Bury The Machines are in the spotlight this week for Meet The Band. Their latest release is the EP Wicked Covenant. Mainman John E. Bomher, Jr. (I, Klatus, ex-Yazuka) introduces us to his band.
Chad Bowar: Give us a brief history of Bury The Machines.
John E. Bomher, Jr.: I started tampering with these riffs around 2011. It was right around the time that Toontrack EZ drummer was becoming popular. They are real innovators in the world of drum programming and their products were a game changer for me. I was finally able to compose my parts and add drums to them rather than being shackled to whatever loops I could cobble together from our sample library at the studio (Horse-drawn Productions).
The Toontrack libraries and software implementation made it so much more intuitive to make drum parts that could match my odd meters and weird phrasing. Around this time I saw Serpico play with his then band Seppuku Survivor and I asked if he would mind trading some studio time for him to play on some of my songs. That was the beginning.
Then I moved West to explore more work opportunities in LA and try to begin touring as a live sound engineer so I took the act to California and began to woodshed these ideas in my jam space (Bedrock LA). Occasionally coming back home to record Serpico on the drum parts. The band didn’t even have a name yet and all the while I was working with Tom Denney on a new I Klatus album (Nagual Sun).
Then, shockingly in the winter of 2014, a friend of mine from our old neighborhood on the South Side went bananas and murdered his family and killed himself. This was a rebellious character who inspired me to begin playing music very early on and a close friend who had apparently lost all touch with reality.
When we were teenagers he would joke about killing them (his parents), that someday he would “Bury the Machines” which was a song he had written about them trying to program him with mind control. On the day that he died, I named the band and it has been my main source of creative expression ever since. A way of coping with the loss of my friend and honoring the person he once was, before he became a heinous murderer.
In what ways does a project like Bury The Machines fulfill you creatively that a full band dynamic does not?
For a couple of years I was trying out bass players, guitar players, keyboardists, singers,(even an electric ukulele guy) but nobody could ever really seem to approach the stuff in a way that worked for me. In music and in life, I generally can’t stand being told what to do and I think I have a hard time telling others what to do because I know how it makes me feel. So I just started to go “inside” and make all the parts myself. That way I don’t have to rely on somebody else’s schedule to match up with my insanely erratic one.
On some songs, I’ve had some guest instrumentalists. Viola player Marina Piskareva has appeared on a couple of songs, but I prefer to make the parts myself. I tend to write a lot of music and so when a song makes it’s way from the beginning stages all the way to release, I usually have to re-learn everything that I wrote and it is almost like learning someone else’s songs. I find myself asking, “I played that?” when I am learning solos or vocal parts.
I’ve been considering the idea of collaborating with some other drummers on some of the newer material. Chris Wozniak (I Klatus, Lair of the Minotaur, Serpent Crown) or Jim Staffel (Yakuza) are a couple of guys that come to mind. Playing with them at various points in my career really shaped my playing style so I could see maybe writing some material with them in the future. Although my sense of loyalty to one drummer might be difficult to overcome.
Describe your songwriting process.
I travel a lot for work and so I have to find time to write where I can. I will usually make riffs on the road in the bus and record them with my voice memos app. Then when I get to a place where I can do some tracking, either at The Horse or in my space at Bedrock, I’ll go back to those rough ideas and begin programming drum parts and record guitar, bass, synth, vocals.
Typically the last thing to be recorded is live drums which is sort of backwards from the typical approach to recording. At the moment, I have dozens of unreleased songs that still have not seen the light of day and so I am hoping to gain some traction with Wicked Covenant so I can get more of the material out to a wider audience.
How has Wicked Covenant’s sound evolved from Barbwalker?
With these songs, I’ve begun to stray from my typical arrangement format. Growing up in the ’90s, I come from a traditional verse-chorus-verse-bridge-verse-chorus type of song writing. With the newer material, I’ve begun to step away from that. The arrangements for “Beneath My Wrath” and “Waterweapon” are much more expansive than anything I’ve done before.
Bands like Inter Arma, Finsterforst and Drudhk have really influenced me a lot in recent years to not be afraid to try writing some things that are longer than 3:30 or even over 5 minutes. Since I am just releasing a 3 song EP, I really wanted to give the listener a memorable experience. I come from a time when artists put out albums, not just singles, and this EP is meant to be listened to like an album; from start to finish.
The album is being released on CD and cassette, but not vinyl. Why have cassettes made a resurgence?
I think, in our genre of music, people tend to be drawn to quality packaging and artwork, they really want to have something cool to hold in their hands. I think the cassette revolution is a throwback to a simpler time when kids could put on the Walkman and skateboard or dirt-bike their problems away.
For a guy like me to see my music exist in cassette format, it’s almost surreal. I remember going to Wind Records on the South Side of Chicago to buy Badmotorfinger on cassette and I somehow played Side B first and I always thought that was the way that album was supposed to be played with “Searching With My Good Eye Closed” as the opening track. With the internet and instant access to everything at all times, there’s something visceral and even romantic to having a cassette tape to play in the car; if you’ve got a car as old as mine is.
Pricing was also a factor. We would have gladly pressed the album to vinyl if we’d felt that we could recoup some of the costs. But being an unknown, fairly new band we made the more affordable choice to go with a limited run of tapes and CDs.
What are your upcoming show/tour plans?
Currently I have two album release shows on June 8th and 9th in Long Beach (opening for Graves at Sea) and in LA at the Handbag factory, respectively. I’ll be playing on August 5th in Chicago. I don’t have a proper booking agent at the moment but I have been reaching out to a few reputable agencies in the hopes that I can get the show on the road. I’d really like to be playing a lot more.
What has been your most memorable Bury The Machines live show?
It’s a toss up. Definitely opening for Helen Money at Complex (Glendale). I count her among my influences and the chief inspiration to get over not having a full band and to get on stage as a solo act.
The other was last summer at Echo Park Rising where my friend Sean Forrester (#deathhaus on Instagram) helped me to decorate the stage with his weird rogue taxidermy. There was this really horrifying coyote at the front of the stage. I don’t think people expected that. The culmination was me singing my song “Parasite” while holding hands with a life-size skeleton that looked like it had been in a fire. If I could work with him on every live show, I would. He is a magnificent artist and lighting designer.
How did you get started in music?
I sang in a grunge band in high school. I was very depressed and angry as a young man and I found that writing things out and screaming about them into a microphone felt extremely cathartic and made it easier to meet girls. I have been chasing that feeling ever since. Not soon after I joined my first band, I saw a friend of mine playing bass in another group and I was inspired to try that. That really developed into my first love.
I spent a lot of time alone in my room smoking weed and recording myself playing bass on my 4-track cassette recorder. Eventually I went to college for music but quit the music program because I hated rules and there wasn’t much in the way of punk and metal in the music department. So I stuck to music production: recording, mixing, midi programming, that type of thing.
Who were your early influences and inspirations?
When I grew up I wanted to be Henry Rollins. That dude saved my life.
There was a time when your band wasn’t legit unless Rollins put some spoken word poetry over top of the bridge on one of your songs. Others include Les Claypool, Tom Waits, Tool, Sylvia Massy, Godflesh, Mr. Bungle and Faith No More, Metallica (Ride the Lightning), The Doors. My early inspirations were extremely eclectic and still remain so. I can go from listening to Misery Index to The Checkers in span of a couple of hours.
When did you decide you wanted to pursue music as a career?
As I mentioned earlier, my deceased friend who inspired the band name. When he recorded my high school band on 4-track, I knew right then that I wanted to make albums and work in music. There really wasn’t any other choice for me. He used to wear this T-shirt that said “Without music life would be a mistake.” I think that’s a Nietzsche quote and I am inclined to agree with it.
What has been the most challenging part of that pursuit?
Well, it isn’t the money. I’ve always found a way to make the ends meet. I’ve had to hustle a lot though. When I was first getting started, my family would ask me things like, “How will you support yourself?” “How will you get insurance?” “When will you get a real job?”
Over time I have been able to figure out all of those things. Music IS my real job. There never really was any other option for me. Of course, I still have to work with artists and in circumstances that I don’t particularly enjoy all the time. It’s not just sitting in my apartment playing guitar or in the studio programming drum parts. I have been mixing bands in music venues and making records for the better part of 20 years and not all of it is enjoyable.
Most of my industry work goes back in to supporting my own creative endeavors. I am truly blessed to be able to work in my field and with a lot of brilliant, professional, “next level” artists who are doing things that I wish I could be doing. It’s challenging for me to see artists with some level of success that I would like to achieve and hear them complain about it. I suppose it is envy on my part but it’s hard to watch people who have something I want and they don’t realize it at the time. I’m sure they’ll recognize it when their moment in the spotlight has faded away.
What’s the status of the next I, Klatus album?
The new I Klatus album Nagual Sun comes out on October 13, 2017. I am headed to LA to play these album release shows and finish up final mix revisions on the new I Klatus.
We tend to work in 5 year cycles with that band and the last release was in 2012. I have been working with Tom Denney on the newest record over the last 4 years that I have been living in LA and it is definitely our heaviest material yet. We’re all very excited about it.
How would you compare and contrast the heavy music scene in Chicago vs. L.A.?
In Chicago you have the harsh winter to contend with; living and working there can really get you down but it also makes for some really gritty creatives who tend to stick together and make some fantastically brutal music. The metal community is tightly knit and you have a lot of people collaborating and working together on each other’s projects. It’s a bit incestuous. I really love the Midwestern vibe and that’s what keeps calling me back home to the third coast.
In LA, I’ve found that artists and musicians tend go there to promote their art and music with an entrepreneurial spirit. They have something they are trying to express and really take what they’re doing to a “next level” outside of their hometown, wherever that may be. Seems to me that bands that come there tend to travel more and really reach a wider audience than bands who stay in Chicago and become “veterans” of the scene. LA is a great place to really get some work done and take it to the rest of the world where Chicago is a place where you can really get roots down and develop a strong local following.
I think in any city you go to, there are going to be pockets of clubs and promoters that love and support extreme music. In LA you’ve got folks like Ryan Avery (Midnite Collective), Dan Dismal (Church of the 8th Day) and Angie Gabriel (Metal Invictus) who work hard to keep the scene alive. In Chicago Elle Diabla (Reggies Rock Club), Ben Spotora (Shoeshine Boy) and Alex Beach (Kickstand Productions) are just a few of the folks that I could mention that put together a lot of the great shows there. I think you have a lot of back and forth from LA to Chicago because both music scenes are so strong so I find that there is a lot of cross promotion and people tend to know and work with one another from city to city.
Of course weather is a factor but I don’t find that the West coast music has any less grit or harshness to it, just that maybe the vibe is a little more laid back. In Chicago, you can really only be outside comfortably for about 6-10 weeks of the year so you really have to enjoy the sunshine when you can. In LA, every day is hot and sunny so folks tend to be a lot more chill most of the time.
What’s currently in your heavy musical rotation?
I can’t stop listening to the new Inter Arma – Paradise Gallows. Great album. The new Hammers of Misfortune reminds me of old thrash with David Bowie on vocals. Regarde Les Hommes Tomber – Self Titled, Yob – Clearing the Path to Ascend. Zeal & Ardor has some interesting songs if you like Satanic chain gang chants fused with black metal. Opeth – Blackwater Park. I don’t really care for anything else in their catalog, but that album was a game changer for me and I still listen to it pretty frequently.
Anything else you’d like to mention or promote?
I’ve just finished making my first music video for the opening song “Beneath My Wrath” from the new EP. I am really excited to dive into some more video work. It’s a creative pursuit I’ve always wanted to explore, so I am looking forward to getting into more of it. Be on the lookout for the new video, it should be out in the coming weeks. And please… go listen to and download the new EP.
(interview published June 10, 2017)