Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Trial {Between Earth & Sky} interview with Vocalist: Greg Bennick. 2010.



Vista: Hey Greg. The first question I wanted to ask is, how did you get involved in the Punk/Hardcore scene? How old were you & who were those first initial bands that you were drawn to? Also, what was your first "core" show?
 

GREG: I got involved in hardcore through my friend Chris when I was 15. He had recorded all these episodes of a punk radio show onto cassettes and then brought them over to my house when my parents weren't around. We listened to The Angry Samoans, The Meatmen, The Circle Jerks and it was mind boggling for me. I had been listening to soft rock, followed by a huge jump in to metal (a phase which still hasn't ended for me) but then to hear hardcore was unreal. People were limitless in terms of their lyrics and song topics and how they approached them.  The music was so intense to my 15 year old ears. I started going to shows the next year. My first shows, in order, were Husker Du, then The Circle Jerks, then the Bad Brains. Not a bad way to start it all off.  That was 1987/1988 in Connecticut so the scene then was just exploding.  Everyone was wearing camo shorts, Nike high tops, and had bleached flat top haircuts.

Vista: Tell us about your most current musical project, Between  Earth and Sky? Could you give us a history of the band, ex-members, year started, what material has been released so far...You know, the whole sha-bang!

GREG: Between Earth and Sky has been a band for ten years. We formed after Trial broke up in 2000. I told my friend Happy in Canada that I wanted to do a hardcore band, and he said that he felt the same. We tried to convince Sean Lande (ex-Strain) to do a band with us and he agreed, but it was four years before we actually recorded or wrote anything. We were a concept band for those first four years, basically talking about riffs and topics all the time, but never practicing or recording or for that matter having a solid lineup. Eventually in around 2004 or so we recorded a one-minute song for the Excursion Records "Power of Ten II" compilation.  Then another five years passed until we recorded two songs (one a spoken track) for the At Both Ends double 7" compilation. All the while we were writing for an EP, and we finally recorded that this past year. The record will be out as a CDep and a 12" 45rpm vinyl record on Refuse Records from Europe this year, and as a double gatefold 7" on Hellfish Records in the USA as well.  This is really important to us for two reasons. First, and most importantly, is that being on a DIY label, a truly DIY label, is very meaningful to us right now. We've all had experiences with larger labels, and have always wanted to put out records in ways that have more integrity. Refuse and Hellfish are incredible examples of labels with integrity and we're honored to be working with them.  We love that they are small and devoted and focused. The same is true for us. The second reason we are stoked to be working with these labels is because it means that I have beaten Civ in a contest that he doesn't even know he was involved in. During the time Between Earth and Sky has been together, we've never practiced even once. We write in the studio and as individuals but never once have ever in ten years gotten together in the same room at the same time as a full band.  This is partly because of schedules, other band commitments, etc...but my personal reason behind making sure that we've never practiced is because of my secret contest with Civ that I am revealing here for the first time. Here's the deal: the band Civ got signed before they'd even played their first show. I thought that was utterly ridiculous. How could a label sign a band before their first show?  I decided that I needed to do one better. My next band would get signed not just before playing our first show, but before we'd ever even practiced. With Between Earth and Sky, I got my wish. Take that Civ! I might have never met you in person, but I win.  Greg =1.  Civ = 0.

Vista: "Between Earth and Sky"...Does this band name tie into some of the thoughts/ideas to the band?

GREG: Definitely! The band has been exploring the psychology of human anxiety and suffering. We as humans are trapped between life and death: living life fully and at the same time knowing that we will die. We are trapped between one side of existence which has us desiring to be eternal and therefore are inherently spiritual creatures (regardless of one's belief - or not - in religion), and on the other side of the coin, the inevitable eventuality of our own demise, which makes us inherently temporal creatures. We're trapped between be it eternal and being immediate. Between wanting to live forever and being worm food.  Between the ultimate freedom and the ultimate negation. We would make ourselves completely insane if we tried to navigate all of this via logic or reason or emotion. There's no way to do that other than to create illusions and then live life by way of those illusions (our culture, our religions, our morals and laws, etc).  So, given the calamity of existence, what do we do with the fact that we are rational, feeling, thinking, emoting creatures doomed to eventually be roadkill? Our band is exploring the corrodes between these existential and emotional polar opposites and doing it using the odd convention of screaming over heavy music. Translation: we like to rock, broseph.

Vista: I know that you are busy with life outside the band. It's a good thing you are a juggler! What are some goals or aspirations for Between Earth and Sky? I mean, are you guys looking to tour & record on a regular basis or is it more of a, "let's play it by ear" type of thing?

GREG: Goals for the band...great question. Our solitary single only goal was to release an EP.  We are all so close as friends that we all dreamed of someday holding a record in our hands that we created together. That is about to be a reality, so we're moving on to new goals: West Coast shows in the fall of 2010, then a two week European tour in 2011 so that we can play Fluff Fest (if we're invited). I would love to play Moscow, and a small town in the Russian Federation called Krosnoyarsk. There are hardcore people there. Some came to Fluff 2009 and I heard about their scene and want to go there and check it out and be a part of it. We are looking to play shows when we can, record when we can, and have it be an ongoing project band, rather than a minimized full time touring band. 

Vista: Speak a little bit on behalf of the other members of the band. Who are some of their direct influences, musically? Also, for you...As a vocalist, can you name a few vocalists that were/are an influence on yourself?

GREG: Happy Kreter plays guitar. He is influenced by the writings of Albert Camus, the guitar work of George Lynch of Dokken, and the voice of Ronnie James Dio.  Sean Lande plays guitar.  He only listens to Between Earth and Sky and Behemoth. EJ Bastien plays bass. He is influenced by metal, though he currently tries to deny that.  Its in his blood. Metal is inescapable.  He loves metal. If he tells you otherwise, just smile and nod at him. Alexei Rodriguez plays drums. He is influenced by countless musicians. He takes music very seriously. If I answer incorrectly on his behalf he will have me killed, so I will move on. I was always influenced by artists who did things that were new, different, or intense in ways I'd not heard before: Karl Buechner from Earth Crisis had such a powerful voice, and the way he changed his tone from record to record was always fascinating to me. Richie Birkenhead from Into Another was willing to take risks that few others did, doing things that he liked even if they were new and unconventional. I was always blown away by people who had voices which never broke. Dave from Botch, John from Himsa. One main influence for me outside of hardcore was Lou Reed. His "New York" album completely blew my mind in its vocal deliver and lyric development. Just raw, and real. I have listened to that record hundreds of times.

Vista: I know that lyrics are just as important to you as the music is. Can you give us some thoughts of the lyrics for Between Earth and Sky that you are touching on? I'm also wondering, as of this interview {Summer/2010}, how many songs do you guys have so far?

GREG: The first song on the record, "Of Roots and Wings", is about the idea I mentioned earlier: our struggle to live fully while at the same time dealing with the awareness that we will eventually die. The second song "Damnation Memoraie" is about how hard we try to suppress memory and also feeling, until its too late. The song talks specifically about losing someone and realizing there's no going back to what you had before, because once they are gone it is indeed entirely too late. The third song "The Spirit Burial Ground" is about being at the point past despair, just before death, when all hope is lost and the only thing there is to do is to fall to one's knees and await the sound of breath or a heartbeat in one's chest to return, thus signaling that life is going to go on. People assume that being sad is the end.  Its not the end.  Death is the end.  But there is a step before death, at the limit past what the human heart can handle, where there is no feeling, no breath, no heartbeat. There is only the void. The fourth song "Praying for Kisses From Poisoned Lips" is about realizing that venomous jabs at those who have done us wrong would be more effectively pointed at ourselves. Its likely true that within us is where adjustment and change needs to be made, because we are the consistent thread in relationships gone wrong, not in those who have supposedly wronged us. We adhere to poinson because we crave it. The last song "The Wounds Never Have to Win" is about the wound itself being a path to deeper healing, but when we suppress our wounds or shut off connection with others because we know we have wounds, we deepen the agony and bleeding instead of healing it.  The rift between us grows. We have those five, an instrumental, and those are the CDep songs. There are about five others in the works for a future release in 2011.

Vista: Speaking of Juggling...How did did you first get involved with that? I thought I heard that you juggle professionally, or you did? Details man...Details!? Also, how old were you & who taught you?

GREG: I learned from two artists who came to my school when I was twelve years old in Connecticut. I did my first professional show at age thirteen, and have continued presenting for a wide range of audiences ever since. These days, the focus of my presentations is on speaking more than just juggling. The juggling is really just an accent to that, but it makes me more interesting than a speaker who just talks. Talking speakers are not a dime a dozen. They are a dime a thousand. So I try to do something different. I present about taking action and tie that theme in with a number of ideas about passion and how to connect with why we do what we do psychologically.

Vista: As a kid growing up, what was your first real connection/introduction to music? From your memory, was there a specific person in your life that exposed you to music early on? I asked you earlier who were your first Hardcore bands that you liked, but what was the first band/group you liked as a kid? My first connection to music was Elvis, The Beatles, Eagles. As a very young teenager, the first band I called my own was Twisted Sister! "We're Not Gonna Take It" spoke to me. That song actually still does. What bands were yours?

GREG: You and I are kindred spirits. Twisted Sister was so awesome. "We're Not Gonna Take It" is not the only good track off of the Stay Hungry album, but its definitely the best one.  Good video too! I first started really getting into music when I found metal and bands that were close to that genre.  Ratt, Dokken, Motley Crue, Twisted Sister, Quiet Riot, Scorpions. Later, it was those bands still plus more progressive bands like Journey, Triumph, Rush, Marillion (the first four records only), and Pink Floyd that expanded my thinking about what was possible with music and how much it impacts us. Those were the bands that did it for me. I don't remember anyone showing these bands to me other than friends in school later on. Early on, I'd found them myself. Then again, in 1986 it was difficult not to trip over Ratt or Motley Crue everywhere you went.

Vista: Where did you grow up? I know that you are from Seattle, but were you born & raised there? Oh wait...I just stalked your myspace page and it says your are from Connecticut! How the hell did you end up in Seattle? Did you naturally gravitate to Seattle in 1990 during the grunge era?

GREG: I grew up in Connecticut in a small town called Woodbury. There were three punk rockers.  Actually four, if you count my girlfriend at the time, but she lived in the town next to Woodbury. We were the only two with mohawks in the whole area. I moved to Seattle in 1991 after studying theatrical mask making with a theater artist for a year. I'd gone to school at Syracuse University and dropped out because it was always 750 below zero there, and Earth Crisis had barely just started so the hardcore scene was really limited. Those reasons and 15,000 frat boys partying every second made it a little unbearable. I took that year off and studied theater, and then moved to Seattle to train as an actor because I knew that it would help augment my stage presence as a speaker and performer. Grunge had nothing to do with it because I moved there two weeks before the Nirvana album dropped, and people weren't thinking about Seattle as a major mecca yet. That all happened in the summer of 1991 but grunge was there before, just not the worldwide fad of flannel that it became after the Nirvana album came out. I actually was terrified of grunge. I had seen this poster of grunge rocker and originator TAD in a record store in Connecticut and was just so freaked out by Tad and his band.  He was immense, obviously psychotic, and wearing these police like sunglasses.  It really unnerved me. This is doubly funny because Tad and I are friends now and he records a lot of the spoken word stuff I do, and we both laugh about the fact that high school-aged Greg was scared of him.

Vista: Now that I'm on the Seattle tip, did you ever see Mother Love Bone live? Have you ever heard the song, "Stardog Champion"? Man, that band/album {"Apple"}  kicks so much ass!

GREG: You are way more Seattle than I am. Are you wearing flannel as you type these questions? I don't really know Mother Love Bone. All that stuff bored me. I had come from The Anthrax in its heyday, and hardcore shows almost every night of the week, so to move to Seattle and have people be listening to Mother Love whatever and watching the same rock shows by the same sounding bands like zombies was just unbearably boring. I needed something way more intense than what Seattle had to offer. It wasn't until the ascendancy of Undertow and Strain that things in the Northwest really got moving. I got there post-Brotherhood so I missed whatever they'd brought to the party.  And no, I haven't heard that song before. Should I?

Vista: To switch gears here, I want to ask you about a project that is clearly close to your heart. I wasn't aware of this project that you are involved with until you had brought it to my attention. Can you give us all the details on, "One Hundred For Haiti"?

GREG: One Hundred for Haiti (http://www.onehundredforhaiti.org) is a group I started after going to Haiti multiple times after the January 12th 2010 earthquake and seeing first hand the need for direct aid there. I'd sailed to Haiti after the quake on a sailboat loaded with 10,000 pounds of medical supplies and food for the people there, and after that realized that I could do far more if I had the support of others as well.  The goal of One Hundred for Haiti is to find one hundred donors at the $1000 and up level to contribute to direct action humanitarian aid in Haiti. I am in close touch with Dr. Jacques Denis, the director of the Centre de Sante Saint Martin II, which is a medical clinic in Port au Prince. Since the earthquake, he has given away for free all medical care and medicine to the people he serves. I am sending him money to help him continue that. There is a video message from him and information about what his needs are on the One Hundred For Haiti website. Just this last week, I had another member of The One Hundred, as I am calling them, sign up and donate $1000. People assume that the crisis there is over because the news isn't reporting on it anymore, but that couldn't be further from the truth.  And people don't need to only donate $1000 and up. I have been accepting all levels of donations, from $2 to $2700 so far. It's trickier to give tax deductible status to donations less than $100 just because of the paperwork involved, but if that's not a concern, please do be in touch with donations anytime. Some ideas for ways for people to get involved: do a benefit show in your town. Talk to touring bands you know about taking One Hundred For Haiti literature and stickers out on the road. Bane and Strike Anywhere have done that and had good response. Maybe your employer would like to donate a percentage of profits from the place you work? Maybe you can get in touch with local media (radio, college radio, newspapers) where you have contacts and have me do an interview on the radio with them so I can spread the word? Any of those things would be very helpful. Be creative with the people you know. Write me if you have ideas or want to help.

Vista: I saw on the website link that you sent to me that anyone out there can make donations through paypal & I know a lot of times people think that small donations don't make any difference at all but that isn't a fact, is it?

GREG: Small donations can make all the difference in the world. Here's a real example of that: a friend of mine told me about a rice distributor in Little Rock who was willing to donate 5000 lbs of rice to Haiti. I called the distributor and worked out a plan to accept and ship that rice, and I put out the word immediately on Facebook that I needed donations of any size in order to pay for the rice to be re-bagged into smaller bags (it comes in these 500 lb bags which would never have fit on a sailboat which is what we had to ship it with), and also for the transport by truck from Little Rock to Miami where we'd ship the rice from, as well as some money for fuel for the boat itself. The responses started coming in right away, and while they did, I called the rice distributor and told him about the instant response, in $2, $10, and $50 donations from people around the world. He got back to me and said he was inspired by that response and that he could come up with more rice. We agreed on 30,000 lbs but if i was going to take that much, he needed it to be moved right away. I put out the call that we needed to raise the money to move that rice and in 72 hours I raised over $4000 via paypal donations from Facebook. Most were $2, $5, $10, $20. So I can tell you that these small donations really did make a huge difference. All that rice got shipped thanks to people who believed that the little amount they were sending really COULD make a difference.

Vista: What are some misconceptions as far as your work in Haiti? I haven't seen or heard literally anything about the struggles Haiti is still facing! I mean, speaking on behalf of the media here in America...The only news worthy of reporting is if Lindsey Lohan is partying her tits off or if Michael Jackson's doctor is gonna be charged with murder! I mean, that's what almost every news channel passes of as "important". Thoughts?

GREG: That's two questions in one. First the media: the media sells advertising, so it must balance the need for people to know what's actually going on with the media's own need to be able to survive through selling stories which sell.  That's not to excuse the media for reporting on the worlds cutest cat, but it does explain a bit of their motives. Lindsey Lohan and Michael Jackson are both names that glue eyeballs to screens and newspapers, and that's what the media needs to survive: not Lindsay or Michael, but readers and viewers. Those numbers translate to dollars being brought in.  Haiti got eclipsed in the media by the domestic environmental disaster in the Gulf, and understandably so. But that doesn't mean that the situation in Haiti has ended. The greatest misconception about the work I do with One Hundred For Haiti is that the people of Haiti MUST have healed by now, right? I hear that all the time. "How are things going down there?  Have they begun to rebuild?"  The answer is that the people are struggling to get by, and that no, they haven't begun to rebuild, at least not in the sense that people here know of. In Haiti you don't just go to get new shiny building materials and start pouring a foundation. To do that, you'd need to find a store first that sold that what you needed in the quantity you needed it, and at a price that wasn't a desperate attempt to squeeze every possible dollar out of the buyer. Haiti was apocalyptic before the quake. Imagine what its like now, given that there's hundreds of thousands of homeless people as well as the devastation from the quake in the form of shattered homes which will never be rebuilt. Along those lines, here's another misconception: that people there owned their own homes and those homes got destroyed. Not true. People rented, from slum lords who often live back in the USA. When the earthquake crumbled everything, the slum lords didn't care. They cut their losses and had no plans to rebuild.  The real housing crisis, or at least a considerable portion of it, comes from the fact that the people there don't own the land on which their shattered houses once stood. So they literally have nowhere to go. You have hundreds of thousands of homeless people, most living in tent cities which have sprung up around Port au Prince, and the people in them have no hope of going back to their homes because the homes and land are destroyed or not theirs to return to. When I was there, visiting the massive 40,000+ person tent cities which have sprung up, I was shocked to see little impromptu businesses developing in them: a hair-cutting bench, a cell phone charging bench, a shoe repair bench. These people weren't planning on a short stay.They were becoming entrenched through cultural development in what might become permanent homelessness.

Vista: You've really dedicated a lot of your time, effort & energy in many causes over the years. Can you give us some information about the causes you've been involved in? Also, was there a person in your life that influenced you or guided you into these directions?

GREG: I actually wish I had devoted even more time to causes over the years. The people who most inspire me are people like the SHAC7, who held their ground, even with the threat of being jailed for speaking their mind, and eventually did do jail time, all for speaking out against animal cruelty and for being a voice for the voiceless. For many years, I was actively involved with the Western Shoshone Defense Project or WSDP (www.wsdp.org) in Nevada.  They work to stop encroachment on traditional lands by the United States government and multinational mining companies who are bidding and vying for the rights to that land.  The WSDP's position, and the Western Shoshone position overall, is based on the Treaty of Ruby Valley signed in 1863. It gives no rights to any land to the US government. The Shoshone have never given, ceded, or sold their land. Their position is that you cannot sell the land. Get in touch with them for recent updates. I haven't been in touch with them as much recently.  Their website has great information on it.  There's also a WSDP overview on my old Words As Weapons website at www.wordsasweapons.com

Vista: Going back to some thoughts on Hardcore. Talk a little bit about the "Burning Fight" book. Some time has passed since the book has been out now. Do you feel it did that time era justice?

GREG: What Brian did with "Burning Fight" was astounding. I would never have tried to do what he did: in one book to synthesize a decade?  What an impossible task. I think it captures the era really well actually. People will always have their reservations about why he included this band or didn't include that band, but no one can define hardcore, and anyone who tries will need to write a book to even come close to defining the genre, let alone a entire decade of the 90's.  I loved the book's essays on animal rights, spirituality, straightedge, and so on, and how the band interviews were specific to each band instead of just being the same generic five questions. I used to get this interview all the time: Question #1. Hello. Question #2. Are you vegan? Question #3. Are you straightedge. Question #4. What are your influences? Question #5. Thank you for this interview. Brian (who wrote Burning Fight) and I are working on a new book together called Unrestrained about turning passion into action and how those who have come from the hardcore scene have done incredible things with the lessons learned within the scene. The book will be done soon. By the time this interview is printed, we'll have a website up at www.unrestrainedbook.com.

Vista: As far as the book release show that went on, tell us how that was? It must have been an amazing show for you guys. Were you nervous at all, going into this show? How was it actually getting together & practicing and preparing for the show?

GREG: Matt Miller's epic photograph says it all. Well almost all. Obviously there are some bittersweet memories attached to the show because of the death of our beloved bassist Brian Redman a few months later. Losing Brian was such a shock to all of us and we're still recovering, and I guess we always will be. I loved that show. We all did. Brian too. We prepped for it by doing a local show in Seattle a few weeks before, with 108 and some great local bands and that calmed our nerves. Seeing one another was tremendous when we got together to practice for the first time. Of course, none of us could have predicted that the shows would go so well or that response would be so solid. I am glad we have Matt's photo as a legacy of that event.  It means a lot to me to be able to look at that photo and think that I am so fortunate to have been a part of a moment so meaningful for so many people.

Vista: As far as Hardcore/Punk goes...What are your top 5 bands/albums of all-time? I'm sure you're into all type of music, but just keep it in the core/punk genre. Screw it...If you want to pick 6, go for it!

GREG: Top five bands:
Cro-Mags.
The Proletariat (old Boston band).
Catharsis.
Into Another.
Earth Crisis.
Youth of Today. 
Well, that's top six.

Vista: You've been involved in the Hardcore scene for....EVER! You've seen some much come & go and come back around again. It's well known that the 90's {just as an example} seemed AND was a time for bands putting ideas out there on so many political, as well as personal topics. My question is...Are these ideas a lost subject? Has a large portion of the Hardcore scene become so blown up into the mainstream that actual substance is a thing of the past?

GREG: That's up to the bands who are around now. If substance is a thing of the past, if its truly gone, then lets all PLEASE stop playing and listening to hardcore and devote ourselves to other things with which we'll spend our time. I don't believe that its lost or a thing of the past.  Bands just need, as they always have needed, to step up and get creative with their lyrics and personal/political ideologies, and then apply those thoughts and ideas to their art. Writing lyrics is challenging.  If its not challenging, then you are doing something wrong.

Vista: Did Trial ever play any cover songs live? If so, please name them, cause I'm nosey!

GREG: We used to do "Crucified", which was the dumbest and most uncreative choice for a cover song ever. And also "Potential Friends" by Youth of Today. Again, another odd choice.  We should have covered something less common or more interesting.  Maybe "Bad Romance" by Lay Gaga, the theme song from Seinfeld, or "You Give Love a Bad Name" by New Jersey's greatest export other than pollution: Bon Jovi. Keep back, Springsteen fans. I know he is from New Jersey too.






Vista: Why did Derek Harn quit Trial? Do you still keep in touch with him? Did you ever think he'd grow such long, curly- lush hair!? He's like a red-bearded lion, ROARRR!

Greg: Derek quit Trial to join the Marine Corps. He impressed his commanding officers in basic training with his ability to do one consecutive pull-up followed buy one consecutive dip. He was given a dishonorable discharge for refusing to cut his hair and went on to devote himself fully, to his one true love" The Church. He now lives in Salt Lake City, in the main Mormon Temple and spends his time raising his twelve children, Luke, Gabriel, Jedediah, Isaac, Zachariah, Zebediah, Ezekiel, Joseph, Luke, Luke # II, John# II, Jedediah # II,and Hugh, all of whom he and his partner birthed in order to represent the twelve tribes of Israel. None of this is true. I am in touch with him, and he about to give me all of his seasons of the show "24" on DVD, because he no longer wants to own possessions. And yes, he is like a bearded lion. A 6 foot tall, one hundred and ten pound, bearded lion. The king of the jungle. I love D. All of this is true.

Vista: Greg, thanks so much for taking time to do this interview! I appreciate it. Is there anything else you'd like to say? Also, what's the best way to get in touch with you and/or Between Earth and Sky?

GREG: Thank you for your time and questions!  Readers should get in touch!  The best ways: www.facebook.com/gregbennick and www.betweenearthandsky.com for updates on the band or to share ideas.

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