Western Addiction released their new record Frail Bray a month ago. So we spoke with frontman Jason Hall about it and some other things.
AFL: Hey … congratulations on this great album. At the beginning I would like to ask you how you are in these Corona times?
Thank you and thanks for asking. We are doing ok. I’m able to work from home so we are lucky, but my wife’s business is shut down so that’s tough. It’s definitely one of the worst times in recent history to release a record. I can’t really complain when the world is suffering though. The one silver lining is the Earth is getting a bit of a breath and the sky is clear and the air is fresh. I wish we could all learn from this time and reflect on what we are doing to Earth.
AFL: You live in the Bay Area. Is it already foreseeable what consequences the closure will have for small clubs and bands in the Bay Area that rely on live performances?
It will be very tough on Bay Area clubs and I’m sure some of them won’t recover. This was already happening here though and venues keep closing. San Francisco is the epicenter of the byproduct of rampant capitalism and it’s destroying the city (and the world). I’ve been to many big cities around the world and SF is one of the dirtiest. There is human waste, needles in the street and the homeless are neglected. It’s heartbreaking. It makes no sense that there is SO much money here yet the infrastructure is a mess. Anything that attracted me to this city when I moved here 20+ years ago is long gone. I’m not a person that thinks the old way is better either. I’m all for change and evolution but something is broken about this city. I have friends that work at these clubs so this goes beyond the loss of music. This is personally impacting people I love.
AFL: But now to the album. Looking back, what was the most surprising thing about the album when you compare the songwriting with the finished product. Are there songs that sounded different at the beginning?
I never grow tired of the feeling of watching the band transform something I wrote in my bedroom into a full-fledged song. It’s pure joy and it happens twice. It happens the first time we play the song all the way through in the practice space and it happens AGAIN after it has been recorded and you listen to the final product. When the guys play the song for the first time, I kind of step outside my body and watch them bring it to life and I can’t help but smile when I’m singing. It’s a really, really good feeling. The songs are usually about 90% done when I bring them to the band. They help apply the finishing touches and if there is a part that isn’t making sense, we work through that. I would say that they give the songs style and flavor. I can dream up a million ideas but I need them to make them come true.
AFL: The album really surprised me a bit. It’s more groovy and you can feel country, stoner rock and various other influences in some corners, like Roses Hammer 2 and Wildflowers of Italy. How did this happen? Was that a little bit due to producer Jack Shirley?
I like a lot of different styles of music and I’m always trying to learn from other genres. I think a good song is a good song no matter what the genre of music. I really like classic country like Johnny Cash, George Jones, etc. and those songs have fantastic structure and vocal melody. I like stoner rock and big riffs as well. I also like black metal. There is straight-up black metal tremolo picking in Rose’s Hammer I. I try to run all of these different styles through the Western Addiction filter and see what comes out. I try my best to make the songs interesting and we want to evolve our sound. It was wonderful working with Jack Shirley and he had impact in other ways. For example, we told Jack we wanted a big, bright rock and roll, hardcore punk record, hot and messy in performance, but crystal clear in production. He beyond delivered. Jack did help in some of the sound-scaping aspects. He has this super cool Leslie organ speaker and we made this insane sounding drone noise that starts the beginning of “Deranged by Grief.” I recommend any band work with him.
AFL: How did you work with him and what was the argument against continuing to work with Joey Cape, who had produced Tremulous? Didn’t he have time or didn’t he feel like it?
We worked really well with Jack. He’s hyper-professional but also really understands our world. I’m a pretty anxious, intense person and I could sense that he was very structured and serious, and I liked that. He encouraged us to record live and to make the record sound like a real band.
I think we learned a lot from recording with Joey but he really did us a favor by producing us and he’s very busy. Joey has been so great to our band. He’s put us on shows and took us on an incredible tour in Europe. I took away valuable lessons from working with him but we didn’t want to take advantage of his generosity. He’s a really great singer and I learned a lot about vocal melody and phrasing. I definitely prepared me for this record.
AFL: How did the musical development come about or have I never heard this page in your two previous albums?
Well, I’m always trying to get better at songwriting so I wanted to try a few new ideas. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. When we toured Europe the last time, several people came up to me and said, “I like what you are doing but you could use a little more melody.” Ha ha. They said it in a very kind way and I understand what they mean. I try pretty hard to ride the fine line of attack and melody. And for this record I wanted to swing it to the melody side. As for other instrumentation (piano, viola, etc.) we got some help from friends. Darius Koski from Swingin’ Utters plays on a few songs and Brenna from the Last Gang sang some backups. I also really like gross sounds and atmospherics. I usually have lots of ideas and we pare them down so it’s not overwhelming. I don’t like when bands add too many new instruments in the pursuit of evolution. I’m hoping we added just the right amount. Jack Shirley helped with that as well. He’s got a beautiful studio, full of cool toys but he knows when to try something new or when something isn’t working.
AFL: Ken and you both worked at Fat Wreck and Chad is there too, I think. In our interview on Tremulous, you said that you can enjoy music a lot more since you stopped working in the music business. Has the professional music business disappointed your passion a bit? Because in the end it’s all about making money?
Yes, Ken, Chad and I are all former employees. You are correct, I do appreciate music much more now that I’m not in the music industry but yes, the professional music business greatly disappoints me. And yes, you are correct in that, for the most part, they call it the “music business” because those companies are in the business of making money off of music. They are not in the business of putting out “good music.” Now…that doesn’t mean that “some” good music doesn’t comes from some labels. There are plenty of independent and major labels that release good music but it is a “business.” One of the most misunderstood aspects of music is that people equate being big to the music being good and that’s simply not true. Just because something is a “hit” doesn’t mean it’s “good.” I do sometimes get frustrated that it’s so hard to get shows and it seems like the criteria for getting a show is completely random and makes no sense.
AFL: Despite the title, I find your lyrics on Frail Bray more positive than on Tremulous. Are you trying to look even more positively into the future in these sometimes dark days than in 2017?
Yes, you are right. This record is about hope and positivity and has a much different tone and thematic content than Tremulous. I just had an epiphany that without hope, you have nothing. People always want to know what they can do for the world and our planet and the simple answer is to just “try.” I try every day to be cordial and respect other humans. I’m not a violent person but I do encourage aggressive positivity and radical action towards saving our planet.
AFL: In general, I was a little surprised at our last interview that you are such a positive person. I actually wouldn’t have expected that because of your lyrics. Have you always been like this or has it come over the years?
I try my best to project positivity but I’m actually quite anxious, introverted, somber and I’ve had lifetime depression. My grandfather taught me to kind of shrug and move on. Things are rough, just keep going. There are several ways to pull you out of depression and those include helping others, staying busy and music. Music makes my life worth living. I rely on it every day. I have to try pretty hard to distract myself or I’ll overthink everything. I do a lot of pondering and it’s difficult to shut off my brain. I would say I have a wild brain and sometimes it’s quite fatiguing. I recently had a bit of a health scare and I think it was because I pushed myself too hard. I collapsed while jogging and my doctor said that as you go on in life, your body has a tougher time keeping up with your mind and what you could control when you are younger, gets tougher as you age. I think my body couldn’t keep up with constantly racing thoughts. I had to change my life a bit. It was pretty scary.
AFL: Fortunately, we didn’t have to wait twelve years for your new album, as was the case with the previous one. Did you know immediately after Tremulousthat you wanted to release another album in time, or did it gradually emerge?
I think I did immediately recognize that I wanted to make another record. There are few feelings on Earth that match the power of music. I really like making songs and trying to unlock the mysteries of songwriting. It’s like a never-ending quest to solve an ancient puzzle. Also, the band can’t last forever and I’m incredibly thankful for music so I want to do as much as we can in the time we have. I can’t scream forever. Actually, it was quite stressful trying to finish this record and I was pretty exhausted and I thought there was no way we would make another song. And just last week I found myself recording new riffs and I even dreamed a song last night. I got up really quickly and sang the melody into my phone. I’d actually like to try writing some songs for someone that could really sing.
AFL: What is your personal highlight on the new album?
The personal highlights are the vocal melodies and a few of the riffs. I worked really hard on making melodies for this record. For really good singers, most melodies just come naturally but I have to work a bit harder and try to find as many combinations as I can and test a lot of combinations. I have patience for tedium that I don’t think a lot of people do. There is also a riff that happens in “They Burned Our Paintings” that is pretty hot. I usually need one of the guys to play the riff “well” but I think there are a few on the record that are pretty exciting.
AFL: What other highlights do you want for this year? Because so far it hasn’t had so many highlights.
Well, I was looking forward to playing shows but those have all been cancelled. We finally got on some big festivals in Europe and it’s looking like all of those will be cancelled as well. I’m hoping people like the record but so far, the world seems quite distracted, rightfully so. I’m thankful that we finished the record and I still get a charge when one of my band friends that I respect comments on the record. We made a few videos that I think turned out pretty cool. I really like making videos. It’s interesting to put yet another dimension onto the music. I’m constantly torturing the guys with all of my ambitions. I had all of these props that I brought to our video shoot and I pulled them out of the box and they just said, “Dude, no.” Ha ha.
AFL: Thank you for your time and your music. I hope to finally see you live soon … but that will probably take some time. Do you have a few last words for our readers?
Thanks so much for the interview and checking out our record. I really love playing in Germany. I think we are often a misunderstood band but in Germany, it just makes sense.