On the heels of their rather anticipated indie release, In Character, Blood and Water vocalist Brad Hagmann took some time to talk to JfH's Scott Fryberger about the new album, the band's origins, future plans and music in general...
This interview took place in August, 2010.
Jesus freak Hideout (Scott Fryberger): I wanna start off by saying congratulations on the new album.
Oh thanks man!
JFH (Scott): Yeah, I really liked it. It's called In Character and it was produced by Masaki Liu right?
JFH (Scott): How did you get hooked up with Masaki?
Brad: We've actually been trying to record an album with Masaki for a while because we're all huge Five Iron fans, and he's done a lot of work in that kind of realm. But one of the dudes from our record label - our labelmate actually - had known him and recorded with him in the past. The guy's name is Jerome, he was in a band called Nifty Tom Fifty, I don't know if that rings a bell.
JFH (Scott): Oh definitely.
Brad: They were big in the Christian ska world. But yeah, he knew Masaki and and he contacted him and pitched him the idea and he was totally down, so that's kinda how all that started there.
JFH (Scott): Cool. Yeah, Nifty Tom Fifty, I was just talking with one of those guys the other day about some of their music. Great band. I loved them.
Brad: Yeah, I loved them. They had a really cool rock/ska vibe, and even when they dropped the horns they were still really good. They had kinda like a Jimmy Eat World thing going on.
JFH (Scott): Yeah definitely. Going back to your album, it's pretty cohesive as a whole, but there are different styles going on. There's punk rock, pop punk, some ska. Is incorporating all those sounds something you guys aim for, or is that just what comes out?
Brad: You know, I think the mission in general is to have a lot of different kinds of sounds and hopefully make it as cohesive as possible. We're all pretty big into the pop punk and the alternative and the ska and the reggae, and even some electronic music and stuff like that. So I think, generally speaking, the goal is to make as blendered-up of a sound as possible, with a bunch of different things rolled up into one. And I guess the mission there, and the hope, is that one day you actually find something that's borderline original 'cause you've just combined so many different things all into one.
JFH (Scott): What kinda bands were you guys listening to while you were writing this album?
Brad: Um...gosh, a lot of Weezer actually. Weezer is one of our favorite bands. Weezer, Jimmy Eat World, Coldplay actually. Coldplay is one of my favorite bands too. Acceptance was another big one, um...let me think. A little bit of Jack's Mannequin, maybe. (Scott: Nice.) Kind of a lot of that stuff, and of course a lot of the ska guys like The Supertones and Operation Ivy and a lot of those types of bands. And maybe even a little... well, not too much on the Death Cab For Cutie side of things, but a little bit of that ambient indie kinda stuff too.
JFH (Scott): So that stuff influences you to write also, or it's just what you jam to?
Brad: I guess you can say a little bit of both. I mean, I think musically we have an idea of where we'd like to end, and so we try to become as acquainted as we can with a lot of the groups that we admire in one way or another, whether it be their sound or their lyrics or whatever. And I guess if we were to all say our favorite bands, it would be a pretty wide spectrum. Like for several of us - I don't know if you've ever heard of The Aquabats - but some of us are big into them, and some metal bands and our drummer is a big A Plea For Purging fan. As far as favorite bands, it's a pretty wide spectrum.
JFH (Scott): There were a lot of high hopes for In Character, especially within the independent music scene. I know it's not out yet, but have you gotten a lot of good feedback from the media outlets that have gotten them?
Brad: Actually, yeah. We did our last record a couple of years back, and we had gotten some generally positive feedback, and it was really encouraging. So when we went to record this, we really didn't know what to expect. There's always the hope that it's gonna blow up and it's gonna be "that" album, you know? But yeah, so far we've gotten a lot of really really encouraging feedback from folks that have got some good weight behind their names. And you know, I guess the biggest encouragement is when someone who listens to music for a living, basically, is telling you that they like your stuff. That's pretty encouraging.
JFH (Scott): Yeah I'm sure that's especially good to hear.
Brad: Yeah, and a lot of folks are looking for ways to kinda help us out, which is cool especially 'cause we're kinda in the indie band scene and there's not a whole lot of money floating around there. There's a lot of folks that have offered us free services, which has been really cool, like folks that wanna host us on their site. Like, "Oh well we usually charge this, but we like you guys and we like the album and we wanna do this for you for free." It's been awesome.
JFH (Scott): Speaking of being independent, you guys are signed to Eden Records. Was that your first choice or did you shop around to other labels?
Brad: You know, we met Eden probably about a year and a half ago. They had been big supporters of our last record, and so we just started talking after that and we started talking about doing a new record, and so when that had kinda been getting around they offered us a pretty sweet deal for what they had. I think everybody has the dream of being with a major label and getting to have your song all over commercial radio and everything, but I really think that God had Eden for us, and we're developing a really cool relationship where we're helping the helping while the label is helping us. Kind of a symbiotic relationship. It's been a really cool thing and they're funding as much as they can and [Eden Records' owner] is investing a lot out of his own personal cash on the side too. It's a lot of devotion.
JFH (Scott): So they're really into the new record?
Brad: Yeah, they're super stoked. And it's cool 'cause I've actually been able to become part of the label myself on the side. I've talked to some friends of mine who are with other labels, I have some close friends in other labels like Tooth & Nail and it's cool 'cause our relationship with Eden is much less a formal business thing as much as it is friends getting together to see what's the biggest thing we can do with the small amount of cash that we have, you know?
JFH (Scott): So the new album is titled In Character; is there a specific meaning behind the title?
Brad: Yeah, well, a lot of the time when we play shows we'll come across bands and kids who - and I think you see this mostly in the "scene" kids, you know the kid that puts on the face to please their friends and comes to the shows just all dressed up in the standard scene kid garb. You know what I'm talking about, the hair and the tiny pants.
JFH (Scott): *laughs*
Brad: I mean, there's nothing wrong with those things, but generally speaking, I think there's a lot of fakeness, whether it be in the bands or the kids themselves, and on the album cover we have each of us in certain types of costumes and there's actually symbolism behind each costume just to mirror certain personalities that you see a lot. And I guess it's kind of a nod to a lot of fakeness you tend to see and how spiritually, in Christ, we don't have to live like that. It all comes down to being able to be real, you know, and being able to not have to put on that costume and to not have to be in that character. To be yourself, I guess, and that's a terrible way to explain it but I hope that made some sense.
JFH (Scott): Yeah absolutely.
Brad: Okay cool!
JFH (Scott): Yeah I see the kinda stuff you're talking about pretty often when I go to shows.
Brad: And again, nothing against the bands that are into that kinda thing, but one thing that's always been on our hearts is to be very real in the way that we present ourselves, and I think a lot of times the particular character that we see a lot of bands put on is that larger-than-life persona. Whether in the way they dress or the way they address their fans or friends or whatever, the way they hold themselves, it's not very real, just as much as the scene kids thing is. It's the total "band guy" persona, and whether it be the tour laminates on their belt or the ridiculously big gnarly leather jackets, the aviators and the tiny pants or whatever. And I guess some bands are cool with that kinda thing, but it's just not really what we're about.
JFH (Scott): Now, I don't have a physical copy of the album, so all I've seen is the bear on the front. But what are the other costumes in there?
Brad: There's a robot that we made out of a refrigerator cardboard box (Scott: *laughs*), it's pretty intense. It's got like dryer vents for the arms, it looks like something out of Dexter's Lab. (Scott: That sounds amazing.) It's still in my brother's room actually, he's keeping it as kind of a monument. But there's a cowboy too, and then there's the classic clown. That one was probably the least of all the costumes, but definitely the most classic, I would say.
JFH (Scott): That's awesome, sounds like you guys had a lot of fun shooting.
Brad: Yeah, it was really fun! It was really cool getting to - well our photographer, Jamie, has been with us since the beginning - and it's really cool getting to plan for an album photoshoot like this and it's something that will hopefully have a lot of meaning and look fun too. And we got to work with Dave Baysinger, who used to be in a band called Bleach, one of our favorite bands. He did the artwork too, so he was kinda involved in that whole process, and it was just cool and fun going back and forth and all that kinda stuff and tossing around ideas.
JFH (Scott): Let me go back a little bit. I asked you what the title In Character means, and I have a similar question. I know that Blood and Water refers to when Jesus was being crucified, but is there any particular reason you chose that as the band name?
Brad: You know, when we chose that band name, I think I must have been twelve. And other than the fact that it sounded kinda cool and at the time we were all in sixth and seventh grade and wanted to be a metal band, like "Oh Blood and Water sounds so brutal!" So we chose that and we're like "Sweet, it's in the Bible too!" so it's got that cool meaning and I think we've actually talked about changing the name a couple times but we definitely love where it comes from. But yeah, as far as that, I don't know if there's much other meaning. I mean, I wish there was a bigger and better reason why we picked that particular verse in the Bible but, yeah, it was pretty much because we thought it sounded hardcore and we were young and naive. Actually, a funny thing about the name, most of the shows we play in the area, the San Jose local scene, there tends to be a lot of hardcore bands and stuff a lot, so we get a lot of kids that will hear the name and come out to the show thinking that we're like a metal band or something like that. Like "Oh sweet, Blood and Water! Sounds so brutal!" as we had hoped, but they get there and it's a semi-ska pop rock band, and kids are like "Oh man, we can't dance to this. This isn't a breakdown."
JFH (Scott): Oh, the trickery. *laughs*
Brad: Yeah. Sometimes I wish we were a hardcore band, it sounds kinda fun. But being in a pop punk, it's fun too. Like, I love MxPx and Ghoti Hook and all those old school Christian punk rock bands. I still listen to those records and it's so fun, you know what I mean?
JFH (Scott): Yeah, they're all pretty good. And since you brought up the band origins, how did you guys come together as a band?
Brad: Well, we were all friends from church and youth group, and we had known Jason since we were probably like nine or ten. And my brother plays bass in the band and sings with me, and we all just kinda got together and thought that being in a band might be something fun to do. We could spread the Gospel and try to be as cool as possible, which I know is kinda like an oxymoron to be a ministry band and try to be as cool as you can, trying to gain cool points when in reality that's not what you're supposed to be trying to do. But actually, you know that movie That Thing You Do? I think Tom Hanks directed it, it's a classic. But our folks had actually seen that movie, and we all watched it and thought it was hilarious 'cause we were all like "Oh, Brad you play the saxophone! Matt you play the trumpet! Maybe we should start a band!" So we kinda pieced together this ragtag group of youth group kids and we started a ska band with no drummer and then a couple years later, our keyboard player moved over to drums, and our other guitar player left for the Air Force and we added another guitar, and it just sorta slowly but surely evolved from there.
JFH (Scott): On an unrelated note, there's a couple songtitles on In Character that I don't really get. "Oblio" and - I don't know how to say this - "Gakou"?
Brad: Oh yeah! It's like GAH-koo.
JFH (Scott): What do they mean?
Brad: Well, "Oblio" is a little more straightforward. There was this old cartoon from, I think it was like the '70s, it was narrated by Ringo Starr or something like that, and it was called The Point. The main character's name was Oblio, and his entire family had these points on the top of their head. It was like this crudely-drawn little cartoon, and Oblio did not have a point, so he's pointless, and symbolically it's saying he has no point. And later he finds out that he does have a purpose, so you don't necessarily have to have a point to have a point. And the song, I guess, sorta has a meaning along the lines of that, like being able to get your points made and walk the talk, so to speak. And then on "Gakou" - well, my brother, for like the first five years of his life, spoke a language unknown in all lands of the earth. He kinda spoke in some strange tongue where it was some combination of sounds and clicks and weird things. I don't know man, he had all these weird words for things. Like water - you know that sound it makes you're drinking it like gulping, and if you could spell it out it would be like a-guh-guh - well that's what he would call water. And Gakou is what he would refer to as Batman. We'd watch the old show, like the '60s show with Batman and Robin, you know with the theme that goes "Na na na na na na na na Batman!" Well, he'd go "Na na na na na na na na Gakou!" So it kinda became a joke around many of our friends when they started to find this out. Batman and Robin was Gakou and Anana, and there was really no rhyme or reason why he would say that, and we thought it would be fun to name a song "Gakou" and so we did it.
JFH (Scott): *laughs* Your brother sounds like a genius.
Brad: Yeah dude, he's a character all right. I don't know if you could call him a genius, but yeah. *laughs* He's a pretty interesting dude.
JFH (Scott): Okay, well now I understand.
Brad: Yeah, and I doubt the majority of people will pronounce it properly, but hopefully if people read that story it will start making more sense. But I guess it still doesn't make much sense, honestly.
JFH (Scott): Speaking of the songs, what are some of your favorite songs from In Character?
Brad: I think my favorite song would be "Opening Band." It's like the third track on the record. It's kinda cheesy, kinda tongue-in-cheek humor, even like a Toto reference, if you remember that song "Africa." (Scott: Yeah, definitely.) Like 1983, it was a real gem. But yeah, the song is kinda sunshiny and kinda cynical at the same time a little. It's generally about whining about being an opening band, but then realizing at the same time that you should be stoked and that you're blessed for even being in that position in the first place. But yeah, I think that's my favorite song, the instrumentation is kind of a combination of ska and electronic music and it's kinda got a little bit of a poppy core.
JFH (Scott): Yeah I really liked the synthy sounds in the verses of that song.
Brad: Oh thanks!
JFH (Scott): I'm not sure what instrument it is, but I like it.
Brad: It's actually not even a synth at all. There's a little bit of a keyboard coupled in there in the mix, but it's actually a didgeridoo, strangely enough. We had this dude named Mark Smith, he actually played for the Santa Fe Sharks for like five years and was kind of a prolific hockey player. And our producer knew him and said "Hey man you wanna come and lay down some didgeridoo?" So we had like thirty minutes of didgeridoo tracks, and it's all one note, you know, just droning. But we ended up taking that and dumping it into the computer and putting it through faders and auto tuners and stuff and making this kinda synth sound that's actually totally organic, it's just tweaked in the computer, if that makes any sense.
JFH (Scott): Yeah. That's really awesome.
Brad: It was a lot of fun to mess around with.
JFH (Scott): I'm actually really impressed by that. Didgeridoos are really cool.
Brad: Yeah and the guy - what's it called, the circular breathing thing - he was just going for days, and he'd never break the stream. It's just this consistent droning tone. We ended up using that in a similar way on two or three other tracks. One of them is "Given Up" that has this weird sound at the beginning of the song, and that's the didgeridoo again. It's kinda like the secret ingredient on the record. In most cases, if there's a heavy low end, it's probably didgeridoo.
JFH (Scott): Okay, I'll have to go listen again and keep an ear open for it.
Brad: We tried to make as many synth sounds as possible without using any synths.
JFH (Scott): I have one last question for you. Now, the album comes out on Tuesday, so do you guys have big plans for its release? Touring or anything else?
Brad: As of right now, we're just about without a drummer. Our drummer told us he was gonna be leaving a couple months ago and it kinda crippled a lot of our summer tour plans, and we had to rush to find a new drummer. And we did find someone who works really well in the group and can nail all the songs, but he lives in Boston. He's actually at the Berkeley College of Music right now, and he's coming in in about a month, but as of right now our tour plans are kinda crippled. We were really planning to amp it up and promo for the rest of the year, and we got this radio promoter guy who's working for us, and to try to plan as many gigs as we can and then hit the road as hard as we can and hopefully be on the road for most, if not all, of next year.
JFH (Scott): Sweet. Well if you come around here I'll definitely try to make it to a show.
Brad: Yeah dude that'd be awesome!
Blood and Water's new album, In Character is available now.