It felt so fucking good to watch Black Pyramid play last year’s Roadburn festival. Standing there in the mid-size Green Room of the 013 Popcentrum in Tilburg, it was like seeing an ambassador of the future of American doom on display for the European audience for the first time. Like I was at a World’s Fair or something. I’m not a person who often gives in to patriotism, but I was happy my countrymen were able to give such an excellent showing of themselves to a crowd that had never seen them before.
Flash forward a couple months later and guitarist Andy “Dinger” Beresky announces on the forum that he’s quitting the band and proceeds to go on a months-long bridge-burning expedition, trolling his own threads with pseudo-mysticism and purposeful confusion, sending misleading emails to Black Pyramid industry contacts, behaving in a manner so paranoid and disruptive it results in being the first-ever ban on the board. As great as it felt to see the trio at Roadburn, the unraveling that ensued following their return from a European run alongside Blood Farmers was equal parts painful and sad, on both a personal and critical level.
For all intents and purposes, the band was done. And yet, they stood on the eve of the release of their second full-length, II, through MeteorCity. Bassist Gein and drummer Clay Neely were left in the awkward position of having to decide whether to press on and and try to replace Beresky or cut the band’s life short just as it seemed to be hitting its stride creatively. In the end, Neely and Gein opted to continue Black Pyramid, bringing in respected Massachusetts guitarist Darryl Shepard (Milligram, Hackman, Blackwolfgoat) to fill the vacant slot, and pressing forward almost immediately with writing new material, which will see release this year as part of a split.
And as the summation of what the original incarnation of the band was able to accomplish, II is an utter triumph. Produced by Neely himself and mixed by the band in conjunction with Justin Pizzoferrato, it revels in the glory of battle as did the preceding 2009 self-titled, but adds melodic depth and a range of composition less limited by the confines of genre or expectation. With II (review here), Black Pyramid were becoming their own band. Now moving past it, they have to become a new one. And quick. The announcement that the band would continue came packaged with word of an impending performance at this year’s London Desertfest at the start of April.
In what I later found out was his first phoner interview, Neely discussed these issues of Black Pyramid‘s demise and rebirth, as well as the processes of writing and recording II and bringing Shepard in to be a part of the Mk. II lineup. There was some more said off the record about Beresky leaving, but for the purposes here, I wanted to keep the focus on the fact that Black Pyramid, true to the warrior nature fused into their lyrics, are fighting their way forward despite what others might have expected to hold them back. I hope that comes though.
Complete Q&A with Clay Neely is after the jump. Please enjoy.
I guess it was really just a matter of a couple weeks. We just chose to sit on it, because we were basically waiting to see how long the shitstorm would last, to be honest. When it appeared like it was just not gonna end, we started talking to Dan, and we were like, “Look. We don’t want to fan the flames here or anything to make matters worse, but we just thought because of the circumstances surrounding everything, we’re gonna keep the band going.” We just didn’t want to add more gas to the fire.
How did Darryl enter the picture?
He actually sent a private message on Facebook or something saying hey, asking what was going on, offering condolences and seeing if we ever wanted to jam. He never implied he wanted to be in the band at all – he just wanted to see if maybe we wanted to get together at some point and work on some stuff. That’s when I just countered it and said, “Would you be open to playing with us?” And he was really open to it and said, “Yeah, it’s worth a shot. Let’s give it a go.” We had a practice, and all the systems were go. It was really nice. Really relaxed and laid back, and it felt like an enormous weight had been lifted off our shoulders. The light at the end of the tunnel and all that other good stuff.
Have you heard from Andy at all? Do you have any sense of what happened there?
Yeah, I talked to him a couple times. When everything first happened, he sent out a letter to both me and Gein, saying he was tired of the industry and this, that and the other, and that he was going – basically the same stuff that he said on the forums – that he was going to go with his fiancee and live with his mom out in Belchertown, which is kind of far from here, and just retire from music. And we were just kind of like, “Okay…” All the gear was at the practice space, so I went and got all that stuff and kept it up at my studio, and basically I didn’t hear from him too much between the last couple months, except for just trying to orchestrate a time for him to get the gear. He doesn’t have a car, and to make a long, boring story short, yeah, I’ve talked to him a couple times. He seems okay, but you know, he even said it himself. I said, “I kind of miss talking to the guy I used to be in the van with,” and he said, “Well, he doesn’t exist anymore. I’m a different person now, so there’s no reason to think you could ever speak to that person again.” Just really weird, cryptic stuff like that, and I was like, “Okay, good luck with that” (laughs). Sure, I’ve talked to him a couple times, but it’s just basically email trying to tie up loose ends in terms of getting his gear and wanting to donate or give it away. Now he’s selling it. I don’t know what’s going on.
Was the album release ever in jeopardy?
I don’t think so. I spoke to Dan as soon as I got the email, and I was like, “I just wanted to let you know as soon as possible, because I know people aren’t in the business of releasing albums from broken-up bands or dysfunctional bands, but since you’re the one sinking money into this, I thought you should know as soon as possible, and if it’s a no-go, I totally understand and no bad feelings or anything like, that.” But he was like, “No, we’re still 100 percent going with it, no matter what arises.” That was a huge relief, because we’d spent all summer working on it, and I don’t know if it was [Andy]’s insecurity about it, having to bottle up whatever overblown debut CD that we did or whatever, but I don’t know if he thought that if he completely disassociated himself with it and called it crap that he would be free of any criticism directed towards him. I don’t know, man. There’s a million possibilities out there, and it doesn’t really change anything.
In the meantime, though, you guys did Roadburn, you did Europe with Blood Farmers, you came back as the conquering heroes and made this killer record. Are you thinking of this album as the culmination of the band to this point?
I would think so, yeah. This year was definitely the high-water mark as far as where we went and what we were able to do. It’s obviously definitely a closing of a chapter. It’d be foolhardy to be like, “Nah man, the best is yet to come!” but that’s the thing, the tour was a success. We actually made money on the European tour. We had a blast. Everything was taken care of over there, and Roadburn was Roadburn. I don’t know who doesn’t have a good time over there. We played a great set, it was a fantastic adventure, but I think as soon as we got back here – I think Andy even mentioned it in that interview, in his last one – coming back and voluntarily going into a mental hospital or whatever. I think he was going really manic over in Europe. At the time we just chalked it up, because we’re all coffee drinkers, and we’re all really excited and whatnot, but I think when he got back over to the States, something didn’t click right. Something happened with his job too, but I don’t know what happened. I think it was at that point things started going downhill in his mind or whatever. I don’t know. But yeah, this year was just aces, man. I had a blast (laughs).
Tell me about recording yourself for the album. If you can step back from all the bullshit that’s ensued, I’m thinking of the process of putting this record to tape.
When we were over in Europe, we had plenty of time in the van to devise what we were going to do. Basically, what we’ll do – due to the geographical distance between the band members – we’d have Andy come in and lay down a rough track of a song. A real bare skeleton. Then I’d go in there and lay down the drums and then bring in Andy to fill in the guitar, and then bring in Gein to fill in the bass, then Andy would finish the vocals and whatever extraneous solos or whatever, if I needed to do keyboards, things like that, I would put those on and make sure everything was in place – check it off, “Yup, everything’s good” – and then once everything’s checked off, we bring in a fresh set of ears to help mix, because at that point, it’s not that you lose objectivity, but you want that fresh set of ears to hear something you maybe didn’t or who might have a different idea of a direction the song could take. It’s just things like that. It’s nice, because you’re not dealing with a full-on producer, but at the same time, you’re with someone you can ask, “Was that good? What do you think?” Justin’s a good mix, I would say, and just to make sure everything’s hunky-dory, I would say. But everything was pretty methodical. Just drums, bass, guitar. We never did anything live, just due to the geographical things, and my studio’s kind of small, so just doing drums by themselves, I can open up a lot more doors that would’ve been shut for isolation purposes and get a little bit of a bigger sound. So that’s another reason I like doing it that way. Plus, I can get all Steely Dan with my drums and criticize myself (laughs). All drummers hate themselves anyway, so I can go in there and just do take after take until I’m like, “Well, I guess that’s the best one out of all the bad ones” (laughs).
How would you compare the process of recording yourself to doing the Elder record? I know that was a little bit ago at this point, but even so.
The thing about the Edler record was the clock was ticking on them as far as getting it done before Nick split for Germany. So they came in and busted out, over the course of the weekend, they knocked out bass, guitar and drums, and got those done in the span of about three-four days. And then Nick would come in a couple weeks later or whatever to try to do some vocal work. The thing that took longest on the Elder record was the keyboards (laughs), and there’s really not that many in there, but the three of them were in the control room just twiddling the knobs on this Italian synthesizer, and one was like, “Nah, nah, you’re doing it wrong,” and they’re all just huddled around it, and you’re sitting there like, “Well, alright. They’re know what they’re doing, I guess” (laughs). But doing basic tracking with them was excellent. I think they knew too that it was like, “We need to get this done,” and they banged it out, and like I said, the stuff that took longest was the small, extraneous stuff. But yeah, it was a blast, just because we’d played live with them so many times, and you kind of get a bit of an idea of their overall sound and what they’re going for. Also, they did a community television thing up in Greenfield, and I wound up doing live sound with that, so that helped out too. They were relatively easy, man (laughs). They just get in there and they knock it out.
Do you have any other recording projects coming up?
Nah, we’re just kind of working on the new stuff with Darryl right now, just hashing out demos in the studio. At the moment, no, not really. No one that would be of any – I don’t want to say “significance,” but it’s just local people around here who aren’t really doom or anything like that. That’s basically it.
How is the writing going with Darryl?
Really smooth. Like I said, there’s way less tension in the air, and so there’s a lot more ideas that are being thrown around, and things just seem a little bit lighter. The sound is relatively the same. Darryl’s got his own style, so he’s not going to be the mirror image or anything. We’re really psyched with the way the vocals are going and the way Darryl’s interpreted the older songs on guitar. They sound great. Basically it took three practices and we probably could’ve gone out and played a 20 or 30-minute set. He learned the stuff really, really quick, and that really was helpful because it gave us all a lot of extra time to start working on new stuff, which is where we are now. I was really grateful we were able to get the old set knocked out in such a timely fashion. Writing with him is great because I’m such a huge fan of Blackwolfgoat and I’m trying to get him to incorporate aspects of that into the new stuff as well. We’ve only had three practices and he’s come out to the studio just to jam and work out some ideas, and it’s been super-positive and great. I’m really glad it all kind of worked out.
Black Pyramid is no stranger to the 7”. Will do guys do singles to set the ground for the next EP or album?
That’s what we’re trying to get knocked out. Right now all we need to do basically is track the bass and the vocals for the 7” that we’re gonna be doing in March. It’s a split 7”. So that’s cool to have. We’re chomping at the bit to get that out. Can’t wait. But also, we’re aiming to have – hopefully, if it all works out – at least an EP by summer or by the end of the year. We’re writing pretty quick. Things are coming out pretty fast and furious, and it’s nice. It’s pretty cool that there’s no weird writer’s block or “What do we do now?” sort of stuff. Everything’s just kind of continuing. In fact, I think we’re doing a little better lately as far as the writing than the last couple months with the old lineup. Things are a lot more fun now, that’s for sure. The tension’s just gone, and it’s just more open. You know how Darryl is (laughs). It’s just so much more fun, and that has a lot to do with it. No one is feeling uptight about having to defend their ideas or anything. It’s just like, “You like this? Cool. Right on.” Same kind of principle that we’ve always used, we just don’t have to be as defensive about it (laughs). It’s nice.
How did Desertfest come about?
I just got an email from Reese asking if we’d like to play. It was around the time that we still were unsure about acknowledging our continued existence because we didn’t want to see things going the way they were, but it was around that time we said yeah. We went ahead. That was probably early October or late September when we got the email from him. We were just like, “Absolutely. No problem.” That’s basically how it worked. That easy (laughs).
Will you do more European touring around that, or is it just there and back?
We work with Vibra Agency over in Germany, but the thing is, right now, we talked to them and we were like, “We’re going to play Desertfest, any possibility for future dates?” because last year, they were like, “We’ll take care of you in Europe,” so when we got the Desertfest, I talked to Klaus, and was like, “Do we need to go through you with this?” and he was like, “Let me check it out. That sounds good. Okay.” But as far as additional dates right now, they have a surplus of bands over there around April, so they’re like, “Maybe at another point, but right now there’s way too much going on.” I remember when we were over there last year, Zoroaster was over there, Graveyard. We were basically playing the same clubs three nights before or after they were there. There’s no shortage of stoner doom over there in April, that’s for sure. Everyone’s trying to piggyback dates on top of Roadburn or Desertfest or whathaveyou. This year, we might get to squeeze in an extra date in Holland with Roadsaw. We don’t know yet. It’s still kind of up in the air.
Any chance of touring in the US?
Yeah, we’re kicking around a possible tour right now with Backwoods Payback and Order of the Owl in late March. It’d just be a little five-day run from Atlanta up to New York. We’re trying to see how the numbers would work on that. If we don’t lose money, then we’re totally down with doing it. That’s currently on our radar. That and it would help in getting ready for Europe and whatnot. Oh, and King Giant, too. They’d be on the lineup. So it would be us, Backwoods, Order of the Owl and King Giant. It would only be five dates in March. I don’t think we have anything lined up as far as extensive US touring at this time.
Fair enough. I know you’re still kind of getting settled.
(Laughs) Four practices with Darryl. Don’t want to be too cocksure (laughs).
Tags: Black Pyramid, Massachusetts, MeteorCity, Northampton