Roughly a month off of a brand new LP release, I recently chatted with Just Like Vinyl guitarist/vocalist Thomas Erak. Besides discussing a bit about the state of music these days, we touched on their new album Black Mass, the band's progression this time around and how Erak feels he as been personally progressing as a musician.
So you guys did a record release show for Black Mass and youíre doing a show with The Memorials this Friday. First, let me ask how the record release show went and then can you tell us a bit about what the status is on long-term touring now that the record is out?
The release show was awesome. We played at The Crocodile which is kind of a famous venue around here. Weíve never headlined it before. It was pretty awesome, we had a really good turnout and it went really well. People received the record really well, and thatís good. The status of touring is that, we just recently got management and are now starting to reach out to booking agents and stuff because we were pretty much doing everything ourselves right up until the record came out - which itís kind of weird. Itís just weird timing. I wish the management thing would have fallen together maybe a few months before the record came out. Weíre talking about doing a west coast run in November and once thatís put together, weíre going to get a long-term booking agent and get on the road as much as possible. There is going to be long-term touring and lots of it. You know how it is dude, itís just not as easy anymore. Like, especially... this isnít my old band. Itís not like we have that kind of draw. I canít go around swinging my dick around just because I used to be in a band that was really popular. Weíre a small band, we donít consider ourselves to be popular or anything. We want to get on some good support tours and we just gotta wait and make good contacts and hope people hear our record.
Do you think that waiting a bit to jump on the road is going to work in your favor, like once you guys do some longer touring people will be more familiar with the new record as well?
Iíve never really thought about that before, but thatís a pretty cool idea. Yeah, I think so. Definitely. We want to go out with people knowing our songs and shit because thatís what makes shows fun. As opposed to going out and playing seven or eight songs that people are like this is awesome, but they donít know the words or they donít know the songs. Thatís also a good experience and I do like doing that too, but I think thatís a good point you brought up. I think thatís what our management are thinking too. They donít want to put us out on the road and have us, you know... being on the road to be on the road isnít a good idea these days.
Speaking of Black Mass, this is your second full-length under the Just Like Vinyl name, how do you feel like this record come together and how do you think the process worked better or differently from the self-titled record?
Everything dude. The self-titled record, to us four of us if you ask any of us, is more like a full-length demo. It was like a complete experiment and really low budget. We went into the studio and we were still like brand new. We didnít even have a bass player yet. It was basically me and Jake went into the studio and started recording songs with Jay. Thatís why we had ended up recording ďKiteĒ, because it was just an old song I had written with Jay that we had never really recorded and just wanted to hear recorded ourselves. We didnít even have a name until a month after we recorded that. We had to name our band because we ended up going on a tour with Happy Body Slow Brain and The Sleeping for a couple of weeks. We had to name our band to go on tour. [laughs] It was really weird how it happened. It happened really fast at first you know? But thatís that record. This record, we wrote this as a band that has been out and done two big U.S. tours and some of that smaller stuff and we figured out what we liked, the few things that we liked on that first record, and took that and ran with it. It was more natural. Like okay, this is what our band sounds like as opposed to what should our band sound like or letís figure out what our band is capable of doing. Itís just natural progression. Weíve spent a lot of time in the van together and spent a lot of time in the practice spot writing these songs really wanting to make a rock record. I didnít think that first record was even gonna get out. I mean itís a cool piece of art that me and my friends created, but I didnít know so many people were going to end up hearing it. I didnít think we would end up touring on it. I didnít think was going to be a band. I wasnít even sure if I wanted to be in a band at that point.
You mentioned trying to progress the band with this. How do you think Black Mass does that from the group songwriting standpoint?
Me and Jake work very closely in this band. Everything is collaborated on on Black Mass. This isnít trying to be the Thomas Erak band or something. Itís not a side-project or my solo project. Itís a band. Itís four guys, three other dudes that I think are insanely competent musicians and have a lot to offer and they should be heard. Thatís a big difference between this record and the first one. The first one was a couple songs I had had and then a couple me and Jake had kind of worked on. Like songs I had that he came in and put stuff down over that were already there. We actually sat down and wrote altogether as a band.
Correct me if Iím wrong, you self-recorded it as well.
That is true.
There are a lot of artists doing that in a step to have some more control over things as well.
I think that that is a reaction to how much control artists donít have over so many things at this point. As I was saying about the whole touring thing, itís so much different than even five years ago at this point I think. I feel like I used to be able to say, oh I want to go on tour next month. And like, just for fun to go out and play and do some shows. You canít do that anymore. Even if youíre a big band you canít do that anymore. Everybodyís trying to tour, people donít have any money. People arenít going to shows and the shows they are going to are their favorite bands and those tickets are expensive. I think that bands are feeling, well shit what are we supposed to do. And for us, weíre all audio nerds and we know what we want our band to sound like. I like the studio personally. It drives me crazy, but I love it. But I wanted to make an album that was really us bearing ourselves and making it sound how we wanted it to sound like. Superball let us do that and thatís pretty cool. Thereís not a lot of labels that are comfortable with a band putting out their first record on your label producing their own record.
Itís a bit of a gamble on everyoneís part.
Yeah, but I knew what I was doing though. This isnít my first rodeo [laughs]. Definitely not my first, but not my last either.
Thereís going to be some people coming to this band knowing you were a part of The Fall of Troy. How do you feel what youíre doing now has helped you personally progress as a musician?
Thatís a good question. I hope thereís people coming into this band because of The Fall of Troy. I was in The Fall of Troy for almost ten years of my life. Thatís my baby. I have no bad feelings when anybody talks about that band or says they like that band. Like... good. You know? [laughs] Me too. Fuck. Personally, as a musician, Iíve never had the opportunity to play with another guitar player. I was always the one doing everything and doing these acrobatics while Iím singing. Itís really cool one and awhile to be able to sit back and just play a bit of rhythm guitar and focus on my voice because thatís what Iíve really been working on since starting this band, just strengthening the way that I sing. Not only that but my confidence with my voice too. Iíve never been like, Iím a shitty singer, but I donít think Iím the best singer in the world. You know? I was the only guy that knew anything about singing, so I said, I guess Iíll be the singer then. [laughs] We didnít want to get a singer or whatever. But, I think more than anything that. Just kind of being able to step back a bit and be part of the whole as opposed to feeling like Iím out in front of everything all the time.
Youíve been adding more clean vocals into the writing especially with these two records. Do you think this is more a result of you getting comfortable with your singing or do you think itís more of you consciously trying to push yourself to do more and accomplish more with your singing?
Both. Both. You know, with Black Mass, Iíve had a lot of people say thereís a lot more screaming on this record than they expected there to be. Which, when I think about Black Mass, I know thereís a lot of clean vocals on it and stuff, but when I listen to it, itís pretty gnarly. Itís pretty heavy. Itís a really rocking record. With the clean versus screaming thing, Iím always going to push myself to do better in either of those areas when I choose to do them. Itís not a conscious effort, like Iím not screaming enough in this song or whatever. When someone is painting a picture, I donít think they think like, I donít have enough red paint in this picture. Theyíre more just painting and expressing themselves. So I try not to think about that shit all that much, but when I do itís about progressing it and getting better and stronger with it like you said. So itís a little bit of 'a' and a little bit of 'b' if I may answer that way.
Youíve stated in different places that the theme of Black Mass is like a mockery or a jabbing at things. How do you feel like that mindset plays into where you guys are as a band right now?
We obviously take the band seriously. But I feel like no one should take themselves too seriously, especially when doing something like music, art or film or anything like that. If you take something too seriously, then it overwhelms people. Not to say they isnít serious great music, but rock and roll should always have a element of fun or predictability. Or I donít know, maybe scare you a little bit. I just feel like weíre trying to fight the good fight for all the rock bands that are real rock bands. Thereís a lot of fucking garbage out there that takes up all the shows, takes up all the retail space, takes up all the record sales. I think we kind of touch on that, and thereís a lot of people out there that are posers. They donít know how to play their instruments. I donít know how that works Jason. Iíve thought about it my whole musical career. How are these bands and these people getting all this attention and acclaim... not to sound bitchy, but itís true. When Iím out here busting my ass for over ten years and itís still hard for me to get out on a tour.
Youíre not the first person to mention it. But thereís bands out there that play to backing tracks and what not.
Exactly. I was out at Warped Tour this summer. Thereís some good shit on that tour obviously. But you look around and everywhere you look itís not rock and roll. Like rock and roll should speed up and slow down. Somebody should fuck up every once in awhile. I feel like sometimes, some of the fans have ruined it for themselves to a point. Me personally, Iíd rather be out at a show than watching one on YouTube analyzing shit and talking shit about the band. Like... what? [laughs] Itís a moment thatís created and in that moment thatís awesome and important to you, youíre not thinking if that person is hitting the perfect high note or if the drummer is hitting the right rhythms. Youíre not thinking about that, youíre thinking about this awesome moment that youíre getting to witness and itís powerful. A lot of bands and a lot of people and a lot of technological advances are taking away from that nowadays.
That kind of goes hand in hand with when I saw you guys on tour with A Lot Like Birds and you spoke to the crowd without the microphone and you said something along the lines of ĎRock and roll music isnít dangerous enough anymoreí. Does that go hand in hand with that as well?
Yes. Rock music is not dangerous enough anymore. We want to bring a little bit of that danger back. Thatís kind of the attitude behind Black Mass. Thatís why itís dark and we have a controversial name on it. We wanted to make something that when somebody sees it, it doesnít look like... itís not neon and it doesnít have some joking name to it. Weíre a rock band, we play rock songs... thatís whatís up. It is what it is. But weíre trying to be the best band we can be and able to maintain, and hopefully people will start to respond to it once we get out on the road because we look forward to playing for people more than anything else.
Can you talk a bit about how you guys got involved with Superball as far as signing you guys and putting your album out?
They had gotten in touch with us when we went down to LA. We toured with The Memorials and we came through LA and they came and saw us play. They had us out to the Century Media offices since theyíre hand in hand with Century Media. The Superball guys and the Century Media folks saw us at South by Southwest not last year but the year before that. After that, they said they were going to make an offer to us. They made us a pretty decent offer. Once again, like I was saying earlier, bands donít have a lot of freedom anymore and youíve gotta watch your ass with record contracts. Like a lot of these young bands, they get so excited that theyíre going to make a record and get on tour, they donít realize theyíre going to be signing away the right to even do that before they even get started. A lot of labels will sign a band and if they donít go the way they think the band is gonna go, theyíre not going to back them. Theyíre not going to push them. We spent a lot of time going back and forth with the label, you know negotiating the contract Ė what we liked about it and we didnít like about it, and what they liked about it and they didnít like about it. We were able to reach a really good deal. Props to them for one, backing us and supporting us and giving the funding we needed to make the record, but secondly giving us the freedom to make the record we wanted to make.
Thatís all I have man. Is there anything youíd like to talk about?
No man, I think we covered some good topics. I read the website constantly and Iím a supporter. I just want to say hi to everyone on the website and say thank you for your support and or shit-talk. All of it is appreciated because it means people are paying attention. Iím grateful for anyone paying attention.
that was a pretty rad interview. i don't know thomas personally. i heard he was an egomaniac ON THE INTERNET. so who knows how true that is, but everytime i read an interview, he seems really rad. so, i can't help but admire him. the fall of troy ARE a huge band in my life, and manipulator is in my top 3 favorite records of all time. so amazing! i am definitely going to checkout/buy black mass and hopefully see them live! thanks for this interview!