Thursday 28 July 2016

An Interview with Andy Beresky from Black Pyramid and Palace In Thunderland (PART 1)

Andy Beresky is a famous person within the US doom scene, he started with psychedelic stoner band Palace in Thunderland and then four glorious years with well-known Black Pyramid. He left Black Pyramid in 2011 right before the release of their second full-length “II”. In the same period he re-activated Palace and when everything in the band went well the stars aligned in the right place and he returned to Pyramid. I’m happy to offer you this detailed and interesting reading, so let’s not waste our time with discussing the things we already know and ask a few questions to Andy.

Hi Andy! When I was starting to write down questions for the interview, I was surprised when I find that you are in Black Pyramid again, how did it happen?

Well, sometimes it seems like a bit of a surprise to me as well. Eric and I had been chatting, and we kind of ended up joking around that it would be cool to do some local and Northeast shows with the original lineup. I later was talking with Clay, and pretty much the exact same sentiments came up, though this time it was a bit more serious even. So it seemed like it was on all of our minds. We kept talking about doing it, and eventually it started looking like more and more of a reality.

Former Black Pyramid bassist Eric Beaudry returned with you too, and as the band is still a power trio, it seems that Pyramid is rebuilt anew. What are your plans for the near future?

After the run of shows went well, our plan now is to do this on a permanent though part-time basis. We're playing a local festival, the RPM Fest, later in the summer, and we've started writing new material for another record. We've kicked around some other ideas for doing shows, though we don't have anything concrete yet….

Black Pyramid third album “Adversarial” sounded harsher consider “II” album, will you follow this way on the next record? By the way, how do you like this record?

That's a real good question, and one that puts me in a bit of an awkward place…..I guess I'll just be honest and say that "Adversarial" very obviously isn't the record that I would have made. That's pretty self-apparent; I'd self-selected to no longer be in the band!

Prior to my leaving, I was writing and working on material for a split 12" with Clay, our drummer, and it was landing in an even more psychedelic and atmospheric direction than the songs on "II". I won't speak for him, though it seemed like a really daunting task to me personally, choosing that direction given the current makeup of the band, and it was one of the many reasons I chose to bow out at that time. Based on the song that Eric and I have worked on since our reformation, I'd say that any newer material is going to have a rawer sound than "II", and also more atmospheric, though not at all like "Adversarial". Nothing like that, it's not the same band.

As far as how I feel about that record, "Adversarial", when I first heard it, a friend played it for me in his car without telling me what it was, and I didn't know that it was a Black Pyramid record. I asked who it was, he told me, and I was surprised. I haven't given it too much thought after that, because it's not something that I really dwell on - I wasn't a part of it, and I don't feel any real connection to it.
I feel that they made the best record that they could as a band at that point in time, and you can't take that away from them. Through my actions, I'd left them in a tough position, and they made the best of the situation. Obviously things were going to sound differently. Many people love and even prefer that record to the previous ones, and I feel like that speaks for itself.

Your first (known) band is Palace in Thunderland, and it exists in different periods forms since 1998. What did you do since 1998 till 2007 when you released officially only the debut EP “Into the Maelstrom”?

Oh….so that's another really good question that I guess I can only be honest about. It's going to be tough striking a balance between trying to relate what we were doing, and respectfully not really speaking to the others' experiences or private lives, so I'll just start by saying this: we were young and our priorities weren't aligned with making records. We put a heavy emphasis on long, long practices, playing live and partying, because those things felt really good to us at the time. We had a lot to learn before we could make and release a proper record. We had a lot to learn about ourselves, first and foremost.

We also were a bit isolated in Western Mass and we didn't have a lot of resources early on. We had this vision of mixing heavy, fuzzy riffs with gonzo psychedelic rock, and no one else here was doing that at the time. We were these weird heavy metal hippies, and that was unheard of in our neck of the woods. It was tough to get gigs, and even tougher to build an audience. I think that's what led to us just playing a lot for each other and enjoying various substances amongst ourselves….

We did record a couple demos, and we had no clue what we were doing, even when we finally got into a proper studio. That studio effort was half decent, and we never got beyond pressing a few copies for promotional use because we had no idea how to shop a record to labels, nor self release it.

We also had a lot of misfortune along the way. Our first solid drummer, who had a cowbell kick drum even, just up and moved one day in the year 2000. Poof!! Gone. We got another drummer, and things were good for awhile. We started gigging more in Boston and Connecticut at some point, though we were working day jobs then traveling to play to half empty rooms. Of course we were partying hard, what else did we have to feel good about ourselves? That all took its toll, and Monte had second thoughts, sold all his gear, and left the band. He bought new gear and rejoined soon after, though it was a setback for sure. Johnny B, our drummer, was the next to go. The lifestyle took its toll on him as well, and he wanted to do something more mellow.

We took a break, then got a new drummer. Our first show back, we played a solid local festival. We killed it, a spot on, far out performance. We ended with a 25 minute version of Pink Floyd's "Echoes" that people were talking about for the next six months….and all my gear was stolen at that fest. Another real setback, and the drummer wasn't really moving in the more proggy direction we were going for once we got back on our feet. We got another drummer, and actually started landing decent gigs. We started traveling the Northeast, and we opened for some great bands, Yob, Ogre, Ocean, The Body, Weedeater, We're All Gonna Die, Supersoul Challenger, Ichabod. We got a spot on a Stoner/Doom festival in Portland Maine with some big names, and that drummer quit the morning of the show. That sucked for us.

A label was finally interested in putting out the seven songs we'd first recorded at Slaughterhouse Studios back in 2001, and the label went belly up, releasing all the bands they'd signed except us and one other. I'm not trying to have some extended bitch session, just illustrating that every time we got some momentum going, things fell apart. So often, we were just trying to hold it together. During that whole run of bad luck, the last thing on our minds was trying to make a record!! It wasn't until we got Matt Netto in the band on drums that we could even talk about making a real record, and I think that was around 2005. We started recording "The Apostles Of Silence" in 2006, though once again, we still had no clue what we were doing in the studio. It was largely a debacle for many reasons, some beyond our control, and it was far too ambitious for its own good.

"Into The Maelstrom" was actually recorded afterwards, and released first for that very reason. All four of those songs were originally recorded during that session in 2001. It was a lot easier to focus on just four earlier songs, and get them done!

Palace in Thunderland – Beyond the Stars

Andy, you did quit from Black Pyramid in 2011 in having a tough period in your life, how soon did you recover to return Palace in Thunderland to live?

Well, I wouldn't frame it in terms of recovering or anything, I was more trying to figure out how to move forward with my life!! My entire life revolved around music, I worked a shitty job that I couldn't stand so that I could have a flexible schedule to tour and play shows, I worked extra hours at night booking and bouncing at the same bar/club, and I really wasn't happy. I couldn't exactly figure out why, because on paper, it seemed like I had everything that I'd ever wanted in life. Still there was this sense of urgency and restlessness that plagued me, this pressure to always be jumping into something new with Black Pyramid, to take it to some “next level.”

Perhaps much of it was the internal pressures that I heaped upon myself, though I do believe that much of it was rooted in the way that the music industry itself works, even in the underground, because it was something that I noticed in others. It was something that always seemed to manifest in a really ugly manner in some musicians, and that was certainly the case with me. I constantly felt like I was burning the candle from both ends, and like I didn't have any breathing room or space in my life to even stop and think about where I was actually going.

It's sometimes really hard to have any perspective on a situation when I'm stuck right in the middle of it, so something had to give. I quit my job, which was an excellent decision, though I still was stuck with figuring out what I was going to do with my life, and how music was going to ultimately fit into it. When things with Black Pyramid weren't exactly ideal either, that was really an impetus for me to leave. I did so in an extreme and over-dramatic fashion, with the hopes that this would keep me from going back, yet here we are doing this interview, so….

It was only really a few months before Monte and I started doing Palace again. I left Black Pyramid in early September of 2011. I'd taken up practicing Zen meditation, zazen, the Spring of that year, and I was becoming increasingly politically active that Summer and Fall. That was really what I was doing between, in those few short months: I spent much of my time in meditation, a couple hours a day protesting and organizing, and I was actively working on improving my life and my circumstances every day. It was shortly after New Year's Day that Monte contacted me to jam, and by that time it seemed readily obvious that I'd be able to do music on my own terms.

That was all it really took, some space and time to be able to see a way to do music in a manner that allowed for more balance and freedom. I don't think that I could have jumped back in and done Black Pyramid at that time if the circumstances were different, so I am thankful that they were able to carry the torch without me!

It seems that you always work over the new tunes even if some of your bands doesn't record official albums in the same period. How many sketches of songs do you have in your stock? And do you work only in doom / stoner direction?

I do tend to write well ahead, this is true. How many sketches of songs do I currently have in my bag of tricks?? Too many to count, honestly.

No, I don't only write stoner/doom songs; my tastes are pretty diverse, I'm listening to Sam Cooke right now, so I tend to write in a variety of styles. I don't think that I write only stoner and doom for Palace In Thunderland even, as we've kind of discussed.

I have a lot of folk/acoustic stuff. I also write a lot of songs that are more garage/psych, 60's style. I've been working on a solo album for years now, and I write a lot of songs for that project. I'm not exactly sure how I'd like that album to sound, though at some point I'll get around to figuring it out. It's kind of a mixture between shoegaze and indie folk so far.

The first full-length double album “The Apostles of Silence” was released in 2014, though it consists of songs from earlier period. How do you value this material now?

I think that record had a lot of great, poignant material, and the recording went spectacularly bad for a number of reasons, which is why it was never really finished. Like I said earlier, our ambition exceeded our abilities. When we disbanded in 2007, we actually put the incomplete form up on our website as our swan song of sorts, unmastered and unfinished. We didn't know how to finish it, quite honestly. We "released" it on Bandcamp in 2014 because a lot of people were requesting it again, and wanted to pay us money for it.

I think that's a testament for how the value of the material. Much like the human beings who created it, it's very flawed, and it also has a lot of merit and potential. There was so much talk in reviews and online about our "potential" when we were gigging and working on that record, so many people saying, "man, if these guys could just pull it together, they'd really be onto something!" I think that "Apostles" is the living, breathing illustration of that exact sentiment. The high dream is that we actually finish it at some point, now that we've got a method of recording that works really well for us.

Palace in Thunderland - Troglodytes

To be continued......

Words by Aleks Evdokimov and Andy Beresky