Every now and again you have moments in your life where profound realizations sort of creep up on you out of nowhere. I think it was because of a music nerd Facebook (friend me) discussion I became engaged with about guitar players years back that it hit me. Out of nowhere, I quite suddenly became acutely aware of the fact that right off the top of my head I could drop like 30 of my biggest guitar heroes and only one would be a heroine. That can’t be right, can it? I had to go through it about a 100 more fucking times because I couldn’t believe it. I had, Melynda Jackson from Subarachnoid Space, and errr…errr…umm…errr…no one. I mean, obviously Nancy Wilson, but as much as I like some Heart, I’ve never really ranked her as an influence on what I do specifically.
What a paternal head fuck our culture is. What is it about guitar playing that ends up being alpha dude thing a lot of the time, I mean, women can play just as well as guys. It’s not honestly that hard. Super weird. The good news is that for the early part of 2013 (year of the witch) as themes of increased cultural feminine balance kept invading my psychic life, I again started contemplating the women in guitar playing angle and just so happened to notice that Melynda’s long running band Subarachnoid Space had transmuted itself into another project named after it’s swan song album, Eight Bells, who were just dropping their debut, The Captain’s Daughter.
Then I actually got the album and damn, what an epically heavy psychedelic drone noise guitar clinic it is. Probably the finest work in an all ready stellar career of top shelf sonic head trippery. For those unfamiliar with the amazingly mind-bending Subarachnoid Space, I’d highly recommend checking out 2008’s The Red Veil, and their 2009 Swan Song Eight Bells, which are both essential listening for heads. Aside from that, as I’m just figuring out on Amazon, they’ve put out a bunch of other stuff over the years which is all a fairly great way to lose an afternoon. Oh, and hey, I reached out to the newly formed trio to see if they’d like to chat and they did. As it turns out, they’ve graduated past drugs and onto the meditation portion of their spiritual development. Maybe some day my psychic stoner ass will get there. Oh, and Melynda doesn’t have any female guitar influences either. Read on kids:
Thad: So, it’s weird, I got into Subarachnoid Space around 2005 or so with The Red Veil, and I didn’t realize until years later that the band had been around for waaay longer than that when I found some of your old discs in a used CD shop. Talk about the origins of that band for a bit. How did y’all first meet and how? What eventually happened? As far as I could tell you took on sole guitar duties and made another record called Eight Bells, which is phenomenal, then you just turned into another band by that name. How did that all go down?
Cristopher: Melynda and I met sometime in 1996. I had just moved to SF. Melynda asked me to sit in on an early SAS recording along with Michelle who was playing with them at the time. MJ and I had a lot of common ground with what we liked and what we wanted to do with music so when the old SAS drummer stepped down I was glad to jump in. It evolved slowly over a long period of time and continues to do so today.
Melynda: Mason Jones had started the band a couple weeks before I joined it. Chris lived down the street from me (in SF), and I had met his band mate at a show. I went over to their house and saw Chris playing and just knew we would play together. The old drummer was on her way out so I pushed to have Chris play, and really when he started I felt I had an ally – SAS had been free Improvisation and I was getting tired of that and wanted the discipline of songs. Chris and I connected really well, and overtime began steering the band in that direction. The Red Veil was the album that fully realized that goal.
Melynda: Chris and I played for a decade in sf. When I moved to Portland I played with a lot of different players trying to get it right. It was really difficult without Chris but I got some stuff done and learned a thing or two along the way. When Chris came to Portland and we had our first jam, I was blown away by how after 3 or 4 years he had not lost anything. While this was going on SubArachnoid Space was just problematic in many ways. The last album we had made was an exhausting affair, and we were considering what it would be like to make it a three piece. We had just returned from a pretty grueling US tour, (without Chris) and it had been pretty hard on all involved. I knew I wanted to continue playing with Chris, but felt Subarachnoid Space was associated with too much negative shit. We decided to form a new band called Eight Bells. I liked the idea of it being a continuation, but different. So far it has been great- with pretty much no more pain.
Thad: You used to do dual guitar stuff and as mentioned, now you’re handling sole guitar duties right? How has that change affected your playing? Who are some of your guitar heroes? What kind of rig are you running through right now, effects pedals and all? It rules.
Melynda: Thanks for the kind words. At first it was really scary for me. If I flub, there is no one walking over it-so it is more noticeable. Being nervous about flubbing ups the flub possibility factor that much more too. Hahaha. I have had to get better- but I don’t think that I will ever feel ‘accomplished’. I do what I do, I don’t attempt to play other people’s songs- No I will not play ‘Stairway’ for you. Also I have more room- without worrying about another guitar stepping all over my composition. Multiple people have said that it is nice to finally hear what I am doing. Some of that is that I am getting better at playing, but a lot of it is that there is not another guitar playing in my ‘area’ all the time. Guitar heroes? Robert Fripp, John Cobbett, Mike Scheidt, Chris Cones, Ivar Bjørnson – All of these guys for sure, and some that I am forgetting probably- it changes all the time. Not really into the idea of hero worship. I wish there were more female guitarists that I was aware of and inspired by.
Thad: How does your unconscious life influence the music you make, if at all? Do you pay any attention to your dreams or meditate at all to find inspiration?
Melynda: I levitate for one hour before breakfast- this is my most productive time of the day. I think anyone’s music/art is a reflection of their insides- whether it is honest or not, or true enough, or whatever fuck else someone might say about it. I always have bits of melodies in my head-often for long periods of time before they make themselves known.
Christopher: Well, I would say there are things outside of my immediate scope of consciousness that have some influence on the music. I’m not sure if I can explain or even understand how that process works however.
Haley: I meditate often when listening to music and exercising and find that those things facilitate being able to write songs, and that I’m also able to think about and conceptualize musical ideas during those times. This is not a totally unconscious process, but I do think by giving myself this space, it does allow my unconscious mind to maybe be a bit more at peace, which for me serves the creative process.
Thad: What kind of visual artists, directors, writers, comedians, athletes, whatever, outside of music inspire you creatively?
Melynda: I feel like a jerk saying this, but I am inspired by the horrible, and the terrible, and the depressing. Pain. Mix it with kindness I see in others, and nature. Also working out- to try to balance it. I like art from Eric Stotic, Stephen Kasner, Akseli Gallen-Kallela ( recently).
Cristopher: It’s hard to say. For me it constantly changes. Lately I’ve been into the art of Polish artist Zdzisław Beksiński.
Haley: Deborah Feldman (author), Rachel Maddow (journalist/news
anchor), Monique (comedian/activist), Lena Dunham (writer/actor), Kate
Bornstein (writer/activist) are a few people who inspire me. Also
friends who are writers and artists: Dexter Flowers, Colleen Siviter,
Sarah Faith Gottesdiener, sts, to name a few.
Thad: You make very stoner friendly jams if I might be so direct. With pot now legal in my hometown of Seattle, I’ve got to inquire, has pot been an influence on what you do creatively? Do you guys get high at band practice while you’re coming up with material or am I totally off base there? How about psychedelics like LSD or mushrooms? DMT? (band members can answer anonymously):
Cristopher: (laughing) well I can only speak for myself but pot or any other psychedelics stopped working for me before I even started playing in bands. I’m sure that stuff had some bearing on how I heard music when I was younger but doesn’t play a part in what I do with music today.
Haley: We never get high at band practice.
Melynda: I have done pretty much every drug that exists. I don’t really feel like doing that anymore, and we never get high or even drink at practice. We are working people with day jobs in our 30s. I have certainly been known to party it up on occasion though.
Thad: Some of y’all are from different parts of the country and have settled in Portland. What influenced that decision and what is it about the Rose City that ensnared your favor? How do you feel about it’s transformation into a burgeoning tripster mecca as of late?
Melynda: I came here because SF was wearing on me after 10 years. It is expensive there. I wanted to live somewhere where I could park and have a dog. I already had friends here so it was an easy transition for me. I have always felt the pull of the Pacific North West. It is an amazing place. So so beautiful here. It is also not a crime to be poor here. There are others like me here- plenty of people not doing the typical thing with their lives. I don’t care about ‘hipsters’ seems like a lot of the pot calling the kettle black to me….Well beside vinyl and tube amps! Portland is full of kind people that I love. I am just waiting for the few I have left in SF to move here, too! HINT.
Cristopher: I came to Portland to take the opportunity to address health issues which had kept me from playing music for a few years. I had hoped to play music with Melynda again but didn’t have any expectations. I’m very grateful that things lined up the way they did. When I got to a point where I was able to play again Melynda needed a drummer. Playing with Melynda and Haley has been great. I think we have found a good balance.
Haley: I moved to Portland from Hartford, Connecticut in 2001 because I was very influenced by several bands that were heavy and technical that came from the Northwest, namely the Need and the Haggard, and I wanted to be in a culture of my peers. Those bands and others toured the East Coast in 2000 and at that point I was 20 and knew that I wanted more out of life. I wanted to be in a town where being a female musician was not a liability, but just normal, that my title as bass player wouldn’t have to necessarily be preceded by “girl” because there were so many female musicians around, even in heavy genres of music. The reality is a bit different, but back then and in the ’90s labels like Mr. Lady Records and all the bands associated with Riot Grrrl were hugely influential in terms of me picking up and sticking with my instrument in high school, as much as any more ‘traditional’ progressive or metal bands. So really, Portland had been in my sites for a while. In terms of its mecca-ness, it’s problematic when people’s rents go up, but in terms of the hipsterness or whatever, I don’t really care or think about that.
Rad, and make sure you check out Eight Bells live on their tour which started last night in their home town. Dates below:
THURSDAY, APRIL 18TH, 2013
225 SW Ash Portland OR 97204 US (503) 227-2403
Eight Bells ,SubRosa, Hail, Ephemeros
FRIDAY, APRIL 19TH, 2013
210 Broadway Ave E. Seattle Seattle wa 98102
Bell Witch, SubRosa, Eight Bells, Space Bag
SATURDAY, APRIL 20TH, 2013
769 E.Hastings St Vancouver BC 11111 CA
Art Signified Presents
SUBROSA (Profound Lore), EIGHT BELLS (Seventh Rule), ASTRAKHAN & DUNGEONS
SUNDAY, APRIL 21ST, 2013
230 S Washington St Spokane wa 99201
SubRosa, A God or an Other (Seattle),Garlands
MONDAY, APRIL 22ND, 2013
1519 w main st boise Idaho 83702
w/SubRosa and Wolvserpent.
TUESDAY, APRIL 23RD, 2013
The Shred Shed
60 E Exchange Place Salt Lake City UT 84111
W/ SubRosa and Oxcross
THURSDAY, APRIL 25TH, 2013
Eli’s Mile High Club
3629 Martin Luther King Jr. Way Oakland CA 94607 US
w/Hollow Mirrors, Abstracter
FRIDAY, APRIL 26TH, 2013
1131 Polk Street San Francisco CA 94109 US (415) 923-0923
w/Amber Asylum, Dead Man
SATURDAY, APRIL 27TH, 2013
210 C Street Eureka ca 11111
w/ White Manna and Nipplepotomas