when there will be a point where quality lost material won't see the light. That day might come, but not with Hot Knives release, not even close. I'm positively impressed by the strong material and have to give good points to Jeremy Cargill for his devotion and professional work on this vinyl release. Things like this keep us music freaks busy.

Review made by Klemen Breznikar/2014
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