Saturday, September 10, 2011

Greg Bennick (Trial, Between Earth & Sky, One Hundred For Haiti) interview



As a singer/frontman and a songwriter, who/what are some of your influences and why?


GREG: I find that I am influenced by people from so many different sources. Lou Reed's New York album was a huge influence on me, and obviously not hardcore related. In the liner notes to that record, he wrote that the record was meant to be listened to in one sitting as if it was a book or a movie. And that's what I brought to my contribution to the Trial - Are These Our Lives? record. I wanted it to be the same way, though maybe with slightly more intense music than Lou Reed's. And that's arguable. He can take guitar, bass and drums and make them sound like they need nothing else ever. Other influences: Behemoth for their sheer intensity and ability to play like they do. Listen to their Evangelion album. If you can't appreciate its speed and/or intensity, then we can't be friends. I also was inspired and influenced by Catharsis' Samsara album. That record is just relentless creatively, politically, socially, personally and psychologically. More than anything else, I am influenced by individuals, specifically those who have suffered and survived, or suffered and died. I spend a lot of time processing and thinking and feeling with people about what their experiences in life have been with the things they've faced. Our capacity to feel is astounding, and our ability to survive in the face of suffering is even more astounding. I remember standing at Birkenau near Auschwitz in the middle of the camp at Birkenau and just taking a breath in trying to imagine all of what happened there. I have been there many times over the years. And just letting all of that history sink in, the individuals, their fears and pain, their hopes and survival, and their loss, sometimes even the loss of themselves. Thats ten albums worth of inspiration for art and creation right there in one deep breath. And beyond the historical, one on one interactions with people - people with courage and sincerity - about their lives and mine, and the things they have had to face and work with and endure. That's where the real inspiration is found to live more fully and then to transform that sense of living into the creation of art.




In this video, Unrestrained singer/frontman and xStuck In The Pastx co-owner/co-manager Justin Sitner, among others, says that his favorite hardcore band is Trial. What do you think it is it about Trial that appeals to so many people?

GREG: It might be something to do with our dashing good looks, quick wit, and limitless charm. But since few of these things appeal to Justin, I would suggest that - other than the rifftastic jams unleashed by Timm McIntosh, that there is a sincerity to the band that appeals to people because we present ideas and feelings - and i mean that we do that musically as well as lyrically - that reflect what is happening within their own hearts and minds. The bands that tend to impact me do the same thing. Take a band like Into Another for example. The lyrics just go so far beyond most other music in my iTunes: just deeply emotionally clear and direct and I feel like they were written by me for me. Thats when a band really reaches people... when they feel like the songs were written by them, for them. Because ultimately in terms of Trial, the songs were written for them, at least with that amount of connection and devotion. I am deeply honored when anyone says that we are their favorite band. Your very own Justin and I were hanging out in Portland when we first met. And I was making conversation, and asked him "So, who are your favorite hardcore band?" He stopped for a second, held up his arm - which has a full sleeve Trial tattoo - and looked at me like I was a total idiot. Point taken. And FYI: Justin also likes Behemoth, so we know his tastes in music are solid.


What are some of your favorite Trial songs/records and why?

GREG: Are These Our Lives?
has definitely stood the text of time for me. And that was the test and challenge: when I was writing the lyrics my challenge to myself was to write them so that I would be able to stand behind them when I was 90 years old not just 30 years old. I wanted something so long lasting that I wouldn't look back on it as historical or with nostalgia, but rather as an ongoing representation of current truths. I still feel in my mind and heart every word on that record, every note of the music. It all works together and I love it still. A part of loving that record is remembering the recording sessions and how Brian Redman was so supportive of me during that time. For those who don't know, Brian was our bassist and he died two years ago in a moped accident. I am still in shock from that. But before the studio, I had gone a year without singing because I had lost my voice. I trained vocally for a year with an opera coach, and never once raised my voice that year in order to protect my vocal cords. When we got to the studio, no one knew what was going to happen and whether or not the vocals were even going to work. I got behind the microphone and anticipation was very high. A year before I had no voice: what was going to happen now? We decided to try "An Awakening" first, and the first take, the first moment back vocally after a year, is what you hear on the record. I remember launching into that first line "Are we the dead?" and looking through the control room window and Brian just threw his arms above his head and had this wide eyed look on his face like "YES!!!!!!!!" It brings tears to my eyes thinking about it now because it was such a moment of triumphant victory. I miss him so goddamn much. But in that moment we all knew that we were going to have a record, and possibly a great one. In terms of the earlier songs, "In Closing" always meant so much to me and still does. It was always a rager and we never play it. Its almost like we forgot about it along the way.


Discuss your most recent band/project, Between Earth & Sky.

GREG: Between Earth & Sky is a new hardcore band from Vancouver BC and Seattle that really isn't that new. The band - Sean Lande (By a Thread, Strain), Happy Kreter (Gob, Burden), and recording engineer Blair Calibaba and I - formed over eleven years ago as best friends who wanted to simply release a CD together that we had collaborated on. This summer that dream became reality. The goal with the band was to explore the psychology of suffering and examine our lives for what they ultimately are: hopeless and doomed. This isn't intended to sound negative but rather realistic. Ultimately we're all food for worms, but what we do in the midst of that fact, how we love, the ways we live, how we interact, are really what matter. A hundred years from now I am going to be a skeleton. But until then, I take every second to kiss with conviction, live with passion, and feel as deeply as I can. Live as if you are made of gunpowder and a fuse has been lit nearby leading to you. You are explosion and anticipation all at once, so fulfill that responsibility. Between Earth & Sky is about what that process feels like. Our new CD, entitled Of Roots and Wings, is available now on Refuse Records from Europe (http://refuserecords.prv.pl/) as a CD and 12"ep and it will be released in the USA as a double 7" on Hellfish Records (http://www.hellfishfamily.com) later in 2011. You can hear more from the band including a song from the EP by visiting our site on the worldwide internet web at http://www.betweenearthandsky.com




You are both vegan and Straight Edge. Has it been difficult for you to maintain either or both as you've gotten older? If so, in what way(s)? If not, why not?

GREG: It is easier than ever to be vegan. I think back to twenty years ago and what it was like being vegan then, at a time when there was only one restaurant in Seattle that had a completely vegan menu. And then fast forward to now when there are a dozen. Or in Portland Oregon, the vegan Mecca of the world, where there are fifty or more. And you talk to people who were around even before that, like Richie Birkenhead from Into Another / Underdog, and he tells stories of being on tour with Youth of Today in the late 80's and hoping that his container of soymilk would last from NYC all the way to Los Angeles because there wasn't anywhere to buy another one. Its so easy to be vegan now, and people who use the excuse that its too hard to be vegan just need to be shown how easy it is and how many options are available.

As for being Straight Edge, it's easy too - when people offer you alcohol, you reply that you'd rather have something else. And when you are on your own, don't drink. Not too tricky. (I am typing this while listening to one of my current favorite hardcore songs which happens to be a great song about the 'edge: "Above the Influence" by Betrayed) I actually don't mind if people drink occasionally. I don't hate alcohol, just the people who let it take control of their lives at the expense of others. It doesn't affect me as long as people aren't being selfishly stupid or they aren't driving. Drunk drivers should be stopped by any means necessary, and you can use your imagination as you choose to decide what the limits of that are. Drunk drivers are like people shooting bullets into crowds of innocent people. If someone had a gun and was shooting it in a public place, you'd do anything to stop them wouldn't you? Yet we condone people being buzzed and driving. I have no sympathy whatsoever for what happens to drunk drivers and actually support creative direct action to stop them. But back to the point I wanted to make: drinking itself or not drinking is irrelevant really. Happy from Between Earth & sky worded it best. He was speaking in an interview about how not drinking is irrelevant in a way: bring straightedge he suggested isnt a triumphant end goal, but rather brings you to a point of zero essentially and what really matters isn't whether or not you drink, its what you actually do with this newfound clarity. I back that. In terms of my own life, as time has gone on, I find that its easy to not be drinking in social situations where everyone else is drinking. I used to feel awkward about it sometimes but I don't anymore. If the only thing that bound me to the people I spent time with is alcohol, then my thought is that I would need new friends, not new things to drink. I don't need alcohol to free my inhibitions. I spent a few years in a relationship with an alcoholic and seeing the effect that her drinking had on her family and friends was enough to remind me of how alcohol can ruin everything. When one's family members are feeling neglected and emotionally abandoned, or one's ability to communicate with loved ones is affected, it shows where your real priorities are. My dear friend Mike has a screen name that says it all: walkxaway. That is my mantra in situations like that now. And yes, when you say it, you pronounce the x.


How long have you been vegan and how long have you been Straight Edge?

GREG: I committed to being vegan in July of 1991 after being vegetarian for three years and dabbling in being vegan before that. And I quit drinking and drugs on September 30th 1988.


What is your view of Straight Edge hardcore bands whose core members are no longer Straight Edge, particularly those bands who reunite either for the short or long haul?

GREG: For me - in situations like that - its about the singers. They are the communicators of the message, which isn't to take any value from any other band member in any other situation. But in the specific situation you are describing: where a band who had been all straightedge reunite without that commitment still intact, for me if the singer is still straightedge, then I can get somewhat behind their reunion, playing, etc, though more for nostalgia sake than anything else. But take a band like Strife for example on the other side of the coin. They built their entire existence on the fact that they were straightedge and claimed (in my opinion immaturely so but whatever) that there was only "one" truth. Then almost all of them betrayed their fans, supporters, and their own integrity by selling out. I guess people who come to their shows now are there because they like to just scream words, regardless of the meaning behind those words. Not the way I'd like to spend my time, but if people are into screaming, rock on.


As I mentioned in a previous interview, for better or worse (mostly worse, I know), I'm a lifelong red meat 'n cheesy potatoes man. However, I'm also
a staunch supporter of animal rights and the very proud caretaker of 3 rescue dogs, so needless to say, I'm interested in at least learning more about veganism. Being as how you're one of the most respected authorities in the hardcore scene on all things vegan, please give the laypeople (like me) reading this a brief and non-Googled description of veganism.

GREG: I am glad you want to learn more about being vegan, but I need to say that if I am one of the most respected authorities in the hardcore scene on all things vegan, people have an even more corrupted relationship with and perspective on authority than I thought they did. The real authorities are people like Anika from Seattle Vegan Score (http://www.veganscore.com) who is actively involved with exploring options for vegans in the Seattle area and trying new products all the time. Seek her out for advice on all things vegan. Here is the description and definition that you wanted though: vegans only eat and wear things that are not animal derived. For you, that means you would be eating fake meat and vegan cheesy potatoes. There are countless delicious things to eat as a vegan. But taste and compassion aren't the only reasons to go vegan. Being vegan also makes you better at chess. It leads to higher scores on at least eleven different videogames. As a vegan, you will be able to climb trees faster, predict the end of boring movies so that you can turn them off and watch something else, and will be able to drink soda without even opening the can. As a vegan you get to date far more beautiful people because you yourself become a far more beautiful person. And you will be able to type so fast that emails get sent before you even hit "reply". But it doesn't end there. Being vegan increases your chances of winning the lottery by 43%. It makes you able to listen to black metal for hours without going insane. It makes it possible to literally walk between raindrops. And it means that you will be able to understand languages you don't speak, even while you are sleeping, which you likely won't need to ever do again because of the energy you'll have. All of this doesn't even yet mention the increases that you'll notice in your ability to throw and catch javelins, run as fast as a car, and do spontaneous backflips to impress and entertain the elderly. At the core, veganism might seem to be about not eating or wearing animal products, but ultimately its really just about being more awesome.


Is it at all hypocritical or, at the very least, a conflict of interests for one to be both a meat eater and pro-animal rights? Why or why not?

GREG: Yes, it is. Both hypocritical and a conflict of interests. But, and I say this without taking away from the fact that I think you should go vegan (did I mention that being vegan makes it likely that you will get signed to the NHL as a professional hockey player, befriend a gazelle, and discover buried treasure?), I feel that its impossible to live without conflict of interests in our culture. Again, I want you to go vegan but that isn't so that you wil be free of conflicts of interests. Its so that you can live with less conflicts in your interests. And not you necessarily, but everyone. I like the idea of decreasing the things we do that are destructive to others and to animals and to the world. Case in point, I am writing this interview on a plane while burning more fuel and contributing to the destruction of the earth far more than I would be had I walked home from Denver to Seattle today. But because I live in this culture, I wouldn't have thought about walking. When we make convenience the rule, there is a substantial price to pay for what we save.




Normally, I allow people that I interview to shamelessly plug their other musical or non-musical endeavors at the end of the interviews. In your case, however, I'd like for you to briefly discuss all of your many other endeavors that you would like to talk about publicly.

GREG: A couple things: One Hundred For Haiti (http://www.onehundredforhaiti.org) is the charity I founded and work on still with a global network of friends and supporters,creating sustainable development projects and real economic results for the people of Haiti. Go to the website, our youtube channel (100forhaiti) or email / facebook us anytime to find out more. I am really excited about the upcoming Trial European tour, the dates of which can be found here (http://tinyurl.com/trialeurope). And anyone who has questions about anything I brought up in this interview can be in touch anytime by way of the all-knowing website of ultimate power and data mining, Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/gregbennick


What else would you like to do that you haven't already done and why?

GREG: That one's easy. 1. Write and release a Between Earth & Sky full length CD (because I want there to be a more definitive statement from the band). 2. Make the phad thai recipe from the first episode of the Vegan Black Metal Chef YouTube video series (because I want to cut the tofu, turn the plate, cut the tofu, turn the plate, with a knife that IS that awesome). 3. Write a book (because I have about nine books floating around in my head all day long and my brain will explode if I don't get started soon). 4. Help support Haiti (because they need it and because I am their neighbor and I live in the country largely responsible for their annihilation and lack of stability). And 5. Convince you to go vegan. (Because I want to see you be able to skydive without parachutes, win the gold medal on the balance beam, and build furniture, all of which is inevitable when you switch to a vegan diet).

9 comments:

xlassex said...

Greg is da man! Awesome interview!

Crucial D said...

Hah, that was awesome!

shawnak said...

This guy is funny! "...befriend a gazelle..." Ha. My lifelong dream. Seriously, great intvw.

Andreas xVx said...

What can I say... Greg is on top of shit. I actually got into hxc by reading his columns in Inside Front years ago. I'm always glad to se he's stayed so engaged. really inspiring.

Kef said...

Let us see Justin's sleeve tattoo!
And yeah, awesome interview.

Gabe said...

when i toured with Time For Change, i was trying to hustle money and Greg gave me a bag of raisins. i didn't know if i should be upset because i really wanted a burrito or to feel honored that Greg had just given me raisins. i love Trial and Greg was the coolest dude.

xjustinx said...

Here's my sleeve:
http://i65.photobucket.com/albums/h207/xponchx/sleeve.jpg

Kef said...

Justin, nice!

adam said...

Go back to Connecticut! Syracuse flunkee! =)