Thursday, April 18, 2013

Exorcism Number Ten: Joe Keller

Hey everyone. Thanks for checking in. Today we have the awesome Joe Keller formerly of the Ergs and currently the bassist for Night Birds. He is a stand up dude and an INCREDIBLE musician. I was really excited to read this and I hope you are too.Thanks again for reading <3

 What was the first band you were in and what got you into music?
The first band I was in was called The Flatliners and it was with your dear husband, Jeff Schroeck.  I replaced the first bass player, Kyle.  I don't know what exactly got me into music, I guess it was an escape and a way to learn about taboo things in an age before the internet.

You have an incredibly strong work ethic when it comes to music but you don't make it seem like work when you play! Talk about this and about whether or not this has always been the case.

Thank you!  When I started playing music, all of the other guys I was playing with were already good – Jeff Schroeck,  Mike Yannich, Jeff's cousins, a couple other guys.  They were legit good in high school – not just good for kids, actually proficient.  So when I decided to play bass, I knew I had to get decent quickly if I was going to be able to hang.  That meant I had to do all of these drills and scales to get good enough to play with them.  I think it was just a habit that stuck.

 You are also an engineer. How do you balance these two (fairly) different aspects of your life. Do they facilitate each other?
They don't go together at all!  Somehow, over the years I have through mostly just dumb luck fallen into a situation where I can work as an engineer and do a band on a slightly-greater-than-just-a-hobby level.  Once I realized that the odds of being able to live off of being in a band were even slimmer than they had been in previous decades, I had to strike some sort of balance between the two instead of just pursuing one. 

When did you meet Mike and Jeff and how have your relationships changed over the years?

Oh man, this could be a whole book right here.  I’ll do the abridged version:  I met Mike first in freshman year of high school.  Mike, myself, and a bunch of other alterna-teens and nascent punks all sat at the same lunch table.  Mike's band, Visual Purple, was playing one of those god-awful Saturday matinees at Club Bene (later Club Krome, later an abandoned building) and I attended.  My first memorable interaction with Jeff was watching him play a set with Mike.  He had a dyed blonde skunk stripe in the middle of his hair and he was wearing hospital pants – he was tall even back then and was, despite his appearance, somehow very mature so I thought he was a senior in high school, but he was actually two grades below me.  Right after he hit the last note of the last song, he threw his guitar square into Mike's drums.  Mike then toppled over his remaining cymbals.  All of this was pretty standard operating procedure for high school bands at the time, but this was mere weeks after some poor kid had taken a cymbal to the head at Club Bene and subsequently died.  So, of course I thought Visual Purple was the coolest thing in the world even though they bummed the local skinheads out so much that they just sat on the edge of the stage for pretty much all of their set.

The Ergs years were obviously the tightest we all were – we all went through a lot in that band.  It was a very strong bond.  Unfortunately, when the band broke up, I took out a lot of my frustration on Jeff – I didn’t talk to him for about a year.  I had a lot of misplaced anger.  Thankfully, we have patched things up since then – even now, Jeff is the more mature one.  I still keep in touch with both of them although we don’t hang out at nearly the same level as we used to because that would mean we’d be  in extremely close quarters in a van 50% of our waking hours.  When we’re in the same room now, it only takes about 60 seconds before we lapse into the same gibberish in-joke we used to say all the time, though.

 Talk about the evolution of pre-Ergs to full-on Ergs and about your first experiences playing together.

The Flatliners morphed into a band that was Jeff, Mike, myself, and a drummer, Helen Destroy (who went on to drum for The Lunachicks and Lez Zeppelin).  Mike was on lead vocals and guitar.  Helen lived kind of far away so she couldn’t come to practice super often.  When she wasn’t around, the rest of us would fool around with songs in the Ergs configuration only with Jeff doing most of the lead vocals.  We were supposed to do a “reunion” show one night in Jersey City on New Year’s Eve 2001 and Helen couldn’t make it so we did 75% Off instead.  The night after, it was either Jeff or Mike, can’t remember who, who decided we should just do that as our main band.  We changed the name to The Ergs and went from there.

How has Night Birds changed over the course of a few years and do you have specific goals for what you want to accomplish?

It definitely feels like Night Birds 2.0 now with PJ and Ryan in the band instead of Mike and Coastman.  I like both eras though.  PJ and Mike are both such different guitar players with their own distinct style.  I don't think Night Birds would have ever been good at all if we didn't have Mike starting off – you know just as well as I do what that crazy weirdo brings to the table.  He was the first musician that really made me think about tone – from guitar tone to overall sound of a record.  PJ gave the band a whole new slant and I think it comes off in the recordings we did with him.

I didn't really have any expectations when Night Birds started – I guess I wanted to do something very different from The Ergs to see if I could.  The one goal I had as a musician was to tour Europe (well, that's a lie I also wanted to play on the Conan O'Brien show, but that dream is dead since he doesn't have the same show anymore) and I got to do that with Night Birds.  So everything now is pretty much gravy.

What was it like embarking on a new band after being in a very successful band? Did you feel like you had to start all over? Were you worried about people's expectations for your new project?

I hated it.  I freaked out the first 9 months or so after The Ergs ended.  It's silly to think this now but I thought I was done in terms of ever being in a band – like I was not fit or able to be in a band again.  I had some serious bass player inferiority complex going on.  I had been doing the Ergs for so long and so hard that stopping it just broke my brain.  A former member of Duke Ellington's band once famously said that after he stopped playing with Ellington, it felt like he “slept for a year.”  I definitely felt like that – I was drained from working a full time job and then playing shows on weeknights where I'd get back home at 2-3AM only to get up again at 6AM to go to work the next day, kinda like Steve Martin's character in “All of Me.” So I slept for a year, but after that it was sort of a blank slate situation and then I was kind of cleared of any worry over expectations.

But despite all of that, there are a lot of fun feelings being in a brand new band that I had completely forgotten since the beginning of The Ergs (my general rule after 2003 or so is one band at a time.)  For instance, when you start out, if you don't write a song every week, you will have nothing to do at that next practice.  So there's that urgency to write something – or playing a first show.  All that stuff was new again to me.

Looking back, it was definitely a good thing for all three of us, though.  I always like to draw parallels between personal romantic relationships and being in a band.  Since we started the Ergs when Jeff was still in high school, the band was like marrying your high school sweetheart right after the prom and never dating anyone else, if that makes any sense. You need to have a couple of relationships and make mistakes before you have a good long lasting one with someone.  Since we never broke up, none of us learned things about being in a band that one really only reflects on and considers after the band is done (I am speaking for Jeff and Mike here so I don't know if they agree.)  But myself personally, I know that as soon as I was in another band I realized how TERRIBLE of a show booker I was.  We were playing all of these awful shows at the very end of the band's career when we were supposedly this (relatively) big deal.


Where did you grow up and what is your family like? Have they always been supportive of your musical goals?

I grew up mostly in Old Bridge, NJ.  My parents were both public school teachers.  They have always been ok with my musical goals – although they really have no interest in the music itself, which is fine.  There was an era of The Ergs where we would practice at my folks' place.   I think they sort of looked at music as the thing that would keep me out of real trouble – I’m sure they were worried I would do drugs but they were pretty sure I wouldn’t steal anyone’s car if I was in the garage playing Kraftwerk covers.

What was your school experience like? What role if any did those experiences play in becoming a musician?

I know it's such a stereotypical thing to say, but I was a total nerd and was treated accordingly.  I think everyone should have a shitty time in high school though – I think the people who are on top of the social ladder in high school usually wind up the most screwed up later in life (although a lot of the time, those very same people on top were not having a great time either.)  You need the misery and humiliation of high school to prepare you for the real world.  So of course that sort of environment is what led me to hang out with similar weirdos such as Mike Yannich and listen to freak music like punk rock.

Any paranormal experiences?

I once slept in a cabin that formerly served as a hospital for Nazi soldiers in WWII but thankfully I was not accosted by SS ghosts.

HA. Thanks Joe. Check out Night Birds because they are one of the best bands.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Exorcism Number Nine: Marissa Paternoster

Hey! Its been almost a month since I last posted and for that I am SORRY. 

Today we have Ms. Marissa Paternoster: the singer and guitarist of Screaming Females and Noun fame...and also one of my favorite people. She is incredibly intelligent and naturally talented but also a super hard worker. Like...SUPER hard. Everything she creates is uniquely her own and instantly recognizable as hers. She is one of the only guitar players whose solos seem thoughtful and not fancy for the sake of being fancy. I could go on and on like a total psycho, or I guess you could just read this interview. ENJOY <3

from the "Awesome Girls in Bands" blog

What made you want to play the guitar?
I never really wanted to play the guitar.  I wanted to play the drums.  But I didn't have any, and my dad had a guitar.  He's a good guitar player, and I was sitting in my bedroom, listening to Nirvana, (of course) and my Dad said, "I can teach you how to play this".  So he did, and that was that.

How did your playing evolve over the years?
I don't really know.  Now that I'm older and I've spent a lot of time playing with other people, I think a lot more about rhythm and space.  I used to try to consume every sonic minute with guitar noodling, but now I'm a little more sensible...I think.

What guitar players inspire you and is there anyone in particular that you think shaped your playing?
I guess Billy Corgan is my number one, but I really like a lot of players...Joey Santiago from the Pixies, Carrie Brownstein from Sleater-Kinney, Billy Zoom from X, and Viv from the Slits.  I could go on and on! 

Your lyrics are surreal but not unrealistic, if that makes sense...what goes into your lyric writing process?
Lyrics usually pop up in my head out of the blue.  Sometimes I arrange words because they sound good in whatever order, and sometimes I intentionally draw a theme.  Aside from the meaning of the words themselves, positioning them, cadence, and pacing are the most important elements of lyric writing (for me).  Now that I'm a little older and less scared to let people know what I think and feel, my lyrics have become a lot less abstract.   

How conscious of your singing style are you and how, if at all, has it changed over the years?
I used to be really, really shy about singing.  I thought I was terrible at it but I couldn't find anyone else to do it, so I reluctantly did.  When I first met Jarrett from Screaming Females, Mike and I went to a barbeque at his house in New Brunswick and Jarrett gave me a guitar and asked me to sing a Noun song he liked, which was sweet, and I really wanted him to be in a band with me so I did it, but I felt like my head was going to explode because I was so incredibly nervous and I had never sang out loud all by myself with a guitar before in front of other people.  I used to have a lot less control over my voice.  Eventually I learned how to scream proper, and I think through practice I've been able to access a lower octave range I didn't know I had.  I really enjoy singing now.   

Talk about Courtney Love and Hole.
Jesus.  God, ok.  Well, where can I even start?  Hole is one of my favorite bands.  I like "Live Through This" way more than "Nevermind."  I like "Live Through This" more than I like a lot of things.  I know that Courtney isn't the most terrific role model, but when I was fifteen I was pretty certain that I wanted to be her, maybe sans heroin, but I love how bat-shit crazy and fierce she is.  Before I knew about riot grrrl, all I knew was Hole, and in fact, Hole probably guided me towards Bikini Kill.  Hole was awesome, cathartic, really powerful stuff for a teenage girl.  Courtney is a totally effective character, even if she is a train wreck, and she has killer pipes.  Not to mention that her band ripped, and their influences taught me a lot about punk - Young Marble Giants, Beat Happening, The Germs, etc. 

Talk about Edith Piaf.
You're killing me!!!!!!  I LOVE HER!!!!  What can I say?!  I think she's the greatest singer that has ever graced the earth, I listen to her all the time.  I have no idea what she's saying or singing, but her voice makes me weep.  The story of her life is so brilliantly bittersweet.  She had tenacity, grace, and talent.  She is my new Courtney Love.  I think I want to be Edith Piaf, sans morphine.  Sometimes I think some sort of supernatural force pushed Edith off of the planet early in her life because she was too much for the cosmos to handle.  

Your art and music are really connected in my opinion. Talk about what goes into the art that you make and whether or not that connection feels conscious or on purpose. Do you feel like you give art and music equal time or have you had to put one or the other on a back burner from time to time?
I love to make art, but it's a lonesome pastime.  My visual art is deeply personal, although a lot of it is off the cuff.  Making music is a bit more satisfying for me, 'cause I get to make things with other people.  Sometimes I find that other twenty-somethings who are interested in music find visual art sort of inaccessible, or difficult to understand.  I mean, sometimes I feel that way too.  My music and my visual art are all sourced from the same place so it must be true that the two are intrinsically intertwined.  I think I give both mediums an equal amount of attention.   

How has your family life and childhood affected your art and music?
Well, my family is very beautiful and very small.  For their sake and for my own, I don't really spit the details of my childhood out into the interwebs.  Everyone has a tough time growing up, and I think my childhood shaped me in ways that my family would have never expected.  They give me a lot of attention and a lot of patience.  I am very grateful to have them.

I have a theory that the most compelling artists/musicians are the ones who could not survive without making art/music. As in like, if it feels like a hobby to the artist it is less important to the artist's audience and the art itself suffers. What are your thoughts on my (very dramatic and serious) theory?
I feel the same way.  Edith Piaf is one of those characters, she was born to perform.  She said she would die if she couldn't sing.  She forced doctors to shoot her up with morphine so she could get on the stage. And she collapsed from exhaustion and sickness on several occasions.  She essentially killed herself so she could get out onto the stage.  She needed that love, the love from the audience and the love of music.  That's how she saw herself.  Without her art, she was fragmented.  It makes a lot of sense to me.     

Have you ever seen any ghosts?

YES.  Yes, I have.  Jarrett mentioned this ghost in his interview with you, but I totally saw it.  My friend Alex moved into a haunted house in New Brunswick, and for the first week of the June he refused to sleep in his room.  He crashed at my ex-girlfriend's house.  He insisted that there was paranormal activity and he absolutely could NOT sleep in that house.  Eventually he forced himself back into his room, and grew used to the ghost.  Alex said the ghost would turn the toaster on all the time and drop drinking glasses.  One day we were hanging out in a crawl space in his attic and someone thought it'd be totally funny to summon the ghost.  I forget what Alex decided to name the ghost, but he began to call out his name and all of a sudden a bunch of boxes near the back of the attic came crashing to the ground and we all saw a little blip of white light pass through the room.  I nearly wet myself.  Totally true, I believe in ghosts.       

Thanks Marissa. <3