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Interview with Anthrax; drummer Charlie Benante discusses new album ‘Anthems’

Anthrax drummer, Charlie Benante, sat down with PureGrainAudio.com’s Mitch Lafon to discuss the band’s latest release, Anthems. The drummer, who has been on and off the road for the past year with the renowned metal band, sheds light on the process and the group’s future recording plans.

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Anthrax drummer, Charlie Benante, sat down with PureGrainAudio.com’s Mitch Lafon to discuss the band’s latest release, Anthems. The drummer, who has been on and off the road for the past year with the renowned metal band, sheds light on the process and the group’s future recording plans.

When did you put the album together and how did you choose the songs for the album?
Charlie: Some of the songs were recorded when we did the basic tracks for the Worship Music record. I think the Cheap Trick and AC/DC songs were recorded at that time (and maybe Jailbreak). We sat on it and didn’t finish them at all. Then we started to dig up some of the old tracks and started listening and ‘oh, that came out really good,’ which sparked the idea of others songs that we want to do, but never had the chance to do. A lot of these songs are from bands that influenced us when we were growing up. We wanted to pay tribute to bands that influenced us musically or personally and then we just started putting it together. Some people have said the choices… ‘oh I would have chosen that song instead.’ I felt that that would have been the obvious choice, but a song like Anthem (RUSH) is close to the way we used to sound. We could have put Anthem on our first album; it has that feel to it. The Journey song…

That must have been Joey’s pick. He’s a huge Journey fan.
Charlie: Exactly. He’s a BIG Journey fan. I’ve also always liked Journey, but I had my ‘era’ for Journey. I don’t like the radio hit Journey stuff. I go for more of their late ‘70s… Escape to me is a great album. Those guys had no idea that a ballad from that record would catapult them to where they went. At the end of the day, there’s nothing wrong with a good song.

Anthrax, over the years, have put out a lot of covers songs as B-sides, bonus tracks and more. At some point, will you put together all those songs and release an ‘Anthrax – The Covers Collection’ album?
Charlie: That’s a pretty cool idea. I guess that’s why we tried to do with the EP and we wanted to keep it priced really low. There was talk of putting the Worship Music album out again with this as the bonus disc, but then we felt ‘why would we want…

Fans to re-buy to it…
Charlie: Yeah, it’s just not cool. We just wanted to keep it low priced and something to enjoy. For us, it was all about having fun and that was it. Alex Lifesong commented on Anthem, to me, that was awesome.

Fans, of course, will be wondering what does this mean in terms of a follow up album to Worship Music? Have you started the process of putting new songs together. Is the EP a stop-gap measure or will you be touring on the covers album?
Charlie: We have shows lined-up, but I don’t know if we’ll be pulling out any of the covers. We may, but this was just…

For fun…
Charlie: Exactly… For fun. We have two leftover songs from the last album and we were actually working on one of them for an episode of The Walking Dead, but I don’t think it’s going to happen.

That’s too bad…
Charlie: Yeah. That would have been really good. But we have a bit of a head start going into the next record.

Check out the song “The Devil You Know”

With (guitarist) Rob (Caggiano) leaving, does it mess up the plans for the next record or can you continue? Is Jon Donais part of the process in making a new album or will you going in a as four-piece? How much affect does Rob leaving have on a new album coming out?
Charlie: None. None whatsoever.

The band was recently out in Los Angeles at the Grammy Awards. You were nominated. How was that whole experience for you? What did it mean to you?
Charlie:The Grammy nomination was totally out of left field. We didn’t expect it and when it hit me; I was really happy about it because sometimes we take all this stuff for granted. Some people come down on the Grammys and some people love the Grammys, but after going to the Grammys and sitting through the show… It was a bit like watching paint dry.

That’s how I felt watching it on TV. I gave up about forty minutes in.
Charlie: My problem with the Grammys now is that they put all the pop shit out there… That’s televised, but they’re missing the point about what the Grammys were about. It should be all forms of music. I don’t think televising the Hard Rock/Metal category would make your ratings go down. People are going to tune in either way. I had to sit through Justin Timberlake. That, to me, was the worst performance of the whole night. This fucking falsetto crap and trying to sound like Marvin Gaye and Michael Jackson. Why is it that I see right through this and others think it’s the greatest thing?

I’m with you. I see through it too.
Charlie: It’s just crap. There were other acts up there that I thought were great. I happen to like Mumford And Sons. I think Kelly Clarkson did great. There are moments. There are real musicians and artist, but I’m not into fucking machine that makes music. I was like, ‘let’s get the fuck out of here.’

What would be more important to you: To win a Grammy or be in the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame?
Charlie: That’s a good question. It just seems now that they give Grammys to whoever.

And for the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame you have to be a friend of Jann Wenner.
Charlie: Yeah… So, I don’t know how it works anymore. People are up in arms about who didn’t get nominated this year. I equate it to the way The Baseball Hall Of Fame works. There are some people that didn’t get into the baseball hall – that should be in that Hall Of Fame… When you think of baseball, a name like Pete Rose comes to mind. When you think of the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame… C’mon, KISS…

KISS, Deep Purple, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden…
Charlie: Rush will be inducted this year, right?

Yeah, but they were almost bullied into letting them in. I don’t think they really wanted to let them in. Let’s move away from that and into your branded product lines of coffee, t-shirts, etc… Where does the coffee come from? Are you hands on or did you simply hire a fulfillment centre?
Charlie: No, no, no, no… The original idea for the coffee was a few years ago when I did something with Dave Mustaine and I took that really seriously as far as choosing the beans, how it’s roasted and all that stuff, but it fell apart. Now, I’m doing it again with a good buddy of mine and again it’s really hands on. I go and pick which type of bean I like and which type of coffee I like because I drink it, too. I prefer a darker roast (something with a kick to it), but I have a mild blend too because not everybody likes that. It’s not something where I said, ‘just do that.’ I actually enjoy doing it and it adds to the experience. It’s a total hands on thing.

Frank has dabbled in the movies and acting. Anything like that in your future?
Charlie: It’s not on my list.

It’s not on your ‘to-do’ list, eh?
Charlie: I would like to be a biker on Sons Of Anarchy.

The Metal Alliance tour with Exodus, High On Fire, Municipal Waste and Holy Grail runs through the end of April. It’s a great package. Is there anything past that for you in terms of touring?
Charlie: They came after us to do this type of tour, but honestly we wanted to get off the road and start working on a new record. They kept coming back and some of us were into it and then we all got into it. We’ve always loved Exodus. Municipal Waste do their thing and it’s a throw back to the ‘80s thrash metal thing which is pretty cool. The audience will get a taste of different generations of music.

For a band like Anthrax in the current marketplace (iTunes, single downloads, etc…), is there a need for the band to make a full length album and, if so, why do you feel the need to make a full length album?
Charlie: That’s a very valid question. We don’t need to make a new record every year or two. We really don’t need to do that, but it’s a question of ‘if’ you have material that you feel very strong or confident about… Well then, keep doing it. It’s an expression and it’s really why you do this. To go out and play the same songs over and over again does get a bit tiring, but there is that idea that the person in ‘Detroit’ didn’t hear your stuff last night in ‘Chicago’ so you have to play that song in ‘Detroit’ because they want to hear it.

What about the immediacy? Say Scott, Frankie and you write this great song tomorrow morning – you now have the possibility to have it on iTunes in less than a week. You don’t have to wait to have twelve songs. You can have it up now and it would sell. So, why not do that?
Charlie: This is the thing… It’s a catch-22 because have the luxury of doing that, but you also have the negative side where it’s diluted. It’s so fast and it’s forgotten about as soon as… Here’s my new song – ‘great, but what else have you got?’ There’s no anticipation anymore.

I take the Mötley Crüe song ‘Sex’ as an example. It came out before their tour last summer, but three weeks later we’ve all forgotten about it. Yet, thirty years later we still talk about Shout At The Devil (the album). I would imagine the same would apply to Anthrax. Still, it must be an exciting thing for a musician knowing that tomorrow you can come up with a great song and have it online for the world in under forty-eight hours. There’s no need to get the publicity guy on board, the president of the record company had to okay it…
Charlie: We have a great relationship with our record company. She’s very hands-on and has been with us for awhile. I respect her opinion and she really understands heavy metal, rock and other forms of music. If she says, ‘there’s eight songs on this record that are really good and there’s three that are not so good. Do you have something else?’ I would totally respect that and would take it into consideration, but that’s because of who she is and how much respect I have for her. I don’t think I would have respect for someone who has no idea of what this music is. This is the reason why we didn’t go and sign with major label. We didn’t want to go through that again. We didn’t want to get stuck in that machine where one day your management gets that call, ‘yeah we’re going to pull the plug on this because it’s just not reacting.’ I never understood that. You work a record for a couple of weeks and it’s not ‘reacting’ so it’s dead. That’s not the way it should be. If that was the whole mindset in the ‘60s or ‘70s then Stairway To Heaven would have never been. This whole Spotify thing… I’m totally against this. Do you know how much a band gets for their song?

I think it’s three cents.
Charlie: No no no… The record companies make the money and the bands get a quarter of a penny on each song. So, if you get five millions plays; you’ll walk away with 1500$ (maybe 2000$) and the record companies have sold this. Who gets screwed? The artist. This is my problem with music. We don’t have any union or health care. They take away so much of you and, of course, there’s nothing in your contract about digital rights because there were no digital rights when you did your contract (back then). This whole thing is a lawsuit waiting to happen.

I think it was the U.S. Congress that passed a law that gives musicians the rights back to their songs after thirty years…
Charlie: It reverts back to you.

Check out the cover of Rush’s song “Anthem”

But you have to file all kinds of paperwork and, of course, the record companies will probably sue the artists… It’s important that you mentioned no health insurance because at some point don’t you want to retire and just enjoy a beach in ‘San Diego’. But as a musician, you really can’t. You have to work until you are no longer physically able to lift up a drumstick.
Charlie: These are things that you don’t think about when you’re twenty-five years old, but you hit it right on the head right there. At some point, don’t you just want to say, ‘okay, physically I don’t think I’m up to playing Metal Thrashing Mad anymore and maybe it is time to pull back. That’s it; it’s time to enjoy my coffee on the beach…’

But you can’t…
Charlie: But you can’t because there is no retirement fund (unless you set one up yourself). That’s what I’m saying about the unions and things like that… In this industry, it doesn’t exist.

It might be time for ‘Anthrax – the Unplugged’ album. Just do very calm versions of the songs with peaceful shows. No more thrashing and no more feeling sore for hours after a show…
Charlie: Well, that’s the thing… Touring is hard on your body ‘as is’ even if you’re thirty years old. You just have to take care of yourself, but whatever… As you get older, you become wiser and your choices totally change from ‘I’m going to a strip club after the show,’ to ‘I’m going to Skype my little daughter.’ You know what I mean?

Before we wrap up, the guitarist slot, will it be filled in temporarily as you move forward or do you try to find a permanent replacement? Would you invite Dan Spitz back? Or is it simply four guys and we’ll bring people in as needed?
Charlie: People have been talking about getting another member or getting Dan back, but Danny is doing his own thing now… I don’t know if it would be the right move right now. I love Dan. I love him to death, but I just don’t know right now if we’re there.

Or if he’s there…
Charlie: Correct.

People always judge Scott and you or Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley. They should get Ace back. They should get Dan back. But maybe Dan doesn’t want to go back. Maybe Ace doesn’t want to go back.
Charlie: Right.

And the last question is: How has fatherhood changed you? At HeavyMtl our two kids played together for ten minutes or so… How has it changed your whole perspective about touring and your scheduling? When you were twenty you could do 280 shows in a year, but now…
Charlie: Yeah and that’s the hardest part about this because a lot of us in the band have kids and, you know, I try to take her as much as possible, but she’s in school. So, it’s hard. I don’t want to be away as my daughter grows up. I just don’t want to do it and I haven’t. So, I try to keep things short and not stay out too long. There was a situation last year where I was out for awhile and her teacher wrote me and said, ‘Mia has been very very sad at school.’ She broke down to her teacher and said, ‘I just miss my dad.’ She had a period of a few days off, so she came out and, you know, it refueled her and it refueled me. So, it’s hard on kids… To not have their parents. People think, ‘oh, it’s okay – they adjust.’ Why make them adjust? Just be there. That’s my whole thing.

Any last words about the new album, Anthems? I’ll just add Joey sounds slammin’ on it.
Charlie: That’s the thing about Joey, he approached these songs with… Like I approached them. He wanted to pay tribute to the artists. He did that and then he put himself in it as well. Joey is one of the best singers, right now, and he’s better now than he was back then. He’s only getting better and that goes back to making new music; if it’s good then, of course, we’ll continue. We may have a whole new chapter here with this, so let’s just go with it.

Alternative/Rock

The Stone Eye Singer and Guitarist Stephen Burdick Discusses His Band

The Stone Eye singer and guitarist Stephen Burdick discusses the band and their new album ‘Nothing Shall & By Any Means.’

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The Stone Eye, photo courtesy of The Stone Eye
The Stone Eye, photo courtesy of The Stone Eye

With a commendable work ethic and a certain lightheartedness, The Stone Eye has found its way to some impressive success. This year marks the tenth anniversary since the talented duo of drummer Jeremiah Bertin and singer-songwriter Stephen Burdick joined forces in their hometown of Philadelphia. Their approach to alternative rock is original and innovative. But there is also a satirical side to the band where they make sure not to take things too seriously. It’s reminiscent of the sound and general approach of Queens of the Stone Age, a band that can rock out but intermixes it with a certain level of weirdness.

The Stone Eye released their latest EP, Nothing Shall & By Any Means, last month via Electric Talon Records. In only four songs, they can deliver a compelling and diverse musical experience. The hooks are infectious, and the riffs of the powerhouse variety. It combines stoner and progressive rock with a certain vintage sludge, fuzzed-out sound reminiscent of the early ’90s. Bertin and Burdick approach their songwriting with a broad-minded approach. They are out to push musical boundaries and carry the torch of alternative rock forward, presenting classic influences to a new generation.

Today, we are joined by Stephen Burdick to discuss The Stone Eye, songwriting, being an independent artist, and more.

How would you describe your music?

Stephen Burdick: “I would describe The Stone Eye’s music as something that slides somewhere in the alternative rock realm of music. I grew up a massive grunge fan. When I first got into composing music, Alice in Chains were my demigods of how to do things. So naturally, we will always have that influence lingering. As we’ve all grown as musicians and individuals, our tastes have evolved and we are always trying to fit new influences in. So, anything from jazz fusion to electronic elements tend to find their way into our music. But at the heart of it, I would describe the music as alternative rock.”

What do you like most about playing music?

“What I like most about playing music is the emotional return, elated or depressive, that it provides when you stumble across something that makes your ears perk up, whether it be a song you listen to that blows you away, a riff you write, a great gig that you’re playing and you’re like ‘damn we are on fire,’ etc. Art in general, whether it be film, music, photography, etc, has a way of moving me, be it in a positive or negative way, that quite literally nothing else has and for that, I am very grateful.”

What’s the most dangerous thing that’s ever happened at one of your shows?

“The most dangerous thing that has ever happened to me at one of our gigs was totally my fault for being an egg-head. Essentially, we were having issues with one of our amps. The standby switch was faulty, and the amp was stuck in standby. I was trying to find a way to override the standby. And in all of my infinite wisdom, I kept the amp plugged in and powered on whilst I was poking around in the thing. Sure enough… zap. Receiving 250 volts or whatever is not fun, but thankfully, I was ok and the show went on without a hitch. I did, however, give up on the amp for the night and brought it to a repairman in Vegas a few days after the show. Trained professionals exist for a reason!”

Politics and Music. Yay, nay or what the hay?

“My answer is what the hay. I mean, I personally try to keep any political affiliation at bay when composing music. But music is all about what inspires you, right? So if you’re politically charged and are inspired by the current events of whatever’s going on… have at it! Sure, you may alienate a few people, but art has always been at the forefront of social discourse.

“My personal stance on composing my own politically charged pieces is… I’m not an expert on anything political, and there are a lot more informed people than myself out there. Hell, you are probably more informed than I am. So I tend to have the philosophy of letting the more-informed have the brighter spotlight.”

The Stone Eye “Nothing Shall’ & “By Any Means” single artwork

The Stone Eye “Nothing Shall’ & “By Any Means” single artwork

When you write, do you do so with the live setting in mind? Or do you write a song just for the song’s sake?

“So this is a tricky one as I tend to do both, or at least try to before my ambitions give in. I always have this, ‘ok we’re good, this is the song’ mentality going into the studio. Meaning, that what we play and sing in the rehearsal room is what I want the song to sound like on the final recordings… Meaning it is entirely composed for a seamless transition between a studio and a live setting. Then, however, I sit down in the studio, and the ideas start flowing out of me and I can’t help myself but add more to the existing formula. I mean, the DNA of the song stays the same, but I always find myself being like ‘Man… this sounds bare right here… maybe add a little harmonized riff? Or a little lick to round it out? Or this, or that?’ Everything fucking time.”

What is your writing process like?

“The writing process for us varies. Generally, it follows a proven formula that has been established over the past couple of years. Most tunes start as an idea that I formulate. This could be nothing more than a little riff to a completely structured tune that is 90 percent done. Then I pass the idea along to the fellas, get their feedback, and continue to shape the idea. Finally, after a bit of back and forth and refinement, we bring the tune into the rehearsal space and jam on it. Over these few hours of jamming, we may find that nothing changes, or that everything changes. Generally, though, by the end of this few hour-long rehearsal, the song is pretty much finished from an instrumentation standpoint.

“For the vocal side of things, that is a total crapshoot. Sometimes I am not done with the melody until I’m singing the tune in the studio. But sometimes the melody comes to me in the initial demo. It all depends, and there is no rhyme or reason to the vocals. One thing is for certain though, lyrics are always the absolute last piece of the pie. I never write lyrics before having everything in place.”

Tell us about your experience going it alone as an artist. How hard is it to get your music distributed, promoted, shared, etc?

“Throughout most of our career, we have been releasing music independently. We actually have had only one release that was not done internally (2021’s South of the Sun). Like anything else, releasing music independently is an evolutionary process that gets easier the more you do it as you gain more knowledge on the subject.

“When we released our first album in 2015, I can confidently say I had no idea what I was doing. I was doing what most artists do when starting out. Just throwing the tracks up online, making a few posts, sending a few terribly formatted emails to random bigshot publications, and hoping for the best. Naturally, though, you start picking up on the dos and don’ts of the industry, and start meeting individuals whose services coincide with your needs thus beginning working relationships. Nowadays, we have a little team assembled that makes everything happen. So it’s cool to see the evolution of the business side of things. It certainly makes things run smoother despite the operation being infinitely larger.”

Do you have anything you’d like to tell any fans reading right now?

“I’d like to tell our fans one thing: thank you! Without the support, we wouldn’t be able to do the things that we want to do and continuously find inspiration to work on our craft, tour, and release new music. Would we still be creatives without fans? Duh. But without your support, we would not be doing what we are doing right now. And for that, I owe all the gratitude in the world to each and every individual who supports us and our vision. Mwah!”

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Interviews

Dave Annable Discusses His Role as Zoe Saldaña’s Husband on ‘Special Ops: Lioness’

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Dave Annable
Dave Annable

From Academy Award nominee Taylor Sheridan, the espionage thriller features a star-studded cast, including series lead and executive producer Zoe Saldaña, Laysla De Oliveira, Emmy Award nominee Michael Kelly (whom we interview here), with Academy Award winner Morgan Freeman, and Academy Award winner and executive producer Nicole Kidman. Special Ops: Lioness, a series produced by MTV Entertainment Studios and 101 Studios, debuted on Paramount+ last summer as the streamer’s #1 most-watched global series premiere on launch day. Special Ops: Lioness is now available on Blu-ray™ and DVD from Paramount Home Entertainment as a 3-disc set that includes all eight episodes and over 90 minutes of bonus content, including two new featurettes and behind-the-scenes of every episode!

Lioness is a show based on a real-life CIA program. It follows Cruz Manuelos (De Oliveira), a rough-around-the-edges but passionate young Marine recruited to join the CIA’s Lioness Engagement Team to help bring down a terrorist organization from within. Zoe Saldaña plays Joe, the station chief of the Lioness program tasked with training, managing, and leading her female undercover operatives. The series is astounding and ranks amongst the best of the year. Lioness also features series regulars Dave Annable, Jill Wagner, LaMonica Garrett, James Jordan, Austin Hébert, Jonah Wharton, Stephanie Nur, and Hannah Love Lanier.

Top surgeon Neal McNamara has little information about his wife Joe’s government job. Suffice it to say she shows up at home exhibiting various states of PTSD and visits her family for small increments of time before deployment to parts unknown. Joe is a team lead for the Lioness special operatives program, managing deep undercover female operatives attempting to get close to high-level foreign government targets. The series starts with a bang and never lets up. Special Ops: Lioness is the newest addition to Taylor Sheridan’s growing oeuvre of captivating television. Sheridan’s work includes Yellowstone, 1923, 1883, Mayor Of Kingstown, Tulsa King, and the upcoming series Lawman: Bass Reeves and Land Man.

Special Ops: Season 1 Special Features:

Go undercover with the stars of Special Ops: Lioness with a behind-the-scenes look into the heart of The Lioness program, inspired by an actual U.S. Military program. Special Ops: Lioness includes behind-the-scenes episodes and two brand-new featurettes. Dive into interviews with the star-studded cast, get an immersive glimpse into the intricate world of the Lioness program, and explore the rigorous training required to make the series as authentic as possible.

  • Embedded With Special Ops: Lioness
  • Battle Forged Calm: Tactics & Training

We thank Dave Annable for taking the time last week to field a few questions for V13 Media. The audio (on SoundCloud) and video are available here if you’d prefer to hear Dave’s answers in real-time.

Can you talk a little bit about what working on a Taylor Sheridan project is like?

Dave Annable: “Working on a Taylor show is incredible. My bread and butter has been doing television my whole career. And this is just a whole other level. The budgets, cast, and writing are top-notch in their particular fields. And coming together, it feels like this incredible circus to be a part of.

“And this show specifically, you know, when you got Nicole Kidman and Morgan Freeman, Zoe Saldaña and Michael Kelly, the stars kept coming, and you just felt the gravity of the show – the immenseness of the show. It was just incredible to be a part of; I love it. And it was cool because I only saw the family stuff. But then, when I was watching the show as a viewer, I was like, ‘Man, this is awesome – they’re crushing it.’ Everybody just was really involved in the story and the spy aspect of it. And then, of course, the spy’s got to come home! It was just incredible to be a part of it.”

Neal was my favourite character on the show. You brought a brevity to the show that was very different from what it was about. You grounded everything, and I applaud you for that.

“Oh, thank you. I read the pilot many years ago, and Taylor came to me with it and it was an obvious yes, no matter what. But, you know, Neal was only in three scenes in the pilot (3-4 scenes), and, you know, that character and other shows can be very one-dimensional. He could be, you know, the sounding board when she comes home from work, and he offers advice, and then that’s it, you know? I was blown away when I opened the script for the second episode, where we see Neal at work in the hospital, what he has to do, and what he is like.

“Taylor is just so good; He’s carving out this character. He’s showing that he’s a human being, and he’s going to have his issues that he’s got to deal with. And then, having a wife who’s a spy, they can’t talk at night about their jobs. And then having to deal with kids, the everyday stuff that a normal father would have to deal with. I was very blown away by Taylor’s writing; he crushed it.”

“Special Ops: Lioness” still

“Special Ops: Lioness” still

Neal’s scenes with his daughter, especially, hit home with me. Some of those speeches were just on point – so well done.

“Well, what’s funny is that we had a rehearsal before we started shooting, right? We were at Taylor’s ranch and had the cast around with Taylor. And he was sort of hand-picking scenes for the characters to read. And he chose that scene, Neal talking to his daughter after the car accident. You know, I was reading it out loud, and I came in sort of hot, you know, and I was like kind of pissed. And at the end, he goes, ‘No, no, no, Dave. Neal’s already lost. You’ve lost, right? No yelling is going to help her.’ And he’s like, ‘This is the softest you can be.’ And, you know, he was right. He was right.

“And I think, you know, I was taking notes. It was like, shit if my daughter’s in there? I want to talk like Neal. I don’t want to talk like Dave because I would get that wrong, you know? So he just nailed it. I’ve gotten a lot of love (specifically from a lot of men) that needs to be directed towards Taylor for that scene because that’s a very challenging thing, I’d imagine, to talk to your daughter like that. And my instincts were dead wrong, so don’t thank me!”

Were you cast early on in Lioness? Did you watch the crew kind of build up?

“It’s an interesting story because I was doing a flashback season four Yellowstone episode. At the time he called me to come back to that, he’s like, ‘There’s also this other show I want to talk to you about, playing Neal, the husband of Zoe Saldaña in a show called Lioness.’ and I said ‘I’m in.’ Then I read it, and I was like ‘Oh my gosh I’m even MORE in!’ Then, it went away for almost three years with COVID, scheduling, etc. Then somebody else took over Lioness, I believe. It wasn’t Taylor, and you know, a friend of mine was like, ‘Oh, my friend just went in to audition for Neal for Lioness.’ And I was like, ‘Wait, what?!’ I was like, wait a second?

“So Taylor had just taken it back over, and we reconnected, and he’s like, ‘you’ve always been the guy for me – you’re the guy. Would you come do it?’ ‘In a heartbeat!’ It was a wild ride. But here we are, and I’m just so grateful to be a part of a show I genuinely loved. You know, that doesn’t always happen, so this is really very cool for me.”

“Special Ops: Lioness” poster artwork

“Special Ops: Lioness” poster artwork

Can you talk about what it’s like working on a show with so much talent in it? Is there added pressure? Or is it easier because everybody’s just so good?

“I think both. Both things can exist. You feel it for sure. You know, it’s Taylor. When Yellowstone came out, Taylor was big, but he wasn’t, you know, Taylor-Sheridan-eight-shows-on-Paramount-Plus Taylor Sheridan. Right? So then this comes, and it’s Zoe and Nicole. And so, yeah, you feel it. But then when I specifically got on set, and you act across from these folks, you realize, ‘Oh, this is easy because they’re so good,’ right? Like a good actor is a given.

“And to be able to sort of play tennis back and forth with these superstars, it makes you better. And, you know, I was fortunate enough to be on Brothers and Sisters. It was my first real big job, and acting across from, you know, Sally Field and Calista Flockhart and Matthew Reese made me much better. You learn a lot from those actors. So, you know, I feel the same now.”

What memories come to mind when you walk on set for your first day? What sticks out for you?

“Well, it’s a funny story, Mike. Because our first day of shooting was actually the bedroom scenes with Zoe and I. We had met once, briefly, before that. So it was really, it was terrible, you know? Thankfully, we were able to sort of make jokes about it because it’s so weird and awkward. We’ve got a weird job. But it was like, ‘Hey, I’m Dave,’ you know? ‘Let’s hop in bed with a bunch of people watching!’ But I think it really did bring us together. And it got a lot of the awkwardness out, and we were just able to really sort of dive in and get gritty and play this real couple.”

“Special Ops: Lioness” still

“Special Ops: Lioness” still

Do you have a process that you like to adhere to when you’re prepping for a role, and do you find it changes from part to part?

“Yeah, my imagination can only get me so far, right? So it was very cool, specifically on this show. I got to sit and study with Dr. Russell Ward, who’s a surgical oncologist here in Texas. And he was inviting me into a surgery he was doing on a 12-year-old who fell out of a tree and broke his knee. So I was able to be in the room, experience it, talk to him about having to deliver bad news to parents and find out what that’s like.

“And more importantly, what is that like when you go home? Is that something that you bring to your conversations with your wife or your kids? All that stuff. So that was very eye-opening for me. Already having so much respect for medical professionals, it’s exponentially more when you see the day-to-day and you get to grind with them. Because we’re in and out usually, we see the doctor, and they fix us. But spending a day with them and seeing the patients and learning what their day really is and how hard it is – is my favourite part of my job, for sure. Learning about whatever job or relationship that the character is in.”

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Alternative/Rock

The Narcissist Cookbook Interview: Matt Johnston Takes Listeners Behind The Music

Matt Johnston, creative behind The Narcissist Cookbook, shares insight into their music, creative process, memorable moments, and more.

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The Narcissist Cookbook, photo by Regenweibchen Photography
The Narcissist Cookbook, photo by Regenweibchen Photography

Born and raised on the picturesque island of Arran off the west coast of Scotland, The Narcissist Cookbook, led by the enigmatic Matt Johnston, has carved a distinctive path in the music scene. Fully self-taught and driven by the rebellious spirit of punk, Johnston’s musical journey unfolded through busking, playing in bars, and navigating the complexities of life. However, a dark period, including the loss of their voice for nine months and a deep dive into substance abuse, spurred a transformation. Experimenting with spoken monologues inspired by diverse influences, The Narcissist Cookbook emerged, using the guitar to amplify the power of their words.

Their recent album, This Is How We Get Better, marked a turning point in The Narcissist Cookbook’s career. It helped propel them into the spotlight. With a devoted global fanbase and a sold-out UK tour, Johnston witnessed unforgettable moments. Venues were filled to capacity, and meet-and-greet lines stretched for hours. Their unapologetic approach to songwriting lends itself to listeners seeking honest, introspective, and fearless musical narratives. The core message revolves around self-acceptance and acknowledging the parts of oneself that may be deemed too scary or vulnerable. The Narcissist Cookbook encourages fans to embrace their fears through music and storytelling, believing that true healing comes from openness rather than hiding.

Looking ahead to 2024, The Narcissist Cookbook aims for international tours and the release of a 40-minute compilation album. It will feature the highly-requested “Courtney (Director’s Cut).” Johnston is also crafting a new album, MYTH. That album will explore codependency, fairytales, and a haunted children’s book-on-tape. V13 sat down with Johnston to dive deeper into who they are as an artist and what has shaped their career thus far.

For those not familiar with your band can you tell us a little bit about yourselves?

Matt Johnston: “My name is Matt Johnston (they/them), I’m a Scottish writer who fuses monologues and storytelling with songwriting. I’ve just finished a sold-out tour of the UK playing to ~1000 people across seven shows.”

What is the story behind your band/stage name?

“I lost my singing voice badly in 2015 for around nine months and started writing monologues and spoken pieces so I would have something to perform even when I couldn’t sing. But I had a bunch of voices, – internal and external, telling me that it was preposterously self-involved to think anyone would be interested to hear me just talking. The name the Narcissist Cookbook was like a shield to protect myself from that criticism. I’m levelling the criticism I’m most afraid of at myself before anyone else can, you know?”

How would you describe your creative process?

“A lot of the time my creative process is sitting down to write or record something and realizing I haven’t got a clue what I’m doing, and treading water with the hope of something decent coming along to fish me out. A lot of the time my tracks are coming from pinpointing something I’m too scared to talk about. Then I use the writing process to kick-start the emotional process of figuring out why I’m so scared to say the thing. Other times I’m more like a frustrated painter. I see visuals, landscapes, characters in my head but because I can’t draw to save my life I’m left using the mediums I’m somewhat proficient at: songwriting and monologues to try and get those images out of my head.”

Who are your biggest influences?

“I love Sidney Gish’s songs. I actually managed to catch her live in the UK supporting some band or other last year, after assuming she’d never make it over here. I think I was one of maybe ten people who were there exclusively to see her. The theatricality of Say Anything has been a huge influence, the way Max Bemis can squeeze meaning out of words through his performance always felt like it went beyond simply singing.

“I’m also a huge fan of both Amanda Palmer and Neil Gaiman, and in particular the triple live album they put out was a massive influence on how I approach writing and recording and the bleeding line between storytelling and songwriting, behind the scenes and front of house.”

What’s the best criticism you’ve ever received about your music or performance?

“Oh wow. I did have someone tell me, and not early on into the Narcissist Cookbook project either, that they could tell that on some level I didn’t believe I should be on the stage performing this stuff. That got under my skin because, in a way, they were right. Maybe it’s strange but the bigger the audiences have gotten the harder I’ve needed to work before the shows to tell myself that people are here to see me, that they’re here to sing along and have a good time. It’s not quite stage fright, it’s something else.

“For someone who has spent a long time honing what they do to get people to pay attention, when people did start paying attention I found it hard to cope with. Most nights I get past it easily. But there was one night in London in 2022 where I had a full-on panic attack on stage and barely held it together.”

What was the highlight of the last tour you went on?

“I can’t lie, going on stage every night and hearing the room sing my songs back to me, and recite my monologues along with me, I hadn’t gotten used to it by the end of the tour and I doubt I’ll be used to it by the start of the next one. But beyond that, the meet and greet lines after the show often went on for an hour or more. I got to meet all these amazing people who had tattoos of my work or had made fan art or fan clothing, whole jackets with hand-stitched lyrics covering every inch of the fabric, too much to recount here. And all just the most wonderful, kind people. I’m wildly excited to get out there and see and meet more of them.”

What’s the funniest thing that’s ever happened at one of your shows or on tour?

“My show in Berlin landed on Halloween, and so I brought along this insane costume I put together a few years earlier. A character called Beanman made up of a baked bean mask, a baked bean vest and baked bean sweatpants. It’s honestly horrifying to look at. It seems to set off the fight or flight response in about 20 percent of people who encounter it.

“Anyway, I dressed up as Beanman for the Berlin show and when I went on stage I got to hear the cheers slowly change to groans of discomfort as I walked into view. Excellent. Ten out of ten experience. Very funny for me, potentially traumatizing for everyone else. After that, I received a whole bunch of Beanman fanart which now lives on my wall in my rehearsal space.”

What are you still trying to figure out?

“I’m always trying to figure out what the scariest thing I could do for my next project is. With my album MOTH (2017), I wanted to see if I could get away with an album where the second half is almost all spoken. For HYMN (2019), I had the terrifying idea to base an album around one song being rewritten and rewritten over and over again. On This Is How We Get Better (2021) I’d gotten worried that my albums would fall apart without a solid concept to tie them together, so I put out something much more freeform.

“On MYTH (coming 2024) I’m playing with an idea I’ve had for a few years. It’s doing things with album structure and storytelling that I’m not sure I can get away with, and that’s always the most exciting place for me to be.”

The Narcissist Cookbook by Regenweibchen Photography

The Narcissist Cookbook by Regenweibchen Photography

Politics and music. Yay, nay or what the hay?

“My music has been overtly political from the start. I can’t avoid it because that’s who I am. Is it cliche yet to say all art is political? I feel like that’s the stock answer. Anyway, it is. Unfortunately for some artists, refusing to take a political stance is a political stance. I make music for me, music that makes me happy and which represents me, and so my audience unsurprisingly consists of people like me. Neurodiverse people, queer people, people who value compassion and are tired of society hurting their loved ones. I want those people to know I see them, that I respect them and want them to be happy. And the easiest way to do that, the way that is least ambiguous, is just to fucking say it and not hide behind fake nothing statements like Love Is Love.

“Conversely, I want people who don’t want what’s best for my people to know I don’t like them and don’t want them at my shows or in my community. Because them being there makes my people less safe in a very real way. So yeah, I don’t hide my politics. I feel like doing that is a disservice to people who are sometimes committing a courageous act just stepping out their front door, let alone into a music venue full of strangers.”

Share one thing about the band that has never before been revealed.

“I used a sample from an… adult film in one of my tracks. Not for any particularly perverse reasons, but because it fits surprisingly well in the original recording session. When I tried taking it out it made the track feel diminished. You almost certainly wouldn’t know it to hear it. To anyone reading this, no I will not clarify which track unless someone manages to pinpoint the exact clip from the exact video.”

Tell us about your experience going it alone as an artist. How hard is it to get your music distributed, promoted, shared, etc?

“In 2024 it’s easier than ever to put your music out there without a queue of middlemen making things unnecessarily convoluted and insisting on their cut. It used to be that you couldn’t get played on the radio or even get your music in physical stores without a distribution deal or a label behind you. Now, my music is in the same place as Bad Bunny and Taylor Swift, and the same place as the person who recorded an album on their iPhone and uploaded it through Routenote or wherever.

“We all share the same storefront now and that is devastating to the traditional music business which has historically relied on gatekeeping and other underhanded tactics to ringfence and protect their investments. I love being independent because I am in total control of the decisions I make, the music I write and record, how I promote it, how I portray myself on social media and live, what shows I take on, etc. I don’t have a team of people all looking to get paid. The only person I need to worry about pleasing is me. That’s a very comfortable place to be as a creator.”

What’s next for you?

“More touring, bigger shows, more people to meet and hug/shake hands with. I’ve got a new album coming out this year, and a compilation vinyl that’s going to put one of my most requested songs, the full eight-minute version of my 2018 song ‘Courtney’ that I’ve been performing live for the past couple of years, on streaming services for the first time. And second season of the songwriting podcast Jam Mechanics which I host with Bug Hunter.”

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