5. Eight Bells, ‘Landless’ (Battleground Records)

eight-bells-coverIt’s not easy for a record to stick with you from the starting pole of the year to the end, but that’s just what Eight Bells’ amazing “Landless” did. I had the music right around the turn of 2016, and from the first listen, I was utterly enraptured and remain so to this day. Getting to see them perform some of these songs live was incredible icing on an already delicious cake.

Sadly, the momentum didn’t last for Eight Bells. Guitarist/vocalist Melynda Jackson suffered a serious leg injury on tour due to some shit bags running into her from behind, and as time went on, the lineup dissolved in front of her. But not to be deterred, Jackson worked through her injury, picked herself up, and started to reassemble Eight Bells from the ground up. The band has started playing some shows again toward the end of the year, and now Jackson and Eight Bells are beginning to think about new music. Jackson was kind enough to our questions about “Landless,” its incredible music and story, how she’s recovering, and the state of the band. Thanks so much to her, and we wish her all the best moving forward. The metal world needs her creativity and heart.

Meat Mead Metal: We’re naming “Landless” one of our top 5 metal albums of the year. For us, the music has had amazing staying power, considering it’s been out almost a year, and we’re still enthralled by it. How do you feel about the music now that you’ve lived it and played it live?

Melynda Jackson: The songs on “Landless” are important to me as there are a couple of milestones on the album. One of those is lyric writing. I wrote the lyrics and melodies for “Hating,” “Landless,” “Touch Me,” and part of “Hold My Breath.” I have never shown my writings to anyone, or thought of them as lyrics. The lyrical content of those songs is an honest representation of a time in my life. There is no pretension there.

The other is recording my voice. I suppose there is a third thing—(producer) Billy Anderson. Over the last two EB recordings, (he) has taught me to enjoy the studio. I always hated it, hating hearing myself, hated the process except for the final mix. That has changed and it is pretty cool.

Recording and writing “Landless” was great, but performing those songs live presents difficulties. The major one having to do with getting a mix where we can actually hear the vocals—flying blind is brutal. Another issue was the loss of Chris VanHuffel as the drummer. This put the band in a situation of trying to use a long-distance drummer (Rae ‘tiny ninja’ Amitay) and it was totally amazing for recording but not good for me in terms of writing or getting enough actual band practice to be able to perform well on a consistent basis. I am just not that kind of musician. Still, I thought it was worth trying since I have such a fond affection for Rae both the human and the drummer. I am always learning.

MMM: The story behind the record started on “The Captain’s Daughter” and now reaches over to this record, where the girl lost at sea has returned to find things desolate and lonely. Tell me how you came up with this story and what it means to you? Is the tale over?

MJ: I don’t think the story ends until the character dies. I kind of feel like I live a parallel life with this character, and we are living it day to day. I am obsessed with the idea of vastness and loneliness. I grew up in a rural and desolate part of Texas. Like the ocean, it had its sounds and smells, and it is both beautiful and cruel. I am an only child and grew up alone. It can be loneliness or it can be solitude. I am comfortable with both. The idea being “the captain’s daughter” rather than an individual in her own right is not an unfamiliar concept. A woman is always someone’s daughter, someone child, someone’s wife, someone’s lover, someone’s ex. How do you find something that is always changing hands? She is looking for herself outside of what she is to someone else. I think that all people are doing this regardless of gender. Feeling lost doesn’t mean a person doesn’t know where they are. It can mean they don’t know WHO they are. Looking for something with your eyes closed.

MMM: Musically the record is a really exciting, dramatic one. The guitar work might be my favorite part other than the story, as there are so many lines and riffs that get jammed in my head. I get the idea from hearing how well the music flows that it might have come very naturally to you, these songs. Is that the case?

MJ: Thank you. All in all, I would say the music itself came naturally, and if you listen to previous music I have made, you can hear a natural progression there, but you can always tell the guitar is me. Getting the record finished and out was not easy or natural, as we were working under an impossible deadline with various issues going on. We worked really hard through quite a bit of adversity to get these songs done. In the beginning of the process, our drummer Chris VanHuffel became ill and was unable to commit to the band because of ongoing health issues. We found another drummer who helped us to remain active during this time, as we were being considered for a tour. He learned what material we had from “The Captain’s Daughter.” but we were unable to write with him, so Chris came back to help us complete “Landless.” We recorded a demo around that time with Billy Anderson and started sending it around. Battleground Records became interested in putting the album out, and at the same time, it became apparent that Chris would not be able to record the record as he was undergoing some pretty intense medical treatments.

MMM: You suffered a pretty bad injury when the band was on the Voivod tour. How’s your leg healing? And how were you able to finish those last few days on the tour?

MJ: Ugh. My leg. Yes, I was injured at the show in Atlanta (was not in the pit at all) by three dudes who slammed into me side stage as I was taking video of Voivod. I dislocated my kneecap, tore my meniscus, damaged my articular cartilage, had torn ligaments, had bone bruising, and my knee filled up with blood. I should have gone to the hospital that night but thought/hoped maybe it could be a sprain or something and would be better in the morning. I could not weight bear at all.

It was worse in the morning, so we went to urgent care then were sent to an orthopedic doctor at the hospital. The doctor scheduled me for an MRI the next day. He told me squatting low would probably not be a thing I should ever do again and fitted me with a brace. He said I should try to do simple exercises to avoid a blood clot. I thought about going home, and then I thought about how that would be to buy plane tickets for three people on the tour then another person to help Haley (Westeiner, bassist) drive home on top of missing all those shows, so we drove to Indiana to drop off our merch person/driver at home and then drove through a blizzard to get to Chicago and finished the tour.

I was in a lot of pain and had pills but didn’t take them too much because I didn’t want to be wasted. I played sitting and could not move any gear. I have to shout out to Frank (Chin) and Blake(Anderson) from Vektor for setting me up and breaking me down for that last few shows. Holy shit they are the best.

Anyway, I got home in a wheelchair and started physical therapy. There was some improvement, but in July I had knee surgery and am still in physical therapy. I lost a lot of muscle mass in that leg from the injury. I can squat to 90 degrees and do stairs with less pain. I seem to be at standstill on the improvement though. I hope it keeps getting better. I did find out that I will likely develop knee arthritis and be disabled in old age. Something to look forward to. That said, I need to do as much as I can before that happens, and then I shall rule the world from my recliner.

Melynda Jackson (by Ted Reckoning Photography)

Melynda Jackson (by Ted Reckoning Photography)

MMM: It seems like as “Landless” was gaining momentum, things came to a halt. You had a major lineup shakeup that I know was very hard on you. How are you doing after everything that went down, and how is the new lineup of the band coming along?

MJ: Yes, it has been really hard. We didn’t do a bunch after getting back for a few reasons. I was out of commission due to my injury, and that is one reason you didn’t hear from me for a bit. I also parted ways with our bass player in March about a month after getting back. That wasn’t an amicable parting but I felt it was best for the band as an entity and better for me personally. Having an out-of-town drummer also put a damper on playing shows very often because it was a situation that required time not working for Rae, and plane tickets, things the band couldn’t really afford.

Very recently we started playing with THEE SLAYER HIPPY (Steve Hanford) from IT and Poison Idea on drums, and that is going really well. He also produces music, so that is another plus. Most of all, I love having play arguments with him and the yelling. We have already mostly written a song arrangement in just three sessions, writing pretty much on the spot using a riff I have been carrying around for years. Melynda (Amann, keyboards/vocals) and I came up with vocal parts together on the spot as well. I feel inspired for the first time since before the tour, and that is a relief. After everything, I felt like maybe I don’t even like music anymore. That feeling caused me to feel utterly depressed and exasperated. I have been there before and it passed those times, so I wait.

MMM: Battleground Records included test presses of “Landless” as one of the items being sold to help raise money for Planned Parenthood. What are your thoughts on that effort? Were you happy to have “Landless” involved?

MJ: It was not even something that I would feel like David (Rodgers) would need to ask me about. I am honored to help Planned Parenthood, the only source of medical care I had in my 20s, and I am sure it is the same for many people. David’s idea about the test pressings made me feel proud to be in association with Battleground Records.

MMM: The band finally got back to playing some shows toward the end of the year. How did it feel to get back out there?

MJ: Kinda terrifying honestly. It was an honor to play with and hang out with the SubRosa crew, but the shows put a lot of pressure on a new lineup, and we had three practices with Rae before the first show. We had practiced with a recording of the raw drum tracks before she arrived, but that doesn’t really do it for me. I felt great about being able to walk well enough to play shows though. Haha! Ultimately it is clear that writing is in order, and moving past “Landless” as well. We will likely play a couple of “Landless” tunes in the future, but for now we are focusing on new music.

MMM: I always try to end these by asking what’s coming next. But for Eight Bells, that question is even bigger considering what happened this year. Is new music in the works? More shows? What does the future of the band look like right now?

MJ: New music. New music. New music. Less trials and tribulations.

(Released Feb. 12, 2016)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/eightbellsband

To buy the album, go here: https://www.facebook.com/battlegroundrecords

For more on the label, go here: http://www.battlegroundrnr.com/