The Obelisk Questionnaire: Mike Cummings of Backwoods Payback

Posted in Questionnaire on April 17th, 2014 by JJ Koczan

My understanding is that if you’re in a heavy band and you’ve made your way through West Chester, Pennsylvania, on an East Coast tour, you’ve probably either stayed at Mike Cummings‘ house or played with his band, Backwoods Payback. As the frontman of the underappreciated and hard-driving foursome, Cummings presents an indomitable personality on stage and off, but is given to backing that up with a thoughtful approach in his lyrics as well as in writings apart from the band. A book of poetry, Confessions of a Lackluster Performer, was published in 2009, and aside from the self-deprecating title, it showed Cummings able to work in textures beyond those of his songcraft, though it seems to be that side of his creativity that most exerts itself. Backwoods Payback made their debut on Small Stone with 2011’s Momantha (review here) and subsequently issued a live EP in 2012 and a studio EP, In the Ditch (streamed here), earlier in 2014.

In addition, Cummings embarked on his first solo acoustic tour last fall (review here), and the release of his full-length solo debut, Get Low, is expected April 19.

The Obelisk Questionnaire: Michael Rudolph Cummings

How did you come to do what you do?

I’ve always written in some form or another, since as early as I can remember. Music just seemed to be the next extension of that. It just happened.

Describe your first musical memory.

I had a little portable record player in a blue canvas-colored suitcase. I’m sure there was one in most households with a kid my age (or maybe not, the more I think about it). The movie E.T. had just come out and my mom gave me the Neil Diamond “Heartlight” single. I played that for hours at a time, over and over.

Describe your best musical memory to date.

It changes all the time. Whenever I finish a recording or write a new song, that’s the high I’m always chasing. I just finished my first solo record. Listening back to the tape in the room and forgetting how we even made this thing that was being played back to me…that’s my best memory at the moment.

When was a time when a firmly held belief was tested?

Every day something I believe in is tested.

Where do you feel artistic progression leads?

I can’t even begin to try and imagine where it leads. I just follow it wherever it wants to take me.

How do you define success?

Doing the best I can at whatever it is that I am doing and knowing that I gave it all I had.

What is something you have seen that you wish you hadn’t?

Everything I have seen makes me who I am today. Nothing… Some things are just harder to handle than others.

Describe something you haven’t created yet that you’d like to create.

I have so much to do still, books to write, songs to sing, pictures to draw. It’s such a strange trip when it happens. I can’t sit and force it. It’s like a wave, and I have to ride it out when it comes.

Something non-musical that you’re looking forward to?

Waking up tomorrow.

Michael Rudolph Cummings, “Ranch Song” from Get Low (2014)

Mike Cummings on Thee Facebooks

Mike Cummings on Bandcamp

Backwoods Payback on Thee Facebooks

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The Obelisk Questionnaire: Tony Reed of Mos Generator

Posted in Questionnaire on April 1st, 2014 by JJ Koczan

You’d probably need a week to sit down and list all the bands and projects to which Tony Dallas Reed has contributed in one form or another over the better part of the last two decades. From playing drums in death metallers Woodrot to self-recording all-instrument Pentagram covers in his “spare time,” Reed‘s substantial body of work is the result of a genuinely restless creative spirit. Over the course of the last 10 years, he’s bounced between the heavy rocking Mos Generator and more specifically ’70s-minded Stone Axe while also embarking on the side-project HeavyPink and building his own HeavyHead Studio, where he’s done not only his own recording, but tracked Saint Vitus‘ comeback album, Lillie: F-65, among others, as well as mixed and mastered outings from Wight, Trippy WickedAlunah and many more from the US and Europe, often between or while on tours.

Reactivated following a run focused on Stone Axe, Mos Generator released the full-length Nomads (review here) on Ripple Music in 2012, two live albums in 2013, and will shortly issue a follow-up, Electric Mountain Majesty (review here), as their first outing on Listenable Records. Reed is also recently returned to his Port Orchard, Washington, home after a trip to Australia to record Seedy Jeezus and remixed/remastered Mos Generator‘s 2007 Songs for Future Gods album for reissue through Ripple, available now. Mos Generator also has splits with Copenhagen’s Doublestone and Washington’s Teepee Creeper coming soon.

The Obelisk Questionnaire: Tony Reed

How did you come to do what you do?

As a musician I started when I was 12. After years of mimicking KISS and Rush in my bedroom I figured that I should actually learn how to play. I borrowed a guitar from a guy up the street and the first song I learned was “Iron Man.” I started playing drums around the same time. I just wanted to take it all in.

As a recording engineer I guess you could say it was around the same time. I started recording everything with a boom box from the get-go. I have a recording of the first time I played drums. Over time I collected a few mics and got a three-channel Radio Shack mixer and two cassette decks and I was into overdubbing. When I was 20 I got my hands on a four-track and the rest is history.

Describe your first musical memory.

I actually think it is “Papa was a Rollin’ Stone” by The Temptations. I used to love that song. I also have recollections of the album cover for “Paranoid” being around the house and when I got that album in sixth grade I somehow already knew the songs on it, so I am assuming it was played frequently when I was a child. My mom also has a funny story of me stealing a “Nights in White Satin” 45 from K-Mart when I was two years old. She let me keep it.

Describe your best musical memory to date.

I would say that it would be 26-date Saint Vitus/Mos Generator European tour in 2013. It was a lot of hard work but we got to play for some rabid audiences and travel in style. Being on the road is all about making memories and of course later down the line you only remember the good bits.

When was a time when a firmly held belief was tested?

Where do you feel artistic progression leads?

I believe that there is really no ending point to a musician who is driven and passionate. Growth is constant and sometimes moves faster than other times. Sometimes it would appear to move backwards and hopefully something can be learned from that too.

How do you define success?

I define success by respect. Someday I would like to be well respect as a musician and songwriter and recognized for the passion and dedication that I put into the music I make.

What is something you have seen that you wish you hadn’t?

My grandmother’s eyes the day before she died. I think she had moved on already because I didn’t see her in there anymore.

Describe something you haven’t created yet that you’d like to create.

I would like to create and album or song that moves people the way that certain songs move me. Sometimes I am so humbled by the songs I love that it makes me want to stop writing music because I believe I may never achieve these emotions in what I write. I also look at it as a goal and a challenge.

Something non-musical that you’re looking forward to?

Even though this is musical in its subject, it doesn’t directly affect me musically. I am looking forward to watching the musical journey my son is going on. He has the passion in his blood and it’s great to see him doing things to make music his life.

Mos Generator, “Breaker” from Electric Mountain Majesty (2014)

Mos Generator on Thee Facebooks

HeavyHead Superstore

Listenable Records

Ripple Music

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The Obelisk Questionnaire: Scott Hamilton of Small Stone Records

Posted in Questionnaire on March 25th, 2014 by JJ Koczan

This coming weekend, Detroit’s Small Stone Records hosts two label showcases on the East Coast. The first takes place Friday night at the Middle East in Boston and the second is Saturday at Brooklyn’s St. Vitus bar (info on both here). With Gozu and Freedom Hawk and Wo Fat headed overseas and new releases to come in 2014 from Dwellers, Jeremy Irons and the Ratgang Malibus, Greenleaf, Wo Fat and Lo-Pan, it’s arguable that Small Stone has never had as much of an impact as it’s having now. A foray into the vinyl market seems to have paid off, and with acquisitions from across the pond like France’s The Socks, Italy’s Isaak and Portugal’s Miss Lava, the imprint’s reach only seems to be growing.

In 2015, Small Stone marks 20 years since its inception. It has succeeded against odds, trends and, frankly, logic, thanks to the vigilance and keen ear of its founder and owner, Scott Hamilton, who also plays guitar in the prog/psych rock outfit Luder. As a curator, Hamilton‘s ear is second to none, and his passion for searching out the underground’s best has led to landmark heavy rock from the likes of Dixie Witch, Sasquatch, Dozer, Los Natas, Halfway to Gone, Roadsaw, Acid King and many more. I sometimes feel like a nerd for covering as much Small Stone stuff as I do, but it’s inevitable. There’s no getting around the quality of the work being fostered by Hamilton‘s steady hand.

So I’ll probably keep going with it.

The Obelisk Questionnaire: Scott Hamilton

How did you come to do what you do?

I have been obsessed with music for my entire life (both as a fan and as musician), so I am pretty sure that obsession led me into what I do now. I knew in my high school and college years that I wanted to do music in some form for a career (plus you had the added bonus of not needing cut your hair or work in a stuffy office environment), but I had no clue or connections to point myself in the proper direction to make it a reality. After many an odd job in the early ’90s at various music related gigs (playing in bands and working at record stores, radio stations, major record labels, etc.), I discovered that I both wanted and needed to start a record label. Small Stone was born out of this.

Describe your first musical memory.

This is easy…  It was my Dad blasting Jimi Hendrix, The Stones, James Brown and Santana in the house on his very vintage hi-fi system. I think by the time I was three, I was actually spinning the records from his collection myself, and mostly likely ruining a few of them in the process… Shortly thereafter, discovering bands like KISS and Aerosmith also have had a very lasting effect on me too.

Describe your best musical memory to date.

There are too many… so I will list my top five:

1. Seeing The Cult in 1985 on the Love Tour when I was a Junior in High School. To this day, one of the best concerts I have ever been too.

2. Playing in my first band in high school was awesome, even if it was the ’80s. It was great discovering that thing my bandmates and I used to call “the buzz.” The buzz is when you and your fellow musicians all lock in, everything clicks, and you go on this crazy spiritual high where the hair on the back of your neck stands up. It is was  and is the ultimate feeling that every musician and music fan is always looking for. I sometimes get it with my current band Luder when we are rehearsing and working on new material from time to time.

3. Purchasing my first KISS album… It was KISS Alive, by the way. My mother still says that KISS ruined my life.

4. About eight years ago when I had shitty day job for Live Nation, I got to stand behind Joe Perry’s rig for the majority of the concert, and that was a big deal for me… It also helped that setlist was 95 percent pre-’80s Aerosmith, and for as lame as the band is now, they were fantastic on that evening.

5. Jane’s Addiction… I must have seen them 10 times between 1988 and 1991, and that band had the magic, and also gave that “buzz” I was talking about.

When was a time when a firmly held belief was tested?

I think that this happens on a monthly basis. It is just part of living, growing, and moving forward. It is usually not a fun experience, either…

Where do you feel artistic progression leads?

I think it leads to greatness down the line for any individual that is creating something, be it music, art, whatever. A creative person will always feel the need to keep exploring and learning new things to better sharpen their skill sets. If I had more time, I would spend it writing riffs and melodies, and improve on any and all basic skills when it comes to a guitar, but I have limited time to do that since I have a family and a business that must come first. With that said, I am always humming something in my head, and I will sneak off to the basement for about 30 minutes per day when I can to make some music.

How do you define success?

To me, success means that I get to do what I want for a vocation versus wearing a suit at some soul-sucking corporate job. In that sense, I have great success. But on the other hand it would be nice to break a band on the roster and help get them to a level of a band like Clutch. But that has not happened as of yet, so I just keep on keeping on until I obtain that level of success in the future.

What is something you have seen that you wish you hadn’t?

In 1989 I was driving on the freeway about 20 miles west of Hartford, CT (on my way back to MSU from a Summer working on Nantucket). This convertible Corvette cam flying past me, and seconds later it somehow rear-ended the pickup truck in front of me. The Vette flew up in the air, flipped over the pickup and landed on on the freeway with his roof facing down — but the convertible top was down. The Vette driver was killed, blood, brains, and flesh all over the freeway. That vision has stuck with me ever since.

Describe something you haven’t created yet that you’d like to create.

I would love to be involved in creating a timeless album — a classic if you will. Something that has the staying power of Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, Led Zep IV, etc., and more realistically, I would love to create a very large swimming pool in my backyard.

Something non-musical that you’re looking forward to?

70 degree days.

Small Stone Records on Thee Facebooks

Small Stone Records website

Luder, Adelphophagia (2013)

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The Obelisk Questionnaire: Kimi Kärki of Lord Vicar

Posted in Questionnaire on March 3rd, 2014 by JJ Koczan

As Peter Vicar in Reverend Bizarre, guitarist Kimi Kärki helped to start a wave of traditional doom in Europe during the mid-’90s that continues to this day. That Finnish outfit’s influence has endured even after their split in 2007 following the release of their last album, III: So Long Suckers — a variety of splits and comps continued to surface for a couple years after — and Kärki‘s career has continued to branch out, working with former Saint Vitus and now Goatess frontman Chritus Linderson in the righteously doomed Lord Vicar as well as putting out new material from the Reverend Bizarre-concurrent project Orne, founding and exploring psychedelic experimentation in E-Musikgruppe Lux Ohr, playing with Uhrijuhla and working as a coordinator at the University of Turku. Late last year, Svart Records released his solo debut, The Bone of My Bones (streamed here), on which Kärki showcased progressive folk songwriting to create evocative and deeply resonant atmospheres.

Last month, Svart issued a 4LP edition of III: So Long Suckers with expanded liner notes in memory of Reverend Bizarre‘s legacy, and E-Musikgruppe Lux Ohr are slated to appear at Roadburn next month.

The Obelisk Questionnaire: Kimi Kärki

How did you come to do what you do?

Because it felt right. I followed my intuition and walked on the footsteps of the giants.

Describe your first musical memory.

It is hearing my mother sing a classic lullaby “Sininen uni” (Blue dream), originally sung by legendary Finnish javelin athlete and singer Tapio Rautavaara, the text being a poem by P. Mustapää. I love that song and sing it to my own children now. Here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CCMI91DCTRg

Describe your best musical memory to date.

Hard to pick up the best… Perhaps hearing the master of In the Rectory of the Bizarre Reverend for the first time, or the first time I saw people in the audience singing my lyrics.

When was a time when a firmly held belief was tested?

Every day.

Where do you feel artistic progression leads?

To a better focus, deeper musical layers, profound lyrics and sometimes an early grave.

How do you define success?

That I feel pleased with what I have done, can love and be loved, and survive the tests of living.

What is something you have seen that you wish you hadn’t?

Images of parents carrying their dead children, that is the ultimate horror.

Describe something you haven’t created yet that you’d like to create.

A theme album which is musically solid and has a coherent, emotionally touching narrative.

Something non-musical that you’re looking forward to?

Finishing my Ph.D., finally.

Kimi Kärki, “I am Aries” from The Bone of My Bones (2013)

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The Obelisk Questionnaire: Walter Hoeijmakers of Roadburn Festival

Posted in Questionnaire on February 25th, 2014 by JJ Koczan

While of course there’s an entire staff at work on just the festival — let alone that of the 013 venue where it’s held each April in Tilburg, the Netherlands — as the founder and driving creative force behind it, Walter Hoeijmakers is synonymous with Roadburn to the point of it having supplanted his surname. More often you’ll hear about or from Walter Roadburn, and for the last 15 years, he’s provided good reason. It’s hard to quantify the influence Roadburn has had within Europe’s heavy underground and beyond it, but with a slew of fests cropped up in its wake and with the brevity of ticket availability each year, Roadburn holds a special place for many who’ve been fortunate enough to be there to witness it, myself included. The last few years have seen Walter push the festival beyond its stoner and heavy rock roots, incorporating dark cultish rock, black metal, psychedelia, doom and a wide pastiche of yet to be defined creative works, and with Loop headlining and Opeth‘s Mikael Åkerfeldt curating, Roadburn 2014 is the most out-there yet.

On a personal note, I’ll add that aside from being someone whose work and passion I deeply admire, Walter Hoeijmakers is also one of the warmest, most sincere people I’ve had the pleasure to meet in music. He, and his festival, are one of a kind. Roadburn 2014 is set for April 10-13 at the 013 in Tilburg, the Netherlands.

The Obelisk Questionnaire: Walter Hoeijmakers

How did you come to do what you do?

I’m heavily into music, mainly hard rock and metal, but also psychedelica, blues rock, and late ‘60s and early ‘70s rock and heavy psych for over 33 years now.

It all started when I was around 15 years old. Back then, I frequently started to visit the local youth centre in my home town, and one day I was asked to catalogue the entire music collection. We’re talking about approximately 2,000 albums here from the mid ‘60s ’til the early ‘80s. There and then, I got exposed to a whole new world that would change me forever. Music became my main passion, and inspiration for life.

This youth centre also organized shows, and a couple of years later, they let me start booking hard rock and metal shows, and I managed to get the likes of Destruction, Sodom, Angel Witch, Onslaught, Sepultura, Tokyo Blade, Laaz Rockit,  Nocturnus and Bolt Thrower, among others.

When I moved to another city, the first thing I did was joining another metal-inspired youth centre and kept organizing metal shows, and mainly coaching the volunteers. See, I became a seasoned social worker along, and was aiming to carve a career in helping out kids getting back on track or coaching volunteers. Later on, I specialized in helping out elderly Alzheimer patients and their families.

Meanwhile, I was an avid music aficionado, and collector as well, and due to a twist of fate (and a serious nervous breakdown in the end), I became a professional music journalist, and started to write about stoner rock and psychedelica around the time that Kyuss’ Blues for the Red Sun and Monster Magnet’s Spine of God came out. I was heavily drawn to this scene, and started to write about all these exciting, young stoner and heavy psych bands, and compiled one of the very first stoner rock compilations, called Stoned Revolution: The Ultimate Trip.

The magazine I was working for sadly called it a day in 1998 and then one of my best friends, Peter, came to the rescue. He developed the Roadburn website, so I could continue to publish my writings and report about the stoner scene. Roadburn’s Jurgen joined me in this quest as he was writing for the same magazine.

Around then I also started to work at a corporate record store, and what should have been a lot of fun turned out to be the biggest nightmare in my life. I suffered a severe burn out. Luckily, Roadburn kept me going, and has been a lifeline ever since. Roadburn’s the embodiment of who I am as a person. It’s my heart and soul.

Describe your first musical memory.

My parents and my kid sister loved classical music a lot, and this was the only music around the house. It drove me literally crazy – to this day, I still don’t listen to classical music at all. It simply doesn’t appeal to me. However, I admire these musicians, as I know how difficult it is to master their instruments.

When I was around eight years old, I got a small radio from my grandma, and I remember listening to foreign radio stations. I was heavily drawn to ‘60s music, and rock — think Golden Earring and the likes.

Describe your best musical memory to date.

I have seen so many bands and legendary shows in the past 33 years, it’s insane. I met a couple of lifelong friends at shows, and those are my best memories, of course, as friendship is one of the best things in life.

I was bullied a bit at high school, but that all changed when I saw a Thin Lizzy cover band at the aforementioned youth centre. I was just walking past, and heard these amazing guitars, so I decided to get in and see what was going on. The guy that bullied me a bit at school was at this as well. He was so surprised to see me there, we became lifelong friends.

When was a time when a firmly held belief was tested?

Working at a corporate record store almost brought me to my knees, as it wasn’t about music, only about shifting units and maximizing profit. For me, music is all about heart and soul. I burned out and quit this job in the end to keep my sanity, however it took me a couple of years to recover. There are certain moments we need to make difficult decisions for Roadburn, as the festival needs to stay healthy business-wise. I find that very difficult, but in the end, I make sure that I’m still thriving on the social aspects of the festival. That’s my main goal.

Where do you feel artistic progression leads?

Artistic progression leads to creativity, to beautiful books, movies, music, paintings, poems — food for thought! It will also lead you to fulfill your dreams. Dare to be different, dare to follow your own artistic path, push yourself artistically, as it will bring you so much more than financial gain.

How do you define success?

For me, success is staying true to yourself. Plain and simple.

What is something you have seen that you wish you hadn’t?

I have seen way too many people doing the wrong kinds of drugs, and people wasting their artistic progression or opportunities, because all they wanted to do was get high and blame others for their misery. It’s such a shame. I also have seen much sadness and pain while helping out Alzheimer patients and their families. On the other hand, it shaped me as the person I am today, and shaped my own beliefs.

Describe something you haven’t created yet that you’d like to create.

I could do a standup comedy routine about all that I have seen in the music business, or even write a book about all the shenanigans I have witnessed. Maybe it’s time to get started. As I said, push yourself artistically, and make friends, and enemies along the way.

Something non-musical that you’re looking forward to?

I hope my mother-in-law will recover from her major surgery. Luckily the cancer has gone. She still has a long way to go, though.

7Zuma7, “Blue T.S.” from Stoned Revolution: The Ultimate Trip (1998)

Walter Roadburn on Thee Facebooks

Roadburn Festival

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The Obelisk Questionnaire: Dave Chandler of Saint Vitus

Posted in Questionnaire on February 17th, 2014 by JJ Koczan

In many ways, Dave Chandler and Saint Vitus are inseparable. You cannot have one without the other. Since founding the band as Tyrant in 1979, Chandler has been Vitus‘ principle songwriter and lyricist, presiding over some of American doom’s most essential works in albums like 1984’s Saint Vitus, 1986’s Born too Late and 1990’s V on SST and Hellhound Records. When Vitus were once again laid to rest after a 2003 reunion, Chandler formed Debris Inc. with Trouble‘s Ron Holzner on bass and a host of drummers, including Henry Vasquez, who’d later replace Armando Acosta in Vitus after they got together again in 2009 for a reunion that has, to date, stuck, resulting in tours around the world and their first studio outing since 1995’s Die Healing, the 2012 Season of Mist release Lillie: F-65 (review here), a tour de force of Vitus‘ trademark no-frills, no-letup doom that only served to demonstrate how many others in their wake have taken their influence but not managed to capture the same vibe — that’s not to say “magic” — that makes Saint Vitus wholly distinct in their approach.

In 2012, Vitus officially released the limited Marbles in the Moshpit, a former bootleg live album on vinyl, and they’ve worked with Scion A/V on two releases, 2012’s Live EP and a split single with The Casualties. A stage presence like none other, Chandler lives in New Orleans and reportedly has songs in progress for a follow-up to Lillie: F-65. As anyone who’s ever read his lyrics knows, he’s a master of word economy, and that’s as true as ever in his answers to The Obelisk Questionnaire.

The Obelisk Questionnaire: Dave Chandler

How did you come to do what you do?

I learned how to play music very young in grade school and it eventually progressed to rock and roll.

Describe your first musical memory.

Playing the coronet, small trumpet, in the grade school band.

Describe your best musical memory to date.

That would have to be when we headlined the second stage at Hellfest in 2009.

When was a time when a firmly held belief was tested?

When we stuck to our guns and played what we wanted during what we called “the punk rock wars” within the first two years when we were signed with SST. Eventually we gained the respect of the people that didn’t like us because we refused change.

Where do you feel artistic progression leads?

That depends on oneself, but in can lead to a betterment of what you create.

How do you define success?

If you are happy with what you are doing, regardless of what it is, and you are happy with your life… you are successful.

What is something you have seen that you wish you hadn’t?

Dead bodies on the street.

Describe something you haven’t created yet that you’d like to create.

Our next album.

Something non-musical that you’re looking forward to?

The legalization of marijuana throughout the United States.

Saint Vitus on Thee Facebooks

Season of Mist

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The Obelisk Questionnaire: Ben Smith of The Brought Low

Posted in Questionnaire on February 10th, 2014 by JJ Koczan

If The Brought Low are on stage, you can safely bet that you’re going to have a good time. With thickened blues-via-punk grooves from bassist Bob Russell and drummer Nick Heller and a touch of twang in the vocal delivery of guitarist Ben Smith, the NYC trio’s songs present a character to heavy rock that no one else captures in quite the same way. At this point, experience is a factor. 2014 marks 15 years of The Brought Low, which formed in 1999 after the dissolution of Smith and Heller‘s prior outfit, the hardcore band Sweet Diesel. Their first, self-titled album was released on Tee Pee in 2001, and it would be half a decade before the follow-up, Right on Time, surfaced through Small Stone. Their aptly-titled 2010 Third Record (review here) was very much that, literally as well as figuratively in terms of expanding their range of influence and solidifying the progression of their first two outings. It delved further into blues and sad country, but still held firm to its rock and roll roots, ultra-memorable songs like “The Kelly Rose” and “Old Century” positioning The Brought Low as a band out of time even as they were utterly in their element being so.

Northeast regional shows have always been The Brought Low‘s trade, but they get out from time to time if the occasion suits, as SXSW has a couple times. Their latest release, an EP through Coextinction Recordings (stream here), arrived in 2011 and the band continues to work on their next full-length, while Smith and Heller step aside as well for periodic reunion gigs with Sweet Diesel.

The Obelisk Questionnaire: Benjamin Howard Smith

How did you come to do what you do?

I was very lucky to have been born into a big, artistic, musical family. My father wrote plays, my mother wrote novels, my sister sang in the church choir and my brothers played in rock bands. Playing music and being creative wasn’t an act of rebellion for me. It was something I was expected to do, like, “When are you going to learn how to play an instrument?” My brother taking me to see The Who movie The Kids Are Alright is what made me want to play guitar though it took a couple stops and starts before I really made the effort to learn how to play. A friend once said to me, “You love music so much you should really learn how to play,” which made a lot sense.

Describe your first musical memory.

When I was two years old my family did a house exchange and spent the summer in North London. Upstairs there was a record player and a stack of 45s including “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” by The Rolling Stones, or as I called it, “GET NO!,” which I made my siblings play over and over and over and over and over and over…

Describe your best musical memory to date.

As a musician? As a music fan? As a human being? So many. You know, the first thing that comes to mind is Christmas morning, 1980, coming down and seeing a row of records propped up on one corner, like diamonds, across the living room couch. It was The Clash, London Calling, and Ramones, Rocket To Russia, and probably something by Led Zeppelin and Rush as well. The smell of new records and getting a paper cut under your thumbnail opening them and looking at the packaging and reading the lyrics and discovering all this new music. It’s still one of the greatest joys in life and still happens to this day. Well, you know, the discovering new music part, not the diamond LP display. Though that would be awesome too.

When was a time when a firmly held belief was tested?

Nothing comes immediately to mind though I think all your beliefs should be tested and examined and questioned. Otherwise it’s not a belief; it’s just something you were taught and arbitrarily decided you agreed with. Or maybe that is belief. I’ve had lots of beliefs since I was born. Some of these beliefs I still follow to this day. Others I have examined and decided I no longer agreed with. I don’t know. What’s with the serious questions, man?!?! Shouldn’t we be talking about Les Pauls and Black Sabbath already?

Where do you feel artistic progression leads?

Death. No, just kidding. For argument’s sake you could say AC/DC and Motörhead and plenty of folk and blues artists have had little use for it and it hasn’t seemed to hurt them any. By the same token, other musicians constantly evolve and change and push themselves. Both instincts can lead to great music. Also, if you play music for any amount of time you will, generally speaking, evolve and progress as a player. For myself, I am certainly a different person and musician than I was when I started out in bands.

How do you define success?

I’ve always felt as long as I could find someone who wants to put out my records, I have succeeded. I actually see some money now thanks to some of our songs being licensed to TV shows but in the end it’s a nominal amount and not enough to live on let alone support a family. I feel extremely blessed though for all the good fortune I’ve had as a musician. I have many talented friends who have not had the opportunities I have. Music has helped me see the country and even some other countries. Music is how I met my wife. Music is how I’ve made the majority of my friends over the last 20 years including some people whose records I used to buy. How cool is that? I have friends who are in more successful bands, some who actually make a living as a musician. Some of them are in bands with people they hate and are watching their children grow up on their iPads. I have always played in bands with my best friends and have had the joy of watching my daughter grow up first hand. Success is relative. Ultimately the success I’m most concerned with is the artistic achievement. Greatness is always the goal.

What is something you have seen that you wish you hadn’t?

Nothing. I’m glad I have seen everything I have, good and bad, beautiful and ugly. All of it is part of me and is something I have learned from or lived through, even if it was disturbing or upsetting. That said, I’m not a homicide detective or a combat soldier and the things I have seen in my life don’t compare to what people see who live in worlds where death and violence are a constant presence.

I will say, I lived in Manhattan on September 11th and stepped onto 5thAve., which looked down at the World Trade Center, moments after Tower One fell and I am glad I didn’t see that with my own two eyes. Also, I truly detest the sight of another human’s feces. So anytime I stepped into a bathroom and saw another person’s shit, I wish I hadn’t seen that.

Describe something you haven’t created yet that you’d like to create.

A soul album. Like Stax, Muscle Shoals-style Southern soul. With horns and ballads and backup singers, the whole nine. And guitar solos. If I had infinite time and resources I’d be in about 10 different bands playing 10 different styles of music.

Something non-musical that you’re looking forward to?

All of it. The seasons, life, watching my daughter grow up, taking on new challenges. I am pretty cynical by nature and generally pessimistic about humanity but let’s be real, we all, all of us here in America and in the world where we can read stoner rock music blogs on our computers live lives of tremendous ease and good fortune. Life is good. Yes, we sometimes have personal struggles, financial, physical or otherwise, but really, compared to so many in the world, we have so much. I am very thankful for all the good fortune I have had in my life; having a great family, growing up in the greatest city in the world, having the best friends a guy could ever want. Whatever happens next, I’m down.

The Brought Low, Third Record (2011)

The Brought Low on Thee Facebooks

Small Stone Records

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The Obelisk Questionnaire: Jon Davis of Conan

Posted in Questionnaire on February 3rd, 2014 by JJ Koczan

His hood up, his mouth stretched wide in a guttural shout that seems to shake his whole body, Conan guitarist/vocalist Jon Paul Davis gives the impression that there’s little of his being not being hurled from the stage at his audience. As the trio of Davis, bassist/vocalist Phil Coumbe and drummer Paul O’Neil, Conan make their debut on Napalm Records in 2014 with their second full-length, Blood Eagle (review here), an album that arrives as the payoff of a creative and popular ascent that began with 2010’s Horseback Battle Hammer EP (review here). Through that release, the subsequent 2011 split with Slomatics (review here), their 2012 debut long-player, Monnos (review here), and 2013’s Mount Wrath: Live at Roadburn 2012 and split with Bongripper, Conan have established a base of rumbling low end tone that few seem to be able to match. With thematics drawn from the fantasy conquests of Robert E. Howard, J. R. R. Tolkien and others, Conan‘s aesthetic has become focused on the big, the brutal and the badass. It is a near-perfect amalgam of theory and practice.

Before recording Blood Eagle, Davis built Skyhammer Studio, a professional, live-in facility adjacent to his home in Cheshire, UK, and hired engineer Chris Fielding — with whom he’d previously worked at Foel Studios in Wales — to take up residency. Already, Skyhammer has become a hub of the UK scene, with the likes of Serpent Venom, Coltsblood, Stubb and Greenhorn tracking there, and to complement, Davis has started a record label, Black Bow Records, putting out Conan‘s Horseback Battle Hammer and Monnos on tape as well as releases by Bast and a split between Fister and Norska.

The Obelisk Questionnaire: Jon Paul Davis

How did you come to do what you do?

I was 15 or 16 and had just started playing guitar (a cheap Spanish acoustic). I begged my parents for a guitar after they tried to get me into playing keyboard. I remember having a couple of lessons, a year or two later, and I wasn’t very good but one lunch time I told a friend of mine that I was going to play guitar on stage when I was older. Since then I have stopped and started being in various nondescript bands and then Conan happened and I get to do what my 16-year-old self promised himself back in 1992. I’ve just been been really driven to do this.

Describe your first musical memory.

Two early ones, not sure which is the first. Dancing to Shakin’ Stevens when I was three or four years old in a cafe and people were clapping, I was able to go up onto my tip toes the way he did. Another memory is of my Great Grandmother, who was brought up in Tipperary but brought up her side of our family in Kirkby (North of Liverpool), who used to sing a song like “Irish Eyes are Smiling” or “If You’re Irish Come into the Parlour” or something like that. We always used to have sing-alongs in our house whenever we had that half of my family over. It was awesome and I remember a real sense of belonging and “family” at that young age.

Describe your best musical memory to date.

A tough one. But I would say there was a few weeks when Horseback Battle Hammer was released when it suddenly became apparent that we had unknowingly created something that people we’re into. When Uge from Throne Records emailed me to say that he would put it out in vinyl it made me think, “Wow, we’re actually going to release something on a proper record label.” This sticks out for me because up until that point I had just played in bands as a hobby, and always wished I could get “signed” to a label… Those first stages of becoming aware of people noticing us was very intense, I’ll never forget it. There have been many since that I have already discussed before so I’ll leave them for another time.

When was a time when a firmly held belief was tested?

I always believe that losing loved ones should be an “occasion,” something you build up to and kind of prepare for. The world wouldn’t just take people away without warning. This has been challenged twice so far with the death of my Grandmother Harriet Fitzsimmons, and my oldest friend Ted Evans. My Grandmother died suddenly on her way to a friend’s house back in 1998 and I still miss her now. Last year, at the end of March I was watching my children playing on a trampoline in Spain when I got a phone call to say that my mate Ted had died. I couldn’t believe it. Ted was the same age as me and died suddenly of a heart attack. He was a great old friend and has left a huge hole in my heart. My Grandfather John Fitzsimmons (someone who I will always look up to as a great example of a hard working honest Liverpool man) died after a long illness and his passing was almost bearable because it had seemed that his time had come and we had all been able to prepare for it. I will always remember sleeping over in my Grandparents house in Norris Green, waking up the next day and being taken by my Nan on the bus to meet my Grandad. When I got a bit older I started going the game with my friends (Ted and a few others) but I would always meet my Grandad in the pub (The Top House in Walton) and I never thought those times would go so fast. Those moments that you never feel as they slip through your fingers. These losses have always made me realise that things aren’t going to last forever and you should enjoy everything you have. I never used to bother with this, I used to take things for granted, but not anymore.

Where do you feel artistic progression leads?

I feel that progression leads to sharpness and you can never stop sharpening your blade. It can always be “sharper” no matter what you think of yourself. Progression often means diversification to some people. Take certain bands, as they progress they sometimes change from what made them them in the first place. I guess it is a process of taking what you have and making the most of it.

How do you define success?

I think bring successful is gaining what you want from a given situation. For me, being happy by doing something I enjoy makes me feel successful. It makes me feel like I am spending my time wisely. I once had a well paid job as HR Manager in a profitable business but I swapped that nine-to-five stuff for a recording studio, a record label and a touring band. I earn less in a monetary sense from these things than I did from the day job but I feel “successful” every day because I get to be at home with the kids at home time and I get to cook their meals every day, I can also tour much more easily. That is real success in my opinion, enjoying life while doing things you want and keeping those around you happy. If you apply this to being in a band some will say that successful bands are those on the biggest label doing the coolest tours. However, that situation might be beneficial financially but it does not necessarily make you happy — it might not keep your soul warm.

What is something you have seen that you wish you hadn’t?

I saw my Grandmother Harriet Fitzsimmons lying in hospital in the final minutes of life following a fatal heart attack. I was a young boy but I sat at her bedside with the rest of my family as she slipped away, talking to her, asking her not to go. She was a lovely woman and I was very attached to her, her memory brings a tear to my eye every single time without fail and I still remember chatting to her earlier that day and wished I had done so for longer. But after we heard of her heart attack I was taken to hospital by an Uncle and he wouldn’t talk to me or confirm what had happened and the first I saw of her was in bed, obviously slipping away. I held her hand and talked to her but seeing her die this way led to many years of anxiety attacks and mild depression. I decided to develop my own coping mechanisms rather than take medication, and now I am no longer affected in the same way but seeing my Nanna pass away in the manner that I did was obviously something my young mind couldn’t cope with.

Describe something you haven’t created yet that you’d like to create.

My wife and I are currently in the early stages of having an office built in the cellar of our house. I wish to create in this space a solid base for Skyhammer Studio and Black Bow Records. With this set up I hope to progress both of these businesses so I can help bands who are under the radar to get a great quality recording and, hopefully, they can get the same feelings I got back when Horseback Battle Hammer was released, should the recording be picked up by my own label or a different one. Additionally the studio is of such a high quality, and with the very talented Chris Fielding as resident producer, I hope it will continue to attract the high calibre of established bands that we have booked in so far. Chris and I can hopefully create a go-to studio for music recording in the UK.

Something non-musical that you’re looking forward to?

Three things:

1. I’m getting the stop lights fixed on the band’s tour bus tomorrow. I’ve been driving round for a month with no brake lights!!!!

2. On Saturday it is my daughter’s fourth birthday and I am really looking forward to seeing her at the centre of attention.

3. Conan touring starts in March and I just cannot express how much I want to get back playing live again.

Conan, “Gravity Chasm” Live at Desertfest London 2013

Conan on Thee Facebooks

Napalm Records

Skyhammer Studio

Black Bow Records

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