Friday, October 3, 2014

Interview: Geoff Garlock (Ritual Mess, Orchid, Panthers)



"You just want that conversation to end immediately."
(Photo by unknown.)

Ritual Mess makes it sound effortless. A listen to Vile Art and you'll scratch your head, "Why don't more bands sound this good?" Why don't more bands sound this good? Well, they probably haven't been strumming away at fast tempos for over fifteen years.

That was just one theory I had. So I tried to get down to the bottom of it all with Geoff Garlock. I called him on his day off of teaching at UCB. His day off, before I interrupted it, was spent writing for a web series and writing riffs. Sounds like a total dream. But the questions needed to be asked.

The questions were asked and Geoff Garlock answered. He had a lot to say. A lot to say about the end of Orchid, the other Orchid, the transition from Panthers into UCB, and of course, the rituals of Ritual Mess. I'm sure you don't want to see selfies while I talked on the phone so I looked around the internet for photos of Geoff Garlock. None were by me.


Stream the entire Ritual Mess record, Vile Art, via Bandcamp.

Painful Burning:
Why did Orchid break up?

Geoff Garlock:
When we stopped playing it was really just because it felt like the right time. We were out of college. Salane, Jay and I had moved to New York because Salane was starting grad school, Jay had dropped out, and I had wrapped up. Will was staying in the area where the rest of Orchid had been. We had already started Panthers and Orchid had just run its course at that point. We all still loved each other and liked each other, but it just didn't seem feasible. We were just at the point where we started to have a desire to explore other musical ventures. I didn't stop listening to metal and punk. I was starting to think about other types of music as well. I didn't care as much about the hardcore scene, I just liked the music. It was just the right time to not be Orchid anymore. We had just put out the self titled and we were psyched on that. Even the self titled was showing that our thoughts on how we played the music was different.

Painful Burning:
So what series of events lead to Will, Jay and you getting together to play music as Ritual Mess?

Geoff Garlock:
I wasn't on the seven inch. Ritual Mess really came together because James, the other guitar player, was in town visiting. James lives in Australia but had become friends with Will on an Ampere tour. James and Will had written all initial songs together. Then Will was thinking, "Jay's voice would sound really good on this." I remember for the seven inch Will just came down to New York and recorded the vocals in Jay's apartment one day. He didn't even do them in a studio. I went over to just hang out, to say hi to Will. I ended up helping Jay with phrasing, and not even that much. Then they put out the seven inch.

Painful Burning:
How did you come to be a part of the band?

Geoff Garlock:
James was coming back from Australia to visit America for a while. And they had started talking like, "You know, while we're all here we should write a full length album." I was hanging out with Jay and he just asked, "We didn't have a bass player on the last one, would you want to do it?" It sounded like a fun idea. At first Will had the worry that it would get people clamoring for an Orchid reunion. Having three members of Orchid all of a sudden together again it gets weird, fanboys going. That was his only worry because he loved playing with me. But we were just like, whatever, it doesn't matter. And we just ended up doing the record.

Painful Burning:
How was the recording process considering the twelve year break between the last Orchid album and this?

Geoff Garlock:
It was really natural. Recording didn't take that long. James and Will had written most of the songs. I met James for the first time in New York and we drove up to the North Hampton area, where Will lives. We completed the writing all the songs in one weekend, the weekend where we had that giant blizzard last year. We wrote two or three extra songs on top of what James and Will had already written, riff wise. We just kinda collaborated. Then I went home. James stuck around and they recorded the drums and the guitars. Two weeks later I drove up from New York, recorded all my bass tracks in five hours and went home. Jay went up at some point and recorded his vocals separately. I didn't even know he did it. And then all of a sudden I got an e-mail from Will saying, "Jay did his vocals, they sound great." I said, "Great, sounds cool." In some ways it felt like the best way to do a band at this point in our lives, being old men with various things going on. We just wrote it all, we didn't really think too much about it and it turned out better than any of us thought it would.

Painful Burning:
Maybe I don't understand the band name but it sounds like it wasn't a mess at all.

Geoff Garlock:
Yeah, it definitely was the opposite of the band name. I don't even know where the band name came from. I think it was just some band name that Jay had, or Will came up with. Again, they came up with it before I was even in the band because it was just supposed to be a seven inch project. It felt like a bunch of adults playing hardcore because we were just like, "Well, we have this time and let's just be logical about it." There was no dicking around. There was no, "We have to sit and think about this," it felt really natural. I think that's because we were tapping into what we do anyways. It wasn't that hard. It was a pretty easy record to write. Will is an amazing guitar player and a riff machine. He's always been that way and he always will be. It's incredible. And James is great too, James is a great riff machine as well. But that's what Will does. He decides to write a record and he writes a record. And that was refreshing for me. I was playing in Panthers for long, and we would hem and haw about everything. It would take so long to write records and write songs. It was the same with bands after. There was this band Dark Vibe with Jay and it was the same deal, and The Year Is One, this grindcore band, was the same deal as well. But Will's a machine in the best way possible.


Geoff Garlock playing bass in Orchid.



Painful Burning:
You mentioned James lives in Australia so does that mean there are no plans to tour?

Geoff Garlock:
No. Not at all. In the weekend we recorded we kinda talked about playing one show but I don't even know if we'll do it. If the opportunity arises, if we all happen to be in the same country or if there's some sort of reason. But it's hard, we all have different lives. It's especially hard with someone in a different country to block off a bunch of time to play some basements. It sounds both fun and not enticing to me at all. It's the love hate affair I have with touring. To say to my wife that I'm not going to see her for a couple weeks because I have to be in a smelly van.

Painful Burning:
Because you need to see a series of assorted basements on the East Coast.

Geoff Garlock:
Yeah, yeah, exactly. I've been in enough squats, I get it. Punk houses feel a little less charming when you're thirty six. I've eaten enough punk stew and dealt with enough punk time in my life. I love all that as well, but it's also hard for me because I have to stop doing comedy stuff. It's hard to block off that time when I have all these other things I'm focusing on.

Painful Burning:
Thirty six, or any age past twenty one, you have to start prioritizing things in your life and can't just endlessly tour.

Geoff Garlock:
That's the thing, it is around that time you have to start prioritizing, and I don't think I even started doing that until I reached twenty eight to thirty. I extended my Peter Pan leaf much longer than I probably should have. It's not that I'm still not a glorified hobo, I still am a glorified hobo in a different capacity. But I was never going to be a lifer in that way. At a certain point I realized that I'm not going to be the weird old guy, who still has a Crossed Out butt flap, taking photos at like an ABC show, and be like, "Hmm, things still smell the same." That being said, if there's still a good show at ABC No Rio I'll go over, I just won't be as happy about it.

Painful Burning:
You just won't wear your butt flap.

Geoff Garlock:
I'll leave the butt flap at home. I'll still love Crossed Out in my heart more than anything but I'm fine not having weird dreads and smelling.

Painful Burning:
Do you think recording was much easier for you because the project won't be a number one priority and there won't be touring?

Geoff Garlock:
Yeah. There was no pressure to the idea, that's also why I agreed to it. I've still been playing music, but I haven't been tour since 2007 and haven't put out a physical record since the last Panthers record. It didn't feel like there was any pressure which was nice. That did start to be a part of the stress of Panthers in some ways. It was a band that never was going to be big but there was a bit of an idea of, "Maybe we could do something with this." And we did do stuff with it. I'm still psyched on everything we did with Panthers. Even if some people hated it and some people really liked it, I still got to go on tour with High On Fire. That's the best thing ever. But there was a lot of undue pressure on that, which is again, the same pressure that can happen in comedy. Where you just get to that point where you're like, "I have to make this into a career... Somehow. Make all the hours I put into it viable." That fear and that push never end. I approached Ritual Mess how I approached my high school hardcore bands or Orchid, we played because we played. Which is also how I've been trying to approach comedy. Back then there wasn't an end goal of fame and fortune. You have to remind yourselves of that aspect and then actual good stuff comes out. That's how I feel like with Ritual Mess. We put out a great record, it's one that I'm really psyched on. And it didn't have to come about because I put a weird pressure on my brain. So yeah, a lack of pressure is great.

Painful Burning:
Orchid seemed to combine influences from many different regions. Ritual Mess seems to be playing an homage to San Diego, to the particular sound of Gravity Records. Was that purposeful? To awaken that part of your past with this particular sound?

Geoff Garlock:
I think that was a part of it. I remember Jay describing the band as, "Will wrote a bunch of these songs that he thinks sounds like Gravity Records stuff." It was just like, "Okay, that sounds cool. I love Clikatat Ikatowi still. I love those Swing Kids records. I love Antioch Arrow." They were all really great bands. As you get older, there are those certain records where you feel like, "I loved that but it's of a time," and it doesn't hit you in the same way. Then there are those bands that feel a little bit more timeless. Clikatat Ikatowi is one of those bands where I still listen and I'm like, "I'd like to rip that idea off... Now." As opposed to when I was sixteen. That was the idea behind those songs, thinking in those terms. When we were writing them I certainly was like, "Let's make this part a little more Swing Kids." Or, "What if we had a weird chanty thing like they do at the beginning of Orchestrated & Conducted by Clikatat Ikatowi?" But for me in Ritual Mess I think those influences came out a lot more than they did with Orchid. We're just all a collection of our influences so why not embrace them? I'm very happy with everything we did in Orchid. I do think it was just a nice mix that worked for the kids at the time. There was a lot of repurposing of a certain style that worked out well. There was German hardcore from Bremen on Per Koro Records and Canadian hardcore from Ottawa. That was Orchid to me when we were in the band. I was like, "I love One Eyed God Prophecy more than everything. Not enough people have heard One Eyed God Prophecy or Union Of Uranus. Same with Systral or Acme from Germany." So I was like, "Let's play those riffs." And it just worked. To toot our own horns, we're all pretty good musicians, Jay's a great vocalist, Blaine's an amazing drummer, Will's an amazing guitar player. It just worked out. For Ritual Mess I would almost say it felt like there was more of a purpose. Maybe it was partly just being older and acknowledging that, "We're just doing this. Isn't it fun to play this style? Let's play this style."


Geoff Garlock playing bass on stage.



Painful Burning:
Aren't you worried about putting all this work into Ritual Mess so that in ten years a doom metal band will steal your name again?

Geoff Garlock:
Jesus Christ, you know? What are you going to do? They're a totally fine band. It's frustrating because that skull does really look like our skull. It is a fine line, do skulls all look the same? Yeah, sure. But it is a little weird. I would be hard pressed to find out that at least one of them wasn't a hardcore kid at one point.

Painful Burning:
And if not, they're not worth listening to.

Geoff Garlock:
Orchid's not that surprising of a name. What are you going to do? There was also a Panthers. We didn't get yelled at by that sixties French pop band, the Panthers.

Painful Burning:
That is a bit more obscure.

Geoff Garlock:
It is a little more separated. I don't lose much sleep over it. I saw the other Orchid and was like, "Oh look at that. That's fun." I remember someone from Vice years ago, when Orchid first came out, was like, "You should sue them." And I was like, "What? No. I don't care. That's for other people. It's not that big of a deal."

Painful Burning:
Does the situation arise when you mention that you were in Orchid and people think you're talking about the other Orchid?

Geoff Garlock:
No. I don't know if I'm talking to any people who know the other Orchid. That being said, I don't even know if I'm talking to that many people who know my Orchid. Most of my world is UCB. If people are aware of me in the UCB community, because that's my main hub of the comedy world, they're aware vaguely that I was in bands and that I'm the guy who likes metal. There's a small punk and hardcore contingent of UCB which is also why we did the hardcore improv set at DCM this year and last year.

Painful Burning:
Which was what?

Geoff Garlock:
It was Provcore. This guy John Sartori had gotten it together with all of the people who were involved with UCB and also hardcore kids. We did a hardcore improv set. We had three or four mics out. This year I wore my Earth Crisis shirt. We would just do terrible scene work and whenever we pointed to the booth and it would go into a full improvised hardcore singalong. That was great.

Painful Burning:
It was a firestorm to purify the longform.

Geoff Garlock:
It really truly was. It was the most fun I've had on the UCB stage. I blew my voice out immediately. I really started to sound like Jake from Converge towards the end. I usually have a low bellow that I do but I lost it right away in between trying to do terrible scenes about a tag sale or something.

Painful Burning:
At five in the morning.

Geoff Garlock:
Yeah, last year was at one thirty in the morning. The year before was seven or eight in the morning. I woke up, got out of bed, drove in, went back home, and slept. But it was fun. Most people don't know, and I don't expect people to know.

Painful Burning:
What's so funny about nobody know about Orchid is that there's such an extensive Wikipedia page on the band. There's so much history. And you're surrounded by people who at most have heard of Minor Threat.

Geoff Garlock:
It's a complicated world. It's like talking to family members. It's just easier to give the broad strokes. Like you said, just be like, "It's a punk band like Minor Threat or Black Flag." I remember Will Hines was talking about how he wanted to do a video that never came to fruition of me and Don Fanelli, this performer at UCB, and it would be a split screen where one on side of the screen is Don Fanelli talking about the different subgenres of chilis that you can use in cooking. And on my split screen would be me talking about the subgenres of metal and hardcore. Because every once in a while he would ask me about this or that and I would be like, "The thing about doom is that there's also funeral doom." It's easier to just be like, "That's a metal band," and, "That's a punk band." When I have to start explaining, "Well, there's hardcore and then there's the DIY basement hardcore scene. We were in a thing called screamo and we never even liked that thing but now it's a different thing then you know if you've heard of the word screamo and some people use the joke term skramz but it's all kind of bullshit in the end." Then they want to walk away and not be talking about it anyways. Then I feel self conscious because I don't necessarily even want to be talking about it. It's like when you're doing a temp job and your boss finds out you play music, it's bad news. You just want that conversation to end immediately.

Painful Burning:
And while you're having this conversation with me there's some guy in Belgium and some guy in Chicago arguing on a messageboard about what genre a band you were in fifteen years ago should be categorized as.

Geoff Garlock:
Yeah. It's all messageboard culture that I can get sucked into and I don't want to.


Geoff Garlock hanging out with Jerry Seinfeld and some guy with a staring problem back in 1999.



Painful Burning:
How did all your background in punk prep you for doing comedy?

Geoff Garlock:
I don't know honestly. I don't know if it ever really prepped me for it. I didn't do comedy in college. I wasn't that guy. I kind of hated the improv groups. And it all seemed very sweaty to me in college. I didn't think about it. In high school I did a bunch of acting. I went to acting school in my last year. I did plays and musicals and all that shit. In college I was just like, "I'm a hardcore kid. That's what I do." I was very shortsighted. Even though I loved comedy and had been watching SNL, SCTV and Kids In The Hall since I was eight years old and was obsessed with standup comedy it just never seemed like something you could do. Then I went to school for film and realized that my short films were sketches. I thought I was going to do film. I just didn't really think that ahead. I was just like, "No, I'm in a hardcore band." I joined Orchid towards the end of college and before that I was just going to shows, going through the motions. Then I joined Orchid and was like, "I'll be in Orchid, that's what I'm doing." All of a sudden Orchid went right into Panthers so I was like, "I'll be in Panthers."

All my films were just sketches but I didn't do anything with comedy, it just didn't make sense. Me and Jay always thought about taking classes at UCB. I'm very territorial, I just don't go out of my zone a lot of times. So I didn't go to a show until after 9/11 where our drummer, Salane, got me to go with him and his wife. I saw The Swarm, the improv group, for the first time. I was like, "This is really great, maybe I should finally do this." Me and Jay took classes between doing stuff. We went through three levels of improv together. I was terrible at it. I wanted to do sketch but they didn't have a sketch program really. We tried to start a sketch group but it fell apart really quickly. Things Are Strange came out and I didn't do anything, I stopped doing it. It felt like I dropped out and I was like, "Well, that was a fun little valiance." Then at some point they started teaching sketch classes and honestly I was pretty depressed. I wasn't doing much besides Panthers. My now wife, girlfriend at the time, got me a gift certificate to a sketch class. I took my first sketch class with Chris Kula. And then I just kind of fell in love with it. I always loved sketch and I always wanted to be writing sketch. I had tried before but I couldn't wrap my brain around it completely. And I had never even completely pursued film stuff. Again, I was mostly doing temp work. In some ways now I look back it feels sad that I didn't do it. I didn't bother with trying to get production work or anything. Even though I realize now I lived one block away from four production studios in Greenpoint but I was too lazy to find them. I think I turned down a Sopranos job once as a PA because I didn't want to get up that early. I sound like an idiot punk and it drives me nuts now. But either way I ended up taking the sketch class and then that was it.

I kept taking sketch classes. At that point there weren't Maude teams, the house sketch teams, so there wasn't an end result. I was just doing it because I liked doing it. I had taken every sketch class while we were still touring, we were still doing shows, I would just do it in between. I started taking the classes because we had a break, we were in between the touring cycle of Things Are Strange and writing The Trick. Eventually I was done and I was like, "What should I do?" Chris Kula was like, "They're starting these things called Maude teams. You should try submitting for that as a writer." And then I did and then I got on Maude. Then I was on Maude for five and a half years. I eventually became a teacher and started doing my own shows at the theater. I did a couple runs there. This was all during the time I was still touring. I missed my first Maude show because Panthers was on tour with Big Business. I bought my first laptop so that I could write sketch from the road. We were in Texas at a rest stop and I called Joe Wengert to get notes on a sketch so I could write while we were driving. And then during the High On Fire tour, same deal, I was sending in sketches every week. I would clear it with the Artistic Director and just be like, "I know I'm not supposed to miss this amount but I talked to my team." So I'd be sitting in Houston while High On Fire was playing, writing sketches to send to UCB.

When Panthers dissolved I was like, "This is what I'm doing, this is what I love." I just kinda kept going down that track. So it all kind of just intermingled. It still was just performing. It still kind of felt like it was in the same world, in that it was its own little world, its own little subculture. It feels like there's a crossover anyways, people who like punk and music who like comedy as well.

Painful Burning:
It seems like less of stepping stone and the two just happened to coincide together.

Geoff Garlock:
Yeah, definitely. I think I approached it the same as playing music where it wasn't necessarily a career thing. I see that type of personality as a teacher from students coming through. The people who see it as a career. I don't think when I started it I thought of it like, "That would be cool, to do comedy." Then as I kept getting opportunities, "That would be great if I could make some sort of a living off of this." But also because of years of being in a punk band I never held my breath for that. I just was like, "You can't really make money off of doing stuff that's creative. You can pay rent for a month then have to do a temp job." I have those moments every now and then where I'm like, "I wish I had that personality earlier on of being the work horse. I'm writing jokes every day from the minute I graduate college until I get an internship on Letterman." But, that wasn't the case, I wanted to be in a punk band.

Painful Burning:
We're not all Mulaney.

Geoff Garlock:
Yeah, we're not. That's the other thing. That's something my wife tells me all the time when I get stressed about career, "In music you always seem to be fine of just being like, 'Here are all these different levels of bands. I'm in this level of punk band, and I'm in this level of metal band. There are bands like Creed or Nickelback or Katy Perry, and they're in their own world.' And you don't want that world." But when it comes to comedy I set everything on this even playing field. Where I'm like, "I should be like this guy who is the equivalent of Jimmy Page in the music world. I should be exactly like this guy who is a certified genius." I have to remember that we're not all Mulaney. He's a genius, he's great. We're not all Paul F. Tompkins.


Geoff Garlock points off camera with a dog in his arm.



Painful Burning:
Do you think if you started this sketch program when they had had the Maude teams you might not have gotten into it?

Geoff Garlock:
Yeah, one hundred percent. I tell that to my students all the time. As UCB gets bigger every year, and as a teacher I see it, I see it through the amount of students we get every year and the buzz around it. I tell them all the time at the end of my 101's, like, "It's stressful and you're probably not going to get on a Maude team if that's your end goal. It's not to dishearten you but I don't think I could get on a Maude team now." It's hard. It's finding that in between. I don't just want to be a self deprecating punk. I think that's something that carries over from punk that I don't think is helpful for comedy. Especially from the type of punk and hardcore that we were playing, where it was very much like, "You shouldn't strive to be too successful. If you get too successful then it's questionable." I think that doesn't help me for giving myself that drive and confidence to be like, "Yes, I am funny." That being said, I think I'm a very funny man and a very good writer, and I'm not convinced that I would've gotten on Maude as easily. Also, I got yelled at at the beginning of Maude pretty quickly. Just like, "You're not doing good enough work. Work harder." I definitely know that's the case. It's just a lot more competitive. There are a lot more people who see it as a viable career as opposed to the people who are doing comedy because they have to do comedy because that's what they do to survive in the world mentality.

Painful Burning:
In that world before if someone had the attitude that they were going to be the biggest band it was disdained but in comedy if people have that attitude it's welcomed because everybody is trying to make a living off of it.

Geoff Garlock:
I think that's the other thing, it wasn't even like we were involved a world where that was ever an option. I grew up in Connecticut and Jamie from Hatebreed booked all of our shows. He was the godfather of booking shows. But there was some element where you were like, "Hatebreed is probably going to be big if they continue." Because it was fine to have that goal. It certainly was not fine to have that goal in the basement scene. Not that I even had it, but it certainly was a frowned upon thing. I love Ebullition, it's probably still the best label I've ever been on, but it was a world where Ebullition was fighting against of the concept of bar codes. And you're just like, "I don't even know if I care about that, man. That's the issue that we're angry about?" So of course I'm going to feel self conscious if it's just we're too big of a band. Also the proliferation of the internet made it so you could hear everyone's crazy opinions about yourself. I still remember one of the things that broke me for Panthers, we got broken into in Montreal on our tour with High On Fire and got a bunch of our stuff stolen. Then this punk board I used to read I was reading the thread about it because we were trying to find our guitarist's guitar that his dad had made. On the same board and there were all these threads, "Fuck that band, they deserve it. They've got enough money." I was coming home negative. On that tour I had to come home and my wife had to pay our rent because I didn't have any money. And we had just been stolen from and missed a show after because we couldn't get to it because we were trying to deal with the police and all that stuff. I was like, "The hatred out there, fuck this shit." Yeah, it's two different worlds. I think that aspect is the biggest difference to me and can rear its ugly head. But it is hard when you're like, "Well, my friends are on SNL." It's not a crazy option. But also, as my therapist says, "You've got this battle if you want to be in a punk band that nobody knows but also be on the biggest show in the entire world. You've got to find an in between." It's like, "Yeah, I get it."

Painful Burning:
That's a good place to end the interview. Unless there's anything else you'd like to add.

Geoff Garlock:
I feel good. If you feel good I feel good.

-Z

1 comment:

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