bill bodkin interviews the badass New York metal band …
AnAkA brings the heavy anytime they perform. We first saw them on a frigid January evening at Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, N.J., when they opened up for Life Of Agony. The doldrums of winter were blown off the audience when AnAkA evoked the highest metal gods and brought a supreme heavy metal force to the Central Jersey concert venue. Since that show, the band has been on a tremendous roll — having a top rated video on MTV, selling out concert venues and New York and now putting the finishing touches on an all-acoustic metal album.
Pop-Break’s Bill Bodkin spoke with Pete Pallis, one of the founding members of AnAkA about their new album, the rich tradition of New York metal and performing Saturday at Irving Plaza in New York City.
Pop-Break: AnAkA is HEAVY. We heard you guys open for Life Of Agony at Starland Ballroom in January and a lot of people were impressed with the thunder you guys brought. However, your current project is working on an all acoustic album. Can you talk about why you guys went this way with your new record?
Peter Pallis: Yeah, that LOA show at Starland Ballroom was a killer! We really dig bringing the AnAkA Army to Starland Ballroom and doing our thing. It’s one of our favorite venues. We had some awesome shows this year. We hit Highline Ballroom a few times, and show at Gramercy Theatre was great, too. There is nothing like going out there and doing what you were born to do.
Working on the acoustic album has been a great experience for us, and the idea of making a record like this goes all the way back to the beginning of the band. Back in the day, Karl Andreassen and I would have acoustic jams all the time. In many ways those jams were what sparked the formation of AnAkA. Over the years, AnAkA has also played a number of acoustic gigs, and fan reactions have always been great so we knew it would be a great project to undertake at some point. We have released three records to this poin,t and it just seems like a perfect time to do this. We are really proud of this album.
The acoustic vibe has always been a part of the AnAkA sound. When it comes to acoustic music, we have always been greatly influenced by Alice In Chains and anything they put out acoustic or otherwise. My brother Jimmy Pallis and I are huge fans of Zakk Wlyde’s earlier records, Pride And Glory and Book Of Shadows, which were very piano and acoustic guitar driven. We are also really into Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds. Cave is a genius at delivering dark ballads. So when you add those influences to our heavier influences, you really have a wide range of stuff we can feed on. I mean, if you really take a closer listen, there are many acoustic parts on all of AnAkA albums. In fact, I actually write much of our heaviest stuff at home on the acoustic guitar. I like to always have a guitar within reach for when ideas pop up, and the acoustic is great for that.
In late 2010, we were in the studio re-mixing our very first 2001 release entitled Down Devil’s Road for its 10th anniversary edition re-release, which is out now. At the time I had finished up writing an acoustic song that I wanted to record. It was personal — I had written it for my little girl and I wanted to record it for her as a gift. I played the song to the guys. Our producer Jerry Farley really dug it, and just said lets go for it. Jerry has produced all our albums — he really is like a member of the band to us when we are in the recording studio. We are on the same page musically, and I could tell from his reaction to the songs that he was really into what we were about to do.
We recorded it, I sang lead vocals on the track, and Jimmy laid down some really heartfelt backing vocals as well. Upon sitting back and listening to it we knew we had hit upon something special. Everyone in the room was like, “Wow, let’s do more of this!”
One just wasn’t enough for us, and it just snowballed from there. I presented a number of other acoustic songs I had been working on, and it quickly became clear that we had a new album with an acoustic theme on our hands. It was inspiring that we could just make something like this thing happen just because we all shared the same passion for music. There was no hesitation — the album seemed to have a life of its own right from the start. It was such a creative environment, and it was great because we weren’t in our normal comfort zone. We took on an entirely new challenge and we reveled in it. I was so inspired by the process that I literally wrote a new song for the album on the spot, and we recorded it a few days later.
Normally, when I record AnAkA guitars in the studio, we walk in, fire up the Mesa Boogies and make it thunder. It’s massive, it’s brutal, and it shakes the studio. On this record, it was the complete opposite. I walked into the studio and all there was were two acoustic guitars on stands, and a couple microphones set to capture the performances. There were no massive amp sounds, there was nothing to hide behind, there was only creativity, the techniques, and my passion for playing the guitar and song writing. It was like stripping it all down to the complete foundation and going all the way back to what music was mean to sound like at the beginning. Just the instrument and the feelings.
Was it a challenge? Yes, a wonderful challenge. I learned so much making this record, and I like to think that we all stepped up to another level, producer and band alike. It was also really cool exploring how to bring more stringed instruments and piano into the AnAkA sound.
PB: Following up on that, you’ve mentioned that album is going to be much different from a lot of the typical acoustic albums metal bands put out there. Can you expand on this?
PP: This album is very guitar- and piano-based at its core. It goes everywhere musically. There are strong classical elements, blues, jazz, flamenco, and metal vibes to the record. It wasn’t about us just getting together and playing some rock songs acoustically. This album was an exploration of many different musical vibes, and we didn’t stick to any one particular game plan, we went everywhere and we weren’t afraid to try something new.
Jimmy Pallis really stepped up to an even higher plain on this album. Vocally, he really went to some amazing new places. For me, writing the lyrics to this album was great because there was so much room for them. Lyrically, there is some really heartfelt and empowering stuff on this album, yet it also goes into some really dark places. There was just so much that could be said, and with Jimmy’s voice, there was no limit. There were just so many vocal harmonize that were there for the taking and Jimmy owns when it comes to singing. His vocal abilities and his intensity really shine through on this album.
Karl Andreassen delivers some really haunting bass tones, and set a deep foundation for us. Karl loves acoustic music and you just knew he was digging the recording process for this record. His tones and his bass playing on this thing really set the mood for the album.
Tony Heredia was extremely inventive and experimental with his drumming on this project. He was really into working out what kind of drums and percussive instruments each song called for. He stepped back and a put a unique spin on what he wanted the drums to be. I really enjoyed watching him work on this because it was so out of the box. There was no set formula, and I think he really dug the fact that he could be creative in new and different ways.
PB: You guys seem to have a rabid fanbase, The AnAkA Army, that helps you guys sell out venues like The Highline Ballroom and Irving Plaza in NYC. What do you think it is about AnAkA that has stirred up such an intense love for your band? A better way to put this question might be, what separates you guys from all the other metal bands out there?
PP: The AnAkA Army is truly awesome, man, and they are loyal to the bone. They are intense and loyal to us and I think that it’s because they know we are no different than they are. After a show, you won’t find us backstage. You will find us with them. Knocking back a few drinks and having a good time.
When we are on stage doing what we do best they are there fueling us, sending the energy right back at us. It’s a family, it’s an army. It’s a bunch of people dedicated to true honest music. It’s massive and it’s growing every moment, every second. I think they have connected to the honesty of the band’s music and our outlook as people. We are them and they are us, it’s that simple.
As for what set us apart from other bands, that’s not for us to say. We will leave that for others to ponder. When you do the work, the work speaks for itself. Enough said there.
As far as what people cling to when they hear the band, I think it’s the intense, the heavy, heartfelt groove, the lyrical honesty, and the AnAkA “hooks” our songs have. I mean, think about the lyrics to the chorus of “Erase” — “I hate you with all that I love, I love you with all that I hate.” Who hasn’t felt that way in at one time or another in their life time? It gets its hooks in you. I think that’s why “Erase” exploded onto the media scene like it did. You hear it and you remember it because of the way it is presented, and because you can relate to it.
Musically, we are heavy yet the songs can literally go anywhere at any moment. The music can be monstrous and intense, or clean and heartfelt. There is something for everyone musically in our sound. We are really proud that we can connect with people though our music. The AnAkA Army’s loyalty and support is an amazing gift.
PB: With that being said, are there any plans for you guys to tour outside of the New York/New Jersey area?
PP: That’s always something that we are very much up for. We have always looked at ourselves as a flagship band — we are self sustaining, and we have always marched to the beat of our own drummer so to speak. When it comes to touring, it’s all about cost efficiency and getting the name out there. The most important part of being self-built is the next step, and we are always looking to create our opportunities instead of waiting for others to make them happen for us. Support is pouring from all over the U.S. and the world. It’s humbling and it’s a tribute to the legacy we are building as a band.
PB: Your music video for “Erase” was one of the most viewed music videos on MTV.com for quite sometime. You guys were up there with Jay-Z and Kanye for weeks. Can you talk about the feeling of having your video being so popular?
PP: It was a great accomplishment for us as a band. It was a true reinforcement of all the work we have put in, our self belief, our connection as a family, as musicians, and as people. We never let the nay-sayers push us off the path. We kept working and in time we outlasted them. We are still outlasting them and that is a powerful thing.
In spring and summer 2010, our music video for “Erase” directed by Kevin J. Custer, was added by and made a great impact at MTV, MTV2, MTV Music, Music Choice Video On Demand, VH1, SPIKE TV, etc., and many more! “Erase” reached No. 1 on MTV Music’s Top 100 Music Video Chart for a number of weeks. The video also hit the TOP 10 on Music Choice Video On Demand under the entire Rock category, solidifying AnAkA’s position amongst major artists in the metal/hard rock scene.
AnAkA’s latest album, The Glorified Crusade, which was produced by Jerry Farley and myself made a crushing impact on hard rock radio in the summer of 2009 by hitting No. 18 on FMQB Commercial Metal Radio Charts, and also Top 20 on CMJ Loud Rock radio charts. Sharing that position among Metal giants such as Slayer, Megadeth, Killswitch Engage, Devildriver, Five Finger Death Punch, Shadows Fall, etc.
To see our name up there with the likes of some of the industry’s biggest names is great but it is in no way something that we let get to our heads. In AnAkA, the next step is always the most important one. Celebration of victory is preparation for defeat. There is so much more to be accomplished.
PB: For people reading this interview who might be interested in checking you guys out, what’s an album and a song that you believe defines the sound and style of AnAkA?
PP: That’s a tough one. I would say that you would have to listen to a few tunes to really get the gist of what we are all about. Our songs tend to cross genres yet stick to a heavy theme.
I’d say “Erase”, or “The Glorified Crusade” [from the Glorified Crusade album], or “Rust & Jade” and “Misery’s Child” [from the Rust & Jade album], or “Carry On” and “The Sorrow That Left Me Human” [from the Down Devil's Road album].
PB: You come from New York, an area steeped in rich, beautiful and insane hard rock and heavy metal history. Who are the bands that you guys grew up on and inspired your sound?
PP: We are Brooklyn, New Yorkers to the bone and we have a lot of respect for the bands that came before us here and paved the way like Life of Agony, Biohazard, and Type O Negative. We take pride in following in their footsteps and helping to carry the banner of intense New York music.
As for our musical influences they are Black Sabbath, Alice In Chains, Metallica, Megadeth, Corrosion of Conformity, Down, Pantera, Black Label Society, Iron Maiden, Testament, etc. Those bands have always been a massive influence on us. We are music historians — this list can just go on and on.
Sometimes when we are jamming, we will break into playing one of our old favorites, or a cover song that inspired us. At a recent gig a fan called out Iron Maiden, I started jamming on the intro riff to “The Trooper,” and before we knew it, we played the whole song, live and unrehearsed. The crowd dug it, but I think we dug it even more! It’s important to honor those who paved the way. We never forget our roots and the bands that inspired us to believe we could follow in their footsteps.
PB: And what’s your current take on the metal scene right now? It’s not as popular, in the mainstream, as it was 10 years ago — but it’s still turning out some good bands. Do you agree or disagree?
PP: I’d say from what we see at shows New York metal is popular and growing fast. The scene is definitely on the rise in a big way. It all depends on the shows and how much bands put into making the shows they are performing on successful. It’s not just about getting on a show and hoping the other bands will bring people for you to play in front of. It’s about building a loyal fan base. The fans are the proof. They don’t lie. If a band has fans and loyal supporters then there are doing it right. That’s how the scene grows.
I think the trouble is a lot of bands think this music thing is a competition. It isn’t, it’s a collaboration. It’s about making successful shows happen. There are bands out there that get that. The truth is good things happen to those who make the sacrifices and put in the hard work. If you aren’t willing to do that, then there isn’t anything more to be said. Its cool to see bands going out there and making it happen. That is how you get it done.
PB: What are your plans for the rest of 2011 and in 2012?
PP: First things first, the plan is to finish up the acoustic album and release it probably early 2012. We can’t wait for people to hear it and connect with it. There has always been something for everyone on AnAkA albums. We have never set boundaries and this record is just another step forward on our musical journey.
We are also in the middle of the writing process for the next full length AnAkA album. It’s been great — we are working on an acoustic album, and at the same time we are writing and putting together the heaviest album we ever done. The new songs are really coming out awesome and you can actually see us perform a few of the new tunes live at our shows! We finish up a new tune and then we are like, ”Cool, that’s killer … let’s play it at the next show and see how the Army reacts to it!” There is nothing like playing brand new songs live. The songs are really powerful and we have pushed the AnAkA groove to new heights. We are really proud of the direction the band is heading in. If you want to check out some of the new tunes, be sure to come out and see us live at Irving Plaza in New York City on Saturday, Nov. 5. It’s going to be a killer show.
Other than that, I can see another music video in the works, more massive shows, and total world domination. Like I said before, we don’t set any boundaries in this band. We just keep climbing up the mountain. The reward is there, in each step; at every pace. There is nothing like living your dream, and enjoying the ride.