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Schematics For A Blank Stare interview with Jeffrey Greer

Jeffrey Greer’s a man of many faces and one of them happens to go by the name Schematics For A Blank Stare.  The songs were mostly composed on a piano while alone and then filtered through a collective of musicians and translated to electric keyboards via chemistry and collaboration.  At times extremely prog-ish and at others, much more dead ahead funk, with an added tasty hard rock psych center, peaking it’s head out in the form of fuzzy solos and lead lines that weave and melt into and out of the keyboard preaching King Crimson in the background the entire time.  Across two albums Schematics For A Blank stare refined their at times, seemingly extremely experimental and psychedelic approach to music which isn’t tied into the machismo of the retro-hipster movement and able to take itself a bit more lightly with out treading into strange parody territory via The Pizza Underground.  With song titles such as “House Of The Rising Funk” and “Curse Of The Mud Zombies” Schematics For A Blank Stare hit the nail right on the head.  Interweaving between songs that could be almost interchangeable for a cheesy B-movie from the mid-60’s to really funky, distorted, psychedelic guitar and keyboard driven affairs that will have you tapping your toe and bobbing your head in the living room.  And while things get plenty noisy and ramped up, I don’t sense any aggression in this music, either.  It’s nice to hear some music that’s capable of summoning up the thunder and fuzz with out getting lost in a haze of anger or getting so ramped up that they skip a beat or get off track at all.  Both of their self-released albums, Kiss Of Death and Acid Rain feel like soundtracks to a movie that we’ll unfortunately, likely never see.  A film that would perhaps tell the personal tale of musical exploration and that of finding a voice in the unique blend of influences that convalesced to make Schematics For A Blank Stare the funky psych machines that they were.  While the members have moved on to other projects at this point, like the stunning psych trio Canaan, Schematics For A Blank stare have left two astounding documents of music behind and founding member Jeffrey Greer filled me in on the detail of just how the project got started and what everyone’s up to at this point.  If you need some fun, funky music in your life or you just need to know more about the multi-faceted artists that made up Schematics For A Blank Stare than look no further, because as always It’s Psychedelic Baby has got you covered!

Now I just recently found out about you all but I know you’ve been around for a few years.  Is this your original lineup or have you all gone through any changes since the band started?

The original lineup stayed the same throughout both albums.  I brought Zach Taylor in to produce Kiss of Death and added a few songs that pre-dated Schematics For A Blank Stare that featured Davin Burson.  The last show we played was with a completely new lineup.  That was due to all the original members moving.

Are any of you in any other active bands or do you have any side projects going on at the moment?  Have you released any music with anyone else in the past?  If so, can you tell us about that?  I love playing musical connect the dots, but nothing beats cheating and getting the answers right from the horse’s mouth, ha-ha!

After Schematics For A Blank Stare ended, we were active from 2010 to 2013, I was in a band called Age of Man with Matt Benson and Darryl Driskill.  We were a heavy psych blues rock power trio.  Currently, since 2013, I play with Jase Bryant and Brandon Smith out of Texarkana, Arkansas, in an aggressive psych rock power trio called Canaan.

How old are you and where are you originally from?

I am forty years old; born in Germany.

What was the local music scene like where you grew up?  Did you see a lot of shows there?  Do you feel like that scene played a large role in shaping your musical tastes or in the way that you perform at this point?

I didn’t really follow the music scene growing up.  Staying home, writing and practicing music was my life.  The music that played the biggest role during that time was film scores and library music from the late 60’s and early 70’s.  My style is completely inspired by fuzzy psych rock from the early 70’s.

What about your home?  Was there a lot of music around when you were a kid?  Were either of your parents or any of your close relatives musicians or extremely interested/involved in music?

Music was always playing when I was young.  It consisted of a wide range of folk, rock, lounge, funk, and anything with a heavy groove.  My parents weren’t musically inclined but my grandmother did play the organ.

What do you consider your first real exposure to music to be?

My dad with his reel-to-reel and record collection.

If you were to pick a single moment that seemed to change everything and opened your eyes up to the infinite possibilities that music presents, what would it be?

Hearing the Soft Machine for the first time.  It happened around 2001; I wanted to write music that sounded like it was lost film grooves from the early 70’s.

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

A Wurlitzer 200A electric piano.  I bought it in 2001 at a local music store.  It was still in the original box.

How did the members of Schematics For A Blank Stare originally meet?  When would that have been?

John, the bass player, and I went to school together.  In 2003, I moved in with him.  At the time, he didn’t play.  I was constantly playing and writing.  He wanted to join in, so he bought a bass.  He was a natural.  Wade came in around 2005.  He’s an amazing guitar player that understands great fuzz tones.

When and what led to the formation of Schematic For A Blank Stare?

It gradually started as stated in one of the earlier questions, but it officially started in 2005.

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

Just keep it funky and fuzzy.

What does the name Schematics For A Blank Stare mean or refer to?  Who came up with the name and how did you go about choosing that?  Are there any close seconds that you almost went with you can recall or remember?

It’s a name I came up with.  It’s a reference to getting lost in the sound.  At first, it was going to be a song title, but then I thought it would work for a band name.  There were a couple of names before we settled on it, but I can’t remember what they were.

Where’s the band located at these days?

The band is no more.  Wade lives in Philadelphia.

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

Texarkana has a vibrant music scene.  There’s always a good band playing somewhere every night.

Are you very involved in the local scene in your opinion?  Do you book or attend a lot of local shows, or anything like that?

I would say that I’m pretty involved.  Canaan plays at least two shows a month in the surrounding area.

Are you involved in recording or releasing any music?  If you are, can you tell us about that here briefly?

Canaan is currently recording a three song demo which is on Bandcamp.

Has the local scene played an integral role in the formation, sound, history or evolution of Schematic For A Blank Stare or do you all feel like you could be doing what you’re doing and sound like you do despite where you might have been located or what you could have been surrounded by?

It hasn’t affected the sound of Schematics For A Blank Stare.  The local music scene is primarily heavy rock.  This project started out as a studio project, even though it’s all just live recordings on the records.  I never really planned on taking it to the stage.  There’ve only been a few shows.  Most of the time when I play these songs, it’s just me and a piano.

How would you describe Schematic For A Blank Stare to our readers who might not have heard you all before in your own words?

It’s music that could have been used as a B-movie soundtrack from 1970, lots of funky drums, fender Rhodes melodies, heavy bass riffs, and fuzz wah guitar.  It was all recorded on analogue tape.  No drum machines or loops; all played live.

I’m extremely curious to hear who you all would cite as your major musical influences?  What about influences on the band as a whole rather than just individually?

Personally, Alan Hawkshaw, Brian Bennett, Barigozzi Group, Sven Libaek, Piotr Figiel, Francis Lai, Karl Heinz Schafer, Piero Umiliani, Serge Gainsbourg, Piero Piccioni, I gres, Les Maldedictus sound, De Wolf library, KPM music library, David Axelrod, and Galt Macdermont.  As a band: Black Sabbath, Dust, Toad, Blues Creation, the tones of early proto metal.

What’s the songwriting process for Schematic For A Blank Stare like?  Is there someone who usually comes in to the rest of the band with a riff or maybe a more finished idea to work out and compose with the rest of the band?  Or, is there a lot of jamming and exchange of ideas that you all just kind of polish and distill until you work out something you’re happy with?

The majority of songs I write on piano.  There were some songs that came out of improve jams, though.

What about recording?  I think that most musicians can obviously appreciate all the time, work and effort that goes into making an album when you’re holding that finished product in their hands.  Getting to that point though, and getting stuff recorded and sounding the way that you want it to, especially as a band, can be extremely difficult to say the least.  What’s it like recording for Schematics For A Blank Stare?

We did all recording ourselves using a 4-track analogue recorder.  We went through a few of them.  If you listen to the last song on Kiss Of Death, you can hear the tape machine needed to be calibrated; it sounds like the guitar has some intonation issues.  We burned up several recorders.  There are a lot of things I wish would have turned out sonically better.  These albums were really never meant to be heard by a large audience.  It blows my mind knowing there’re copies of these albums all over the globe.  Thank you David Horowitz and Auditory Conundrum records for putting out Acid Rain.

Do you all prefer to take a more DIY approach to recording where you handle the technical aspects of stuff on your own so you don’t have to worry about compromising or working with anyone else?  Or, do you all prefer to head into the studio and let someone else handle that side of things so you can concentrate on simply getting the best performance possible out of yourselves?

It’s nice to have a sound engineer at a studio to help get the sound you want.  These albums are DIY all the way.  You can hear the lo-fi quality and imperfections in the audio.  I think that’s part of the attraction, the innocence in the sound quality.

Do you all spend a lot of time working out every aspect of a song before you head in to record, figuring out exactly how something’s going to sound before you ever attempt to record it, or do you all just get a good skeletal idea of what a song’s going to sound like, while allowing for change and evolution during the recording process?

As far as melodies go, it’s worked up before recording.  Other parts are usually figured out during the recording process.  Sometimes we would sit around for hours playing each part to a song together, working it up.

Do psychoactive or hallucinogenic drugs play a large or important role in the songwriting, recording or performance process for Schematic For A Blank Stare?  People have been tapping into the altered states that these drugs create for a long time to make their art and I’m always curious about it…

No, drugs don’t play an important role in any of that for me.  The majority of the songs were written on hazy, grey afternoons in the fall.  Although, I have enjoyed listening to music on mushrooms, I have no reason to believe that it influenced my music.  It may have been a psychoactive state that I have been in while writing music, but it (the psychoactive state) was never induced by any substance.

Your first release that I’m aware of is 2012’s self-released Acid Rain 12”.  Can you share some of your memories of recording that first album with us?  Where and when would that have been recorded at?  Who recorded it and what kind of equipment was used?  Was that a fun, pleasurable experience for you all recording Acid Rain?  When I was looking over your Bandcamp page I know it lists the 12” as limited edition.  Is Acid Rain limited to any certain number of copies?

Recording Acid Rain was a blast.  It was recorded during the fall of 2006.  We used reel-to-reel tapes for drums and a Tascam 4-track for the rest.  The house in Smackover, Arkansas we recorded in was sound insulated nicely.  None of us really had any idea`of recording techniques, we just turned the knobs till it sounded right.  I wish we could have recorded in a studio, but I’m pleased with the way it turned out.  Yes, it’s a limited edition of 500 copies.  I’m not sure how many of those are left.

A year later in 2013 you unleashed you second full-length album Kiss Of Death.  Was the recording of the material for Kiss Of Death very similar to the session(s) for your earlier album?  Do you feel like you all had learned a lot working on, or since you had worked on, that first album?  Who recorded the material for Kiss Of Death?  Where and when would that have been?  What kind of equipment was used?

For the Kiss of Death album, I brought in Zach Taylor to produce and mix the music.  He also laid down some amazing vocal harmonies on that album.  It was kind of rough finishing the Kiss Of Death album since everybody had moved away.  I wasn’t sure if it would even get finished.  There’re a couple of songs that never got completed due to the distance between everyone.

Other than the two albums does Schematics For A Blank Stare have any music that we haven’t talked about yet, maybe a song on a compilation or a demo that I might not know about?

Yes, there’s enough material for a third album.  It will remain unmixed and in the vault.  I think the two albums are plenty enough.

With the release of Kiss Of Death back in 2013 at this point, do you all have any other releases in the works or on the horizon at this point?

Canaan has a three song demo about to come out, other than that, no.

With the completely insane international shipping rates these days I try and provide our readers with as many possible options for picking up imports as I can.  Where’s the best place for our international and overseas readers to score your albums?  What about our US readers?

Bandcamp, Discogs, or eBay.

And where would the best place for our interested readers to keep up with the latest news like upcoming shows and album releases from Schematics For A Blank Stare at?

Are there any major goals or plans that you all are looking to accomplish in the rest of 2014 or 2015?

The band I’m in now, Canaan, wants to play as many shows as possible.

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 on tour for Schematics For A Blank Stare?

I play a lot of shows with the band I’m in now.

What, if anything, do you all have planned as far as touring goes for the rest of 2014?

Just staying active in the local music scene.

Who are some of your personal favorite bands that you’ve had a chance to play with over the past few years?

Radio Moscow, Dax Riggs, Gypsy Hawk, Mothership, American Sharks, and Destroyer of Light.

In your dreams, who are you on tour with?

The Greg Foat Group.

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

I used to get really worked up when playing the drums in my old band, Age of Man. One night, I was particularly “emotional”, and at the finale of a song I literally played my drums into the ground. Before I realized what I had done, I kicked my bass drum over and walked off stage. We were half way through set. I went to the bathroom, and when I came back, the drummer from the previous band had started setting my drum kit back up so I could finish the show. Me and the band just laughed it off and finished the set.

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, covers, logos and that kind of thing.  Is there any kind of meaning or message that you’re trying to convey?  Do you have anyone that you usually turn to in your times of need when it comes to that kind of thing?

There’s a lot of thought behind flyers and posters.  We want a visual that lets people know what there in store for.

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.  Do you have a preferred medium of release for your won music?  What about when you’re listening to and or purchasing music?  If you do have a preference, can you talk a little bit about why?

Vinyl is the only way to go.  I don’t own any CDs, just records.  I love to sit in front of my stereo, grab a few records, some beer, and relax.

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

I have a vast record collection, not sure how many, never counted.  I have lots of psych, library, funk, lounge, and tons of obscure, groovy records.

I grew up around this enormous collection of music that my dad had and he really encouraged me to listen to anything that I wanted, but more importantly I think, he would take me out and pick up random stuff from the local shops that I wanted to hear.  As a result, I developed a deep appreciation for physically released music.  There’s something magical about kicking back with an album, a set of headphones, reading the liner notes, staring at the cover art and just letting the whole thing take me on this crazy trip!  Having something physical to hold and experience along with the music always made for a more complete listening experience.  Do you have any such connection with physically released music?  If so, can you talk a little bit about that?

I do.  I feel the exact same way.  I love the artwork on albums, the literature, reading all the info about who played what and where.

Like it or not, digital music is here in a big way.  While digital music may be pretty revolutionary on its own, when you team it with the internet that’s when things get really interesting!  Together they’ve exposed people to the literal world of music they they’re surrounded by and allowed for an unparalleled level of communication between bands and their fans eradicating geographic boundaries that would have crippled bands even as little as a few years ago.  On the other hand though, illegal downloading is running rampant right now and while people may be exposed to more music than ever, their relationship with that music is rapidly changing and not always for the better in this writer’s humble opinion.  As an artist during the reign of the digital era, what’s your opinion on digital music and distribution?

I understand the importance of it in the way it makes music that’s hard to find accessible to a large audience.  I don’t have any music on my phone.  When I burn albums from record to CD to listen to in my car, I can hear the difference in quality.

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

Bristol Hills, The Dirty Streets, Mothership, and Giganto.

What about nationally and internationally?

Sienna Root, Vidunder, London Souls, Mount Caramel, and Earthless.

Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me about the band, it was awesome getting to learn so much about you all and while I know it had to have taken a while to get done I hope it was cool for you all to look back on everything you’ve managed to accomplish as a band over the past few years.  Before we call it a day I’d like to open the floor up to you for a second though.  Is there anything that I could have possibly missed or that maybe you’d just like to take this opportunity to talk to me or the readers about at this point?

I would like to acknowledge Heather Harris for her love, encouragement, and beautiful artwork on the Acid Rain album.  Without her, I would have never had the confidence to send it to Fred.  Before we made the record she handmade gatefold sleeves for CDs to sell at shows, those had original artwork as well.  And Fred Bussu, thanks to him for promoting Acid Rain.  David Horowitz; thanks to him for producing Acid Rain.  Thanks to Joshua Foster for his killer artwork on the Kiss of Death album and Neil Inman, thanks to him for formatting Kiss of Death.  Thank you for the interview.  Thanks to everyone who has purchased a copy.

(2012)  Schematic for a Blank Stare – Acid Rain – Digital, 12” – Conundrum Records (Limited to 500 copies)
(2013)  Schematic for a Blank Stare – Kiss of Death – Digital, 12” – Conundrum Records

Interview made by Roman Rathert/2014
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1 comment:

Robert Rapier said...

Listening to "Kiss of Death" was like a series grooves that you slide back and forth on.
A funky, fuzzy resurgence of a 1970's groove. Forty-something years on, I still dig the "groove". Must listen.