Monday 8 June 2015

*** BACK WHEN exclusive interview ***

"We’d write some songs, perform them and have great momentum, release the record then fall apart. Sometimes not practicing for months at a time. “Wasted” comes to mind a lot when thinking of our potential."

Let's talk about the best EP ever, shall we? Not only did BACK WHEN release an eclectic collection of masterpieces, but 'Swords Against The Father' will forever be the greatest EP I've ever heard. The four songs of spastic, grindy, spacey and screamy hardcore are the most hard-hitting and beautiful bouts of chaos ever put to wax, in my opinion. In the very least check out the opening track embedded at the top of this post. If it tickles your fancy then move onto the very eloquent and revealing interview below. Here's an excerpt that explains how one of the most technical, heavy records I've ever heard is based off of Radiohead's 'Hail to the Thief'!

"I was listening heavily to Hail to the Thief at the time, by Radiohead. The foundation for much of those songs was me deconstructing the guitar/bass compositions of those Hail To The Thief songs and thinking, 'These are fucking genius. I know I can write similarly but grindy and fast.'

I would also highly recommend checking out the lengthy discography review that I posted here, as included in the review is an interview with Init Records founder Steven Williams, the label that helped release most of BACK WHEN's catalogue.

Here's the new, exclusive, posthumous interview with Jon and Joe from BACK WHEN. Enjoy!

Jonathan Tvrdik (guitar)

How did Back When get started?
We started out, believe it or not, as a semi-tongue-in-cheek posi-core band. We had all played in Hydrahead-esque metal/hardcore bands in the 90’s and early 2000’s and wanted to do something different, whether we articulated that or not. Additionally, we started to become the older gents at hxc shows, something that anyone who has ever been involved in punk knows is an odd thing to witness. When you go from the kid’s table, trying to prove yourself, to the jaded punks leaning against the wall watching the bands unamused its a real sobering/jading experience. At any rate, we saw throngs of new Converge-devotees pouring out of the woodwork, a space we had narrowly occupied ourselves in the midwest, and selfishly thought we needed to teach these young kids about what hxc is supposed to be. So we decided to do this posi-core sXe band that was part grind, part east coast revival hxc.

Why the name, BACK WHEN?
A ubiquitous term in our circle of friends at the time was, “Back when shit mattered.” Apply that to the idea of the band and there you have it. As we evolved, however, we went through a love-hate relationship with it and regretted it.

What was the best thing about BACK WHEN? What was the worst?
Personally, the best thing was our ability to really do anything we wanted. We were bound by our talent but not our preconceived notions, something I believe a lot of hxc bands don’t have the luxury of having. You can see from our evolution of posi-core, to metalcore, to grindcore, to doom metal, to doom/goth/rock, we really did whatever the fuck we wanted.
The worst was our ability to sustain momentum. We had really great wins with our songwriting and any time we played live. People generally were won over seeing our live performance, which we went through grant pangs to make awesome. However, our schedules as husbands, working professionals, musicians in other bands, etc. frequently got in the way and dropped a cloud of perpetual malaise on the band that was hard to fight through. We’d write some songs, perform them and have great momentum, release the record then fall apart. Sometimes not practicing for months at a time. “Wasted” comes to mind a lot when thinking of our potential.

Was BACK WHEN generally the band at the members' commitment forefront?
For some of us, it was our primary band. For others of us it was one of many. But honestly some were only in multiple bands because not everyone in BW could commit full-time to the band. We really were the biggest obstacle in our own way.

What were the band's influences? How did they change with each release?
God that’s a loaded question. It ranged from Rush to Radiohead to Jeromes Dream to Neurosis to Hum to Cash. We really are eclectic music-listeners and whatever we were into at the time made its way to the top of the heap each release. Listening to our canon in chronological order is to watch our record collections change.

How did you come into contact with Stephen from Init Records?
All of our previous Omaha bands found a sister-scene in Sioux Falls, SD. We all spent a lot of time up there playing and thus met Steven through shows. He was the real deal, putting out records he liked and it was a great relationship.

Tell me everything you possibly can about the Swords Against The Father 7", lyrics, art, conception, live, opinions about the songs, etc.
Joe and I (Jon) were living together at the time and spent our nights playing guitar together. If I remember correctly at the time, Joe was really into Mastodon and bands like that. He brought a layer of metallic lead bravado over everything I would write. I didn’t matter how complex or messy or stupid I wrote, he would layer a fist-pumping “fuck yeah” spacey solo over it that reminded me of Cave In / Rush. I was listening heavily to Hail to the Thief at the time, by Radiohead. The foundation for much of those songs was me deconstructing the guitar/bass compositions of those Hail To The Thief songs and thinking, “These are fucking genius. I know I can write similarly but grindy and fast.” If you slow those songs down there’s one or two riffs in each that you could pull out and base a rock song around. The last song especially, the noodly-guitar lead, is my attempt at recreating Myxomatosis. Additionally, the very first baseline on the very first song, slowed down, and given a swing beat, would be a Radiohead song.

Lyrically, we wanted to tell a short but interesting story. Joe is a History teacher and was studying at the time. We delved into this Greek story about Phobos and Deimos, sons of the god of war, Aries. This was also the height of the Bush-war-era, and we were all extremely angry and fed up. We saw a parallel with this father-figure hellbent on war and destruction so we devised a story about sons rebelling against their father.

We recorded the tracks with a friend of ours in his basement and I mixed it on my computer. Looking back, I shouldn’t have mixed it as I had no idea what I was doing but the crudeness did give it a nice vibe.

Overall, the 7” was intended to be a bridge. To let people know we were writing new material in preparation for the next record. But honestly, it holds up on its own as a pretty great piece of music and I’m very proud of it.

You guys broke up or went on hiatus or something after We Sang As Ghosts and then reformed years later. What happened?
Life happened. Everyone got super busy, practices were canceled the day-of and members got frustrated. We were all unhappy with the progress we were making and thought it was better to stop than stall out further. Then we were all at a wedding together and drunkingly said fuck it, let’s do it. So we got back at it, hoping to finish the album that eventually became Champion Hologram.

Tell us about that video you guys made after reforming. With the fire and all...
Are you referring to the video for "Little Shiny Things" with us in the revolving carousel around the fire? We had that song, what eventually became the first song on Champion Hologram, done for years. We wanted to let everyone know we were back and ready to be weird again. That video felt like a great way to convey that. Back When has always been about pushing weirdness up to the point of being pretentious but stopping shy of it, deciding to settle back into “entertainment”. We wanted you to think “that was weird but fun.” The video goes along and along very serious and creepy and ends with Aaron mugging for the camera. It fit us well. The release of the video was sort of our “bat-signal” to people that we were back and ready to continue.

You guys pulled out a Jerome’s Dream cover almost a decade before I noticed lots of other bands doing it. What prompted that decision? Was it hard to cover?
We fucking love Jeromes Dream. It was easy because their songs are easy. We all intended to pick a song to cover and Jeromes Dream was Aaron's choice. His love for that band is tattooed on his arm and is the only time he did any vocals in Back When.

Joe Mickeliunas (guitar/vocals)

Do you have a favourite Back When release?
My favorite release is Swords Against the Father.  It was so raw and angry.  It was very reflective of us at the time and really challenged us musically.  It wasn't recorded or mixed in a studio, and that added to the overall vibe of the release.  I am very proud of "We Sang as Ghosts" and "Champion Hologram," but there are tons of things I wish I had done differently, or am critical of in my playing or vocal delivery.  Being a band with little funding, studio time is precious and I know that I personally rushed decisions to make sure that we could finish everything that we wanted to.

You guys were obviously talented, did egos get out of hand at any point?
I never felt that egos were a problem.  Friendships may have had moments of strain, but egos never got in the way.  After our hiatus, it took a year before the four of us were in the same room together. 

Do you have a favourite tour, tour story and show?
One of my favorite memories on tour is of a show that we couldn't play.  I remember a show in either Indiana or Ohio in which we were playing a house show in a duplex basement that we couldn't fit in.  At the time we were a five piece with two guitarists with full stacks, a bass player with two Ampeg 8x10s, a keyboardist with a full keyboard rig and halfstack for guitar, and our drummer's fairly large kit.  The basement was tiny and the four piece band with combo amps had trouble arranging their amps so that they would fit.  They had to stack amps on top of each other.  The guy that booked the show had difficulty understanding why we couldn't fit.  We attempted to unload, but it was honestly impossible. 

What band was the most fun to play with?
The Setup (reviewed here) from Richmond, VA.  We formed a very fast friendship with those guys and they made us feel at home anytime we played a show with them.  They really reminded us of friends from Omaha.

What's the best live band you've ever seen?
Wow. This is tough. I can't name just one, but it is definitely a tossup between Hum, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Sunny Day Real Estate, or Fugazi.

What other bands have you played in that you'd like to mention, and possibly share stories about?
I played in a screamy punk band called Robots Don't Cry that had a few releases and toured a bit. An existing band, Sutter Cane, asked me to fill in on guitar for a month-long tour.  Then their singer had a conflict and couldn't make the tour, a friend of ours joined and we decided to write songs and record a demo to sell.  We initially didn't intend to be a long term band, but stuck around for several years and releases. 

Someone told me that you guys had 6-foot bongs in your bong attic. Can you substantiate this claim?
This seems to be one of those rock and roll myths.

What excites you about music today? What is stale, stagnant or detrimental?
I am still very excited by music, but I feel like it really takes something special to really grab my attention.  Heavy music has been very challenging for me to get excited about.  The one heavy band that has my full attention is Thou.  "Heathen" will go down as one of my favorite heavy records of all-time. Whirr and Nothing are two other bands that I have found to be exciting.  It seems that they are pretty polarizing, but I've found their music to be thick and heavy with a pop sensibility that I can't get out of my head. Father John Misty is another artist that I'm very excited about.  He has crafted a persona that is mysterious, interesting, and genre-bending.  His lyrical content, arrangements, and instrumentation are fascinating to me.  Few could pull off what it is that he is doing, and do it this well. 

The Internet has obviously positively and negatively influenced music and records. How do you feel about it?
I love the Internet for the accessibility it gives us to music, but I also hate the Internet for the accessibility it gives us to music.  I can hear new music every single day.  I can get records every single day on the Internet, but it has definitely hurt the smaller acts and live shows in general.  It is really hard to "discover" a band due to a live show.  More often than not you can listen to a band via bandcamp, facebook, or YouTube before deciding to go to a show or what time you show up to a show.  It has definitely taken the mystery out of music, but has also given us the opportunity to find more music in general.

You are doing some new stuff, tell us about that.
I play bass in the live setting for Routine Escorts, the group that Jonathan started with our friend Thomas Flaherty. I'm also playing bass and doing some vocal work in a band called Post Verse.  Jeff Burgher, former keyboardist in Back When, plays guitar in the band.  I have trouble describing our sound, but we play some upbeat rock songs and some slow rock songs with fuzz and chorus pedals. We've been playing shows around Omaha for a year and have released a demo cassette and plan to record a full length album in the near future.

Many thanks to Jon and Joe for taking the time to answer these questions. Check out BACK WHEN's bandcamp page here where you can check out the band's newer releases.

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