I was fortunate enough to catch up with Nate Bergman (guitar/vocals) from Lionize recently for Heavy Planet. Check out what he had to say about his band's new album and upcoming tour, playing with Clutch and Kylesa and what's next for the innovators of stoner rock/reggae fusion.
Heavy Planet: First of all, congratulations on the new album Destruction Manual and on the upcoming tours with Authority Zero and Streetlight Manifesto.
Nate Bergman: Thanks so much. We are really stoked for what the year has in store for us. We're definitely a band that thrives on the road so it's going to be a great year for us. I think we're also excited to get the new record to the fans. People have been asking for it for almost a year now, so we're just happy to get it in everyone's hands. I think it will please everyone that's waited for it, it's an album we are very proud of as a whole.
HP: I had the chance to see you guys open for Clutch about a year ago at the 9:30 Club and you had Tim Sult on stage with you that night. I realize he plays guitar on your albums, but I’m assuming his responsibilities with Clutch don’t allow him to go on tour with you guys…how do you replicate his guitar parts when he isn’t out there with you?
NB: Playing with Tim live is a treat, but as you mentioned, he's one of the busiest guitar players out there. Clutch is on the road non stop so his schedule is definitely tight. He's made it out to some pretty great tour dates with us opening for Steel Pulse and Ozomatli and some great 930 club shows that are a bit closer to home. When he isn't with us, which is most of the time, it's not really about replicating what he does, because you really can't. It's more about taking a good amount of the hooks and ideas he lays down and trying (at least for me as the guitar player) to replicate something in that fashion, but not really the same line. As far as solos go, that's usually something that is improvised each night between organ and guitar. There really isn't a set-in-stone thing we play for the live shows as far as solos or hooks go. We love to improvise in a live setting.
HP: Speaking of Tim and Clutch, how did you get to know those guys? I know Neil did vocals on the title track of your 2006 Mummies Wrapped in Money EP, so your relationship obviously goes back a few years.
NB: It's an interesting story. (Nate) My father used to own a seafood store in Gaithersburg, MD where Neil had one of his first jobs working there. I was always there as a small kid with my dad at work, I'm sure annoying the life out of Neil and the rest of the employees. From those days, into my adolescence I followed Clutch a bit and saw them a few times at the 930 Club. Then a few years down the road I was in a band of my own, and our drummer was working very close with a teacher named Walter Saalb who had taught Jean Paul for a long time. We eventually hung out a few times at Walter's house and over a bit of time and some jamming, they invited us out in 2006 to a play a show with the Bakerton Group in Baltimore. Right before that we had asked Neil to add some vocals to the Mummies EP because we wanted a voice other than the reggae bands we were touring with at the time to add to the title track. Someone that could breathe a little life into it. After the first initial show a a few more here and there, then some tours. Then recording with Tim in Jamaica for Space Pope. That's pretty much the history there. It's all about seafood really.
HP: Of course, you guys have also shared the stage with another highly influential artist. If I’m not mistaken, you were the backing band for legendary reggae/dub artist Lee “Scratch” Perry on a couple of his recent tours, isn’t that right? How did you guys hook up with Lee Perry?
NB: In 2007 we had been asked by a club in Baltimore to come out and support Lee for a big show in the fall. We did it, and the show went great and his fans were receptive to the heavier sounds we were playing as opposed to I think most of the time the openers are traditional roots reggae bands. Then in 2008 we got a call from his management asking if we wanted to open the show again this year and be the back up band. We felt like it would be a great exercise as a band to do the dub reggae set with Lee, and in reggae music he's a legend, so we got a really cool set together and did the show. We played the show and it went well and that was that for about a year. Then his manager called up one day and said Lee really loved the Heavier riffs we put into his set, and the improvising and the vibe and wanted us to back him up on a full US tour, and open the dates as Lionize. We've done a few of those tours since 2009 and probably another one this year.
HP: Last summer I know that Chris had an opportunity to play with The Bakerton Group at Bonaroo. That must have been pretty amazing…tell me a little bit about that experience.
NB: It was pretty amazing. I've never been a part of any festival that size before. It's a little bit nerve racking to play with someone else's group for such a big show, but luckily we had a good number of tour dates before we got to Bonaroo, so I was very comfortable with the tunes by then. What's really great about playing with the Bakerton Group is playing with all the Clutch guys in a more improvisational format. Playing behind Tim and riffing off of what he's doing in the moment, and really just listening to the band and letting that dictate what I'm going to play is an amazing live playing experience. You never know what you're going to get or where it's going to go next. So it forced me to just pay attention and fit in and become better at my instrument.
HP: With most bands, the answer to this next question is painfully obvious and therefore the question itself is totally cliché. But since you guys blend various styles of music to create such an original sound, I’m really curious who would you cite as the primary influences behind Lionize (other than Clutch and Lee “Scratch” Perry of course)?
NB: I'd say its a lot of the classics, bands like Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, Parliament, The Beatles, Allman Brothers, and then bands like Steel Pulse (that might be the biggest influence), The Wailers, The Heptones, Abyssinians on the reggae side. There's so many parallels to Heavy riff music and dark reggae in minor keys. The groove is in the pocket and both musics are born from the blues. There's some Abyssinians songs that are as slow and dark as Black Sabbath for sure. As for modern bands, touring with Clutch and Wino and the Bakteron Group and Lee Perry has definitely had an impact on the band. It's kind of hard not to soak all that up when you're spending so much time listening to it in a live and recorded setting.
HP: Given the sort of stoner rock/reggae elements that you guys incorporate into your music, I’m sure you appeal to fans of a number of different styles and genres. How has the reception been from some of the different fans out on the road? I mean going from a Lee Perry tour to opening for Kylesa must open the door for some interesting reactions…any funny road stories where people didn’t quite “get it”?
NB: It's funny because the most receptive audiences in all of our touring have been the more metal or rock crowds. For some reason audiences that are into stoner rock or metal or classic rock seem to really understand where we're coming from. Not to say the reggae or jam audiences don't "get it" but I think sometimes those audiences are more interested in putting you in a box, or have a hard time digesting something they haven't classified into some neat little label yet. The metal and rock crowds just seem to care about if you're good or not. Not what you look like, or what they think you're supposed to be doing, but only if you can play your songs well and how it sounds as a whole. Some of the best shows we had last year were with Kylesa and Clutch. With every audience you're going to get people who "don't get it" or don't really care to and that's fine with us. We're not trying to win over 1,000 people a night. We're very happy with the 10 people in the room who are now serious fans. I think we're more satisfied as a band with 100 passionate fans in a room than 1,000 casual listeners who can't wait for the headliner to come on.
HP: So tell me a little about your upcoming album Destruction Manual. How is it different from your previous record Space Pope and the Glass Machine? Is there any particular meaning or reasoning behind the title?
NB: The album is probably the most complete idea we've had from start to finish. Lyrically and musically, the album is a more cohesive piece of art from our last recordings. We went to J.Robbins at the Magpie Cage in Baltimore who's done a ton of great records from Clutch, Wino, Bakerton, Against Me! and others. We wanted the record to have more of a live feel than Space Pope. We kind of stripped down a lot of the ideas to be able to replicate live what we had at that point in time. We are very proud of Space Pope, but it's a more layered and synth driven record. There's live horns and back up singers, and these are things which we have none of live. So we wanted this record to more represent what we're capable of live and have a more organic sound than Space Pope. I think we accentuated the "rock" sound of the band a bit more and it makes for a more well rounded and exciting record. Working with J. in the studio was an amazing experience. The guy is so laid back and really full of great ideas all the time. He has a way to get the best takes out of each person without really making us feel like we're grinding it out too hard. The name of the record comes from something Henry's (Bass) brother Charlie used to say when they were younger and couldn't pronounce "instruction manual" with his toys and such. So he used to say "Destruction Manual" which definitely conjures up a lot of detailed images and plays along with themes in the record.
HP: Looking ahead in 2011, what’s next for Lionize…aside from the two upcoming tours which I’ve already mentioned?
NB: We are going to be releasing another EP in the late spring/summer, Re-Issues of Space Pope and the Glass Machine, Mummies Wrapped in Money, Vinyl reissues and some more things we've wanted to do for years but didn't have the means to. We are going to be a part of a very cool summer long festival tour (announced Jan. 26th) and then shortly after that we'll be recording another full length record which we're about to be 3/4 of the way through the writing process. We have teamed up with our management company Hardline Entertainment to release our own material now, so we have the freedom to do whatever we want to as far as recording and releasing. We hope to see everyone out on the road and we're looking forward to sharing all these rad things with everyone!
HP: Hey listen Nate…thanks a lot for your time. Reg has already stamped his mark of approval on your new album right here on Heavy Planet and I’m sure our readers can’t wait to get their hands on it when it comes out next month. Good luck and I look forward to catching you on one of the upcoming tour dates.
Keep an eye out for Lionize as they hit the road this month in support of Destruction Manual. You can catch them on the following tour dates:
1/4/11 Black Sheep - Colorado Springs, CO w/Authority Zero
1/5/11 Marquis Theater - Denver, CO w/Authority Zero
1/7/11 The Beat Kitchen - Chicago, IL w/Authority Zero
1/8/11 Peabody's - Cleveland, OH w/Authority Zero
1/9/11 Magic Stick - Detroit, MI w/Authority Zero
1/10/11 Diesel Club - Pittsburgh, PA w/Authority Zero
1/12/11 Masquerade - Atlanta, GA w/Authority Zero
1/13/11 The Pit - Jacksonville, FL w/Authority Zero
1/14/11 Sports Page - Satellite Beach, FL w/Authority Zero
1/15/11 Culture Room - Fort Lauderdale, FL w/Authority Zero
1/16/11 The Backbooth - Orlando, FL w/Authority Zero
1/17/11 Local 662 - St. Petersburg, FL w/Authority Zero
1/19/11 The Gig - Beaumont, TX w/Authority Zero
1/20/11 Tree's - Dallas, TX w/Authority Zero
1/21/11 House of Rock - Corpus Christi, TX w/Authority Zero
1/22/11 Scout Bar - Houston, TX w/Authority Zero
1/23/11 Emo's - Austin, TX w/Authority Zero
1/24/11 Club 101 - El Paso, TX w/Authority Zero
1/25/11 Launchpad - Albuquerque, NM w/Authority Zero
1/27/11 The Rock - Tucson, AZ w/Authority Zero
1/28/11 The Sound Wave - San Diego, CA w/Authority Zero
2/10/11 Northern Lights - Clifton Park, NY w/Streetlight Manifesto
2/11/11 Pearl Street - Northampton, MA w/Streetlight Manifesto
2/12/11 Water Street Music Hall - Rochester, NY w/Streetlight Manifesto
2/13/11 Peabody's Down Under - Cleveland, OH w/Streetlight Manifesto
2/14/11 The Intersection - Grand Rapids, MI w/Streetlight Manifesto
2/15/11 Durty Nellie's - Palatine, IL w/Streetlight Manifesto
2/16/11 Pop's Nightclub - Sauget, IL w/Streetlight Manifesto
2/17/11 Turner Hall - Milwaukee, WI w/Streetlight Manifesto
2/18/11 Triple Rock Social Club - Minneapolis, MN w/Streetlight Manifesto
2/19/11 WECC - Winnipeg, MB w/Streetlight Manifesto
2/21/11 The Starlite Room - Edmonton, AB w/Streetlight Manifesto
2/22/11 Republik - Calgary, AB w/Streetlight Manifesto
2/25/11 The Catalyst - Santa Cruz, CA w/Streetlight Manifesto
2/26/11 Hard Rock Cafe - Las Vegas, NV w/Streetlight Manifesto
2/27/11 The Glasshouse - Pomona, CA w/Streetlight Manifesto