Published Feb 28, 2008Sam Sutherland sat down to talk with Hamilton Jordan, guitarist/programmer for Genghis Tron, about the band's new album, Board Up the House, the challenges of avoiding the three-chord riff and why Obama deserves to be the next President.
Working with Kurt [Ballou] again at Godcity, was there much difference between the way you approached this recording, versus Dead Mountain Mouth?
Guitarist Hamilton Jordan: A little. We were definitely at an advantage. The situation was more conducive to a better record this time around for a lot of reasons. Primarily, we had a larger recording budget, so we were in there for 25 days, as opposed to ten days like last time. Dead Mountain Mouth was also produced by Kurt, but ten days was barely enough time. We were right down to the wire, and had to make a lot of hurried mixing choices. We walked out of the study with a few regrets already. This time, we were able to focus on details and explore options; it wasn't just "find a good guitar tone and go with it." It made for a better record, sonically. Also, just working with Kurt a second time was valuable. The first time was cool, but it took us a couple of days to get each other figured out. All we had done that far was Cloak of Love, which was a lot different than what we wanted to do with Dead Mountain Mouth, and it took us a while to get to that place. This time, we got in there, and we were already friends. He knew what our strengths and weaknesses were. It helped working with someone we really knew this time around.
It seems like there's a lot more cohesion on this record between all the disparate sonic elements within the band. Was that something you planned going in to the writing and the demos, or was that a product of more time in the studio and being able to play with the texture of sounds and stuff?
It was mostly a product of the songwriting. We didn't sit down and write out a manifesto, but as we started writing, we were surprised by how... I don't want to say straightforward, but... I think the more we write, the harder it is for us to impress ourselves. It would be pretty easy for us to write another album of songs like Dead Mountain Mouth. As we got in to doing demos for this album, we felt ourselves being more challenged and more pleased by trying to write songs that were, in some ways, a little more repetitive, and felt more song-oriented. A lot more melodies. We got tired of Genghis Tron songs being interesting because of the methods involved. We didn't want these songs to just be interesting because of the contrasts at play. That stuff can be cool, but if underneath all the disparate elements there aren't good melodies or a solid song structure and cohesive sense of flow, the novelty will wear off eventually. It wasn't something we were striving for at the beginning, but we eventually realised we were writing more cohesive songs, and we thought it was good and tried to continue it throughout the rest of the album.
It's kind of interesting that for a band like you or Dillinger Escape Plan, you hear about how much more of a challenge it is to not have riffs change every two seconds.
I've been listening to Dillinger for a long time, and I dig and respect what they've done over the last two albums. I believe, in their words, they could just shit out ten more crazy, math-y songs. It's the same thing with us. We could write another Cloak of Love in a week, and it would probably be better than the last one. But we're not interested, because that's not challenging to us anymore. It's a cliche, but we're in this to make music that is challenging to us. All the artists I respect the most try to create ways to challenge themselves. When what you start out with is something that is known for being kooky or whatever, yeah, it is interesting to "experiment" by trying out more traditional songwriting routes. I hold technical metal bands in the same reverence as bands who can take the same three chords and make it sound new again. Like the new Radiohead record. They took the same chords, and with some amazing production and arrangements, made an incredible album. We're just trying to explore realms of songwriting that are foreign to us. That said, there certainly aren't any three-chord songs on the album.
I know you've said that you were dealing some serious shit when writing and recording Dead Mountain Mouth, and I'm curious what your headspace was like going into this record.
It's hard to say, because Dead Mountain Mouth was written in a really short period of time. Board up the House took about a year to write, so a lot of things happened, both good things and bad things. I've had some family health crisis in the last year and a half, and that has continued, which I think was an impetus for a lot of the stuff I was writing. I don't write the lyrics, but just in terms of the musical stuff I contributed. I think there's a lot of darkness on the album, but it's not as bleak as Dead Mountain Mouth. I think a lot of the songs on Board up the House just address our shared fear of the future, and what things in this country are going to be like in ten, 20, or 50 years. This album is kind of our futile way of dealing with our fears and paranoia.
In terms of fear for the future, I assume you're following the presidential primaries.
I have been following them incredibly closely. I lost a lot of sleep on Tuesday night ["Super Tuesday"]. I am a big supporter of Barack Obama.
Yeah, I was up late watching CNN on Tuesday, too. Is what you're seeing making you more or less afraid of where America is heading?
I think it's raised the stakes on both sides. I'm only 23, so it's not like I have loads of experience with politics, but I do feel disillusioned by American politics. I don't think that's just people my age, but a ton of Americans. It's inspiring to see such support for not just Obama, but just getting out and voting. I'm not so naive to say that everything will change and our country will turn around, but it's nice to have hope. I think things could go well. I think if he wins the nomination, things will look good for him winning the presidency. There's a big machine there that won't be easy to turn around, but that said, I think Barack Obama is a better man, to me, than anyone who's been in the running for the last 20 years. If he's defeated by Clinton's dirty tricks, I think I'll be a lot more depressed than I would have been if he had never been in the running to begin with. This is a crucial election and a crucial year, and now is the time for America to make a change if it wants to be seen as a decent country full of decent people who can be a force for positivity in the world.