Black Pyramid may be a new name to some people, but a band that really should be checked out if Groove infested Doom gets your black heart beating. With their debut 7″ now available via Belgium’s Electric Earth Records and with comparisons being made to the likes of Sleep & Earthride, any self respecting doom fanatic should track down this piece of wax. Recently I caught up with Drummer Clay and Guitarist/Vocalist Andy via email for a few words…
Hi Clay & Andy, how’s life treating you over in Massachusetts at the moment? OK, Lets kick start this interview by giving us a brief history of the band along with why and how you formed Black Pyramid?
CLAY: Well, life is pretty great right now. Being from the South, I definitely enjoy the summers a whole hell of a lot more up here. It’s August right now and it feels like November in Georgia. I had moved up to Western Massachusetts in 2005 with the intention of becoming an audio engineer full-time. I set up my studio and worked hard for the following few years but all the while I would try to recruit people to play the style of music that I missed so much. I wanted to play slow and heavy but it just wasn’t happening.
I was playing guitar, posting on Craigslist and trying to get a band started but it seemed like every drummer wanted to play like Brann from Mastodon. If they could, that would have been fine but most were just hyperactive klutzes who wouldn’t know a down-tempo dirge if their life depended on it. I don’t know if they were trying to show off but it was extremely disheartening. It looked like I was going to be left to rot in the studio.
I had more or less given up when I responded to an ad on StonerRock.com about some band in Connecticut needing a drummer but they were too far away. Luckily Andy saw the ad and we wound up getting together in his garage only a few miles from my house and we just took it from there. His previous band had just broken up so I guess the timing was perfect.
ANDY: Palace In Thunderland had basically dissolved, and I wanted to do something a lot heavier. I couldn’t have done that with that band, although I really wanted to play some truly crushing riffs. It was funny, I figured I would need some songs, so I tuned down a bit lower than usual, and sat down to write them. I really didn’t have a lot of confidence in what I was doing at first. I came up with the basics for the three songs on the demo, so then it was a matter of finding some likeminded people to play music with.
Clay and I were both basically responding to the same guy in Connecticut, then all the sudden it was just like, “Hey, you’re in Northampton? I’m in Northampton too! Why do we need to look for a band in Connecticut, let’s start jamming!” Gein joined up later once we were in full swing.
The lineup also features ex members of Artimus Pyledriver & Palace In Thunderland so can you give us a rundown of the bands current members and what they do?
CLAY: I play drums, try to help arrange and engineer. That’s about it. I try to avoid the role of the drummer who wants his nose in every goddamn thing but ultimately it happens from time to time and I apologize to the rest of the band. I very occasionally write but you can tell it’s me. Andy comes up with 90% of our stuff but now with Gein in the band, we’re really starting to become cohesive as a writing unit.
ANDY: Don’t let him downplay his contributions, one of the songs that will appear on our full length, “Twilight Grave”, Clay wrote the main riff and the verse, and also this bridge riff that is simply massive. But aside from that, Clay keeps me in line a lot as a writer. For instance, with the song we contributed to the upcoming split with Roanoke, “Blood from the Godless Sky”, I had this crazy, proggy bridge section. Truthfully, it was really cool, but Clay basically told me, “look, it’s like you’re trying to pack all this crazy stuff into a bridge that really doesn’t need it.” And he was right, that was exactly what I was trying to do because this was only going to be our second release and I wanted it to be impressive. However, Gein ended up taking over writing that section on bass, and it’s even more impressive now that it’s not a tangled mess that I tried to force. What I’m getting at is, yeah, I sing, play guitar, and write, but it’s becoming more and more of a group effort in terms of everything coming together.
For those that have yet to be exposed to the low-fi riffage of Black Pyramid, how would you describe your music?
CLAY: Hmmm, well.. it’s very loud and very low. I don’t know really what else to describe it. I think Andy can probably do a more accurate job of describing it. For me, it’s simply a reflection of the elements of music that not only do I love to play but I would want to see another band performing live. I hope that makes sense.
ANDY: I’d say it’s a combination of the two things I have a genuine love for: heavy riffs and psychedelic rock. I like to think we draw a little bit from the full spectrums of both genres, but along the way everyone sneaks a little bit of themselves into the overall result.
And although you probably get this all the time, Sleep certainly feel like they have been a big influence on your music and who can blame you, but who would you site has been a major inspiration on the Black Pyramid sound?
CLAY: Well, we all draw from similar wells but ultimately everyone has different interpretations of how they write music. Some riffs might harken to certain bands but if you went through our entire record collections you could probably discover elements of every single record in our sound but who knows? We’re probably influenced by numerous things that only our subconscious is aware of. I mean, maybe Nick Drake’s music has influenced some facet of my writing process but I don’t see it.
ANDY: Sleep is definitely a big inspiration, Electric Wizard, High On Fire, Warhorse, Sloth, The Gates of Slumber, that kind of stuff, but like Clay said, a lot of other influences creep in that you aren’t even thinking. I’m sure a lot of my hooks are influenced by 60’s rock, the same way Black Sabbath and Pentagram were during their day, the difference is we have 30 years of other music to draw upon, prog, punk, hardcore, all that came in between. As a result, there really is no filtering it out as an influence once you hear it.
Can you give us a run down of the equipment you use? Are there any specialist and/or custom items which help forge your sound?
CLAY: Well, for me it was simply trying to find the loudest drums possible since we play many venues without proper PA’s so I bought an old Ludwig Vistalite kit. It’s great for those house shows where Gein and Andy are being heard 2 miles down the road so I just bash the shit out of those Ludwigs and I manage to stay afloat. They definitely cut though but it’s tough with those other two guys.
ANDY: I use a Les Paul into an old Ampeg V-4, into an Ampeg 4×12 cabinet. It’s voiced for maximum volume, and I run a bunch of different old pedals to get various tones from it. Echo and wah are a big part of my sound. I use a Deluxe Memory Man and a Crybaby 535Q. I have a custom Fuzzdrive that J Everman built on my board, but it doesn’t come into play much truthfully. Gein uses a pretty straight forward setup, big tube amp to big speaker cabinet.
Are lyrics important to the band, also who writes them and what subject matters to do they cover?
ANDY: The lyrics are definitely important for creating the overall epic effect. When I was with Palace In Thunderland, I wrote lyrics that were very personal, but veiled in symbolism and allegory, that’s what the whole concept of The Apostles of Silence, our unreleased album, was about. So for Black Pyramid, I really wanted to get away from that approach and deal with lyrics that were entirely from the realm of the imagination, stories set within their own realities. The songs are either about scenarios I dreamt up, or things that I read and then reinterpreted a bit.
For example, The Worm Ouroboros, a song that will appear on our full length, deals with some of the themes from a book of the same title, but I change things around a bit, so that it fits more comfortably into the context of a song. But all in all, the lyrics have to possess this certain blend of phantasmagoria, misanthropy and mythology. I had a lot of pent up anger and frustration associated with my past musical experiences brewing inside of me, and rather than get all angsty and cheesy with it, I channeled it into these strange tales that generally focus around a conflict, which is why there’s a lot of war and battle imagery.
How did you become involved with Belgium label Electric Earth who recently released your debut 7″?
CLAY: Jelle (the owner of Electric Earth) heard our three-song demo on MySpace and offered to release a one-off seven inch for us. We were extremely grateful for his enthusiasm as we had only been playing for a few months at that point. Ultimately he provided a fantastic springboard for us, helped introduce us to the world and did it all on his dime so what else can I say about that? He promoted the record really well, the distribution has been great, the guy is a stand up dude and we hope to deal with him in the future.
ANDY: Jelle is the man.
And what have the reviews/feedback been like for this little slab of vinyl?
CLAY: Very positive, respectful and gave us some validation that we’re on the right path. ‘Visions’ was the very first song we wrote so it was fitting as our first release.
ANDY: I’m very pleased and somewhat surprised by what people had to say. I thought Caravan, the B side, was a real departure from what we had done on the demo, and wasn’t sure how it would go over.
There’s also a split 7″ with Portland’s Roanoke due anytime now, so can you tell us a little bit more about this release, what track(s) it will feature, also who is releasing it and when will it be available?
CLAY: It’s available to listen on our MySpace page right now in its unmastered form. It’s just one song, ‘Blood From A Godless Sky’. Roanoke approached us about doing a split 7″ and since it was going to be a while before the full length was released it seemed like the right thing to do. They’re cool dudes and we’re honored to do it.
ANDY: Portland Oregon’s Parasitic Records is set to release it, we’re not certain of a release date yet, probably once the artwork comes together, that’ll be much easier to ascertain.
Tells us a little bit about your home town, Northampton in Massachusetts, does the environment you live in have any bearing on Black Pyramid?
CLAY: Well, I’ve only lived here for a few years but it reminds me of Athens, Georgia. Apparently many people make the same comparison. It has very little to do with the sound of the band, really.
ANDY: It’s a small city, heavily steeped in the arts. Not the Black Arts, the fine arts. I think the sound of the band has much more to do with a state of mind than any physical environment.
And as I know very little about this part of the US, is there any kind of scene/like minded bands you can talk about? What about live music venues, are there many decent places for you to play live, how easy is it for you to get gigs and are they well supported?
ANDY: There’s a bit of a scene going on, but this area is kind of in its own little bubble, so everything tends to be a bit behind the times as far as pushing the envelope. Aside from the noise and electronic bands, most rock here is somewhat safe. It’s an uphill battle bringing something totally new to the table, but loud over amplified music has always had its place in the local scene. Dinosaur Jr are from here, The Unband was from here, The Probates and Hotblack have been kicking around for awhile too. The Bunnies have been around for awhile, they’re loud and doing some really interesting things with their sound. Witch is based from just north of us in Vermont, but it’s close enough that they play here just as much if not more than there. Now there are a lot of younger bands like Cats, Mire, Electric Eyes, and Dangur that are loud, heavy, and aren’t afraid to experiment, and people are starting to catch on. I feel there’s a real future here for heavy music.
As far as venues, The Elevens is our staple, it’s a good sized place with a decent P.A. and a hollow stage. It’s conducive to loud bands, and the manager and booking people are always accommodating to us. We’ve had some fairly well attended shows there. The Sierra Grill is going to try out a night of heavier bands, I hope it goes well and they continue in that vein.
What about playing outside your local area? Have you had many opportunities to gig ‘out of town’ and are there any plans to come over to Europe/UK to play a few dates?
ANDY: We’ve got a good centralized location in the Northeast. Boston, New York City, and Providence Rhode Island are all within three hours from here. We did a short regional tour, which was successful because we planned it well, didn’t get our hopes too high, and didn’t let our ambition blind us to the reality that we’re a band just getting our feet off the ground. House and DIY shows are a staple for us. We’re going to keep playing the region, and expand outward and onward as good opportunities arise. Divide and conquer, you know?
CLAY: We will play the UK/Europe as soon as the timing is right. We’d like to have our full length out by then but we’ll just play it by ear I suppose.
Why have you made your demo available as a free download and do you think other bands should offer a similar service rather than relying on MySpace as a way of checking out new music?
CLAY: We made it free because it’s a demo. MySpace is good for bands but their music player is about as low-fi as you can get. We just wanted to make our demo available for download in the highest quality MP3 format we could offer. Otherwise you have to either get it at the shows or order it online. Many people consider an MP3 as an acceptable format of music so we made it readily available to them. For those who actually want the fidelity of the actual recording, we usually send one for free for every t-shirt that is ordered online.
And what are your views on using file sharing programs such as Soul Seek and bit torrents to obtain free music?
CLAY: At this point in time, especially in this genre, if anyone wants to hear us, by all means…go for it. If you really dig us, you’ll probably swing some monetary love our way by buying a 7 inch, a shirt or a demo. It’s always cool to have someone halfway around the world to buy a shirt from us. It means a lot and we really appreciate it. As with the rest of the world, the cost of gasoline isn’t going down so every dollar helps us get from show to show. I’d be surprised if we were on Soul Seek or any bit torrent tracker. If we are, I’m extremely flattered.
Finally, what are your future plans? Besides the split with Roanoke are there any other releases on the horizon you can tell us about?
CLAY: We’re wrapping up tracking on our first full length release right now. We don’t have a label yet but it doesn’t really matter. We just want to complete the album and then see what happens. We’re coming up on being a band for one year pretty soon and would like to have something to show for it.
ANDY: It looks like we’re going to do our first non-vinyl release as a split EP with the band Old One, but the details are still being sorted out. It may come out before the album depending on labels and release schedules.
Thanks for taking the time to do this interview and please use this space for any final words, plugs or insane rants…
CLAY: It’s always a pleasure to run my mouth at new people. Thanks again for the platform to do so.
ANDY: I’m not feeling particularly insane today, probably because I’m wearing my tin foil helmet and pulled out all my fillings earlier in the week, so yeah, no rants. Sorry to disappoint.
Check out Jelle’s distro at www.electric-earth.com if you’re looking for some heavy vinyl.
More info on Black Pyramid at: www.myspace.com/blackpyramidkills
Interviewed by: Lee Edwards
Live Photo Credit: Heather Rush.