Friday, August 19, 2016

The Continuing Evolution of a Devil - Steve Janiak of Devil to Pay

Fresh off the release of their new album, "A Bend Through Space and Time," we sat down with Indianapolis' own Steve Janiak, ideaman, vocalist and all around decent dude from Devil to Pay, one of the greatest independent metal bands going.  We talk his album, his band, his outlook, and a few other wildcards.

D.M: Let's talk about "A Bend Through Space and Time" - what's new for this album?  What part of it do you enjoy most?

STEVE JANIAK: A number of things, namely, we went to a different studio for the first time, Russian Recording in Bloomington, Indiana. Mike Bridavsky was at the helm and he is an immensely talented guy.  The other difference was the timeframe, we normally stretch out our recordings and take a month or more, cutting some here and some there after basic tracks are done. This time around we did everything in one week, finishing the weekend with mixing.

I have always enjoyed the creative parts of making music, writing, jamming, listening and reacting. Like tuning in a signal from outer space, it's part discovery and part following your gut instincts.

D.M: All the DtP records sound a little different, and this one is no exception - is there a conscious effort to shift sounds ever so slightly?

SJ: Not at all. We are merely doing what we always do and evolving along the way. You start at point A and end up at point B and dream about point C. Maybe unconsciously there is a desire to not repeat yourself, but it's never anything planned.

D.M: Do you think the albums are influences by what you're listening to at the time of conception?  If so, what are you listening to now?

SJ: Great question. I think it is possible to be directly influenced but unless someone else can point it out to me, I am too close to the material to hear any influences, beyond something obvious. Lately I've been listening to the onslaught of killer releases from Ripple Music, but I tend to go back to old favorites when I drive or clean the house.

D.M: When you're sitting around brainstorming riffs, when do you know you've hit upon a really good one?

SJ: Mostly you don't. Many times you have a buzz on and it all sounds spectacular in the moment. Later you listen to the recordings and the cream definitely rises to the top. We have hundreds of improvisations and rough ideas recorded. I go back and catalog them and each rehearsal becomes its own album, so to speak, with titles. The majority of these songs came from jams right after the last record came out. We have an insane glut of material, but our process is very slow.

D.M: How do you know when a record is 'done'?  Is it ever done?

SJ: [Laughs] The album is done when your time expires and the studio kicks you out.

D.M: Following the optimism of "Fate Is Your Muse," is there a different message on this new record?

SJ: Yes and no. Quite a few of the songs are about the choices we make. "Kobold in the Breadbasket" is a fantasy romp that is a disguised parable for our relationship with nature. "The Demons Come Home to Roost" is a warning from your own vice when you spiral out of control. "Recommended Daily Dosage" is a lament about our attitudes about health and the health care insurance industry. "Don't Give Away the World" being another cautionary tale of letting someone else dictate what you believe.

Beneath all of the songs is the basic idea that there is responsibility for what happens in life, even "Your Inner Lemmy" has teachable moments.

D.M: It's been roughly five years since your epiphany that preceded your previous album - mentally, where are you now?

SJ: I am still in the same space, without a doubt. I'm less in the 'study' mode these days and more in the 'apply what you learned' phase. I believe intention and expectation and belief are the cornerstones of turning your life around. All of these things have been slowly progressing since that initial event.

D.M: The last time we spoke, you were doing a lot of research into quantum theory and paranormal/metaphysical 'stuff.'  Where did that take you?  

SJ: Well, to be clear, the quantum theory stuff is pretty interesting but tough to relate to everyday events, not to mention difficult to wrap your head around. The metaphysical stuff I would almost consider a state of mind. It definitely influences how I perceive things, people, and events. At the time, it was as if a veil was lifted, and it can never be replaced. It doesn't matter how hokey it sounds, I found my comfort zone. Things have only gotten better in my life and most importantly of all, my attitude about the future is not the pessimistic, overly-critical, negative mind warp that it was in the distant past.

D.M: Your band has had a fairly solid lineup for a while now, which many independent bands struggle with - how do you keep the circle close knit?

SJ: We laugh about it now, because we've had our share of turmoil and disagreements, but our main focus for a long time has been 'let's write some music and stop worrying about the rest'. We're going on our 15th year as a band, it sounds so crazy to say it out loud. We all have other interests and other projects, and I suppose it fills some need to keep striving musically and song-wise, but if I had any advice for bands wanting the longevity thing, I'd have to say "don't sweat the small stuff", or "don't sweat at all", or maybe just "enjoy the ride?" Life is short, why you mad, bro?

D.M: What inspired you to write a song for Lemmy?

SJ: It was an accident. In 2013 Rob came in between some jams and started playing the main riff, and I asked him what it was. He had no idea at the time. So my synapses all fired off and I said, "we should make that a Motörhead type of jam", thinking it would make a fun B-side for another seven inch. I named it that same night. It became one of the ideas we went over and over. Eventually he thinks it's an Overkill riff, but by that time we already had the rest of the parts and some vocals. Months go by and we start looking at recording the album, the song is fully fleshed out and I have the base melodies worked out in my head. And of course we all loved it, now we have to put it on the record! I went through a ton of Lemmy quotes and tried to do Lemmy justice with my paraphrasing. After we recorded it, it sounded really huge. In my head I kept thinking he would someday get to hear it, then a few months later, he just died. I couldn't believe it. We shot a video and released it early as a tribute, in January of 2016.

D.M: Your cover art is usually more abstract or subtle than the one for this record - how did it come to be?  Are you the caveman?

SJ: I had seen some of W. Ralph Walter's art online and I was blown away. He was a friend of friends and I hit him up and asked if he'd be interested. I came up with this basic concept of a trans-dimensional alien goddess who exists beyond space and time coming down to breathe living knowledge into this caveman. Which is kind of how I feel about humanity and civilization in general. We are all stuck here waiting for something more, yearning in every direction, but can't quite see it... and I think it’s right under our noses.

The caveman in the picture is actually W. Ralph Walters himself, he painted himself in there. I have heard a couple interesting takes on the cover, one from a German reviewer, saying something about 'an alien stripper and some hippies', but the funny ones are the people who think it's Pepper Keenan from Corrosion of Conformity.  That is pretty entertaining.

D.M: Give me a preview - what's gonna happen with the Colts this year?

SJ: Well I am an optimist, generally speaking. I think if the coaches and the players can learn to stop worrying, and love the football, they could march right to the Super Bowl. But if I had to guess, I would say they're probably going to do fairly well this year and go pretty deep in the playoffs, but it's hard to gauge after all the injuries last year. I'll do a meditation now and picture Andrew Luck hoisting the Lombardi trophy after a year of ups and downs, then, when they do win, you can point to this interview and people might think I'm the next Edgar Cayce!

For more on Devil to Pay and to keep up on the latest news, check out their website and stay up to date with their Facebook page.

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