Vexes – New BeginningsTuesday, 13th February 2018
Comprised of members from a few east coast bands (most notably the metalcore/groove act A Life Once Lost), Vexes represents a fresh start. Originally put together by vocalist Charlie Berezansky and guitarist John Klagholz, the later additions of ex-A Life Once Lost members of drummer Justin Graves and bassist Bobby Carpenter rounded out the line-up. Not content to simply ride the coattails of anyone’s previous work, or go about a more ‘safe’ option of trendhopping, the band’s upcoming Ancient Geometry (pre-order HERE) finds a more unique space to occupy.
Pooling influences from across the metal and rock spectrum, Vexes debut is ripe with promise. It’s catchy, experimental, expressive, and yet has just enough heaviness to keep the metallic sector satiated. There’s some influences from across several decades, yet done in a way that still moves the band forward. So with our interest piqued, we reached out to drummer Justin Graves, who was happy to discuss the band’s formation and goals, as well as how his role in A Life Once Lost helped give him some perspective on the music industry.
Dead Rhetoric: Just to start from the top, what made you decide to join Vexes?
Justin Graves: I had been in A Life Once Lost for a long time – around 2011 I decided to move on. Not necessarily from music, but I had been touring since I was a teenager. I had a band when I was 16-20 that I got my feet wet with – touring and recording. At about 20, I joined A Life Once Lost, and I was in there for about 10 years. I took a little time off – I had jammed with a couple of friends and musicians, and I was trying to get another project going, even if it was just something for fun. But it just wasn’t happening. Myself and Bob Carpenter, who is our newest member in Vexes, we had been doing a project similarly to how I joined Vexes. They reached out to me, they were looking for a drummer. They had some early demo material to let me hear what was going on. That band was actually looking for a vocalist, so I had put some feelers out to get a vocalist. Charlie [Berezansky] had hit me up and said he was a singer/producer/engineer, and he said he liked what we had and he might be interested in singing.
But in the meantime, he mentioned a project that he was working on at the time, and he sent me some demo material, and some stuff from their old band, Vessl. I heard Vessl and I was like, “Wow.” These guys lived like 30 minutes from me and I hadn’t heard of their band. To be honest, their band didn’t go anywhere. It was just a local band, and if you listen to the record, it’s really good. It’s comparable, if not better, than anything you might want to lump into that genre. I was like, “Jesus Christ, how had I not hear about these guys?” So between that, and the demo material and their ideas, I said I wanted to be a part of it. We actually ended up jamming with them, and after trying to find a bass player, we actually found an older member of Vessl to play bass – but it ended up not being the right fit. Not long after that, we got Bob [Carpenter].
Dead Rhetoric: A Life Once Lost was around for a while. Is it exciting to start fresh with a new band, after being in such an established name?
Graves: Yeah, it’s fun and it’s exciting. It’s also a learning experience. I’ve brought up to some other people about the learning curve of pushing a band in today’s age of social media…back in the days of A Life Once Lost, even towards the tail end of it, it was still just Myspace. Facebook had become relevant – people had them, but there really was no band pages yet. I remember when bands or businesses were just using member pages. If it was “Joe’s Bar,” your first name was Joe and your last name was Bar.
After I had left the band, that’s when you started seeing Facebook itself change into this huge marketing tool for everything. It’s definitely a huge learning curve – then you throw Instagram and Bandcamp into the mix that we never did when I was coming up. We had Myspace and it was magazines and flyers outside of that. It’s cool – it’s good to have a fresh start. It’s a new experience and everything has been pretty cool so far. I’m excited to learn more, and maybe get a little better at taking the time for this approach. But you have to start somewhere.
Dead Rhetoric: With now two A Life Once Lost members present, are you concerned people might expect something similar?
Graves: They may or may not be let down by it. It’s not a huge concern of mine. If they have an open mind about music, they will understand what we are going for. It wasn’t that I necessarily started the band – there was already a direction going. It would be one thing if Bob and I started a band together. You might then think that it would have an A Life Once Lost influence, even though the band I was jamming with him in before sounded nothing like that either.
There might be an expectation, but if someone really wants that, our old singer Bob [Meadows], he has a few new projects in the works – Mind Power. He also sings in a band called Left to Vanish, and there’s some more stuff as well. People can get their fill of heavy, ex-A Life Once Lost stuff. If they want to go a different direction, they can check out Vexes. It definitely has a different feel. Hopefully in future material you might hear something that, for example, resembles an A Life Once Lost fill or a groove…but you are definitely not going to hear a huge, direct influence in the sound of the band.
Dead Rhetoric: A Life Once Lost also had changes in their time as well, so hopefully you are drawing from a group that’s open-minded to begin with.
Graves: Exactly. We changed our sound a little bit. We were never the type of band that wanted to write the same record over and over. When I first joined A Life Once Lost, everybody was so young. For the most part, the average age was 18. The sound was more chaotic and thrashy. Back then we were hugely influenced by bands like Dillinger Escape Plan and Candiria, as well as At the Gates and In Flames. We are talking ’99-’00. When I joined, they had just put out an EP that was definitely in that vein. Once I replaced their old drummer, our styles were a bit different. I always liked the fast and thrashy stuff, but at the same time I’ve always been a big groove guy. I love jazz and funk and soul…lots of hip hop and stuff like that. So I think that comes out in my playing.
So it was also around that time that I was exposed to Meshuggah and stuff like that. Once they got me in [A Life Once Lost], we had more of a Sepultura/Meshuggah/old Machine Head kind of influence going on. We wanted to slow things down and make it heavier and groovier. It wasn’t just because of me, but everyone’s taste and influences [changed]. Personally, I crave constant change. I don’t want to do the same record a million times over and over again. I will come back to the albums that I love and have listened to a million times, but I’m constantly searching for new music and things to soak up like sponge, and just learn more. I can add things to my arsenal. Even as A Life Once Lost went on, our sound changed – I don’t want to get too far into detail into the later, downswing of the band, as to why things changed so much. That is partly the reason I left, and why some other people fell off as well. People weren’t seeing eye to eye on a lot of things. One of them was the songwriting process and what we were going for as a band. In my opinion, and most of the band’s opinion, we would have stayed with that sound that we were doing between 2003 and the time that I left.
Dead Rhetoric: So what’s your description of Vexes’ sound, in comparison?
Graves: I think you have a huge rock influence, and by rock, it’s a broad term – I don’t think this is a metal band. We are getting a lot of coverage from the metal world because of the ex-A Life Once Lost [angle], and that’s great because it is a huge part of our roots. Not only those of us that came from A Life Once Lost, but Vexes in general. We all grew up listening to heavy music, so that metal background is there. But at the same time, we all grew up listening to music from our eras. Our ages range a little bit, but everyone has musical influences from the ‘80s, ‘90s, and the 2000s.
You have the metal influence, but there are heavy, melodic, and dissonant sounds – we are trying to combine the best elements of those but in more of a clean vocal dynamic…a lot of dynamics, both musically and vocally. If you had to compare it to things, or nail down a genre, I’d lump us in with Deftones, Cave In, Thrice, and Quicksand. Even bands like Helmet or Blindside. Our tastes come from all different places, and I feel like that is all rolled up into what we consider we are doing at this time. Everything from metal and hardcore to alternative to rock and roll and shoegaze/post-hardcore. A little bit of everything.
Dead Rhetoric: The album feels vulnerable when you listen to it – does Vexes feel comfortable in this space?
Graves: I think that you can let your guard down a little bit. There’s not as much of an expectation to be an overly aggressive, pummeling band. John [Klagholz] was in a heavy, hardcore band back in the day, and Bob and I coming from A Life Once Lost – if anything we feel like we can let our guard down a bit with this band. It’s not so ‘balls to the wall’ all the time. You can get a little deeper into feelings and slow down, with more dynamics.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you feel that a few years away from touring helped to give you a bit of perspective?
Graves: Definitely – not only am I appreciative that I was able to do what I did, which can turn into a blur…I can’t tell you how much stuff I’m reminded of from tour that I have no idea about. Some of it due to partying, but when you do it for so long – at least 100-200 shows a year – things start to turn into the same thing over and over. But it’s great to not only have the experience from doing it, so you can learn from your mistakes and know how to do it next time around – you can take different strategies to how you approach something later on in life.
It’s good – we are taking a different approach now that we are older, and we can’t just drop everything and go like when you are 20 years old. It makes you appreciate the hustle that bands put in a lot more. I think that, fortunately enough technology has been able to help bands be successful in a way. I know that with downloading and streaming, it has killed the record industry, but at the same time, from the perspective of being on the road, things are more advanced. Like being able to do more things while you are on the road, even something like GPS as opposed to a map. It makes me appreciate it, but I completely understand when bands need to take time off or just get better. Bands get sick on the road – it’s a grind and it’s really tough. I respect everybody who decides to go out there and do it. It’s not easy.
People talk about being able to go out and do it, and how it’s so much fun. It was tons of fun, but at the same time, you don’t realize that it’s a lot of work and you are making pennies on the dollar. I appreciate music in general – I appreciate everybody who takes the time to perfect their craft, and to do something musically, whether it’s good or not.
Dead Rhetoric: It seems like you are pushing to get some radio-play for the band. With the streaming services available today, what role do you see FM radio or something like Sirius having for an up-and-coming band?
Graves: I’m not sure – fortunately we got picked up by Sirius XM. Jose [Mangin] and one of the program directors really liked the album. Our lovely publicists at Adrenaline PR sent them the record, specifically to Jose, and he was digging it. He wanted to add “Helion” into rotation, and we were floored by that. It’s probably the best possible scenario we could have thought of for an unsigned band. A lot of people don’t realize how hard it is to get your stuff on the radio, and most publicists don’t do radio – it’s a separate entity. As an independent band, it’s another expense. When you don’t have a cd out, you have no income coming in for the band.
I was going to take a stab at [getting it out there]. I’ve got connections I’ve kept and I’ve done my fair share of pushing bands, but luckily enough we landed the Liquid Metal rotation, and we were recently added to Music Choice, which is when your cable channel has the music channels without video. I used to love that – before Spotify and stuff, it was great. You could find cool stuff that you hadn’t heard of before. It’s kind of cool to get on there with Vexes. I believe A Life Once Lost was on there in the past as well. But for Vexes, who are unsigned, for our first radio shows to be Liquid Metal and Music Choice, it’s awesome.
As far as FM goes, I’d love to see where we could get with that. It’s a matter of getting it in front of the right people, which we are working on right now. Once the record drops, we are going to do a video and one more song – hopefully that’s the one that ends up on FM radio. I would hope that it’s still somewhat relevant. I’m going to be honest with you, I have my Spotify that I use most of the time. There’s not a good FM radio around here. We grew up around Seton Hall University – WSOU 89.5 was always really huge. Besides that, there’s not a ton of big rock radio stations around here.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s planned for Vexes in 2018, other than the release?
Graves: Like you said, with the different approaches, we are just trying to build a foundation here. We have a solid line-up and a solid record coming out. We have a couple cool accomplishments under our belt already, as far as Sirius and Music Choice, and a couple of people who have reached out to us that we respect a lot as musicians and industry people. Our main goal is to push ourselves and get the album out. See what offers come our way with touring and a record deal – we are all ears. We are also in the process of writing again. We love writing, and this record has been done for a little while, so we are working on new songs as well. We are just trying to move forward and see what happens with the band.