The Big Sound from the Little State

I was introduced to Imprint by my friend Heather, who incidentally dates Chad Maggs, the bassist of the band. I saw Imprint in concert three times and got to meet the band and hang out a bit. Chad was the only member of the band who I spoke to at length; we also emailed, which was how the actual interviews were conducted. I am extremely grateful to him for taking the time to reply to my questions and offer up information. The same applies to Heather, whom I also interviewed a few times. She offered insight to the band from the perspective of someone close to the group without being actually part of it.

The reason I decided to write about Imprint is the fact that I used to be a metalhead in high school, near a decade ago. Frankly, it seemed fun to revisit the scene and see if I could still belong, and more importantly, see what was happening musically nowadays. I still listen to my collection once in a while, but I haven’t purchased anything new for years.

Metal for me was a bit of acceptable rebellion. I was never a deprived child, nor was I particularly angry about much. Resolutely middle-class, I led a safe life. For me then, metal meant something else. My first interests were Iron Maiden (“Can I Play with Madness”) and AC/DC (“Thunderstruck”), though I quickly moved on the Metallica, who were releasing their eponymous album around this time. Metal always seemed somewhat apolitical. It was about demons, personal or otherwise, and as such seems a logical point of interest to the hormonally supercharged young man. Metal was and is (although less so these days, is my impression) the prime domain of the male. This is indisputable: It’s an essentially macho culture; music built on hormones and aggression. Metal was more musically adventurous (in theory, at least) and to a certain extent, it was an offshoot of prog rock. I lost interest in metal after a while; my long locks were shorn, I started wearing clothes in other colours than black, and so on. Punk took over as my musical adrenaline kick. Perhaps it was more accessible ultimately…still, you change as you grow and you move on. So, what’s metal now? Well, it all sounds the same, so I guess I’m old. Part of punk fused with metal and this nu-metal was made. Trailblazers were Korn, preceding Limp Bizkit and after them, a veritable deluge of angsty extreme sports freaks. Another part of punk decided that the Buzzcocks were the Way to God, and so power pop somehow ended up being renamed punk, making Cheap Trick the godfathers of punk, if I understand it correctly. The Sex Pistold reformed, for some reason or other; and some factions of stalwarts with no sense of humour whatsoever remain in their dank cellars and pogo.

The Met Cafe, Providence, 01-31-02
The Met Cafe was only a third full or so. Without the throng of bodies that might enliven it, it looked rundown and tired. Chad, the bassist and prime songwriter, met us at the door. We shook hands and I dutifully went to buy beer. The relative emptiness could also be explained by the hour. It was fairly early, and the band was still setting up on stage. Imprint were not headlining, but supporting punk stalwarts Murphy’s Law.

There was laughter and conversation in the room. I felt out of place; I have no piercings, visible or otherwise, and I was dressed in regular jeans, sweatshirt and sneaker. No cameo slacks, no army boots, tattoos or any heavy metal trappings. I had not been to a metal show for some years, unless you count the Ramones’ farewell tour. I once had long hair and donned black for every occasion, but my teenage rebellion extended to that, and although some of my love for the music remains, I have mellowed considerably. The aimless energy of my adolescence is redirected. It has been long enough for a stylistic shift to occur: no longer seen is the long hair and spandex of the 80’s. Nirvana effectively killed hair metal, and Metallica took Heavy Metal to a new level, where the scariest things were no longer Hammer horror trappings, as exemplified by Iron Maiden, but rather the demons in your own head. For an older audience member, the introvert tendencies of present metal is somewhat cloying; it used to be about anger, hormones and confusion, perhaps, but it was still something of a catharsis. Ultimately, it was about rebelling, an “us versus the world” mentality that in fact exists in just about every musical scene. Today, metal seems to have merged with the shoegazing of the indie scene, and punk is more indebted to the power pop of Cheap Trick than the might fury of the Sex Pistols.

The band started playing, after my second beer or so. A few lone souls took it upon themselves to create an impromptu mosh pit up front, but to no avail. There simply weren’t enough of them. As the band played their first songs, the vocalist clutched his mike in a firm grip, not unlike Hank Rollins, and moved broodingly back and forth, head bowed, eyes fixed downwards. He let forth shredding vocals. Heather, who had invited me in the first place, nudged me and said: “He’s really sweet and laid-back off-stage”, as if to assure me. I grinned and wondered if he’d approve of this disclosure of information.

Some of the songs sounded by-the-numbers to me, but a few of them rose to another level, typically those in which they attempted something different with the orchestration. One song had Chad keeping a driving rhythm going on a seriously overdriven bass, while Gary, the guitarist, plucked out a shimmering arpeggio as a counterpoint. It was most pleasing, and while hardly baroque, the effect of the contrast not only added an intuitive melodiousness, but also revealed the implied skill that tends to separate dilettantes from real musicians. (I later learned that Gary studied at Berkelee) Actually, there was nothing understated about the number; it thundered along like the four horsemen of the apocalypse and their extended family, but it did make me listen more closely to what they were playing.

Murphy’s Law took to stage later; a hardcore group of fans, basically everyone in the audience, excepting Imprint, who took a well-deserved break in the back, stated moshing and crowdsurfing in the seriously limited space. The band seemed fairly drunk, chugging Jagermeister and sharing the bottle with their rabid fans. (I was fairly drunk as well, realizing I’d blown over 20 dollars on Foster’s oilcans. I swayed, true, but to no beat but my own.) The riffs counted three or thereabouts, paced to an unerring 4/4 beat and I stood at the back of the room, wondering if my eardrums would start bleeding soon, if they weren’t already. The evening concluded wonderfully, as the vocalist exclaimed what a nice day they’d had in Providence: “Isn’t this weather we’re having great?”, he said; “yeah”, replied the crowd in unison. “No, it’s NOT great,” he shouted back “It’s the END OF THE FUCKING WORLD!!!” The wag.

The Met Cafe, Providence, 02-23-02
The second gig was even better. My critical sense was to be honed further my second time around. It was also to be the night when I decided whether to attempt to write about Imprint and the surrounding metal scene. Low on time and non-mobile, I was resigned to the downtown Providence area. My other choice would be the Irish music scene, little more than an excuse for me to go to the Irish bar on Sundays, which I didn’t need (the excuse, that is), but could perhaps make me feel less guilty about spending time away from studio.

It was a CD release party, again at the Met Cafe; Imprint was not the only band there, they shared with two others. We gave the first band, Soulshed, a miss, since rumour had it they were pretty bad. Dedset was the other. The bands had achieved that great coveted goal of releasing an actual album. This time around, the Met Cafe was sold out. At first I felt even more out of place, but then realized I was not the only “civilian” there, although I was in the minority, surrounded by the spiked hair of punks, cameo slacks and combat boots. Again, I mused at the way fashion had become such a seeming hybrid of punk and metal, two genres that used to be so separate.

Dedset were enjoyable; professional and driving, they delivered a solid set. The mosh pit was fairly frenzied. I got too close to it. I hadn’t experience a mosh pit in years, either, and wondered about it all. What was the appeal? It seemed so…brutal. Logically, I know that the pit is simply the spirit of the music made action; it’s the act of venting. For most, it’s a better way to release pent-up energy than fighting. In a sense, it is fighting, but it’s more a ritualistic aspect of it. The intention is not to hurt or get hurt, although bruises are inevitable. Even at the most brutal gigs I’ve been to the mosh was never intentionally dangerous: when someone fell, people were quick to create a circle and help the person get up. That was the aspect that appealed to me, though it has taken me a few years to vocalize it. And it seems to work the same way for everyone.

Heather: I’ve always felt that metal and hardcore boys tended to be more well adjusted than other boys because they get out all their demons and aggressions through their music, and have no need for it to be anywhere else in their lives.

Imprint’s gig this time around was more focused, though they had abandoned the sonic experiments, somewhat to my disappointment. In truth, they sounded a bit more like Dedset, with more streamlined riffs and musically less “crunchy” and brooding than last time. They did, however, deliver a great show. I walked home in a light drizzle, a major beer haze and crossing the bridge, nearly fell in the river.

The New Wave Cafe, New Bedford, 04-19-02
The New Wave Cafe is a pretty small place, a low-key bar sporting a garish red neon sign, located in one of those pedestrian-hostile, cars-only places that America seem so fond of. My girlfriend and I entered, asking the doorman if we’d missed Imprint; no, he replied, they just started. He motioned to my camera bag; I’m with Imprint, I said, I’m taking photos. Ok, he said and shrugged without much interest.

Imprint was playing on a bill of five bands. They were third, right in the middle.

The actual bar was pretty tiny; there can’t have been much more than 30 or 40 people in the room, nor did the locale seem capable of more than 150, at most. As we entered, they finished a song; Chad, the bassist, saw me, and I raised my hand in greeting; he waved back, looking slightly incredulous that I’d actually come all the way to New Bedford. We sat down at the bar and ordered a few beers. I dug into my pocket and donned some earplugs. “Do you want a pair?” I asked Amie. “No, I’m fine”, she started to say, but then Imprint tore into the next number, and she quickly changed her mind.

The crowd seemed more eclectic than the last times. It was still a predominantly young audience, but less defined visually, i.e. fewer of the blatant “metal uniforms” abounded. There were more girls there as well, it seemed, none of which looked remotely “metal”; as such, I felt less an outsider at this gig than the other ones. Amie, an old patron of the establishment, pointed out some people who were regulars; one guy even played in a Hootie & the Blowfish-type band which occasionally performed there. Thus it seemed fair to assume that some of these people were regular bar patrons who came more for the bar than the stage. From the look of it, this was a correct assumption; they stayed mostly at the back, some of them chatting and nursing their drinks. They also seemed slightly older than the people following the bands. One of the few older folks to venture close to the stage was spectacularly mulleted.

The set Imprint played seemed more indebted to the vibe they had at the release party than the very first time I saw them and I began to wonder if I’d actually imagined that evening’s arrangements. (I hadn’t: Heather later told me that Imprint tend to play less complex stuff when playing with punks, so as not to diverge too much. Essentially, dumbing down the music.) There were differences: Perhaps it was the small venue, but the band seemed more relaxed on-stage than when last I saw them. They smiled more and seemed to be more lighthearted. There wasn’t much of a mosh pit to speak of, but a few bodies jumped up and down vigourously. “OK”, announced Jaymz, “we’re going to do a cover song. You all know this one”, and at that point they tore into a song I have never heard before in my life. (Chad later told me it was the Deftones’ “Roots”) By this point, the mosh had expanded a bit, at least doubling in size. All of a sudden during the song, Gary, the guitarist, jumped off the stage and joined in the mosh, to everyone’s delight. It was interesting to witness; the stage was only raised a foot or so off the ground, but this breach of procedure, this act of performer/audience solidarity somehow became a moment of bigger symbolism; it was the defining moment when they seemed to win over the crowd. I may have put too much into it, but place someone on a pedestal, no matter how small or big, and nothing can elevate them more than by their descending from it. I took a few photos (most of which did not come out, including, to my great consternation, Gary’s venture into the crowd). A guy looked at me as I was shooting, and I took the opportunity to ask him why he was there; “for the bands, man”, or words to that effect. So what was it about the bands that he liked? He eyed at me somewhat suspiciously and shrugged before returning his attention to he music. A girl with an Imprint sticker on her ass was cheering enthusiastically, and so, I tried asking her the same thing. Despite my camera, she seemed to think I was making a pass at her, but she replied, if somewhat huffily, that she knew one of the band members, but looked away, and I didn’t get to confirm whether said band member was in Imprint or one of the other bands. One thing I did deduce, from observing the crowd, was that it seemed to consist largely of band members, friends and girlfriends. It seemed that a lot of the crowd knew each other, from the look of it (many greetings and “how have you beens”) and as the following band, Liquid Destruction(?) took to the stage, they simply came from out of the crowd and set up on stage. Their vocalist laconically remarked “Drink more —the more you do, the better we’ll sound.” It proved to be a fairly accurate statement; they were ridiculously loud, to the point that I felt a dull ache in the back of my head. We decided we were far too poor to be able to drink what was required to make them sound reasonable, so we left. Outside, I spoke to Chad briefly and complimented him on the show. For some reason, I didn’t tell him that I thought they were far better than Liquid Destruction, probably because he seemed very enthusiastic about them. I personally thought Imprint was on a much higher level.

While not adding much knowledge musically, I must admit that after seeing this set, it was easier to connect the on-stage persona with the off-stage one; the seriousness that I saw at the past gigs belied the affable guys I met after the show. The music was the same, but their demeanor was different. Obviously, performance is just that, and some histrionics are to be expected, but I did wonder whether it was the size of the venue (and what I assumed to be audience familiarity) that allowed them to loosen up somewhat. It was an interesting change, and it made me wonder about how much of the anger was a pose and how much was actual conviction. To my great delight, they did play their big showstopper, the break that leaves the viewer thoroughly flabbergasted with the sheer technical skill at display.

Thoughts After Experiencing the Band Live
My overall impression was that none of them really seemed like rock monsters; they all seemed quiet and approachable.. Chad was easily the friendliest, no doubt because of my long friendship with his girlfriend Heather. Still, every time they went on-stage, I noticed a shift; they were certainly focused on the task ahead, and Jaymz especially seemed to recede into some other place, brooding and pensive. His vocals, somewhat obscured in the din of the music, as always happens in the face of strange PA’s and bad bar acoustics, were still powerful, and dare I say it, assured for a 22-year old. This sort of statement certainly paints me as a wannabe old coot, but he seemed to genuinely emote from that dark place. They seem like a real unit on stage, working within their (not insignificant) capabilities. They are skilled musicians and make no mistake: they know it. Above all, they are confident on-stage; there is a focused swagger to their step, so to speak, that in addition to their musicianship lends them an air of authority. I am frequently impressed with the clarity of the sound; for a small band playing small clubs, the sound is quite good. They seem very focused on what they’re doing. They play with each other, not against each other. One might argue that this might take some of the fun aspects out of it. (After all, Deep Purple all tried to outplay each other, which led to them hating each other, but also some great moments for the audiences)

Up there, they seem bigger: larger and more overpowering. As I described, Jaymz prowls the stage; the others also drop their smiles and replace them with expressions of great intent. They play hard and they play precise, just as you’d expect from a band growing up with the legacy of thrash and speed metal. Watching them set up, however, is a quiet affair. They are hurried, but not stressed. Nobody yells at anybody else, though there seems to be such ritual to it that they don’t need to talk much.

Off-stage, the band is approachable, affable and occasionally talkative. They do, in fact, strike you as somewhat shy. Heather pointed this out to me as well. “It’s so funny to see Jaymz on stage like that…he’s normally very quiet and sweet”. There seems to be no leader that stands out from the rest. Jaymz, as the vocalist, is the natural focal point, obviously. However, Gary, the guitarist, is the one who takes care of booking matters and so on. He’s listed as the contact person on their website (www.imprintmusic.com) and as such is the outward face of the band, at least business-wise.

This seemed interesting and when I asked Heather if there were any defacto leaders in the band, she indeed replied

Heather: I think Gary is really the leader, since he’s the organizational one, the one who plans the shows and such.

After the gigs, the guys were relaxing, dismantling the gear and slipping into a couch to wind down. It’s interesting to note that they do these things together, as a gang. They seem to gravitate towards each other. Of course, given that they have to be organized, they need to stick close together, but still…they are both a musical and a social circle.

The Interview
Chad: Imprint formed from the ashes of a band named Downshift. (A memory we’d like to forget) The remaining members kept going in search of a singer…we went through a few tryouts, then we met Jaymz and everything kinda fell into place. In the beginning we were doing just for fun, then we got serious about it. We’ve been working to do this for a living since 1998.

When asked about the songwriting process, which I figure is the big one in terms of power within a band, I am told that it’s a collaborative effort. Each member brings something to the stew, then structures are built and songs are created. Jaymz is the sole lyricist and up until now he’s only been concerned with the vocals.

Chad: Usually one of us brings a riff down to practice and we work from there so all of us have a part in writing the songs. All of us have part in the writing process: Jaymz takes care of all his vocals, we just give him advice (“that really sucks man, do something else”).

So the songs are democratic and grow organically, almost, from the Imprint “community”. And nobody seems concerned about Jaymz becoming the sole songwriter either. Heather backed up the statement.

Heather: They all write together; usually starting from something that either Chad or Gary comes up with, and building upon that….Jaymz recently bought a guitar too, so he can start writing riffs and such…He does all the lyrics.

(The lyrics, for the record, are rather dark and downbeat, although they are also fairly byzantine in their incomprehensibility. They can be perused on the Imprint website)

When revealing their musical interests, the band shows great diversity…it goes from Counting Crows to blues and jazz (Gary, in his bio, seems the most diverse: Like most guitarists, he likes Stevie Ray Vaughan but is also a Sonny Rollins fan. He also went to Berkelee) to the obvious metal gurus. But as Chad says: “Everything under the sun…” (Footnote: Drummer Chris Hayes instantly endeared himself to me when he sited famed Muppet drummer Animal as an influence.)

Chad: We play the music that comes out of us: It wasn’t a conscious decision.

In my headbanger phase, I was obsessed with “heaviosity”; the impression I gave off was that I listened to metal 24/7. This was not true, however: I could never give up my love for the Beatles any more than I could stop eating. For a self-professed metalhead, I was rather diverse in my tastes, and my one moment of realization arrived when I was browsing through some black metal fanzine to find a review of [sunshine pop band] Jellyfish’s “Spilt Milk”. I knew then that I was not the only one: I had bought it a few months before. Interestingly, this time was also the period when my interest in classical music was coming to the fore, particularly classical guitar, which I was learning to play myself.

Imprint’s musicianship, as I’ve noted earlier, is quite impressive. Their diverse music interests seems like a good starting point. The most interesting metal bands were always the ones with something more to say musically. (They were incidentally the ones to rise to greatness as well. Metallica early on included classical guitar breaks before blasting away; by 1998’s “reloaded”, they even had a hurdy-gurdy on an album.) Perhaps the diversity of the music does bring in a diverse crowd: They tend to “dumb down” their music when playing with the punk bands, which Heather pointed out they had to do:

Heather: Fellow musicians tend to like them a lot, since musically they really know what they’re doing and can pull it off live. I think that’s why punk kids aren’t so into them–[it] goes over their heads! (Remember that show we went to, where the other 2 bands were punk? That’s a good example). The little girls love Chad and Jaymz,

I also asked Chad about who the typical Imprint fan is:

Chad: Most of them are human, some girls, some boys… haha, just kidding. [A] good variety: We appeal to metal heads and musician types, but we also have poppy and acoustic songs that gets an older, more mellow crowd.

So they definitely seek out the diversity of their own influences. While I don’t think they have mined it as much yet as they surely will in the future, it is there as an undercurrent to the music, and can definitely appeal to a broader audience once they explore it more. (Although I have only seen three shows, so I can’t generalize the audience yet)

So far, then, they adhere to the democratic ideal, which will empower them in their quest to take on the world. All for one, and one for all. No huge egos have surfaced in the band, and one can hope it doesn’t happen. The nature of the group is collaboration; from this springs originality and ideas. The band that plays off each other also pushes each other to rise to new levels. But though the songwriting process is a democratic endeavor, they admit to not always seeing eye to eye on musical ideas:

Chad: Absolutely: We fight all the time when writing. We just try it as many ways as possible and whatever feels the best, we go with.

Heather concurs, but offers up some additional info:

Heather: Oh yes, they argue while writing! But the cool thing is that they try everyone suggestions, no one is completely ruled out without trying it first. There are some songs they still don’t agree on…Chad HATES “Downgrade”, but Gary loves it, etc…

But with Jaymz buying a guitar to write more efficiently on his own, could there be a shift towards a more singular sound, as a result of an individual songwriter? Nobody seems to think so. And while there are some jokes about Jaymz developing “lead singer syndrome” (i.e. big head, not lifting things etc), his confidence as a frontman has increased tenfold since they first started out. Logically, this leads to better performances, which is ultimately in the obvious interest of the band.

While some bands are little more than a backup group for a vocalist (Crowded House, the Kinks, Wings, Blur, the Jam, the Police, Ben Folds Five, the Replacements, etc), the big difference is that for the most part these are a group of musicians and a single songwriter. In a band like Imprint, where all the members contribute to the musical “stew”, a democracy is easier to uphold, simply because the band as a whole doesn’t rely on one single person. The sound, which is what leads to success (or lack thereof) is a result of the various input. Bands who write like this often do well, U2 being a prime example. Bono writes lyrics but the rest of them write the music, instead of just being told to play.

Me: Do you see any egos in the band? They seem very democratic.

Heather: They’re democratic, definitely. Sometimes Chris jokes that he’s too good for them and should leave because they’re a waste of his time when no one is up to practicing and he really wants to. He doesn’t mean it though! They tease Jaymz about getting Lead Singer Disease (they never carry equipment, big head, etc…) but he’s really not that bad. He’s got a lot more confidence now, and that’s a good thing. You have to have a bit of an ego to be a musician, you know? To think that people actually would want to watch you play and listen to your music. But there aren’t any Vince Neils [Motley Crue frontman] in the band, thank goodness!

Chad: It’s a democracy. We all have our own responsibilities.

Me: What are the strengths of the band members? How does this show in the music?

Chad: One of the strengths of the individual band members are all the various styles of music [that] each of us bring to the table. Five years ago, Gary came from Pantera and Dream Theater and a bunch of jazz stuff; Jaymz loves most music that is ridiculously heavy; Chris loves Tool, Dream Theater Nine Inch Nails, Yanni (don’t ask me) and I came from Overcast, Integrity and all the older hardcore stuff…and I loved ska (go figure). As the years passed, we all grew to listen to more styles of music and our experience in playing has also helped us grow to listen to new styles of music

Heather: Gary is the man —he went to Berklee, so he really knows what he’s doing, and his strengths show through his musicianship. Chris is really aggressive when it comes to their music, so that comes across in how he plays…Chad is a thinker; he spends hours on a melody in his head until he comes up with something he likes (hence why their friend Matt calls Chad’s songs his “epics”) and Jaymz is continually getting better at singing and his frontmanship…he always could scream like a motherfucker though.

Paul McCartney remarked that all he wanted to do in the Beatles was rock…and as he pointed out in the Beatles Anthology (humbly, of course) “I always thought we were a great little R & B band.” Curious about their musical interests, I asked Chad if he thought Imprint’s future lay in metal.

Me: I saw in your bios on the web page that you all like a lot of different music…will Imprint stay metal in the long run? (Not that I expect you to turn into Santana or anything…)

Chad: We will just keep writing and whatever comes out, comes out. I’ve been listening to a lot of new stuff, mainly because Heather or someone at work got me into it (like Radiohead, Portishead, and Jimmy Eat World), so I’m writing a little bit more spacey and simple than I used to. Plus, all of us are eager to hear new good music and meet new people that will affect how and what we write, so it is possible that Imprint could write a Santana type song: As is, we have a bunch of acoustic songs that we keep in the closet. For the lighter shows, we are very versatile and just starting to explore new territory. So I don’t think we even fit in the metal genre where we stand now, and it is unlikely that we will grow into that [genre].

Conclusion
Imprint seems to be around for the long haul: They are driven and professional and they love what they do. I think that the structure of the band will enable them to stay a unit for a good while. It is of course impossible to prophesize anything, but as long as they stay true to their setup, they can stay strong and retain their individuality. One thing I can see in the future might be the addition of another band member: I can see them adding a keyboard player, for example, to create fuller arrangements in their expanding musical picture. Chad is realistic about their progress. They have come further than he expected and he knows that success is the result of hard work.

Chad: We didn’t think we would be where we are right now, but we worked our asses off and got here. We still have a lot of work ahead of us, but we are ready for it…we hope to be signed [two years from now] but we aren’t excepting it. We want to get to the level of playing in the band for a living with out record label help.

ENDNOTE
Imprint’s tour bus did make it all the way to California in 2003, but they disbanded in 2004.

01.05.2002 • Permalink