Words ANDREW PARKS
It makes sense that psychedelics come up about a quarter of the way through our conversation with The Voidz. After all, the current home team of Julian Casabalancas seems to exist on its own astral plane, wrecking our equilibrium with a warped sound and sensibility that’s like nothing we’ve heard this year. Whether you’re revisiting 2014’s Tyranny LP or wrapping your brain around this year’s Virtue record, it’s as if everyone within earshot is reliving the DMT route in Enter the Void. Or at the very least, struggling to make sense of a badly dubbed VHS tape that was left in the sun far too long.
In many ways, the restless music Casablancas is creating with a crackshot team of multi-instrumentalists—Jeramy “Beardo” Gritter, Amir Yaghmai, Jake Bercovici, Alex Carapetis, and Jeff Kite—is the complete opposite of the comfort food he’s cut with The Strokes. Heady and unhinged, it’s exactly what we want to be hearing as Rome burns and we struggle to find the reset button.
The following exclusive started as a simple conversation about records—it was supposed to be one of these stories initially—but quickly turned into a provocative exchange about everything from Stevie Wonder to Skrillex….
What’s one record you can all agree on?
Jake Bercovici: Thriller?
That’s a very non-controversial answer.
Jake: I don’t know. There’s so many. Maybe that’s why we’re in a band together.
Julian Casablancas: Slippery When Wet.
How about something that’s a little more out there than Bon Jovi or Michael Jackson?
Jake: I think we all really liked that [Music From] Saharan Cellphones compilation. Every time someone puts that on, we’re all into it.
Jeff: We usually agree on when something’s cool.
Julian: It’s never like, ‘Oh, I don’t know guys….’
Jake: Yeah, it’s never like, ‘Damn, did you hear the shit Jeramy’s been trying to play for us?’ I’m trying to think if there’s anything new that came out that made us all say, ‘Wow.’
Julian: Maybe that new Beak> song [“Brean Down”]? It’s so cool.
Had you not heard them before?
Julian: I hadn’t, no.
Jeff: There was a King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard album that Amir showed me that was really good. They put out five last year. I’m not sure which one it was.
What was the first record that really struck a chord with each of you?
Jake: For me, it was Off the Wall. And probably the Thompson Twins after that.
Why those two records?
Jake: I think I was just a sponge. MTV had just started, and I was blown away.
Jeff: I was in an Uber a few nights ago and the guy was playing Tougher Than Leather. That was the first album I ever got on cassette.
How old were you?
Jeff: Probably 5. We were on a road trip to Canada when I got it. And my first CD was a compilation: the California Raisins’ Greatest Hits.
Jake: I think my favorite album, from when I became a ‘musician’, was the first Tribe Called Quest record. It was so inspiring and influential at the time. It’s probably the reason I started making beats and getting into music.
Jeff: Low End Theory?
Jake: No, People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm.
Did the production feel like something you’d never heard before?
Jake: There was just this warmth to it. It was the golden era, when everybody was making the same kind of beats. It was a sweet spot.
Is that what you did first then—production?
Jake: Yeah, I had an MPC.
The kind that can fit like two loops on it?
Jake: Yeah, with scuzzy cables and all of that shit. But yeah, I went to college and started ditching class so I could make beats instead.
Did you end up dropping out of college then?
Jake: No, I finished.
Julian: Magna cum laude or whatever?
Jake: Magna cum modest.
What about you?
Alex: The first cassette I ever got was an Australian band called Mondo Rock. I also remember getting Tone Loc, Public Enemy, Dire Straits, and INXS.
It seems like everybody is bringing up hair metal and hip hop.
Jake: Yeah! We’re somewhere in the middle.
Jeff: Well, that was the first kind of music I got into on my own through MTV. Hip hop was just starting to get popular then.
Jake: Yeah, Run-DMC came out with Aerosmith.
Jeff: I would watch Yo! MTV Raps on Friday nights. I really loved it.
Alex: I never really liked that “Walk This Way” song. It was a bit corny.
What about you Julian? What was the first record you remember getting on CD or cassette?
Jake: Let me guess: The Doors?
Julian: That was one of the big impact ones.
Why the Doors? Was it Jim Morrison’s voice? How the organ sounded?
Julian: I could hear all of the instruments and understand what they were all doing, so I thought maybe I could be a musician, too. Weirdly, it wasn’t the Jim Morrison thing, even though I thought he was cool. It was the drums, the chords, and the way it was all working together despite being relatively sparse. It made me think, ‘That is what I should try to do.’ And it’s funny, because up until that point, I didn’t especially like music.
It was just kinda there until then?
Julian: I think that’s what’s helped me [as a musician]; I didn’t just enjoy music in the background. I only liked songs that were incredibly powerful and moving. I guess I was picky. Having a super high standard is helpful when you’re a musician. Because you end up editing yourself. Most people love everyone’s random songs. I feel like that’s cool but I could never do that.
You could never listen to a Spotify playlist all day or whatever?
Julian: Yeah. I’m very careful with the ears. If it’s not one of the greatest songs of all time, turn it off.
Have any of you had a friend play something and you thought, ‘Really, you like that?’
Jake: I had some hardcore fusion friends who tried to get me into Eric Dolphy-type shit. I just couldn’t get down to the full-on, noisy jazz from the late ’50s and early ’60s. I know you must be so fucking hip if you understand what’s going on with that shit, but I just couldn’t.
You’d rather listen to A Tribe Called Quest?
Jake: I mean, I like out there shit but that just sounded like animals being killed for 40 minutes.
Julian: Our sound guy played me some really crazy stuff recently.
Do you remember what it was?
Julian: I think so. It was….
Jake: Avenged Sevenfold?
Julian: [Laughs] No, what was that stuff that inspired Aphex Twin? The really extreme stuff?
Jake: Oh, Squarepusher!
Julian: Yeah, Squarepusher. I felt like I needed to know something I didn’t already know to enjoy it.
If you think that’s rough, you should listen to happy hardcore.
Alex: Is that those guys who had crosses on their hands? The vegan movement or whatever?
No, it was electronic music where the vocals were pitched up really fast. Like when raves were really popular in the ’90s.
Jake: I’ve never actually been to a proper rave.
Jeff: Me neither.
Jake: Do they still rave? Or is it just Coachella music basically?
That sounds about right: EDM and all that.
Julian: I saw a Skrillex show and it felt like I was at a futuristic rave.
Jake: I’ve actually seen a few Skrillex shows. They all sounded like garbage trucks being thrown at each other, and then Auto-Tuned. It was pretty awesome. He’s a pioneer man; a genius.
Julian: When I saw him, he was DJing from this thing that looked like a crashed spaceship. It was pretty cool.
Jake: Isn’t he the guy who invented [makes bass-heavy noises]….
Alex: Dubstep, yeah.
Jake: I call it garbage truck music. In a good way.
Julian: It’s a high compliment—high praises.
Jake: Yeah, I mean, if you can make a garbage truck sound like Mozart.
Julian: I would say he’s the most innovative person in my lifetime in terms of doing a thing that became a huge thing. I’m sure he got it from somewhere or whatever.
Jake: But he’s the guy who pushed it through.
Julian: So thumbs up!
Jake: And a great guy too.
What is it about him in particular?
Julian: He did something no one had ever heard.
Jake: It was the zeitgeist. He took all of these industrial and melodic concepts and mashed them together with software.
He was actually in an Avenged Sevenfold-type band before doing that, too.
Jake: I could see that. I think a lot of ‘sound geniuses’ come from strange origins.
What are some other artists you like that’s surprise people?
Jake: Well I don’t go home, close my eyes and listen to Skrillex.
Julian: Take a Skrillex bath.
Jeff: I like a lot of the classics. If I’m home and listening to jazz, it’s Miles Davis or John Coltrane. And if it’s rock, it’s Bob Dylan or Neil Young. A lot of the normal classic stuff people have in their collections.
Jake: I think the only person who’s lasted through all of my phases and lives on another plane of existence is Stevie Wonder. There’s no other human in the past 100 years who can write, perform and express his musicality and vibration like that.
Alex: Prince could, but I think Stevie had better songs, a better catalogue.
Jake: For all intents and purposes, Stevie Wonder is the greatest of all time.
What would you tell an impatient 16-year-old kid to listen to if they wanted to get into Stevie Wonder?
Jake: I would say to start with the first record where he’s playing all of the instruments. I’d listen to Where I’m Coming From and everything from ’70 to ’77.
And what if you had to narrow it down to one song?
Julian: I always start super early. I don’t even know if he wrote it, but “A Place in the Sun” is the best ever. That’s super old.
Jeff: I love that song. And “Hey Love”—the early Motown stuff.
Jake: Basically before the ’70s, when he was still known as Little Stevie. And then stuff like “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours.” But then he hooked up with Malcolm Cecil and wrote 30 or 40 of the best songs of all time. If I had to recommend one record, it’d be Innervisions.
Julian: I just realized we come to the same conclusion—that Stevie is number one—but from very different places. If I had to break down the best of the best, he’s got like five to seven records. Other people only have two or three.
Are you talking about albums?
Julian: Songs—super songs like “Lean or Me” or “Bohemian Rhapsody.” He’s got a lot of those. Jake goes pretty deep into the catalogue, which I respectfully respect but don’t follow.
Jake: I love all of his weird ass songs, like “Saturn” and “Bird of Beauty” and “Heaven is 10 Zillion Light Years Away.” That song brings me to fucking tears every time I listen to it. So yeah, the deep cuts.
Julian: The way he plays, and with a lot of the things he does, he’s got this Stevie spirit, which is so amazing.
Jake: I think he’s the funkiest bass player of all time.
Jeff: Right, people don’t know Stevie Wonder is also an amazing drummer and bass player.
Jake: He plays every instrument on every album.
Man, you’re making me want to listen to all of this right now.
Julian: He’ll take you down a mushroom trip with Stevie Wonder. One thing you really need to see is his SNL rehearsal of “Overjoyed.” It’s one of the best moments of a human ever recorded. It’s him on the piano, alone, and what he does is just insane. He’s singing so high and powerful, but he keeps going higher and higher, hitting it so hard.
I’m sorry to go back to the hits again, but I also like “Pastime Paradise” and “A Place in the Sun.” Those three are undeniable super songs.
What is it about Stevie Wonder? Does he just feel like the whole package—like he’s on an entirely different level than the rest of us?
Jake: Yeah—he’s able to reach supernatural depths musically and lyrically.
Julian: He’s not only a virtuoso, but he infuses the skill of virtuosity into the highest qualities of music. It’s pretty unattainable, like the best moments of Michael Jackson and Prince. When gymnastic virtuosity meets a composer with a next level mind. Even a song like “Part Time Lover” [hitting all the high notes]. He’s like an alien.
Not to shit on ‘kids these days’, but Stevie Wonder seems like one of those artists who is iconic and younger people probably aren’t seeking out anymore.
Jeff: I think there was a minute where people like Alicia Keys brought that vibe back, several generations later.
Julian: Well, I think younger kids have the now image of him. It’s like Al Green; listen to his tones now versus his tones then. Al Green recorded some of the best-sounding music ever. So to see him now confuses people. I think most people know Stevie is the best though.
What about Prince?
Jake: They’re kings of different planets. Prince is much more specific. There’s a more universal quality to Stevie’s message. Stevie also didn’t really delve into sexuality or sexiness in his music. I don’t want to say it’s G-rated, because some of it’s heavy as fuck, but it’s….
Jake: More like spiritual, maybe. Prince is more sensual. One isn’t better than the other.
Julian: I forget which Michael Jackson song it is; it’s either “Billie Jean” or “Beat It,” but one of them is totally ripped off of a Stevie song. Not totally, but that’s the guy they all took [ideas] from. Prince was very cool.
Jake: Oh, for sure. And those are two of the best musicians I could ever think of.
Julian: It’s like Gone With the Wind versus Trainspotting.
We’re talking a lot about icons. What’s an artist who should be iconic but is not?
Jeff: Curtis Mayfield. I don’t think he’s appreciated as much as he should be.
The reason I thought of this was that New York Magazine interview you did, where you said people like Ariel Pink ought to be much bigger than they are.
Julian: It’s hard to predict these things off the top of my head. There are so many.
Well, what is it about Ariel Pink that made you say that?
Julian: I could just imagine people saying in 20, 30, or 40 years, ‘Oh, he was so cool.’ Like a Lou Reed type, where everyone listens to it at every party and they will think in that time, ‘Oh, he was pretty huge.’ I have so many random songs of his. He’s another one who probably has 10 mega songs. “Picture Me Gone” is so powerful.
Alex Carapetis: [Mumbles]
What was that?
Alex: I just feel like you’re asking the same question over and over. What bands do you like? What did you grow up listening to? What bands do you like?
What do you wish I’d ask you?
Alex: I don’t really have a wish, actually.
Alex: It depends if you listen to the albums or not.
I have, and that’s why I brought it up: because the songs you guys write are pretty diverse, and I figured your tastes would reflect that.
Alex: I don’t think you can pinpoint a favorite album or song to represent your journey. Because every day, and every hour, presents something different.
I think we’re coming at this from a similare place. When someone asks me about my favorite album or artist, I have a hard time answering, too, because my taste changes all the time.
Alex: It’s a hard question to answer. I can’t attribute my life to one song or album.
Jeff: It’s hard to know what’s informing our songwriting. We’re just kind of reacting, creating and playing, and we come up for air after a certain amount of time. And it’s like, ‘Look at this group of songs.’
How does working in this band differ from other projects you’ve been in?
Alex: I don’t know. I don’t really think about that when I’m in the band I’m in. I’m in the moment.
Jake: It’s a bigger band.
How about we switch up things entirely. Let’s pretend we’re at a bar, and there’s no one else around, and we strike up a real conversation. What’s on your mind?
Alex: I’d be like, ‘Where are all the chicks at this bar?’ Is this a guys bar? I’d be having a cigarette right now, then I’d come back and we’d have a whiskey together.
Jake: I’d be asking about weed.
You guys really don’t have anything on your mind right now? I feel like it’s very hard not to these days, because we’re inundated with news alerts and notifications from the second we wake up.
Alex: That’s true, actually. I heard this thing the other day that in the next 20 years, the government’s going to spend trillions of dollars on the military. Let’s just say they’re going to do that. I find it hard to believe, but it makes me think, ‘Why don’t they…’
Use that money for something more useful?
Alex: It’s crazy. I feel like…. What are you trying to protect yourself from? Some UFO shit?
Jake: Control, power.
Alex: But it can’t just be that.
What do you wish the government spent more money on?
Jake: Psychedelic research. It’s very easy if you just want to cut to the fucking chase, and solve every problem on earth.
Julian: We’ll work on a budget and submit it to you later.
Alex: Clean energy is one—things like solar panels on people’s roofs. Maybe then their electricity bill could be $40 a month instead of $500… Health care. Education.
I know it’s kind of a big topic, but why psychedelic research?
Jake: The scourge of our time is our sense of ego. The importance of the self has been magnified. It’s almost like a disease at this point. Psychedelics dissolve that barrier of the self to its ego. It makes you see the world much more connectedly. I think it rinses off all of the disease we acquire in civilization. It’s a precarious thing to talk about, because you wind up sounding crazy and esoteric, but if you go through it responsibly….
I don’t think it sounds crazy. But I do know I’ve had a bad experience on psychedelics before and it made me want to never do them again.
Jake: That’s probably more important [than having a good one].
Because it shows a part of yourself you’d otherwise not see?
Jake: Yeah. That’s the dark part of the haunted house that’s just going to live inside you. Or you can confront it and deal with it.
Alex: So you really think if the world did psilocybin, it’d be pretty much perfect?
Jake: This is going to sound crazy, but I think the earth is literally being like, ‘You’re killing me, and you’re killing yourselves. Here, do this.’
Julian: So we can all awaken?
Jake: Pretty much. It’s about responsibility. I think the problem with the youth is they’re like, ‘Yeah, let’s do some acid! And break out the cocaine and drink whisky.’ The whole thing about doing psychedelics is you have to prepare for it.
Alex: I saw Alex Jones on TV, right?
Talking about psychedelics?
Alex: No, just like his show. It was kind of good for a minute, but then he started selling vitamins every 15 minutes. It’s a scheme. It’s like, ‘Motherfucker, I wish you weren’t doing that.’ It just cheapens him, right? Even though some people would say he’s way too crazy. I like Jesse Ventura; you said he should be president, right?
Julian: I love Jesse Ventura.
Alex: I love him, too. His main thing is it’s not about Republicans or Democrats. When everyone votes, don’t ever vote for either of them. Just vote for someone else. Because it’s always between those two parties.
I don’t know how we’re supposed to change that, though. The closest we ever got outside the old party system was, like, Ross Perot and Ralph Nader.
Alex: Republicans and Democrats get voted in because [people] think those are the only options.
Jake: That’s going to take, like, 100 years to change, though.
Alex: Is Bernie Sanders a Democrat?
Yes, he’s registered that way. Do you guys remember Ross Perot?
Jake: Of course, yeah.
Jeff: But Ross Perot was basically a Republican.
Alex: There’s a machine above it all that pulls the strings. They’re all basically the same. It’s fucking Nestle, right? They have like 50 companies, so whether you pick one or the other, it’s still Nestle.
I can’t believe I just brought up Ross Perot.
Julian: I think Bernie is a similar character.
But he’s not an independent anymore. He’s a Democrat, and could still be their candidate next time.
Julian: He should be. If he’s willing and they still don’t make him the nominee, the writing will be so clear on the wall.
It doesn’t seem like people are willing to put up with the status quo anymore.
Julian: I hope you’re right. But you can’t underestimate the skill and influence of [the establishment candidates].
I remember when Bush got reelected, the country felt so hopeless.
Julian: That’s when I got into politics. The second time, I was just so shocked. Like, ‘Really?’ How do you….
Do that again?
Julian: I needed to understand why—that it was all about money and special interests.
See, I wasn’t going to talk about politics and here we are. But it really is hard to avoid these days.
Julian: I try to tune it out.
Beardo: [Joining the conversation] I’m just going to get a place in Malibu, work at the coffee shop on the beach, and forget about it all. No, it’s definitely hard to not do something when it’s happening right in front of you. I have a hard enough time helping the guy next to me. If everyone could just do that, we’d probably be better off in general. I just try to do the best I can to the people around me. It’s hard for me to think on a grand level without the power to do much. Unless you want to do something radical. We need to have lots of people doing lots of change. Me, I feed cats. That’s my part.
You feed cats?
Beardo: Well, I volunteer, and help animals get into homes.
Like a rescue?
Beardo: Yeah, I do that when I’m not touring. That makes me feel like that, for all the evil things I’ve done in my life, that I won’t get judged…. I’m trying to take away some of the bad things by doing good things. So when I’m judged, whatever that is, they’ll go lighter on me.
Julian: Did you see the animal thing with Lee Camp on our Instagram?
Beardo: I didn’t. What does he do?
Julian: He writes amazing articles—the best political stuff. Anyway, he was talking about how we have animals basically living in a Saw movie. Animal torture.
Beardo: I just feel like there’s always someone in your past that you wish you’d helped. You were basically like, ‘Ah, I’m too busy for that.’ Animals give me the opportunity to understand how to put an olive branch out to people who need help. Because it’s easier said than done when you’re trying to do your thing.
Animals are also helpless, essentially.
Beardo: They don’t do anything bad, in a sense. They’re just a product of how we treat them.
And even then—even if you treat them badly—they still come back to you.
Beardo: People are the same way, maybe: products of how they were treated. No schooling, your parents weren’t there, now you’re in a gang. And the next thing you know, you’re in prison.
Do you have cats of your own?
Beardo: I do; I have three cats that I rescued. I work for an organization called Cat’s Meow in Los Angeles. We just put five cats in forever homes—this place where they can’t be harmed or killed…. I don’t know how I got into it. I just like cats. It was a simple as this, actually: I walked into a Petco to get cat food, and this lady was helping all of these cats all by herself, doing a million things. I felt that was a place where I could be a good guy, you know?
Do you guys have pets, too?
Jeff: I had a dog for 11 years. She died in 2011.
What kind of dog?
Jeff: A pitbull.
Pitbulls are such a misunderstood breed. Was yours sweet?
Jeff: She was so sweet. She was the best.
I always wanted a pitbull, but I have two chihuahuas instead.
Beardo: I like chihuahuas; they’re cool.
They certainly have big personalities.
Jeff: Chihuahuas are almost more fierce than pitbulls.
They can be.
Jeff: We’re all pretty into animals.
Beardo: I think musicians and artists tend to go to animals for some reason.
Because they can’t talk back?
Beardo: Yeah, I don’t know. I guess they just chill you out.
To go back to what we were talking about earlier—before you got on the bus—what’s something you heard recently that really blew your mind?
Beardo: I just heard Focus again—that band from the ’70s. They had a song called “Hocus Pocus,” but that’s the song I don’t like. That was their single. But I heard that record, and its guitars, and man…. It was like a fusion ’70s sound, and pretty inspirational, because I feel like the Voidz have this kind of thing where we’re experimental in a way. I wanted to get that record after I heard it, but I decided not to, because it’s better to hear it and then just move forward.
So that was one. Another was “Tubular Bells” from Mike Oldfield.
The Home Alone song!
Beardo: Yeah, exactly. A lot of different things hit me—a lot of jazz stuff. I’m a big Weather Report fan.
Alex: What are you guys talking about?
Beardo: Jazz music, and animals.
Beardo: [Nodding to Alex] We met before the Voidz. I used to have a studio apartment and we’d make margaritas and play D’Angelo. We’d play that record Voodoo and try to learn all the songs.
Did you even know each other that well?
Beardo: Not really. We liked each other. I just knew he was a good drummer, and that I needed this guy in my life. So we started playing D’Angelo songs, and someone called the cops on us.
For playing D’Angelo too loud?
Beardo: Yeah! Because we were in this studio apartment with a loud guitar, drums, and bass. Anyway, they came in, and there was a bong on the table.
Alex: We also had a Crockpot cooking on the stove.
They must have been more amused by you guys than anything.
Beardo: They were.
Alex: Check out what happened….
Beardo: The cops were like, ‘Do you mind if we try the instruments?’ So one cop picked a guitar up, the other sat behind the drums, and they just started playing.
For a while?
Beardo: Probably for about 10 minutes.
Alex: We were like, ‘You guys are great! You got potential man!’
Beardo: That’s how I got into the Voidz. [Alex] knew me, and when Julian was looking for a guitarist to jam on some demos, he called me.
Alex: Thank god he joined.
Beardo: At the time, I was a rapper called Beardo. I was already touring the world doing that with people like Snoop Dogg and Too Short. That’s how I got this AK on my chest. But I was kind of getting bored with it and wanted to play guitar again. They called me right at that moment.
Do you ever miss being a rapper?
Beardo: People still talk about it and call me Beardo. I had one song that was really popular called “24 Hour Party.” It got on KROQ and people liked it. I’d like to do it again, actually. Me and Jake are working on a video for the new Beardo single. It’s called “Out of My Head.”
So you still write that kind of stuff?
Beardo: I do, but it was all drug/party music. The problem is, I’m not doing that anymore. So it’d be fraudulent for me to act like I am. When I wrote that stuff, I was that guy—Beardo the trailer park hero, drinking six packs and going on tour with Too Short and Insane Clown Posse.
Alex: Did Trailer Park Boys rip you off?
Beardo: No. But I was in this group called the Dyslexic Speed Readers. It was me, Mickey Avalon and Dirt Nasty. We had a song called “My Dick” that was big. That turned into all of us being individual rappers. I woke up one day and had 165,000 hits on MySpace suddenly.
What’s the biggest difference between rapping and touring with a rock band?
Beardo: Hip-hop tours are fun because it’s just you and the DJ. So even if you don’t make a lot of money, you still have more because there’s no overhead. I actually went on tour with Kesha, and the parents of her fans boycotted me because my songs were all about partying. But she kept me on the whole tour. Rap tours are a little rougher because people want to fight you just because you have a gun on your chest and are a rapper.
Were you the kind of guy who got into fights before that?
Beardo: No, I grew up in a bad neighborhood in Allentown, Pennsylvania, but I went to college for jazz and got all hippied out and cool. It’s so weird how this band started. I was always a Strokes fan before I met Julian, so I was really excited to work with him, with that voice.
Is it weird now, looking back at your rap stuff? Does it feel like a different person?
Beardo: No, I’m still the same guy. I feel like that was the realest I ever was with myself. Beardo was an escape from being in bands. I met these rapper guys, and was like, ‘Fuck it, I’m going to get a laptop and figure out how to make a beat.’ I quit rock ‘n’ roll, and I quit guitar after spending my whole life playing it. I did the most profane record possible—talked about drugs, talked about the worst stuff ever—and figured it would [end] my career. And what do you know? That record was more popular than anything I’d done before, and I toured all over the world.
Why the most profane record possible?
Beardo: I don’t know; I just wanted to say everything I’d ever wanted to say on a record, so I talked about the war in Iraq, partying, six packs, and being a loser in LA—how it wasn’t what I’d expected it to be.
So most people viewed it as party music, but it sounds like it was more personal.
Beardo: Yeah, it was an artistic record. A lot of people like Julian liked it. I wish I’d known that, because from my perspective I was making money, but it felt cheap. Because it was just me making these beats. Most of the time in your life, you’re just doing something to be noticed. You think, ‘If I do that, I’m going to be successful.’ But it’s the opposite; it’s better to just be me.
So that surprised you—that it worked?
Beardo: Yeah, looking back, most of the things I’m ashamed of doing is bands. It’s like looking at old photos of yourself or hearing yourself talk on a recorder. But I look back at that record—as outlandish as it is—and I’m proud of it because I did it myself.
All the production too?
Beardo:Yeah, everything. I’m still a producer. That’s how I got into Beardo: I was producing rapper guys and wanted to demo some ideas on my own…. I have a fascination with electronics. I take them apart just to see how they work, and put them back together.
Were you a smart kid, then?
Beardo: No, I was a stupid kid, actually. I found what I was good at later in life. It started with keyboards and went from there; I would fix things and then record with it. That was really satisfying, because I didn’t have the budget. I’d find a broken synth and repair it. I have quite a gear collection now, and I record with it every day. I love that stuff.
What was the move from Pennsylvania to LA like for you?
Beardo: It was a trip, in and of itself. Because it’s the true test: you’re this dude from Pennsylvania, moving out to LA like in the movies. But it wasn’t like the movies.
In a way that was harsh?
Beardo: In a way that was harsh. I thought I was just going to be able to jump on a tour bus, but there were so many great guitar players when I got here. Everyone could play guitar well. Once the party wore out, it was like, ‘What am I really doing in this town? I’ve got to get serious.’ So I did; I tried to network. Ability doesn’t matter in LA. It’s about how cool you are as a person and showing up on time. Most of the time, people don’t want 1,000 notes. They just want accuracy. I was a jazz guy, doing fusion, so I wanted to do that. I auditioned for everything from Kelly Osborne to The Wallflowers.
Wouldn’t your style of playing have been too complicated for a lot of those projects?
Beardo: Well, it was. I’d play their songs at auditions, but then I’d play like “Giant Steps” or John Coltrane. They were turned off by that shit; that wasn’t what they were looking for. Eventually I figured out that I needed to be an artist, not a session guy. There was a choice I had to make. I didn’t want to be a side guy, because it made me feel like a schmuck, like I was in a cover band. It was the same thing with this band. I wanted to write and do stuff.
Does it frustrate you that some people will always look at the Voidz as Julian’s band, with you guys as the sidemen?
Beardo: People do assume that, because you’ve got a singer who was in a popular band. It was my idea to get rid of our old name as soon as possible. I wanted us to be respected as a band, not as a side project. We didn’t become a band overnight; we became a band through hard work.
When it came to your solo work, was there someone who put a lot of support behind what you were doing early on?
Beardo: Snoop Dogg took me on tour and was a fan. Weird people in Hollywood were also fans—like famous actresses. They’d come because it was funny and party music. But I didn’t get it; I just felt like a nobody from Allentown, making the worst music I’d ever made on a four-track because I couldn’t afford ProTools or anything. I still don’t get it, man. It was magic in a bottle.
It must have felt both exciting and depressing then.
Beardo: It was. I played guitar in Beardo, but it wasn’t intricate. I feel like this band has an artistic vision, a level of discovery and care to the music. After all of these years in bands, you’re always looking for something that’s a better wine. Like when you’re 21, you’ll just drink anything. But the older you get, the more refined you become.
Are you in the natural wine phase of your career then?
Beardo: Yeah. But then again, I do like a $5 bottle of wine sometimes.