September 2nd, 2009 | Interviews

dan monick

Stream: The Entrance Band “Lookout!”

[audio: Lookout.mp3]

(off the self-titled LP out now on Ecstatic Peace)

The Entrance Band came together around guitarist Guy Blakeslee and spent two years writing their new album on stages across California. They have just signed to Ecstatic Peace and hope to go to towns no band ever visits. They speak now just before leaving for many months of tour. This interview by Chris Ziegler.

When Erik Davis wrote about you, he said that the trio is the most honest form in rock.
Derek James (drums): That’s true.
Paz Lenchantin (bass): There’s no room and at the same time there’s so much room.
Guy Blakeslee (vocals/guitar): There are a lot of bands you go see with like twelve people on stage and you may think it’s cool but it’s like—‘What is that guy doing? And that girl doing? And where’s the song in all these people on stage?’ Maybe it’s more like presenting ‘we look like a cult’? When we play, there’s not even some Roger Daltrey guy with a mic and me with a guitar and them playing. It’s as stripped as you can get. It doesn’t really lie.
Do you feel any responsibility to change what you do since you’re about to come out on a major label and get in front of a lot of new people?
GB: We’re gonna do what we already do. But the whole push to get in this position we agreed was important because we don’t wanna put all this energy into something we think is really rad and have it unnoticed. With great power comes great responsibility—said by someone—and we have a responsibility to get better—according to us. But I also feel as a vocalist and lyricist… I don’t believe in preaching to people. The word has a negative connotation. I wanna communicate it through my energy. I don’t want it misconstrued—‘This is a rock band and they’re tryin’ to tell people how to live? Shut up!’ There are things I wanna communicate—a lot of ideas and messages—but I want that through performance and song rather than telling anyone. I think that’s really powerful. When I was really young, I’d see certain bands live on TV and they didn’t say, ‘We’re here to completely change your life!’ But they did! And they didn’t say anything!
PL: Every song we wrote, we shaped it live—we never had a rehearsal space.
GB: We never practiced!
PL: The songs had structure of some sort—maybe a few little things—but not until we played in front of people in California. California shaped these songs—that’s how this record was made.
How did it feel all those times to play that first little part of ‘Grim Reaper’ and see the whole crowd get up on tip-toes?
GB: I don’t know what’s going on and I definitely don’t see anything! I got on my amp and fell off at one of the last shows in L.A.—I was seriously kind of injured! A couple nights ago at the Crepe Place in Santa Barbara, I realized I was leaning on a glass window and I was about to fall through! I had my eyes closed—didn’t know where I was. I feel the audience energy for sure. If people are sitting down, my percentage of electricity is lower.
PL: The dancing makes the difference.
GB: I used to go with my dad and a bunch of my friends to the closest Lollapalooza—like 13 and my friends were 17 and 18 and on acid and I didn’t know! But the effort we put into seeing a show was so great—it was the only place to go see these kind of things! Once we left the major cities on the tour and got into the South—people were standing in the pouring rain to see the show! The energy was really crazy—enduring all this stuff to be part of this thing! The harder it is to experience, the more you appreciate the experience. I can relate—I’d be like, ‘Five hours? That’s no big deal to see Pavement! My dad will drive us!’
What did he think of Pavement?
GB: He loves them! I introduced him to Thurston and I tried to introduce him to Kim Gordon and he was too shy! He has a little admiration for her going on. ‘Ah, I’ll be at the other shows—I’ll just meet her a different night!’ One of our few best shows on that tour was with all our parents—‘Oh shit! There’s a lot of parents here!’ Their friend brought their son who’s in his early teens and starting to drum—going from that phase of video games and fantasy books.
Did you go through that?
GB: I was into skating. But this kid—he’s been shy since I’ve known him and after we played he was jumping up and down. ‘YOU GUYS WERE KILLER! THAT WAS WICKED! DEREK WAS INSANE!’ Going from being one person to being another person—‘I’M GONNA PLAY DRUMS LIKE NOBODY’S BUSINESS!’ That’s what it used to be like for me to go see something—‘OH MY GOD, I CAN’T BELIEVE THEY DID THAT!’
So you actually remember the specific moment when your mind was first blown?
GB: Oh yeah—big time! I was one of four people there and my complete understanding of life changed forever. If you’re in a basement and a band from Canada plays and they know no one there and they turn their backs and some of them are in tears and they’re fucking going for it—this emotional intensity that’s the kind of thing most people don’t ever reach in their lives—and they do it for four people! Not a stadium or a club—four people! The reason they play is to express themselves in full no matter what, and that made me want to be in a band. They didn’t have to do that—‘Let’s just take it easy…’—but that’s not what you do in a hardcore band in 1997 in a basement. Maybe that was even the best show some of these bands played—with only four people there. When I played in similar bands, that was the blueprint I had. No matter who is there, if you don’t give everything you got, you’re just wasting time. It has to do with you, not who’s there. Your own standard of whether you express yourself or not. You always push as far as you can, and that’s what we do now. We’re not like an emo hardcore band—a term I don’t even know what it means, but those were the things in my formative years. Obviously I was into Motley Crue and Pearl Jam, Nirvana, AC/DC or whatever, but when I saw—let’s say this band Breakwater from Victoria, British Columbia, they completely changed my entire life. Me and three female friends in our friend’s basement and they literally completely changed my life. More so than a couple years later when Nirvana burst on the scene. At that point I was ready. But I can remember moments that made me be like, ‘OK, so if I’m gonna play electric with other people—if I don’t have blood on my hands and bruised knees and I don’t lose my voice, I didn’t do it right!’ What I try to do is not be self-destructive, but to take it as far as I can with enough left for the next day. I don’t wanna feel I didn’t give everything I have at that point.
PL: If you’re gonna go on a long tour, they say, ‘Pace yourself.’ This ‘pace’ thing—what is that? I can’t pace myself. What does that mean—do less? I understand pace if it’s like… a highway.
GB: If we were running a race against someone else. But we’re running a race within ourselves. The things that influenced me most are things no one ever heard of before—that’s what was truly amazing about the pre-Internet hardcore scene. I remember reading that the bassist in Nirvana is doing a doctoral thesis on the pre-Internet hardcore scene. That’s cool. I was the kid you’d call in Baltimore—‘We’re in a band! Find us a basement!’ ‘Totally, dudes! Totally!’ Nirvana was really the only band that was super-famous that approached shows the way as bands with four people in the audience. Most other big rock bands were not as physically daring as Nirvana.
What band do you think made the most of their time on a major label?
GB: Sonic Youth. Nirvana no longer exists. Sonic Youth was making the most of being in a certain position to help people hear music they’d never hear by having opening bands be things no one would know about.
PL: And which didn’t necessarily sound like them.
GB: And that people would be open-minded enough to check them out because Sonic Youth was presenting them. I learned so much from seeing them when I was younger. So by being the band people learn about by being seen opening for them—pretty trippy! And now they’re not a major label band! Hilarious! Some members helped sign us to a major label at the same time they were saying, ‘We’re SICK of major labels! We’re not gonna do this anymore! We’re OUTTA HERE! But—check THIS out!’ And Jane’s Addiction was really important too for the fact they created Lollapalooza—on par with whatever credit I give to Sonic Youth for making the most of their position.
PL: For me, it was really important being from here and seeing Stephen Perkins driving around with his drum set in his Honda Accord!
So it’s important for musicians to create these access points into music?
GB: For all of us that’s part of playing in the band. I may have lots to say about a lot of things, but the focus is on music and bands. I could be like—‘aliens!’ and whatever, but music and bands is the focus of this album. Musicians made me wanna play music. If you can get someone really young to see you and be like, ‘Oh, life can be different than I thought! I don’t have to do just this one thing!’ That’s what rock ‘n’ roll is really about—further back than punk rock. I just read Hellfire
By Tosches? The Jerry Lee Lewis bio?
GB: I can’t sing its praises enough! When Jerry Lee Lewis went to a town, there was a riot. The Christian citizen’s council would be like, ‘We must get this man out of town! Our young women must not gyrate their hips! They’re questioning their parents and smoking cigarettes!’ Jerry Lee Lewis was basically a fireball. He didn’t write that song—he didn’t write any songs!—but he brought energy. ‘When I show up on stage, all these people who think life is a certain way are gonna walk out thinking life is DIFFERENT.’ Rock ‘n’ roll to me is not a specific style but it is a style and it is an energy—and it does have to do with showing kids that there are a lot of choices for them. Even if I hear bands I don’t think are good—like Korn—when I think about their impact on the lives of young kids, I’m all for that. That’s more important than if I think Korn is cheesy—if it’s something that helps youth to believe they have a mind of their own and they have energy and they can decide their path—that’s what rock ‘n’ roll is. That’s what punk rock is, but that was a refocusing of what rock is. It’s essentially you roll through town and people’s lives are different after you leave. Or on TV or the radio or a record—it stirs something within you! And it doesn’t have to be in the words at all. The energy. Jerry Lee is pretty extreme because he’d get banned—I’m not out to upturn morality because that’s already been done! But when you’re really young and all of a sudden you learn you have some element of control over your own destiny—
Is this why some people call the Entrance Band ‘liberation rock’?
GB: I mean—sure? I feel when we play we all try and feel liberated.
What’s the opposition to rock ‘n’ roll?
GB: I don’t think it’s really against anything—it’s for something! It’s for everyone’s rights, basically! I know people my age who were at the same shows with me and they didn’t start bands—they got married and had kids and work at the gas station and I love those people. But it’s not gonna affect everyone. Life catches up to people in a lot of ways. It’s rare when one of those people actually devotes their entire life to being—I’m dedicated to this thing! Most people aren’t transformed to that extent, but it still gets incorporated into how they think about everything. It doesn’t have to break out—it influenced their mind. As far as people playing music—the last thing I want is anyone to try and play like us. The things I’m really into, the last thing I try and do is BE that. But I meet as many people as I can and I do meet a lot of people who remind me so much of myself at a certain age. It feels really good! It feels like it’s reaching who it’s intended to. We have older people tell us—‘You awakened the same thing in me now that I had when I saw Quicksilver in ’67.’ That’s a compliment! But coming from a music journalist in their twenties—‘it sounds like blah-blah-blah…’—they don’t get it! The people really young under 21 or 26—I see a lot of people awakening. Not to being like us but awakening to being themselves. The fact that we’re so focused inspires them. We don’t want people to pick up our thing—we don’t really want anyone to do anything! We just do what we do. But in all directions people get inspired by something really inspired and apply it to what they do. I have a friend who’s a teacher who said, ‘You guys make me take my job really seriously—I care about what I do because you guy care so much about what you do.’ To try and answer from a long time ago what rock is against—I don’t think it’s against anything. It’s mainly giving people fuel for their own fire to do what they wanna do. To not feel afraid or doubtful about themselves. If they wanna be a doctor, a guitar player, a tattoo artist—when you said ‘liberation,’ I wouldn’t claim that as an official title but that’s what it’s about. Not from any particular thing but your own self-made limits that you created and that you can uncreate. You can have that communicated to you without me saying that—you can learn by example.
You say that on the record, don’t you?
GB: That is in my lyrics! ‘You Must Turn’—I wrote that when I was 17 about this guy I played music with and what a jerk he was. And turned it—using him as an example—into something about humanity. It’s more for me the experience of going to see us and hearing all the music at once. That communicates something you can’t put into words. That kind of trumps lyrics if you ask me. But I do talk about it. You feel like you’re in prison but are you really? Did you put yourself there? Because if you did, you can take yourself out. It’s possibility and potential—opening it up! Playing with them has made me open up how I play and sing and write words. How I move. It’s opened our potential.
What’s different about the way the Entrance Band runs?
PL: I was thinking about this—what is the difference between what I have today and what I have had in the past? The difference is there’s no way this band would exist without one of us. I really think that’s what makes a band real. No substitutes. So I could easily say I have never been in a band before this if that’s what a band is.
GB: I feel the same way. I played with other people and it was vaguely satisfying and at the time I thought it was a band. But now being in this band—‘That wasn’t a band! This person couldn’t keep up! That person was telling people what to do!’
DJ: In a way, you could say our three-piece is almost traditional—yet it’s kind of rare. It was more bands in the past where every person was necessary. It’s a lot more work to have a band that relies on everyone IN the band.
GB: Simplicity is a lot more powerful than most people recognize. In all places. The more complicated you make it—you may feel that you’re exercising part of your brain, but you just confuse everybody.
Something about this album feels like it’s from 1968.
GB: When I grew up, I had a book—MAGNUM 68. Magnum was the coolest photo agency and I had a book basically showing the revolt in every single place in the world in ’68. Mexico City, Berlin, Paris, New York—wherever you were, students were overthrowing the school and people were occupying the streets. That’s not happening now. In Iran but not here. In a way it’s really different. I’m inspired by 1968 as a year that represents—well, people were trying to make things better and they got defeated is what happened. To say ‘1968, yeah! They tried really hard and got gunned down!’ is not what I wanna think of. But there is obviously a real connection between now and the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. In a way, that’s a correct comparison. But if you could look at the news and it’d say all of a sudden kids and people who were fed up were taking to the street, I’d say, ‘You’re right! It is coming!’ In ‘M.L.K.,’ I’m saying that happened forty years ago and saying what are we doing? We should be keeping that alive, and I try and we should try—I feel that song is relevant because of that lack of attention to what he was all about. It’s more like—remember this. If there’s one song in my life that I’ve ever written words to say something specific, it’s that song. ‘M.L.K.’
What did you want to say?
PL: The song.
GB: I said everything in the song. People are complacent at this point about thinking about what he wanted. He was just one individual but he vocalized the dreams and aspirations of millions of people, and it’s lazy of us as humans and Americans to be like, ‘That’s been accomplished! Next!’ That has not been accomplished yet—that’s important to remember. There were a lot of things he warned against. Divide and conquer—the oldest trick in the book. Once he was gone, people became more divided. In ’69 and ’70 and ’71 everyone that was coming together was like, ‘No, I think this and you think that! I’m a feminist and you’re a macho jerk!’ Everyone split up! So those kind of differences are what I’m trying to say—they’re less important than our common humanity. That’s what he was about—what Gandhi’s biggest inspiration was about. There was a starting point of racial issues or poverty issues but what he was really trying to say was all people are one and we should come together and focus on what connects us. I think that’s still really important. I don’t think it’s fully accomplished yet. Things have happened since then to bring it closer to reality—that’s why I sing in a hopeful way. I think we can do it. But ‘Yes We Can!’ became ‘Yes We Did!’ Just because someone is president doesn’t mean a lot of other people aren’t living with the same stress.
In the song, you say ‘I voted for change, didn’t change anything.’
GB: I don’t know how you hear it but I say I’m asking ‘will it?’ or ‘did it?’ It took two years to make the album. It went from ‘cast your vote and it don’t mean a thing’—when I wrote that, it had to do with the fact we’d had two elections stolen. By the time it was recorded, Obama had won. So instead of saying ‘doesn’t change anything,’ I think I said ‘will it change anything?’ Not to say it won’t and I think it has—that’s a big part of why it’s relevant. But to be like ‘He won! Everything is cool!’—that’s not how people are going to get the best lives.
What permanent changes has California worked on you?
GB: Permanent changes? I wanted to live out here since I was really young. I toured with Convocation Of when I was in 11th grade and I played the Smell with the Locust. The floor almost caved in and the riot squad was almost called—‘THIS IS WHERE I WANNA LIVE!’