Friday, November 20, 2009


Originally published in: Chord Magazine, Caustic Truths, ??

Random thoughts: I had a complete obsession with this Philadelphia hardcore band for a few months after Paradise came out (okay, the obsession never really stopped) and ended up writing about them three times in a very short span. For the life of me, I can't remember which of these stories printed where, but I do remember a long, intense conversation with Dan Yemin in my laundry room as I fumbled with my backup tape recorder because we played phone tag and I had to the interview from home instead of my office. Still, despite the tech difficulties, it was rad to talk to the dude!

Momma Yemin knows best

By Jason Schreurs

Paradise, the second album by Philadelphia hardcore band Paint It Black, is pretty much the polar opposite of their 2003 debut, CVA. Featuring lead vocals by ex-Kid Dynamite/Lifetime guitarist Dan Yemin, not only are Paint It Black’s new songs more developed and memorable, the messages are more hopeful, refining Yemin’s blistering condemnations on CVA into powerful rallying anthems on Paradise. And, according to the 30-something Yemin, the change is due in part to his mom.

“When my mom got the last record she was really upset. She said, ‘Do you really feel that everything is this dismal? Where’s the hope?’ And I hadn’t realized that the last record sounded so hopeless until she pointed it out. That shook me up a little bit. If you ask me on any given day, ‘Do you feel hopeless?’ the answer would be no. And I certainly didn’t mean to impart that on the first record, I feel like it was an accidental thing.”
So it took Yemin’s mom to set him straight on the lyrical path to Paradise?
“Absolutely, it took mom to remind me that there had to be room for hope, and it had to be somewhat more explicit. Just because you are hopeful doesn’t mean it’s coming across in the music.”
Explicit hope (for a seemingly hopeless world) is actually a perfect way to describe the ironically titled Paradise, which is a return to the positive energy perfected by the classic DC-punk bands (Faith, Minor Threat, Embrace, Rites of Spring, etc.), but also the kind of hardcore record that definitely isn’t generic or useless in 2005. In other words, although it is a personal and political record, this ain’t no “stabbed me in the back,” “fuck the world” batch of songs.
“I feel like it’s really self-indulgent to just wallow in darkness and negativity,” explains Yemin. “Yeah, things are fucked up, but then to embrace despair and use that as a way to justify nihilism is a cop-out.”
When Yemin’s previous band, the dynamic and vastly popular Philly act Kid Dynamite, fell apart in their positive hardcore prime in 1999, Yemin stepped away from the scene to pursue a career in psychology.
He was living a normal, 9-5 type life when, out of nowhere, he suffered a severe stroke and admitted himself to the hospital. After a full recovery, Yemin realized how much he missed being in a hardcore band and how important it was to his life.
He quickly grabbed a microphone and notepad and Paint It Black was born. So, nearly four years after a near-death experience, how’s he feeling?
“I got really lucky,” says Yemin. “I had no permanent damage from the stroke. I take blood thinners so I don’t have any more clots but, in terms of my activity, I still work out five days a week, I ride my bike everywhere, and I lift weights. And obviously I run around screaming at the top of my lungs [at live shows], and running into the walls, and running into other people, and that sort of thing. I’m pretty active, pretty hyperactive in a lot of ways, and I didn’t have to sacrifice anything.”
These days Yemin carefully balances his career and band, something he was never able to do while on extensive tours with Lifetime and Kid Dynamite. So does he consider Paint It Black a project that he can just put as much time as he can spare into?
“I don’t want to call it a project,” insists Yemin, “because we definitely tour, but we just have to do it in short bursts. I work for myself, so I can leave when I want to leave, but I can’t leave for long periods of time.”
Which kinda works out well for the other members of the band –- drummer David Wagenschutz (who also drummed in Kid Dynamite), bassist Andy Nelson, and new guitarist Colin McGinniss (ex-guitarist Dave Hause left to form Hot Water Music clones The Loved Ones) --- especially Wagenschutz who is also busy keeping the beat in Good Riddance and None More Black. Coincidentally, None More Black was formed by another ex-Kid Dynamite member, singer Jason Shevchuck.
But back to Paint It Black and Yemin’s rejuvenated love for writing and playing music. It’s a hard one to ask, but one last, important question looms. If he didn’t have that stroke, would he even be singing in a hardcore band right now?
“Who knows what would have happened if I didn’t have the stroke,” he answers. “It puts things in perspective and the awareness of your mortality is always kind of there in your peripheral vision.”
Paradise drops Mar. 8 on Jade Tree Records and, if they know what’s good for them, hardcore fans best line up for a copy of this one. Check for mp3 samples, gig info, and more.

Paint It Black
Finding Paradise

By Jason Schreurs

It’s already being heralded as the best hardcore CD in recent memory (and not just by me), so how was Paint It Black singer Dan Yemin feeling when he put the amazing new album, Paradise, to bed?
“You’re kind of filled with doubt,” remembers Yemin. “I felt great about the songs, but we took a lot of risks and it wasn’t obvious how it was going to come together until it was all mixed. But when we started mixing, I knew it was golden. I haven’t been this excited about something I’ve worked on since Lifetime’s Hello Bastards.”
The ex-member of Lifetime and Kid Dynamite has always been involved in uncompromising hardcore bands, and his latest mixes old school sensibilities with a post-hardcore melody and vibrancy. CVA, Paint It Black’s 2003 debut, stuck to the tried and true, but Paradise is “a whole different animal,” says Yemin, with a sound that sticks out in today’s watered-down hardcore scene.
“To be honest, I’m almost considering just giving up on that word hardcore altogether, because it’s come to be associated with so many things I find limiting and disgusting,” says Yemin.

“Maybe let the fashion police and the metal people have the word hardcore and we can think of something else to call it. It’s aggressive, interesting, and political music, and there’s no place for that in what people are calling hardcore these days.”
When Kid Dynamite broke up in 1999, Yemin decided to leave music and pursue his medical career. But, after a severe stroke, he realized how important being in a band was to him and Paint It Black was born. So, with all that flip-flopping, does Yemin ever second guess his decision to return?
“Not for a minute, no. I think about what my life was missing when I wasn’t playing music and I don’t second guess it at all. Sometimes I second guess how the hell I allowed myself to slip out of it.”

Thursday, November 12, 2009


Originally published in: Chord Magazine

Random thoughts: I barely remember this interview, but I do remember Pall Jenkins being a nice fellow to chat with.

A sad and beautiful world

By Jason Schreurs

One thing you can always count on from Pall Jenkins, leader of The Black Heart Procession, is a detailed explanation of his records. The San Diego collective’s fifth album, The Spell, takes listeners on another desperate yet hopeful journey, one that Jenkins is quick to divulge.
“The common thread is love and war,” begins Jenkins, “the idea of being captivated or feeling like you’re in a spell. You can read this record as a political record, or a love record. The spell is the concept of being helpless and feeling controlled. That’s why The Spell is a very appropriate title for the record; being tangled in things and not being able to move.”
If that sounds like aural punishment, it’s not. Really. The essence of The Black Heart Procession’s sound may be morose, dark, downtrodden… even haunting, but it’s hopefulness that always finds a way to peek through the despair, if only momentarily.
“I think we throw those elements into each one of our records. We look at our music as a journey where you go through a series of emotions and ideas,” explains Jenkins. “With each one of our records it gets really dark—it gets light as well…”
Jenkins hesitates, then adds, “Traditionally we’re not very light, we’re always on the darker side of things.”
The group, which began as the side project of Jenkins and guitarist/piano player Tobias Nathaniel after their other band, Three Mile Pilot, went on an extended hiatus, has swelled into a five-piece with the additions of drummer Joe Plummer (Modest Mouse), bassist Jimmy LaValle, and violinist Matt Resovich (both of The Album Leaf).
Although the songs on The Spell might create the impression that Jenkins and Nathaniel are coming full circle and returning to the style of their previous band, nothing is ever as it seems in the disturbed world of The Black Heart Procession.
In fact, it’s more likely their next album will see more lineup shuffling and a return to the bare minimum sounds of their trilogy of albums, appropriately titled One, Two, and Three, which were probably best known for using the melancholy sounds of a manipulated saw and pieces of sheet metal.
“I think our next record will probably be even more different. This one we wrote on purpose as a full band. I’m curious to see what our next record will be,” muses Jenkins. “Who knows, it might just be back to a two-piece and really eerie. This record we didn’t put the saw on very much because it just didn’t need it, and now I’m kind of itching to go back in this other direction where it’s the saw and all the spooky stuff.”
In the meantime, we have The Spell, an album that once again illustrates how this band’s music seems to come together in a séance of spirits from the musical netherworld. With melodies lurching and stumbling and piano keys echoing, it’s Jenkin’s pensive lyrics that complete the sordid lullabies.
“I try not to fight too hard against my words. I avoid really having to struggle hard to have the perfect lyrics. I just let the song start dictating itself and I’m there as a medium to the song,” says Jenkins.
As songs develop, Jenkins says the lyrics are added at different times, but only when he feels the mood is right. The analogy he makes is to a key unlocking a door, and he extends that analogy to its brink while explaining his unique writing process.
“A lot of it is about being patient and waiting for that time when it dawns on you. With every album and every song there’s a key, and you’re searching for that key and waiting to open the door to the song. Sometimes you have a bunch of keys on a key-ring and you’re trying different things, just to find the right vibe, or mood, or idea. Eventually it starts unfolding and you start opening all the doors and everything comes together.”
The analogies don’t end there. Jenkins also likens the band’s creative process to the making of an elaborate puzzle. “We don’t have a lot of preconceived notions and it’s kind of like making a puzzle. It’s not my fault; we’re just putting the puzzle pieces together,” he laughs. “We just opened this box from Toys R Us and this is the puzzle. Let’s put it together. That’s how I look at it.”
Ask most bands to describe their sound to potential listeners and genre names are usually thrown around, but describing The Black Heart Procession is nearly impossible, even for Jenkins. Luckily, he pulls out the perfect answer.
“I don’t like to think of us as one style of music. I like to look at our music as world music; it’s for the world and made by the world with elements of the world.”