Monday, November 8, 2010
Interview with The Memorials
(Video for "Westcoast")
In October of 2009, drummer Thomas Pridgen exited Grammy Award winning band the Mars Volta. With nowhere else to go, he turned to two friends from his days at Berklee College of Music, guitarist Nick Brewer and vocalist Viveca Hawkins. By December, Thomas had his new band formed, calling themselves the Memorials. I recently got to conduct an interview with them about their upcoming self-titled record, their creative process, side-projects, and future touring plans.
1. Hi, how is everyone doing? I'd like to start off by saying that the songs you have up are great so far and they show a lot of varied influences. I wanted to ask what you've all been listening to lately and how that affects the writing process? Where are you all drawing inspiration from for the Memorials?
Nick - I've recently been listening to some David Bowie (Changes, Ziggy). I just love his writing. It's all very dramatic. I guess I like to write from the same perspective whereas the music is exciting with hills and valleys. I tend to gravitate towards music that sounds like a soundtrack. It enhances my everyday experiences.
Viveca - I listened to a lot of Lamb of God, Marylin Manson, Led Zeppelin, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Funkadelic, Jimi Hendrix, Betty Davis, the Foo Fighters, Foxy Shazam, etc. I drew mostly from within. I tried my best to stay as original as possible.
Thomas - I’ve been listening to afro beat music like Fela Kuti, people like the Venetian Snares and Squarepusher, but I also listen to lots of funk stuff and some early prog rock stuff, metal stuff. I kinda listen to anything good anything with live music right now, not much rap in my iPod at this point.
We honestly drew inspiration from all the things that we affect us at the time of making this record. I just parted ways with The Mars Volta, it was totally a fucked up situation. I also had a girl that I was with for three years leave me in the middle of making this record. I was pissed, happy, sad, drunk, excited, confused, crying at times, tired, stressed, bummed about being owed money... I was a wreck. A musician that we all loved also died while making this record so it was a total crazy time for us. I would've lost it if I didn't make this record.
2. What do you suppose each member brings to the creative process and how is it different than working with other bands, specifically for Thomas coming from the sort of dictatorship of The Mars Volta?
Nick - Well I believe each of us brings a totally different influence. Thomas brings a lot of raw energy, heart, and rhythm. Viveca brings soul and a lot of blues to each song, and I bring a chordal balance and visuals to the sound. We work collectively on the music so that the finished product is pretty much all of our influences, feel, and thoughts.
Viveca - Working for someone else is always work. I have worked with a lot of different artists over the years and finally having my own thing makes me feel really free and strong willed at the same time. Thomas is an amazing producer and never having worked with him or Nick before made it like one surprise after another. They made such a beautiful palate for me to paint with. Nick once told me, "I sing the notes he wants to hear." And he absolutely plays the notes I want to hear! Thomas is the only drummer I ever really wanted to play with. He told me he would play for me before Keyshia [Cole] and The Mars Volta... so I waited. I’m so glad I did. I am the voice. I am the face. I am the heart. They are the brains.
Thomas - Well, I was the dictator this time. I totally learned a lot from The Mars Volta. Nick came in open to my wild ideas which was great. He had a ton of stuff that was also super wild that he threw at me. Also we really work in a seamless type of way where we're almost as one in the studio. And Viv, I just enjoyed watching her open up. She's never sung this type of stuff much less over beats that are odd time signatures. I thought it was great seeing her write about things that I threw at her and watching her yell. It was kinda cool. I felt like she threw herself into a sound and a vibe that's totally unique and honest. We're watching each other grow daily.
3. Speaking of the Volta, Thomas, could you elaborate a little bit on your exit from that band? It seems that the full story has never quite come out as to what happened on the actual day you left the band before the show in Raleigh, North Carolina. What happened on that day?
Thomas - My dad's from North Carolina and he was coming to the show. I totally wanted to play that day, my drums were set up and everything. I'm honestly not trying to speak on those dudes, but Omar's cool. I still talk to him, I got a lot of love for that dude, he showed me a lot and he's not responsible for the actions of his partner Cedric. He knows where I'm from and who my homies are. He knows he owes me a shit load of bread so he filed a restraining order on me instead of just paying me and giving me the credits that I deserve. It's fucking sad. I thought The Mars Volta was a family, but I guess when the smoke cleared it was a two member duo... I chalked it up though. I treated that band like money didn't matter so I'm sticking to that and just doing my own thing. They can't stop me at all.
4. Back to the Memorials, the first song to come out was a cover of Black Hole Sun by Soundgarden, followed by a cover of 1979 by the Smashing Pumpkins. Those are somewhat odd choices of songs to cover, but I think you do them very well. When did you decide to do those covers and why those songs specifically?
(Video for "Black Hole Sun")
Nick - I'm a huge Soundgarden fan. I've always wanted to be Kim Thayill so it was natural to me to cover Black Hole Sun. Haven't heard anyone try to do it before, and sonically and lyrically that song captures the excitement I have for music. 1979 was one of the first riffs I learned on the guitar so it was fun to play it with Thomas and Viv.
Viveca - Thomas picked Black Hole Sun. He said it would be cool. I didn’t even know the tune actually... and Nick always wanted to play 1979! He was born that year.
Thomas - We did those because I knew that people really wanted to hear the album and we didn't yet know how we were releasing the record, so those covers were more to hold over the fans and people who knew I was working on something. I've been very meticulous about how I've done things concerning this band. Videos, songs, release dates.
5. Nick and Thomas, you've worked together before on a band called Sabai. Could you both tell me a little bit about that band and what it was like then versus now?
Nick - Sabai was a lot of fun writing and recording. Only thing is we never played a show. The guy who fronted for the band didn't want to play a show. Whatever. I got to write some cool jams with Thomas, and we immediately developed a chemistry writing and hanging out. Which is pretty much the same for The Memorials now, except we murder live!
Thomas - Sabai was an all black metal band Nick and I had with a couple guys, BJ [Edwards] and Rory [Jackson]. We recorded a bunch, but never did a show and after a while I just left Boston, so we never really made anything of it. Now I'm super serious about this, Nick is too. I guess we got older and we know what we have together. I'mma marry you, Nick. (laughing)
6. Thomas, you've done a lot of work with a lot of bands. Could you elaborate on working with them, especially Christian Scott and Elixir On Mute? I'd also like to ask, are you still planning on touring with Elixir On Mute?
Thomas - Yeah, we're trying to plan some stuff. It's real hard because I'm so focused on the Memorials project. Everyone sees it and kinda just lets me do my thing.
Now Christian, that's my boy. We talked about putting together a crazy all-star band so you'll totally see us working together again. I'd still be on the road with him if I could, I totally enjoyed playing with him.
7. Thomas, I also heard a rumor that you are working with Thomas Erak from The Fall of Troy. Any truth to that?
Thomas - Me and Erak are boys. We may do something in the future. He also has a new project, we might just go on tour together as bands. We've totally been talking about it, going out guerilla style.
8. Nick, I really admire the funky, somewhat vintage 1970's but still modern style of guitar you bring to the band. How did you come to develop that sound?
Nick - Thank you. The beginning of my love for music started with the 60's and 70's guitar players. I love Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix, and Mahavishnu Orchestra. Physical Graffiti, Electric Lady, and Inner Mounting Flame changed my life. However Dean Deleo, Stef Carpenter, Kim Thayil, Ryan Primack, and Adam Dutkiewicz also destroyed my face. Ha. I also have a huge love of jazz. I pull a lot from theory and harmony. I guess those influences together with a drive to create meaningful art and chaos mixed with a little whiskey, or a lot of whiskey, creates a basis for my sound.
9. Viveca, your voice is a beautiful addition to the band and I think what will hook a lot of people on the Memorials. How do you approach the Memorials vocally? It's a bit of a different sound than lot of bands and it seems like it might be hard to find ways to fit in so perfectly as you do.
Viveca - Thanks, Corey. Vocally it was a bit challenging having come from a mostly R&B/ soul background. I had to really step out. Stretch out mentally and try and forget about my fears of singing too hard. A voice teacher of mine once told me, "think less, sing more." So that was my approach. As far as me fitting into this equation, I feel like it was my destiny. I didn’t have to try really. I just wrote down and sang the songs like I heard them in my head with an occasional push from TP. "Come harder here, be darker with this, etc." Having recorded numerous songs with heavy background vocals in the past, he asked that I keep it to a minimum, but I may have gotten a little carried away at times. (laughing) I love vocal harmony. I love hearing my voice in layers. Thank God, or whoever the nerd is that made pro tools!
10. Finally, since this is for a Houston based website, I have to ask, will the Memorials be making it out to Texas any time soon?
Nick - Houston, Dallas, Austin, Fort Worth, El Paso can't wait to be on the hang with yall! Love the dirty! Thanks Corey.
Viveca - We have high hopes for a trip to Texas in the near future! Hopefully this article will help! Thanks for your time. Bless.
Thomas - Fuck yeah, I love Tejas. If I ever move from the Bay, I'm moving to Austin. Print that! I love the people out there and the bars. (laughing) Houston, Dallas, El Paso, San Antonio, Corpus... I'm trying to hit everywhere this next year so be on the look out.