(Interview curousy of Earthdog's blog. To be posted on stonerrock.com, hellridemusic.com..etc)
Having formed in 1997 the work of H and Planet Gemini has produced some of the most interesting Metal around. Planet Gemini has managed to walk the same path as Sabbath, Cathedral and Trouble while remaining totally unique in the world of Doom. The latest recording "Wicked" is one of the freshest sounding releases of the last year so i contacted H and he agreed to a interview. Here is the interview, unedited.
ED: First of all i must say your recordings are all very impressive with the lastest "Wicked" being my favorite so far. How has the recordings progressed over the years? What has been the most rewarding progression for you?
H: Well, I would have to say the biggest change is doing everything myself. Before when my friend Josh (former bass player) was in the band it was much easier to just jam on a riff and make it into a song. Now it takes a little more planning. I still do try to keep it as free flowing as possible but I find that the music is a lot more focused, and I'd like to think that it is quite noticeable. Another big change is my skill level. I learned to play drums for Planet Gemini because we couldn't find a full time drummer, and now I find myself becoming a full time drummer. I practice a lot more than the average musician. I actually practice all of my instruments like a maniac. It's my unhealthy obsession really, but I think that it pays off in the music. Wicked is a great example of that. I completely went into a different state of mind while recording that album. Very dark and very angry, and while I don't consider all of the album to be a lashing out of rage. I do feel that the album has a fair amount of vitriol to it.
ED: It's hard to pinpoint a specific term to describe your style of metal but Doom Metal seems to describe it the best to me. Is this accurate to you?
H: I always tend to call my music "Doom" because that's really the feeling and emotion I like to go for when I write music. I know a lot of the "tr00 Doom" zealots tend to disagree but I think that they take themselves a little too seriously sometimes. One of the things that I think sets Planet Gemini apart from a lot of other bands is that I can tap into any genre I want and it would still be Planet Gemini. Whether that be Planet Gemini playing a more "Swing" based up tempo track like "Burning Laughter" or even a quieter more acoustic piece like "Eden" off of my last album Wicked. When you start becoming a slave to your genre it pretty much guarantees that you will never do anything new and creative. So I guess in the end you can call me Doom or Heavy Metal… I've even been called NWOBH. To be honest it's just a label. But to get back to your question: I say if you think the band's "Trouble" or "Candlemass" are Doom bands then I can't see how you couldn't view Planet Gemini as Doom as well.
ED: What is your honest opinion on the current Metal scene as a whole?
H: That's a pretty broad question there. I view a lot of the current metal scene to be the equivalent of someone yelling down a dark empty cave. The echo seems to go on forever but the sound quality degrades with every instance of the echo. There are a lot of genres out there where I can't for the life of me tell the difference between some of these bands. No guitar riffs, drumming as fast as they can with very little control and vocals where I can't hear a thing they are trying to say. Then, by some act of morbid curiosity I check out their lyrics and I see why they are so incoherent. They have nothing to say in their music it only makes sense because if they did why would they make their message so muddled and unintelligible? Sadly that about covers 80-90% of the modern acts out there today. It's so paint-by-numbers and uninspiring that I just can't really get into a lot of metal acts anymore. I mean on a more positive note there are still some great bands that are putting out some good albums, but for the most part they are all bands that are quite a few albums in.
ED: I like the fact you offer recordings for free over the internet, what is your reasons for doing this?
H: I started off in a conventional band. We played for about 5 years doing shows at bars and clubs and sadly at the time my "local scene" was dying due to the influx of DJ's in nightclubs and bars were turning towards Karaoke. Live acts were really dwindling and it got to a point where my band was doing more cover songs than originals because that's all people wanted to hear. I think it got to a point where I was playing a motorcycle rally and I'm performing this half-hearted version of "born to be wild" and I looked over at my angry band-mates and thought to myself "This is absolute bullshit". We kind of became known as a "Sabbath" cover band. We did a ton of Sabbath stuff live and it was really the only thing that was getting people somewhat interested in our originals. To me it was quite clear that playing bars and clubs was not the way for me to get my music out there.
I've always been a tech savvy person and I knew how powerful the internet was/is. Josh and I ended up buying some cheap PC recording equipment to see how easy it would be to record ourselves a demo. We did about 5 songs and I sent a couple to some people I had been chatting with at the time and they were all quite positive about it. So I built a small webpage on one of those banner laden free webhosting sites and it just took off really well. From there I had a dream of building us a recording studio one night. I woke up at 5am and called Josh and he was like "Let's fucking do it". So we did. We spent a ridiculous amount of money getting a professional studio together. We were completely clueless as to what we were doing. I knew a little bit about recording with an 8 track Tascam but had no idea how confusing recording digitally could be. I ended up buying a program called Cakewalk 7 and the rest just escaladed from there.
So now we have this professional studio and a lot of people e-mailing us about our music… Hell, at this point I didn't even want to press any CDs. I Just wanted to give my stuff away. I loved the fact that it really felt like people were not just interested in the music but the project behind making the music. So I tried to give people an inside look at what the band was doing. I would put up early demos, lyrics, song ideas, song titles. I just wanted to make people feel like they were part of the project as much as possible. In my opinion that's where it really paid off. People started taking a special interest in the band and started spreading the word and copying our music for their friends. We ended pressing CD's later on because Dan (The owner of Stonerrock. com) really made a compelling argument to me that I was alienating a big portion of my audience by making my music download only. So we went down that route but in the long run I really liked the idea that someone could just get the music and enjoy it. Not worry about money. Just give me your time and attention, that's pretty much all I could ask for. It got to a point where people were sending me e-mails saying they listen to Planet Gemini everyday and to me… that's worth more than money. I've always said "I'd rather have people singing my songs than buying my cds" and I can honestly say without hesitation that statement rings just as true today as it did back then. Today I see people getting Planet Gemini tattoos and I hear from people who are quoting my lyrics as words that they use to inspire them. I have people write me telling me how influential I have been in being an artist who does everything themselves, and, well, I've been blessed with this magic I call Planet Gemini. I've worked with Jeff "Oly" Olson (Founding member of Trouble) I've collaborated ideas with Vinny Appice (Black Sabbath/Dio drummer) I've worked with some of my heroes and I'm just a normal fan who loves music. So for me to be respected among some of these musicians I grew up idolizing is just amazing.
The music industry is now learning that the internet is really the way to distribute music. You're seeing more acts now leave their labels and just make their album on Pro-Tools and put it on i-tunes themselves. The age of being a slave to a record label is really starting to fall behind us. Leave that bullshit to the pop music acts. In metal we shouldn't have a flavor of the month. Our music is made to be indelibly etched into our listeners psyche. I'm 32 years old and I've been listening to metal for like 75% of my life. You don't see that in pop music. They tend to deny even liking the garbage that they listen to. You won't find a guy out there admitting to buying a New Kids on the Block tape back in the day. But they sold a millions and millions of albums and that couldn't be all from teeny bopper girls. All of those top40 sheep out there are so embarrassed at the fashions they follow that they won't even admit to it most of the time. While I personally can put on any album I bought when I was 12 years old whether it be Black Sabbath, Manowar, Deep Purple, Riot, Helloween or Judas Priest and still hear the greatness that I heard in that music. That is why I feel metal is stronger than other genres. It's eternal in my opinion and I'm proud to be a part no matter how small of a part I am.
ED: I know from reading your blogs you are a fan of the older heavy bands like Purple and Priest. Are these bands a inspiration for you?
H: Without a doubt. They made me who I am. If it wasn't for Black Sabbath I wouldn't be half of the person I am today. I actually can't imagine where my life would be without them. They gave me a passion for music that I can't even begin to explain. I learned to play guitar by watching the 1978 concert Never Say Die on videotape. I would play that show over and over and over again. I never took a guitar lesson. I would pause the tape to see where Iommi's fingers were to play the songs perfectly. My parents had to have wanted to strangle me, or destroy that tape. Because I would come home and play to that tape four or five times through a day. I had no idea what distortion was.. I was like "how the hell does his guitar sound like that?".
Even now as I'm older and I'm playing drums more often I can look to these bands as blueprints of what I want to be as a musician. The great Ian Paice from Deep Purple could drum circles around pretty much anyone in the music industry and yet… he sits back in 4/4 time and serves the song. Here is a guy who can do a snare roll with one hand faster than most drummers can do with two and yet.. he sits back and serves the song. Ian Paice to the untrained ear is just another drummer. He's a guy who plays on two and four. But, you ask a trained drummer about Ian Paice and you'll get a totally different reaction. Drummers like Bill Ward, John Bonham, Ian Paice, Vinny Appice and Cozy Powell are all inspirations for this style of music, and then being the avid music freak that I am I also dip back into the older Jazz drummers Art Blakey, Max Roach, Gene Krupa, Joe Morello and of course the greatest of all time Buddy Rich. Because you need to think of it like this, these are the drummers that Ward, Paice, Bonham and Powell learned from. So why not learn from them as well.
As far as vocalists people like Rob Halford, Dio, and Ian Gillan basically sculpted what I wanted to sing like growing up. Their range and power was unparalleled. Again you take your major influences and try to do your own thing with the groundwork they have laid down for you. It's funny because a lot of people site Ozzy as my major vocal influence but in all reality the only thing that Ozzy ever did that blew me away vocally is "Sabotage". He sang that album with some real power and I really enjoyed that era of Ozzy. Personally though I feel he whines too much for my tastes. I am a big fan of his music and you can't deny what he's done for metal however, I do not know if I would consider him a major influence.
Also if you really think about the bands that you mentioned "Deep Purple" and "Judas Priest" they are both bands that have evolved as musicians over the years. Listen to Judas Priest's "Stained Class" and then put on "Painkiller" it doesn't even sound like it could possibly be the same band and that's something that bands today could learn a little something from. Deep Purple is making better albums today than they were in the 80's and it's because they have adapted their style. They've added a bit more funk into their music and it suits them perfectly. It's still heavy and it's just great Rock & Roll but they have put some swing and blues in there and this overall groove that few bands can achieve. I hate when I hear a band that releases the same album over and over again and sadly there are a lot of bands who do that.
ED: What Metal act pisses you off the most. Name one band at least you wish that would just go away.
H: Jesus, ummm anyone who I think is faking it. I could probably fill a small island with bands that I could care less about. But, in all honesty there is a need for bands like that. Just because it's not my cup of tea doesn't mean it shouldn't exist. I'm not a fan of Avenged Sevenfold and that new wave of glam metal bullshit that is out there but, I'm sure there is someone who is… and to be honest at least they are people who can play their instruments well. Bands that tend to worry about their image more than their musicianship tend to really annoy me. Or bands with potential that are just so worried about making a "Radio song' that they can't write a song over 3 and a half minutes. While I don't consider them metal I just got done listening to the new Black Stone Cherry album and that is a band that is the epitome of what I don't like in music. I put the album on and I'm really loving their drummers groove and their guitar tone and then every song on that album is riddled with a bubblegum chorus. It's almost like they were told by someone "okay guys you have to make sure every song has a chorus and it's repeated at least 4 times…. Oh and.. be sure to sing three harmony tracks over every chorus" that shit drives me nuts. I just can't sit back as a musician and think that's what they wanted to do.
I can't stand the Rap/Metal hybrids or the Hardcore/Metal combo either to be honest. I'm very much not a fan of the over-the-top satanic bands out there either. I tried to listen to that band Deicide when I was younger. I remember buying the CD because the cover looked awesome and really evil… and it's like the Disney of evil. It's so over-the-top that it becomes Evil Dead-like funny. Some of that nonsense is so cliché it's like; who listens to that and says wow that guy is evil? My music touches on evil from a primal place. A place we all have within. Evil exists it's not by "scary" man in a black wizard's robe who's sacrificing a goat. "what did that goat ever do to you?" I find the nightmares in my head ten times more evil than the rubbish that dude sings about.
ED: What inspires you to write songs,i get a feeling that anger is one of them.
H: I love to write music about things that we really don't understand. I enjoy the paranormal and the occult if it's done in a tasteful way. I don't want to listen to some death metal band just singing the Ghostbusters theme song at four hundred beats per minute. I like the unknown of the human psyche and tapping into power that we don't know is there. I like the power of suggestion and what can manifest from it. While I will say that most of my music is written from a much darker place I will say that more times than not it's done in a very positive light. If you really think about it… how could it not be? I'm lucky enough to live my dream every day.
I do tend to write about human emotions a lot obsession, love, hate, betrayal we all feel this on a very personal level. I try to keep things as metaphorical as possible. I'm very lucky that people actually read and analyze my lyrics it's nice when someone takes the time to understand what you're saying and the places that you are trying to either take them or take them away from. Music is an escape and when someone writes me and says they can relate with something I've written it's very rewarding.
ED: How important is internet promotion to you?
H: I think that the most important thing in the world in anything is word of mouth advertising. If my friend tells me to check out a new restaurant I'm going to be much more likely to check it out from his recommendation as opposed to seeing some ad about it. The thing that helps me a lot is that the people who like my music really do go out of their way to post on online forums about my work and just spread the word about Planet Gemini. Believe me I do understand that there is no shortage of bands to check out with the advent of Myspace and the digital recording era. So for me it is really cool when someone is putting their stamp of approval on what I do.
ED: What do you want to achieve with Planet Gemini in the future.Any tours?
H: I think I've achieved everything I could hope for really. I never wanted to become a millionaire because of my music. If that were the case I'd be playing a completely different style of music. It would be watered down and incredibly fake but I could do it. If it wasn't for my damn conscious that would never let me release anything that wasn't 100% real. I get to write and record music and be somewhat successful at it. To me that is probably the biggest accomplishment I could hope for. I wouldn't fool myself and think that my style of music is for everyone because I know that it isn't. But, in the end I know I have people who will probably carry my music with them for a long long time and I have 8 year olds learning my songs on guitar who write me and send me sound samples of them playing my stuff. There is a pretty damn good chance that my music will outlive me. That's where the "Doom Eternal" concept really came from. When you create someone and people listen to it a lot it becomes part of their lives. It's quite humbling to know that right now, someone is probably listening to a Planet Gemini record. I'm just a fan of this style of music so it is extremely moving to have people putting me on the same level as some of the greats. I remember when Vinny Appice first heard Planet Gemini he was like "You are like the next generation of Black Sabbath" and I was completely floored by that comment coming from him.
As far as touring goes I have little to no interest in doing shows anymore. I do have some friends who know the material and would be happy to come and do some shows with me. Oly Olson (founding member of Trouble) even offered a while back to be the drummer for Planet Gemini but I must admit that my life right now is perfect as is. I don't want a road schedule screwing with my family life, friends and whatnot. Plus when a band like "Trouble' is only pulling in 30-50 people a night in the clubs they are playing I personally don't know how lucrative a PG tour would be. Sure I would be winning over a bigger fan-base but, as I said I am very happy with things as they are for now.
ED: What's your favorite bands at the moment?
H: My favorite bands haven't changed much since I was a child. Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Mercyful Fate, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Dio and the list goes on and on. If you mean more "newer" bands I really love the new Grand Magus album and bands like Gates of Slumber and Clutch are some bands that I constantly keep in rotation of my MP3 player. Also Terra Firma who are now defunked.
Man I would kill to work with Christian Linderson (Lord Chritus) of Terra Firma on a couple of tracks. He recently did a doom project with Peter Vicar of Reverend Bizarre fame and it sounds good, but I really feel that I could bring out a really really heavy Terra Firma type feel for him. If I could choose to work with two musicians it would be either Ronnie James Dio and Lord Chritus. Both of which I feel that I could bring something new yet old and create something very fun. Also I wouldn't mind working with Eric Wagner (former singer of Trouble) on a couple of tracks. Just to bring a blindingly heavy approach to his beatles-esque style. But, if it didn't prove to be fun for all parties involved I would axe it. Even if it was with someone I grew up idolizing like Dio, music should be stress-free and enjoyable once it becomes work is when you bow out gracefully.
ED: Doom Metal has always been underground and will more than likely always will be.I kind of like this fact about Doom Metal, I would hate for it to be thrown into the mainstream because shit goes downhill usually when that happens. Do you agree?
H: I think we kind of had a mainstream scare in the Doom metal community. Doom was becoming the "in" thing for a little while and with "The Sword" and their popularity it was quite odd to see people listening to music that was so down-trodden. I don't hate the Sword at all mind you. I just didn't think their album sounding incredibly authentic to me. It kind of sounded like a poor man's Sleep to me in some parts and their 2nd album sounds more like High on Fire so… maybe they are Matt Pike fans. Personally I think that every time the light gets shined down on Doom Metal it'll find a way to crawl back into the shadows. This style of music was born in the underground and personally I feel that's where it belongs. Again if someone is out there doing it for all the right reasons and gets mainstream attention then I can't fault them for it. But, I just can't see turning on the radio and hearing Gates of Slumber anytime soon, and I mean that in the nicest way possible.
ED: Why should people listen to Planet Gemini?
H: Well, if you've got a little bit of spare time and want to hear someone who lives, eats and bleeds their music then I would suggest checking out a song or two. If you even remotely like it check out the album. I understand the music might be a little more "artsy" than most Doom Metal fans are used to but they are free to download and 100% real. Packed with emotion and power and I think if you take the time to let the music sink in you'll get it right away. If it's not your thing then delete the files and thank you for taking the time to check it out. But, if you are a fan of bands like Candlemass, Trouble, Black Sabbath…etc what do you really have to lose? Every review I get usually uses the terms "Soul" and "Passion" and that is no coincidence. I've always said Planet Gemini is my soul in music form. It's what I am and what I always wanted to be. I inhale life and exhale Planet Gemini. I love both and I think that it shows in my art.