Maryland seems to be a hotbed of musical volcanic activity over the last few years. Obviously, Clutch have been belting it out for two-plus decades now, but in and around them there are other great bands following right on their heels. Borracho come to mind, recently making their stamp on the great Baltimore/D.C. area. But for the last 10 years or so, Lionize have been blazing a path of their own with their hard rock and reggae style first shown to me by Bad Brains some 30-plus years ago. I’d say they have become the next ambassadors of those elements I just mentioned.
With their new record, Jetpack Soundtrack, released Feb. 18 through Weathermaker Music, Lionize have been heavily touring since the start of 2014. The band consists of vocalist/guitarist Nate Bergman, vocalist/bassist Henry Upton, and vocalist/keyboardist Chris Brooks. I recently chatted with Brooks on their Lewis and Clark-like expedition of the West to discuss Jetpack Soundtrack, touring and more.
So, are you driving right now?
Yeah, we are about an hour from Avon, Colorado.
You guys have been hitting it pretty hard this year so far, huh?
Yes, we have since the turn of the year pretty much. We’ve been out since the 10th of January until February 15th or 17th. Yet we got a little haul here.
Damn. Well, welcome to the Weathermaker family. The motto is tour, tour, tour, so…
Yeah, exactly. I think that’s why they feel comfortable branching out with our stuff. We kinda have the same general mantra. Get out and tour, try to make some money.
I was gonna touch on all that, but I figured we’d get to that in a bit. So, Jetpack Soundtrack is an interesting name for a record. Where did that come from?
Well, we had a hard time naming the record. We went a long time with the record recorded having no name. Jetpack Soundtrack was one of the first things that we actually came up with while we were recording. One of the songs is about strapping on a jetpack and flying away. It kinda stuck because we wanna be a little, you know, arrogant, and say this is kinda the future of music, where things are going. The whole thing is this futuristic theme. Lyrically, it’s all, whether it be doomsday scenarios or having a jetpack or whatever, kinda like what the future might be like. The idea is this is how things will sound in the future conceptually.
I’ve only had a little bit of time with the record, but on first impressions, I find it fitting because the album definitely has an assertiveness to it. I’d think I’d almost say brash.
Yeah, I’d say we wanted to accelerate a little bit. We’ve been listening to a lot of Deep Purple and admittedly Earth Rocker [Clutch] and just kinda felt like making a record that was fun and pay a lot of attention to our song forms and where things go; the thing is listenable and each section that happens, happens for a reason, and that’s the most exciting thing that can happen.
That’s a big part of what Machine does. Machine is the kind of producer that, if he is in the audience, and if a part doesn’t make him want to jump up and freak out, then it’s probably not the best part for the song. He has a really high mark for how exciting he wants things to be. If a bridge doesn’t make the last chorus the most exciting thing you’ve ever heard, than it’s the wrong bridge for the song, you know?
I was going to ask since I don’t know many particulars about the record, where you did it and who you did it with, but you just answered that. That makes a lot of sense now. If there’s one thing I’ve noticed about Machine’s work with Clutch on Blast Tyrant and Earth Rocker, he kinda makes things a lot more sleek, and high propelled I guess is a good way to put it.
Well, this record is co-produced by Jean Paul [Gaster] and Machine.
Oh, that makes even more sense.
Yeah, a lot of the ideas for the songs are coming from… We would jam at our practice room and come up with stuff, then go over to JP’s studio and play what we had and lay it down and listen back, and then get really deep into discussion about what these parts are, where they’re going, how they fit together, what would be better.
So we really did like, what I would say five to six rounds of pre-production on each song. Every song on that record started out as something completely different, with a different idea, and was honed into that structure by us and Jean Paul before we even go into the studio. And then we’d do one final round of really intense pre-production with Machine, where we would really do and dissect the tune again and decide what these things are about, what the best ideas are. Then we would just go in and lay down the tracks.
I know a lot of bands will go do pre-production with a producer of the whole record, then go into the studio and then go to the studio and record it piece by piece. I think this method, I don’t know who came up with it—probably Machine—it kept things fresh though. Right after we would finish arranging the songs for the final time and all our ideas we were excited about, we didn’t have any time to sit with it. It was just like, boom, then we’re recording it. So I think it has a live feel to a lot of the rhythm parts that way.
Did drummer Mel Randolph do this record?
Yeah, that was the very last thing he did with us was track the record. He has some personal stuff going on in his life that he wasn’t able to continue with us on the road and bowed out of touring. So now we’re working with Chase Lapp, who you might be familiar with. [Chase was Gaster’s drum tech for several years.]
It’s funny, when I found out that Chase was playing, I thought, “Wow, how perfect is that?” He’s a great drummer and you guys all know each other so well.
Yeah, it’s a pretty natural evolution.
Speaking of that, something I wanted to tap into is, now that you are on Weathermaker for this record, it must be an interesting comfort to be involved with them. You guys all know each other so well it seems to me there isn’t the weight of dealing with a label and the obligations and responsibilities that come with that. It must be kind of liberating to work with them on this.
Yeah, I think there is no chance they are going to take advantage of us or treat us unfairly, which is something we’ve had to deal with in the past. Working with labels and managers, a lot of people only see you for the money you make them. Instead of trying to grow you, they are looking for the money you make them in the moment.
They don’t really have anything to gain from us where we’re at frankly. They are clearly after growth; they want to help us grow. I think they see we are a hard-working outfit. We’ve been together for 10 years now and we’ve all known each other for the better part of that and where we’re from and all. I would hope they see a little bit of themselves in us as a hard-working band, and we need the chance to grow. We’ve had tough spots in the past, where we thought we were in a position to grow, either in a fanbase sense or musical sense, financial sense, and we’d be stuck in whatever thing we did where people could take advantage of us, or people decide they no longer want to continue to invest in us or whatever.
That seems to be the thing now. A lot of us came up with the background of how bands were developed, given the opportunity to mature in their own time. It seems that is gone now. With these guys, we all know the problems they had with major labels, which led to them starting their own label so they could do things that develop themselves as an entity, their own way, and in their own time. And it seems to be working pretty well. So much so they are extending that opportunity to you guys, which is a really cool thing.
Yeah, it’s a huge pleasure. Such a relief to not have to worry about that stuff. I mean, these guys know what it’s like to be working-class musicians, and that’s been the path we’ve been on for a while. Even the last record [Superczar And The Vulture] we released with Pentimento Music, Streetlight Manifesto’s label, we really don’t want to work with industry people or music business people so much, but artists. That was the thing that enticed us with Pentimento. It’s just a label run by other artists who are friends that would stick our record out there and not hassle us so much about money and percentages so much.
You mentioned Deep Purple earlier. Sadly, we lost John Lord about two years ago. How would you consider him an influence on you?
I came up in a real traditional background. I came up learning classical piano in my youth, got into jazz… This is really the first rock band I’ve ever been in. I didn’t honestly find Deep Purple for a long time; I’ve just recently really gotten into it. Now it’s huge. The way I’m running my rig, I don’t know any other organ players like John Lord who runs the same kind of rig I do now. I took a lot from him.
Have you changed your rig recently, or over these last few tours?
Oh yeah, I change my rig constantly. I’ve been playing a Hammond M3 for a while now. I was playing through a Rotosphere, which is kind of a traditional sounding rototone. It’s like for a guitar amp, trying to go for as traditional of a Hammond sound as I could.
When we went to make this record, we sorta went crazy with pedals, distortion pedals, different ways of triggering the rotary effects, and after that, I sort of retooled my rig. Now, I’m running a bunch of guitar pedals and a Rotovibe, which is a rotary effect that’s on a wah type of pedal thing, so I have total control on where it is at all times and how fast it’s going up and down. It’s changed a lot of how I play and the way my rig sounds. A lot of the stuff that double the guitar parts I’m able to sound a lot more like a doubled guitar, but I still have the ability to clean it up and get a pretty traditional sound out of it. I’m trying to develop my own tones and things, so you can listen to it and say, “Oh, that’s Chris.”
Do you ever use a Clavinet?
I have in the past. I don’t own a real Clavinet. I only use the organ on this new record, but I love the Clav. All that Herbie Hancock stuff in the ’70s, he used a Clav. I love that stuff.
So is Jetpack Soundtrack going to be available on vinyl?
Oh yeah, definitely vinyl all the way. We’re really stoked, we’ve never printed vinyl before. You can go right to lionizemusic.com and order it, or the CD, digital downloads, etc.
Alright, well you guys have fun and be safe out there. Have a great show tonight. Thanks for talking and all. Hope to see you up this way soon.
I know we’re trying to work out a few weekends in March. We’re planning on going up to your region, so I think we’ll get that all together. But yeah, pleasure talking, Steve. Take care…
Lionize will be appearing on My Show Live with Kingsnake on March 13 at The Living Room in Stroudsburg, PA. There will be a limited amount of tickets for the video/recording shoot if you want to see them up close and personal. Ticket and show info at facebook.com/itsmyshow and shermantheater.com. For more on Lionize, go to lionizemusic.com.