(Photo Credit – Tim Harmon)
When Chiodos announced the departure of Craig Owens, many were unsure of the band’s future. Luckily, Brandon Bolmer (Ex-Yesterday’s Rising) has brought the band back to life with a revised sound and presence, as heard through Illuminaudio. This interview with the new vocalist will surely give you new respect for Bolmer and what he has accomplished.
>>Interview w/ Brandon Bolmer (Vocals) by Nathaniel Lay
How did you come to join Chiodos? Were you with the band for a while before it was announced?
BB: I was friends with Tanner before he joined. He told me that he had been writing songs with them. I was curious what the instrumentals sounded like and asked him for something to hear. He sent me two demos, but at this point I wasn’t really trying to be in the band; I was just a curious what their direction would be. I gave it some thought and recorded some ideas – I ended up really getting into it and found myself attracted to the thought of doing something new for myself. I sent two rough demos back to Tanner so he could show the guys, waited for a couple weeks, then got a call that they were interested in me. They asked if I could fly out in two days – it was a lot of pressure, but it was exciting. So I flew to Michigan at the end of 2009 before Christmas and re-recorded some of my demos with the guys. They were all digging it and the chemistry was great. I think it helped a little bit having Tanner there as kind of a bridge between the guys and me. I flew home for Christmas and went back to Michigan on January 6th, 2010. From there, I spent a month writing in Michigan and a month recording in New Jersey. I’d say I was in the band for a month and a half to two months before it was announced. We had originally planned to announce it at Bamboozle Left, but it was a little harder to keep a secret than we thought.
Was the transition to Chiodos easy or difficult?
BB: The transition from Yesterdays Rising to Chiodos was surprisingly smooth. The end of YR and the entry into Chiodos happened within a few days, and it was a lot easier than I had anticipated. The band and team of people that work for Chiodos helped out a lot…they made it really comfortable for me to transition into the band. The guys were really down to earth and humorous too. That made it super fun.
What happened to your old band?
BB: Since about 2006/2007, Yesterdays Rising had been trying to get back to a level that seemed to come easy during the 2003-2005 time frame. We wrote a lot of great songs and we progressed, but we couldn’t seem to get back to where we were. We were also pretty broke, trying to survive, and that makes things that much harder. We were trying to recreate the vibe that caught people’s attention early on, but at the same time we wanted to grow, progress, and do something different. We were in this stage of frustration where we didn’t know what we wanted to do. After a while, we all realized that things were stagnant, and it wasn’t exciting anymore. We ended up just writing a lot of songs in a studio and that was cool, but that was it. It just became something we had to do, not something we really wanted to do. The motivation was gone, and that, for any band is a sad moment…especially when you’ve been together for eight years. We had a band meeting, discussed the issues, the rest of the guys agreed that it was time to go our separate ways, and it was a peaceful split. We’re all still friends and we all support one another. I love those guys, and we accomplished a lot of great things together.
Tell us the story behind the album title and what the recording/writing process of Illuminaudio was like.
BB: During the writing process, we had talks about album titles, but we wanted it to come naturally and just kinda hoped that we’d stumble upon something that made sense without putting too much thought into it. Early on we agreed that it should somewhat represent a struggle, but something that had an optimistic attitude as the band was very optimistic through their past struggles. “Illuminaudio” is a word we came up with after the recording process. To put it simply, the word would mean something along the lines of “an enlightening sound scape”, or “sounds that represent a struggle, and a light at the end of the tunnel”.
The writing / recording process for Illuminaudio was very fast-paced, but surprisingly, nothing ever felt forced. It was almost strange how things just worked out, and the time frame we were given to write and record was the perfect amount. We started writing from the moment I made it to Michigan (early January). The band had been writing for a while before I joined, so I’d say they were about 60-70% prepared for recording. We wrote for a month in Michigan, doing our own demos and preparing as much as we could before we met with Machine (producer). I ended up having about 40% of my parts done when we hit the studio, so I wrote during the recording process too. The pressure was on, but I like a good challenge. Once we got into New Jersey to start recording, we rented a two story, four-bedroom house together, and stayed there for a month. We spent most of our time recording and working on the album, but we got to hang out in Jersey, and made our way to New York a few times, our place was right by the Lincoln Tunnel. It was so awesome living with these dudes. The energy was always positive, and they’re a funny bunch – they’re always cracking jokes, and that’s nice because even in the most stressful times, they bring light to a situation. Machine was a blessing to work with as well; he helped me and the guys progress and create the record that we needed to make. He’s like a boxing coach; he knows how to motivate and he’s got a lot of energy all the time – he was the perfect producer for this record. If I could go back, I wouldn’t change a single moment of the process. Above all, we worked very hard – we put ourselves to the test by trying new things, challenging one another, and making sure that each of us were doing our best for every single part.
What was it like placing yourself in Craig’s shoes? What was the response from fans?
BB: It was risky putting myself under a microscope for the loyal fans of Chiodos to critique. I knew that I was potentially making a fool of myself for trying to take the place of such a well-known vocalist. In all honesty, in some ways I felt weird for taking this role because I’ve met and toured with Craig before, and I never wanted there to be any bad blood because of that. I have spoken with Craig since my entry into the band, and we fully respect and support one another. I knew I was up for a challenge, and knew that I would have to prove to others that I’m capable of taking this spot – and it’s not over…I’m still doing that now, and working hard at it. I know what I’m capable of; I’ve done this before, only this time I’m stronger and I’ve refined my craft. I feel I’ve grown as a singer/performer since the last recording that people heard from Yesterdays Rising, and I’m going to continue to grow…I’m wearing my own shoes. I’m doing this to start a new chapter for Chiodos.
Although, there was some positivity floating around. There was an initial freak out response, which was totally expected. It was something I already knew would happen…I was ready for all the “he is this, he isn’t that…” stuff. I’ve had friends that have gone through this before like Cove (Saosin) when he took over for Anthony Green, and kids are still talking about that years later – some will never get over it, but shit happens. So at first, fans were very skeptical. There was a lot of gossip, but it never really got to me. I feel like the overall ratio of positive and negative talk was about 50/50, and that was fine with me. It seems like once we started playing shows, and videos made their way to the Internet, kids turned their heads a little bit – and with each step we’ve taken toward the release of the new album, more people have accepted it. We’ve put out a few new songs before the release date and the response has been great! I see so many comments from kids that are surprised, kids that never thought they’d listen to Chiodos again. It has been really positive feedback…it’s amazing to me! It’s rare in this industry. A singer change is often the end of a band’s career, and I don’t wanna jinx anything, but it seems like we’ll be able to pick up from where they left off. The shows have been really fun too – kids are moving and singing!
The screaming on this record sound often distorted or digitally messed with in some sense. Can you tell us more about that?
BB: I’ve always enjoyed the vocal production of bands like Muse, Deftones, Queen of the Stone Age, and Norma Jean’s album Bless The Martyr and Kiss The Child, so I think that plays a big part. Also, it’s always been challenging to capture the sound of my live scream in the studio. The vibe and environment are completely different from one another. With the intensity and energy of an on-stage performance, I scream full blast into the mic, giving me a natural distortion through the front of house speakers. My scream is fully pushed, like screaming for help – I also grip the microphone super hard because my body wants to naturally tense up, and that’s something you can’t do in the studio because the mic is often tubed, expensive, and not something I can grab like I need to. In the studio, I’m in this small, fully soundproof, dead-silent space and it’s really hard for me to be intense like I am on stage. I mentioned that to Machine and we ended up doing some of the screams with a little distortion and compression on an SM58 microphone to capture the sound people will hear at shows. I like the way it turned out…you get these intense breaths and small imperfections with a hot mic setup. You’ll also hear that sound over a few of the clean vocal parts as well. I think Machine knew what I was looking for and he managed to do it in a tasteful way that we both liked.
What song(s) are your favorite and why?
If I absolutely had to play favorites, I’d say “Caves”. From beginning to end, it has a great vibe, and I LOVE the drums in that song – especially the beginning, it’s HUGE! The lyrics are about fear, risk, chance, and change. Fear is something we all deal with – it’s a wall. Flying to Michigan to write and record with people I’ve never played with wasn’t something I thought I’d do, but I wanted change. It was one of the biggest decisions of my life and I gave it a lot of thought. I didn’t want to kick myself in the ass six months later if I never gave it a shot. There’s a line that says “The last time you walked away from this, you were looking back to see what you missed”, and that says it all. Live with no regrets, make changes…you might be surprised with the outcome.
Some other favorites are “Modern Wolf Hair”, “Notes in Constellations”, “Scaremonger”, “Stratovolcano”, and “Closed Eyes Still Look Forward”…did I mention I love the whole record too?!
At the start of the second track, you have a cool “ba da da” kind of part to open the song. It’s one of my favorite sequences of the album. Tell us about how it came to be.
BB: Well, once I heard the drums and intro for that song, I knew it was going to be a big sounding part. It needed something subtle, atmospheric, and simple. I tried a few ideas with lyrics, but nothing felt as good as a simple “do – do-do-do – la-da-da – da-da-da – da-da-da” melody. I wanted the part to feel like a soundtrack, something you’d hear at the climax of a movie. There are also a few parts on the record that are similar, melodies with no lyrics. Machine and I do this thing called “Blah Blahs” when we have no lyrics for a part. It’s complete gibberish; singing with sounds just to get a good melody, then write lyrics after. There was a few times where I became so attached to the “Blah Blahs” that it was hard to write actual lyrics because I fell in love with the sound of the gibberish. Weird, right? For the chorus of this song, I wrote the melody with this “Blah Blah” technique before I had written lyrics, and it ended up being so catchy that it made it really hard to write actual lyrics because nothing sounded as good. So, it’s a great technique to find a melody that fits, but sometimes it comes back to bite ya in the ass! It all worked out in the end.
Are there any lyrical themes through the album?
BB: Illuminaudio isn’t a concept album, but there are definitely some reoccurring themes. A lot of the album is written about the journey to start something new. Some reoccurring themes you’ll find are experiences of fear, vexation, decision, transformation, loss, determination, strife, solidarity, control/manipulation, and so-called “freedom”. There are also a couple songs that are based on movies.
What new songs have been played live so far? How have they been received?
BB: We’ve played “Caves”, “Love is a Cat From Hell”, and “Let Us Burn One” live. Parts of “Modern Wolf Hair” and “Notes in Constellations” were also incorporated into the set list. I think they were received well for being new songs; some kids would even sing the intro vocal to “Caves” by the second rotation. That was awesome!
The cover of this album is somewhat plain. Is there hidden artwork inside or anything? What made you guys go with the cover you chose?
BB: The artwork is somewhat simple. We wanted the music to be the main focus. The lyrics are included, and there is a neat fold out. I like the cover because it’s simple, yet the “C” logo brings an intricate feel. We went with a black cover and a revamped gold “C” because it felt classy and bold.
Tell us about the Congregation of the Damned tour coming up in late October.
BB: The COTD tour starts October 20th and goes until November 27th. We’ll be going all around the U.S. and Canada. Bands included on the tour are Atreyu, blessthefall, Chiodos, Architects (UK), and Endless Hallway. Should be a fun time. We’re looking forward to touring with a new album!
What are your top 5 albums that got you into music, and what makes them so special to you?
BB: This is always hard for me; there is so much inspiring music. I grew up listening to bands/artists that my parents listened to…Pink Floyd, The Doors, Led Zepplin, R.E.M., Michael Jackson, Sade – I still love all that. I listened to a lot of R&B / Hip Hop as I grew up, and I think that’s what got me singing. After that, I started listening to bands like New Found Glory and Blink 182, then I found bands like Incubus, The Used, Deftones…and that’s when I really became inspired to play music and what made me want to be in a band that wrote original songs. It was vocalists that stood out to me like Brandon Boyd (Incubus), Bert McCracken (The Used), and Chino Moreno (Deftones) that gave me the confidence to get off my ass and do it. These days, my music library is filled with the most random stuff: Imogen Heap, Muse, Deftones, various electro / dance / dubstep artists, classical music, film scores by composers such as Hans Zimmer / Danny Elfman / Jonny Greenwood, truthful hip hop artists and groups like The Game / Lil Wayne / The Roots, and soft tunes by artists like Sade and Morcheeba. I’m a sucker for slow songs. I like long songs that take forever to build and songs that really make you think about your life.
SEVERAL TRACK DESCRIPTION
Track 5: “NOTES IN CONSTELLATIONS”
This is a somewhat mellow song filled with electric pianos and soaring vocals. The song was written about a trip I took to the snowy mountains of Big Bear, CA with my girlfriend, her sister, and my best friend Notes. It was a fun getaway just before I left to Michigan to join the band. At the time, I was unsure of my future with my girlfriend because I was going to be so busy with the band, and it was hard to know if things would work between us – our relationship was fresh and I didn’t know how she would handle the writing/recording process and touring. It’s a hard thing to deal with, when you can’t see each other, so it was something I wanted to write about. This song was mostly written before I joined the band, but we made some adjustments to fit the vocals and it turned out to be one of my favorite songs on the album. When we recorded the vocals, the room was dark with candles. I sat in a chair when I sang this one; it’s very personal and Machine (producer) loved it!
Track 6: “SCAREMONGER”
This song is one of the more diverse songs on the album. The beginning of the song is very spazzy, and to me the intro has an At The Drive-In feel. The lyrical concept is about control and manipulation. It’s written in a way where it could be about the hard life of a child with strict parents, or it could be about the fear factor used in media to control mass populations. We wrote part of this song before recording, and part of it in the studio. I love the chorus of this song, the lyrics mean a lot to me.
Track 11: “THOSE WHO SLAY TOGETHER, STAY TOGETHER”
This song was based on the movie 28 Weeks Later. The plot of the song is a little different than the movie, but there are similarities like a spreading epidemic, and survival. It was Brad and Jason’s idea to write a zombie song…they wrote it before I joined the band, so the song was mostly done when I came into the picture. The progression of this song intrigued me from the first time I heard it. This song has parts in 4/4, 3/4 and 5/4. When a band is able to transition smoothly into different time signatures, I think it showcases a certain talent that some don’t possess. Although the lyrics are based on a zombie story, it also represents the band and sticking together for a particular purpose, in this case…music and survival.