July 2002 - PENANCE

When you talk about the most important heavy doom bands of the last fifteen years you can't leave out PENANCE. They started out under the name Dream Death in the mid-80's and after several classic recordings and changes in the line-up, now they have found with Matt Tuite and Mary Bielich two new musicians and it's maybe the best line-up in the history of PENANCE. Just listen to the new brilliant album "Alpha & Omega" and you know what I mean. I've contacted drummer and co-founder Mike Smail to talk about the things that have happened after the first PENANCE interview I did in 1999.


Hello, Mike! Back in 1999, when I started with the Cosmic Lava webzine PENANCE was the first band I did an interview with. Now, nearly three years have passed and you've released your latest album in 2001 "Alpha & Omega" .It's good to see that the band has finally found a label . How did you hook up with  Martyr Music Group?

Thanks very much and congrats on keeping things going. The deal with Martyr came about because of Mary. She had been helping Maria out over at Martyr and when they moved to Pittsburgh from Boston, Maria checked out the band and she liked us enough to give us a shot.

I think, it must be a very good feeling to be  supported again by a label, that understands what PENANCE is about. How do you remember the times without any or worse label support and how much copies have you sold of the excellent self-released "Proving Ground" album? Is it still available?

Very much so! Martyr has been such a blessing and we can't thank Maria enough. It's funny you should ask that because Martyr is re-releasing Proving Ground. I did the new artwork for the new packaging as well as went back down to Maryland to work with Chris Kozlowski and we remixed it in a weekend. It should be coming out in early August. I'm not exactly sure of how many of the soon to be old version of PG we sold.

"Alpha & Omega " contains the first five brilliant new songs with the new line-up. Although I still like the older recordings, I must admit that the new tracks are the most soulful and uplifting songs the band has written until now. It's still the PENANCE sound, but it's also more laid-back without losing the forceful heaviness. What's your opinion about it and can you agree?

I agree that the new stuff definately has a lot more energy (which I think we were missing) and they are more from a positive/ uplifting  kind of feel and not quite as jaded. But at the end of the day, it still sounds like us. We've always had that though. We always tried never to pidgeon hole ourselves into any one corner. We've always played what we wanted to and our spirit always comes through, no matter what kind of song it is. It all about the mood and what you're trying to convey.

Every of the five songs is awesome, but especially "See The Light" is like a sweet and honest shower. It carries so much hope and it makes me cry in a positive way, because I'm struggling against heavy depressions since a lot of years and this is like medicine. Please, give us an insight into the soul of this track!

That (unfortunately for you!) is one of the nicest compliments anyone has ever said to me and thank you. That song means so much to me as well. It seems to help to reaffirm me in times of doubt as well. While I can't comment for the whole band, because everyone has different beliefs, but to me that song is about God.  No matter what you believe in or not, it's about something good and positivity crosses all boundries. I think it's also about being there for somebody that you care about and being a true friend.

How did you come together with the  new guitarist Matt Tuite (former WICKERMAN) and bass-player Mary Bielich (former NOVEMBER'S DOOM) ? In the older Lava interview Butch mentioned a double 7" featuring both bands (and Las Cruces).Did you get together with both musicians at this point and had this 7" ever seen the light of day?

We actually met up out in Ohio at a festival. We were talking with Mary, who at the time lived in Chicago, and she said that she was going to be moving back to Pittsburgh very soon. Our old bass player was leaving so we aked her to look us up when she got back into town and the rest is history. No, that never did come to pass.

Aside of the  five newer songs, you have included the "Turn For The Worse" CD-EP, that was released in 2000 and only available for 'Zines and friends of the band. In opposite to the first five songs, the EP is much darker.Especially the lyrics are real heavy and the sound is more brutal. Is it something like a "concept" in putting them together and does the lighter and the heavier tunes symbolize the birth and death, the Alpha and Omega?

I think it makes for a nice circle, which is kinda like life. Life has it's ups and downs and this band is becoming more and more a self portrait of that. Our lyrics have always been more from the first person point of view because we always write what we feel and the music encompasses that circle. The later five are definately more pissed off and darker. That's why I accented that with the color red on the cd.

Why haven't you re-recorded the EP tracks with the new line-up?

It was already done and recorded and never saw the light of day really, so were happy to be able to finally put it out.

How much new songs have you written with the new line-up and when can we hear more?

We just finished up 4 brand new tunes down with Chris "Stegmaster" K. and we should be going back down to put the finishing touches on those around the end of July. We're still writing more and more and will record them a little more spread out this time. It's a luxury we've never had before.

This time you've worked together with Chris Kozlowski, one of the top producers, when it comes to heavy metallic soul blues rock.In my opinion it was a great choice to work together with him. Have you planned to record more songs in his legendary Polar Bear Lair studio in Maryland?

As I've said, we are currently recording new material with him and a new lp should be out around the beginning of the year.

Aside of heavy wall of sound I think, that the lyrics are very good and intense of PENANCE. There's a lot of emotional depth in it, mostly dealing with the heavy and dark feelings but there's sometimes still enough hope in it to carry on, as in "Reaching" f.e. Are they all auto-biographical and how important is your spiritual strength for the music?

Our lyrics have been a strong point for us for a long time now, I think. And since they are more from the first person point of view, they're definately more emotional. I think the band is a bit of catharsis for us all and is a good outlet to deal with what's going on in our lives and where we're at etc. As far as the latter question, I firmly believe that positivity breeds positivity and the same for negativity. I think where we're at and what we sound like is testiment to that. I can honestly say that I've never been more proud of this band than as I am right now. I think we all feel that way and know that this is something special and that really shows through.

You've started out in 80's under the name DREAM DEATH, which later changed into PENANCE. During the last fifteen years you've seen so much heavy bands come and go, but musicians like you, Scott Weinrich, Bobby Liebling, Dale Flood or Victor Griffin had never given up, although everyone of them had very hard times during the last years. What gives you the energy to keep on with the music, no matter if there's no label or no big response in the media? It must be very tough, I think!

The fact that you lumped us in with the likes of that line up is energy enough! Being in a band is harder than it looks, especially when it's something that you totally believe in but it always seems that nobody else does. It's because you're playing the music that's inside of you, not to get chicks or even money (although being able to support ourselves just by playing music would be great!), but because it's what you do. I know I'll never quit playing. The names might change, but I'll still be playing because  I love it.

Are you still in contact with DREAM DEATH co-founder Brian Goodbread and is he still playing music?

Yes. I still hang out with him and have some beers etc. on the weekends. He plays very little anymore, but he does do some of his own stuff which is really cool.

After the "stoner-rock" hype, the original heavy bands are getting a bit more attention but they are still belonging to the underground. Do you feel sometimes angry about it?

I don't think angry is the right word. I believe that we all don't get hardly any of the respect that we all deserve, but life isn't about fair etc....... plus, there's nothing that I can do about it anyway. Getting wrapped up in that is getting sidetracked from the music and the music is what it's all about.

Today, there are some bands that are worshipping cannabis as if there were nothing more important in life than just to be stoned. I think, it has developed into some form of brainless trend. What's your opinion about it? I ask for it, because it isn't necessary to be a weed-addict when you want to play heavy rock.

Yea, it's kinda gimmicky, but it's just another label or whatever because everyone wants/needs a nice neat little box to put a label on to try and brand something in order to sell it. You definately don't have to smoke to play or enjoy.....although it never hurts! HA

Another thing I like to talk about is the re-designed PENANCE website.It looks much more grown-up and professional. How important is the internet for you and do you work together with a webmaster?

Thanks. That's all on account of Mr. Terry Parr. He's helped us for a couple of years now and we can't thank him enough. So that compliment really belongs to him.

I've noticed that you're playing this years SHoD in Texas. What do you expect from this outstanding festival and have you visited the Emissions in Ohio this year?

Yes, we did play Emissions this year and it was great! I always love playing over there. I'm not sure what's going on yet about SHOD yet.

When I talk about gigs I remember your last tour in Europe in 1992, together with Sleep and Cathedral. I know, that a lot of PENANCE fans miss you here in Germany, so is there a chance to see you in 2002 or 2003 here?

I hope so, but I'm not holding my breath! If the new lp takes off enough in order for us to make it feasable, then we'd definately do it. Let's hope so!

What are your other future plans?

I'm graduating school this quarter and will hopefully get a great job that I enjoy in order to support myself as well as the band and keep it going. I'm looking forward to this new lp, ......man is it going to be heavy! Just wait.......

Have you heard about the split-up of Spirit Caravan and what do you think about it?

What's to really say other than it stinks! But, just as you said....I'm sure Wino will still keep playing.....you can count on that one!

I really like to thank you for your time and I hope, that "Alpha & Omega" will bring the band a bit further.If you like to add anything at least, than it's your time now!

Thank you so much and I hope so as well. I'd like to thank you for the space in the zine and watch out for the reissue of Proving Ground and then the new lp sometime around the beginning of the year.........and check out our website at www.penancemusic.com  THANKS MAN!