Northless seems to be an ever-evolving project with a rotating cast of super-musicians, can you briefly explain the origins of Northless and how it's became what it is today? And where did the name come from? does it have a specific meaning or is it one of those “open to interpretation” things?
Northless began in August 2007, in the basement of the super sketchy house I was living in here in West Allis, WI. For the previous 5 years, I had been playing guitar in a band called Vacations (math rock/prog type stuff) with Dan, who was the first drummer for Northless. Essentially, and from my perspective, there were some creative and personal differences that drove that band apart in the end. I really just wanted to do more with my time and musical energy. I pretty much told Dan that I was going to quit the band, and when he heard my reasoning as to why, he decided that it was in his best interest to follow suit.
Dan and I agreed that we wanted to continue playing music together. All I knew was that I wanted to play heavier stuff again. I literally had no pretense about it. We started off looking for a bass player, and found one right away in our good pal Scott Lashay (awesome tattoo artist and musician who plays in Drumlins, and Lines & Terminals currently). We had our first practice in that shitty basement I mentioned earlier. I came armed with the first riff to the song “Await The Fires of Man”, which is the first song on our first demo. We pretty much wrote that song at that practice and spent the next 4 months writing our first demo.
As with most bands, the lineup and, to some degree, the sound of the band simply evolved over time. Scott exited the band in May 2008, so we decided to continue on as a 2 piece, just guitar and drums. I bought ridiculous amounts of amps and cabs until we had over 1800 watts running at one point. It was a lot to haul around, but it was loud and heavy sounding. Dan and I wrote the music for the 7” split w/ Protestant, the “Leaving The Wolves” tape, the “No Quarter for The Damaged” LP, and a tune called “In Heaven” (which eventually ended up on a comp LP released by Inherent Records) together. We also did some touring in there.
Eventually, Dan decided to move to Los Angeles to pursue drum instruction at M.I. I was pretty bummed about it, because I had lost both a good friend and a tremendous drummer. I was going to dissolve the band and quit music altogether, until a number of people came forward with interest in playing in Northless with me. I decided that I would give one last shot, and ask some of my favorite musicians in the city to play with me. I asked Nick to play guitar, and John Gleisner to play drums. They both agreed. John Grant, a great pal and musician, asked to play bass and of course I was thrilled to have him in the band.
This became the lineup that wrote and recorded the “Clandestine Abuse” LP. Shortly after the record was done, John Grant decided to quit the band and move to California (notice a theme yet?) to pursue his new career. We had no bass player and kinda panicked. Our good friend Jerry Hauppa (amazingly talented guitarist of Concentric, Bled Awake, tons of others...) decided to fill in for us on bass until we found a replacement. One year, a couple tours, and some ape jokes later, and Jerry decided to join our band for real in Fall 2011.
...which pretty much brings us to now!
Anyone who has ever set foot in a band setting knows the hardship of finding and keeping a competent drummer, let alone someone of Dan Opgenorth's caliber. That guy is a beast. I'm sure it was a nightmare trying to find a drummer with a fraction of his talent, what was it like filling his shoes? How on earth did you find on John Gleisner? He seemed like an unlikely match, but Jesus H. Christ – he's a machine! (I saw him play an entire set with mono. He was pouring buckets of sweat and looked like he was going to literally die in front on me, but he was relentless and driven and he never missed a beat. Impressive would be an understatement)
Dude, you pretty much said it all right there. As I mentioned, I was bummed and of course worried about finding even a passable replacement for Dan when he left, because that guy had a style like few drummers I'd ever played with. He was so in-the-pocket and hard hitting. He played the songs we wrote together extremely well, and was a great friend on top of that. Hopefully someday I'll see him again...
However, it didn't take me long to realize that John Gleisner not only filled his shoes, but wore an entirely different set of shoes that I think has served the band even better overall. John used to play in the band Mahogany Throttle, who were an excellent local Milwaukee prog/math rock band. I remember having wanted to play with them so many times when I was in Vacations, but it never worked out. I also remember downloading a shitload of their tunes for free off their website years ago, and driving around in my car jamming to them.
I don't even know what to say about John. He's a fucking beast. He's like the love child of John Bonham, Keith Moon, Bill Bruford, and Buddy Rich all in one. Of course he hits hard as fuck and plays huge drums, but that's just the tip of the iceberg. John has a swing that separates him from other drummers out there, who just metronomically plod along without any real feel. John has the bombast of 10 drummers in one, and can play shit that is seriously mind-blowing. I love being able to come in with some whacked time signature riff, only to show it to John and have him rocking to it like he wrote it himself in like 30 seconds. His feel and sense of dynamics is better than any drummer I have ever played with. He knows when to play a lot, and when to play not a lot. I can't say enough good things. Having him as a member of the band has been absolutely incredible.
It seems as though Clandestine Abuse has brought out more of the majestic post-rock and technical math-rock elements that played less of a role in previous albums. How does being a four piece band as opposed to a two or three piece affect the song writing process? Do you still do majority of the writing and present it to the band or is there something else going on?
It's interesting that you would say that, because I actually thought that “Clandestine Abuse” laid back on a lot of the post-rock elements! I know that from my perspective, I tried to do less of that because I just think there are so many bands out there that do the “post-rock” thing better than we do. I just want to play heavy, discordant, dissonant riffs most of the time. I write tons of weird shit at home in the Northless tuning that I ultimately toss out, because it's maybe even too whacked for what we do. For as out-there as we sometimes get, I always try to have that element fit within the context of a song. A song, to me, is not just a bunch of riffs thrown together. It has to make some kind of sense, with some sort of unifying theme or idea or melodic pattern.
The “math rock” element is a reflection of who we all are as musicians. We have all played in prog bands, but love heavy music, so it was only natural that we'd nerd out a bit. I think we'll always have elements like that in the band, more than likely...
Having a 4 piece configuration is so much more liberating. It opens up the sound to so many different melodies and harmonies and so forth. Even just having a second guitar is so great, especially one as amazing as Nick. He does so many cool things that simply would not be possible with just one guitar. Jerry is also an amazing bass player. His melodic sense is incredible, and I'm really excited for people to hear how his sound is helping drive the direction of our new material!
The writing process in Northless is pretty democratic, in that we all contribute ideas to the mix. For example, Nick wrote two songs entirely by himself for the band, and those are going to be on our next releases. John will be singing by himself on a tune as well! He's the Liberace of drums (I kid, I kid). In the end, I do still write quite a lot of the music, and to some degree, I try to steer the direction of the band in a way that is commensurate with my overall vision of Northless. As time goes on though, I am confident that we'll continue to evolve and bring new elements to the sound.
Gear is obviously a major piece of the puzzle that is Northless. I'm sure you could go on for hours about current gear, previous gear and gear that might be implemented in the future...in fact I know that you could! So could you touch on some of the major key pieces that make up the distinct sound that gear nuts everywhere have been drooling about? It almost seems like the more members in the band, the less amps get used. Is there a method to this madness or is it just another progression in the search for the perfect tone?
You're right, I could nerd out about gear forever! Haha. Well, I'll try to keep it short (I've been doing a shit job of that thus far). The first most important element is the bass rig. The Ampeg 8x10 is ubiquitous to good bass tone...period. The head is a Peavey. It's 400 watts all-tube, not unlike an Ampeg SVT, but louder. We need an insane bass sound to fill whatever room we're playing in. The next most important element of our sound is our custom Emperor cabs. They are 4x12/1x15's. As soon as we got those cabs, the sound filled out in a way that I'd never heard before. Loud, warm, biting, but with HEADROOM, which is what's important to sounding loud.
Nick and I of course have shitloads of pedals between us: fuzz/distortion/overdrive, delays, weird chorus pedals, ring modulators...all kinds of shit. For me, my main fuzz pedal has been a revolving door in the last year or so. I have this Boss Metal Zone that I modified myself that I have really enjoyed, but I recently switched that out for a couple others. As of this very moment, I have a Blackout Effectors Musket v.1 fuzz sitting on my board. It's like a green Big Muff on steroids, with a mid knob, which is absolutely essential to being loud. I also recently procured a Black Arts Toneworks Black Forest overdrive, which is easily the best overdrive I have ever played (the Death By Audio Interstellar Overdriver is a close second). I have that on my board now as well, driving the Musket. I get tons of gain and fuzz with that sound.
One important element of tone that guys overlook is strings. I am very picky about my strings for tuning down, mainly because I have to look far and wide to find strings big enough! I use a 0.15-0.80 LaBella set, and occasionally an Ernie Ball Baritone set. The bass strings are custom Rotosounds. They kick ass...If you're going to tune down, get your guitar set up by a professional and use the heaviest strings you can find that you can still bend. Turn your gain knob up. Turn your midrange knob way up. Bass and treble to taste. And, of course, put your volume knob as high as you can. That's the real secret.
Exciting would be an understatement! Alex, who is kinda the head guy of Light Bearer it seems, was in this amazing band Fall of Efrafa who I have incredible respect for. Light Bearer is a perfect example of a band that does the “post rock” thing better than we do, so we'll leave that to them while we keep trying to rip off Unsane and Crowbar at the same time, haha...So yeah, we're releasing a split 10” with them. The cover art is out there already and looks insane. The record should be out by summer, I'm guessing. We're recording soon...
As far as what to expect, I think these songs we've written recently are pretty diverse. The two songs we are planning to contribute to this are both some of our heaviest, I think, sonically and in content. One song Nick wrote, and it's super heavy and melodic. The other is a bit more noise-rock influenced and more chaotic, but with some really dark and discordant riffs in it like what we're known for, I think.
We're also in talks with Halo of Flies to do a very special release to commemorate the 5 year anniversary of Northless, which will be August of 2012. Mum is the word on that right now, though. More to come...
As far as tours, we're hoping to get out a little bit later this year. Personal lives have made it more difficult to tour at this point. I just took a new job and so that has impacted my ability to take vacations and so forth. We'll definitely be playing out a lot, though. That'll never change!
A band of this caliber could easily put DIY on the back burner, especially with Clandestine Abuse selling like hotcakes and people like Cory (Halo of Flies) and Adam (Gilead Media) behind the wheel of DIY distribution. What drives you and the rest of the band to stick to those DIY roots?
DIY is simply the best way to go. It's extremely difficult to hand over the reins to anyone else when it comes to your vision, and your expectations of how things should go. A lot of people have said stuff like “I heard this band and thought they were bigger”, or “how come I never see this band on bigger tours?” and so forth. All I can say is this: we work really hard at what we do, and we go where it takes us. We're not the kind of band that tries to give blowjobs to some big, hip label, or to any hipster asshole bands, just to get our name in a magazine or a song on a comp or something. Cory and Adam are two close friends of mine, and have been for a long time. They release some of the best music out there today, and I am honored and humbled to be able to work with them as I have. There aren't enough words in the world to express my gratitude to them.
My personal hope is that people see what we do as sincere, because whether that is the perception or not, it is absolutely 100% sincere art...period. It's an extension of my being. I play music as a form of spiritual, existential release, and for fun, and that is it. I have great fun playing shows and meeting cool people in cool bands. I love spewing hate on stage. We'll play with anybody. We just love to play.
And finally, your line of work outside of the band clearly has a an effect on the general concept of Northless. From the lyrics to the chord changes, could you briefly explain how your own personal struggles and experiences translate into the music you create?
Where to begin, haha...Well, in short, I am a hate-filled person. I have been pretty angry and hate-filled for as long as I can remember. I grew up in a place filled with ignorant, violent assholes. I was always on the defensive, and I learned really quickly how shitty people could be. I finally started really fighting back against assholes once I got older. I spent a bunch of years unsuccessfully trying to avoid violence, but in the end I would always get into some shit with one person or another. Looking back, I should have fought more. I always tried to be the bigger person, but in truth, none of those people deserved my mercy. If I knew then what I know now...Someday, they'll all pay, though. I promise you that.
As I've gotten older and wiser, I've learned to despise humanity even more. I have my close family and friends, but in reality, I have no desire to interact with most humans in this world. I feel like lashing out all the time. I feel like killing every moment of every day. Sometimes I shoot guns and it helps a bit. It's hard not to constantly just choke people, it really is.
I've been a social worker for 8 years. Maybe I'm the wrong person for that job, I dunno...haha. I've done a lot of good and helped a lot of people, but the things I've seen and experienced during that time have really taken the blinders off and put me into a place that is kinda hard to deal with a lot of the time. I have seen so much misery and suffering and violence. It has affected me in a way I can't undo. A lot of people ask me if I'm depressed, to which I reply no, I am not depressed, I am realistic. If people have been through what I've been through, seen what I've seen, they would be the same way I think. And if not, it doesn't matter. Fuck 'em if they don't get it. In the end, we'll all rot together...hopefully them first.