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Q&A: Adam Wakeman on the ‘Jazz Sabbath’ project

If anyone knows Black Sabbath’s work intimately it’s keyboardist and songwriter Adam Wakeman. His father Rick (of Yes fame) played keyboards on Sabbath Bloody Sabbath. Sabbath must run in the family; since 2003, Adam Wakeman has toured with Sabbath and also worked closely with Ozzy writing his 2010 album Scream. During a lonely night at a hotel bar about seven years ago Wakeman came up with the idea to do an album of Sabbath jazz covers. That idea soon expanded to include a short comedy documentary a la Spinal Tap about how Sabbath stole all of their early material from a jazz pianist (watch it below). But it’s far from a musical joke: Jazz Sabbath, released as the coronavirus hobbled the globe, includes what this writer considers some of the finest Sabbath covers ever. Wakeman talked to Decibel about the project and how Ozzy surprised him with his Dad’s keyboard from the Sabbath Bloody Sabbath sessions. 

Can you walk me through how this project came together?
It came to head while I was on a Black Sabbath tour in 2013. I’d been out for a drink with a friend and came back to the hotel and no one was at the bar. There was a piano in the corner. I grabbed another drink and sat in the corner and to amuse myself started playing improvised jazz versions of the set. That was it, really. I thought it was quite an idea. I also started thinking of this fictional character Milton Keanes, a jazz pianist who thought all his songs were robbed by Black Sabbath in the late 60s. Then I came up with the idea of a short documentary that had all sorts of celebrities talking about Jazz Sabbath. It seemed worth it to make the documentary and the album if one or two people got fooled (laughs). Fortunately, I wasn’t disappointed because a lot of people were confused!

 

If you look back at the earliest Sabbath stuff, particularly when Bill Ward was in the band, there is a heavy jazz undercurrent. The rhythm section played like a jazz band.
Bill’s drumming was so jazzy and so different from what a normal heavy drummer would do with those riffs which is why it’s so great. Sabbath was always the sum of the four parts. Geezer (Butler, bass) handles so many of these songs like a jazz player. All these different musical ideas made it what it was.

Did you talk to Tony or Geezer about this idea?
I kept it very much to myself for a while because I didn’t know if they would be ok with me doing it. I did eventually get Sharon (Osbourne’s) blessing and the band’s blessing. Some of the arrangements I wrote on an Ozzy tour two years ago. When Ozzy had to cancel a tour due to ill health I was able to start recording.

How did you decide what songs would work best as jazz arrangements?
I sat down at a piano and played some of them and chose the ones that came naturally as an arrangement or a melody. I tried “Paranoid” a few times and it was such a struggle to make it sound right. “Hand of Doom” worked well right away. Some of the arrangements are pretty out there but I always tried to get back to the theme.

One of the things I loved about the album is how you play with listener expectations and present songs completely different than what we might expect. I’m thinking in particular of the cover of “Iron Man.” Was that the intent or did that come along when you were improvising?
There are a lot of bands that have done jazz versions of songs but I wanted to be able to perform the songs as a trio. In the beginning, I thought about having horns or maybe I’ll hire a guitar player. I decided to keep it as a trio. I am not a trained jazz player so this is my take on jazz as opposed to traditional jazz, I’m a big fan of (jazz pianist) Monty Alexander who is a brilliant crossover player. He was an influence. Anything you try too hard to do doesn’t sound genuine so I tried to play these songs in the style that felt right to me.

Is there anything about Black Sabbath’s music that lends itself to jazz?
Well, we talked about the drums earlier. If you took Geezer and Bill out it would be a different band. You could still recognize it but the rhythm section is so unique. I was lucky enough to play with Bill in the early 2000s and he was just such a force. The thing that gets a little lost with musicians these days is that they practice so much and are so consistent with their technique. I’m not saying people shouldn’t rehearse but there is something about players from that era where it seemed like they were playing to the very edge of their ability. A lot of bands now are so well toured and rehearsed you sometimes lose a bit of the excitement.

One thing about the jazz and blues idiom is those improvisational elements and an expectation that part of the music is how a player copes with mistakes.
Absolutely. Jazz pushes people to the edge of their ability. That’s what a miss about music now, especially when I do a pop session A lot of that push to the end of the cliff is taken away. It’s cool when people can push out that little extra percent without falling over.

You have played with the real Black Sabbath. There have been so many Black Sabbath tributes and covers. Given your proximity to the band, how did you make sure the end product added to what Sabbath brought to the world?
I was frightened to start recording. But I wouldn’t put something out I wasn’t happy with. If you make music that you enjoy listening to that is half the battle. I make music primarily that I like listening to and that was the benchmark.

 

There are some amazing full circle components to this record. Your father played on what was Sabbath’s most progressive record and here you are doing something forward-thinking with the music.
That’s very kind of you to say. When I was writing the Scream album with Ozzy he dragged in an ARP 2600 which is a really old synthesizer. It said, “1976 Black Sabbath” on an old sticker. Ozzy said “I don’t know if it works” but that the last person to play on it was my father on “Sabbra Cadabra.” I told Ozzy we had to get it on the record. We got it to work long enough for a few tiny bits on the Scream album. That was definitely a nice full-circle album.

Have the members of Sabbath and your father all heard the record at this point?
Yes! I actually got an e-mail from Bill Ward’s assistant and he said Bill has seen the documentary. I’m sending the album to him tomorrow. I think I would have heard from lawyers by now if the rest of the band didn’t like it (laughs).

Were there any hopes making this that you would turn on Sabbath fans to jazz music?
It’s definitely a passion project. But I can’t help thinking there is such a misconception about heavy metal fans. People outside of metal think the only music metal fans listen to is metal. That’s so wrong. I don’t know anyone who just likes one genre of music. As much as this was a selfish project and there is comedy involved there is so much lost in modern music and jazz and metal actually go hand in hand.

When our current predicament hopefully ends is there any thought to playing these songs for an audience?
We were discussing that very option before the pandemic happened. Promoters in South America said the response to the album there was very strong and asked if I’d be interested in coming to Brazil, Argentina, and Chile. It’s something I’d love to take out on the road.

What has Black Sabbath meant to your life?
It’s changed my life. I played “Iron Man” in my school band when I was 13 years old. I never dreamed it would end up with me playing with the guys. And it’s lasted a long time; I’ve played all of the Sabbath shows since 2003. They’ve always been so gracious to me. They are gentlemen first and foremost.

The post Q&A: Adam Wakeman on the ‘Jazz Sabbath’ project appeared first on Decibel Magazine.

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Party On Dude: Mastodon’s Bill Kelliher on the ‘Bill and Ted 3’ soundtrack and Mastodon rarities

One of the few moments of levity during this awful pandemic was the release of the third and final Bill and Ted movie after a roughly three-decade hiatus. Bill & Ted Face The Music – which finds our hapless but lovable heroes trying to avert the apocalypse by finally writing a song to unify the universe – was praised by fans and critics alike. While the earlier Bill and Ted films featured songs by KISS and a famous cameo by Jim Martin of Faith No More we’re happy to report that the characters and film have changed with the times. Bill and Ted are dads and good husbands, even if the music career hasn’t worked out. There’s no hair metal but two of metal’s biggest current bands – Lamb of God and Mastodon – wrote new songs during the pandemic for the soundtrack. Who wouldn’t want to be featured next to the legendary Wild Stallyns? Decibel talked to Mastodon’s Bill Kelliher about the soundtrack and what else the band has been up to during the pandemic (read our earlier Bill and Ted chat with Lamb of God). Station!

Were you a big fan of the Bill and Ted movies growing up?

When Bill Ted came out there weren’t any goofy movies about teenagers like those characters. It was a predecessor to Beavis and Butthead and Wayne’s World. It sort of embodied how our generation was trying to be cool. We thought it was pretty funny and it just spawned a whole generation of movies.

Do you remember where you saw it the first time? Were you a hardcore fan?

I wasn’t a hardcore fan. I did see it in the theatre but I don’t remember exactly where. I’ve definitely seen it a few times but I wasn’t a crazy fan. I did see Bogus Journey when it came out but don’t ask me to differentiate between the two (Editor: in Excellent Adventure, they go on a trip through time; in Bogus Journey, they end up dead and in Hell).

 

How did Mastodon end up on the Face The Music soundtrack?

The music director was a Mastodon fan and wanted to see if we could be a part of this. The band is always interested in things like movies or soundtrack appearances. We’re always down for that. At first, my reaction was: “there is a new Bill and Ted movie? That’s a pretty old franchise.”

Did you know they were casting the characters as middle-aged or did you think it was a reboot? 

I wasn’t sure. Keanu Reeves is going to go back to being Ted? Isn’t that a stretch? He’s an entirely different actor now with a career behind him. I was very intrigued to see what they would do with it. I bought it (the film) the night it came out and it was entertaining. I watched it with my kids and my wife. It was well done and I like how the daughters are the ones that give them a chance.

What kind of guidance did you get about your song “Rufus Lives”? Rufus is Bill and Ted’s mentor and a beloved character in the Bill and Ted universe. 

George Carlin was such an integral part of humor growing up. We wanted to honor his memory and that’s how we did it – with the song title.

Were you able to see any of the film before writing the song?

They let us watch us a short clip and said to imagine people blasting out of hell in a van and a fast-moving rocking song. We’d just written a song like a week before we got the phone call and I was like: “obviously it should be this song because this is a rager.” I could totally see it being in the film so that’s what we chose. It went back and forth a few times and they thought it was a little busy with a lot of notes. But that’s sort of what we do and who we are (laughs). They wanted to change a little bit to fit the movie better so we had a little back and forth but that’s normal. We came up with a compromise.

Are any other band members big fans of the film? 

Brent (Hinds) has a “Wild Stallyns Bill and Ted Forever” tattoo on his lower back. He is a die-hard fan.

He must have been excited about this.

He was really stoked. He couldn’t wait.

 

The Medium Rarities collection came out just a few days ago. Were you planning on putting this out or did the pandemic allow you to get this material together?

We had a lot of stuff in the vaults didn’t know what to do with it. It was obviously a good time to release something because we weren’t doing anything. “Fallen Torches” was ready more than a year ago. Once the pandemic hit we had no excuses and the band said they had an idea for a rarities type soundtrack. It would include live and instrumental stuff all on one record. It was a good time to release songs like the cover of Metallica’s “Orion” which had never been mastered properly. A lot of bands do a best-of collection but we wanted to give the fans some new stuff and things they haven’t heard.

Did you have a lot of material to work from? Did you have to cull anything?

We put out most of what we had but we did have to pick and choose when we started to get around 16 or 17 songs. We do have more unreleased stuff.

I understand you’re also working on a follow to Emperor of Sand. Have you been productive during the pandemic?

We’ve definitely used this time to work on the record. We had most of the material written before the pandemic hit. We are in good shape to get into the studio. I’m hoping we can get into the studio next month and knock it out. Quarantine has led to a lot of interesting work from musicians.

The post Party On Dude: Mastodon’s Bill Kelliher on the ‘Bill and Ted 3’ soundtrack and Mastodon rarities appeared first on Decibel Magazine.

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Most Triumphant: Lamb Of God’s Willie Adler on the ‘Bill & Ted 3’ soundtrack, coffee and streaming shows

One of the few moments of levity during this awful pandemic was the release of the third and final Bill and Ted movie after a roughly three-decade hiatus. Bill & Ted Face The Music – which finds our hapless but lovable heroes trying to avert the apocalypse by finally writing a song to unify the universe – was praised by fans and critics alike. While the earlier Bill and Ted films featured songs by KISS and a famous cameo by Jim Martin of Faith No More we’re happy to report that the characters and film have changed with the times. Bill and Ted are dads and good husbands, even if the music career hasn’t worked out. There’s no hair metal but two of metal’s biggest current bands – Lamb of God and Mastodon – wrote new songs during the pandemic for the soundtrack. Who wouldn’t want to be featured next to the legendary Wild Stallyns? Decibel talked to Lamb of God‘s Willie Adler about the soundtrack, their song  “The Death Of Us” and what else the band has been up to during the pandemic (tomorrow we’ll catch up with Mastodon about their featured song). Station!

Do you remember when you saw Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure?
I don’t remember exactly but it was when I was a kid. I have very fond memories of that movie and thought it was super awesome. I thought it was so cool these dudes were into rock and roll and traveled through time picking up these random people – just the whole fantastic element caught my young brain.

Were you at the point where you saw Wild Stallyns and thought you might be able to be in a band?
No, I don’t think I was ever at that point (laughs). I don’t think I ever consciously thought this is what I want to do it just sort of happened.

 

Did you see Bogus Journey when it came out?
I didn’t see it when it came out but did watch it years later. It didn’t grab me as much as the first one but maybe that was because I saw the first one when I was young. There is something about the original.

How would you classify your Bill and Ted fandom? Did you memorize parts of the movie?
No, I was never that deep with it. I never became a cinephile to the point where I’m collecting and memorizing lines from movies.

So how did Lamb Of God end up on the soundtrack?
We were approached. I think all the pandemic shit had just happened. We canceled a European run and were still wondering if a summer tour could happen. Management reached out and said the music supervisor for the new Bill And Ted wanted a totally new Lamb Of God song for the movie. They needed it done in like two and a half weeks. I think all of us were taken aback by the timeline but since I was a fan I was like “absolutely! What the fuck else are we doing right now?”

Was the rest of the band as excited as you were?
You’d have to ask them but I don’t think the rest of the band was as excited or as big of a fan as I am. But I can only speak for myself. There was definitely a certain element to my excitement I think they picked up.

What kind of guidance did the music supervisor give you?
Just that it was a dark scene. We wanted a clip of the scene but Hollywood is very tight-lipped. We were able to get an audio file. They said if we could use words from the scene in the song even better. A situation like this has never happened for us. Even on our major-label debut, no one told us what do to or had creative input. But when they came to us and asked us to incorporate some things we said we’d do our best. I think both parties were happy.

Everything was put together virtually?
It was all tracked at my house except the drums because Art [Cruz, drummer] is in Los Angeles.

What kind of feedback did you get from the people involved with the film?
The music supervisor loved it right from the jump. He said the more he listened to it the more he liked it. It went from being used in the final credits to being used in the movie. It took me back to young Willie so I really wanted to do this right. 

 

On another note, how does Lamb Of God get in the coffee business? Was it the pandemic?
The pandemic allowed us to explore some things we wanted to do but hadn’t had time to explore. Coffee was sort of an obsession for Randy (Blythe, LOG vocalist), me, and our partner Paul Waggoner (Between The Buried And Me guitarist and owner of Nightflyer Roastworks). Paul helped us on plenty of tours and our love of coffee goes back a long way. On one worldwide tour, we went to check local coffee spots. On that tour, we talked about roasting coffee and I said I would go home and figure it out. At one point I bought a bunch of old popcorn machines and put them on my deck to roast coffee. It made sense for us to finally partner with Paul and do this.

How did you get the blend right so you were comfortable putting your name on it?
We wanted it to be a universal coffee and perform well no matter how you make it – drip machine or espresso machine. We wanted it to work well. It makes a great drip, a great pour-over, a great French press. It’s not super dark roast – it’s middle of the road. Coffee is all about freshness – when it is roasted. My biggest request was we need to keep it fresh.

Lamb Of God has two streaming shows beginning September 18 (the band will perform their new self-titled album on 9/18 and the 2004 fan favorite Ashes of the Wake on 9/25).  It’s been over a half year since the pandemic started so why now?
We wanted to make sure we could do it right and stay true to the band. We didn’t want to be the first one to do this but instead be good at doing it. When we decided to do these we wanted to do things that made sense from a fan’s perspective. We wanted to tour to promote the new record but will do this instead. And Ashes makes complete sense because for many fans that is the Lamb Of God record.

It seems like you and the band are making the best of a bogus situation.
I really appreciate you using that term! We’re doing the best we can.

I think the appropriate way to sign off is to say “be excellent to each other.”
And party on, dude.

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Album Review: Napalm Death – ‘Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism’

Instinct of Survival

Our current global malaise makes approaching a new Napalm Death album a confounding proposition. From the days of Scum and FETO to their last album, 2015’s Apex Predator – Easy Meat, Napalm have offered warnings via polemic. Change course, they suggested broadly, or face the inevitable blowback that comes from an unjust economic system, climate change and a host of other social ills. Here we are in the age of COVID-19 and the proverbial chickens have come to roost—or run amok if you happen to be an American. The disease marches throughout countries that now openly embrace autocracy, disproportionately affecting the poorest among us. But even the wealthy can’t escape the haunting specter of death and social collapse; they can just postpone it a bit.

That we have Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism, Napalm Death’s 16th album, is one of the rare things to celebrate during this pandemic summer. Throes might be Napalm’s most unrepentantly fast album since the band shook off the mid-paced metal trappings and embraced grind with Enemy of the Music Business a shocking two decades ago. Napalm must have had an inkling that things were about to get a lot worse for everyone because Throes is a single-mindedly furious album that, like Cro-Mags’ The Age of Quarrel, Suicidal Tendencies’ debut and Black Flag’s My War, leaves scorched earth after each listen. While it has little in common musically with those hardcore masterpieces, what it does share is an unwavering commitment to purification via rage.

It’s no surprise that Napalm have broadened their sonic palette in the past decade, but Throes is where these experiments are best integrated into their music. On Apex, the “noise” element was an ambient introduction; on Throes, it’s “Joie De Ne Pas Vivre,” a bastard amalgamation of Big Black, Author & Punisher and Napalm with vocals that croak a bit like black metal. “Amoral” has a Killing Joke swing and swagger. There are also straight-ahead ragers like “Fuck the Factoid” that adhere to the winning Napalm formula. They are by no means paint-by-numbers songs, but rather the sharpening of an already deadly spear.

While Napalm have always worked as a collective, you have to salute the phenomenal individual efforts from each performer here. Barney Greenway continues to diversify his vocal approach while never losing sight of his Bamm-Bamm side. Shane Embury’s bass is uncannily fluid and, Christ, it’s so good to hear Mitch Harris raging, even if he might be finished touring. But in some ways, this album belongs to drummer Danny Herrera—the unsung hero of Napalm Death. Whether he’s playing in the pocket on “Invigorating Clutch” or blasting like an alien metronome on “Zero Gravitas Chamber,” his work breathes life and propulsion into the otherworldly textures laid down here.

Listen, life is full of uncertainties lately, and waking up to the worst news in our lifetimes can feel like being tossed in the ocean with an anchor tied to your leg. While it was in no way recorded to help us get through this historical low, there is a topical lesson to Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism: Find something that brings you happiness and push forward, even in the face of overwhelming odds. We’re alive. We still have electricity. And there is a spectacular new Napalm Death album out. Perhaps that’s enough.

Review taken from the October 2020 issue of Decibel, which is available here

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