christian uhl chats with the New Jersey hard rock outfit …
Easily besting the bastions of derivative late ’90s industrial knock-offs that rose from the darkness of obscurity and into the spotlight voided in the wake of Nine Inch Nails’ spiral downward (at least commercially), Toms River, N.J.-formed and presently Freehold-based electronic rock quintet End Of An Era embody a romantically macabre geographical anomaly not unlike the strange contrast of a pasty young Floridian named Brian Warner’s rise from Sunshine State outcast to Marilyn Manson-propelled superstardom.
Though far less reliant on shock tactics akin to the aforementioned and instead focused on perfecting the timeless attribute of good old-fashioned song craft, End Of An Era have perfected their attack five-years strong, replete with ‘big break’ dalliances and supporting slots with national acts such as Suicide City (Biohazard, Kittie). Now, with the landscape littered with only the skeletal remains of calculated, electro-goth flash-in-the-pans like Stabbing Westward and Orgy, the spotlight is theirs for the taking with their expertly composed brand of black leather hard rock heat and electronic red velvet cool.
I spoke with drummer and founding member Spags about the messy beautiful ride that is the rock ‘n’ roll life.
Pop-Break: I’m sure you’re asked this in every interview you’ve ever done, so why break the streak now: Any story behind the band name? Is it a reference to anything musically or culturally, or anything like that?
Spags: Truth is, and we do get this question all the time and I usually used to answer it with a stock answer I had made up, but truth is, we just thought it would look cool on a poster — and that’s pretty much it!
PB: Well then, I appreciate the candor and being spared some pretentious philosophical rant about the demise of ‘real’ music or our superficial, meaningless culture. Onto the music, which I must say is immaculately arranged and recorded- how did you get such a pristine sound production-wise?
Spags: One of the luxuries we do enjoy is that our lead singer Jeff Wallace runs his own studio and has been doing recordings for about eight years or so — he’s actually one of the more popular engineers in the area for local bands. Anyway, we thought it would be great to record basically the entire album and spend as much time as we wanted getting different sounds and making sure everything was top notch quality given we had the resources. But sometimes it gets kind of difficult recording your own band though because it’s all in-house opinions, you never get the outside ear — but luckily it ended up working in our favor this time.
PB: As the drummer, do you handle all the programming, and/or essentially anything that’s beat-oriented?
Spags: For the most part. Everyone else tries to dabble in it, but they don’t do a very good job! Usually I have to come in and fix up all the programming and electronic stuff.
PB: To rewind a bit, tell me, how did the band come together? Judging from the developed songwriting and compositions and overall technical proficiency, it’s clear that this isn’t the first rodeo for all of yo u…
Spags: Well, first off, that’s always good to hear! We first got together and started playing in 2005. We were just a bunch of friends from different bands in the area at the time that all kind of got together to make a little supergroup or whatever you want to call it. Once we started, we wrote some really kind of shitty industrial/electronic songs and just went out and started playing them and started putting together crazy show schedules right out of the gate and over time we ended up finding our our own sound and changing the lineup a bit to get a better grasp on what we were going for and that’s pretty much it the roots of it all.
PB: End Of An Era’s music consistently illustrates a knack for restraint, tension and dynamics that is a rare gift in this day an age as it seems a lot of heavy electronic bands, or whatever you want to label them, can’t seem to help themselves from going right for the jugular — processed, clumsy riff city without any build. d Of An Era’s dramatic ebb and flow almost reminds me of classic Depeche Mode in that they seduce first, draw you in, then build toward climax. Was this conscious or innate?
Spags: One of the things we like to do — or not do — is we never got into it just for big riffs, to just be heavy. We’ve been heavy before but we never tried to be a metal band coming out to destroy people and stuff like that. One of the main things we’ve always focused on was setting moods, setting the tone for what the song was going to be about.
PB: What were some common musical threads all of you in the band shared — the common ground you all intersected on inspiration or influence-wise?
Spags: Our influences are all over the place individually. When we got together, we were friends with each other from all our other bands but we didn’t really know each other very well, and it turns out we didn’t really listen to a lot of the same stuff. I came from more of a punk background, our lead singer is more of a ’90s Alternative kind of guy, and that kind of thing. And over the years we’ve kind of grown into having shared eclectic tastes and in turn, style. Some of the bands that we listen to all the time though are Muse and Deftones …
PB: Given there are a lot of electronic and programming elements to your sound, how was the transition from bringing these impeccable studio recordings to life on stage? Did you deconstruct and simplify to visceral base elements or attempt to incorporate all the colors and dynamics live? And if so, what challenges did that pose?
Spags: That took a lot of time actually to sort it out and figure it all out. Originally we had a live keyboard player and that didn’t work out so we started using a lot of live sampling. But still, when you sing in the studio you have the ability to incorporate a lot of keyboard and guitar effects and then when it comes to playing the songs live and you already have this wide array of crazy sounds you kind of have to pick and choose what’s going to be played on what instruments and what will go where. So it does take a little bit of arranging, or re-arranging. We try to get the best live representation we can from the songs, but not everything can come out all the time exactly the way it was, but we do try to get it as close as we can.
PB: What’s the band’s status right now, contractually? Are you signed or signing to a label or, instead, a self-sustaining unit?
Spags: We’re pretty much completely independent. We have a lot of friends helping us out with different things — booking shows, getting tours and things like that — but we’re pretty much all independent.
PB: I keep going back to this, but I imagine given the quality of the recordings that you had to have labels of all sizes and scope — and means — sniffing around …
Spags: A few years ago, we were very interested in pursuing that ideal deal, getting signed and all. And it really only ended up nearly breaking the band up. Everything was so pressure-filled, with which label and manager is in, which is out … we kind of, not gave up on it, but shifted focus and didn’t make that a goal. We instead focused on getting out and playing as many shows as possible and just enjoying that, and seeing where that takes us, with the belief that if we do the right thing someone will come along and take notice, and we as a band will be in a lot better place, on a lot firmer ground. You can drive yourself crazy trying to achieve that all the time, you lose focus of why you got into this and formed a band in the first place.
PB: Plus, the music industry is such a different beast these days, that while it’s great to have a big label behind you with huge resources to support and develop your growth, it’s clearly no longer the only route, like it once was. You can sustain in a grassroots way these days.
Spags: We look at it as we’re not making a million dollars a year, but we’re surviving on it. As long as I can get a cheeseburger at the end of the day, I’m a happy man on tour!
PB: I think it’s a nice method of trimming the herd actually — it keeps the people who are in it for the right reasons in it, and the trendy money-chasers will get exposed, frustrated, quit and move on to selling cell phones or something …
Spags: It’s not an easy thing to do, or path to take. We’ve been doing this for over 5 years now, and it’s not an easy lifestyle, but for the people that are still around, it’s so worth it when you go like 1200 miles away to Florida and there are people there wearing your T-shirts. It just makes you feel good.
PB: You’re not the typical Jersey shore pop-punk band or any of-the-moment type band for that matter. Do you feel kind of like outsiders in a sense, and does that embolden the band, like a unifying force for the group?
Spags: That’s always kind of been a double-edged sword for us because on one hand it’s something that’s allowed us to completely differentiate ourselves from the rest of the pack. However, we’ve completely differentiated ourselves from the rest of the pack! We don’t fit in with any particular scene per se, so it’s been a little bit of a harder course for us, we’ve had to create our own little niche amongst everybody else.
PB: And that poses a whole host of challenges. Things as simple as putting together a larger show with different bands that are logical, sensible fits on a bill …
Spags: It’s tough. We’ve tried and continue to try to play with a lot of different bands we know, but its tough. We’ve been open to playing with bands of different genres and different age groups, with different kinds of people that like the music, but just getting the music to these people makes it just a little bit harder.
PB: Looking forward, tell me about any plans in the works for the near future for the band …
Spags: We’re working on New Year’s show, then come 2012, we’d like to put out an EP, maybe do some remixes and stuff, then hit the road- we’re trying to put together a schedule to tour January through March tour, go bigger than what we did last year.
PB: That’s a long road jaunt! Do you guys have jobs you’d have to quit, and major life commitments to put on hold or the back-burner?
Spags: Well that’s a decision we recently came to, that if we’re going to do it, we’re going to do it at this point. It will be a full-time thing one way or the other and either it will work out or we’ll live with having tried very hard.
PB: Are there mounting pressures to succumb to real-life pressures and responsibilities given your five-plus years into this project?
Spags: Responsibilities … what a horrible word! We have lost some members in the past to marriage and real life and all that but when we did tours with a lot of lower level nationals like Suicide City, that planted the seed in our head that this is what we wanted to do. It was more inspiring than anything else. We’re all in our mid-20s, it’s one of those things where we’re still young and we can pretty much fuck up still and live with it! But we feel like now is the time, we’re ready to step up to the next level and it doesn’t matter if somebody is going to give us the next level or if we have to take it, we’re just going to try anyway!
Support the rock ‘n’ roll spirit of perseverance, passion and most importantly, fun, at Jersey rock institution — and monument to perseverance — The Brighton Bar, with End Of An Era’s live Halloween party on Saturday, featuring costume contests, dancers and additional performances by Vextion, A Life There After, The Divid3, and Black Tooth Grin. Doors at 7:00 p.m., all-ages/21+ to drink.