Saturday, November 14, 2009

Shrinebuilder interview

This past Wednesday I witnessed the first ever live gig by Shrinebuilder, the heavy metal supergroup featuring Scott Kelly of Neurosis, Wino of St. Vitus/The Obsessed, Dale Crover of The Melvins and Al Cisneros of Om/Sleep. As if we doubted the integrity of any of those guys, they played a nearly hour-long set at the tiny Viper Room in Hollywood for a way over capacity crowd, then did it again fifteen minutes later for whomever didn't believe they would really begin at 10:45pm. Their self-titled debut, out now on Neurot, nearly fulfills Shrinebuilder's astronomic promise. But live's where it matters. We all know these four can play -- they're each musical figureheads in their other bands. But do they have chemistry? Hell yes. On stage they're four bandmates, riffing off each other, following one another's grooves, soaking it all in. Dale Crover reminded me that he's one of the best drummers in rock music. If I had only been able to hear his cymbal work, it still would have been a great night. He should record an album with just cymbals.

I had the opportunity to interview Scott Kelly and Wino about Shrinebuilder for a short piece in Decibel magazine, published here. Here's the full transcript of what they had to say.



Rumors have been floating around since '07 about Shrinebuilder's existence. Did the expectation ever get to you? Did you think about how mammoth this band could possibly be?

I don’t know what you mean by “get to me.” Not really. I knew before I was a part of it that it was going to be something great. When they asked me to be a part of it, I felt confident that my input would be significant. There’s a real belief and trust in the visions in this band, you know? We’ve all known each other, and known who each other were, forever. And been big fans of each other’s work. So there was never any doubt in my mind that what we would do would be exactly what we wanted to do. And therefore fine, whether people like it or not. I don’t care. Never been a concern of mine whether people like what I do. I just gotta feel satisfied with it, you know? Not to say it’s not nice when people like it, but it doesn’t affect the bottom line at all.

On the blog you kept during the album’s recording process, you described the first night of playing with Shrinebuilder as “immediate thunder.” Can you describe in a little more detail what it was like to all jam in the same room at the same time for the first time?

Well, the expectation and the anticipation of the whole event was pretty strong amongst the four of us. Al and Wino and I had jammed together, Al and Wino and Dale had jammed together, but we hadn’t all four been in the same room. We were wondering, “is this gonna gel? Is the chemistry gonna be there naturally? Is that gonna take time, ‘cuz often times things like that take time?” And it just blew up. The first song that we played was “Solar Benediction,” the first song on the record. And it just…instantly was right there, you know? I dunno man! Water, man. Just flow. Perfect. No hitch. It just happens. And it was strong, you know? It was like we were able to step right into it.

On a personal level, playing with Jason (Roeder, Neurosis drummer) for 25 years, I’ve been basically ruined for playing with any other drummers. I mean every time I play with another drummer I’m sorely missing him. Dale’s really the only guy in the world other than…maybe Dave Lombardo that I would really want to play with. Because I knew that he had that same fire, that same reckless drive that Jason has. So I was really excited about that. In fact I remember calling Jason right before and being like “I get to play with Dale Crover tomorrow.” That was really great, you know?

I’ve always found – I’ve found so much between the three of those guys, over the years. I mean it’s really like – I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve spent listening to Wino’s music. His guitars, the tones and textures, and his really unique voice. I can’t tell you the hours that I’ve spent listening to Al’s music. Om is one of my very favorite bands ever. If I had to choose one, that might be it. It just works with every part of my being. And the Melvins changed the face of everything. They’re one of the deepest, most inspirational influences in music in my life. It’s fucking amazing! I don’t think I could pick three other guys that I’d rather play with than those three.

The cool thing about it for me is that – this is picking up on something you mentioned about Dale – the album has elements of everything you guys have done individually in the past, but there’s something about the synthesis that kicks it up to an even more muscular level than your individual bands. Not better, it’s just such a perfect marriage.

It’s weird man, I know! I don’t think I’m being a conceited, fuckin’ self-absorbed person when I say that, although I am a pretty self-absorbed artist, most artists are, you know. But I agree. It’s there. It’s just there. It’s undeniable. The thing is, everybody in this band has sacrificed everything they have for their music, and given everything they had to their music. There’s not one person in that band that’s put out a shit record, or put out a record that they didn’t back 100%, ever, you know? Everyone has always done what the music demanded of them, and submitted to the sound, you know? And so as a result, when you give that much, when you put the things together like that, you get this result that’s really unique, and really special. And I honestly couldn’t be happier with it, and we’re working on new material now. We’re gonna play new material when we hit the road.

Tell me a little bit about the thematics. There’s this theme of construction and structure in both the band name, and in song titles like “Pyramid of the Moon” and “The Architect.” What are you guys building?

I think we’re just laying more bricks on the foundation that has been laid previously. And I think that our other projects have probably put a few bricks in there as well. But it’s really an homage to sound, to music, and to its infinite wisdom, you know? The power of it. The religion that is sound. The electric church. All of that. I think that that’s been our lives. Now that’s my interpretation. Most of the things you spoke of were straight from Al. If you’ve ever spent time with Al’s lyrics, you know that he constructs these tone poems of imagery and words that weave this unspeakable story. And that’s what it’s about as well. There’s a large part of what we’re doing that’s not something you can put into words, and it’s not supposed to be, not intended to be.

You’ve talked in previous interviews about a psychic space that you reach with Neurosis, and also that you have to be in before you play with Neurosis. Is there a similar sense of place when you’re playing with Shrinebuilder?

Yes, but…if you want to know something about Neurosis I can tell ya. Anything. We’ve been there for the entire time and we’ve performed, you know, 3000 gigs and released multiple albums and all that. That’s an experience that I have deep. The Shrinebuilder experience is yet to be told in many ways. So we’ll see. I’ve wondered what it’s gonna be like live. Am I going to be in the same sort of trance that I’m in with Neurosis, or is it going to be something different? I’m expecting something different. I think the sum total of the lives that we’ve spent together in Neurosis has everything to do with the experience that comes through us when we’re performing. And although Al and I have a lot of shared life experience, Dale and Wino and I don’t have as much of that. I’ve known Dale for a long time, but we’ve never really been on the road together, we’ve never performed together. He has a whole different deal, you know? That’s a whole different animal.

So you have to wait and see what it feels like.

Yeah. I can tell you that the songs definitely take me somewhere. But there’s definitely that feeling of less – I don’t know if you’d call it baggage – there’s a newness to it that’s pretty significant, and that I’m totally looking forward to. We’ll see! I don’t know.

While you were liveblogging during the recording sessions, you wrote that you emerged from the sessions a better person. What do you mean by that?

Did I?

You did! It was probably pretty early in the morning.

Yeah, quite possibly. I think that’s true, man. Anytime you get to experience something that significant in your life it’s going to make a huge difference. I think the chemistry that we had, and realizing the possibilities, and kinda looking forward was pretty significant to me. Yeah. I’m a better person for knowing those guys, honestly.

You wrote also that “plans have already been enacted towards the next move (you wouldn’t believe it if I told you).” Can you please shed some light on what you’re talking about?

No. Yeah…no. Not happening. Not yet. Not until it’s set.

Does it involve tour plans, or recording, or both?

Ah, you’ll just have to see. I dunno man, it’s nothing I would want to say, and I probably should never have said anything about it.

Each of you has such a strong personal style, but the album feels perfectly balanced. Do you have some idea of how you guys achieved the “more than the sum of its parts” scenario instead of what could have been a compromise, or a watered down record?

No, it’s kind of one of those things that I never try to think about too much, because it’s always existed inside Neurosis as well. There’s always something else there, you know? So I just accept that as being whatever the force that drives everything is. I was wondering if it was going to be there, and it was. You know, I didn’t really doubt it. Knowing the guys as I do…I think everyone in the band is aware of that. That there’s always this thing in play, whatever it is. I’m sure people have names for it, but I choose not to put a name on it just ‘cuz – again, it’s kinda beyond words. It’s the sum total of the parts, or whatever the fuck that is. Who the hell knows? Who knows? It could have been anything, I have no idea. But I agree that it’s there. And I was really, really pleased to find it again. It’s a good feeling.

You were next door to the Museum of Death when you practiced and recorded. Did you ever go inside there?

No, I was kinda bummed about that honestly. I didn’t go in there, no. I have no need. I don’t have the desire. I have enough of the real thing in my life. I don’t need to go see the museum exhibit. Maybe when I was 16, but not now. I don’t need to be around shit like that. I thought it was funny and everything…but I don’t want to go down that road anymore. I thought the (sign in the parking lot) “death parking only” was kinda funny.

I’ve been in there once, and it both is exactly what you’d expect but also not what you’d expect. The proprietors have a healthy sense of humor about life and death itself but they’re not just doing it as a joke.

Yeah, maybe I’ll look at it some time. You know I enjoy BodyWorks…I’ve been to see that three times. That stuff fascinates me. But if it’s anything like the movies, Faces of Death shit like that, or just weird ways that people go…I’m aware of a lot of those weird ways. You can pretty much go damn near any way possible.

Okay, well that takes care of my next five questions!



Wino relaxing during the Shrinebuilder sessions

You’re on tour with Clutch right now, right?

Yes we are. Yup!

And how’s the tour gone so far?

Well we’ve only played one show, so…last night was a kind of break-in-the-gear, see-what’s-gonna-happen type show. It was great! Lot of people here to see us, and then the Clutch fans are phenomenal, as usual.

Are you doing mostly stuff from your solo album Punctuated Equilibrium?

We’re doing a little bit of everything. We’re doing Punctuated Equilibrium, we’re doing some old Obsessed stuff. Basically between those two, Punctuated and old Obsessed stuff. We played a Spirit Caravan song too.

Oh fantastic. Looking through the entire back catalog. Tell me, how did recording with Shrinebuilder contrast with recording with The Obsessed, Spirit Caravan, Hidden Hand, etc?

Well, the Shrinebuilder recording was definitely a little bit by the seat of your pants. Because we didn’t really – we put it together, but everybody’s schedules were really busy. So basically what we did was we started sending around musical ideas by the internet, and then I came up with the concrete idea at what point of actually going to a recording studio, and laying down a few guitar tracks with the bass drum kick and I – I think I mailed out a CD to the guys and we did it that way for a bit. And we started getting together, not all together but in little pieces. Me and Al and Dale got together, then Al and Dale get together, then Al and Scott get together, Me and Al and Scott got together which was like the three guitar players, we worked out all the arrangements, but then we’d still never played all together.

So we’re slated to record Friday, Saturday and Sunday. So on Thursday night, Scott flew in real late, we went to a rehearsal space and we all played together as a unit. So we only all played together one night before recording. We had it done, but in the studio, it was totally professional. Everything went flawlessly. We had all our ideas worked out, arrangements worked out. We talked about it a little bit, we played through each tune before we did it, and then we just went ahead and did it. And it was one of those things where it’s just kind of magical, actually.

Each of you is iconic in your own right. Was it at all difficult to manage those four strong musical personalities, or did it all just come together?

Nobody tried to manage it, that’s the thing. There was no management – everybody had something to do, so we were basically left to our own designs, which was totally cool. We all get along great, and it ended up being really good.

Everyone sings, you can hear bits of each of your signature styles, but nobody really dominates, either. Was there a conscious effort to keep the songwriting and recording collaborative, or did that just happen naturally?

Basically, everybody brought musical ideas to the table. The musical ideas that Scott brought to the table – he sings on all his ideas, right? The stuff that I brought to the table, I had some lyrics finished but not all, because lyrics for me are one of the hardest things to write. Lyrics for a song might take me – I might have it all in one night, or it might take me a month to finish it. So basically Scott and Al are both really proficient, lyrically. I mean Al’s got a kind of stream-of-consciousness thing going. And what happened was, I brought a bunch of musical ideas to the table, but not that much lyrics. So that allowed Al and Scott to fill in the holes.

I remember at one point – there’s a lot of serendipity going on, there really was. I dunno what we were channeling, but there’s a lot of that going on. I remember distinctly there was one night, where I brought the first half of “Pyramid of the Moon” to the table. And then I was having trouble with the lyrics, and I remember that very minute, Kelly called me and said “Man you know, I’d really like to write lyrics to ‘Pyramid of the Moon,’ do you mind?” and I was like “No, I don’t mind at all.’” And it just worked out really weird that way.

It’s like you have that psychic connection.

Sort of.

I sorta hear that in the record itself, also. You can hear everybody individually, but it sounds like so much more.

Everybody’s contributing. Al and Dale, especially, they did that chanting thing you know? And that was really amazing. That came together totally off the cuff. And that was just mind-blowing, really.

How did (producer) Toshi Kasai add to the sessions?

Well, he’s just a good engineer. Plus he’s a musician. So he’s able to take our musical ideas and translate them, you know? He’s Japanese, and we were having a good time – there was a little bit of a language thing but not much. At one point in time I asked Dale – Dale finished his drum tracks, we did drum tracks first. So once we got good tracks from Dale, he didn’t have anything to do. So he sat next to Toshi and started making some production comments, you know? Which was actually really great. He was with him for the vocal tracks, and asking for more, pushing for more than what he was hearing. It was really cool, man. He sorta acted like a producer if you will. But it worked out really well actually.

Dale Crover (left) and Toshi Kasai at the mixing board

He helped mix some of it after the fact, too, right?

Yeah, definitely. He was very proactive all the way around.

To my ears, “Blind For All to See” is the sexiest shit any of you have ever recorded. Was that song fully mapped out or did it just evolve from a jam?

It was mapped out, but then…one thing I forgot to tell you is that, when all was said and done after that one weekend, I felt like it needed some more stuff. I felt it needed to be fleshed out a little bit, there should be a few more heavy rhythms on there. So basically I had to fly over to Baltimore, and J. Robbins from Jawbox has a studio in Baltimore. And I went in, laid down a couple more fat rhythms on everything, and that’s when I did the acoustic guitar on “Blind For All to See,” and I did some more e-bow, I did a slide thing there. So basically I did as much as I could over the weekend, whatever else I needed to do I did when I went to Baltimore. The acoustic thing was added, that one chord, you know? I did it on the head of each phrase, I did the slide thing, and I added a couple riffs. The heavier stuff. Kinda fatten it up some, you know?

The promo that I have deliberately left off “Science of Anger.” Can you tell me anything about that track?

Well all I can tell you is that I brought the music and title to the table, and some of the words. Kelly finished off the second half of the lyrics. It’s been kind of…heh…a rough year for me as far as my domestic situation goes, and it was something I was feeling at the time.

What does it sound like?

Angry. It’s a cool song, man. It’s definitely got some…Scott Kelly sings the second half, we actually trade vocals in there. We trade off, which is really cool. At first we wondered whether it was going to work or not. But heh…it’s sorta like the first guy comes in and kneecaps everybody, and then the second guy comes in and bludgeons everybody.

It’s perfect! It’s like you’re two Italian mafia henchmen.

Exactly. It worked out really well. It was cool. I was pretty amazed by the way everything gelled. I mean, Dale famously said, “it was like an experiment that actually worked.”

It’s so true! How many supergroups have you heard about way in advance, and then been extremely disappointed by the results? But this is not one of them. I fall in love with Shrinebuilder every time I listen to it.

Well that’s cool man, I’m very happy. I’m glad it’s getting the response it has, and I’m really glad that people are digging it. The most important thing for me is that people get something out of the music. When I listen to that record, it defies the boundaries for me, you know? I hear all of our forefathers in there, like I hear Pink Floyd, I hear a lil’ Sabbath, but you can really tell that it’s us, but you can also hear our influences a lil’ bit. You know? That’s the way it should be, I think. Being original, but still holding the elements.

You know it’s funny, I talked to Scott right before I spoke with you, and he said that while he’s really happy when people respond to his music, it’s more important to him that he is moved by his own music.

I’m the same way, but it’s kinda like the other way around. It’s more important that – I don’t know, it’s a hard line to define. My philosophy, like I’ve always said, is that I was given a gift, and I believe it’s kinda like my duty to share that for people’s wellbeing, you know? And that includes mine, for sure.

That’s a good way of putting it. Do you have any stories from the studio that you can share?

It was a quick three days. It wasn’t like a tour or anything, so nothing really too crazy happened. When Al and Dale did the chanting thing, that was fucking really intense. I remember they did a couple tracks, and it sounded really good. Then they did a couple more tracks, and more tracks and more tracks, and I was like ‘WOW.” By the end of the day – I didn’t start any of my tracks until late in the day on Sunday. Scott had to leave, So Dale did his stuff, Scott did his stuff, Al punched in his stuff and the very last person to go was me. So I basically sat around in the studio for two and a half days, I re-strung every guitar in the place, went back ‘n forth to the store four million times, you know it was just that way. But that’s the way it worked out, you know? That’s the way it is. It ended up being really great. I was totally happy.

You’ve just announced a few live dates so far. What can we expect from you guys in the near future?

We’re gonna play these last shows, then we’re gonna play Roadburn in Holland, then we’re gonna do a European tour, then I think we’re gonna do a bunch of shows in the US, too. So we’re definitely gonna tour, and then allowing everybody’s schedule, we should be able to hit quite a few cities. So I think people should come out and see us in the flesh, man.



RacerX said...

Thanks so much for a glimpse into the creative process behind Shrinebuilder! A lot of that might not have come outta the interviews if you hadn't asked the right questions.

Kelly & Weinrich's insightful answers nailed what makes Shrinebuilder so special - for such a talented group of musicians, there seems to have been very little ego involved, and because of that, the music lives & breathes.

Don't stop there, though - get crackin' on the Cisneros/Crover interviews!

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed the interviews and your distillation of the essences in the Decibel piece.