MEET THEM AT THE WRECKING BALL: Big Jesus & The Menzingers

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The Blurt braintrust attended the 2nd annual Wrecking Ball Festival took place this past weekend (August 13 & 14) in Atlanta, and a good time was had by all. Below, read our recap, along with an exclusive interview with the band Big Jesus by Dr. Matti, followed by an equally exclusive yak with Tom May of the Menzingers, conducted by Lt. Clegg.

BY DANIEL MATTI & JEFF CLEGG

This past weekend The Masquerade opened its doors one last time at the original location for the 2nd annual Wrecking Ball Festival. The stacked bill made it difficult to see every band but there really is no complaining there.

With the gentrification that is happening to the area, The Masquerade are forced to find salvation elsewhere. Being at the home of 695 North Avenue since 1988 many bands have found their home inside the club that hosts three rooms. Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory. All different sizes venue alls.

To give this place the justice it deserves, how about a little history.

The building was created in the late 19th century as the Dupre Excelsior Mill. As the Post-Depression era saw the expansion of the mill in the late 1930s the demand for excelsior was radically reduced. Introduction of foam rubber got rid of the use of excelsior. By the late 1960s excelsior was no longer needed then in 1977 most major mills in the Atlanta are were forced to close their doors.

A year or so later the mill changed into a district that would hold a pizza restaurant that would feature movies and plays as well.

Then in 1989 the mill reopened as the venue The Masquerade. Hosting bands like Van Halen to this past weekend where the Wrecking Ball was hosted inside the three rooms and also two main stages inside the newly created park.

The festival which brought people from all over the United States and possibly the world, (met one guy who had came from England) to see bands in the genre of hardcore, emo, and noise rock. Hosting bands that hadn’t played in quite some times made it appointed to stop at the festival to play. From Rainer Maria, The Promise Ring, Piebald, Quicksand, and Thursday the festival was stacked to the brim.

Friday was the kick-off show with Piss Shy, Big Jesus, and Poison the well playing the upstairs in Heaven. The room was quickly filled up with everyone wanting to get the chance to see one of the few reunion shows that Poison The Well has played this year. Playing most songs of the Opposite of December and Tear from the Red you could definitely tell the show was a real crowd pleaser.

The next day the official festival would kick things off as Big Jesus from Atlanta. The more they played the more you could tell festival goers who were just walking through the gates gravitated towards the stage to check them out. From then on the festival would utilize the two outdoor stages and the other three stages in the Masquerade.

The crowd was pummeled by the heat which led to a lot of people trying to catch shelter under trees and tents from vendors, from Criminal Records who had a meet and greet tent set up, to Smartpunk who had a selection of vinyl for sale. Among a bunch of great local food trucks including the very popular Tex’s Tacos.

Both days were stacked lineups so it was difficult to choose which bands you wanted to see. With the indoor venues proving more difficult with the capacity limit. Within minutes you could tell you needed to arrive to the room a couple minutes before to assure you a good spot to check out your favorite band. From The Menzingers and Touche Amore to Piebald and Gorilla Biscuits Heaven was the hottest spot to catch a band on Saturday. If you left to go check out a band elsewhere you were almost guaranteed to end up waiting in line for a couple minutes to get inside.

As the day started to cool with the night sky approaching most festival goes went to the North and South stages to check out Saturdays closers, The Julie Ruin, Drive Like Jehu, and L7. All three bands delivered astonishing sets. A memorable moment from the evening was The Julie Ruin covering Pedestrian at Best from Courtney Barnett. After the bands finished the outside stages festival goers had the chance to see the after parties hosted inside. Thursday playing their first show in almost 5 years in hell which capacity is a very limited 500 to Piebald and Knapsack playing Heaven. Turnstile would play Purgatory with many others while surrounding venues The Earl, Aisle 5, and 529 would host other afterparties including Deafheaven, Tiny Moving Parts, and Diet Cig. All incredibly hard choices for a fan to pick from any of the shows. (Below: special video of Thursday by Daniel Matti and Jeff Clegg.)

Sunday rolled with the same ferociousness that Saturday did with the sun and the choice of which bands to see. Rainer Maria and The Promise Ring reunited to play the South stage and fans definitely came out to show support. Singing along to every word and dancing with beer, water, and taco in hand. The inside was used to for a good portion of people to cool and see a lot of newer bands including Potty Mouth, Pears, and Foxing that ended up packing out Hell. Closing out the night, most people gathered around to catch Dinosaur Jr., Thursday, and Quicksand. All three bands delivered incredible sets. Especially Thursday, which you could tell fans came out to celebrate the return of the great post-hardcore band.

As the festival came to a close that night and the festivals merch booth was pillaged with fans trying to get their favorite bands t-shirt or vinyl to take home with them so they could remember the weekend I walked across the street and took a hard look at the venue-once was mill. It astounded me that there was so much history in a building that was to be torn down.

One hopes that the venue that will reopen its doors at 1421 Fairmont Avenue in late August will be as welcoming as the historical venue was for a first-timer. -DM

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AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH BIG JESUS AT WRECKING BALL

By Daniel Matti

Big Jesus comes from the home of  Atlanta, Georgia where they kicked off the festival with a pre-party in Heaven at the Masquerade opening for hardcore veterans Poison the Well. The room filled more and more as the band played grabbing everyone’s attention in the room. To who was this band that was crushing the stage you ask? I sat down with singer/bass player Spencer Ussery and guitarist CJ Ridings the next day as they were the first band playing the official Wrecking Ball festival. –DM

BLURT: So are you guys from the Atlanta area originally?

Spencer Ussery: Pretty much.

CJ Ridings: I was mostly western part of the city where Spencer was northeast and we would meet up a lot when going to mutual shows in Atlanta. A couple years ago we moved down to the city and lived down the street from each other within a mile of the Masquerade.

BLURT: So living so close to the Masquerade on top of seeing a lot of shows here growing up this has got be a big deal playing Wrecking Ball with it being one of the last concerts here at the original location.

CJ: The first show at the Masquerade was probably the first proper show that I went to when I was 14 with 20 other people in Heaven.

Spencer: I started playing bass for a band in high school and we got to play in Heaven which then was the biggest room to me then and of course no one came. (Laughter)

CJ: Both of our old bands played here even before I actually knew Spencer. That’s how it was we would always be playing to each other and 10 other people. I would say that’s actually where we first met in Heaven.

BLURT: So playing with Poison the Well last night were you all excited to play with them?

CJ: Yeah growing up I definitely listened to a lot more metal and hardcore in middle school. So I was very familiar with Opposite of December.

Spencer: Yeah both of those albums Opposite of December and Tear from the Red are great.

CJ: So if you had told me in high school that I would have been playing with them now it would have been mind blowing.

BLURT: So the new album Oneiric drops on September 30th do you all have any big plans for the release date?

Spencer: We booked a release party show but we are actually doing it on October 2nd about a mile from the Masquerade called Aisle 5.

CJ: We got the help of the Masquerade to help co-produce the show for us. Last year we got all of our stuff stolen and Smithe’s Old Bar through a benefit show for us and 99.5X was apart of it as well. Then the Masquerade heard about it and told us to come by and they had heard about all of our gear being stolen and they offered us if we wanted to be apart of Wrecking Ball. On top of that they were able to give us a donation to help us get some gear back. They have been very supportive.

BLURT: So it sounds like Atlanta has a very strong music community and has been very supportive of you all.

Spencer: Absolutely. We were blown away by the response we got. Not even from the people that play music but also from the music lovers. We did a GoFundMe page and we got a great response from that as well.

BLURT: So how were you all put in touch with Matt Hyde who has produced Deftones, Slayer, and many others to help produce the new album?

Spencer: I don’t think he really treated it like work either. We bonded with him really quickly. It was really easy to be ourselves with him.

CJ: That was us just shopping it. We had a couple producers in mind from the label and we made a list and we went with him because he thought he would be a good fit. So we sent him the demos and he wrote us back saying we would love to be apart of it. So that seemed like a good fit for us. Someone who just really wanted to be a part of it.

BLURT: So I got sent a sampler of a couple songs on there and one of the songs on there was The Cure’s “Last Day of Summer” why that particular Cure song?

CJ: It really came from Amazon asking to be apart of this Summer playlist. You can do an original or a cover but it has to have the word “summer” in the title of the song or it be summer themed. I felt like we should do a cover. Not a lot of bands do covers any more. So I was really first drawn to that. So I drew a list with a bunch of songs with the word “summer” in the title and narrowed it down to The Cure song.

BLURT: I really feel like you guys did a really great job covering the essence of that song

CJ: So they already have the ethereal vibe so adding the distortion and dynamic to it made it feel like it translated it easy. We really couldn’t do many other songs, there’s like Summer of ’69 and that’s it.

BLURT: I would have loved to hear that version

Spencer: (begins to sing parts of Summer of ’69) We would have killed that song

BLURT: So recently I saw that you were added to the Good Charlotte tour

CJ: Yeah we’re opening for the whole tour with Set Your Goals, Four Years Strong, and Hit The Lights dropping on and off the tour.

BLURT: That will be playing for almost like a different audience then what you are used to.

CJ: Yeah I so it think it will be a very mixed crowd. It will be a lot of people in their late 20’s and early 30’s there to see Good Charlotte reunite who may have not been out of the house in a long time. But there will also be a lot of teenagers and people in their early 20’s there to see bands like Four Years Strong and Hit The Lights. They will be in that phase of trying to figure out of what they’re still getting into.

BLURT: What’s one of the last albums you listened to that you loved or an artist that you connect with deeply?

CJ: Siamese Dream by Smashing Pumpkins, Loveless by My Bloody Valentine, De-Loused in the Comatorium by The Mars Volta, Led Zeppelin IV, White Pony by Deftones, and the first Queens of the Stone Age record will always be a huge influence.

Spencer: I felt like I discovered Pet Sounds when I was 19 which sounds like a cliché thing to say but that record opened my head. Which showed me a new way to write melody. Along with the Beatles Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band. Also Slowdive’s Souvlaki. Actually any of the Slowdive material.

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Make sure to check out the new album “Oneiric” by Big Jesus out September 30th on Mascot Records and also on tour with Good Charlotte this fall.

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Menzingers

Photo of May by Connor Feimster (http://connorfeimsterphoto.com)

AN EXCLUSIVE CONVERSATION WITH TOM MAY OF THE MENZINGERS AT WRECKING BALL

By Jeff Clegg

This weekend’s Wrecking Ball Festival was truly a celebration of The Masquerade’s time spent in Atlanta’s old Excelsior Mill on North Avenue and the influence the venue has had on the punk rock, emo, metal, and hardcore community since 1989. It was also a celebration for someone like myself, who grew up not too far from Atlanta, to spend one last weekend at the location where I went to my very first concert (if anyone wants to know, that title goes to Streetlight Manifesto in 2005) and spent a countless number of hours at for the rest of my high school and early college years.

The lineup included the brilliant Scranton-based punk rockers The Menzingers, who are known for their incredibly reflective and nostalgic style of punk. I had the pleasure to catch up with guitarist/vocalist Tom May on Saturday, who had just finished an outstanding set on the Heaven stage, to chat about the venue, their new single, and a shared love for The Bouncing Souls.

BLURT: How many times have you played the Masquerade?

Tom: I’d have to look it up and count, but at least 4 or 5 times.

BLURT: Is there one in particular that stands out?

Tom: Yeah, totally. The most recent time that we came through was with Mewithoutyou, and yeah, it’s just interesting getting used to the same people and staff. The same people working, the sound guys and girls. You can judge your life in those increments like a chapter. It’s like ‘oh, well last time I was here…’ it’s like a milestone. But yeah, everybody who works here is very, very kind, very cool, understanding, open. All the security dudes are pretty cool. One time that we played here, there was an Atlanta hip-hop show going on in one of the rooms, and I just remember these dudes getting super hyped outside the show and freaking out. One of them had a big ass camera with a light on the end of it. The dudes in front were just getting really fucking hyped up. It was really funny. They came out and just pushed me and the drummer out of the way when they were doing their way into the room. It was awesome.

BLURT: So, you guys just came out with a new single two days ago called “Lookers.” It’s a fantastic song, by the way. It seems to be about finding an old photo and reminiscing about the way things used to be. Can you talk a little more about what the song is about?

Tom: Sure! I didn’t write the song. Greg wrote it. But the song kind of carries over a vibe that is what we’ve been into recently. We’ve always tried to write from our life experiences. I just turned 30 years old. That’s old for a punk rock band. You start getting old for your life. It’s not nearly towards the end or anything like that, but you start to become more wisdom-focused and not confusion-focused. So you start to really kind of appreciate and understand things that go on in your life and finally accept the fact that you don’t know anything. All you know is that you don’t know anything. It’s kind of like a very nostalgic point in our lives. That’s what we’ve been writing about recently, just the idea that life is happening and now we’re starting to accept it rather than be confused and worried by it.

BLURT: Will “Lookers” be on the upcoming record?

Tom: I honestly can’t tell you. We’re still sorting things out.

BLURT: What’s the name of the new record?

Tom: It’s going to be called After the Party.

BLURT: Can you say anything else about the record, something general, maybe about influences or what direction you guys are heading in?

Tom: Yeah, totally! There’s no palm-muting on the whole record, which will mean something to some musicians, maybe, and something we used to do to fill in verses. We tried to be as dynamic and interesting as possible with our writing on this record, and we spent a really long time doing it. We wrote it for months and then we went in and did an entire week and a half of pre-production with Will Yip where we sat down and analyzed the songs and thought ‘well, why did we do this here and why did we do that there’ and ‘let’s try this and let’s try that’. We kind of just shaped the songs out to be, well, songs. Whereas we used to just record, and then demo, and then we record the demos in a nicer setting. This time we came in with songs and had the idea that this chord progression, this idea, and these lyrics create a song or a vibe or whatever. Let’s shape it and flesh it out in the studio. This is the first time we’ve done that and it was so much fun, reaffirming, and fulfilling.

BLURT: That’s awesome, man! I’m excited to hear that you guys were excited about recording this one.

Tom: This was the best recording experience. So, I love, absolutely love, Jesse Cannon, Matt, and Jon Low. They will always be some of my best friends in the world and it was always a great experience, but this new experience, I think maybe because we were older and more familiar with what we’re doing. It was just a completely new experience. It’s awesome.

BLURT: Yeah, that’s great. So is there anyone that you’re excited to see here at Wrecking Ball today?

Tom: Yeah, Cold Cave!

BLURT: Oh, cool. That’s actually one of the few bands on the entire list that I don’t know anything about.

Tom: It’s the dude from American Nightmare, I believe. It’s kind of like weird, 80’s-ish, electronic music. Super dance-y, super awesome. I went on vacation in Portland a couple of years ago and was when I think Cold Cave first started, and they were playing a show in Portland and me and my friends went to Bagby Hot Springs. We were just hanging out in the hot tubs and hot springs all day and we got home and were just too tired to go see Cold Cave, and that was one of the biggest regrets of my life. So today I can finally see them. I’m so excited.

BLURT: So, I think maybe three years ago, you guys did a split with The Bouncing Souls. You covered one of their songs and they covered one of yours. How was working with The Bouncing Souls?

Tom: Also known as the coolest thing we’ve ever done.

BLURT: Awesome, man! I bet. I kind of grew up on The Bouncing Souls so that’s one of the things I wanted to ask you about the most. I don’t know how that worked out. Was it cool working with them?

Tom: We played a show with them and knew Kate Hiltz, who is their tour manager/manager and runs Chunksaah Records. She is a beautiful, wonderful human being. One thing I notice about getting older is that you don’t have many role models, you know? You don’t have a lot of people that you look up to. You know, like a teacher and shit like that. But Kate Hiltz will always be a person that I look for life and professional advice. She just has a really positive and beautiful grasp on the world. And naturally, (The Bouncing Souls) are also super fucking cool and chill dudes. We played a show with them at a college radio festival in Virginia and somebody stole their bass. We helped them track down the kid. We found him. We ended up becoming good friends with them then and then just went on so many tours. In 2012 I think we went on three tours with them. They ended up becoming really good people and friends for us, and doing the split was fucking awesome. They covered one of our songs! One of my hero bands playing one of our songs! It was so awesome. And Pete (Steinkopf) recorded it. So, their guitarist was the person who recorded their split. Also, I bought his guitar. So the guitar I play today is his old guitar.

BLURT: Do you have any future artist collaborations? Maybe planned, maybe not planned, maybe a specific band you’d like to do something with?

Tom: Yeah! We want to do some cool splits and bring that back, because that used to be a big thing in punk rock before a lot of the digital music kind of changed the nature of the entire thing. But yeah, there’s some bands that we’d like to do splits with and we’re trying to work on it so hopefully that happens.

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Note: There haven’t been any announcements yet for the release of After the Party, but you can check out the new single “Lookers” below:

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