An Exclusive Interview With Musician "Ender" - September 18, 2005
(Official website: http://www.enderhq.com | Myspace: myspace.com/enderhq.com)
Jonathan Wayne (U2Station.com Founder): What is your background in music?
Joel VanBrocklin: It's not a hugely extensive background, to tell you the truth. My whole family either plays music, likes it, or is involved in other ways. For instance, my uncle has been a teacher, has been in bands, has got a degree from the Crane School of Music. My grandfather sings, etc... Myself, I started on the drums, I guess you could say, at age 2 or 3, when I had a little Muppets drumset. I have pictures of me playing that somewhere. All through higschool I was taught and played the drums, and I played in concert band, jazz band and marching band. I didn't really start singing until around the time I graduated highschool and was teaching myself guitar and how to sing primarily through U2 but also through bands like the Smashing Pumpkins, Spacehog and Collective Soul. I was in a metal/pop band in 1996 and 1997 called the Waffle Senate, where I played the drums. It was fine except that the other members of the band were part of a drug culture I had no interest in, and although no one really got to have a hand in writing songs but the singer, I could pretty much do what I wanted drum-wise because I was the drummer and had a good feel for how the music should be played. I eventually left that because I decided I wanted to write and sing my own music. I briefly had a band in 1999 but nothing was getting accomplished so that's when I began formally recording my own stuff. I was very lucky because I excelled at music classes at St. Lawrence University, and by the time I was a sophomore there I was a student lab technician so I had access to all the equipment and software in the music labs. I more or less taught myself how to do everything I was doing, and if you hear the earlier work up to 2003, I would say, that really shows. From 2003 to 2004 I had another band, called Starways Congress, where I was the lead singer and we played a lot of my tunes, but that fizzled by late summer 2004. From that point on I've been gradually building my home studio, piece by piece, and buying up books to learn how to mix things, etc. The progress has definitely shown over the past couple years.
JW: Why has U2 been such an influence to you?
JVB: It's strange because when I was 12 or 13, that area, I was into metal and punk. I liked Guns & Roses and Green Day and Aerosmith. It all changed when, at age 15, I had my first real teen heartbreak. And you know how that can be. Feels like the world is falling in on you and you'd like nothing more than to just die. Well, at the time, I had had U2's Achtung Baby for about a year, but had never listened to it. One night I put it in the CD player and it spoke to me. It pretty much hasn't left the player since. My whole view on what music is and could be, (as opposed to, say, noise) really changed. I heard MUSIC coming out of those speakers. I heard heavy words. It was my first basic experience where I understood that what I was going through was normal, and I would be okay. And that's essentially what introduced me to being more... I guess you could say, Globally conscious. You know, where I understood that I'm just a speck. But at the same time, I quickly felt that I should do something with this speck. By that time I had wanted to be a rock star for ten years already (not really a long story but we'll say it is for now), and this was pivotol in shaping how I was going to think aesthetically in those terms. Needless to say, I bought all their albums by the end of that year, and was enthralled by U2: At the End of the World. My mind opened up at that point. Through the experiences they had, the people they mingled with on that tour, I became interested in the works of C.S. Lewis, Salmon Rushdie, and the songs of Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson, as well as what it meant to be a rock star. I had a new view: there was more to it than decadence. You could be a rock star and still have your feet firmly on the ground. You could use it to do good in the world. I remember the first time I read about ZooTV and saw the Sydney concert I was blown away by how incredibly mindblowing the concept was. Because of that I've always wanted to put together imaginable rock shows, not just gigs. Even if it was in a bar. I want flashing lights! And in my mind, Passengers is one of their greatest works. I still say it's a U2 album even if no one else did (hell, they included a song on a U2 Best of... that should say something). I could really go on for hours about this, but I'm just trying to at least skim the surface.
JW: Which of the four members of U2 has inspired you the most and why?
JVB: Obviously they all mean the same, as no one member, or two, or three, is U2. So I appreciate them all for that. However, to pick one who has inspired me most? Bono. Hands down. He's the voice I learned to sing with, the words I learned to write with. His lyrical imagery is beautiful in whatever era you want to pick. I admire him for his endless campaigning for debt relief, feeding the starved, helping the poor, etc. Sometimes I'm annoyed, and sometimes I sit there and think, do what you do best. But... here's a guy who has a ton of money and could blow it on anything he wants. Instead, he cares for a family, he has a loving wife, he uses his influence to bring socially important issues to the conscious minds of the populous. This is incredibly important to me. He's a role model for many reasons. For one, he's living proof that you can be the biggest rock star in the world and still have a loving, committed relationship with a wife, and a supportive family. That means a lot, because I want that, but I also realize that if I make it somewhere with my music, I'm going to be on the road a lot. He's living proof that it can work. He's also a stand-up guy, from what I hear. And I want to be that. I'm well aware that I can get a swollen head sometimes. It's role models like that that keep you level, keep you sane. He should be really proud. Someday if I get to meet him I just want to tell him thank you, even though I'm well aware of the fact he's probably heard it a million times.
JW: When did you start recording your music and what was the catalyst for you to start making music?
JVB: I started recording music on my friend's four track cassette recorder back in late 1997, early 1998. My first demo was actually called "Lemon Tea", and at the time, my stage name was Wiggins. (I later changed it because I didn't like the name, but my current name is a reference to the same thing). I mainly did it for the same reason I still do it - I didn't have any other option if I wanted to get things done. With no band, I had to do it all on my own, and I had to start somewhere. After doing a couple of those during 1998, I graduated to all digital in 1999, when I was the student tech at the music lab. I think the catalyst was two-fold. The first was that I was disenchanted in the Waffle Senate (the metal band I played drums in), because I got very little input on the songs themselves, and honestly, all the songs sounded the same. I wanted to break out from behind the drums and do what I knew I could do, because even though at the time I had no ability, I knew I had all the talent and drive. The second was the fact that the band I had in summer 1999 was just... nothing ever got done. So I said, fine, I'll do it myself. And there you have it.
JW: Despite the fact that U2 has undergone many musical changes/phases, has that also influenced your music to also change over time?
JVB: Yes, actually. And as a matter of fact, I look for that in other bands I like. Such as the Smashing Pumpkins (still crossing my fingers on a reunion), and the Tea Party. I'm hoping The Killers can impress that way, and although I know Coldplay has it in them, I'm disappointed that they haven't evolved very far musically and sonically yet. As for myself, I'm a student of many musics really, so it's only natural. Though I usually speak about the same things over and over again, I do it different ways. Neon Apocalypse in 2001 was a concept album that sounded like a hip-hop group that learned to play music, for the most part. The only reason it came out that way is because I only had access to drum loops, no real drums, when recording. Scarlet Dawn in 2003 was more straight up rock/pop, and this year's Lemonymous was somewhat ambient, somewhat pretention and somewhat pop, but always experimental. It was a lot of electronica. Right now I'm going back and rerecording old tunes and cleaning up their sound or evolving them enough where they're more to my mental state now, but still have a ring of their original versions in them. (much like I'm hoping U2 does if they go back and do POP... actually... they better not Bomb it, they better stick to their Pop guns). But I'm also recording all new songs, and they're more straight up rock like "Vampire". The thing that bothers me about not being a well-known artist is that, over the last 5 years, I've gone through many stages and phases and I've evolved a lot. But no one knows. No one cares. I really wish people could see me evolve and grow. I wish people could know of all these ideas I've had and concepts I've run (and sometimes failed) with. If I ever do become well known, I don't think I can go back and repeat some of that, simply because, as Bono once put it, "There are no reverse gears on this tank." But change is important. You have to be able to evolve. You have to want to challenge yourself. You have to want to go out on a limb enough where you know you might fail, otherwise, what's the risk? What are you proving to yourself and others?
JW: Do you like bands that constantly change their sound?
JVB: As long as they retain the core of who they are, yeah. I mean, I love all of U2's work for what it is but sometimes I like it for what it isn't. I like Achtung Baby more for how much of a departure from Rattle and Hum it was than I like it for what it actually is itself. I like Adore by the Smashing Pumpkins because although Jimmy wasn't there (and let's be honest, you need Jimmy), there was still this core Billy Corgan flow. This is one of the reasons that, while a couple of the songs are good, Coldplay's new album disappoints me. It's really just more of the same thing - too many slow ballads, not enough rocking. That band has to Judas it at some point. The Tea Party is a band that has consistently changed its sound and has remained solid all throughout. Collective Soul is, in most cases, another. I think that ability to change like that is a quality I certainly look for in new bands I'm discovering. It's something I'm interested in seeing the Killers pull off. Do they have it or not? And it's something I would want if I had a full band. What did we do before and what are we going to do now and how are they not the same?
JW: What other bands/artists appeal to you?
JVB: I've pretty much mentioned them above, but I'm also into Beck, I love Bjork's voice (check out "Amphibian" if you never have), CCR, Queen... some pretty pivotol bands. I love 80's music, unless it's a power ballad or hair band stuff. I can't help it, I loved the New Wave cheap experimental pop. It's part of what makes me like what I like now. See, there was pop music then just as there is now, but back then the norm was to be different, not cookie-cutter like it is now. To me, the fact that bands like The Darkness, or The Killers, can break in, it says a lot. Gives me a lot of hope as well. I think at some point the masses will have enough of Britney, and we'll have a Big Band era again or something. We're about due for another renaissance aren't we? My tastes go all over the place though. I admit to liking Ace of Base. Sorry. I loved 90's dance music. Some of the work by Marilyn Manson and Rob Zombie is stunning. It's really hard to peg it down. I'm known by my friends as sort of a music fascist. I can be hypocritical and say "I hate noise" but then turn around and "Beautiful People" is blaring out of my speakers. It's hard to explain that really, and I don't try. All I know is I would never play that song in a band. It's not my taste performance-wise.
JW: What is the hardest thing for a musician to do while in the recording studio?
JVB: Maintain composure. I've broken a lot of chairs. I think I broke a microphone once, and I did break a guitar over my knee another time (it was old and not very strong so...). I get very frustrated when a guitar doesn't stay in tune or my computer isn't grabbing sounds and rendering them the way it should. I think the most frustrating thing for me is when I can't sing. I'll set aside a day for it and then blow it, come out with nothing good and I'll just be miserable the rest of the day. Everything else can be perfect but when I open my mouth and off-key notes and horribly sustained sounds drone out, I lose it. I can't control it yet. And it's very frustrating. I try to drink as much tea as I can to stave off my post-nasal drip, which is pretty chronic and annoying.
JW: Do you prefer to play live concerts or just record albums?
JVB: Both. I want to record albums and tour them across the world. I think you can't have one without the other. When you're trying to piece your themes together, you need both quotients. ZooTV would've made no sense without Achtung Baby or Zooropa, or vice-versa. I wanted to do a really cool tour behind Neon Apocalypse but had no band, so the concept behind it fell short. I really think both pieces are important and if I can, I will do both. If I HAD to choose though... I'd pick live. Studio is too frustrating for me. I've only played a few shows but I can tell you that when you're having a good night, there's nothing like the feeling of performing right there for people, live and in person. It's incredible. It turns me over. The downside of that idea though is that you have no official version of the song itself. So... I mean, that's part of why you need both.
JW: So in your few live concerts, what do you recall as the most memorable moment either on or off the stage?
JVB: I'll be honest with you, I don't think I have one yet. I haven't played live in a year, and before that I think there was four shows in Starways Congress and maybe 2 with the Waffle Senate. So I'm a baby in a live setting right now. I want to change that so badly. I don't think I have a most memorable moment right yet because there isn't anything that stands out as incredible in its own way. Being on stage is incredible enough. The difficult thing is I live in a part of the country where no one cares what you can do, or what talent you have, they want you to be a human jukebox. So talent and originality are simply not appreciated. So, if we managed to pull off gigs with original tunes, and it went over okay, that's because friends and family were there. I will say, however, the most memorable moment in a bad way - this jerk screaming for Metallica between every song we played at the county fair last year. I really wanted to deck him. And by the time our show was over I was right pissed. I left that gig in a flurry of anger. It's so disrespectful when there's a group trying to show you their thing and you're asking for someone else's music. Don't hang around if you don't like it. I'm not shy about that. I refuse to be a cover band or play more than 3 covers in a set unless absolutely necessary. Not because I can't pay my respects to my influences, I can do that in spaids. But I'm not working hard to promote other bands. I'm not working hard to show you how well I know someone else's riff. I'm working hard to win you over, and with my own blood sweat and tears. Granted, not everyone will like it, and that's okay. But if you don't like it, bugger off. Not only that, but if you can win a crowd over with your own tunes, then you've done a hell of a job. You've won way more than winning a crowd over with covers will do. Sorry, I went on a tangent there but that particular incident gets me going every time.
JW: When you eventually have a full band behind you, what kinds of venues could you see yourself playing in?
JVB: Actually, I'm working to get a band together up here right now. I don't know what will happen, but my intention is to avoid bars (where they are especially clear on making you a jukebox). I want to play small theaters if possible, or special places on college campuses perhaps. And I want to advertise as a band that does originals so that people know before they get there not to expect covers. And I want to put on a show. I've been talking it over making it a big ellaborate project, but making sure to either do it through homemade devices (like, say, controlling a stack of strobes through a power strip that you're utilizing like a guitar pedal), or through creative means, (like taking an 8 spot runner and instead of pointing it down at the band or audience, put it on the floor near the rear of the stage and point it up a reflective curtain of sorts). So I want to be creative, imaginative, memorable, and original. So that dictates a venue that will allow for that. What those venues are up here, I don't know.
JW: What do you make of all these post-punk, new wave "hipster" bands coming out with their albums?
JVB: Depends on what band you're referring to. I don't like emo. In fact, it annoys me. I just don't relate, all the bands sound the same, and they're too whiny and only talk about highschool angst. I'm more interested in something that's worldly or globally effective. My songs talk about broader, farther reaching issues than whether or not your heart was broken at 15 (ironic isn't it, having said what I've said already...). I question the universe, I question the point of life, I question my own sanity sometimes. If you're talking about bands like Franz Ferdinand and the Killers, I'm really open to them. Remember, I'm an 80's freak. So, I welcome this sound as if it was fresh, and admittedly because I'm disenchanted by the cookie-cutter state of the business right now. I have to admit, I didn't think it would happen, but I've fallen in love with the Killers. And it might be because of the recent heartache I'm dealing with, but it's there nonetheless.
JW: What's cooler: all these trendy hipster bands or U2? Explain why?
JVB: U2. No band has ever been this interesting, this useful, this relevant, this consistently good, this amazing, this heartfelt, this personal, this creative, for as long as they have. That's something that's cool in and of itself. U2 is cool for all the reasons the Stones are not. The Stones may be around still, and I respect that, but they've never proven there to be a reason to be. U2 consistently does it time and time again. That's cool.
JW: Do you think Bono is over-publicizing himself with the ipod and commercials, in addition to all of the political campaigns and summits he attends?
JVB: You can overdo it sometimes yeah, but that's the risk you take. I mean, I can understand the band saying "we're going to be flamed because Bono won't shut up", but regardless of whether or not you whole-heartedly agree with him, you have to respect him for putting his career on the line to help people. I'd rather hear Bono out there campaigning for debt relief than hear about Scott Weiland going into rehab again, you know what I mean? Bono is taking his fame and stardom and putting it to use. It's not that someone else can't do it. But HE IS. You know? I want to do that someday. Probably not that ferociously but still... He's a crusader, and one with a level head. One who does the research, one who doesn't just pick sides willy-nilly because he knows the other side might be in power someday. So he plays it well. As for the iPod thing, a friend of mine asked me how I felt about the commercial and the deal. Did I feel they were acting too much like a corporation? I said yes, but let's be honest, U2 IS a corporation. For them to act completely against what they actually are would make no sense. And I'm okay with that. It's a status they've earned. It would be silly for a corporation to do bad business. So... yeah... it is what it is. It's not selling out. It's trying something new and different, and at the same time, probably doing what you should given what you are.
JW: Is Myspace.com a good place to promote your music and is it deceptive for appearing to be "underground" and hip when it has really become mainstream, knowing that Fox News bought out the site?
JVB: I don't know much about its history as I've only recently gotten into it. But I have made a lot of friends, and there are more people listening to my music now than ever (though I suppose it's not saying much). So I'm pretty happy with it. If it wants to appear "underground", let it. It knows what it is. And I can't knock something that's been good for me so far. So I'll see where it leads me.
JW: Thank you for your time.
JVB: Sure, its been my pleasure.