An Interview with Heavy Jack
The following is an interview with Heavy Jack, one of my favorite bands on T61.
On July 15th, 2008, I met Heavy Jack. From the moment I heard their music I was seriously blown away. Not long after posting a comment on their wall I was even more amazed that thee seasoned musicians were so young yet performed with a solidity of an established band.
I have never seen 20 wall posts on a band's 'wall' for just the first upload. The enthusiasm these guys generate through their hard driving music and grateful acknowledgment of listener appreciation is contagious.
Here's the story of a band of brothers in their own words. I asked the questions and here are their unedited responses.
myktoronto: How did you come up with the name Heavy Jack?
Ben Falk: Heavy was always going to be part of the name in regards to the Heavy rhythm section that Adam and Jon laid down. Initially I thought of Heavy Cherry and envisioned this massive cherry. However after closer consideration a massive cherry wasn't a moniker any of us wanted to wear.
Adam Falk: Both me & Jon agreed that it needed to be Heavy something and I suggested Heavy Jack - Jack being the name of Ben's guitar whom he had named in memory of our Grandfather, Jack, a proud Canadian soldier. If you want to meet Jack you can find him relaxing inside the J of the Heavy Jack sign on the main entrance page of our website www.heavyjack.com
myktoronto: So, about your first gig... how did it go? Anything embarrassing, funny or incredible happen?
Ben: There are two gigs that come to mind, but the one that meets the true definition of "first gig" would be at "Manhattan's," a local pub in Cowtown, so not quite New York. I was outside the Mac's convenient store with some buddies when I heard music coming from Manhattans. I was underage at the time but I strolled in and talked to the owner Mark. He was really supportive of local indie music and was just a really nice guy. We had a great time and great night that show. Shortly there after we headed west and moved to the Okanagan Valley on B.C. Canada to look after our other Grandfather Jake (not Jack) where events would come together that would eventually lead to the gig that solidified our commitment to Rock & Roll.
Jon: When we arrived in the Okanagan we had a chance encounter with a resident nurse Bernie, who was looking after our Grandfather in the extended care hospital. He heard our sound and suggested when we were out in Vancouver we go see his brother-in-law.
Adam: His brother-in-law was John McLaughlin, an Entertainment Columnist for The Province Newspaper in Vancouver. We showed him the demo CD we had recorded at the time & he said he knew some people @ the Yale and he would pass it on to them.
Ben: We lined up the show and had three weeks to come up with three hours of material so we headed back to the Okanagan and made that home. A local Penticton Pub, Cousin Larry's, gave us the ability to road test our sets for the upcoming gig at the Yale. Our show was on a Thursday night the 20th of September, nine days after 9/11. We didn't know what type of atmosphere we would be walking into. Turned out that there was an ample crowd but not a full house for a Thursday night. We were still underage at the time and when we showed up we heard the usual remarks like, "great, what are we in for tonight?" and ," What is this the Hanson brothers???" We set-up and fired off a quick rendition of Gate Mouth Brown's ,"Better Off With the Blues," for sooooouuuuund check. Which quickly grabbed peoples attention and quashed the earlier comments.
Jon: The show didn't start till nine so we decided to take stroll up Granville street to help with the nerves, leaving all our gear unattended on the stage.
Ben: We get back and are informed that "This is the big city boys and leaving your gear unattended is not a very wise move." We then began our three hour tour of the Yale stage, dropping originals and covers alike in front of an enthusiastic crowd. At the end of it of it all we felt pretty damn proud of our selves and were certain that this was the road for us.
myktorontoIs there one of you that does the majority of songwriting and where do your themes come from?
Ben: As the guitarist I do most of the writing however anything I bring to the table is then re-evaluated as a band. The approach to song writing I choose is kind of a different process in my view.
When I first started out on the guitar I took lessons from a local guitar instructor Brian Griffiths. An incredible player who has a great story himself (read some on our website www.heavyjack.com) He taught me how to listen more than read and how to feel more than play. This was done using Blues as the vehicle for inspiration.
My buddy at the time, Dan, handed me a cassette tape with a few Hendrix songs on it. The one that spoke to me was "Red House" from there I became enthralled with Blues artists like John Lee Hooker and Buddy Guy. When I got back into the Rock guys. I heard a definite thread that connected them to the blues. In reading about both musical scene's, the blues scene and the rock (mid 60's mid 70's) in guitar magazines and other resources, I became puzzled in the conclusion these publications were making. That conclusion being that there would never be another time period in music like that again.
I thought of course there can't be another time like that, but maybe one could get similar results applying some of the same methods. In the beginning of my guitar lessons I tried to place myself in the times of, for example, a youthful Beck or Page, listening to the music that they grew up listening to as well as the music they would eventually create. I was also being influenced by the music my peers were listening to, music from the 80's 90's and on. Because of technology (DVD, You Tube and Mp3) coupled with the access to a massive back catalogue of music and with the guidance of Brian, I was able to recreate my own community which I was then able to apply in real time with Adam and Jon.
As our band began to take shape and work cohesively as a unit we imagined that Heavy Jack had come out as a peer to the groups of the great Rock & Roll movement during the late 60's and early 70's. This helped in the inspiration and the crafting of our own original material. Another crucial element was in not learning any songs by our favorite artists note for note. Instead we would take their songs and rearrange them so there was a familiarity of the original but also an original approach from our end. Now through the feedback from sites such as thesixtyone.com and stereofame.com along with reviews coming in on our music, it looks like we are achieving our aim of creating a new sound based on familiar themes.
As for the theme of Multiply the songs were written with current events and universal themes in mind. In doing so, I was able to create a sort of character foil for the more personal themes that the songs are about. Lending a familiar ambiguity to them with out having to wear my heart on my sleeve.
myktoronto: Once a song is written what's the process that brings it all together?
Ben: I have never written anything down, if it's good then it will stay with me. So the process is coming up with many good pieces and constructing a finished product that is refined and tempered through a constant process of jamming. Music usually comes first then words follow. However "Peace Soldier" and "Bandits In the Night" are the exception.
Adam: I approach the bass as a supportive role, so I tend to write parts that help push what Ben has already laid down. In a live situation I have more freedom to play both rhythm guitar parts & bass parts @ the same time because of the trio format. It is easy play rhythm parts on a bass guitar using power & diatonic chords in the mid-to-high registers - allowing Ben some room for strict lead playing when needed.
Jon: As a drummer I have a very different approach than most. I guess it is due to applying my fills and beats around the guitar more than the bass in our early years of playing. Now I have married the two styles and try to incorporate ideas on the drums that revolve around both the guitar and bass at the same time. For me it's all about feel - Ben or Ad come up with a riff or idea and I feel out the best beat to fit that riff or idea.
myktoronto: Would you say, or how has your music evolved since your early tunes?
Ben: The tunes on Multiply are some of the first songs that we wrote, Bandits In the Night being the first. These songs were not written with much musical theory in mind. They were more like a musical jungle gym for us in the beginning that allowed the freedom of exploring music and sound without boundaries. The studio allowed us to solidify the arrangements of these 8 songs. In terms of writing and playing there is a continuous evolution.
myktoronto: Did you experience any obstacles or challenges along the way outside of an obvious artistic challenge to do better?
Ben: Yes we have encountered challenges and obstacles along the way but hardship and struggle are the two main ingredients that go into being a successful Rock & Roll band.
myktoronto:Are either of your parents musical or from families with musical backgrounds?
Adam: Both of our parents have always had an appreciation for music, but are not musically knowledgeable. Outside our immediate family we haven't had much contact with the extended family for many years, I think some of them did have some ability - who knows we could have an entire brass section lined up and not even know it.
myktoronto: Have your parents always been supportive of the band and the fact that even though you were underage you performed in clubs?
Ben: Our parents always support us in anything we do. In the beginning they had to be present as we were underage and required a guardian to play jams or gigs in the bars. Initially we even had to get permission from the government to play the bar stage. Now that we are all of age the humour of having to get government permission to Rock & Roll has never really escaped us.
myktoronto: Can each one of you list the brand or brands on instruments you use and the ones that are fav's and why they are special?
Ben: I have two electric guitars and an acoustic. My electrics are both Strats. I find them to be the most versatile guitars suitable for anything I demand of them. I use a Fender "Evil" Twin amp for both clean and distorted sounds. As well as delay and wah wah pedals for colour. I like to keep it simple so I rely on my fingers more than my gear. For the album I mainly recorded the guitar parts through an old Matrix MA20X - a 20 watt amp with an 8 inch speaker.
Jon: I have been fortunate to have drummed on many different kits in my time but I have only ever owned 2 sets. The first being my Duke Dixon drum kit and the second being my Pearl expert series. My true favorite kit, and the one that was used primarily on the album, is a Yamaha stage custom which we borrowed from Bully's Rehearsal Studio. I like to use SD1 Generals for my sticks because they are short and heavy which really gives me a bombastic sound behind the kit. Sabian and Zildjian our my cymbals of choice and I prefer to use a single bass drum pedal made by Gibraltar, it gives a really bouncy feel for my bass drum.
Adam: I own a Fender P-Bass deluxe, as well as an Ibanez TR-50. Both which I use for different purposes. On the album I mainly recorded through direct input, though the bass-line to Bushfire was recorded live through my vintage 70's Ampeg V-6B amp head. I also have an Epiphone El Capitan Acoustic bass which I recently had modified by Barry Ewert of Ewert Guitars in Vancouver - who added a thumb-rest to the sound hole - it's pretty bitchin'.
myktoronto: What three artists or album or songs are each one of you currently listening to the most.
Ben: For me music has to have had a 20 year shelf life and be nearing its expiration date before I listen to it. Lately I've been listening to a lot of old R&B stuff, big horn arrangements and tight pockets, artists like Curtis Mayfield, James Brown and Joe Cocker. This is because of the desire to write something that could stand along side those artists. Listening on an enjoyment level is a revolving door for my ears, the two constants being Jimi Hendrix and the Stones.
Adam: Lately I've been listening to English Settlement by XTC quite a bit - but the last two albums I listened to on my mp3 player were AoxomoxoA (the '69 original mix) by The Grateful Dead & Remain In Light by Talking Heads. The groups/artists that have had the biggest effect on me are The Doors, The Band, Frank Zappa, & Oingo Boingo.
Jon: I usually am pretty open to all sorts of music. I like to take into consideration a lot of varieties because it's just more musical taste that I can throw into my instrument. The bands and artists that my brothers listed above often have my ears attention but I also like good old classic rock & roll like Led Zeppelin, The Who, Supertramp etc. I also dig Canadian artists like the Tragically Hip, Neil Young, the Band and so on. To obtain a greater library of bands that we might not have heard of otherwise we started our own collection of vinyl to satisfy our massive musical appetite. I know that this is not three artists, but what can you expect from a musician.
myktoronto: How often do you rehearse and where?
Jon: As a band we try to get in as much time as possible behind the rig if you will. Our time is somewhat constrained as we live in an apartment and are considerate of our neighbours. We play on a broken down set-up, Ben and Ad with two small combo amps and myself playing with brushes using a drum throne as my snare and a old box as my bass drum. We still manage to throw down a pretty good sound on it though.
Ben: To satisfy the need to play on the big rig we go to our local rehearsal space, "Bully's Rehearsal Studios," located in New Westminster here in the Lower Mainland. They have a variety of rooms and gear so it's easy to just go in, setup, and unwind for a few hours and we also like to show up for local open mic jams around town when we can fit it in.
I can still think of a ton of questions I'd like to ask these guys. It's not hard to predict a great and well deserved musical future for the Falk brothers. Certainly Jon could go far as a band promoter as well. He's everywhere, introducing himself, returning tboxes, answering and posting on listener walls and keeping in touch with the Heavy Jack listener base by dispensing a steady diet of Radio Bumps.
Kudos HJ! and thanks for your great words and thoughts both musical and written
Visit Heavy Jack at: MySpace: myspace.com/heavyjack, YouTube, Official Heavy Jack Web Site