Friday, December 16, 2016

Interview with Gjared Robinson (Out of Body, Counterblast)

The first “real” show I ever went to was Quicksand (and Seaweed) at Saint Andrew’s hall in Detroit. I think it was 1993. At the time grunge was exploding, and in my mind, that was the point of reference into which they fit.  It wasn’t until a couple of years later that I discovered hardcore punk and the roots of the people in bands like Quicksand. Anyway, I later fell in love with Shift, Orange 9mm, Stillsuit, and a bunch of bands who came from a similar musical background.

While there are of course thousands upon thousands of bands that have aped the youth crew sounds that came from the late 80’s NYHC scene, it’s always been weird to me that there have been far fewer who have drawn from the well of early-mid 90’s post-hardcore.

Thankfully, Out of Body from Texas have picked up that mantle and they more than do it justice. Their EP “Evaporate” which dropped last year has been in steady rotation from the moment I got my hands on it. It has all the hallmarks of the genre, and is delivered with an instant catchiness that has had me humming ever since I discovered them.

Anyway, I finally had a chance to catch up with singer/guitarist/songwriter Gjared Robinson; here’s what went down.

One of my favorite things about doing these interviews is to get a little bit more of a comprehensive picture of people beyond just their music, so talk a little bit about your family, your childhood, and your upbringing as a whole.

I'm the youngest of 3 brothers, an older sister and a younger sister after me. Houston, Texas born, soon raised, with half of life growing up around a hood called the 5th Ward where I went to church and a middle class area where I went to high school. I got a chance to see the stark contrast between haves and have nots as that was where my father grew up, my grandmother’s house still stands near Tuffly Park where I first learned to swim. Those that know hip-hop will associate Rap-A-Lot Records and Geto Boys with that part of the city. I had a happy childhood though, my family was drama free for the most part; never saw my parents argue ever. 

I've been following you on IG for a minute now, and I'm pretty regularly caught off guard by some of your selections; your musical palette seems to be all over the map. At what point in your life did you start getting into music, and who were some of the first artists you really started paying attention to?

For 2016 I've been doing a riff-a-day series where I post a different artists guitar riff with no repeating artists at #balaramriffs and it's been a wild ride full of genre crossing. I'm a rock music head so I like a lot of material. The whole deal has made me a better musician by learning songs on the fly, changing tunings and switching up technique. The year is almost over so to readers, go to the hashtag and take a look at what I've done.

My first concert was the Michael Jackson BAD tour and I was obsessed with him. After that it was Prince.  Soul, funk and R&B was a constant in my house so I'm a product of black music which I would later discover that rock n’ roll was invented by black people too. I played trumpet in school band but that wasn't cutting it. 

At what point did you start playing guitar? Did you have any sort of formal training, or are you primarily self-taught?

My dad used to play guitar so he gave me his old box guitar he had from the 1960's and I started learning blues licks like Albert King, jazz chords thanks to Wes Montgomery and a bunch of Mel Bay guitar instructional books. I soon got into Nirvana because that was hot at the time. I remember when Kurt Cobain died and it shook me up. But soon after I was introduced to Jimi Hendrix by a martial arts teacher I had at the time, everything stopped and everything changed.

At that moment I decided I wanted to do whatever the hell he was doing. I wanted my guitar to scream and the acoustic one I was playing couldn't do that. For my 13th birthday I got a Peavey Vantage electric guitar with an amp and never looked back. I took some formal lessons from some long haired hippie but then quit him thinking I was better off doing my own thing. I probably should have stayed disciplined. However, I got really into Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Paul Gilbert and John Petrucci so the practicing scales to a metronome as fast as I could became a habit of mine.

Ultimately I got into hardcore punk like Bad Brains, Cro Mags and Youth of Today and I in some ways wasn't playing so technical but the tricks I learned prior made me play hardcore much better. So when I write a hardcore song there's usually a whole lot going on beyond basic chords. 

Let’s talk Out of Body…. I’ve been jamming that tape non-stop ever since I got it in the Spring. You’ve done some hardcore bands in the past, what made you want to do a more rock/post-hc type project and how did the band come together? 

Post-hardcore is just rock music played by guys that got their start in hardcore. For me I caught a lot of those bands because they were played on the radio, 120 Minutes and Headbanger’s Ball at that time. I liked that it was heavy but sounded different from anything that had ever happened before in rock music. Naturally since I was born in the 80's and grew up becoming a teenager in the 90's that decade made a huge impression on me. It's like when you meet a musician who came up in a certain era their music sounds like the time that impacted them the most; it would be like a hair metal guy today still playing party licks. When I sit down with a guitar it just has the crunch, grit and chunk that was definitive of that movement. 

Out Of Body is a concept I started writing for back in the late 90's as it's my own singer songwriter manifestation. I have cassette tapes of songs I would record then tuck away hoping to one day bring them to life. Basically I found all these old tapes, started going through them and realizing there was some good material there as it captured me as a budding musician. Flash forward through the early to mid-2000's and I'm doing a bunch of youth crew hardcore bands like XSeekerX, Vitality, Layin' It Down and a melodic outfit called Neighborhood Villain but I'm still writing this other music that I've been keeping to myself that started back around the time when we all thought the world was going to end as the clocks ushered in a new year. 

I tried to actively do this band in 2010 while I lived in the DFW area but that fell flat. I moved to Austin in 2012 and tried again and it wasn't happening for some reason as far as meeting people. So I took it upon myself to make it happen and in true Dave Grohl Foo Fighter fashion I recorded a demo in 2013 with my friend Reed DeAngelis who was the original drummer of Iron Age. He had a mobile studio that he brought to my house. I played all the instruments myself, he laid down drums and then I went back and did vocals. I sat on those songs a bit, put them online and nobody cared.

In 2014 he and I got together with the idea of doing a full length. We met back up at my place, got our buddy Raul Vela IV to do drums, I recorded all the instruments again plus vocals on a few songs but it was unfinished as I struggled to find members to form the band. The completed songs from that session were released online in Fall of 2015 as the “Evaporate” EP and it was then that I found some people interested in making the band a reality so we pressed those songs to tape, started playing shows on it and in 2016 played more. I completed vocals plus guitar leads on the remaining songs and we went on a summer tour. Pretty much this band is 17 years in the making and I've waited a long time to get this realized so it's humbling when people appreciate it. 
What is the writing process like these days? I know there is new material in the works, how would you say it’s similar to “Evaporate” and what new wrinkles have you tried to add to the mix? 

The “Evaporate” EP was actually supposed to be a debut LP but the songs were in various stages of being finished. So as my previously mentioned timeline of events outlined, the new material is the result of a long journey of recording that's finally going to be unleashed onto the world. If you like the EP then you will dig the LP since it's coming from the same place and circumstance.

As always I stay one step ahead, sometimes two and the writing process for the next effort has begun with the live band lineup I now have even though the debut record isn't even out or picked up by a label yet. I figure it's good to always progress and move forward. Sometimes people just have to catch up to you.

Everyone is bringing things to the table, Chris is a phenomenal drummer, Landon is a super gear nerd that can write mean riffs and Christine brings a feminine creative energy to the dynamic as she has an eye for design which comes across visually and musically. We're making time to write in the coming months. All I can say so far is it's tighter and angrier while still holding on to melody. 
This summer you did a few weeks out to the East Coast and back. What were the highs and lows of the run, both in terms of the shows themselves as well as the overall experience of being out on the road?

The East Coast treated us well, I mean we got to play with Token Entry which is like a hardcore kids dream. We met a lot of great people along the way. We all went to Niagara Falls for the first time. The tour was really awesome even though we were driving a faulty van. We hadn't even left Texas yet and got a flat tire, bought a new one. We had busted a window, the radiator leaked, we bought more tires and I'm honestly surprised we made it home, but it was all worth it. 

Any plans on trying to get “Evaporate” out on wax, or for now is the focus going to be more on new material?

If someone wants to put out the “Evaporate” EP on vinyl, I'm down.

The full LP just got mastered out of Boston at New Alliance East and we're now attempting to shop it around to labels. Interested labels reading this contact us because we are awesome and will add value to your operations. Also we're sexy, cute, but most of all attractive.
I know aside from Out of Body you have a Krishna-oriented band called Counter-Blast going. Talk a little bit about that project and what you are up to with that.

Counter-Blast will be putting out our full LP online in 2017 only because I live in Austin, our bassist Tim is in Detroit, Fred our drummer is in Connecticut, the rhythm guitarist is in Florida and our lead guitarist is in San Diego. With everyone so spread out across the USA it's a challenge to remain active. We try to play as many shows as we can just like earlier in the year we did dates with 108 and even played California with Mindset, Fury, Safe and Sound among others.

If a label is daring enough to deal with us we will rock the house down with our groove sound. Counter-Blast was originally a way for me to pay homage to Absolution/Burn and it was before the real Burn reunited. However, my own style creeps in so it has original flavor apart from other influences like Swiz, Supertouch and Inside Out.

The recording was another case of me recording all the vocals, guitars plus bass myself minus drums; Diego did his guitar tracks too. We recorded in Queens NY in 2014 with Andy Guida, the original drummer of Supertouch who also has ties to Altercation and another band already mentioned. As with other things in my life it's a seasoned effort that is long-awaited but will soon see the light. I even have another record ready to go too plus the other guys have been writing as well so when it's all combined it will be a banger. We're still the only new active Krishna-core band in the States so that's something in itself.

More broadly, how did you get into Krishna consciousness and how would you say it impacts your life on a day-to-day level?

I got into Krishna Consciousness by divine mistake. I was attending university and there was a monk passing out literature. At the time I was atheist and wanted nothing to do with faith-based thinking. But to humor this guy that was insistent on me taking a book, I accepted it, but not before giving him the middle finger and cussing him out. I threw the book in a box full of other books I had no intention of reading.

Many months later a friend of mine was a doing a project for a Religious Studies class and he was going to the Dallas temple Radha Kalachandji to check it out and he invited me. I refused and called him crazy. He knew I had been vegetarian a bit and was heading vegan so he told me how the temple has a restaurant that served BBQ tofu. My ears perked up, I wanted some good food.

When I went to the temple and saw the deities (God in image form) my heart melted and I began to cry. It was such a moving, powerful and internal experience. I had never felt anything like that in my life. I ate food which was absolutely delicious, met devotees and never turned back; I just kept going to the temple.

Funny thing is I ended up meeting the monk who I had verbally mistreated that was distributing books at my college campus. I apologized and he said "I knew you would come", incredible. I ended up digging through that box of discarded random books that I swore I wouldn't read searching for the book the monk gave me before. The book was called Beyond Birth and Death; after reading it things become more clear to me as thoughts I had had before which could never be spoken in my Christian church upbringing were actually explained. Krishna consciousness impacts my daily life through meditation and it totally helps me write trippy far out music. 

It’s always awesome to see a fellow hardcore kid teaching…. what subject/grade level do you teach and how long have you been at it? How would you say your experiences in music impact the way you interact with students or vice versa?

Interestingly enough I've taught long enough to have moshed side-by-side with a student who's all grown up now. I teach English Language Arts to 7th and 8th graders. I've been in education for about 10 years and I'm that artsy fun teacher that plays guitar in class, does yoga with my students and puts on Fugazi "Waiting Room" while they do brainstorm writing sessions.

Yes, I teach through music and it's the most beneficial thing ever. My goal is to give students a unique learning experience they've never had before. 

“Trigger Happy” addresses the topic of gun violence in the U.S. particularly the notion of guns as a sort of security blanket. Being from Texas I’m guessing that is a particularly common viewpoint, I’m curious if you wrote those lyrics in response to a particular situation/series of situations or if it was a more general reflection on that issue. 

I've had a gun pulled on me, I've even disarmed someone holding a gun but those experiences weren't the backdrop for the song. The lyrics are a general reflection about fear taking over people's lives but it's also a statement on police brutality towards people of color as black men especially are gunned down by police in higher numbers according to their national population than others.

I believe that is a result of fear by law enforcement who have subscribed to stereotypes which causes the dehumanization of black men; this has gone on since slavery to the present. “Trigger Happy” is a way of talking about this fear and recognizing that it's not what will help us, love can only do that. 

I feel like I’ve seen you bugging out in at least a couple of videos for the recent Burn reunion shows. What is it about that band that resonates with you so deeply?

BURN is magic. BURN is power. BURN is fire. Outside of Bad Brains they're my favorite hardcore band. I tend to identify and really connect with bands that have people in it that look like me, especially in a white male majority genre like hardcore. I see myself in Chaka Malik and it's inspiring. 

What’s coming up next for you, personally or in terms of either musical project?

Out Of Body world takeover! We are in full activate mode, we want to play as many shows as possible. I want some kid in a small town to know who we are and for everyone everywhere to share this musical experience with us. 

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