September 2009 - MEMORY DRIVEN
Anyone who reads Cosmic Lava carefully, has certainly noticed that I'm a huge fan of Dennis Cornelius' work. Due to this reason I asked him a couple of questions a few months ago. There he had told me about his new band MEMORY DRIVEN and the first upcoming album. Damn, this were amzing news. Now finally it's out, entitled 'Relative Obscurity', and, for me personally, it's one of the highlights in 2009. Everyone who is familiar with Dennis' previous bands will know that MEMORY DRIVEN isn't your next average doom metal band. Much more this album shows what is possible and what musicians can do in this genre. The requirement for this is that you don't care about all the boring stereotypes and that you can play your instrument like a young god. In addition, one should not forget the creativity and inspiration as a driving force. MEMORY DRIVEN fulfill these criterias with the greatest of ease. 'Relative Obscurity' has set new standards in the world of doom, and I can only suggest to my readers that they should buy a copy of this album as soon as possible. It seems logical that I felt the urgent need to do another interview with Dennis, where we only talked about the band and the new album. Let's start!
Hello Dennis, at the beginning of our interview I just want to say how enthusiastic I am about your new album 'Relative Obscurity'. It's not that I expected a bad one, but this disc exceeded my expectations by far. How are the reactions of the press and the fans so far?
We sure appreciate that you are in enjoying the album, my friend. As for the reactions so far it's been mostly fair reviews. People seem to like something about it but can't seem to get passed the way I tend to write or my vocals or the production or the synth interludes or the fact that one of my main influences is and always shall be ALICE IN CHAINS. There are a rare few with the patience enough to get what we were trying to do with the album and that was to weave an interconnected piece of music that requires some attention. I've never considered myself a traditional song writer and I don't intend to start now just to please people. I think if we could just get back to the enjoyment of full albums instead of trying to be instantly gratified we had have some better reviews
Before we talk about 'Relative Obscurity', there should be a brief look back at the past. The band was initially known as DWELL WITHIN and under that name you've recorded the 'Monkshood' demo, released by I Hate Records. What was the reason for this renaming?
Well I actually quit DWELL WITHIN so I could focus my creative juices back on the guitar where I feel I belong. It was a fairly traumatic set of events starting with Patric, our drummer, quitting. I went on a cruise with my wife with down the coast of Baja California and pretty much hung out at the front of the boat away from the party. I found myself totally sucked in by the deep blue of the Pacific Ocean and ended up deciding that I had to take action about my total disdain for playing bass any more. I know there are some that say I was a good bassist but almost every single person that knows me knows I'm most happy on the guitar. I asked some co-workers of mine if they wanted to help me get an album recorded and they were all on board fairly quickly.
Tell us a bit about the musical background of the other guys. What have they done before they joined the band?
Well, Chris Greenway has been around the Oklahoma scene for sometime jamming with bands such as SUBSANITY, and OVERSOUL with me. Tim Mansfield has been playing drums for some time now even though he's like 10 years younger than me. The latest band he was involved with before MEMORY DRIVEN was another local band called HORSE CALLED WAR. While I had the pleasure of catching some shows and a couple of rehearsals with him behind the skins of that band, it was him goofing around on his breaks in the drum room at Guitar Center and what seemed to be his general interest in some of the music I was trying to expose him to i.e. the doom scene that got him into trying out for MEMORY DRIVEN.
David Newcombe is a classically trained musician that can play just about any instrument but his real forte is the understanding and playing on the bass guitar. For the album he, and even still now, he plays a boutique 6 string bass. He's involved in a lot of side projects including Jazz trios and electronica (which he's recently recruited Tim into joining him on drums). I'm not sure what if any bands he was in before I met him but I do know his brother Tim Newcombe played for a local thrash band here in Oklahoma back in the 80's called CARNAGE.
What is the difference between DWELL WITHIN and MEMORY DRIVEN?
I like to explain it like this; after I quit, Dylan Richardson, who played second guitar in DWELL WITHIN went on to form his on band called A FATE FAR WORSE which took all of the heavier, crustier, more primitive ideas that were mixed in with DWELL WITHIN's material and I took all the progressive more finessed ideas and expanded on them with a group of guys that wanted to do that and more. I wouldn't say we lost any of our heaviness, I just think it's more refined. The album is just a prelude of what's to come. Our next album is already pushing boundaries within in us all. Maybe we'll alienate some of the purists in the doom scene but there will still be aspects of everything I love about music in the tunes we're crafting. On a sort of side note I joined Dylan's band because I wanted to push some of my own more extreme boundaries and help propel my playing to the next level. So at the moment I'm in both bands.
Once again, you have worked together with I Hate Records. What are the advantages of this cooperation? Did you have any inquiries from other record label?
I'm sure the guys at I Hate had some trepidations about working with us but I think as soon as they heard some of the rehearsals we were working on they were down to still give us the deal they offered on the DWELL WITHIN full length. Yeah, and no other interest from other labels, yet. Honestly if I had the cash to release it on my own I would. But unfortunately, I am a broke but not starving (as pointed out by a close friend) musician who can barely keep up with my bills. It would be nice to see some financial help from a label some day to make my life just a little easier but as I told Jim Hunter a long time ago when I asked him to join REVELATION on bass "I'm letting you know now, there is absolutely no money playing this form of music". With some of the deeper talks I've had with Victor Griffin, he's hardly seen a dime throughout his career in music either, and that's one man who freaking deserves it. I just accepted it a long time ago.
I get the impression that you put a lot of work into the new album. It is focused on detail and elaborated. When did you start with the recording sessions for 'Relative Obscurity' and how much time did you spent in the studio?
We started tracking the album in November '08 but it was broke up over several weekends due to everyone's work schedules including the engineer. We actually spent a lot of time on mixing. Looking back I wish I had spent more time getting some of the vocals down better. Half of those melodies were written the week before we recorded them ha-ha. We finally finished mixing and mastering in early March I believe. I think studio time was about 3 weeks total. Considering that we only really formed in September of '08 I'd say the guys did a splendid job of learning the album.
How do you create you songs? Who is involved the songwriting process?
Most of the songs for the album were somewhat complete musically before the band was formed. Some songs were DWELL WITHIN tunes that didn't get recorded and one was an OVERSOUL tune. We did write the instrumental 'Ostrakon' a couple of weeks before recording time. I didn't intend for that song to be an instrumental at first but I got out voted. I may incorporate some of those ideas into a new song to kind of tie the next album together. As for the writing process, on the song I write I typically start off on an acoustic lying in bed just feeling out chord progressions until one strikes me.
I then try to expand on the idea and come up with at least 2 or 3 complimentary riffs so that I can take that to rehearsal the next day and we can just jam on it. I like to hear everyone's input on structure but unless I was really uncomfortable on how things were I usually stick with the semi-arrangement I had already. I do see everyone in the band trying to contribute ideas in their own ways which I like. Typically if we put our minds to it we can have a new song fleshed out and sounding tight as hell by the end of one rehearsal. At the moment, we have 3 complete new tunes and parts of at least 3 more that won't take much. I know Chris has at least 2 or 3 he's ready to present.
It's difficult to categorize your sound, but it turns out that 'Relative Obscurity' has a high innovative potential. How important was it for you to leave long-beaten paths?
It's all about the journey for me. I'm not the best guitar player by far but it's kind of neat when classically trained musicians have a hard time understanding not going back to a previous riff in the song. I have given the guys some slack in that if they feel like they want to groove on something I'll usually allow the measure to be extended to allow that extra bit of getting into. I'm mostly afraid that I'd get bored of the song and that means people listening to it will probably get bored of it too. I don't know. Probably silly of me.
Who came up with the idea for the keyboard transitions between each song? I think that this makes the album more individual, as it already is.
Well, David had brought in one or two synth version he was working on for his side project and was asking me if it was cool if he used them. I didn't care but it gave me the idea of have one crafted for each of the songs on the album. I didn't want the piece to follow the songs they were created for though, I thought that might be a bit on the nose. So I gave David a rudimentary idea of the structure of the album and which electronic pieces I wanted where and he came up with rest.
He tried to construct them in such a way so the keys would change into the start of the next tune. If you listen closely enough you'll recognize the real songs in the synth versions. I've always wanted to do something to tie every song together and it just seemed like I'd never heard anything like that. I was being quite sensitive to how some might react to the idea so instead of adding them as their own separate tracks we just added them to the end of the main tracks so if you wanted to skip them you could but I'm telling you right now you get used to the idea and it starts to make sense.
Do you think that it is a concept album?
Not so much I suppose. There are aspects of it that seem like they tie together and I suppose if I wanted to be facetious I could concoct some narrative that would tie the songs together but since lyrically it's all over the place it'd be tough to justify that statement.
I think that you've captured a contemplative and melancholic mood with your music. Your songs radiate security, warmth and optimism, even if one song is named 'Forever Lasting Sadness'. Can you agree and what can you tell us about the lyrical content of the album? Please, give us an insight in your thoughts.
I'm sure John Perez will hate me for pulling this out but for me it summed up how I feel about the music I'm apart of. "MEMORY DRIVEN is lonely yet comforting. Warm and desolate at the same time. Hope and despair all rolled into one."-John Perez- I've never been a huge wordsmith but it seems like need drives me to create some from time to time. Four songs on the album were written by Patric Barrett and I'll leave it up to him to explain what those were about. All I know is before he quit he seemed adamant about us using his words. I had no problem with that because I still considered him a friend and I liked his words. I wrote these next three songs. 'Heaven's Vast' was actually some free form words that I wrote out to the rhythm of the slow verses in THE OBSESSED 'A World Apart'. I always like the phrasing in that song. Try it. You can sing right along with it ha-ha.
'Melt Into' is also a reference to a Wino lyric in the SPIRIT CARAVAN song 'Powertime' which I wrote about the last time I took acid. It was a totally mind altering experience and my friend had set it up to be perfect. Every time before when I had taken acid it was on the fly at a party or a show and it pretty much ruined the rest of my night. I'm glad my last one was a good one. I just wanted to convey some of the mix of thoughts that were going through my head at the time. The friend shall remain unnamed at this time hah. 'Closer Pull' was the last one I wrote completely and it was based around the whole Mayan 2012 thing. I know it might be a little paranoid but it seems to me that if enough people believe in something it becomes reality. I guess it's a part of that whole "we're all connected thing". The History channel here isn't helping douse the fire either with their Nostradamus effect, meteor destruction, and world wide catastrophe, what if man weren't here type TV shows. It's getting ridiculous. Fear, I guess everyone knows it's a powerful motivator.
In the past, it was all too often the case that some your bands (except for REVELATION) broke up after just one album. How do you rate the chances of survival for MEMORY DRIVEN?
I would love to do a completely new album with these guys because I know it would be everything I wanted it to be and then some. My main objective at this point, besides getting a job, is to complete the writing of our sophomore album and show all of my friends and few fans I might have around the world what this Okie boy can pull off. I'm not saying it'll be innovative, new, or different. I'm saying that this next album will be the definitive culmination of everything I love about creating music and I will do everything within my power to ensure that it happens. I think we'll be trying to hit the studio early next year so hopefully someone somewhere would like to release our second album. I'd like to see I Hate do it but I know they've been quite busy this year and more than likely well into the next. Cross your fingers.
It would really be fantastic if you would go on tour here in Europe, because your music really does deserve it. Are there any plans?
Nothing concrete yet but we are ready and willing to go. I'd like to think there'd be a few of you European fuckers that wouldn't mind listen to a fat Yank play guitar for 90 minutes or so. You can bet if we do make it over we'll be playing selections from MEMORY DRIVEN of course but also OVERSOUL, DWELL WITHIN, and REVELATION - heh possibly even a DOOMSTONE song (sorry King)
Thanks a lot for your answers, Dennis. It's always a pleasure for me to do an interview with you!
Always a pleasure Klaus!