August 17, 2012

Interview with Here Below

Right before the clock  was about to hit 9p.m. on Thursday night, August 16th, when most people get home and rest for the next day, the night had just started for Scott Carruthers, the front man of Toronto rock band, Here Below. He showed up in front of us after his band practice, fully dressed in a suit and shiny shoes. "I went to the rehearsal studio straight from work and after this (interview) I have to get back there to prep for tomorrow’s show, then I’m going out to put up the show posters on Queen St." Astonished by his hectic schedule with his day job and band, I pondered to myself if he knows when to rest. At a flooded washroom-floor Starbucks and then a dog-barking park, we had a great time chatting with him to get the scoop on the departure from A Primitive Evolution and reunion of Here Below.

Here Below was established about 5 years ago, with a light-hearted mission to create a soundtrack to a fantasy novel that Scott was working on at the time.
"About 4 or 5 years ago I decided to write a fantasy novel, which turns out was a really bad idea. I've since decided to stick to music. But at the time Kyle (lead guitar) and I thought it would be kind of interesting to write a soundtrack for the novel – it was supposed to be a really gimmicky, dorky kind of folky thing. So we started writing songs about dragons and shit. I've never understood what the appeal was for Mike (bass) and Steve (drums), but we posted a Craigslist ad and they were like the first guys to get back to us. Turns out we just got really lucky and found the best rhythm section in the city. After the first practice we dropped the whole fantasy story thing.”

Eventually their busy schedules with school, work, band, and the lack of cohesive direction caused the band to hit a brick wall and they decided to go on hiatus for an undefined period of time.“We were kind of getting at each other’s throats. Kyle and I were still trying to finish school and to tell the truth, I wasn’t the best band leader at the time. We were in the middle of tracking the debut album and there was this period of stagnation and it really killed all of our momentum. It was a difficult time for us, but I think we all knew in the back of our minds that it wasn’t the end.”

Scott continued his musical journey with A Primitive Evolution for a year as a guitarist.“After we had ‘the talk’ I went home and broke a bunch of shit. I think it was later that week that I was in the van with Brett and Steph and they were like ‘Wait, why don’t you just play guitar for us (APE)?’ I was really fortunate to have everything line up so well what with the breakup of HB and APE needing a new guitarist. I definitely needed to stay active musically and playing with APE was an amazing experience. I think it was about a year that I played with them. For me, it was special because I got to spend time with my cousin Brett. You know, growing up it was really just me and Kyle romping around because we were the babies in the family. And Brett’s crazier than I am. The amount of work he does is just nuts. So I tagged along and I learned a lot about managing a band, touring, networking…everything really.  APE was just one big learning experience, and we had a blast on the road as well. APE also has fantastic momentum and the growing fan base behind them gives playing in the band a different feeling, like you’re part of something bigger. I hope to establish that same momentum with Here Below.

After recording APE’s sophomore album, The Prize, they all agreed that Scott needed to return to Here Below.“After we finished the record we went our separate musical ways. It came down to a number of things. For one, APE has been together for, what, like 5 or 6 years? The three of them had their own vision of where they wanted to take the band, the music and the image and I just don’t think I was on the same page. We had been trying to write new tunes and I kept coming to the table with my typical off-the-wall time signatures and it just didn't fit the bill, haha. Stu kept telling me ‘keep it simple!’, which I can’t seem to do for whatever reason. APE has now gone on as a three-piece, which I think is great. Their music works with that kind of stripped-down, raw sound and I think the three of them know exactly what they want out of the new material. I couldn't have been part of that cohesiveness. Besides that, I think deep down I knew I would never be truly happy unless I was a front man again, haha. We had too many cooks in the kitchen, so to speak.We’re still really involved in each other’s music, and in no way are there any hard feelings. I couldn't be happier with the return to HB. As soon as I felt the absence of APE I knew that I had to get the guys back together and forge ahead from where we left off.”

With the help of Brett and Playdead Cult Records, Here Below has released a few tracks from the album in-progress."We actually tracked the instruments for the songs on our Soundcloud like, 3 years ago and they just went unfinished. I recently completed tracking vocals at Mushroom Studios and we've finally begun the mixing process.”

The song writing process with Here Below is like an onion.- A “big tasty onion”.
“Every member brings something to the table. I’ll usually have a basic idea for a verse-chorus combination and then the guys really take it through the wash. Steve and Mike really influence the dynamics and soundscape of the songs. Steve’s drumming also changes how we look at each component of the song as far as flow and little technical fills. Mike has been my sounding board for the past 4 years. He’ll be the first one to tell me when my original idea is shit haha. But working with Mike and Kyle, we revise the melodies and instrumentation. At that point the song has become something completely different than how it started. Plus, Kyle can somehow write guitar parts for anything Mike or I come up with, and that balance between the guitars adds that definitive HB sound. The rest of the song comes from just jamming it out and letting it evolve on its own.”

What Here Below would like to achieve is to have each individual listener have their own interpretation of their music while connecting themselves with Here Below differently. This concept is also implied in their bands name. Here Below came from the lyrics of the Queens of the Stone Age's song, No One Knows. Just right after the climax of the final chorus, the song proceeds to the last verse with a lyric saying What a gift here below... What persists after is based on one's interpretation.

“It started out as just being two words that sounded cool, but it has taken on a number of different meanings. For me, it’s less about a literal meaning than it is about imagery. ‘Here Below’ makes me think of being in a cave underground, with the entire weight of the world above me, or sometimes staring up at the sky on a clear night. It’s that feeling of insignificance, of isolation, of introspection – I hope it evokes unique feelings for our fans as well. The same is true for our lyrics; we want people to have their own interpretation of the words and to mould their own emotions around them.

Their plate is already full with future plans: They are to release a late summer EP in September and a full album by the end of the year. Scott is managing to book more shows and planning a festival show in September, while planning to launch a new website.
“This next year is going to busy. I want to have the album out, a video this fall, tours in the spring, new live videos, the website, and hopefully a new EP with our new stuff for the new year as well…the list just goes on. We've got a good attitude, fixing all the old problems and working hard to make things happen, share HB with the world.

As his list continues, I was inspired with his strong passion and commitment to his music.

There are a whole a lot of things going on for Here Below for the next few month and it is indeed progressing slowly but surely.

A door of a new chapter of Here Below has just opened...

The reunion show is today at Hideout with A Primitive Evolution and Montreal's Hey Sugar. it's free before 10p.m and $7 after. (Click here for more details)

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