Berry me in your love
Editor’s note: Samantha Crain is a great local musician in her own right… definitely among the best singer/songwriters in the state. When she messaged me about interviewing the band, Berry, I thought it might be interesting to let her take over as the interviewee. My instincts served me well, and she delivered interview with an intamacy that’s most likely only found among touring companions.
My relationship with the band, Berry, started with an Altoid can… sort of. The first time I met Joey Lemon, Paul Goodenough, and Matt Aufrecht, they had just finished playing a show at the Contemporary Music Center on Martha’s Vineyard, and I was trying to recover from a shock and awe. There was a ghost in Joey’s voice, a processed demon in Paul’s drumming, and a vampire coming up from the coffin of Matt’s piano case, but the Holy Spirit was exorcising them all into a heavenly choir of rock ‘n roll angels.
The melodies were there, and they were strong, but just as you’d prepare to sit in and wiggle down into the song, they’d change it up with a noisy fuzz or a dissonant shout. The music I had just heard was undeniably unconventional, but these three guys were different, too. And that’s where the Altoid can comes in….Matt had turned an Altoid tin into a headlamp, and it flashed in all it’s oddball glory, as he pounded on his Yamaha CP70 Electric Grand Piano. Joey, the guitarist, pointed to his headlamp (store-bought, unlike the one Matt wore) and explained that they were trying to find a gimmick. Their banter was playful, their presentation was inviting and humble, their songs were pensive, and then communal, and then intoxicated. They were everything I’d ever wanted in a band but had never found.
Now, two years later, I’m on the phone with Joey, Matt, and Paul recalling that night, trying to dig to the bottom of their creative well, and sharing a fair number of laughs too.
SC: Were you serious about wanting to have a gimmick, or was that a joke?
Joey: It was a joke, but it was also a solid attempt at a gimmick.
Matt: That’s the ridiculous part, though. We told everyone we were trying to find a gimmick, so it doesn’t really make much sense to tell people your gimmick.
SC: What do you think about bands with gimmicks?
Joey: I think if that gimmick is a hot female, then it’s awesome.
Matt: Is there a difference between a gimmick and a shtick?
Paul: The thing about a good gimmick is that you have to pass it off as not being a gimmick.
Joey: I think gimmicks are cool, if they’re done well.
I start talking to the guys about their recent move to Chicago from Greenville, IL and the huge amount of recording they’ve done recently (three EPs in about the same amount of months). They’ve made each of the new EPs (Floundering, Advent, and Recovery) available on their web site for free download (www.berrymeme.com).
SC: So, why so many EPs in such a short amount of time?
Matt: Because it’s easier than touring. You don’t get to play video games on tour.
Joey: Yeah, and because we all had to get jobs when we moved to Chicago, we knew we’d be working a lot. We still wanted to be productive as musicians, and we’re all living together so we thought it’d be a good time and opportunity to record a bunch.
SC: When are you recording these if you’re working so much? Do you record your individual parts at different times when it’s convenient for you or are you all together when you record?
Matt: We try to be in the same room as much as possible and then whatever we don’t get done, we’ll finish individually.
Joey: Usually we try to get everyone together one day a week and do it then.
SC: Has Chicago proved to be a good move for you in terms of inspiration? Would you say it’s different or better than working and living in Greenville?
Matt: Well it’s different. It’s a totally different set of Berry rules, different parameters. We’ve never all lived together this closely before…
Joey: We’re all busier now because of work. We have less time, but we get more done. It’s a different reality. It’s not necessarily better.
Matt: I’d say its better.
Paul: We really focus here on the music because there’s less time. In Greenville, we had all the time in the world, so we took studio time for granted. We’d go in and record like 17 guitar tracks, and realize we didn’t really get much done. Here in Chicago, we’re just trying to trim the excess, get the process down, and churn out music. Really milk it.
I tell them that I’ve noticed that a lot of my friends who are musicians don’t listen to any music while they are writing or recording. They don’t want their product to sound like whatever they are listening to at the time. Now, I’ve spent months on the road with this band (My first tours were opening for Joey’s solo tour and, then, Berry) and I saw Joey and Paul writing every day but there was hardly any estrangement from music in the van. (I seem to recall a lot of Make Believe, U2, Akron/Family, and Jimmy Eat World.)
SC: Some bands try not to listen to music while they’re creating, so they can have a product that isn’t a heavily influenced result. But from what I’ve seen, it doesn’t seem that important to ya’ll to separate yourselves from outside influences. Or, maybe you do segregate yourselves from other music, but I just haven’t recognized it.
Matt: I’d say it’s not important to me. In fact, I do the exact opposite. I expose myself to as much as possible. That was why I wanted to move to a big city, so I could be influenced by anything and everything. We go to a few shows a week. We’re seeing a lot of bands and hearing a lot of different music, and I like to just mesh everything I’m taking in all together.
Joey: Yeah, I agree.
Paul: I think I might be a bit more sensitive to it. I might try to purposely not listen to something if I’m going to be sitting down to write because the end product will probably sound something like what I’ve been listening to.
Joey: I just have this thing where I can’t really duplicate things anyways. I could be really influenced by something, but I couldn’t copy it if I tried.
Paul: I wish everyone could hear Joey’s Weezer song.
Joey: Yeah, I had this song a long time ago that I was trying to make sound like a Weezer song, but it didn’t sound anything like it.
Paul: Aren’t you going to ask us what we’re listening to, Sam?
SC: What are you listening to?
Paul: Iron and Porn
Joey: The new Colour Revolt song. They just put it up!
SC: Okay… now for the typical Berry interview question…. So, why all the constant use of weird time signatures?
Joey: The first time I used a non-normal time signature was just because I was bored with my own songs, and I was becoming impatient with them; I just couldn’t stand waiting between melodic phrases. So, I just dropped a beat and it made the melody reset sooner. I really liked doing that and later, in music history class, I learned that, at some point in history, 9/8 was considered the perfect meter once and that’s when I wrote “Fifty-eight.” Eventually it just started to feel natural to me. Like some people hesitate a little when they slide their hand up the neck of a guitar so if you just hesitate a little more, it would change the time signature and sound different. It’s just playing off of naturally occurring things and it just started making more sense to me. Plus it’s just fucking cool.
Paul: Yeah it’s cool. But it’s also just really fun.
SC: So if it’s become so natural to play in different time signatures for Joey, is it just as natural for you guys (Paul and Matt)?
Paul: Well I’ve just always loved that stuff since I was young, like listening to “She’s So Heavy” off the White Album. In a way, it does almost feel more natural than to just play straight 4/4.
Matt: Well for me it isn’t always easy to figure out what’s going on but its fun to try to figure it out. But usually I like not knowing what’s going on. While we’re practicing, I do something different every time and slowly it turns into this indefinite part or piece to the song.
SC: Joey, I still have you’re copy of A Man and His Symbols by Karl Jung. I would say that after I read that book, along with some other books, and after talking to people more about dreams and the unconscious, my dreams started becoming very vivid and I started writing most of them down. Some of them even turned into songs. Do any of your songs come from dreams you’ve had?
Joey: It’s a rare occasion. On “Floundering” though, I did wake up with the line “You can walk but you can’t flounder,
such a body can’t swim” in my head and I ended up just writing that whole song around the one line. Yeah and that line doesn’t really make any sense.
Paul: “Silver Rose” from the Marriage album is a dream.
Joey: Yeah that was pretty much straight from a dream.
Matt: I don’t really dream about songs or music. I dream math. Not in math, but I dream math. It’s not like there was a teddy bear in my dream, it’s like saying my dream was a teddy bear. It’s hard to explain.
Paul: I used to feel like I could solve intense equations and problems in my dreams as a kid, like I could understand God or something. But then in the morning, I wouldn’t remember what I had solved.
We talk a bit more about our usual bleakness tied to the life of a musician trying to make a living. I bring up a conversation I had with my dad the other day. We were discussing how it was so hard for a musician or band to get paid for a gig presently. We decided it was supply and demand. The market was over-saturated because Myspace pages made it easier to release music to the public and at-home recording equipment was becoming very common. Because of these things, everyone has a music project, and everyone wants to play shows. I asked the guys what they thought about this phenomenon.
SC: Do you think it’s good that everyone has better access to making and releasing music, or do you think it stifles the core of the touring band and disheartens the community of musicians and artists who aren’t just doing music as a hobby?
Joey: I think my biggest frustration with all of this is that, at some point during all of this, people were so busy making their own music that they forgot how to be fans of music. I try to be a fan of other bands and I want other bands to be fans of us. Like when the new Colour Revolt song got put up today, I was really excited for those guys and I went and woke Matt up and we turned it up loud and listened to it. People have just become sick of live music. There’s so much out there now and they’ve had to sit through a lot of bad stuff so they just stop going to see new bands. They just go see their friends, whether they like their music or not. I know I say that people just don’t like music anymore but that could just be me being depressing.
SC: No, I think you’re right. I say this all the time. When I’m not touring and I’m in Oklahoma for a while, I go to the open mic at Galileo’s on Thursdays and most people that go there to play are just so jaded with the whole idea of an open mic. They sit outside until it’s their turn and, then, right after they play, they leave. No one stays to see other people perform. It’s disheartening that the community characteristic of songwriting and live music doesn’t really exist but in a few places I’ve run across.
To lighten the conversation up a bit, the guys chime in with their appreciation of the Oklahoma bands they’ve toured with or met.
Joey: I know that we’re all really impressed with Oklahoma bands. Kunek, Student Film, you, Colourmusic…. It seems that every cool band we tour with or meet on tour is from Oklahoma.
Matt: It’s good stuff.
Oklahoma definitely isn’t lacking in great bands and artists, but that community has disappeared a little. Let’s take a note from Berry, and support local music. You can also help sustain Berry by buying some of their music on iTunes or just taking advantage of all those free downloads they are giving you at www.berrymeme.com, and tell a friend about the wonder that is Berry. Some good Berry songs to get you started that you can download on iTunes would be “Broken Machine” on the Marriage LP, “22.50/hour” on the Empathy EP, “Death” on the Manor EP, and “fiftyeight” on the Sunday Morning Radio EP.