Tuesday 10 May 2016

***JAMIE BEHAR from OFF MINOR & SAETIA exclusive interview***

Jamie Behar is quite possibly my favourite guitar player of all time. His signature jazzy punk/hardcore instrumentals as well as his involvement in the Level Plane screamo era bands Off Minor and Saetia catapulted Jamie into household-name-status with my friends and I. My good friend and touring partner Jesse Mowery stumbled into a conversation with Jamie on discogs.com that led to the following interview between Jamie and I via email over a few months. Before we begin, here are links to all things pertaining to his bands:
Inteview w/Steve Roche (Saetia/Off Minor)
Off Minor review
Saetia review
There is also an upcoming interview with Billy Werner (Saetia/Hot Cross) in the next month or so. In addition, Jamie has mentioned that his new bands Lytic and Guns Don't Run are writing/recording so expect more from him in the near future!

1) Who are you? Where are you? What bands have you been in?
I'm Jamie Behar from New York City. I played guitar in Saetia and Off Minor. I also played 4 string bass in Olde Ghost and 6 string bass in The Year Is One. Most recently I am playing guitar in a street punk band called Guns Don't Run and 6 string bass in a yet unnamed hardcore project.

2) Please describe your introduction to music and the subsequent genres and bands that have been important to you throughout the years.
I grew up with lots of different kind of music in my parents house. My folks were fashion industry people back in the 70's and 80's (dad still is); they made shoes for Bowie, The New York Dolls, Lou Reed, etc. So I got exposed to a lot of stuff as a kid, mostly 50's/60's rock and jazz. When I was like 12 or 13, I started to get into metal, because that was the thing to do back in the late 80's. In the early 90's, the whole alternative/grunge thing hit and I guess that ended up being a lot of kids entry point into punk. So by like 91 or so, I was listening to all the obligatory punk rock stuff like The Sex Pistols and The Ramones. Actually, I just went through some of my old ticket stubs from back in the day and one's for The Ramones and The Lunachick at The Ritz in 1991. I remember that I got dropped on my head at that show, but that was way before concussion awareness was the big thing so I think I just got up, drank a coke and got back into the pit. It was around 1991 that I got into New York hardcore. It was a weird scene, in retrospect, because it was sorta dying at that point, all the old bands were breaking up. I caught the last (or at least it was at the time) Gorilla Biscuits show and got to see bands like Sick Of It All, Vision, Sheer Terror, Burn, The Icemen, etc. Once I discovered hardcore, that was pretty much it. I started to go to AiBC no Rio and did most of my record shopping at Reconstruction Records which was this amazing DIY record store in the east village. It's probably a Pilates studio now or some shit. That's witere I got into the bands that have been the big ones for me ever since, like Born Against, Rorschach, Merel, Articles of Faith, Universal Order of Armageddon, Econochrist, Citizens Arrest, shit like that. In 1994, I started college at NYU and became straightedge, as was the style of the time. There actually was a lot of great straightedge and straightedge associated stuff going on at that point, specifically labels/distros like Ebullition, Bloodlink, Lumberjack, Vacuum (not at all straightedge affiliated but I bought a TON of stuff from them because they specialized in international stuff), and so on. I was, and still am, super into the German hardcore bands of that era like Dawnbreed, Stack, Systral, Carol, Morser, Acme; and Vacuum was the best place to buy that kind of stuff. Also, in the late 90's, the straightedge stuff kinda took a turn for the more "emo" as we called it then. I guess the word "emo" has different, HORRIBLE connotations nowadays, but that's what I called bands like Frail, Elements of Need, Julia, Groundwork, Spirit Assembly, Max Colby, Still Life, Current, Heroin, Anasarca, Mohinder, god I can go on forever. That was the kind of stuff I was primarily influenced by in Saetia and Off Minor. By the time, Saetia was playing, there were a bunch of amazing bands that were doing similar stuff like Closure, You and I, Sleepytime Trio, 400 Years, The Vida Blue/Ten Grand, Managra and on and on. It was a great time play that kind of punk because it was still sorta a new thing. Sure, you'd play to maybe 10 kids in a basement in Sioux Falls, but those kids were super intense about it. So that's a rough chronology of shit that I've been into for the past 25 years. I listen to just about the same music now as I did then. I'm currently super into Sex Prisoner, Afterlife Kids, Henry Fonda, Internal Rot, Noi!se, Remek, Totem Skin, Youth Avoiders, Volksturm, the late, great Psychic Limb, Infest, BGK; that's just reading what I've played on my phone over the past few days.

3) Do you have any upcoming plans for bands, recording and/or tours?
Guns Don't Run recorded a 4 song demo, which will hopefully be available for download on Bandcamp in the next few weeks. Touring is going to be tough to pull off because everyone has families and kids and real jobs. But we will play a few shows in 2016 around NYC. The project I recently started is named Lytic. We just got a singer. I think we will be ready to play out by early 2017.

4) Let's begin with Saetia. How did you join the band? What are your feelings regarding it all these years later?
I was playing guitar in a sXe band called Coercion from 1995 to about 1997. We started to implode in '97 when our bassist moved away and our singer became too busy with her school work. I knew Billy from the WNYU hardcore show, Crucial Chaos.  My friends (and former high school band mates) were the DJs back then. Pretty much every kid who was into hardcore at NYU would go there every Thursday and just hang out. I remember one night Billy and I were freaking out over the Discordance Axis/Plutocracy split 7", I think that's when we decided to start a band. He had played drums in a hardcore band but now he wanted to sing. So we tried a couple of line ups out with a couple of different genres. We had a practice with Alex Madera playing bass and our friend Meg on drums, doing sorta shitty Cornerstone/Halfmast style sXe. At some point there was a conversation about bands like Frail, Anasarca, Portraits of Past etc and that is when we tried something more in the emo style. Billy knew Adam from shows, they'd been talking about doing a band together for a while. We both knew Greg from NYU and shows. So we got together. I had written the music for "Becoming The Truth" already. We jammed on that and everyone was stoked. It just took off from there.
In retrospect, it was a great time. We were kids, really. It was the first time any of us toured or put out an LP. We had run our course, more or less, by the time we broke up. When you go through a lot of line up changes, it makes things weird after a while. But we were all friends afterwards, even though sometimes things were weird early on. Hot Cross, The Fiction and Off Minor used to play together all the time.  I still see Colin all the time because he lives in NYC. When we all started talking about the new discography, we all got back in touch and everyone was stoked to hear from one another.

5) There is a Saetia tape out and a discography on the way, how did these come about? What are your thoughts on them?
So back in Fall of 2014, Jeremy from Touche Amore got in touch with us about doing a new discography. I guess the old Level Plane discography has been out of print for ages. So we all started talking and gave him the go ahead. I haven't seen the finished product yet, obviously, but the proofs look amazing. I didn't write anything for it but some of the other guys did. The tape was Jeremy's idea as a bonus. It's Saetia at ABC no Rio in New York sometime in Spring of 1999; the tracks previously appeared on the old discography CD. I think it's already sold out so start checking eBay. I think it's great that Jeremy cares enough to have taken on this project. People appear to be pretty stoked on it and that's fantastic, albeit somewhat baffling sometimes. I guess there are bands that despite their limited lifespan and output still end up being sorta huge in peoples minds. Saetia didn't even play 100 shows! By all rights, we should be merely a footnote in the annals of hardcore.

6) What is your favorite Saetia song? Which was the easiest write? Which was the most difficult?
I think my favorite would be "The Poet You Never Were". It has one of my favorite bass lines at the beginning and I love the timing for the whole song. It has a great energy. Also the ending is probably the heaviest thing we ever played, it's like something from a Groundwork song!

The easiest song to write... That's a tough one. None of them were that easy. But the demo material really came together pretty naturally. We banged most of those songs out in a single 2 hour practice.

The most difficult one as far as I'm concerned was Roquentin. I don't think we ever really got it together completely. It might be the last song we ever wrote that was released and it was a bit of a struggle to get the timing down correctly. I tend to skip it when I listen to us because there's just something about the opening that sounds wrong. Hope that doesn't fuck it up for anyone else.

7) Tell us more about your involvement with Off Minor. How did the band start? Was it easier getting it off the ground because of ties to Saetia? How was the band received initially?
Off Minor pretty much started immediately after Saetia broke up. I'm pretty sure that we practiced the day after the last Saetia show. Steve, Matt and I were practicing together already because Matt had replaced Colin in Saetia after our tour. So the three of us would get together in my parents basement and learn Saetia songs. At that point, Steve was playing guitar is Saetia. So we would work on Steve learning the guitar part and then when he was up to speed, he'd switch to drums while Matt learned the bass part. Eventually, after getting the old stuff down, we started working on new songs that I had for Saetia. One of them eventually became "The Problematic Courtship". When kids would say that Off Minor sounded so different from Saetia, I would tell them that the first few Off Minor songs would have been new Saetia stuff if we had stayed together.

The ex-members of Saetia thing didn't help so much at the beginning. Keep in mind, Saetia didn't really get big until a few years after we broke up. I think it was on our first European tour that the hype was in full effect. I think it's was a blessing and a curse. I think people expected more of a Saetia aesthetic, which Off Minor did not do. And I think people who did not know what we sounded like thought we would sound more like Saetia. But in general I think Off Minor was always pretty well received.

8) I feel like Saetia was kind of pre-internet and Off Minor began around the time online music sites started becoming more popular. Did you notice a difference?
Not really. It was definitely easier to book tours for Off Minor because of the internet but Steve took care of 99% of that. Both bands developed during the rise of newsgroups and message boards so we had to deal with that bullshit. Both bands had MySpace accounts of varying utility. The real advance in internet presence for underground, as far as I'm concerned, is Bandcamp. Of course, in saying that I am almost certainly declaring that I am out of touch with the most recent hot new thing for music, but nevertheless Bandcamp is pretty crucial for me as far as finding new music. In general, I'm a pretty low web profile kinda guy. 

9) What is your favorite Off Minor album and song?
My favorite Off Minor record is definitely Some Blood. I think anyone making music is going to say that their most recent output is their favorite or else what is the point of making new music. But still, Some Blood was a huge achievement for us. I think it sounds better than everything else we recorded. I think we tried a lot of things that were outside of what we had previously done. It's not perfect by a long shot and given the opportunity, I would fix a lot of things that still get under my skin when I listen to it. Some Blood was a bit of a rush job. We were leaving for what would be our last tour in a few months and I was very busy in school. So we recorded it over maybe three weekends? Steve and Kevin did a lot of it on their own. I'm pretty sure I only went to Philly two or three times to do all the guitar and vocals. After that, I trusted them to figure it all out. It came together brilliantly all and all.

My all time favorite Off Minor song is The Transient. I still get chills when I listen to the piano part at the end! I love the pace of it. When we played it live, I swear it sometimes clocked in at around a minute. The jazzy bit in the middle is some of my favorite playing ever. Also I think they might be the best lyrics I ever wrote. I wrote them about a friend of mine who would move to a new city every few years because she thought that things would change for her. I remember the guys from The Vida Blue (aka Ten Grand) crashed at my place and they found the lyrics to The Transient. Everyone was really stoked on the words and I was so pleased because I was still very insecure about writing lyrics so to have a band that I loved and respected give me really earnest positive feedback was amazing. It's a really great memory that I associate with that song, so it's very close to my heart forever.

10) Do you feel like you have a distinctive style of writing and playing? How would you describe your sound?
I guess I do. I've been told that I do by other other musicians, that's been very flattering. I guess as far as my style of playing, I know that I consciously emulate a few guitarists and probably unconsciously a few more as well. My big jazz guitar inspirations are Kenny Burrell and Tal Farlow, but I don't think I sound particularly like either of them.

11) What styles have you incorporated into your sound over the years? Hardcore? Jazz? Stuff we wouldn't have guessed?
I think those two are the big styles that I tend to derive my style from. I think a little ska and reggae sneak in there occasionally as well, on songs like "Everything Explicit" and "Killed For Less" there are little bits of ska influence. As far as another individual musicians style that I know I deliberately emulate, the big one there would be Ian Williams from Don Caballero. I spent a lot of time when I was younger learning Don Cab songs from What Burns Never Returns and American Don, a lot of that rubbed off on me as far as what I wrote for Off Minor.

12) What can you tell us about the blogs you wrote and discussed Saetia and Off Minor?
I wanted to provide a little behind the scenes for people who might be interested. "Ruining Saetia" was a bit of a stupid joke that started when I was explaining how much I "borrowed" from other bands to write the music for Saetia. I think I exaggerated a bit but the point was to demonstrate some of our influences and maybe turn people on to some of the bands that were huge for us. The Annotated Off Minor was an idea that I had to basically provide "directors commentary" to a discography. I wanted to make it really detailed so that it could be read along to a song in more or less real time. But then it became sorta long winded and self indulgent. The thing with writing a blog (or an interview for that matter) is that it actually takes me a really long time to come up with something I'm happy with and I just don't have the time to stick to a project like that.

13) Tell us about your favorite gear.
I'm actually a bit of an idiot when it comes to gear. I have two Gibson SGs that I've played forever. I looked up the serial numbers recently and they're both from the late 80's, so nothing spectacular about them per se. I just love the weight and feel of an SG. All through Saetia and Off Minor I played this weird set up of an amp we called "The Box". It's a Mosvalve power amp that I got from a second hand place in like 1995 or something. It's loud as hell and pretty much indestructible. The pre-amp is a Tech 21 PSA 1.0, which is a rack mounted system. It's probably not intended to travel but nevertheless it went all over the world. The one I used for all of Off Minor and most of Saetia is broken and I probably won't buy a new one at this point. It's actually a bit of a pain in the ass because you alter the presets with a MIDI pedal. I was always trying to track down a MIDI cable on tour in some tiny town in Poland when the cable finally broke on me. I've had a slew of different pedals over the years. I was pretty consistently using a Boss DD-6 delay towards the end of Off Minor with a Line 6 Loop Station and any number of different volume pedals I've had over the years. I probably broke about 10 over the past 20 years.

14) What's the best band you ever played with? What band blew away your expectations and what band came out of nowhere and took you by surprise?
That's a tough one. I'd have to go with The Vida Blue/Ten Grand. We used to play with those guys a lot, both Saetia and Off Minor. They just kept getting better and better. Plus they are four of the best dudes ever. When Matt Davis passed away, we were all devastated. I am so lucky that I got to play with those guys, crash at their houses, have them stay at my parents place like 5 times, pile in to hotel rooms with them and see them play over and over again.

Usurp Synapse was a band that came out of nowhere and blew me away, back in the day. They sorta jumped on the Saetia tour on their own volition, just called the promoters up and got on all the shows somehow. None of us had ever heard of them before. So we play with them the first night and holy shit! They just had this incredible energy, they'd blow through their set in like 8 minutes. They were doing all the material that would be on the 6" EP on Level Plane, that stuff still kicks my ass.

Otherwise, my all time favorite bands to see and play with are, in no particular order: Life Detecting Coffins, My Disco, Yage, Amanda Woodward, Daitro,

15) Heat Death of the Universe is one of my top 5 albums of all time, hands down. What can you tell us about said album? Why the name? Did it come naturally? Were any songs cut? Why were there two different covers? Tell us everything!
Thanks! I'll see what I can remember. It seems like a lifetime ago. The name comes from a term regarding maximum entropy in the universe. Basically whatever finite amount of energy that exists in the universe is spread out over the hypothetically infinite volume that is the universe, so everything just freezes. There is a very good chance that I am remembering that incorrectly so prepare for some backlash from some of your vocal and physics savvy readers. I learned about it while taking college physics and it seemed like such a sad way for the universe to end. The song is about losing touch with the love of my life, that the distance between us had grown so great that it could never be overcome. We recorded it in our old practice space in Brooklyn. I believe Steve called the studio he opened there "Valhalla" Kevin had joined only a few months earlier, I think. We had written most of the material with Matt Smith but then he left to do Hot Cross. It pretty much represented everything we had written at that point that wasn't on the I Am The Resurrection split LP. I borrowed by friend Paul's acoustic guitar to record the cover of Off Minor. To be honest, I'm not sure why there were two different covers. One was the US release on Clean Plate and the other was the European release for Earth Water Sky. I think we just wanted to use as many of Kevs photos as possible.

16) There is a lot of discussion about women's rights, transgendered individuals and rape culture in the punk, emo, screamo and hardcore scene nowadays. What was it like in the 90s and 2000s?
Those have always been huge issues in punk, going all the way back to the 80's. I grew up listening to The Dicks and MDC, both bands had openly homosexual and transgendered members. In the 90's there were a lot of "political" hardcore bands that had songs about rape and women's rights but generally the bands were all heterosexual white men. Not that there's anything particularly wrong with that, that was just a fact. I think that just reflected the overall demographic of hardcore at the time, which despite claiming to be an all inclusive scene, still wrestled with it's own unspoken prejudices. I'm sure that's still going on today. I'm not as involved in the scene right now, but from what I can observe it seems like things are moving from hardcore just talking about being an all inclusive scene towards actually becoming one.

I can't thank Jamie enough for participating in this interview and being extremely friendly and forthcoming regarding all information especially considering he is one busy fella. I have heard a practice demo from his new band Lytic and I can say without a doubt that the sound is very Jamie Behar, so get ready for more amazing jazzy punk/hardcore in the near future!


  1. Fantastic interview, thank you so much. Really enjoyed reading that!

  2. great interview. any idea what happend to lytic? do they still exist?

    1. They do and they've got a split coming out with Worst Days on Zegema Beach Records later this year, as far as I know.

  3. David , does Jamie have an email address where fans of his music can contact him?