East Of The Wall remains one of the most sonically engaging metal acts around today. The South Jersey-based collective, who author a befuddling dichotomy of visceral, pummeling sludge metal and discerning progressive rock meanderings, are among the most prolific of their ilk. Always looking forward, they release a new full-length just about every year, constantly redefining their sound and reaffirming their place of reverence among critics and contemporaries alike.
With a tour coming up and studio time booked for their next album, the band released the single “I’m Always Fighting Drago” in February. All proceeds from the song will go towards rebuilding Translator Audio studios. The Brooklyn studio, run by producer/engineer Andrew Schneider (who recorded the band’s last effort, The Apologist), was devastated by rapid flooding during Hurricane Sandy. When thousands of gallons of water rushed through the studio this past October, over 20 years of gear went with it.
Bassist/vocalist Chris Alfano took a few minutes out of a work day to talk about Translator Audio, the vinyl reissue of East Of The Wall’s first full-length, to clear up the band’s convoluted lineup situation and talk about the new East Of The Wall record coming this October.
East Of The Wall are so prolific when it comes to putting out new material every year, so why is it that you are releasing your first record, Farmer’s Almanac, now on vinyl?
Usually with vinyl and stuff like that it’s not a matter of us deciding when we want to do it and more just taking whatever opportunity we can to put it out. Vinyl is more expensive to put out. It’s more niche—I guess eventually it’ll be more popular than CDs as things keep moving digital—but still it always seems like a gamble. You see these vinyl labels popping up and then disappearing. For our next record we’re still not 100 percent sure who’s putting out the vinyl, or if it will even be put out on vinyl. So [for] Farmer’s Almanac, we had an opportunity to put it out on vinyl and we grabbed it.
So a vinyl distributor or label came and said they would pay for it?
Yeah. It’s actually Kevin Conway, our old guitarist, the label that he has with Greg [Meisenberg] from A Fucking Elephant, Nefarious Industries. In, at least our experience, when someone wants to put out your vinyl, it’s really because they’re a fan of a certain thing. It’s not so much because it’s a good business investment, but they want to put it out.
For Kevin, that was his first record that he ever [played on] and released. For Greg, it’s his favorite record of ours and yet it was never on vinyl before. They have a sentimental attachment to it and it just worked out.
I’m glad you mentioned former guitarist Kevin Conway. We did an interview last spring and he was trying to give me the lowdown on the lineup, but now that he’s out of the band, could you tell what the deal is?
So compared to the last two records, the change is that Kevin and Brett [Bamberger, bass] are out of the band now. Kevin actually had quit the band a little while ago. In fact, when we did our last tour, last March with Black Tusk, he had already given us notice that it was going to be his last tour with the band. The guy who replaced him was Ray Suhy, who previously was our touring guitarist. [Guitarist/vocalist] Matt Lupo doesn’t tour with the band. He just writes with us at home and plays local shows. When we go on tour, we usually find a guy to play his guitar parts. So Ray is the guy who plays Matt’s guitar parts on tour. When Kevin left, Ray took his position.
Ray is from Maine or something, right?
Yeah, it’s kind of a weird situation we’re in actually. Often when we’re rehearsing, it’s without him. We’ll do a lot of file trading. He’ll come down like once a month and we’ll do these long sessions, where we’ll try and write as much as we can when he’s down.
So we still have to find someone to play Matt Lupo’s parts on tour. On this coming tour, Carmine [Laietta V.] from the band Hull is going to be on tour with us. Sometimes we’ll still go as a four-piece. We’re talking about doing a European tour towards the end of the year and we’ll probably do that as a four-piece, just for financial reasons.
So who plays your guitar parts live now that you’ve moved to bass?
I moved to bass and we’ve got a new guitar player who is also doing the melodic vocals now. That was a criteria that we were looking for. Ray replaced Kevin, but Ray isn’t a vocalist. There was a time when Ray joined, but before Brett left, where we actually had no idea how we would handle the vocals for the next record. We figured we’d do what we always do and figure it out. But when Brett left, we decided to find someone—either a guitarist or bassist—and there was Greg Kuter, who was in some bands that played with us and we always knew he was one of the best vocalists we knew and a really good guitar player. We recruited him.
And I started out on bass, so I’ve always kind of been more comfortable on bass than on guitar.
Was it a foregone conclusion that you would move to bass when Brett left to join Revocation?
Not really. We were looking for either a guitarist or a bassist who could also sing. However, it’s much easier to find a good guitarist than it is to find a good bassist, as I’m sure you know. And I kind of prefer bass to guitar anyway.
Brett’s bass parts are pretty involved; are you planning on playing them true the way he did live or will you take some liberties?
Yeah, [I’ll play Brett’s parts]. Brett usually didn’t play to the height of his abilities in this band. The only song of his that I’m not sure I can play is “Whisp Of Tow” because I never really focused on tapping. I’m sure I can figure it out eventually. The ethos of the band was always that we’re not trying to be a hyper-technical band. Most of the time, Brett’s bass parts were written more from a songwriting point of view than a technical point of view. Most of the stuff wasn’t too bad to figure out. There are one or two songs that I’m not sure about. But besides that, everything on The Apologist is fine.
Why was it important to you guys to release that song “I’m Always Fighting Dragon” as a benefit for Translator Audio?
It kind of served two functions. The biggest was that we wanted to try and do something for the studio. It was [not] just that the studio was destroyed; it’s that his brand new studio was destroyed. It wasn’t technically the same studio we recorded The Apologist at. Really the studio is wherever Andrew Schneider and his gear is. Andrew had just moved his location to a new spot [in Brooklyn] and he had shut down his studio for a few months so he could build this new location.
He went into it with a couple people, like John [LaMacchia] from Candiria and a couple others. It was this facility where it was, sort of, two recording studios. They shared a live room, but they each had their own isolation booths. Then it was also a rehearsal spot for a bunch of studios—kind of similar to Backroom Studios up in North Jersey.
All those guys spent months building this brand new spot. It was brand new, it was pristine. They just had their grand opening party and three weeks later it was destroyed. And, it wasn’t even—a lot of people in Jersey had some horrible stuff happen to them, but it was flooding, obviously there were some coast areas that were destroyed—but because of the layout of that area of Brooklyn, they didn’t just have flooding, they had rushing water flying through. If you look at the photos, it wasn’t like your average flood, the water came rushing through the place and tore doors off hinges and completely trashed the spot.
We wanted to try and do something, but we’re not a big enough band where we can play a benefit show and get him thousands of dollars, but then we got talking about how it might be cool to put out a new song anyway. We put two and two together and said, “Let’s make a single out of it and sell it and have the proceeds go to Translator Audio.” We might do another push with that. We might tie it together with Matt’s solo record or one of our old records and do another promo push to get more money going back towards Andrew.
Did you write many of the bass parts on the forthcoming East Of The Wall album?
This is that last one we wrote with Brett. A lot of the basslines Brett wrote, but we only had like two quick sessions. He wrote the foundation for what a lot of the basslines were going to be. Then I went in and embellished them a little bit. Most of the songs on this record were written with me on guitar. Then I had to go teach my guitar parts to Greg after he joined the band, learn the basslines the Brett had written and write basslines to the songs Brett was not involved with.
Well, the bass part in “Drago” really drives that song. Whether it was written by you or by Brett, it is really cool.
There’ve been a couple changes with the band over the years obviously, but we still try to keep the core idea of what the band is, with bass being a featured instrument. The type of bass tone is something that we try to keep as one of the defining characteristics of the band. There’s certain defining characteristics that go into that, like using tube heads, a specific type of distortion, even the way it’s picked—hard picking on the bridge pickup. Brett and I were playing in bands together since 1996, and I’ve been his engineer the whole time. I know what goes into his bass tone. A lot of it, he developed and I knew what he was doing when he did it. I tried to make sure that the legacy of what the bass was in the band is still being respected.
Who does the clean vocals on “Drago?”
That’s our new guitarist Greg. That’s the main thing that drew us to him in the first place; he’s [maybe] the best clean vocalist we’ve ever worked with. There are some songs on the new record where he does even more vocals than me. We’ve had melodic vocals for the last two records, but we’re going to focus a bit more on some of that stuff. That might be a slight change on the next record. It doesn’t affect the music… we’re not doing four-minute pop songs. Musically the process is still the same, we’re not restructuring the songs, but I am honestly thankful that I’m doing a little less screaming on some songs. It’s more of a 50/50 balance so far between the screaming and the melodic vocals.
Greg actually doesn’t come from a metal background. He had played in rock bands and folk bands back in the day. His bands had some proggy influences, but he’d really never played metal before.
When will the new record come out?
We have a definite release date for October unless something changes. We already have studio time booked. We’re going to Trax East at the end of May to do drums. Then we’re going up to a studio in Maine to do guitars and vocals. I’m not sure where I’m going to do my bass. I’m going to track bass along with the drums. If we have time to do punches and fixes, I’ll keep those bass parts. Otherwise, I’ll record bass in Maine. We go back to Trax East to mix in July. The album will be out in October.
Anything you want to add?
We’re going on tour in April. The dates are up on our website and Facebook. The main this is to pick up the single because it goes to Translator Audio and every dollar that they get is a big deal when most of your gear is destroyed. Andrew has been working out of other studios now. Fortunately he’s known enough that people are seeking him out and having him record by them. He was just on-location in London. We probably would have gone back and done our next record with him if he had a studio in the area.
Keep an eye out because we’ll be doing another push for that single for anyone who wants to chip in and support that.
East Of The Wall will play at the Brighton Bar on April 12, The Studio At Webster Hall on April 13, and Kung Fu Necktie in Philly on April 14. For more information or to buy “I’m Always Fighting Drago” and support Translator Audio’s effort to rebuild, go to eastofthewall.com.