It’s hard to believe that The Creature is only the second album from the Bellicose Minds. In the six years since the Portland band released their Buzz or Howl Sessions cassette in 2010, the band has built a steady reputation of being one of the best bands playing in the current postpunk, deathrock, and “dark punk” revivalist scenes. The late Kenn Kroosaficks wrote about them for CVLT Nation in 2011, stating: “They hark back to the very early days of UK positive punk and new wave, anarchic, glammy, dark, cold, pained, and rather importantly, dancey. These kids are putting out tracks that can get you pumping anywhere from a packed basement in a punk house to that velvet and lace goth club downtown. From the delayed guitars, hypnotic drums, flourishing keys, and bleak vocal track, everything commands movement.” This is still a really apt description of Bellicose Minds’ sound.
Singer Nick’s vocals are as powerful and strong as ever on The Creature, an almost crooning kind of baritone that reminds of the classic days of early positive punk and gothic rock. The Creature is 8 songs long and was recorded at the end of 2015. The songs typically start with a strong bass riff from Mira (who’s also in crusty hardcore punk band Lebenden Toten), followed by the clattering, skipping, metronomic drum work of AJ; on top of this, singer Nicholas Fazzolari provides the haunting guitar work. Like their compatriots in Belgrado, Bellicose Minds have produced in 2016 an LP that adheres to a strength-through-minimalism concept (compare the minimalist tracks on The Creature to the echoey, dub-drenched minimalism of Belgrado’s Obraz LP this year). The Creature is one of the best LPs of 2016.
Below I asked singer and guitarist Nick about what Bellicose Minds’ plans are for 2017 and what went into the making of their new album.
Nick Bellicose was interviewed by Oliver in October, 2016.
It’s hard to believe it’s been over 4 years since I last interviewed you. It seems like maybe a year and a half, to me. In 2012, you were making The Spine. Now, four years later, your new LP, The Creature, has been released. Why did it take so long?
Nick Bellicose: There are a few factors which cause our sloth-paced release cycles.
The first: (drummer) Aj and I have way too much on our plates. In the Spring of 2014, I decided to return to college and get my Bachelors in Computer Science. This had been a plan since I graduated high school, but I decided to fuck around in the underground music world throughout my 20s – a good move on my part. In addition, I have to earn money so there’s the day job on top of school, and obviously writing, and playing music in two bands, and going out to get wild from time to time. Aj’s in a different position than me. His son is 8 now and he runs his own video production gig which requires more time and energy than a touring band. He travels all over the world filming and gets to sit behind his workstation editing when in town. Mira is in Lebenden Toten and works, but she has the most time of us and helps keep us motivated and moving forward. Honestly, without her this band would most likely be nonexistent today.
The more important cause for our slow release cycle is writing songs we like. We didn’t keep half ass songs around this time and made sure regardless of our schedules we had enough rehearsals going into recording. As a band, we made it a point not to settle for less.
Who is in the Bellicose Minds lineup now, and what do they play on the LP? Also, where was it recorded, who engineered and/or mastered it, etc.? What label is it on? What are some of the technical details of the record?
Nick: Bellicose Minds’ lineup is myself (Nick) on vocals and guitar, Mira on bass, and Aj on drums. The lineup has been the same since early 2012. We recorded The Creature with Evan Mersky at Red Lantern Studio in Portland during the 2015/2016 winter. Evan and I had a short lived peace punk band called Dove Asylum between 2010 and 2011. During that time frame he took over the studio from its previous owner and started tracking various punk bands there.
Evan also played in Moral Hex. We hung out all the time and would sit around and fantasize about making a Bellicose Minds record one day. We recorded our first set of songs way back with Buzz or Howl and the Spine LP as well. Evan and I made a deal to record the Creature LP with him.
The process was amazing; we booked a week and started tracking Aj and Mira right away. I played along with them but didn’t keep many of the scratch guitars. Instead I re-recorded my guitars using more than my VOX and SG combo. I used a fender Musicman amp and a couple different guitars to bring in some different tones. I really wanted to add a strat sound to the mix and finally had the gear to do it. I kept the vocals in line with what I have done in the past. Sloppy double ups, cigarettes, vodka, other shit, and excessive amounts of reverb.
The focus during mixing was getting Aj and Mira to create a solid, cohesive foundation. Proper snare levels, and getting into heavy frequencies on the bass guitar. We added some post effect madness because we could – claps, double ups and extreme drum effects on some of the songs. The whole process was fun. We learned that tracking and mixing a Bellicose Minds record and getting it to sound right doesn’t happen in two or three days.
The record was mixed by Daniel Husayn at North London Bomb Factory, and he did an amazing job. I’m glad we decided to work with him for the mastering. The US release is on Black Water, and the EU release is on Sabotage Records again.
I like that on the Bandcamp page for the LP you can look at the lyrics for each song. I wish more bands did this. The title track seems to be a lament about an ex. Was it inspired by a breakup you had? (And for that matter, are you the primary lyricist for Bellicose Minds)?
Nick: Thanks. The lyrics are integral to the songs. I want people to read them. Bandcamp is a great platform and has a lot of tools to deliver your content as a whole package. It doesn’t take much to paste in the lyrics from your art files.
“The Creature”/title song lyrics aren’t about a specific ex. I rarely write songs about relationship shit. It’s really easy for that kind of stuff to get corny. My goal with “The Creature” was to put a pessimistic introspection about the pattern in relationships. A pattern many people – especially if they don’t do traditional relationships – could relate to. Often you get involved with someone and it’s all wild times in the beginning, then real life happens and the bliss decays. Pretty soon the relationship is in the shitter and the broken hearts and bad vibes are what’s left.
I am the only lyricist for Bellicose Minds.
What is the songwriting process for Bellicose Minds like? Do you write all the songs solely by yourself? Who else has input and how does the process work?
Nick: Not at all. Sometimes there are seed riffs Mira and I bring to practice and we jam on those, but most of the time we start all three in the room together and throw ideas around. Most of it gets tossed in the trash. We don’t settle for things we’re not all into. We have had some songs that were fully written and after a few practices we abandoned the song, and snatched our hooks and riffs back from it to use them in something else. Most of the core bass lines on The Creature were written by Mira. She contributed a lot of the visual art for the record too.
In previous reviews of your album I’ve mentioned bands, by way of comparison, like Vex, The Mob, Lack of Knowledge, Famous Impostors. Are these the primary touchstones for Bellicose Minds? Do you feel like you all belong to that tradition of anarcho-tinged postpunk?
Nick: The classic post punk, goth-punk and peace-punk bands are definitely influences that help shape our sound. However, as individuals our influences reach far beyond those sonic limits. All three of us listen to everything from synth pop to metal. It really depends on the day. Personally, I’m not a purist when it comes to music.
Considering the band is comprised of millennials and started in the 2000s, it would be a display of arrogance to claim that we belong to that tradition in any way. Realistically, we came along after a handful of bands from the Pacific Northwest went out and broke the dark punk sounds to the underground punk scene on the west coast. I love what we do with the Bellicose Minds and it’s a great feeling knowing others enjoy our music. However, I like to be honest with myself and others and that means admitting that we haven’t exactly been innovative. We play guitars built 40 years ago, use a drum kit from the 60s to make loud guitar music. We’re completely fine with that too. To sum it up: Bellicose Minds is original stylistically because of us as individuals, but not original in a technical sense.
I actually think I like The Creature better than The Spine. There is an energy there, it seems to me, that I didn’t hear so much of in the last LP. (I may need to re-listen, though….) Was there a certain sound you were going for on The Creature and if, so, what was it? How would you describe it to someone that hasn’t heard you all before?
Nick: The terse answer is we’re just a better band all around. I think The Creature is better than the spine for two main reasons. Time invested in recording, and time invested into writing as the current lineup. When we wrote and recorded The Spine we had recently been through lineup changes, and were finding out bearings with Mira on bass. We were also short on time and money and had to move fast in studio.
The Creature brings together our more punk style, with our cleaner style. The album rages and crawls at the same time.
So, punk, dark punk, deathrock, gothic rock, goth-punk, postpunk – what sort of a band is Bellicose Minds?
Nick: We have discussed this many times as a band and the final consensus was that we sound like a dark punk band. Since I no longer work at the Black Water record shop, or seriously collect records I rarely think about music genres. I always saw them as tools for people who work in the sales end of the music business. A mnemonic means of dealing with thousands of artists. Music genres can become voids where prolific artists vanish or become hallmarks of a paper tag on a record shelf. Personally, I sort my music based on artist and how good it makes me feel. I could give a shit if it’s crust or 90s Russian rave.
I feel like bands like Deathcharge, The Observers/Red Dons, Spectres, The Estranged, and The Prids, all Pacific Northwest bands, triggered the movement of some musicians from the DIY punk and hardcore scenes toward what is sometimes called g-beat, and 4 years ago I thought 2012 was to g-beat what 1977 was to punk. Now I think I feel like this style of dark postpunk from the hardcore scene is simply part of a postpunk continuum of music and a certain style that will always be here, the way some bands play ska as a permanent style of music that is simply here to stay, and not “a revival.” Do you have any thoughts about this development in the course of music and especially how it relates to the hardcore punk/DIY underground scene?
Nick: What I think happened is that a lot of new bands got inspired by the bands mentioned. Most of which, like you said, came from the DIY punk scene. Over time, four things happened: bands either went back to hardcore/punk/crust, became more polished, broke up, or stuck to their formula. All of those outcomes are legit choices. So yeah, I agree – it’s a continuum of a style. At this point, I can’t pinpoint anything going on that indicates a new breakthrough in counter-culture and music. Us millennials are the least original generation in my eyes. We’ve bastardized it all and contaminated it with identity politics. Gross – and yes I’m part of the problem.
What are some of your current favorite bands and what releases would you recommend to others?
A question I ask all bands: If you were stranded on a desert island for the rest of your life, and could somehow listen to 5 and only 5 bands and their LPs for the rest of your life there, what 5 LPs would those be, and why?
Nick: Nothing. I’d commit suicide by eating sand and coconut peels until my innards were pulp. Ya know, slow and painful.
Now that The Creature is out, do you plan to tour? What are your plans as far as this goes?
Nick: We have to. The plans are fucked. We need to have a serious sit down with calendars and figure out how were going to pull off a EU and West Coast tour in the next 6 to 8 months. I need someone to sit in my classes for me, and pay my bills during the tours. If anyone is interested, please get a hold of me.
Anything else you’d like to say or give a shout out to while you have this soapbox? Do so now!
Nick: I want to thank Keith, Franz, Frank, and Dominic from Black Water Records, Sabotage Records, Whisper in Darkness, and A389 Records for releasing our material over the years. People who run DIY labels take on huge financial risks and debts in order to help artists out. This holds true for all styles of music. People who help artists out by releasing in the underground are fighting a losing battle against the mega corporations that make up the mainstream music scene. Small underground labels fight the music industry giants who manufacture music in laboratories on the top floors of skyscrapers.
Additionally, I want to thank all of the people who have supported us in any way over the years. It’s always humbling to know people enjoy the music we make. See you soon!