Way back in January (here), I did a post about Chicago grunge / alternative rock band Overhang and their new album Another Hole for You to Crawl Into. I asked the guys if they’d be into doing an e-mail interview for The Blah Blah, and Grant, Joel, Jeff, and Nate were all into it. They sent their responses back to me over a month ago, but it wasn’t until today that I had a free slot to get a post up.
If you haven’t heard Overhang yet, head over to their MySpace and listen to a few songs. This is hard and driving rock, without any frills or technological bells and whistles to get in the way. They describe themselves as, “four instruments hurling musical 18-wheelers, hurricanes, and holy books into the crowd. Moody rock’n’roll on marching feet, a band of four beating drums of sonic war, following the fire in their eyes to the promised land.” It’s loud, intense, in-your-face kind of rock.
So, without any further ado, today I give you Part One of the Overhang interview.
The Blah Blah: Who are you, in as many words and descriptives as you?d like to use?
Grant: We are a four-piece rock band from Chicago. I do lead vocals and rhythm guitar and sometimes hand claps or foot stomps when necessary. We make what I like to call apocalyptic music, songs for the end of the world. Music that reveals something exciting and new where there was only everyday routine and monotony before.
Nate: I’m into the technology side of making music, especially recording. Although I love playing a live show and get excited at the prospect of a record deal, nothing moves me more than an SSL with a little bit of Neve compression. But alas, most people have no idea what I’m talking about. To better explain myself, I must admit that it’s not the audio gear itself that gets me excited, but what I’m able to do with it. My creative juices never flow more than when I have a particular sound in my head that I’m going for and am struggling to achieve it. I thrive on making the experience of our music as cohesive and engaging as possible while allowing for creativity and risk-taking.
Jeff: I’m the drumming one. I tend to point out the very practical implications of our artistic endeavors, such as “How much will that cost?,” “Nate, your bass amp is too heavy,” “Should we have gotten a permit for this?,” and “Is that even legal in Illinois?” I love to ease things with a bit of humor, even if there’s really no tension or struggling going on that needs easing. I also tend to repress any feelings of frustration and anger during the day so I can unleash them on my drums in a tsunami of fury. Poor drums.
Joel: I play lead guitar and edit sounds together on the computer. I’m the Canadian representative in the band and am looking forward to showing the folks up north what we’re up to.
TBB: Describe Overhang’s music
Joel: Although our individual tastes vary, we’re starting to find a unified texture that sounds like grindy, soulful American rock. Talib Kweli, The Roots, and The Yeah Yeah Yeah’s are some influences. We’ve also become interested in gypsy flamenco music and latin american rhythms recently. Nate and Jeff bring a fresh perspective both to songwriting and the live show. The rhythm section has this propulsion that throws you against the back wall. From a songwriting perspective there is a warmth and gutsiness developing in the music as the bass and drums take a more charismatic roll in the music.
Grant: We definitely have lots of influences, but the end result always seems to be a new kind of gut-bucket rock-n-roll. You might liken us to NIN, Rage Against the Machine, Muse, a more raucous version of Radiohead maybe.
Nate: If you were on a train at full speed in a collapsing tunnel on a volcano during an eruption at the bottom of the ocean, that’s what OVERHANG sounds like.
Jeff: Noisy and on the verge of collapsing under its own weight. In every band I’ve been in so far I’ve been accused of over-playing on the drums, but OVERHANG is the first band I’ve ever encountered where I can’t possibly play enough. I am constantly trying to figure out how to hit more drums at once without frantically flailing. It’s a very forcefully controlled, complex and precise kind of drumming, like a herd of wild stallions running from a T-Rex knowing that they need to keep their wits about them just enough to avoid being ripped apart. If you get too careless you might trip, but if you’re too careful, you’re lunch. That’s the line I’m always walking with this music.
TBB: How did Overhang start as a band?
Grant: Nate and Jeff joined Joel and I in 2006. We had already been working on Another Hole for You to Crawl Into so they were jumping into a project that was already several years in the making. I met Jeff at a church choir concert in the south suburbs of Chicago. He was tapping the drums as softly as he could so as not to offend any of the white-haired old men and women of the congregation. I remembered him from growing up on the south side, so I knew that wasn’t his normal playing style. When he was ten years old, Jeff was playing all the complicated Tool stuff and Smashing Pumpkins beats. He had gotten a bit rusty, but maybe the church environment was a bit stifling for him too. It didn’t take too long for his loud unruly self to come back.
Jeff: When I was re-introduced to Grant (we knew of each other growing up but weren’t well acquainted) he asked me if I’d like to join his band, my first thought was “Oh great, another crappy garage band that sings about ‘chics’ and ‘boozin’. weeee. how fun… But when I heard the music and started to understand where they were coming from I was hooked. All the beats up to that point had been compiled (and piled) digitally and when we started working on beats live I realized I had a lot of work cut out for me. I essentially had the task of replacing 5 drummers simultaneously on every song.
Nate: I had heard some rough (and I mean rough!) mixes of Another Hole a few years before I joined the band. I heard a lot of potential in the music and decided to send Grant an email after I had finished school on the east coast. After a few jam sessions and theological debates over beer, we decided it was worth the risk and I packed my belongings and moved to Chicago.
TBB: How did you personally get into making music?
Joel: I think the first time I remember getting a shiver up my spine was when I was singing a hymn in church. I think I was 8 or 9. My musical influences up till 8th grade were Khachaterian and the Canadian brass. The moment I started to get into contemporary music was when I played a classical piece for my friend and, after a bit of silence he said, “I like rap.” That moment the slow march into rock and hip hop began. I stayed away from noisier music until I met Grant and he began convincing me about the Smashing Pumpkins and Nine Inch Nails.
Nate: My dad is a musician and I was raised playing the piano, which at the time I didn’t appreciate. When I was twelve, my sister’s boyfriend found a molding electric bass in a friend’s basement and gave it to me. That was the start of my musical rebellion against etudes.
Jeff: At my grade school, fifth grade was when you had to decide whether you’d be in choir or in band. I didn’t like singing at the time and chose band. I also didn’t like the thought of blowing into something for an hour a day and so by default I chose the drums. A few months later after seeing a little (very little) natural ability my parents bought me my first drum set for my 10th birthday. I was hooked. Terrible, but hooked none-the-less. I would go into the basement, close the door and just beat those things for hours until my knuckles bled or my sticks broke. I’d hear a drum fill I liked and would run to my room with my headphones and walkman and play things over and over until I could replicate it. Later that same year my brother bought an electric guitar and we formed our first band consisting of my older brother and I, our cousin, and a mutual friend. We were a band, how cool! So I guess I got into making music at 10 or 11 simply because it was a way to avoid other things I didn’t want to do.
Drumming has always been a way for me to escape, to vent a lot of frustrations of my youth. It’s always been about the physicality and the sweat, the performance, the total separation from everyday monotony. Many of my influences are hard-hitting energetic drummers such as Jimmy Chamberlain of Smashing Pumpkins, Danny Carey of Tool, Dave Grohl from his Nirvana days, and John Bonham of Led Zeppelin.
Grant: I took violin and piano lessons when I was young and I always loved the radio, but it wasn’t until I heard U2’s Achtung Baby that I really got into rock-n-roll.
TBB: What’s the hardest thing about being in a band?
Grant: The conflicts that sometimes arise between us can be hard but I don’t consider those struggles as negative. That’s just being in relationships. The most troublesome problem right now is not having enough money to do the things we know we should be doing as artists.
Nate: Remembering how good it is to be making music with like-minded people instead of getting frustrated when things don’t work out musically, monetarily, or otherwise.
Jeff: Yeah, the hardest thing about being in a band is exactly that: being in a band. And by that I mean, who in their right mind would commit and thereby limit their future life decisions to a group of people that all seem to want the same abstract thing but with no tangible road or means to get there? Well, if I didn’t see how all of my past musical and relational experiences fit into this specific group so perfectly I would still be that skeptical. But God has had a way (despite my best efforts) of molding, moving, shaping and delaying me until I have come to a place where committing to something that seems on the brink of impossibility seems perfectly logical.
Joel: I would have to agree with Jeff. It is difficult for 4 people to agree on one thing but once you do, it’s great. In a lot of ways it would seem easier to be a solo composer but it’s just not as satisfying, spending time thinking and working just to come to an agreement with yourself. We all have very different ways of expressing ourselves so it takes more than just making music to end up in the same place.
TBB: What do you do when you’re not making music?
Grant: I’m a movie fiend. I try to intersperse all my meals with movie or tv watching so I’m as efficient with my time as possible. I also read quite a bit – some poetry and fiction, rock biographies, theology and philosophy. I’ve been teaching “Intro to Philosophy” courses at a Christian college on Chicago’s southwest side for the last few years.
Nate: I’ve been fortunate in being able to satisfy my love of audio gear by working at Black Lion Audio, a company that builds and modifies recording equipment. I also am teaching myself Spanish with the hope of living in South America someday.
Jeff: Currently I am fathering my two darling daughters and working part-time while my wife works towards a masters degree. I spend much of my time looking into different business opportunities that could sustain my family and our band. I’ve always been an entrepreneur at heart. Sometimes it annoys me, like when I can’t justify spending $15 on a wooden kids toy because I think “hey, I could just buy a few pieces of wood for $4 and make it myself”… but never do. I also enjoy a good video game now and then. Lately I’ve been revisiting the Zelda saga. I think between my older brother and I we now own every adventure Link has ever embarked on since 1987.
Joel: I am currently living at Jesus People USA and am enjoying the multitude of characters there. I work at the JPUSA homeless shelter where I clean toilets and haul garbage around.
TBB: Describe your process of writing songs. Where do most of your lyrics come from?
Grant: Each song is a slightly different process, which can be both good and bad. The positive side is that every song doesn’t sound the same. But there’s also a level of discomfort that goes along with that. As a songwriter you can’t fall back on past experience as much as you’d like because, if it’s truly new, you’ve never been there before. You just have to figure out the new rules as you go along. Though it’s frustrating at times not to be able to use all your previous song-writing knowledge for guidance, the music usually turns out better in the end if there’s some uncomfortability and uncertainty. So I will often put myself in an unfamiliar place to get something new, whether that means using instruments I really don’t know how to play or gear that I don’t know how to use or trying on someone else’s songwriting style.
When I wrote lyrics for Another Hole I did find myself operating under a guiding principle however: let the music speak for itself. We were living in Nashville at the time and I was frustrated with the idolatry of words that I sensed especially in CCM. Lyrics are not the only thing that make a song good or evil. When you consider music to be just a tool for words or evangelism or selling a product or whatever, you are not really honoring the truth that’s in the music itself. I didn’t want my lyrics to contribute to this devaluing of music, so I tried to hear what the music was saying and then find words that matched the feeling in the song. It was as if the music was talking to me and I just had to find the vowels and consonants to convey the message that was already there. Usually the vowels came first and then I’d spend most of my time trying different arrangements of consonants until the word sounded right and was true to the music. I don’t know why the consonants were so difficult. Maybe because consonants are so final, like death. Another Hole is definitely not about the finality of death so the openness and promise of vowels seemed more true than the consonants.
Well, I think that’s probably enough for today. Hope you enjoyed Part One and stay tuned for Part Two to the interview either tomorrow or Thursday, depending on how I feel.