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Bionic Cavemen interview with Andy Morgen and Jose Bernal

Bionic Cavemen might sound like they come from some far off place in the future, but they sound more like a band that travelled forward in time from the late 60’s or early 70’s than anything else.  Hardcore rock is the name of the game here.  It’s as though Black Sabbath, Muddy Waters and Canned Heat all teamed up for an album.  And it didn’t suck.  Andy Morgen’s sickeningly sweet and gravelly voice shows off a personality that most front men would kill for and the music is filled with awesome no-holds-barred guitar riffs and solos, but it has plenty of room to breathe which lets the vocals really take on a life of their own.  I think that’s something most bands are afraid of these days, burying their vocals and adding so much reverb and echo you can hardly make out the garble.  For all of the bands out there talking about the rock revival these days, I’ve not heard a band that’s as sincere as Bionic Cavemen really are about the proposition in a long time, so it’s no surprise they don’t talk about it.  Allow me to do so now on their behalf.  This blues infused rock is some of the wickedest hard riffing teamed with a myriad of classic rock influences that’s sure to impress even the most skeptical of the “dad rock” classic rock crowd, as much as it will intoxicate anyone riding the revival wave feeding on the added energy and learned lessons from the past.  Bionic Cavemen truly are the best of both worlds, inhabiting the future and the past simultaneously, a band at once out of time and completely at home in the here and now.  My descriptions might sound mysterious and eclectic but I implore you to simply click on the link below, listen to the music and draw your own conclusions from their Predator album.  It will be time well spent I assure you.  Not without further ado I present to you, Bionic Cavemen; hey it is Psychedelic Baby!

Listen while you read:

What is Bionic Cavemen’s lineup?  Is this the original lineup or have you all made any changes since the band began?

Andy:  The lineup is Roland Morgen, Larry Drennan, Jose Bernal and myself Andy Morgen.  The band began with Jose, Larry and Roland. 

Jose:  Roland, Larry, and I were jamming for about a year or so.  Our friend Bart played percussion as well at one point.  Andy is Roland’s older bro, so he showed up at our studio one night and we played some Zeppelin tunes.  He had a raw voice and a credit card, so we let him stick around.

The more people I talk to the more I realize musicians are usually in more than one band these days, either trying to make ends meet or just doing what they love.  Are any of you in any other active bands at this point?  Have you released any music with anyone else?  If so can you tell us a little about it?

Andy:  Jose is now drumming for Dead Feathers, they’re like a younger, better looking, gentler and less angry version of ourselves.  We’ve played a bunch of shows with them.  Larry has been in Foz the Hook for a couple of years now.  They’re like if the drunk professor at the end of the bar suddenly got up and taught you through song for an hour.  I’m still working on and off with Murder Proof Vest.  I also have some other projects that only exist as ideas right now, such as a rapper named Slizz Monteco.  I’m not sure if Roland has formed anything official yet.  I’ve got his Twin Reverb in my basement though, joke’s on him!

Jose:  Aside from my involvement in Dead Feathers, I’m currently starting a psychedelic delta blues project called Evil Snake.  I’m still looking for the reincarnation of Fred Mississippi McDowell somewhere.  It might take a while.

Where are you originally from?

Andy:  Larry is a Mainer, he drifted down a river here at some point in the 90’s.  Jose, Roland and I are all from Chicago.

How would you describe the local music scene where you grew up?  Did it play a large or pivotal role in your childhood?  Do you think the music scene there made an impact on your musical tastes or the way you play?

Andy:  I grew up with everyone wanting to be in a punk band.  I never liked punk music.  If anything, the scene drove me further into “classic” rock.

Jose:  I don’t know what the local music scene was like when I grew up.  I didn’t pay any attention to it.  The minute I discovered Canned Heat with these dudes, I never looked back.

Was your home very musical growing up?  Were either your parents or any of your relatives musicians or extremely involved/interested in music?

Andy:  The only cassette my father owned was Dark Side of the Moon and he would replace it whenever the heat warped it or it just became worn out.  He played harmonica and accordion at bars for fun.  My mother was always really into the Stones and Santana, and she always had The Loop on.

Jose:  My dad exposed me to James Brown and soul music.  That led to me dig deeper and eventually discover blues from the Delta.  That’s where I stayed.

What was your first real exposure to music?

Andy:  Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters, every Christmas.

Jose:  My grandfather would blast old school Mexican romantics at his barbershop.  It made the women go crazy.

If you had to pick one defining moment of music in your life, a moment that opened up all the wondrous doors and possibilities to you and changed the way you perceived music, what would it be?

Andy:  Jimi Hendrix’s Ultimate Experience.  It was a best of, which is lame.

Jose:  Coltrane’s A Love Supreme.  Elvin Jones on the drums was my first lesson in music.  I tried to imitate everything he did.

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

Andy:  I had always tried on my own, but it didn’t start making sense until I was doing it with the Cavemen.

Jose:  I don’t write songs, just drum solos.  And that came about from watching Ginger Baker with Cream.

Where is the band at these days?

Andy:  Finishing our second album and trying to figure out the next step.

Jose:  Three-quarters of the band is in Chicago right now.  Roland’s in Seattle playing blues and staying at random women’s houses.  He’ll be back.  Hopefully.

How would you describe the local music scene there?

Andy:  There are a bunch of great arty and metal bands here.

Jose:  The scene here in Chicago has grown a lot in the last five years.  Shit is getting heavier and heavier.  It’s like all these young kids dusted off their dad’s Sabbath records and started bands.  It’s a great time right now to grow a beard and be loud.

Are you very involved in the local scene?  Do you book or attend a lot of shows or help record and or release any local music?

Andy:  I’m not really that involved.  I’m a lazy asshole. 

Jose:  Yeah, Andy is a bit of a procrastinator.  I do most of the booking for our shows but I don’t mind.  I keep most of the money anyway.  Ha-ha!  I’m pretty involved in the local scene and help promote other bands.  It’s one big happy family out here.  There’s no sense of rivalry.  Only camaraderie.

Do you think that the scene there has had a large impact on Bionic Cavemen or do you feel like you all could be doing what you are and sound like you do regardless of location or surroundings?  Has the music scene there impacted the way that Bionic Cavemen sounds or played a large part in the history or evolution of the band?

Andy:  I feel like we could have done this in any dirty city.  I suppose the scene in general has affected us, but not the music scene; at least not until we met Thee Arthur Layne.  We did get to work with some awesome dudes on the album, though.  That couldn’t have happened elsewhere.

When and how did you all originally meet?

Andy:  This is probably a better question for Jose.  I met Roland a couple of days after he was born.  He introduced me to the other guys.

Jose:  Roland and Larry met in high school.  Roland started working at a deli where he met me.  We used to drink Modelo’s and listen to jams on our breaks.  One day I maxed out my credit card on a set of drums for no reason.  After screwing with it for a month or so, I invited Roland to jam.  He brought Larry. After that, our weekends filled up with whiskey inspired jams in smoke-filled garages.

What led to the formation of Bionic Cavemen and when exactly was that?

Andy:  I like to think that it was when Roland gave me some demos and I sent them back with vocals.

Jose:  I like to think it was the first time Andy jammed with us.  He came in and asked us if we knew “The Lemon Song”.  So, we jammed on that for an hour.  This slick put a smile on all of our faces.  After that, Bionic Cavemen was born. 

What does the name Bionic Cavemen mean or refer to?  It conjures an awesomely hilarious image for me!  Who came up with it and how did you go about choosing it?

Andy:  I came up with it.  A friend said that Roland and Larry looked like cavemen, which got us talking about the Cavemen Olympics.  ‘Cavemen’ made a lot of sense.  ‘Bionic’ helped it make less sense.  We all kinda decided on it.  I don’t remember any of the other ideas.  Jose?

Jose:  I think so man.  I remember coming in to practice one day and Roland and Bart were wasted while playing Zelda.  Andy laid the name on the table and we all just went for it.  It was better than Larry’s drunken response of naming the band Ketchup Popsicle.

Is there any shared ideal or mantra that Bionic Cavemen live by as a band?

Andy:  Be fucking loud.

I am absolutely terrible when it comes to describing bands!  I love listening to them and I love talking about them, but every time I try to describe how a band sounds it just gets weird and awkward.  Rather than me making some bizarre attempt and describing your sound to our readers who might now have heard you before, how would you describe Bionic Cavemen in your own words?

Andy:  Heavy Stoner Blues.

While we’re talking so much about the band’s back story and influences I’m curious who you cite as your major musical influences?  You have some really interesting stuff bubbling up from underneath the surface of your music!  Who would you cite as major influences on the band as a whole rather than individually?

Andy:  Zeppelin, Sabbath, Canned Heat…

Can you tell us a little bit about Bionic Cavemen’s songwriting process?  Is there a lot of jamming and free exchange of ideas when you all get together to play and practice?  Or is it more of a situation where someone will bring a riff or more finished idea to the rest of the band to work out and compose with you all of you?

Andy:  It goes both ways.  I would say it always starts with Roland, though.  Jose and Larry jump right in, the three of them are very good together.  I’m the one that gums things up.

Do you all enjoy recording?  I know for most bands getting the end result is always amazing, there’s not a whole lot in the world that beats holding an album in your hands knowing that it’s yours and you made it!  Getting into the studio, or even recording the material yourself, that can be a totally other matter altogether though, especially when it comes to having to record as part of a band.  How is it in the studio for you all?

Andy:  We record everything live.  It’s like playing a show for two days.  

Does Bionic Cavemen do a lot of prep work before you record hammering our arrangements, compositions, transitions and the like or is it more of a natural kind of process where things have room to change and evolve somewhat during the recording process?

Andy:  Yeah, we don’t have the money to figure things out on their time. 

How do you all handle recording?  Do you use studios or is it more of a DIY, on your own time and turf prospect for you all?

Andy:  The DIY stuff never seemed to come out with an even sound.  It was definitely important during the writing process though.

You released your debut album Predator back in November (2013).  Was the recording of that album a fun, pleasurable experience for you all?  Can you tell us a little bit about the recording of the material for Predator?  Where and when was it recorded?  Who recorded it?  What kind of equipment was used?

Andy:  We recorded at Electrical Audio with Grégoire Yeche and had it mastered at Chicago Mastering by Bob Weston.

Jose:  When you’re recording at Electrical Audio, it’s nice to not have to worry about shit other than playing.  Everything was taken care of.  The guys picked out some old tube amps that they had and I picked out the biggest Bonham sized drum set they had in the room.  Andy had his chilled bottle of Jager for his vocals.  Each song was pretty much done in one take.

Is Predator self-released?  If not who released it?  I know that the 12” is a split color limited edition run of only 200 copies.  The album has been flying off the shelves out at Permanent Records Chicago and selling extremely well at shows as well.  When the LP sells out are there any plans to repress it or do you have your eyes set on the future in those regards?

Andy:  Self-released.  Jose fronted the money for the pressing.

Jose:  There are still plenty of vinyl records for sale.  They’re on translucent lemon-lime vinyl.  People can get them at Permanent’s store and website, as well as our shows.  Hopefully, we’ll get the second album pressed on wax as well.  We’ll see.  It’s expensive.

Does Bionic Cavemen have any music that we haven’t talked about, any compilation appearances or anything like that I might have missed?

Andy:  Not yet.

With the release of Predator only a little while ago, are there any releases in the works or planned for the future?

Andy:  Yup.  I don’t know when, though. 

Where’s the best place for our US readers to pick up your album from?

Andy:  Bandcamp for digital, Permanent Records for vinyl.

With these completely insane international postage rate increases this last year I try to provide out international readers with as many purchasing possibilities as I can.  Where’s the best place for our international and overseas readers to purchase your album?

Jose:  The good folks at Permanent are really reasonable with the shipping rates.  Tons of people from overseas have bought the record from their website.  We’re currently working out a deal with Ozium Records in Sweden to market and distribute the records soon for our overseas fans though.

Do you remember what the first song that Bionic Cavemen ever played live was?  If so, where and when was that?

Jose:  I don’t remember.  We were all hammered, but I do remember it was in the basement of some Mexican restaurant on Clark Street in Chicago. 

Do you all spend a lot of time on the road?  Do you all enjoy touring?  What’s life on the road like for Bionic Cavemen?  Now that sounds strange…

Andy:  We haven’t made it out on tour.  Day jobs, setbacks, can’t legally leave the state, etcetera.

Jose:  When we finally do hit the road, I picture me driving most of the way, Andy controlling the radio, Roland in the front seat with a bucket of fried chicken and Larry passed out with a 12-pack.

What, if anything, do you have planned as far as touring goes for 2014 so far?

Andy:  Nothing official yet.

You guys have played with some seriously sweet bands lately!  Who are some of your personal favorites that you’ve had a chance to share a bill with?

Andy:  Thee Arthur Layne are where it’s at.  Crobot taught us all a lesson.  I used to like Dead Feathers a lot, but I hear they have a shitty drummer now…

Jose:  Funny guy…  I also dug The Dirty Streets, they’re heavy and greasy as hell.  Bunch of sweethearts.

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

Andy:  We all ate at Harold’s Chicken Shack right before a show.  It was a poor choice.

In your dreams, who are you on tour with?

Andy:  Thee Arthur Layne, and we all have go-karts.

Do you have a preferred medium of release for your music, and if so why?  With all of the various options available to artists today I’m always curios why they choose the certain mediums that they do.  What about when you are listening to and or purchasing music?

Andy:  I was the only one of us pushing for digital.

Do you have a music collection at all?  If so can you tell us about it?

Andy:  I do.  If I like an artist, I own their entire catalog.  There are equal portions of both delta blues and doom/stoner metal in there.  And a whole lot in between.

Jose:  I collect vinyl.  Most of my collection consists of delta blues, Chicago Chess Records stuff and heavy bands from ’68 to ‘73.

I grew up around what I would consider a pretty sizable collection of music and I learned to appreciate physical music from a very young age.  There was always something magical about being able to go over to the shelf and grab something completely at random I had never heard of and pop it into the tape deck or CD player, read the liner notes and just stare at the artwork and let it transport me into this whole other world.  There’s something indispensable about physical music to me, having something to hold and experience along with the music makes for a more complete listening experience; at least for me.  Do you have any such connection with physically released music?

Andy:  Not anymore.  I listen to ninety-five percent of it with my phone.  I miss liner notes, though

Jose:  Most definitely.  That’s why I decided to press the album on vinyl.  Scott Miller, our friend who did the cover art, did a phenomenal job making sure our 12” grabbed attention at the record shop.

As much as I love my music collection there’s always been a few problems with it, namely moving it ha-ha!  Seriously though I could never take my collection on the go with me, even with CDs it was always a total pain and I was all freaked out about tearing them up when I had them out in the car and it was like a million degrees in the shade.  Digital music has solved that problem to a large extent, I can carry more music on my phone that I could have in a duffle bag, even with tapes and CDs.  And when you team digital music with the internet you have a whole new ball-game!  Its exposed people to a whole universe of music that they otherwise would never have heard or been exposed to.  But with the good comes the bad as there’s always an upside and a downside to things.  Digital music is rapidly changing the face of the music industry to say the least these days.  As a musician during the reign of the digital era what’s your opinion on digital music and distribution?

Andy:  I’m all for it.  My only issue is that it’s too easy to find some new-to-you, awesome band every other day.  I am not putting in the quality time with bands like I used to. 

I try to keep up with as much good music as I possibly can but there just aren’t enough hours in a day.  I spend more time than I would like to admit looking around online and I basically drive by the local shop on the way home from work so I’m constantly pouring over their stuff as well.  A lot of the best tips that I get come from musicians like you though!  Is there anyone from your local scene or area that I might not have heard of yet?

Andy:  I don’t know if I mentioned Thee Arthur Layne yet.

Jose:  I love those dudes, huge fan of what they’re doing.  Every fucking element in that group is raw.  I can’t help but think of Jamul’s “Tobacco Road” when I hear them play.  Definitely check them out.  I can’t wait for their release!

What about nationally and internationally?

Andy:  Pretty much any stoner rock from Sweden.  Seriously. 

Jose:  Amen to that.  Those dudes have shit going.

 © Marty Perez

Thanks so much for taking the time to make it through this monster.  What can I say?  I’m a curious boy!  Is there anything that I might have missed or that you’d just like to take this opportunity to talk about?

Andy:  Thanks for asking.  Please excuse our typos.

Jose:  Stay tuned.  We’re not through destroying the future.

© Marty Perez

(2013)  Bionic Cavemen – Predator – digital, CD, 12” – Self-Released (Vinyl limited to 200 copies on Translucent Lemon-Lime Vinyl)

Interview made by Roman Rathert/2014
© Copyright


Anonymous said...

One of the greatest bands of all time. So rich and powerful in their sound. Jammed with them a few times and it was some of the most fun I have ever had in my life. Love these guys. Can't wait for more!!! Hurry up!

Thee Arthur Layne said...

Thanks for the sugar boys! We love you too! xoxoxoxo
Thee Arthur Layne!