SPECIAL SATURDAY MORNING INTERVIEW: YAKUZA’S BRUCE LAMONT
Back in August, I got a chance to talk with Yakuza front man Bruce Lamont about all things Yakuza, his band’s stellar new album, Of Seismic Consequence (which is a contender for this curmudgeon’s year-end “Best Of” list), his upcoming side projects and collaborations, his other fellow musicians from the Windy City, and Yakuza’s then not-yet-announced tour with Triptykon and 1349 — a tour that is now under way.
Unfortunately, then the Bob Cock penchant for procrastination kicked in. But whilst Yakuza are still in the midst of the aforementioned tour (get dates here), I present you with the always charming Mr. Lamont’s take on…well, just about anything he’s involved in nowadays – including an upcoming solo album.
I’ve got to say: As far as Yakuza’s stuff goes, this is probably your best album yet. Well, my favorite, maybe I should say. Is that the general consensus so far? Sometimes a new Yakuza album brings out polarizing opinions, but it’s usually high praise from the Decibels and Pitchforks and stuff.
Yeah, I mean it’s nice and we’ve always appreciated everything anyone’s had to say about us, but we never take that into consideration when we’re writing. It’s really nice when it happens and people like it, so the band is in good spirits now. But it wouldn’t affect us either way, I don’t think. It’s cool that people aren’t elitist with their opinions, and we try not to be, either.
What about the feel of the record? It seems like there’s not as much of the spastic-grind stuff and more of a flowing feel to it than the last few records, at least to me. I mean there has always been that diversity across your records, but this feels more intentional. It has more of a “like” flow. Was that conscious to make it work like that?
Not conscious, really… maybe more apparent to the band after the fact, though. And the writing was more continuous than before. We all have sort of eclectic tastes and that seeped into the creative process. Maybe it’s a subconscious look at it as a full record, not a track by track-thing. Like that’s the thing… a few reviews said something was a little too herky-jerky before. But we didn’t necessarily take it into consideration, but the end result this time was, “Wow. That’s a lot more continuous.” But there’s still a diversity of songs themselves. Maybe that’s why people are taking to it a bit more this time… it’s easier to digest. Part of us kind of likes to fuck with [the listeners]. It’s funny when it gets people worked up. [switches to a nasally voice] “That fuckin’ sax! That’s fuckin’ ridiculous!” [chuckles] That’s like adding fuel to the fire. Whereas maybe we would have used it once and then said, “Nah. The next time…” Now we have more reason to keep it around.
Okay, for Of Seismic Consequence, Profound Lore a blurb on their website: “Bruce Lamont and Co. take their music further into the realm of the apocalypse, a reflection of the end of days and its aftermath, and coming that much closer into penetrating the dark night of the soul.” Is that spot on? Is there a theme for the album, and is that pretty on point, musically and lyrically? Especially on “Deluge,” at the end of the record…
In a sense, yeah. It’s definitely a sort of “End of Days” thing. We’ve come to a head of something as a culture, a race… well, not even a race, just the world. But the material [on the record] is pretty dark overall. I mean, we have different viewpoints in the camp and I’m the perpetual optimist. Metaphorically, though, as cultures move into a new era, a new age I think things are changing. And due for change. I don’t think it’s going to be a cataclysmic event, but with the advent of technology, things seem to be brewing. It’s not bad yet, but it seems like it’s time. The world’s changing and it’s reacting to how we treat it. It’s out of control. It’s not epic yet… [pause] like the cultural shit in the 60s? I think that was like a burp compared to what’s coming. I just don’t want it to be December 21, 2012. [laughs] I don’t want the Mayans to win.
Ha! Plus — I never saw that movie, 2012, but if it doesn’t go down like that, then we can show Bruckheimer or whoever did that what’s really up. [Further research afterward informed this writer that Roland Emmerich directed the movie. It still looks as shitty as any Jerry Bruckheimer flick].
[laughs] Yeah, wouldn’t that be great? “Take that!”
Now, aside from just Yakuza and the new album, you’re also involved with a few other bands and projects. There’s Circle of Animals with Sanford Parker [Minsk], Bloodiest coming out next year, your solo stuff coming next year, too. How do you figure out what goes where?
It depends on the players, really. Different material and different writing styles, so it usually sounds different. It’s reactive and proactive. Like with Bloodiest, the music is written by Eric [Chaleff] and Tony [Lazarra], which is way different than writing with Jim [Staffel] and Matt [McClelland, in Yakuza]. Me and Sanford – all that writing, the whole process, is done in a studio environment with just he and I figuring out drum parts. Sometimes one of the guys from Asschapel is there. For Yakuza, though, it’s more of a jam situation; just feeling things out. We’ve got four heads in there then to work that out. For Bloodiest, it’s usually Eric and Tony writing and I come into it later.
Well I know you’ve been doing solo shows off and on for a few years in between Yakuza and then all this new stuff too. Are these records you’re doing next year for At A Loss still stuff you’ve been playing off and on along the way, or is it stuff you just put together? Where does Yakuza separate and Bruce Lamont begin?
With me, it’s usually experimenting with looping, noise-oriented stuff. I started doing acoustic guitars and layering that sort of stuff. Like one time, I wrote something for my solo stuff, and Matt heard it and was like, “Dude – why didn’t you bring that to Yakuza?” And I just was like, “Oh. I never thought of that. I was doing this for my solo stuff.” So sometimes it just works that way.
Over the last year or two, there has been some similar crossover personality stuff. It works both ways, but the solo stuff is a little more spontaneous. Like, I can sit down and write most of a song in 10 minutes for my stuff. With Yakuza, it’s four minds, not one. Man, with Bloodiest, it’s what? [counting softly] Seven? Yeah, seven people, most of the time, contributing. It just depends.
And this new Bruce Lamont material… It’s going to be two albums, right? How does that fit as far as one being called The Epic Decline and one being dubbed Feral Songs?
It’s one vision, but one part was finished, and I thought it would work together with another and I intended it to be that way back the [in 2007].
So you did do that consciously knowing that it’d eventually be one piece?
Yeah, I recorded Feral in 2007 with the mindset of, “I don’t want to fuck it up or put it out as it is. I like the companion tracks.” Like, for me, I’ll load a record into iTunes – eight tracks – and think of it as a Side A and a Side B in my mind. So with those three new songs [what will be The Epic Decline], there were seven altogether continuing what I did three years ago with something I did a few months ago, but it’s all at the same place.
And you’re on the latest Nachtmystium video and the album before, too. I’m supposed to ask about the Blake Judd being late for the video shoot story for that one.
[laughs] That scene was awesome! It was kind of a totally help out a friend thing, since I played sax on the last Nachtmystium record [Assassins: Black Meddle Pt. I] and Blake wanted it to kind of be a recurring thing. He said he didn’t “hear” sax on any of the new stuff [on Addicts: Black Meddle Pt. II], but he wanted me to sing, so I was happy to throw on some vox on a song.
But what was the deal, you were going to like be Blake or something in the video?
Actually, the director, Jimmy Hubbard, was there with Seldon Hunt, who’s doing the artwork for my solo album. They were there and I had gone to New York just to hang out. You know? Just go to New York and fuck around and hang out with friends. Jimmy heard I was coming and asked if I wanted to play a part in the video as a drug dealer. I said, “Sure,” ‘cause I know all those guys and I’m friends with Blake, obviously. Blake ended up calling to say he missed his flight, so Jimmy asked if I wanted to do Blake’s role. So I played the drug dealer, and then Blake would be the drug addict. You, know? Like on the cover of the new record.
Oh, okay, I thought we’d be seeing you like belting out his vocal parts [laughs].
[laughs] Yeah, there was – or there’s going to be like some live parts of him singing, but it’s mostly a story video like the cover art… the junkie chicks.
[Since this conversation, the clip, for “Every Last Drop,” still hasn’t appeared online, aside from a few stills at Blabbermouth.]
Back to Yakuza — or sort of — I guess. You’re doing this Yakuza Arkestra thing in Chicago in August [note: this was conducted prior to the event], with an expanded line-up with the cellist and female vocal parts that are on Of Seismic Consequence. How did all that come about? Did you just want to do something special at home at this festival to celebrate it? This isn’t like a recurring thing you’ve been practicing, is it?
[laughs] Yep, this is the first time. We’ve been rehearsing with sections… [thinks quietly] Yeah, nine people. At the record release show, we had Allison Chesley [cellist] and Kelly, my sister [vocals], do their parts and it went over really well. One of my friends is one of the programmers of the festival [Wicker Park Music Festival] and I heard our name was getting tossed around and explained to the booking agent about what we had in mind. We started talking, and we were like, “Hell yeah” when we found out they were interested. We just finished final rehearsals, and everybody’s super seasoned and professional. The sound guy is my friend, so we’re in good hands for this.
So this is a one-off thing just for this weekend? Can we ever expect it again, or like when you’re back in Chicago?
It’s a one-off thing, we’ll see how it works out, I guess. We’ve never gotten the opportunity to try more than this once. It’s a special thing. Good thing our percussionist is in town… We thought we were going to be missing that, and then we thought Allison couldn’t make it. She said she was in Europe that weekend but then we got moved from Saturday to Sunday so Yakuza would play with Torche and Baroness. And she said, “I get in that morning!” to that, so the band’s falling into place. Ken Vandermark, Mars Williams, and Dave Rempis [all Yakuza collaborators] are in town now too, so it worked out well. Everything sort of fell into place.
Now that Triptykon / 1349 tour. How awesome is that? Eccelctic line-up, but I’m sure you guys have no problem with that, right?
Yeah, we’re definitely excited. I heard our name was getting tossed around for it, but I totally didn’t think we’d get it. I guess we had to be approved by both Tom G. and 1349, and Tom G. was like, “Hell yeah, they’d be perfect.” I think that Triptykon record is great, so we were definitely excited.
Yeah, you’d think he’d be into somebody like Yakuza opening for any of his bands.
Yeah – I had actually met him a few years back and he had some nice things to say about us. He was cool. So it’s all good now.
Mostly new things, yeah. Then – I’m not sure how long our set is – but, if there’s time, then probably one song off of the last two records. We probably won’t play anything from [2001’s] Amount To Nothing or [2002’s] Way Of The Dead. But, like, for our record release show, we played for an hour and a half and played the whole new record and at least one off of the other albums.
What about like the, whatever you call it, ‘jamming’ or ‘messing around with song construction’ that’s made the last few times I’ve seen Yakuza so interesting. Can we expect that?
Yeah, I think so. Like, I think with our intro [on Of Seismic Consequence], “The Ant People,” there’s some open room to branch out from the song. Matt plays percussion a little; I do some looping with sax and vocals. It’s a pretty standard beat.
Standard for Yakuza.
Yeah, standard for Yakuza. Like it’s not a crazy beat or pulling away into free jazz or anything. We’ll hold the beat, but we’ll kind of be able to move things around.
Yakuza is in the midst of the aforementioned tour with Triptykon and 1349. Footage from the Yakuza Arkestra special set at Chicago’s Wicker Park Music Festival has surfaced on YouTube as well.