This past weekend, I had the pleasure of catching up with Cade Gentry (bass), Alex Linden (vocals/guitars) and Zach Johnson (vocals/guitars) of doomsters Bereft (who just released a great new record titled Lands). Like any legitimate conversation that takes place in Wisconsin, we met for a couple of beers at a local tavern and discussed important things like which chain makes the “best” shitty pizza, how Def Leppard may or may not suck, and the merits of quality TV like Forensic Files and Designing Women. Most of our time was spent talking about how these regular dudes came together to put out one helluva heavy-ass record (seriously, check it out).
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Beginning in 2011, before finalizing a solid lineup in early 2013, the guys knew one another from playing in other bands or splitting rehearsal space. “[Alex and I] lived in the same apartment building, so we just started playing shitty riffs together. We went to see Thou and The Body, and that’s what kickstarted it, like, let’s fucking do this,” Johnson recalls. “I watched glass bend [from the music]. It made me want to play loud, heavy as balls.” Former Madison DIY staple The Project Lodge hosted, but had no means of containing the attendees or sheer volume of the show, with both spilling out into the street. “It was excruciating. It was fantastic.”
Having played in a number of bands before, they had a clear idea of what they wanted to do: namely, put more time into crafting ideas instead of being technically impressive and tirelessly refining songs. Johnson explains, “It takes us a while, but that’s a good thing. After finishing this new song with Jerry (McDougal, longtime friend and current drummer), we’re gonna write the best record yet. We’re in the best spot we’ve been in.” Not long ago, the same could not be said. The band unexpectedly and amicably parted ways with their drummer.
So the group reached out to friend Michael Kadnar (Downfall of Gaia, Black Table, The Number 12 Looks Like You) to handle drumming duties for the recording, who in turn suggested the group record with Kevin Antreassian (Dillinger Escape Plan) at Backroom Studios in New Jersey. “We drove out there only hearing programmed drum tracks, and only practiced with Michael once, but it was awesome,” Gentry notes. Searching for a drummer was a relatively quick process. From programmed tracks to Kadnar’s pencilled-out drum notes on a music stand, it was a great fit, but it wasn’t just finding a serviceable replacement. Linden adds, “His ideas were invaluable. He added a lot of feel. He pushed the record to the next level.”
Kadnar’s recommendation of recording with Antreassian at Backroom Studios was another unexpected perk. “I’ve always hated recording until we went out there. It was the easiest experience,” Johnson remarks, “at the time it didn’t feel risky but afterwards it’s like, holy fuck, that could’ve been the worst.” “There’s all this stress when you’re trying to produce something, but [not] when you’re with someone who makes the process so seamless and easy. Kevin was phenomenal,” Linden explains, “he even did a guitar solo at the end of the album.”
Capturing the clarity and heaviness of acts like Fórn and The Atlas Moth, their astute and cohesive blend of polished atmospheres with a focused savagery is underscored by Lands’ loose lyrical concept. Johnson highlights themes of greed, manipulation, and also religious influence in politics, “How that’s not only what facilitated [the current state of things], but in the same breath, they’re also what people hang their hat on for comfort.” The record manifests much anger and distaste, but also recognizes that “we [as a society] let that happen, we’re all guilty. It’s one thing to feel ineffective, but you can’t stop caring.”
If the success of the recording of Lands was unforeseen, how they got to this point is even more remarkable. In 2013, after the band played a random weekend show in Dubuque, Iowa, Johnson was approached by some guy at the merch table. In what would be a seemingly normal exchange with a fan, Johnson brushed off questions about tour plans with a simple “eh, nope,” trying to explain that the group has “job jobs” and that Linden might be the better guy to talk to about tour questions. After all, at this point the band was only playing shows for fun.
But as luck would have it, this fan was Steve Joh, who at the time was doing A&R for Century Media records (and has since made a move over to Prosthetic before signing the band). Gentry explains, “Turns out this guy has been in the business for like 25 years and knows everyone.” “…and then I felt like a total fucking idiot,” Johnson admits. It was another “Had we not played that show in Dubuque, who knows?” Linden questions. “Or had I kept digging us into a pit of ‘no,’” Johnson laughs. Fortuitously, the band struck up a relationship with Joh. Some may dismiss it as dumb luck or coincidence, but Lands shows that passion and drive have put Bereft in the right place at the right time.