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Bedemon - Interview, September 2012

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    Posted: 14 Sep 2012 at 3:38pm
"Symphony of Shadows" - darkness, doom, an instant classic.A project with close ties to Pentagram, Bedemon has held an almost mythical status among doom metal fans and is probably the most legendary and cult band that never was. They recently released their debut album Symphony of Shadows on Svart Records, an album which has received a lot of praise from critics and metal fans alike. We had a chat with Craig Junghandel (vocals), Mike Matthews (bass and guitar), and Geof O'Keefe (drums and guitar) about the making of the album, the band's musical style and gravitation towards an authentic 70s rock sound, and the history of the band as well as the importance of the contributions that the band's late guitarist Randy Palmer, who died in 2002. Craig, Mike, and Geof also take us behind some of the songs on the album, revealing among other things, the secret of the "zombie monk choir". Plans about Bedemon's future are also revealed. With all three members answering, and Randy Palmer being with us in spirit, this is the first, and to date, only full-band interview with Bedemon. Doom metal lovers, this is big! This is massive! This is a must-read!

First of all, congratulations on Symphony of Shadows. How do you feel about the album now that it is finished and ready to be released?

Mike: Thank you. I am actually answering this interview on release day and I feel incredibly proud and happy the day has finally come but I am also very emotional because I am thinking of my good friend Randy Palmer and the sad fact that he can't also answer this interview.

Craig: I'm really pleased with how it turned out. Given the circumstances, I think we paid a pretty honorable tribute to the memory of Randy Palmer.

Geof: Yeah, it is very emotional. I really lost it when I opened the carton from Svart and actually held the result of ten years' worth of work in my hands; it suddenly became 100% real. It exists and people can finally hear what we've known was a great album in the making.

As you know, I think it is an amazing album. Are you guys excited to see how the public will receive it when it is released?

Craig: Very. I know fans will be very critical of me - being that I'm following in the footsteps of a doom legend - but I hope that my contribution to the record is looked upon favorably, at least.

Mike: So far the reaction has been amazing and I totally can't wait to see how it is received by the public. It's so hard to believe it has been 10 years since we started on this.

Geof: Yeah, I am very interested to see how people react. The reviews - yours definitely included - have been extremely positive and totally get the concept of wanting to create a "classic 70s metal album." I hope fans get that as well, and as Craig mentions, we've been expecting a certain degree of fan comment on Bobby's absence. So far there has been almost no mention of it, instead praising Craig's fantastic vocals.

How would you, in your own words describe the style of music on Symphony of Shadows?

Geof: I would describe it as a brand new 2012 release that sounds like a long-lost classic 70s heavy metal album, one that you could play side-by-side with Black Sabbath, Uriah Heep, Deep Purple, Budgie and so on and it would fit right in.

Mike: I always think of Randy's love for horror films is such a big part of his music that I describe his songs in particular as "horror film soundtrack" music.  In general  I would call is classic 70's doom rock.

Craig: At times it sounds like molten lava slowly descending down the slopes of the volcano, about to consume everything in its wake. When it's not doing that, it sounds like a desperate sociopath on the fringe of sanity - looking for their next thrill. It's a beautiful mix of doom and attitude-laden hard rock.

The production has a very 70s rock feel to it. Is this a deliberate move? If so, how did you achieve that sound?

Mike: I engineered the basic tracks in 2002 but Geof really gets the production credit after that. I think we know 70's music well and still live in that era to a large degree but Geof should really answer this question and take the credit.

Geof: Yeah, from 1970 to 1975, I was 15 through 20 years old, and my musical roots are in that era. When Shawn Hafley and I spent a good part of 2009 mixing and remixing this, I would bring albums in to play for him, like Captain Beyond, Sabbath, Uriah Heep, Stray Dog and so on, classic 70s hard-rock and metal, and tell him, "That's the sound I want on this song!" and so on. That was my favorite decade, both in my life and in music, and I wanted to make a new album that sounds like it could have come out during those golden years. Also, if you listen to it through headphones or on a stereo system with wide separation, you'll notice lots of left-to-right/right-to-left panning of vocals, guitars etc. that was typical of late 60s/early 70s albums.

Craig "The New Guy" Junghandel completes the album with his versatile singing.Craig is the newest member of Bedemon; he does a brilliant job on the vocals, and his voice is - at least to my ears - an important factor in generating that dark 70s doom rock feel. How integral is his voice to the Bedemon sound?

Craig: I'm the new guy, so I'm going to graciously bow out and let Geof & Mike take this one.

Mike: Craig was perfect for Bedemon. Luckily, Randy had heard a tape of him and picked him before he died.

Geof: There was definitely a period of time where Randy was debating whether to ask Pentagram vocalist Bobby Liebling to sing, as he had on the previous 70s Bedemon recordings (compiled together in 2005 and released as Child of Darkness: From the Original Master Tapes). Ultimately he decided against it for reasons detailed in Symphony of Shadows's massive liner notes in both the CD and LP release. When we recorded the basic tracks for this album in April of 2002, we didn't have a vocalist and didn't know who would be singing. There was actually thought of Mike or I trying to handle them, but neither of us has the killer chops to handle material of this nature properly. Shawn Hafley, the engineer who worked on this project and was also a fellow DJ at KOTR with me back in the 90s, was working at a local indie record shop called Boo Boo's Records in San Luis Obispo. He mentioned that their other location in Grover Beach had a manager who was also a great singer and that I should check him out. I met Craig for the first time on June 14, 2002 and heard tapes of him with cover bands singing Sabbath, Priest and so on, and he was great. I sent the samples off to Randy and Mike. Randy had a few possibilities in North Carolina where he was living but they didn't pan out and we agreed Craig was the one. Sadly, Randy died before ever getting to even speak with him on the phone, much less ever meet him in person. You can't really compare Bobby and Craig. Bobby is Bobby, and has a style unlike any other. Craig however is a very versatile vocalist who can sing pretty much anything, and that is his greatest strength. He's not limited to one sound, style or even genre of music. He can sing pop, he can sing metal, and that variety is what he brought to these songs.

In terms of atmosphere, the music is very dark, but at the same time there are plenty of groovy and catchy riffs. How important, would you say, is the power of the riff to the music of Bedemon?

Mike: I think a good riff is the key to a good song.  Every song I have ever written is based on a riff that I come up with.  Randy came up with some of the most amazing riffs that were totally different styles but somehow fit together in a song. 

Craig: It's paramount. Bedemon is all about the riff...thundering and unrelenting.

Geof: To me, a great riff is what starts the formation of the song. From "Iron Man" to "Mississippi Queen" to "Smoke on the Water," the riff grabs you right from the start. I love unusual chord changes and having a song take you places where the listener isn't expecting it to go, but they need to be hooked from the start with a killer riff.

The album has been long underway. Can you describe the writing and recording process?

Mike: We got together in April of 2002 at Geof's house in San Miguel. I drove in from Arizona with my bass, guitar and amps, ADAT and 16 channel board. Randy and Taryn flew in from the east coast. We set up in Geof's garage. We had already written our songs and had them either on recordings or in our heads. We picked a song, sat up in Geof's living room and rehearsed it dry (no amps) and made notes until we had it down then we went downstairs into the garage and recorded it.  When we finished the basic tracks, whoever was doing the guitar solos (either Geof or me) would go downstairs and loop the ADAT and use a punch-in pedal until they were happy. For "Son of Darkness," we decided to co-write a song based on the "Child of Darkness" riff. We went around in a circle, each coming up with a lyric line and all of us contributed to the riffs in the song. We were done in 5 or 6 days on the basic tracks and a couple of years later those tracks went to Shawn's studio for further work which Geof will talk about.

Craig: The songwriting was done before I came on the scene, for the most part, however, that's not to say it didn't continue through the recording process. Given that the lyrics had already been written, I didn't have much creative license there, but O'Keefe still had some braingasms in terms of Bedemony things we could do to further enhance Palmer's songs. I know this may sound a bit cliché, but the recording of these songs - vocally, anyway - was bridging on magical. Fans must first understand that this version of Bedemon didn't have the luxury of rehearsing together. Not only that, no one had any idea of how Palmer wanted to put his words to music. It was a guessing game in large part - and given that Palmer wasn't a singer - a lot of the phrasing and melodies required a bit of work, to say the least. Many of the crowning vocal moments actually took form in the studio, literally during the day of the recording.

Geof: Yeah, that's really the case. Mike's song "The Plague" and my two compositions, "Saviour" and "Hopeless," were fully-realized demos with drum machines, vocals, overdubbed solos and so on; Randy's demos were another story. He wouldn't sing in front of ANYONE except the singer, and he had no luxury of multi-track demoing. He would sit in his living room and play one guitar into a standard cheap cassette recorder. That was it, and that was all we had to work with. No vocal guides, no idea where the solos were going to start and stop, nothing. After his passing, we were left with the instrumental tracks we'd recorded and typewritten pages of lyrics. No idea of the melodies of the songs, background vocals, nothing. I pretty much finished writing his songs in a way I though Randy would approve of.

Randy Palmer, play the album loud in his memory!An integral figure in the history of Bedemon is Randy Palmer, who sadly passed away in 2002. Was he involved in the making of Symphony of Shadows?

Mike: Randy died three months after we finished the basic tracks so he was totally involved and we agreed to use the solos exactly as they were recorded. Randy was not involved in adding vocals or SFX, that was done later by Geof, Craig and Shawn.

Geof: Yes, Randy died on Aug. 8th, 2002, about three months and a week after recording the tracks here at my place in California in April of that year. He wrote five of the nine songs and co-wrote another, and plays rhythm guitar on every track. Mike is correct about the solos being recorded at that time as well when Randy was here to hear them with two exceptions: my songs "Saviour" and "Hopeless" had solos added many years later at Shawn's studio. Mike and I had a rather tense disagreement about whether or not to add additional guitars to Randy's songs and the compromise we finally reached was that I could add guitars to the two songs I composed.

Craig: I believe he was there every step of the way. When Geof and I worked on the vocals early on, the results were adequate, but I feel like the spirit of Randy was ever-present and influential during the actual recording sessions. Geof and I would work on the vocal delivery and melodies - agreeing upon how I'd lay them down in the studio - then when it came down to the actual recording, Geof would often have some brilliant new idea that "just came to him", and we would always be so blown away with how those "last-minute" ideas enhanced the sound of the songs. Trying to capture what Randy wanted to happen with his lyrics was not easy, given that he had no input during the vocal sessions, but I feel some of O'Keefe's epiphanies were a result of Palmer's input.

His involvement must make the album even more significant to all of the members in the band both in a professional and personal perspective?

Mike: Absolutely. Today especially I am thinking of Randy a lot.

Geof: Randy was like the brother I never had. He was my best friend, although we at times could fight like, well . . . brothers. He and I loved horror films, playing pinball and listening to metal bands. We loved sitting at his house and watching The Three Stooges and Alfred Hitchcock Presents on TV while eating refrigerated Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, or going to a drive-in to see a triple bill of gory horror movies, or sitting and talking about the mystery of girls and the fun of sex. And musically, he was not only a huge fan of Pentagram but was actually in the band in 1974 during two different brief periods. His loss was devastating to me, but Mike and I knew immediately that after some time to recover, grieve and heal, we would finish this project. We knew that these songs were special, and that fans of the old 70s Bedemon would be blown away by how far the songwriting had progressed.

The cover artwork is really something special. What is the story behind the artwork?

Mike: It is based on a stick drawing I found in Randy's desk after he died. It was his concept for the album cover.  Eric "Rot" Engelmann is the artist who did such a fantastic job making it a reality.

Geof: We were looking for a cover and had originally been communicating with Wes Benscoter, who did the amazing cover for the Child Of Darkness release, but he stopped replying to e-mails for reasons still to this day unknown, so after more than three months of no replies, we gave up and began looking elsewhere. Good friend Sean "Pellet" Pelletier saw Eric Engelmann's My Space page and examples of his work and suggested we check him out. As Mike mentions, Randy had done a rough drawing of a face peering out of a doorway with one hand on the door as potential cover art for what was going to at the time be called "Kaleidoscope of Shadows". On Eric's site was this artwork of his showing a partially lit face peering out from behind a tree with one hand on the tree. It was eerily similar to Randy's sketch concept, and so we contacted Eric and arranged to use his art for the cover.

Does the cover artwork relate to the lyrics or music on the album?

Geof: No, not really. It does capture that creepy essence of the lyrical content, but as explained in the previous answer, the art already existed and wasn't created specifically for the album.

What does the title Symphony of Shadows mean?

Geof: There were a few possible titles bandied about, including "Kaleidoscope of Shadows" and "Cacophony of Silence" (which is a line in my song "Hopeless") but ultimately Randy decided on Symphony of Shadows. Simply put: Music of Darkness.

I really like the darkness and heaviness of 'Saviour'. What is the story behind this track?

Geof: It was something I wrote in 2001 as we were writing demos on our own to possibly use on the album. The subject matter was inspired by the occasional news story about priests abusing children, but the huge scandal of widespread abuse and cover-ups within the Catholic Church hadn't occurred yet.  When those stories did start to break, I figured everyone would think that was the inspiration but it was written prior to all of that. Musically, I wanted something that was a mix of heavy and ominous but yet classy and catchy. It was kind of a mix of Black Sabbath and early Uriah Heep. I had a bunch of ideas for the song, some of which we tried like adding a church organ to certain sections but it was just too much. As Mike earlier described, we would learn the song in my living room and then go down to my garage and record it in 2-3 takes. When we were learning "Saviour," Randy suddenly said he thought it had to be the album opener because it was really heavy but yet had a catchy element to it. That blew me away that he would choose one of my two songs to open the album with, given that Bedemon was his project and he had five songs of his that he could just as easily chosen to be the lead-off track.

How did you guys come up with the epic backing vocals in the chorus?

Craig: Geof had a very specific sound in mind for "Saviour." He and Shawn recorded the backing vocals as reference for me, but when I heard them I thought, "this is it". There was no need for me to redo those parts. Geof did an amazing job and I think it actually adds a little extra character to the song, especially since he penned it.

Geof: That was just my arrangement. I call it the "zombie monks choir." The vocal notes mimic the slightly-different-each-time guitar patterns of each line, and I heard this male chorus of haunting low voices, giving it a very 'church of horror' feel, appropriate given the subject matter.

Mike Matthews, the man behind The Plague"The Plague" is another really dark song. What is it about lyrically?

Geof: That's Mike's song so I'll let him explain.

Mike: I was working for Mohave County in Arizona and there was a lot of paranoia from the health department about a possible bird flu pandemic and that was the idea that drove the lyrics. The music is sort of Pink Floyd meets Black Sabbath.

"D.E.D." and "Kill You Now" are more uptempo and feature some more aggressive passages. What is the story behind those two tracks?

Geof: "D.E.D." stands for Dying Every Day. One of the lines in it is, "As the needle slides in, the pain slides out." Given Randy's long history of drug use, I think that's pretty self-explanatory and personal to his situation. "Kill You Now" was written by Randy with some lyrical input from his fiancée Taryn, and in the liner notes that come with the CD and LP she describes the inspiration for the song, writing in part: "Randy wrote this song about our unusual and scary way of lovemaking. We had such intense physical attraction for each other that there was no way to be gentle. We were like two ferocious lions, actually biting, tearing, scratching, and slapping each other, usually drawing blood and leaving claw marks. Every time. I used to bite Randy's lips until they bled. I would look up at him and blood would be dripping from his mouth onto my breasts and we wouldn't stop. It was normal. For us."

Are there any particular tracks that you would pick out as being especially important to you?

Geof: I worked so much on this album and have such strong feelings and memories about what went into each song that it's difficult to pick favorites. There's nothing I feel is a weak track and should have been left off, and obviously, I am understandably proud of my two compositions, "Saviour" and "Hopeless." Beyond that, my next two favorites if I HAD to pick them would be "Lord of Desolation" and "Godless."

Mike: I love "D.E.D." It says so much about Randy to me.

Craig: The heart and soul of Bedemon is the riff, but as a vocalist, the songs that I find most significant are: "Lord of Desolation," "Godless" and "Eternally Unhuman." "Lord of Desolation" went to a whole new level during the recording. The vocal presence in that song wasn't very significant - given the lyrics Palmer left behind - but Geof added some brilliant (and demanding!) vocal arrangements to the song that I think really set it off. With "Godless," Geof contributed some similar ideas which added to the depth of the song vocally, and it's also the one I was probably most free to "run with." With most of this material I was asked to do a specific task, but I feel that my "stamp" was larger on "Godless". It wasn't really seen as a standout track early on, but I think it really came to life during the recording. Another example of O'Keefe's impromptu ideas and Randy's presence in the control room. "Eternally Unhuman" is the abum's opus, in my opinion. It's not only doom incarnate, with its thundering main riff, but it's also this organic symphony of unsettling terror. The haunting chants and vocal screams at the end of EU are some of my favorite parts of this album as a singer. I only wish we would have done more of that; maybe next time. A future Bedemon album, perhaps? ;)

Bedemon was formed back in the 70s and split up in 1986. Can Geof OKeefe, founding member and the mastermind behind Savious and Godlessyou describe that period in the history of the band to those of our readers who are not familiar with Bedemon?

Mike: Bedemon was never really a band; Randy was a friend of mine from high school and asked me to play bass on a recording of some of his songs and I said sure. Bobby and Geof went to the same high school and also were friends with Randy and involved in the project. It was really the first time I ever spoke to either of them. All my friends hated Bedemon's music.

Geof: Yeah, Bedemon was basically a recording project for Randy's amusement. It was never viewed as a band, we didn't rehearse and there was never any discussion of playing any gigs. We were having enough problems trying to get gigs in the REAL band, Pentagram! Randy would call us up every once and a while when he'd written some new songs and ask if we could get together at the warehouse where Pentagram rehearsed and record them. We recorded fifteen songs between 1973 and 1979, all of which are included on the 2005 release, Child of Darkness: From the Original Master Tapes. Seven years later in 1986, with Mike having moved to Seattle, Randy and I got together with Pentagram bassist Greg Mayne and guitarist Norman Lawson and recorded five tracks with no vocals. Those have never been released. That was the last of any Bedemon recordings until 2002

The band was then reformed in 2001. What led to the band getting back together?

Mike: Musician and journalist Perry Grayson calling us to interview us for Metal Maniacs got us back to do more recording.

Geof: Grayson wanted to do an article on Pentagram but also wanted to focus on Bedemon, as bootlegs had been floating around and Pentagram fans were becoming aware of the band. This was news to Randy, who was in disbelief after doing an internet search and finding all these mentions and discussions of Bedemon. This led to our deciding to re-group and do a proper "real" album with better recording and all-new songs.

What was it like getting back together and making Bedemon-music again?

Mike: For the most part very fun and intense. There were a couple of explosions; Randy could be very volatile.  Usually it was directed at Geof and I was the peacemaker, but near the end of recording, Randy went off on me pretty bad.

Geof: Well, it was very different from thirty years earlier, where it was just for fun. We knew this time we were making an album for real. The material was much more intense and complex, and in the 70s, Bedemon wasn't taken that seriously. We knew we had some great songs that were so far beyond the old stuff.

Are you going on tour in support of Symphony of Shadows?

Mike: Actually, that has been discussed and we are seriously considering it.  We need to find a guitar player and do a few weeks rehearsal but I'm game.

Geof: A tour would be logistically difficult; obviously, Randy's gone, and we have no guitarist. Mike lives in Montana while Craig and I live in California, and Bedemon has never played a single gig, ever! Past or present. It would be fun, but a challenge. We are discussing the possibility of doing a few gigs if we could find the right person or persons for the guitar slot and work out how to work with Mike's living elsewhere.

What else does the future have in store for Bedemon? Do you plan on making more albums?

Mike: Geof and I have been talking about another album. He has a tape that Randy made of some of his riffs and lyrics and we thought it might be fun to use that as a starting point. We also have a bonus track of a re-recording of "Skin" we did - renamed "Skinned" - and there are a couple of old Bedemon songs from CoD that we would like to re-record such as "Touch the Sky."

Geof: Yeah, I have a few cassettes of new songs Randy began working on right after we recorded this back in 2002. They are very much in the same style as his material on Symphony of Shadows, with some amazing possible song ideas. They are just him playing one guitar, so we'd have to flesh them out into full songs, but it is a possibility. It really depends on the reaction to the new album.

Where can Symphony of Shadows be purchased?

Geof: It's available now at as both a CD and two-LP vinyl set in both black and silver vinyl. You can also get the download on iTunes and Amazon. However, if you want the 28-page booklet with the incredible art, photos and massively detailed liner notes, you need to purchase the CD! The vinyl version version has them as well. Symphony of Shadows will also be available in the US in late October.

And where can those of our readers who want to learn more about Bedemon learn more about the band?
twitter:   @bedemon

Once again, congratulations on a really awesome album. Thank your for doing this interview, and best of luck in the future.

Geof, Mike & Craig: Thanks, we appreciate it! Listen and play it loud in Randy's memory.

Edited by Time Signature - 06 May 2014 at 12:17pm
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote UMUR Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 15 Sep 2012 at 4:13am
Great interview Kim. Im getting more and more curious to hear the album.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Penelope Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23 Sep 2012 at 12:32am
I wasn't a heavy metal doom fan until this album!  Bedemon's Symphony of Shadows '70s style doom totally rocks! The liner notes with the backstory and history makes this tribute to creator Randy Palmer by his best friend, co-founder of Pentagram, Geof O'Keefe and other band members a true, 10 year labor of love. The lead song, Saviour, written by O'Keefe, is my favorite. Metal Doom lovers will NOT be disappointed and I wouldn't be surprised if Symphony of Shadows gets best doom album of the year!  Check it out!!!!
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