Tuesday, February 19, 2013

In The Spotlight: Split Point

Have you seen a gig by a spectacular new band and you think they should be highlighted in this column? Tip me at music@3encores.com. Until then, check out our latest to be 'In The Spotlight'.
     There is a disgusting epidemic going around. Plaguing the music industry, pop culture, music fans, and society as a whole, this unrelenting disease has even reached yours truly. Admittedly, I am guilty of this sickness. But I am in recovery and there is hope out there. I guess the first step to redemption from this affliction is to admit defeat and what better forum than in my own words on a music blog to do this: I suffer from MUSIC SNOBBERY. Yes, the playlist on my iPod may be varied and eclectic, but (and you know you do it too) I skip most of the songs and mainly listen to a core three or four groups and that’s it. You would think that having the opportunity to blog about flourishing artists all extremely gifted in their own specific genre of music would open up my mind a bit more, right? Nope. Initially, I approached the interview with New Jersey based Heavy Metal band Split Point thinking, “these guys look scary”. I had become something I despised: that person who judges someone based purely on the music they play or listen to and the way they look. How did this happen? Well, maybe the media plastering videos of talking heads that, when tragedy strikes the world, seems to crawl out and start blaming metal music and its influence on youth? Or maybe it is simply because we live in a time when everything is rushed. We are obsessed with instant gratification and even more instantaneous disagreement and disdain.  Even first impressions and judgments of our peer’s personalities are done in a manner that is quick and as painless as possible. If we see someone that we deem avoidable, we react by doing just that. Now, it should be said that this is not a blanket statement in which I am saying EVERYONE suffers from music snobbery. It is however a realization for me and a hope for the reader to identify that intolerance has been and still continues to infect the music industry and especially the Metal community. There I was in my untrained philosophy thinking, “Jeez, I hope this lead singer doesn't bite my head off” when in all actuality, these three talented and passionately articulate musicians were more than eager to welcome me. The only thing that should have feared being bitten by Stan, the lead singer, was the bacon cheeseburger on the plate in front of him.
     Gearing up for the release of their first studio album TriFlection, members of Scotch Plains, NJ based band Split Point: Stan (lead vocals/guitar), Kurt (bass/backing vocals) and Chris (drums/screams/backing vocals) had typical underground Metal band beginnings. They all have been in other bands, played a myriad of different instruments, and experimented with different sounds musically. But the consensus among the trio is that the lineup and the music is an exact representation of what Split Point is all about. “It’s all about chemistry,” says Kurt. Chris sums up the dynamic, “The best part of it is since we've been playing together on and off for the last couple of years, we all know what we’re doing together. Stan comes up with the skeletons of songs and we know once he starts, where he’s gonna go. I know his style so much that automatically my head’s already going to him. Kurt and I since we played together the most, I really know. There’s a good flow. Out of any band I've ever been in, it’s been easiest to know and play then see what works. We know each other before we know what we’re gonna do.”

So how difficult is it to find the right people who get along both personally and musically to form what you guys have?
Stan: When you have people looking for musicians, a lot of times they are so specific and they want this super thing. And most of it is based on something else. You’re limiting your potential candidates to nothing. If you let personalities gel you may end up coming up with something that was totally beyond what you thought. If you don’t let that happen because you are so in love with your own brilliance, you end up limiting yourself.

Chris: We all have the same influences because we've been together for so long. We all grew up listening to the same thing so we know what we like. We’re so alike and so different at the same time, it just blends. I think that is a total necessity.

Kurt: It’s not always the case. It’s not like every time we are in the studio writing a song, it flows naturally. Sometimes it doesn't always happen organically like that.

Stan: Case in point, “Death on a Dime” (track on the new CD TriFlection)

Kurt: There are songs we wrestled with over and over, put them to bed and brought them back and “Death on a Dime” is one of those songs. You wrestle it to a point when you’re fed up and done and then all the sudden something hits you. And then somebody else brings an idea and you’re right back into it.

See a performance of “Death on a Dime” here.

This is the first album for Split Point. How did TriFlection come about?
You have a strong fan following, were they any influence in the decision to put your music on record?
Stan: We got to the point when we knew people needed something to take with them. Whether it’s true or not, you could be fantastic live. If you don’t put your part into what you’re recording and it sounds bad, a month from now when they don’t remember the live show and pop in the CD then we’re going to appear bad. Are they gonna listen to it? That’s going to end up affecting their perception of the band.

Chris: I think a lot of it came down to a comment from a fan who had heard our demo and then came and saw us live and the comment he made to Stan was that we need to capture that live show because what he had in his hand wasn't even remotely representative of what we have live. The hope we have now is that the CD represents what we have live.

What was the atmosphere like in the recording studio? 
Kurt: Recording this CD [as opposed to their first demo] was a totally different animal. Most of the body of the tracks we recorded live the first time around which in itself is an entirely different dynamic. This time around it was a lot more professional production broken up into separate pieces then going back and putting the pieces together to create the end result. We spend a whole lot of time dialing in tempos that you don’t think about when playing live. It comes down more to why do I like the way it sounds? Can we do it differently to make it sound better? I think it made the recording process easier and at the end you get a lot better product. It was the first time we heard ourselves from the listener’s perspective. Being objective about your own music is really difficult.

Chris: The recording of TriFlection was the most insane, the most professional, the most nerve-racking, the most fun of any recording I've ever been involved in. It had the absolute total feel that we were rock stars recording our album. That’s what it was. It was awesome, a lot of work, but so worth it and so much fun

I would imagine being all musicians, all singers, all song writers and arrangers on top of practicing, rehearsing, AND having your own day jobs, TriFlection must have been a labor of love. What was your light at the end of the tunnel? Your ultimate goal?
Cover art created by 3Encores
Stan: We would get frustrated but we thought “well we went this far…to NOT go the next step is a crime”. In the end it was a nerve-racking and patience-testing process. The goal is to end up with a product that, when we completely listen to ourselves we feel it completely represents Split Point. When we listen five years from now we look back and say that yes, that is what we were thinking of doing and we captured it.

Kurt: If you know at this moment that it would be a crime not to take this extra one step-you take it.  If you knew at the moment that that extra one step would be an extra 15 steps- we still would have done it.

Chris: If it’s not fun it’s just like another job. If you’re not having fun and there is no one there enjoying what you’re doing then it becomes a shitty job. As long as you make sure it never becomes that, you just keep going.

Stan: We want to play some good shows and play in front of people who know what we sound like and basically have fun. We have fun on stage. In the beginning when we would play in front of 10 or 15 people we used to think “well that sucked”.  When you play in front of 100 you say “now THIS is just awesome”. We want to support a product that supports that type of thing. At the end of the day it’s to have fun. We want to bring it to people who like it as much as we do.

Who did most of the songwriting on TriFlection and what inspires you lyrically and musically?
Chris: It’s all of us. Skeletons [of songs] we all contribute to and piece it together and see how it goes. Another reason why we work so well together is Stan will come to us with a skeleton of a song and beginning to end it’s almost a compete song. Then we get in there and go through parts.  Kurt starts refining everything. I arrange and break down what Stan and Kurt come up with. I have the ear for arranging and breakdowns because I have the New Metal influence where it is primarily drum heavy. We all work perfectly in those three sections.

Kurt: Sometimes when Stan comes up with skeleton songs I feel like there’s nothing left to do. It’s not until we get in the studio and hash it out that I realize what I thought sounded done was never really done.

Stan: I write songs so you can have your own interpretation. James Hetfield (Metallica lead singer) uses metaphor and imagery and never comes out and says what it is about. I like to try to paint a picture where I’m telling a story but I want it to be the listener’s story. Whatever message it is conveying I want you to keep it. I don’t want to tell you what it is about because your perception is what helps you own that song. If I tell you what it is about then it’s not exciting. Your interpretation and your definition is what make it yours as the listener. If you’re pulling something from a song that speaks to you, whatever the reason, for me it to challenge it is a crime because it’s not yours anymore. There are some reasons why I write songs. They could be whatever the issue of the day is etc etc.  Ultimately at that period of time when a song may speak to you and give you a message, that is what the song meaning becomes to you. That’s what makes it nostalgic.

The first song on the album, “Vision” is like a powerful punch to the face, was it intentionally picked as the intro song on the CD because of this? 
Stan: We didn't write it to be the first song. We toiled over it a bit. We wanted to get something to draw people to listen but feel it represented us. “Vision” had a good beginning with just the guitar then all the sudden BAM! We decided to use that song because lyrically we felt it was unique. It represents what you’re gonna get on the rest of TriFlection.  The lyrics for the verses are orchestrated in all three syllable words. I sing the first syllable; Kurt the second, Chris the third so when “Vision” is played live it’s so quick and tight and nobody’s done that. The first time we played it live. People came up and said that is awesome and cool as hell.

Chris: It’s the most unique vocally for anything on our record. I think it’s the most unique I've heard period. I have never heard three people sing one word. We’re kind of all the lead singer in that song. It’s odd…but it's set up so it’s like we are saying “all right guys, here’s the rest!” The song is a perfect fit as the first song on the album.

Hate to get to the cliché “Metal is bad” questions but I’d like to hear a Metal musicians’ opinions being as Metal is by all means still relevant in today’s culture. Why do you think there is such a backlash and stigma attached to Metal and its fans and how do you deal with it?
Chris: The people who like to be offended by things will find reasons to be offended. Because we are a metal band we are automatically offensive. If they decide they are offended they will do anything they can to find things about you and post negative stuff. It hasn't happened to us yet but I’m kind of hoping it does. I love being in a Metal band. Being in a metal band there is such a stereotype against the music, the band, and the person. For example, there’s been such a difference since I cut my hair. People talk to me differently... people I've known for years. There is a stereotype and people just suck but you expect it.

Stan: Metal is about finding your own voice. Why is it popular? Well it’s loud. Kids are naturally rebellious at times and you want to just break out from things that are keeping you back. Now you have this very loud music you can speak through and, in a way, you do that. My uncle put it best when he said, “As long as the man is trying to stick it to the little guy there will always be rock n roll.” It’s the not music, TV, or video games. At some point you have to stop making excuses and look at lack of parenting skills. If you turn one way or another way it’s not the music that made you do it.  There is something apparently dysfunctional in those specific situations. Stop blaming arbitrary things and start accepting responsibility.

Chris: There are people who always look to be offended because our music appears to be is aggressive, loud, and fans like to mosh. Some people want to stop it because they don’t understand it. That is what leads to fear.  Our generation, the generation after ours, and so on will always have people trying to push us down-you just have to keep punching through it.

Kurt: I just like to be recognized…that includes being judged.

Then, when it comes to Metal fans, is this why they are so protective of their music? Because people keep trying to bring them down and find reasons to be offended?
Stan: It’s their identity. It’s theirs and they will protect what people may try to take away. If they are misunderstood in the first place and they can find their own voice in Metal, then when someone tries to take it away, they are going to try and protect it.

Kurt: As far as Metal fans being protective of Metal-I think it’s because Metal fans don’t want the word “Metal” to get diluted and accepted by the public.

We had the Grammys not too long ago. Do you think that whole negative stereotype that unfortunately exists overshadows Metal musicians from getting the recognition and airtime they deserve? 
Chris: It goes back to the whole fear and misunderstanding cause it’s not popular or on regular radio. So that by itself makes it not popular. There’s plenty of talent out there. I think the metal guys have just as much if not more but they don’t get the recognition they deserve because of some of that fear.

Kurt: I don’t think Metal fans care. That’s why they are Metal fans; they are not part of the big scene. They are part of this underground community. They don’t care if a Metal musician is not up against Brad Paisley.

It’s definitely a close-knit family those die-hard Metal fans but people are being introduced to Metal all the time, correct?
Chris You can go to a mall from anywhere and if you’re walking through and one guy has a Metallica shirt and the other a Lamb of God shirt, there’s gonna be a nod.

Stan: Everything is so accessible and so streamed that nobody is buying records. They are buying 3 songs they like but that playlist isn't just Metal anymore. I think diehards will listen all the time but the average listener just listens because they think it is cool. As you start to recognize that every form of music influences the other it’s almost a mistake to limit yourself.

As new listeners start hearing your music I’m sure they won’t believe you are a trio. Your songs incorporate not only keeping up with heavily technical riffs but singing, growling, even face-melting screaming at times. How is it possible you can do all of this being just a three piece band?
Stan: When we set out knowing we were a three piece band, we knew we had to pay attention to gear, the equipment, and the quality of sound in the choices we made.

Chris: It comes down to how we write what we write. If there is a very riff heavy song, Stan can be doing one thing and Kurt can do another thing. One of us can lay back and let the other fill in. We don’t sit back and leave empty spaces. We don’t try to thumb in anything that isn't supposed to be there. We just put it in and it just fits so well that we don’t sound like a three piece.

I think it comes down to just being true to you. That’s how we write.  We don’t try to pretend to be anything we’re not. It sounds like a complete work. It shows trust when playing live. Allowing a spot in a song and letting someone take it.

Chris: This is the first time there isn't one specific ego that pushes everything. Knowing our limitations and what we can do and what we can’t do together. There’s no room for ego. There are things Stan can do that I haven’t been able to see guitarists that have played for 20 years can do. There’s bassist that don’t do stuff Kurt can do but none of us take advantage of that. There’s points where each one shines and we sit back and watch. It just all comes together the way it is supposed to.

Your CD Release party is February 23rd at The Cup in Linden, NJ and the journey to this point in your career has surely been emotional. What song on TriFlection would you say you are the most emotionally attached to? 
Kurt: “Death on a Dime” only because the verse in that song is where I came into my own as bassist. That was the point when I felt “ OK, I’m not just a former guitarist now playing bass. And YES, this is what I should be doing.”

Stan: “The Grave Awakening”. It took some selling because we tried to incorporate clean guitar sounds. This one had some darker notes and there’s darkness to it. The lyrics and concept is extremely emotional. The concept and the way the general tone of the song is it took some convincing that it was going to be a valid hit. After tweaking we discovered this is cool.

Chris: Without a question, “The Grave Awakening”. That song means a lot. There are a couple times I have a hard time listening to it...not in a bad way but in a good way. I think I play that song a lot harder just because for me it’s emotionally aggressive. I have issues and that song lets me get them out. “Victim Healer and “The Other One” are my top three. I’m almost nervous about playing “The Grave Awakening” live. One: what the song means, two: it closes out the album and show. The combination of what it means, not like we’re "done" but after all the time spent in the studio, rehearsing, marketing, everything we've worked for...all of that ends with the last hit of “The Grave Awakening”. It represents the end and now we can move forward. I’m more excited to play that song just for that reason.

Like Split Point on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SplitPointMusic
Download TriFlection on their facebook music store or CDBaby
Or check out their ReverbNation page!

And if you’re in the north New Jersey area this weekend, see them perform live at their CD release party. February 23rd at The Cup in Linden, NJ. The new CD TriFlection will be available there for $6.99 or online for $9.99. Shirts, stickers, and vintage Split Point shirts will also be available at the CD release party.

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