Black Pyramid interview with Andy Beresky
What’s the story about Black Pyramid? How did you guys came together?
Well, I was playing with my friends in our long time project, Palace In Thunderland. Things were kind of rocky, we honestly weren’t seeing eye to eye a lot of the time. I don’t think any of us had the same idea about how we wanted the band to continue, and there was a lot of anger at practices. Things continued to deteriorate, and I ended up leaving the band, hopefully to keep our friendships intact.
I still had a lot of anger issues, and the logical solution, to me anyways, seemed to be to write some songs about it. I was hoping to write something heavier and more raw, so I started listening heavily to some of the heavier bands that I was really into at the time. My creative process has always involved just diving head first into what you want to create, just totally immersing oneself into the medium going further and further into the world that the Muses inhabit. Generally, that tends to bring out my best musical ideas, although I’ll be the first to admit that it’s not ideal for one’s psyche, living in these times. There’s a fine line between catharsis and total escapism when you just constantly bombard yourself with otherworldly music, images in the forms of movies and visual art, and even writing, and just live and create in a world that exists only in the imagination. It’s not the healthiest of approaches. Back then, I was foolish enough to think that any sacrifice was worth it, as long as it served the art itself. I saw music as my life, as the only thing in it that mattered. Looking back with a lot more clarity, I can see that mindset as sad and fundamentally flawed.
I was working part time for minimum wage, struggling with a serious drinking problem, listening to as much High On Fire, Sleep, Electric Wizard, and Acid King as I could in a 24 hours, and supplementing that with as many bizarre novels and videos I could absorb in that period of time. I was still quite angry, and more than a bit depressed with the state of the world. If I’d been able to see more clearly then, I would have been able to tell that it wasn’t really the world that made me sad and angry, it was the way I had chosen, and kept choosing, to live my life. Throwing all of my cards into one basket, in the form of a new, heavier band was probably not the best life decision, however, as I stated, I was a lot more foolish in those days. I really just was not comfortable with the idea, the construct of who I thought I was, I craved acceptance, and some way to just “fit in” and relate to other people.
When I finally sat down to do some songwriting, there was naturally a lot of self doubt. When you’re constantly fueled by anger, misanthropy, beer, and escapism, that’s bound to happen sooner or later. Perhaps it was best that it happened sooner, right from the get-go. I wasn’t sure I could write heavier songs, and I was even less sure that I could sing them. To this day, I’ve never considered myself much of a singer, nor much of a guitarist, for that matter. I cranked up my little practice amp, downtuned my Les Paul to A#, cracked twelve Guinness, and started writing riffs, vocals, and lyrics. It was kind of a blur, and when the smoke was clear, I was actually fairly happy and confident with the results. Within the course of about 12 hours, I had written the three demo songs, “Visions Of Gehenna”, “No Life King”, and “Mirror Messiah” in their entirety. In addition, I had working arrangements for “Caravan”, and “Wintermute.” I also had some random, catchy riffs to kick around ideas with, and these eventually evolved into “The Worm Ouroboros” and “Cauldron Born.” I figured that was good enough to start working on a lineup for a new band, so I posted an ad on Stonerrock.com, looking for musicians in my area.
As it turned out, Clay Neely lived in the area, and we ended up both responding to an ad a guy in Connecticut had placed. This may be incorrect, my memory is a little fuzzy on this detail, although I’m pretty sure Clay was initially talking to the guy about playing bass. When Clay and I figured out that we lived within ten miles of each other, we also figured, “Why go to Connecticut when we can just jam here?” So, we talked over email and on the phone for a bit, he was going on a vacation, and we made plans to meet up for drinks when he returned. It turned out that he had played drums for Artimus Pyledriver, a band I was familiar with, and since finding a drummer who is into and interested in playing heavier, more Sabbath inspired metal, at some point the idea of Clay drumming was thrown around.
We eventually met up at a local bar called Packards, where I downed a bunch of Guinness and Clay drank some Screwdrivers. We talked about our musical backgrounds, our ideas and influences, and there was a lot of common ground. I think we’d even been to some of the same shows, or at least we’d seen some of the same bands on the same tours, my memory is a little foggy of our exact conversations early on. We came to the agreement that High On Fire was both of our favourite contemporary bands at the moment, and we wanted to form a loud, heavy three piece band.
We began jamming in my garage, the two of us, about twice a week for a couple hours during the day. I showed him the songs I’d been writing and working on. The three demo songs, “Visions Of Gehenna”, “Mirror Messiah”, and “No Life King” came together really, really quickly. “Wintermute” came together pretty quickly also, I still remember going over that ending, and us both freaking out over how sick it sounded. The effect of the repetition and hits was crushing live, I’m still not sure why we never played it at any gig. “Caravan” was a bit odd, I had originally written it with a softer, cleaner psychedelic outro. It was obvious that this wasn’t going to work within the context of the sound we were rapidly developing, so I scrapped that and re-wrote the slow, heavier riffs for the ending. We practiced that and refined the arrangement and that was how that song came into existence. Interestingly, the original ending evolved into something softer and cleaner, and eventually became the instrumental “Celephais.”
Arranging with the drums really began to click and expedite the writing process. “The Worm Ourobos” came together in one practice, I just said to Clay, “hey, I’ve been working on some new riffs”, and we banged out the arrangement for them together. It really helped to have the drums going, and to be playing at full volume, as I think we both would immediately get an idea of how long and how many times each riff should be played, what was overkill, and what was constituted the minimum repetition to really make a riff “stick”, so to speak. It was a great, fun period, for me at least, I won’t speak for Clay. It was hot as hell, July and August, and we’d just drink cheap beer and jam. People would stop by and hang out in the garage, and sometimes the neighborhood kids would convene at the end of my driveway to see what all the racket was about.
When we auditioned bassists, it was a strange process, because Northampton Massachusetts isn’t really a heavy kind of town. The main “scenes” at the time were a growing noise/experimental scene perpetuated by the presence of Sonic Youth and Thurston Moore’s Ecstatic Peace label, as well as some other really accomplished acts and individual artists. The college kids seemed to really eat this up, and there was a strong scene. On the opposite end of the spectrum, most of my closer friends were either playing in, or were fans of bands that were more raw, blown out bar rock ‘n roll, heavily Stooges and MC5 influenced stuff, equal parts catchy punk and proto-metal. Most of it was faster though. The Unband were the most recent bigger heavy rock act from our neck of the woods, and most of these bands at least partially fell under their umbrella. These bands went over well, they had a real “party” vibe to them, and a real sense of danger and destruction. They played it fast, loose, perhaps a bit sloppy, and there was a create energy they exhibited, and a great response from the crowd. People went to these shows to drink and get wild. It wasn’t uncommon to throw beer around and break stuff. At the early Black Pyramid shows, we were playing with these bands, and I remember we had to clean copious beer off of my guitar, amp, and Clay’s drums after every show. I usually ended up soaked in beer as well.
We ended up recording the demo before we had a bassist. I’d known some promoters, who knew I was starting a new, heavier project, and the people who would hang out and listen to us in our garage were talking about it. So, before we even had a bassist, any recordings, or even a name, we had gig landed to open up for The Sword, Black Cobra, and Valient Thorr. The promoter was also lining up a second show supporting Jucifer. That was exciting, I’d never played with such prominent names in the scene with Palace In Thunderland. We ended up recording the demo for two reasons, so that the promoter would have some music to actually promote us with, and so that when we got a bassist, he’d have a recording of the songs to help learn them. I ended up playing bass on the demo, we didn’t even use an amp, just direct through one of those Line 6 Bass Pod things that Clay had in his studio.
A friend of mine who I had played in one of these types of bands with told me he knew a guy who had played bass in a band called Black Fucking Doom. I hadn’t heard of them. That was a real shame, they had a definite sludge feel to them, and it was the first band from our area I’d heard doing anything on the slower, heavier spectrum. We’d auditioned a few people for bass at this point, and it hadn’t worked. When we talked to Eric Beaudry, the bassist from Black Fucking Doom, it seemed he was on the same level, and we jammed. He was a much better fit, and had a big, loud bass rig, so that became the original Black Pyramid lineup. We just weren’t called Black Pyramid quite yet. The three of us came up with that name after a couple practices.
Clay wanted to call the band Burning North, as he wanted an non-descript name that didn’t really reveal anything about genre, so that we’d be able to play with indie bands and all different genres. He was also really into reading Jack London at the time. I honestly really didn’t care about any of that, I was more interested in trying to get gigs with bands that I dug, although his view was more pragmatic. I also didn’t like the name Burning North, and I remember initially I was kicking around some names that were probably equally as unsuitable. I always tended to be too idealistic, although that wasn’t really as much of a problem until later. I wanted to call the band Eye Of The Pyramid, as I was going through a heavy 13th Floor Elevators phase (which later became an an unhealthy obsession…), and Clay thought that just Pyramid was better.
Of course, we Googled that band name and a million things came up. We liked the image of a pyramid though, it was big, heavy, monolithic, with mystical/occult overtones, so that idea stayed, and eventually, I think it was actually Eric who kicked out the idea of Black Pyramid. We were all just standing in my driveway, listening to High On Fire on Eric’s car stereo, drinking beers, so realistically it could have been any of us who first threw that name out there, I just seem to remember it being Eric. I could be wrong, that was years ago. So the demo songs went up on a brand new Myspace with the name Black Pyramid. We did a quick Google search, and didn’t find any active bands going by that name. We found out later there had been two before, neither were active, so they were under the radar of our first search.
The demo was really well received, which I was really surprised by, and we had label interest almost immediately, which I also was surprised by. Multiple labels, actually, and I was really out of my element in that respect. Jelle was forming a new label called Electric Earth to release heavier stoner and doom related bands on vinyl exclusively, and was really adamant about releasing a 7″ from us, he was really into the demo and very enthusiastic about us doing it. So we did, with the original lineup, recording “Visions Of Gehenna”, and “Caravan.” Live, our set was “Visions”, “Mirror Messiah”, “No Life King”, “Caravan”, and then ending with “Cauldron Born.” Eventually we stopped playing “Caravan” and substituted “Twilight Grave”, as we started focusing more on developing a manic, kinetic, caffeine infused energy into the live sets. Clay had played me a recording of the introduction and verse riffs of “Twilight Grave”, along with the slower, heavy bridge riff, I came up with the chorus riff, the Sabbath inspired riff that brings the bridge back to intro, and emphasized to him that I wanted to write a big ending. I remember him being a bit skeptical at first, and then agreeing once he heard the ending riffs I’d come up with. It came together really quickly.
I was really thrilled with the lyrics I’d written for it, it was loosely inspired by the gothic novel, “The Monk”, a favourite of mine. For the first album, I wrote the lyrics almost concurrently with the songs, usually immediately after the song was fully arranged, so we could do it live. Many of the lyrics were based on an idea from a book, or movie. “Caravan” and “Visions Of Gehenna” weren’t, nor was “Mirror Messiah.” The others had clear source material.
We never played “Caravan” with Gein, he never learned to play the song, which was kind of a shame. Looking back, nowadays I like those slower, more introspective numbers like “Caravan”, “Wintermute”, “Illumination” and “The Cloud Of Unknowing” best, although at the time I was looking to bring more and more upbeat metal into the mix. We never played any of those slower, introspective songs live, I wish we had.
That recording went pretty well, Eric had said that he wished he had more time to work out his bass lines in advance, which unnerved me a bit, as I had mentioned to him a couple months prior that he should sit down and work out exactly what he wanted to play for his parts. I was a bit down on him for awhile, I’ll admit, which wasn’t really fair, as I think his parts ended up fine for what they were. I actually much prefer that version of “Visions Of Gehenna.” There was a certain rare creativity, a raw spontaneity to those early recordings, and it all worked. I was really used to practicing and working things out on my own, I held people to unrealistically high standards, and I unduly focused on the negatives. Live and learn.
The only thing was that Clay had his own problems with Eric, almost concurrently, and one day flat out told me, “we need to get rid of Eric.” I was a bit shocked at first, I’ll admit I was having some doubts about how he was initially tackling some of the newer, more “metal” material. I figured it would work out in time. Clay had other issues with him I was unaware of and surprised by. I don’t really want to get into that, as honestly they were separate from my own issues and I don’t want to misrepresent someone else’s position. Clay convinced me that the best bet was to get Eric out and his friend Gein in on bass, and ultimately I saw this as a way of integrating more of the “metal” influence I wanted to go for. I didn’t really agree with how we went about doing this, we had Gein practicing with us some days, learning the songs unbeknownst to Eric. Eric would practice with us on other days, and we already had his “last show” with us planned out, so that Gein would join in time for our first mini-tour, and Eric would play the shows up until then. I thought it all was a bit Machiavellian, and I also didn’t agree with how Clay had proposed we tell Eric, or the “reasons”, which were basically either half-truths or outright lies. He had a good argument for why we should have Gein, and get rid of Eric. Like I said, I was at that time entirely willing to make sacrifices for “the art”, and our early “success” had already gone to both of our heads a bit too much. Egos were always a problem in Black Pyramid.
I thought we should at least tell Eric the truth though. At the end of the day, we didn’t, I went along with it, and I regret that. The thing that really got me was that I had talked to Clay on the phone the night before, told him that I wanted to tell Eric the truth, and he insisted his way was better. When it came time to do the deed, he clammed up, and ultimately it was me who stepped up and was the asshole, feeding the bogus story to Eric, and ultimately gave him his walking papers. It bummed us all out, and what had gone down stuck with me. Actually, I think it hardened my heart a bit, as I got more and more used to screwing people over “for the good of the band”, with less and less regret. I’d like to think that the Andy of today would say, “well, if you’re going to feed someone a bullshit story, you’re on your own, Bub, that’s your call and I don’t really want any part of it.” However, that wasn’t what happened, I went along with it, and even took the point position when it came time to have that difficult talk and spin that prefabricated story. I’m not proud of that, and I only hope that if Eric hasn’t forgiven me for it, someday he will. If he doesn’t, I totally understand. It was a dick move.
It was the beginning of when I started to become increasingly cold and jaded emotionally, and effectively when the band stopped being fun for me. Part of Clay’s reasoning for getting rid of Eric was that it was a “business decision”, and ultimately that’s what the band became more and more of at this point: a business. This didn’t sit well with my idealism, and ultimately was one of the big prompts for my eventual exit from the band.
For better or for worse, the lineup that went on to record the full length was Clay, Gein, and myself.
In 2007 you recorded a demo and soon after that debut was released. What can you say about recording and producing your debut LP?
It was an interesting time. I’d sold myself on the idea that Gein would help bring a more “metal” direction to our material, and would be more suited to play bass on a song like “Cauldron Born”, which was the last song I’d written for the full length album. I was really pleased with that song, and was hoping to go further in that direction with Gein on bass.
It was odd, because he both did and he didn’t bring a more “metal” approach to the bass than Eric. Gein didn’t have a real background in playing metal, he came from playing punk and surf. He rushed a lot, and didn’t hold out the notes or let them ring on the bass. His playing lacked the “groove”, his attack was quite staccato. He hadn’t played anything anywhere near the stoner or doom genres before, and he wasn’t as familiar with the music that had influenced Clay and I, so there was a real learning curve. His work ethic was still pretty good in those days, and I think he realized, initially at least, that he was out of his element more than a bit. Clay was really instrumental in helping him develop a style on the bass that was suited to the music. I tended to have a lot less patience, which was both a shortcoming and a real obstacle. Still, I worked with him on the songs, at my house even, just the two of us, and we were all still quite driven at this point to accomplish something with this album. Live, he had a good stage presence and great energy. We played the songs a bit faster when we did them live, so he was fitting in really well in that regards.
In the studio, there were problems. Clay and I mapped out click tracks into Pro-Tools, got the tempos straight, and we did a lot of pre-production and planning. I think all the tones came out great, we were using a great array of tube amps, and Clay had drums that tracked well. I was using my Ampeg V-4, Gein’s Marshall Superlead, and Clay’s Orange Tiny Terror for the guitar tracks, and Clay had bought one of the modern Fender Bassman 300 amps that Gein used for bass with a 8×10.
“Wintermute” was the last song we had taught Gein and rehearsed before going in to record the album. I remember his bass part was a bit wonky – it was overly complicated, and just didn’t really work. Gein insisted that it did. Clay and I talked about it quite a bit, and Clay figured he could get him to focus on better parts once he was in the studio and Gein could really hear back what he was playing in relation to the songs. This turned out to be the case, at least I thought so when I heard the recordings. The recorded bass parts were solid and yet restrained when they needed to be. On the flip side, they stood out and took the forefront when the moment called for it, with a strong sense of melody. Down the road, working on the splits and EP’s between the first album and second, Gein’s role in the writing of the material increased dramatically, which was something I’d really hoped for.
We recorded on separate days, by the time I went in to lay down the guitars, Clay had already put drums down to the click tracks, and they sounded fierce, nice and big, with plenty of attitude and authority. So I was psyched at this point, things were looking up. The rhythm guitars came together pretty seemlessly, in a couple days of recording, however, my solos were a bit of a mess. I’ve never been the best lead player, and it was a lot of work getting good solos out of me, which again was largely due to Clay’s patience and ability to get me in the zone, so that I wasn’t selling myself short, compromising on what might not have been my best ideas.
Besides drumming, that was really his strength, was just getting the best performances out of everyone. I really could not have done it without him, many of the techniques for constructing the solos were things that he worked out with me, on the fly sometimes, in the studio, and we never really settled for “good enough” in this respect. The vocals were the same way, I never really had a lot of confidence in my singing ability, and would often just kind of lay down a take, not really like it, but just figure “well, that’s the best I can do, that’s all I’ve got, might as well settle for that.” Clay never let that happen, he’d say, “I think you can hit that a lot better, your voice is just warming up.” And he’d be right. We ran my vocals ragged a couple days, and that was generally when we stopped and took the best that we had, when I couldn’t sing anymore.
I would have loved to have just run through all the vocals in a take or two, and just said, “screw it, that’s what I’ve got”, and luckily he never let me do that. As such, the actual production was largely in his hands, he was the only one there at all of the recording sessions. Sure, I knew how I wanted my guitars to sound, and how I wanted them layered, however, he was the guy behind the engineering board, and ultimately the guy coaxing my best performances out of me.
I wasn’t there when Gein recorded, Clay told me he had to edit a lot of his bass parts, that the timing and rhythms was often wonky. I never heard any of them though. We didn’t talk about it a lot, he seemed a little frustrated with the bass performances when we did. I figured it was something that would get better as Gein played more with the band. He was still pretty new, I thought he did an admirable job learning and tackling the parts in the time that we had. Besides, all the drums were heavily edited in Pro-Tools, and we’d edited the guitars a lot too, so I didn’t think much of it at the time. The only instance that Gein and I were both in the studio was when we recorded the introduction to the album, “…When The Gods Made War.”
Gein actually composed that, we all decided we wanted an intro, something with a Eastern inspired motif to really nail down the theme of the album. I had an idea, it wasn’t very good at all, but I figured it was what I had. Gein had a really, really rough recording of his idea, I didn’t like it at first, only because the recording wasn’t very good. Once he played it for me on the guitar, I thought it was a great idea. Gein played a lot of the guitar on that track, I just played the heavy, droning chords in the background, and he played the bass. I named the song, after the intro/first song on Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland. As such, I figured it was cool to have Gein name the instrumental I had recorded for the album, and he called it “Celephais”, after the city from some of Lovecraft’s stories. We were going to have him play the lead guitar on that, I never heard the recordings. Clay said it wasn’t really working, it didn’t fit and wasn’t subtle enough, so I recorded the understated electric guitar track.
We definitely rushed the mix. For the most part, I think it came out alright. To this day though, I don’t think the vocals sit well in the mix. Matt Washburn flew up from Georgia to work in Clay’s studio, and I just don’t think we allotted enough time with him to do the mix justice. No fault of Matt’s, it was a rush job and I was too drunk or hungover a lot of the time. Clay and I worked on some of the things that we didn’t get to after Matt had left, all and all Matt was only in the studio the night he arrived for a bit, two full days, and then the morning before he left, and a lot of that time was spent on the drum edits. I think the vocals were really the biggest casualty, although I had wanted more post-production on the guitars as well. Matt and I didn’t see eye to eye on how some of the guitars and vocals should sound, I had wanted things wetter. We just all forgot to do different things, we ended up doing what we could with the time we were given. That’s how life works.
The only real weird thing that struck me at the time was that Clay didn’t want to have “Twilight Grave” on the album. I thought it was a great song, we were doing it live, I initially had a really bad idea for the vocals, and he talked me out of it. I thought it all turned out fine. I really didn’t understand his doubt and hesitation, at the time. It all makes a lot more sense now, in hindsight, once the truth came out.
He would say, “it’s not very good, it doesn’t fit on the album, it’s too boogie compared to the rest of the material.” I didn’t really see where he was coming from, at all. I thought it was a great song, it was his biggest contribution in the writing department, and it went over well live. The other thing was, I never saw us as a band that was going for a specific “sound”; Clay and I had a wide range of influences, and I at least was under the idea that a variety of different styles and influences just made things more interesting. In the end, I was really behind having the song on the album, and Clay came around on it. The album was well received, and there was a period of relative stability within the band. It wasn’t long before the critical success and fan support went to our heads, honestly, and egos began to get really out of control. There was still awhile before this really led to any significant problems. We had a lot of momentum, and were riding the high…
What happened next on the second album?
Well, we’d written and recorded some splits prior to the album, including the instrumental “Macedonia”, which Gein had composed the vast majority of. “Macedonia” wasn’t recorded in the same session as the other songs, we recorded it as a bonus track once Jelle from Electric Earth had expressed interest in having an extra song on the LP, so that the timing for the three sides of the vinyl would flow a little better. That was mostly him, I only wrote the clean middle section when the rhythm drops out, and the section immediately after that, where it transitions back to the main riff. “Blood From The Godless Sky”, I had come up with the riffs based on some drum beats Clay was messing around with, they were really catchy, and Gein wrote the bridge riff to that. All three of us had worked on the songs “Stormbringer” and “Warswine”, and Gein had brought the initial ideas for both of those, so I was really excited about working on constructing the third album as even more of a joint effort, although that really wasn’t what happened.
All three of us had different things happening in our personal lives, our downs and ups, I’m really not going to get into each of our personal issues at the time. There were a lot of changes, suffice to say. I was working a lot and finally making decent money, I had stopped drinking entirely at this point, and I was too busy to really think about how unhappy I was with how things were going with the band. I didn’t have as much time to spend on Black Pyramid, we weren’t practicing as much as we used to, it was mainly “go over the live set, work on the newer material a little bit.” 2011 was rapidly approaching, and it really was time to work on a second album. As a band, we hadn’t made much progress since the splits and EP’s, although we were becoming more accomplished live.
I’d written the entirety of “Mercy’s Bane”, during this period, and we were going to incorporate it into the live set. This was where it became quite obvious to Clay and I that Gein just wasn’t practicing anymore on his own, or if he was, he wasn’t remembering the songs. Something was really off with him. We almost trainwrecked “Mercy’s Bane” the first time we played it live, in Boston. For the middle bridge part, Gein just started playing something that was not in the right key, or tempo, while Clay and I just looked at each other and tried to hold it together. After the set, we were both angry at him, his response was that he had “missed a note.” We both were pretty adamant with him that it wasn’t just “a note”, it was an entire section of the song. I guess it’s just a matter of perspective, he didn’t think it was a big deal, Clay and I did.
Dan from Meteorcity wanted to release a Flexi disc single of a Black Pyramid song. He was thinking of doing a series of them, although I think this was the only one ever released. This was going to be kind of a “single” from the new album, the same way that “Visions Of Gehenna” was the “single” from the first album, and was released first on a 7″. The recording session went okay, there was no solo, and it was pretty bare-bones guitar wise, we completed it in early 2011.
At this point, there were some other troubles. Profound Lore had offered to release the next record, and we were negotiating with Chris Bruni, the owner of that label. He wanted to get us in with Sanford Parker, and have us go to Chicago to record with him. I thought this was all really a fantastic opportunity, Sanford was producing some of my favourite records for the past few years, and Profound Lore had been consistently putting out unique records. I liked the whole idea of the label, their business model and aesthetic, and I was rather caught up with the idea of joining their roster. This just goes to show you that you shouldn’t be too caught up with attachment to a specific outcome, because that wasn’t how it happened. Things played out much differently than I’d expected after initially talking to Bruni.
Recording with Sanford, it would have been much a more organic, recording analog than what Black Pyramid was used to, without the heavy reliance on Pro-Tools editing that we’d used on the early recordings. I thought that would be really refreshing change, and a chance for the band to grow musically. There were a few problems with this plan as things played out. The first problem was that the album wasn’t coming along very well. I’d ask Clay and Gein if they had anything to contribute, any ideas, and was consistently told, “I’ve got nothing.” I understand they had other things on their plates, life happens. I have to admit it was frustrating, as I’d hoped we’d be able to devote more time to practicing and writing together, when in actuality, “band time” was rapidly shrinking. We were using most of our practice time to rehearse for upcoming gigs. There really was no downtime, since the beginning of the band we either had shows/tours coming up, or we were working on some recording. It was the same now, and we had a bit of a time crunch going on. The way things were looking, to fit with Profound Lore’s schedule, we would have had to record really close to when were touring Europe, and would have needed a good chunk of time to record in Chicago with Sanford. So there was a bit of a scheduling conflict that was frustrating.
We didn’t have a lot of material, that was the second problem. I’d been writing a good deal for the second album, and was recording 4 track demos with a click track at my house, that I would give to Clay, so he could come up with drum parts. I wasn’t 100% sold on a lot of the taped material, and it was taking away from our approach of at least arranging the songs together, like we had used to. We weren’t getting together much anymore, Clay and I, to work on arrangements away from practice, and I think this definitely was beginning to show. We didn’t end up using a lot of that material I’d written, my arrangements were haphazard, and had a weird flow without drums to reign me in. I was drinking absurd amounts of coffee, espresso, anything with caffeine really, to “kickstart” my mind, and it was definitely affecting my judgment and overall mental health. I was trying to almost “mirror” the first album too much, with an instrumental introduction, followed by a song that was expanding on the ideas of “Visions Of Gehenna”, (which morphed eventually into “Night Queen”), then one like “Mirror Messiah” (which turned into “Dreams Of The Dead”), and following that with “Endless Agony”, which I’d actually written around the time of the first album. Except for the very ending, which was different on the 4-track tape, and honestly wasn’t very good. Some of the songs were solid, and ended up being used, although most of the arrangements turned out a lot differently.
The third problem was the one thing that had always seemed a problem for me with the band, the business and money end of things. Clay had come up with the idea of having Sanford come out to Clay’s studio to record, and it looked like this was a possibility. So, at this point, he was trying to arrange some of the details. Bruni had mentioned giving us a modest budget to record with, and I guess there was a huge difference in perspectives of what a “modest budget” actually meant. Clay initially wanted to ask Profound Lore for $15,000 to record, and was really insistent that this was the amount we would need to make the record properly. I thought this was ridiculous, and it was really a matter of contention between the two of us, as I thought it was a really, really bad idea to ask for that much. It just showed no perspective whatsoever as to what kind of a budget an unknown band typically dealt with, and would rub Bruni entirely the wrong way.
Well, Yob’s last album had been on Profound Lore, Clay insisted to me that this was what they had spent on it, $15,000. That was a simple matter to clear up, as I knew Mike from Yob, and emailed him asking him if he would be willing to tell me what they had spent recording with Sanford. All in all, it had been just under $3,000. I figured that would be the end of that discussion, once Clay saw that number, but he ended up asking Profound Lore for $8,000, and negotiations rapidly deteriorated on both ends at that point.
Profound Lore and recording with Sanford Parker were both clearly out of the picture at this point. Dan from Meteorcity had wanted some confirmation prior that we’d record our second album with him, and we’d told him we were shopping around. That kind of ended the shopping around, it was decided we’d just do what we did before, record with Clay, bring in someone else to mix, and release the album on Meteorcity. I really thought we were missing a huge opportunity, had handled ourselves poorly with Profound Lore, and were making increasingly poor choices with how we handled our contacts and financial issues. Still, we had a European Tour and some festivals coming up, the “Stormbringer” material was coming out on vinyl, the Flexi-disc with “Mercy’s Bane” was about to see the light of day. Ultimately what happened with Profound Lore wasn’t all that big a deal in the grand scheme, because there were other options for the second album. What was done was done, live and learn, hopefully…
I’ll admit I was really bummed, although it wasn’t the end of the world. When all was said and done, things still were not going well. There were a lot of internal problems within the band at this point. Recording kept getting pushed back, as the material wasn’t ready. Clay and I were working together on arrangements again, and we had some rough demos to give to Gein, to help him learn the songs. He came in with a couple bare riffs, and it was disappointing, as they didn’t really go anywhere or stand out. We didn’t end up using the riffs, so I turned one of the melodic ideas into the breakdown riff for “Sons Of Chaos”, after changing the key, the time signature, basically everything except for a three note melody he’d had in one of those riffs.
It was really apparent that Gein wasn’t practicing the material to the level that Clay and I were, and that Clay was getting frustrated with it. I was too, the problem was, we really didn’t talk about it with him, we never told him this or expressed our anger with him, we just kept shoving demos at him. In retrospect, I wish we’d all sat down, had some beers, and asked hi what was going on with him, his thoughts on the new material. This was an ongoing theme in the band, just a complete lack of communication, honesty or transparency between the three of us. Sure, if Clay and I were together, it turned into a bitch fest about Gein. Probably it was the same when the two of them were together, they most likely talked about the problems with me, as I was no angel, and can be very difficult to work with. Gein and I actually didn’t talk much, and when we did, it was very superficial, we had very little in common.
This wasn’t the first times we’d had problems with Gein. In the past, they had been interpersonal, and we just kind of ignored them. We pretended they didn’t exist, because the music of Black Pyramid was more important, right? I’m not going to get into the personal problems, suffice to say at one point Clay said to me, “well, we don’t have to be friends with the guy, it’s a business arrangement, we just have to play in a band with him.” This really struck and surprised me, as they’d always seemed like friends to me, and I’d always played with my friends, and considered the people I played with as friends. This all was just another “brick in the wall”, to borrow the metaphor, that stuck with me and led to me leaving the band.
At the same time these other problems were surfacing, there was more anger when I showed Clay the song “Sons Of Chaos.” He was really pissed about it, didn’t think it was like our other material, which was exactly why I liked it. I’d been ceaselessly working on expanding my playing, new techniques, new influences, and I thought it was a cool change of pace. He stormed out after first playing it with me, and wouldn’t even speak to me. He was obviously angry about it, and later asked me, “you’re sure this is the direction you want to go in?” I really didn’t see the big deal, I guess it’s a matter of perspective. I was from the perspective of trying new things, being ambitious, broadening what you could do, and I think he was more concerned with how our songs would go over with fans and critics. There was often this sense from him of “how is this going to fit in with the songs we already have?” I’m not sure, that’s speculation, I can’t really speak for him. That was never really a priority for me, trying to write songs that “fit” with our existing material. I never saw us as a “doom” or “stoner” band, obviously I was heavily influenced by the bands that are lumped into those genres, I just always saw these genre terms as limiting, and wanted to go beyond them.
Around this time, most of the songs were written, and Clay handed me a recording that would become “The Hidden Kingdom.” This was great, I didn’t know he’d been working on a song, when I asked him, he would say he didn’t have anything, and I felt the album needed one more good song. I had some ideas for one, they weren’t very good, so this recording was really a breath of fresh air. The recording had drums, guitar, bass, I learned it immediately at home, and in a couple days worked on the recording with him. I changed some of the riffs, spiced some up a little, we tweaked the arrangement, and I liked the song. Once again, he had some doubts about it, and wanted it late in the album. I liked the song a lot, it was very traditional, for the most part. However, it had its twists and turns, and I liked what I was working on vocally for the song.
Ultimately I never really wrote for anyone other than myself, I was hoping the second album would shake up fans and critics a bit. The more we worked on the album, the more I made up my mind that this was what I was looking to do, really throw some curve balls, while sticking with our core sound and instrumentation. I saw the second album as a chance to carry the ideas we’d flirted with on the first album to their full conclusion and actualization, while also a chance to really go out on a limb and try some totally new things.
The deadline for getting the masters to Meteorcity kept being pushed back, as was the release date. Gein wasn’t making much progress on the songs, so once again, it became a matter of just getting into the studio, and having Clay work with him to get the parts where they needed to be. This was a cause of more resentment; Clay and I had worked really hard on constructing our parts, I think this really shows with Clay’s drum parts. We’d decided Justin Pizzoferratu was going to do the mix, and Clay had him come in and engineer the drums. I was only there for a small portion of the drum recording, and the two of them worked really well together. I thought Clay’s performances were really raw and emotive, and I still think a lot of that was lost in the drum editing before the final version of the album was released.
My performances, in contrast, were not very good. I was beginning to have some serious doubts as to my future in the band. Things were more and more issues coming to light that really rubbed me the wrong way, and I’m not going to get into it in full detail. There was one particular “business decision” that I found completely shameful, as it involved taking advantage of the fans, rather than offering them an honest price for our out of print vinyl. Needless to say, it was a business practice that many people, fans and musicians alike, do not see as something particularly honorable, and it was done “secretly”, trying to keep it separate from the band. Yet it was done by members of the band, and although it wasn’t me, another of my regrets is that I didn’t at least speak up in opposition of it. Once again, I was fed a good reason: we supposedly needed the money. From my perspective, it was a lot better to earn that money the honest way, by playing shows.
That’s too much on that already, needless to say, these kinds of things were affecting my performances. I just wanted to get the guitars over and done with, and luckily, I’d practiced enough that they came really quickly, even the solos. I don’t think the performances had any of the passion of the first album, I just didn’t have it in me to be that passionate about the band anymore, too much was going sour. I had a really good idea of how everything should fit together, and the layers of guitars are much more complex and thought out, I just find it a bit clinical, looking back. We just weren’t that same band looking to go out and tear people’s heads off anymore, and I think it really shows in the performances.
The vocals came quickly, I’d rehearsed those a lot. Clay once again was instrumental in really coaxing the best performances out of me. He had grown not only as a drummer at this point, his production skills were dramatically improved. I’d been really working on the lyrics for a long time, and had actually thrown out some of my earlier ideas. I had a lot of lyrics based on the comic book The Invisibles, “Night Queen” was originally going to be called “Mistress of Mistresses”, and was going to be about the book of the same name. I scrapped all the Invisibles references in the lyrics, and even the Lovecraft inspired “Dreams Of The Dead”, I edited out most of the direct references to the Cthulu mythos. I probably re-wrote the lyrics about five times for each song, and there were a lot of last minute revisions in the studio. The lyrics became more personal this time around, rather than based on stories I’d read, although they’re all steeped heavily in symbolism, allegory, and mysticism. “Into The Dawn” is basically a metaphor for my wanting to just cut my ties with the band.
I’m glad that I stuck it out and actually recorded the vocals; just prior to this, I’d had some news that made me almost immediately leave the band, I was so disgusted.
As it turned out, Gein’s bass sessions had not gone well. He’d played some bass on some of the demos Clay and I had worked on, and it was really obvious that he didn’t know the songs. I really think we should have addressed this with him, I think the idea was that he’d hear that he didn’t know the songs, and start working on them. That wasn’t the case. Clay played me the album tracks, with the bass, and it was a mess. It was a little more than the rhythm being off, although they were. He really did not know the songs, and it was disappointing. It was at this point that Clay told me that he or I may have to play the bass for the album. I thought this was a really bad idea, and was surprised, and it was then that he informed me that he’d actually played some of the bass on the first album, and lied to Gein and I about it. He’d played all of the bass on “Twilight Grave”, and now it made a lot more sense why he initially didn’t want that song on the first album.
Well, Clay and I talked about it, and Clay brought up that Gein played with his fingers, and I play with a pick. If I played bass on the album, Gein would be able to tell. That really was out of the question to me anyways, I wasn’t going to play the guy’s parts and then lie to him about it afterwards. We ultimately decided to have him back in, and I’d go to the session and make sure he knew his parts. It was an awful mess that followed though, I won’t lie.
First off, Gein just wanted Clay to fix everything in Pro-Tools, and that wasn’t an option, because it wasn’t just a matter of cleaning up some rhythms. The bass we had was unusable, there were tons of just wrong notes, even though the tone they’d gotten was massive and impressive. Clay told me Gein was indignant about coming in another day to record, he didn’t want to waste the time. This was when I really was leaning towards just immediately leaving the band, I was really sick of this nonsense, none of it made any sense to me, whatsoever. So, we ended up redoing all the bass for all of the songs except for “Endless Agony”, which we should have, because Justin P. ended up having to pitch correct wrong notes in it, once we got around to mixing. And this was a song we’d been playing live for months! That’s why we didn’t bother to redo that track, it seemed that he should have known the song by then.
Of the other songs, I had to show them to him, one piece at a time to make sure they were correct, or the parts worked, and then play along with him on an acoustic guitar, so that the rhythms would be half decent. It was then that I knew there was no way I would ever record with this band again, and it was really a matter of when I would drop out of the band. Naturally, we never even brought up any of this with Gein, he wasn’t at the mix session and was totally in the dark. It was just swept under the carpet, never brought up, avoided like an elephant in the room, never discussed, the same way that we always lied about things. I told him about all of this when I left the band, as I thought he deserved the truth, and maybe it would help him to work on his musicianship down the road if he were to face some actual criticism and honesty, rather than lies and delusion.
Don’t get me wrong, I think some of the basslines turned out quite well. “Empty Handed Insurrection”, for instance, some of his parts really make the song. Same with the slower melodic sections in “Into The Dawn” and “Dreams Of The Dead.” The guy is a very talented musician, I’m sure it’s more situational, that his head just wasn’t there in the time and place we as a band were working on the album, and in the future he’ll come up with some great things. At least, that’s my hope, both Clay and Gein have a lot going for them, and I’ve always had the utmost respect for every project Darryl has done. He’s a much better guitarist than I can ever hope to be, and if you ask me, individual achievement doesn’t mean anything when you’re talking about a band. I’ve always stressed that Black Pyramid was a collective effort, and think that Clay and Gein have even downplayed their own contributions in past interviews. The band was never about individual efforts or achievement, and maybe it will not go on in its former incarnation, however, I hope those guys are able to get through some of the ongoing problems we had now that I’m gone, and just start making music again for the right reasons.
The mix went well, for the most part. Justin P noted, “these aren’t Gein’s best performances”, which we obviously knew, although it was painful hearing it yet again, and he had to neuter down the bass in the mix, which was a real shame. The tone that Clay and Gein came up with was glorious, I wished we could have used it more. All in all, Justin did a great job, and I actually like how the vocals came out on the album. Obviously I have mixed feelings about the album, and think it could have come out much better if we’d dealt with the problems with the band more openly and constructively. I think it’s the best that we could have done, given the circumstances and conflicts, however, I feel that it never lived up to the potential the band had to offer if we could have just overcome, or even had the courage to face up to, the interpersonal problems in the band.
I don’t want to make it seem like none of the problems within the band were with me, or directly caused by me. I didn’t handle very much of this well, and after one attempt to talk this over with Clay, which was met with hostility, I basically internalized all of my problems with the band from therein. Of course, the “official” position of the band was (and I’d imagine still is) that we always got along, everything was wonderful, we never had any problems, egos, or drama, as this was good for “business.” Anyone who’s played in a band, or had any kind of close relationship with other human beings knows that this is never the case, that was just wishful thinking and our attempts to put on a good face for the public.
I’d had some serious problems in my personal life, with my job and health immediately coming back from Europe, and I’d been getting weirder and weirder. I’m already a weird person, so this isn’t really ideal for anyone, and I’m sure my actions and behaviour adversely affected my bandmates, and their feelings towards the band and the album. Once again, I’m only speculating, I can’t speak for them.
I guess I’d always seen Hunter S Thompson’s method of dealing with things by “acting crazy, because you can always act sane later” as an ideal coping mechanism to things that really shake up my reality, and this coupled with my more escapist and idealistic tendencies just didn’t bode well for anyone in the band, and they especially didn’t bode well for me staying in the band. I’m sure I was very difficult to deal with during this time, up to when I left the band, and even afterwards, although I would say much of the “acrimonious” aspects after my leaving were a direct result of all of our continued failure, or inability, to communicate honestly and directly with one another. I own up to all this, I think that recognizing things as a part of yourself is a much more healthy means of dealing with conflicts, and when things do not live up to our expectations, than escapism and blind idealism. If I learned anything from my experiences in Black Pyramid, that’s what I’ll take away from it all.
If we go back, what are some of the best moments from touring you won’t forget?
Well, we didn’t tour all that much, I think the band would have imploded much quicker if we had. I didn’t really enjoy touring with Black Pyramid, it just seemed like something that you were supposed to do. I would just sit in the back with my iPod on, reading, playing chess on the computer, staring at comics. My voice would always suffer a lot on tour, I’m not a very good singer, and I always had throat problems playing shows night after night. I’ve also always had insomnia issues, and touring exasperated them.
The tour we did with Ichabod, the first one, that was actually fun, as those guys are my friends, and it was just four regional dates. That was a good time, the final show we played at Dartmouth with Elks was awesome. I always liked doing DIY/basement/college shows better, it was just more intimate and real. You connected with the fans in a different way when you weren’t elevated up on a stage. There was something more authentic, from my perspective anyways, about being on floor level with the crowd, I always felt more a part of the whole.
I won’t forget playing Roadburn, that was a good show, and we really were at the top of our game around then. When we were touring with Let The Night Roar, we had a really good show in Chicago also, I remember that one standing out.
What are your current plans?
Really, I try to have as few concrete plans as possible, being attached to a specific plan tends to lead me to disappointment when the reality doesn’t measure up to the desired outcome. I’m just really trying to enjoy life again, beyond just playing music. I still play some, with my friends. I’ve been jamming with the original lineup of Palace In Thunderland, and it’s been great. Those guys have always been my friends, it was good I left that band when I did, because it never got so serious, we never got so deep into things that our friendship was threatened. There was never a sense of playing with those guys as a business arrangement, because we’re not in a “successful” band together. Our success always just hinged on just being there and playing music together, and it was when we got away from that, and I started viewing “success” in other terms that things broke down.
The camaraderie was always a big part of the appeal, we play the music we do because we love it, and we love one another like brothers. A big part of why my life started going downhill was that I got away from that, started thinking I “deserved” more success, and that was really the impetus that drove Black Pyramid, just this burning, angry, unhealthy desire and ambition towards what I viewed as “success”. It’s like the saying goes, “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” I don’t really think I was necessarily losing my “soul”, however, the more I chose to sacrifice for Black Pyramid’s success, the more I was losing a fundamental part of my self.
I play with my fiancee as well, we were in a garage/power-pop/shoegaze/psych band called Dangerbird, that we formed with some friends, after we started all hanging out, jamming, and just zoning out over our mutual love of The 13th Floor Elevators. Dangerbird was such a fun band, just really spontaneous and down to earth, the polar opposite of Black Pyramid. People used to ask me why I practiced and hung out so much with Dangerbird, initially anyways, when I already had the “more successful” Black Pyramid, and I’d tell them point blank, “Dangerbird is a lot of fun, Black Pyramid isn’t fun at all.”
I hope someday we can get it going again, we haven’t all played in awhile, and we all were great friends. We never really recorded anything, there are some live videos on Youtube, I’d like to at least get some rough recordings, because we had some fun, crazy songs. I’m more into those styles nowadays, I’d rather listen to The Rolling Stones these days than Black Sabbath. I still listen to a lot of garage rock, and both classic and neo-psychedelic bands, plus a lot of indie rock and shoegaze.
I practice yoga and meditation whenever I can, these two things have been invaluable for developing a more grounded and centered existence. I read a lot, like I used to, usually a book every 2-3 days. Not just fantasy and sci-fi either, I read a lot of the philosophy and biographies these days.
Other than that, I’ll just do whatever. I’ve started running seriously again, maybe I’ll train for a marathon. Maybe I won’t. I’ve been writing, maybe I’ll work on a novel, a play, more poetry. Maybe I won’t. It’s the time of the year to work on my garden, that’s one of my favourite past times. I’ve really fallen in love with cooking at home once again, and would like to learn to bake better. Music is really no more important to me than these things, nothing particularly more special than the supposedly mundane aspects of daily life.
I like going to the local grocery store, or the farmer’s market, and selecting produce, that to me is just as magical and mysterious as sitting down and composing a new song. It’s when we start placing more emphasis on some aspects of life and existence than others that our minds start excessively discriminating and generalizing, effectively compartmentalizing our memories and experiences and creating unnecessary mental baggage. Above all other things, I plan to get away from that as much as possible, and just live for the time being, what each moment of every day has to offer me.
Thanks for your time! Would you like to send a message to It’s Psychedelic Baby readers?
Thanks for your time as well, and your interest in the band’s story. I just hope reading this doesn’t bum too many people out. It’s personal stuff, laying some of my personal problems, insecurities, conflicts and moral dilemmas out there on the line, and I know some people shrink away from that. Ultimately, assessing all of these things in a clear, honest, and de-mystified fashion has been crucial to defining for myself what being a “musician” really meant, and what success should mean to me on a personal basis. I know there are at least some people who are inspired by the music, and I hope that rather than alienating them, they can also be inspired by the true story of the band, how we weren’t perfect, how we all had our problems, and how we each chose to and must continue to deal with them. This is just one story of the band, from my perspective, although it ultimately deals with the problems we faced together. Hopefully someone struggling with their own issues with a band, with making music, or just with life in general, can learn from the many mistakes that I made a long the way to where I am right now.
Interview made by Klemen Breznikar / 2012
© Copyright http://psychedelicbaby.blogspot.com/ 2012