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By: Cameron Pikó
In the midst of The Aristocrats’ European tour, bassist Bryan Beller took some time out to talk via Skype. We talk about the band and their latest album Tres Caballeros, Bryan’s solo work and The Aristocrats’ upcoming London show (December 18th at Heaven).
(((o))): I read that The Aristocrats had one day for rehearsal for this tour. Do you guys like keeping the music fresh, or is it just because you’re all perpetually touring?
Bryan: A part of it is because we’re perpetually touring, but also because we played 8 weeks in North America [from July – August this year]. So we had toured the set for two months before that. So we had one day to rehearse and get our gear together for a production rehearsal, but we pretty much know the material at this point.
(((o))): And the tour with Satriani wasn’t so long that you would forget anything.
Bryan: Well, it’s a completely different vibe. You’ve got to shift gears a little bit, but in the end [if] you keep the machine moving, it always works.
(((o))): It probably helps having two of you in the same band at any given point. [Beller and Minnemann both tour with Joe Satriani, and Govan and Minnemann play with Steven Wilson]
Bryan: It helps when we’re playing the music that we know. We know what each other’s tendencies are, and of course it helps with scheduling.
(((o))): How has the tour been so far?
Bryan: The Europe tour has been great! It’s been all in Germany and the turnouts have been great, everybody really digs the new material, we’re having fun. So it’s all good!
(((o))): Great! Now I just wanted to briefly talk about the albums and how they’re written. It’s always been really democratic – you all write three songs per album. How would you describe the different approaches to songwriting? What makes a Bryan song, a Marco song or a Guthrie song?
Bryan: Well, Marco is a more prolific songwriter than either Guthrie or I.
(((o))): Yeah, it’s quite… ridiculous actually. I don’t get how he does it.
Bryan: Yeah, his brain is just moving so fast that he needs multiple outlets for his material. So it’s more a matter of choosing which songs are right for The Aristocrats rather than what his process is; his process is constant.
Guthrie and I are much more circumspect and measured about songwriting, and it just takes us a while to get out what we have to say. The irony is that what makes a Bryan song is that there is very complicated guitar, and what makes a Guthrie song is that there is very complicated bass. Guthrie’s ethos is that he wants a trio to sound as full as it possibly can, which means the bass takes on additional harmonic and melodic components that not every songwriter would employ.
I think I’m a pretty basic songwriter, probably the most [Skype cuts out here: straight-ahead?] songwriter at the end of the day. The forms are a little more traditional. There’s more verse/chorus stuff and is also very ‘American pastiche-y’ on the new album.
(((o))): Yeah, that definitely shows up. Now, The Aristocrats are playing without a support for most of the shows on this tour. How did you come across The Fierce and the Dead to support for the London show?
Bryan: Matt Stevens opened up one of our shows in Newcastle as a solo act, and somehow he knew Darran Charles from Godsticks. He gave me a link or a CD – somehow I heard The Fierce and the Dead – and I really liked them. I think they’re really cool, and I think what Matt does is really cool. And some gigs we thought it would be good to have an opener, and London was one of them, so we just thought of them.
(((o))): Great! And Godsticks are playing the Bristol show as well.
Bryan: We’re good friends with them. We love what they do, and we’re huge supporters of what Godsticks are up to. And Godsticks have been great supporters of The Aristocrats in the UK.
(((o))): This segues relatively nicely to the next question. The Aristocrats have a dedicated – if somewhat cultish – fanbase, despite playing pretty experimental music. Do you think there’s a limit to how successful you can be with an instrumental band given the current climate?
Bryan: Well, I think we have it a lot better than a lot of the pop acts out there! [Laughs] The good news about being in our little muso ghetto is that, once you get some fans, you have them for life. And we appreciate that and are very grateful for that. I always feel like we actually carry our brand with us, as opposed to [being a ] ‘flavour of the month’. So, I don’t necessarily see it as a hindrance that we’re playing weird music. I think it’s a feature, not a bug.
(((o))): Oh, absolutely. Well no-one’s there, hoping you guys play some nice 4/4 straight-ahead rock or anything. And for those of us out there playing similarly crazy instrumental music, do you have any tips for those attempting to stay true to that style?
Bryan: Play what you love. Play what you listen to. It’s the most authentic way to be, and I think that’s going to end up showing up in your playing, in your songwriting and in ultimately in your brand as a band. Don’t try to be something that you’re not. If you really dig playing instrumental music and you’re marinating your musical mind in that all the time, then that’s what’s going to come out. That’s not a bad thing. There’s no guarantee that anybody’s going to make money in this business – if you want to make money, get into another business! [Leans in conspiratorially] It mustn’t be about the money, or else no-one would do this.
(((o))): Agreed! Are there any plans for another live DVD recording like last year’s Culture Clash?
Bryan: I don’t think so. I’m a little sceptical of being the band that puts out a live album after every single studio album, for the third time in a row. I mean, we are playing a good portion of the new album live, but I have a feeling that we might skip this one. I don’t know for sure, but that’s my hunch.
(((o))): That makes sense. Your setlist can’t vary that much [from previous live recordings] if you’re only incorporating a total possible nine tracks.
Bryan: Well, we are playing 7 songs from the new album in the setlist, and we play about 12 songs every night. So, are we going to make a live album of just those seven songs? I don’t know.
(((o))): Fair enough! Turning to your solo material, you have two studio albums from 2003 and 2008 [View and Thanks in Advance], and an excellent live DVD from 2011. Is there any possibility in the near future for more solo music?
Bryan: My energies have been really focused on The Aristocrats ever since we were formed in 2011. I’ve been not just a band member, but also the manager of the band since 2012. And it really does consume a lot of my energy. I love what we’ve been able to do, but – as someone who doesn’t write a song a day like Marco – it takes a lot out of me. So I don’t have a lot of room left over to work on my own solo stuff.
That said, I do have a new album completely mapped out in my mind. I have the song titles, I have the album title, I have grooves, I know what it’s going to sound like. I just need time to demo it, but that’s going to take a while! So I’m thinking it’s probably a 2018 release.
(((o))): Wow. That’s planning ahead!
Bryan: By the time we get done touring this cycle, I think that’s when it’s going to come out.
One of the things I was not really thrilled about making Tres Caballeros is that we were rushed. We had to really, really get it done fast in order to get out on the road ahead of the Joe Satriani tour schedule. I know: first world problems! But we did have to rush it, and there was a lot of pressure in getting that out and done on time. I just decided right then and there that if I was going to make another studio album – or any album for that matter – that I was never going to be put in that rushed position again. So I definitely don’t want to be rushed in making my first studio solo album in ten years.
(((o))): Shit, it will be ten years when we get to 2018!
Bryan: Yeah, no danger for rushing there.
(((o))): Well, I don’t think it’s a spoiler given it’s three years in the future, but can you say anything about what sound that album is going to have?
Bryan: I think it’s going to be less jazz fusion-y, and more rock, more progressive, more ambient, more texture-oriented. It’s going to be less busy. More thematic.
(((o))): That’ll be really cool. With The Aristocrats and pretty much everything you’re doing at the moment, it’s all been quite complex and busy, so it’d be cool to hear you relax.
Bryan: I know. When you’re writing for The Aristocrats – not that I feel like it has to be ridiculous – but I know what The Aristocrats brand is. We’ve got Guthrie on guitar and Marco on drums and it’s a trio, so …they can’t all be ballads. [Chuckles]
(((o))): Well, actually, I was playing Flatlands [off The Aristocrats’ first album] over and over again today. That’s “the quiet one”, right?
Bryan: Yeah I have two ballads in The Aristocrats’ catalogue: that, and Through the Flower. The first 8 minutes of that are a ballad, anyway.
(((o))): “Love Terror Adrenaline/Break Through” – when I spoke to you recently, you said that if people know only one song that you’ve written, that’s the one you want it to be. Could you talk a bit more on what that song is about and how it came to exist?
Bryan: “Love Terror Adrenaline” is about a feeling I had once when I was so wound up over the possibility of losing a relationship that I felt I just couldn’t function. There was a kind of adrenaline and weird rush that was going through my system and that had the capability to sideline me completely. And I’ve learned more about that feeling in the intervening years than I knew about it when I wrote the song. But I knew there was a feeling, like a panic attack feeling, that I wanted to get out; a very heavy, melodramatic thing. And then, the ability to get past it. So the song is a very long, somewhat overwrought frenetic drama. But I’m very proud of it. It’s one of the few songs that I’ve written that really came out exactly the way that I wanted it to.
On the record, I wish I could go back and remix it now, of course. But I’m very emotionally attached to that song.
(((o))): It definitely comes through – it’s such a great piece. And also, ridiculous. I keep watching Mike Keneally and losing my brain at that guitar part.
Bryan: Oh, thank you. [Chuckles]
(((o))): Which brings me to ask: will you be playing on Mike Keneally’s Scambot 2?
Bryan: I am on a couple of tracks on Scambot 2, and also the bonus disc. There’s some extra material and I’m on a couple of tracks there as well. Scambot 2 is a great album and I can’t wait for everybody to hear it.
(((o))): Yeah! I cannot wait. I talked to Mike recently and he was very excited. Getting away from biographical fun, what music are you listening to at the moment?
Bryan: I’m ashamed to say I’m not listening to much music at all right now, because I’m so inundated with music all the time. I have some music that I listen to when I work out which is constant: Nine Inch Nails, Animals as Leaders. But as far as new stuff, the album that’s most important to me right now that’s new is by an artist named Janet Feder. She’s a prepared baritone guitarist and a song-writer, and a very interesting artist who is doing something somewhere between Bill Frisell and Nine Inch Nails and indescribable avant-garde stuff. It’s simple and it’s melodic, but she plays with her right hand classically based, but it’s not classical at all. Her song-writing sensibility is infused with folk and a sense of mission, but it’s not folk music. It’s avant-garde in the sense that it’s not classifiable, but it’s not noise, it’s melodic. And she sings on three songs on her new album, called This Close. I think it’s extraordinary. I think that people who dig our kind of muso universe would be really, really interested to hear a woman doing something that is muso, but not frenetic.
And it was recorded in super-high quality digital sound – the Sonoma system – and the 5.1 sound is just ridiculous. So that’s the new record that has the most impact on me right now.
(((o))): That sounds great! If you have trouble describing what something sounds like, I figure that’s always good. If it’s not this, and it’s not that, you’re getting good. Is there anything else you’d like to add, before we wrap up?
Bryan: [Just] that it’s always an honour to play London, especially in a band with Guthrie in it. I know what it’s like for me when we play in New York – because I’m from New Jersey – and it’s the big city, the hometown show. For Guthrie, London is the big city, hometown show. We do one London show every tour, and this I think it’ll be a very cool event and I hope people come out and see it. You never know when the three of our schedules will [line up] again.
UK tour dates:
December 12th: Dublin (Ireland) – The Grand Social
December 13th: Edinburgh (Scotland) – Liquid Room
December 15th: Manchester (England) – Club Academy
December 16th: Birmingham (England) – O2 Institute 3
December 17th: Bristol (England) – Bierkeller (with special guests Godsticks)
December 18th: London (England) – Heaven (with special guests The Fierce And The Dead)
December 19th: Brighton (England) – The Haunt
Full info and ticket links available here: http://the-aristocrats-band.com/shows/