Thursday, January 19, 2017

Interview with Eric Dudley from Leveless (ex-Whenskiesaregray)

If you've followed my blog for a while, you probably know I like lots of different stuff that falls within the punk/hardcore/DIY spectrum, but I have a definite sweet spot for screamier type stuff. When I was in college the main kid who booked shows in Grand Rapids definitely gravitated toward that style, so I saw a lot of those kinds of bands, and was always drawn to their sense of urgency and intensity.

Anyway, I checked out Whenskiesaregray a couple years ago when they released their LP on Mayfly, ordered a copy from the band direct, but had to miss them when they came through Michigan on tour.  I was psyched when they came through again this past Fall, now as Leveless. While I dug WSAG, the live experience of seeing Leveless definitely exceeded my expectations. 

There was a different heaviness involved from what I was anticipating, pulling from noisier, metallic hardcore while at the same time still being rooted in the sonic geography of WSAG. I loved it, and thus decided to reach out to bass player Eric Dudley to learn more.

Leveless will be on tour much of the year, and have a new record coming out this Spring on Broken World Media. Don't sleep.  

I'm always interested in people's roots, so talk a little bit about your, childhood, etc. and how you eventually got into music stuff. 

I grew up in Brookeville, MD - a suburb of Montgomery County in between DC and Baltimore with my Mom, Dad, and Sister (older). I wouldn't necessarily say I grew up in a musical family, but music seemed to be always around. Whether it was riding in the car with my mom listening to top 40 or my dad using a Pink Floyd song to start the outgoing message for our answering machine. My whole family played instruments in the school band, but that didn't last any longer than when they graduated. I attempted to play saxophone in 4th grade, but that was short lived. They wanted me to practice all summer? Not for me. I was more interested in playing Goldeneye for N64 with my friends.
Fast forward to about 7th grade. I'd say that's when music really started to become a big part of my life. I had just given up on my dreams of becoming a professional baseball player and consequently that's when I started to become exposed to alternative music that spoke out to an audience of those who felt unaccepted. My sister was consistently listening to alternative radio stations while I was in the car and I liked what I heard. Korn, Linkin Park, and Papa Roach were in constant rotation in my portable CD player.
As my sister’s musical tastes grew, so did mine. The Offspring, Blink 182, and Good Charlotte were gateway bands to more of the punk rock side of things. Bad Religion, Less Than Jake, and Rancid were introduced in to my life. I knew I wanted to play this type of music that I was listening to. So, one Christmas I asked my parents for a bass guitar. I got lucky and they got me a black Squire P-Bass. Ever since then I've been in a band of one form or the other for the past 14 years. 
What lead you to want to pick up a bass as opposed to guitar or drums? Did you take lessons or did you just start figuring shit out on your own?

I think there were three reasons why I picked up the bass. 

1. My sister had attempted to get an electric guitar, but my parents would only allow her to get an acoustic. I knew the only way I could get an instrument at the time was through my parents purchasing it for me. I chose the bass because although there are acoustic basses, they are way less common than acoustic guitars. So, there was less likely a chance of my parents saying I needed to get an acoustic bass before I could get an electric

2. I feel like a lot of people don't realize the bass guitar is different than the guitar. It felt like a unique instrument that not many people in my area were playing. I knew of 5-6 guitarists at my school and maybe one bassist. Supply and demand. Little did I know that in the future drummers would prove to be a more difficult position in a band to fill than bass.

3. Mark Hoppus

I took lessons for about 2-3 years at a local music shop. It was a lot of learning other bands songs once I got the basics down. The lessons helped me out when I started messing around playing jazz. 
At what point did you start learning about the more DIY side of punk and hardcore? What were some of the first shows you went to, bands that you really connected with, spaces you spent time at?
I actually got into the DIY side of punk and hardcore right around when I started playing music. A lot of the first shows I attended were of local bands made up of kids around my same age. I became big fans of those bands and since I couldn't drive to DC or Baltimore it was much easier to get a ride to a basement show that was 20 minutes away from my house.
One venue that really stands out was called Blondeshells. It was basically a venue in this ladies (Mrs. Jones) basement where she would host shows. It was her response to needing a safe space where her daughter (Charlotte) could attend shows. What's safer than your own home!? I must have played 30 shows there and attended countless more. I saw bands like The Max Levine Ensemble, The Flaming Tsunamis, Valencia, etc. play in that basement. They always had Twinkies and Kool Aid which was an added bonus. 
Haha that bass story is so sneaky and awesome! Also, 2017 goals: Twinkies and Kool-Aid have to become widespread expectations for all promoters! 
So what were some of those first bands you were doing down in Mrs. Jones's basement? 

I had two bands that played Mrs. Jones basement. The first was a ska punk band that probably played there 30 + times. We would play a mixture of originals and Choking Victim/Aquabats covers. The other band that played was a weird combination of genres ranging from post hardcore to electronic. We only played one show there and I don't believe we were very well received.
At what point would you say you started to become more "serious" with stuff in terms of trying to tour, release records, etc.?                                                                     

I'd say the goal for me was always to tour and make records with all of my bands since day one, but I believe things really clicked in about 2007 right after I graduated high school. I joined a new band that was pretty established in the local Baltimore scene. They had decently recorded demos and were playing some of the more reputable clubs around town. They were already doing things that I wish my previous bands could have accomplished. I think it really helped that everyone in the band had either graduated high school or dropped out. None of us were attending four year universities and were just working and playing in a band. That band is the one where I got my first taste of recording in a professional recording studio and the one I did my first tour with. 

Talk about the formation of Whenskiesaregray. How did you all meet one another, and what were some of the shared influences you guys tried to build upon?

I can't talk too much about the initial formation of Whenskiesaregray, seeing how I was the third bassist to be a part of the band. I believe they were a band a couple years before I joined. I would like to think that when people look back on Whenskiesaregray they will hopefully think of the lineup with me in it. When I joined they were currently playing shows without a bass player. My band had just broken up and I had heard of WSAG through mutual friends and the internet.
So basically, one day I commented either on Brandon's Facebook wall or the band's if they needed a bass player. We jammed for about a month and then they asked if I wanted to be a permanent member. This was right around the time when the "screamo revival" was really popping off, so we bonded over bands like Pianos Become The Teeth, La Dispute, and Loma Prieta to name a few. The more we practiced/hung out, the more we found common interests musically. Groups like Saves The Day, Strike Anywhere, and Poison The Well were all band favorites. I'd also like to note that one of Brandon's main song writing influences is Modest Mouse. I was not necessarily a fan when I joined WSAG, but after working with Brandon for years I have grown an appreciation for them.
I noticed several WSAG releases were recorded by Mike from Pianos Become the Teeth.  I sometimes see bands talk about a particular engineer almost as if they were an additional member; what kind of chemistry did you develop over the years with Mike?

When I joined Whenskiesaregray recording with Mike was already scheduled to take place within a couple months. I'm not 100% sure on why he was selected to record the first WSAG album, one would have to ask the other members, but I'm glad we went with him! Early on, recording with Mike provided a sense of confidence that I think we all desperately needed.
If someone from a band that was on the rise, playing a somewhat similar genre, liked our songs then we must be doing something right. As the years went on we recorded two more albums with him. Despite his obvious musical talent and knowledge of recording, I think we kept going back to him because he did become like a fourth member. He had a devotion to our band that we couldn't find anywhere else. We knew going in to the studio that he would be striving to put out the best possible end product. He knew how to push us, so we could progress.
How did you wind up connecting with Mayfly for the release of the LP? Doing an LP feels like such a huge there anything you would have done differently in terms of writing, recording, etc.?

It's actually a pretty interesting story on how we got hooked up with Bob and Mayfly Records. During one of our earlier tours we played a show in Cleveland at this venue called The Tower. We had hopped on the show last minute and were given a 15 min time slot. I think there were maybe 8-10 bands on the bill. There were two other bands on the bill like ours, our tour mates Tigerscout and another touring band called Apart.

Besides that, all the bands were tough guy hardcore. At that time, Apart was a band on Mayfly Records, so Bob had come out to the show to check them out. We played our short set to an unresponsive crowd. We didn't sell any merch and didn't get paid. Our drummer ended up getting kicked in the stomach by someone in the pit and the show ended with people throwing glass bottles from the roof onto people hanging outside the show. We packed our things up and headed to the next city writing off that show as a bust. A few weeks later I believe Bob contacted Brandon via FB asking about the band and future plans. I believe the conversation continued for months here and there. We just kept in touch and kept him in the loop of our plans and one day he asked if we wanted our record to be released by Mayfly, so we jumped at the opportunity. It's the perfect example of play hard no matter what the gig is because you never know who is watching. 

One regret regarding the LP is that I wish we would have recorded it in one location. Due to scheduling/financial issues we ended up recording instruments in several different spots. Guitars were done at a dog grooming shop (shout out to Phil!), vocals were done at Charm City Art Space (RIP), and only drums/bass were recorded in an actual studio. Mike and Dan did an amazing job mixing/mastering the record to make it sound cohesive, but I still think it might have sounded better if all done in one place. The only other regret is that we didn't tour that much in support of it.
What ultimately led to the dissolution of WSAG?

I would say what lead to the dissolution of WSAG was member changes. There was also always this cloud hanging over our heads that we thought people might be turned off to our band based on the name. 
Alright let's bring it to the present.....a year or so ago WSAG sort of transformed to Leveless, you picked up a couple new members, etc. Talk about how that transition all went down.
The transition from Whenskiesaregray to Leveless has been smooth, but also rough. I'd say it was smooth in the sense that we were basically starting a new band, but had connections that most new bands would not have right off the bat. I don't think most new bands are able to get merch fronted to them for tours. We were starting off right where Whenskiesaregray left off.
On the other hand, it was rough getting friends and fans on board. Everyone had become so accustomed to WSAG. With Leveless not playing many shows/not having any music out, people were really unsure what to expect. We're still working on that, but the more and more we play out and post content online, I think people are starting to get into it. At least I hope?
When I saw you guys back in October, there were definitely a lot of similarities sonically to WSAG, but I was also picking up some Breather Resist-type noisy hardcore vibes as well. What kind of influences are currently in the mix and where are you hoping to move things sonically?

The goal when starting to write for Leveless was to sound like early 2000's post hardcore. You hit the nail on the head with Breather Resist. We were also channeling bands like Poison the Well and Hopesfall. I think we ended up accomplishing that goal, but with each member having a wide variety of musical influences, we ended up with a final product that I feel is pretty unique. This was the first time for most members writing together, so I think we were searching for our sound. I expect the next record to be a more mature/polished version of the previous album. 

In the video teaser you guys posted the other day I think I only noticed 4 members, with vocals coming from a member who was also playing guitar...however in October you were a 5 piece with a standalone vocalist...has the line-up evolved more since the Fall?

We've been working on Leveless for about a year now. That includes writing/recording/branding. When we first started, we were a four piece. About eight months into the process we added another guitarist (Nate) and Brandon moved to just vocals. A lot of things had been in motion for months before Nate joined. We spent a lot of time, energy, and money on the video/photos, so we didn't want them to go to waste. We will be represented as a five piece moving forward. 

Related to the video, it would obviously appear that new material has been recorded. What can you tell us about the writing/recording process for those songs, when they might see the light of day, label stuff, etc. Was the new stuff recorded by Mike as well or did you guys go elsewhere this time?

The writing process started to really get going in February of 2016. It was very sporadic though. With a member living out of state, school, and work scheduling practice/writing was a bit difficult at times. Some weeks we'd be able to get together 2-3 times and others we'd have to share material via videos through the web. Despite the limitations, I'd say it was the quickest writing process I had ever been a part of.

We recorded during the summer, split between two sessions. Both sessions were done at Developing Nations in Baltimore. Kevin Bernsten engineered/mixed the album. We're going to be releasing the album via Broken World Media on Vinyl/Cassette/Digital formats the Spring of 2017. 

What else is in store for Leveless this year? 

We plan to tour throughout 2017 and work on new material for the next album. 

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