Monday, August 9, 2010

On The Outside, Looking In - Jay Berndt

Well folks, its time to introduce you to a good friend of mine by the name of Jay Berndt. Needless to Jay has been there and done that with his musical career playing with folks as far and wide as Ozzy, Slayer, Clutch, Fear Factory and many more. But that just wasn't him and now in act 2 of his career, Jay has been doing the Country and Americana side of things for quite some time now. We are stoked to be releasing his new album this fall, so stay tuned of updates from Jay Berndt and that deep baritone of his, which is going to be broadcasting world wide in just a short time. Also, we will be hearing more from Jay in his blog posts on the Rusty Knuckles Blog about what he has going on with his tunes.

How the Hell Do You Go from Metal to Country?

This is the question I have been asked numerous times over the years, and it’s not exactly an easy thing to answer in a just a few sentences…..

So five hundred years ago, in the early 90’s, I sang for a metal band called Kilgore. That in itself is ironic because I never really liked heavy metal music when I was growing up (although I did come to love it later on). I was a born and bred Rhode Island kid living in Southern California in the early 1980’s and man, I did not fit in. I was a plaid flannel shirt and corduroy jeans kind of kid and everyone else was surf shorts and t-shirts. I had a funny accent (Yooz guyz), I was taller than everyone else in my class, and I was absolutely horrible at sports. I was pretty much ridiculed everyday because I just didn’t fit in. At twelve, I had no friends, I was completely alone, angry, and depressed. Now I had grown up on my father’s record collection; Chuck Berry, Ray Charles, The Beach Boys, Little Richard, the Beatles, Carl Perkins, The Who, Cream, The Rolling Stones… But I was beginning to rebel and wanted something to piss off my parents. I loved AC/DC but that didn’t cut it because my old man liked them too. So, what social group of misfits is perfect for angry rebellious youths? Metal!! Plus this was 1984, the height of British heavy metal, but honestly…. I just didn’t like it. Although I thought the music was really cool, I would listen to those Bruce Dickenson or Ronnie James Dio lyrics, and I’d just laugh. All those songs about dragons and witchcraft just sounded so goofy to me. I just couldn’t get into it. So I was even outcast from the outcasts. I ended up joining the school marching band, learned how to play drums and eventually I did find some friends. One of them introduced me to The Ramones, The Sex Pistols and The Clash. It was exactly what I was looking for. Angry lyrics channeled over simple rock-n-roll. I fell in love with punk, became kind of obsessed with it and that opened the door to hardcore. Black Flag, Minor Threat, The Misfits and Bad Brains were my soundtrack to junior high and high school and each of those bands became huge musical influences on me.

Years later, I moved back to Rhode Island and met the guys who would make up Kilgore while I was attending high school. When we first started, we played thrash, which to me didn’t sound all that different than hardcore except with shitty vocals. So I thought it would be cool to mix my own version of Henry Rollins meets Glen Danzig to their version of thrash, and Kilgore was born. After we graduated, we played tons of shows, put out demos, got ourselves a following, and somehow got ourselves a record contract with Warner Bros. In 1995, we were on the road, playing a tour that would drop us off in California, where we’d be recording our first record called “Blue Collar Solitude”. One day in the van, our sound man Mike Aruda and I were talking about music. He asked me what were the most punk rock lyrics I ever heard. I think I may have quoted The Clash or something off of “Damaged” by Black Flag. He said bullshit, and asked if I wanted to hear the most punk rock lyric of all time. He plopped some headphones on me and hit play on the Walkman. I heard “Well I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die…” and it was like I was hit with a bolt of lightning. It was absolutely the most punk rock thing I ever heard and it was recorded by a sharecropper’s son from Dyess, Arkansas in 1955. I played that tape over and over again. I remember when we got to Los Angeles; I went to a record store and bought “I Walk the Line” on vinyl, which was a Columbia album Cash recorded in 1964 that contained a bunch of remakes of the early Sun recordings. I got that and the “Live at Folsom Prison” album and I think I actually wore the records out.

It was just so simple. Great voice, simple arrangements, great storytelling… It all just spoke to me. It sounded like all the 50’s rock-n-roll from my dad’s record collection. I then picked up Hank Williams, Waylon, Willie, and Merle Haggard. It was like discovering a musical world I knew nothing about. I had always stayed away from country because all I knew was “Rhinestone Cowboy” and Hee Haw. But this was the real deal. Many years later, after Kilgore was no more, I hadn’t really progressed with my country music listening, other than the few artists I just mentioned. I had read “Cash” by Johnny Cash after it was named dropped in the High Fidelity movie and I found it to be really spiritually moving. I had picked up all those amazing American/Rick Rubin albums, and loved them all. Then all of a sudden… Cash was gone. It really affected me. I felt like I lost an old friend or like I had when I lost my grandfather. I was really depressed. To get me out of my slump, my wife, a few of our friends and I decided to check out a Johnny Cash tribute show at a local Providence bar. We had been talking about it for days and we were getting excited. When the band got onstage, they were really cooking. The rhythm section was tight and the telecaster player had the boom-chicka. I was pretty impressed. Then the singer stepped to the mic…… and out came this thin, nasal voice. Then I got angry. We all got angry. We got angrier with every song, so went to another bar to bitch about the band. My wife said “You know you should start a country band.” I told her she was nuts. I knew nothing about writing a country song. But I kept thinking about it. I picked up all the guys Cash had named; The Louvin Brother, Roy Acuff, Ernest Tubb, George Jones, Sons of Pioneers….. I got obsessed again. I picked up more and more. I had started playing music again around that time (2003), just a rock-n-roll band with some friends from work. I was having the hardest time trying to write lyrics. All I had ever known with Kilgore was writing about my anger and having it veiled in classic literature references. But the more I thought about it, with country music, I sure could tell some crazy stories about certain events in my past. I picked up my guitar, and it all came pouring out. A lot of those crazy road stories made it into those early songs. It felt natural, like it was something that I was supposed to do.

Over the last few years, I put together a couple of really great country bands, The Revival Preachers and The Brimstone Assembly, and we made a few recordings. I’m really proud of the music I made with them. All those guys (and gal) are great musicians as well as really great people. We really had a lot of fun. People from my past were pretty shocked to hear that I was playing country music. I’d always get “Uh, how the hell did that happen?” Like I said, it’s not exactly an easy story. Then again, nothing in my life is an easy story. I’d like to say I never looked back, but I did. We did a two show Kilgore reunion in 2007, and I joined a metal band called Bloodwitch in 2008. It was kind of like putting on an old pair of boots. Really comfortable, at first, but there’s a reason you bought new boots. I had a great time and the music was awesome, but it just didn’t feel like me anymore. I’m somewhere different now. I had the worst time trying to write metal lyrics in my thirties. I’m not an angry twenty-something anymore. I don’t have that chip on my shoulder and something to prove. Overall, I’m a pretty happy guy now. I have a great job, an amazing wife, three awesome dogs, and a good home in a quiet neighborhood with a two car garage….Hard to bitch about taxes and your mortgage over a metal song. But it sure can make a goddamn great country song.

Listen to Jay Berndt on myspace? Click Here