We hate to teabag your macaroni, but sometimes music is just a paycheck to the people here at Rocks Off.
This is not one of those times.
As your humble narrator cast about the Internet in search of things to write about, he came across Hollywood Black and tonight's show celebrating the band's third release on Mia Kat Empire Records, an EP called Devils That We Are. Thinking that we would just fire off a few questions, lay down some nonsequiturs, and misuse the word "awesome," we fired off a request for an advance copy.
What we got may be one of the finest EPs ever to grace Houston.
To be sure, the EP format has gone through a real renaissance in town, starting several years back with Million Year Dance, and continuing recently with Lotus Effect's Rabbits and Royalty and a host of others. Devils That We Are deserves to stand toe to toe with even the finest short works this year.
The album is a little tricky. The opening being overly harsh and needlessly heavy, giving listeners the impression that they've stumbled onto another cuddly hardcore act. However, as the disc progresses, an amazing depth of lyrical talent and musical accomplishment becomes more and more apparent. This is a band utterly unafraid of defying conventions, be they chord progressions or lyrical meters.
The overall message is a throbbing reminder of the inherent failings of ethics and intentions within the hearts of men. Whether the demons of greed, lust and pride are being howled from the top of Ben Ellis' voice, or murmured in the low growl of his incredible bass lines, it comes through loud and clear. We are all of us damned.
The album features several impressive guest performers, most notably Sean Spiller of recent HPMA nominee The Manichean playing a Hammond organ on Track 4, "Everybody Has Their Bad Days Pt. 2." The two "Bad Days" tracks are really the standout pieces on an already standout EP. The songs speak of the rise and fall of two preachers who are eventually eaten alive by their own hypocrisy and sin.
This is not an album for the light of heart, but if you have the Balzac to face down demons, then we guarantee you will love Devils That We Are. Earlier this week, Rocks Off had a chance to sit down with Ben Ellis and talk about Devils.
Rocks Off: Would you say that the message of the EP is that the pressures of everyday life, particularly those of a successful man, are what drive us to evil, or that it is already inherent within us, and therefore inescapable?
Ben Ellis: I do believe that we cannot avoid doing evil. I don't really think it has to do with someone's level of success or even everyday pressures. I think that in secret we just want to gratify ourselves no matter how it affects others. Unfortunately, we are born into it.
RO: Is the two-part "Everybody Has Their Bad Days" based on anyone in particular?
BE: Yes, I actually had two well-known Houston preachers in mind when I was writing the two songs. It might be best if I didn't mention them by name, of course. "Pt.1" is about a mainstream megachurch preacher whose sin is exposed, and "Pt. 2" is about the jealous preacher of a smaller counter culture church who falls into sin by arrogantly rejoicing in the other preacher's sin. "Now I can take his place," exclaims the jealous preacher.
RO: How did Sean Spiller of The Manichean get involved in the project?
BE: Sean has been a friend of ours for a while now. He was helping out at the studio while we were recording "Everybody Has Their Bad Days Pt. 2." There was a Hammond B3 organ in the studio that we really wanted to use. Lucky for us, Sean is skilled on the keys, and he nailed it on that song.
RO: Did your previous drummers all die or retire due to the insane pace you make them keep? Is Schillaci in good health after the hell you put him through?
BE: They are all dead, but Anthony has been a great fit. To be honest, we have trouble keeping up with him most of the time.
RO: One of the things that Rocks Off loves about EPs over LPs is that they often play like musical short stories. Would you say that is the case with Devils That We Are?
BE: The album was not originally supposed to be that way. It just kind of evolved into a story. The only songs that were supposed to have a theme were "Everybody Has Their Bad Days Pt. 1 & 2." We didn't even see the connection until after mixing was finished. But yes, the album does tell a story.
RO: Rocks Off isn't terribly familiar with your earlier work. Has experience led you to believe in the thin line between damnation and salvation that is so much a part of these songs, or have you always felt that way?
BE: I have always thought that the line between damnation and salvation is thin, but it is extremely defined because salvation is not based on a set of rules, but on a set of beliefs.
RO: How would you describe your experiences with Mia Kat Empire Records?
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BE: We have had a great run so far and plan to continue. MKE has always gone out of their way to support us and the community of musicians. Word has it, they are going to have a lot of releases this next year and we are really looking forward to it.
RO: Would you say the songs on the EP are exclusively about the world of commercial religion, or do they apply to other areas of life?
BE: Track 3 on the record describes a pendulum swinging back and forth exposing the hypocrisy and evil present in all men, in all areas of life. The message is to not get discouraged when we see humans being humans. After all, this is our nature.
Hollywood Black releases Devils That We Are tonight at Walter's Female Demand and The Ride Home. Cover is $10; doors open at 8 p.m. A free copy of the EP is included with admission.