Interview with Chicago's Czar at the Empty Bottle
Czar is a new local band from Chicago. They have only released an EP so far, but I have to tell you, their EP is one of the best EP’s I have heard in my life. To put it in perspective, a lot of band's full length albums fail in comparison to this EP. I met Czar at a small time venue in Chicago called the Empty Bottle. They played alongside with two established local bands, Blood of the Tyrant and Chicago Thrash Ensemble. Czar is a three-piece band and the interview was done with all three members: Jason Novak (lead guitar and vocals), Brian Elza (bass), and Dan Brill (drums).
Daniel Becker: How did you exactly form?
Dan Brill: We started out with Arkham Asylum and it has been out since the early 90’s. We put out a bunch of albums, maybe eight, and toured a whole bunch. It was an industrial band but we put it to bed when we created our label “Cracknation” and we have moved away from the electronic and we do a lot of drum and bass and everything else is in the rear-view mirror. We have been focusing on the Czar now.
Becker: If you can describe the type of sound Czar is, how would you describe it to someone who does not know?
Brian Elza: Pretty expansive, slightly proggy, pretty menacing metal. It can be panoramic. There is all the post tags you can label a band, but that is too silly to get into. I usually just describe us as metal.
Brill: We first just wanted to do all instruments at the very beginning but then the vocals just intertwine now and then. It is more of a texture. Everything is more of a texture. We had had all these weird drum ideas that really did not fit into an industrial situation. Then it just kind of grew out of like messing around and being artists searching our brains and asking ourselves what we want to hear. This is kind of a watermark, a growing experience for all of us. We do not really know what we are going to fulfill, we just know what we want to hear.
Elza: Most of these songs start with Dan’s drum beats, and they are all very groovy beats. We hope we are not stepping on the grooves with guitars. In the end we hope that people leave with some of that.
Jason Novak: Yeah, I mean if you hear what we listen to, it is a lot more melodic then some of the bands and some of the styles we aim to be playing with and be associated with. So that is our goal; to take the progressive drums beats and time signatures and lay them out in a metal format with a little bit more melody and off-kilter song writing. I don’t think there is ever going to be shredding, soloing, or sweet picking going on though. It is a big loud experiment.
Becker: Are you going to make a full-length album?
Novak: We hope so. We have enough material to. Tonight we are playing the songs off the EP and four new ones. We have a lot of songs that we composed before but they were so complicated that we thought we would wait so we can perfect it. We would love to, that is definitely the next step. Hopefully, we will find a bigger label to help us put out a full-length album.
Becker: Is it safe to say then that on your next album, you are going to continue to do what you did on the EP or experiment with something else?
Novak: I think we are going to continue with what we did off the EP. You can tell, we are going to play some new material at this show. It is pretty standardized.
Elza: Pretty much it is going to be bigger, faster, stronger versions that were on the EP. Pretty much everything that we were writing it has more abrupt changes, or is faster, or is a lot slower. It seems to be going in the more extreme direction.
Brill: We are letting the music guide us as to what we are going to do.
Becker: I can really appreciate some of the catchy beats and riffs like on “In the Defense of Pluto” and “Goregon’s Trail.” How do you create such exciting and funky riffs and beats like these songs?
Novak: There are a lot of weird ways that we are inspired to write. It always goes back to the drumbeats. Dan will come up with that beat first; you know the rolling Tom beat that you were talking about. Then we come up with something, you know, what can we do that will compliment that. The riff that you pointed out is one of the simplest riffs on that record. Most of the other stuff that we write is a lot more complex and a little bit weirder. We did this beat so we would not step over this cool drum part.
Elza: Lots of bands first start off with this kick-ass riff. With us we do everything that firsts starts off with a really weird drumbeat. The guitar lines, we do not come up with what is going to be a catchy riff, it just is whatever works. If it is catchy, that is awesome. We do not ever think like oh, what is that killer riff that we can use in this song? We try to come up with things that have an honest compliment to it. None of our songs start with a monster riff. Like High On Fire, that is a riff band. Probably every single song they wrote Matt Pike was high as a kite and was like holy shit, listen to this monster riff. None of our songs start out with a monster. They all just kind of built into one I guess.
Brill: Or we will take parts that we have from other things and we will think what would really go good in here is to insert this part that we already wrote. Like there might be parts that we wrote several years ago and we may insert it into a part in the song if it sounds like it would be something we wanted to do. So far though, it seems that the rhythm always comes first.
Becker: So everything always starts off with the drums first instead of anything else?
Novak: Kind of. Some of the patterns on that record, and some of the patterns that he comes up with, I cannot think like that. Some of the time signatures like “Depthless Paradise of Terror,” have a nine beat instead of any traditional four or eight beat. It took us awhile to even catch that sort of beat. We were so excited because it was kicking our ass and we wanted to figure it out. A lot of the writing would be stimulated by these time signatures and interesting beats. If left to my own writing though, they would be a little bit more standard guitar lines and riffs. When you have some of his drumming though, come on, we can do better than that.
Brill: The whole thing has been really inspiring. When you are inspired, it just keeps coming. Don’t fight it you know, just let it come you know?
Czar: (all laughs).
Becker: Also, the band name is Czar right? On iTunes it shows that the band name is “The Czars.”
Novak: Oh really?
Elza: I think they resolved that.
Becker: So you guys own your own label?
Novak: Yeah, it is called Cracknation. It has been around since 2000. Probably about twenty titles under it but most of it is a lot of dark drum and bass, a little more ambient and industrial rock; more experimental stuff.
Becker: You guys got really good responses from Metalunderground.com. We get a lot of stuff, you guys have not even released a full-length album, and you guys completely overshadow the majority of the stuff I hear today. I put it in my top 5 of the best albums this year and it is not even a full-length album. I think Czar was below Crack the Skye.
Brill: Thank you! You know it is funny because we got a write up from The Reader and it said something about Mastodon has already done something with the fall of the Russian Czar, that is something you do not want to follow with. Lets hope that calling us Czar does not hurt. We came up with the name Czar months before that album and that song came up with. We had so many band names too. We start to record for the album and….
Elza: And then I come in one day saying check out the new Mastodon album and this 4 part suite called The Czar.
Novak: Then if you see them live, they use some of the visuals we do and we were like fuck. We did not know.
Elza: Then I brought in a copy of Ivan the Terrible and sure enough if you saw the Mastodon/Converge tour they rip off that scene from it.
Brill: it is a shame. When someone is trying to do some epic metal, no one wants to be compared. I don’t think we sound anything like Mastodon. I can see how someone can think it is kind of in that camp- of weird melodic metal. I just don’t hope that anybody thinks that we are trying in any way to emulate Mastodon in any way. Like I don’t want anyone to see that because they have a smash song that we called ourselves because of that.
Novak: How embarrassing, we were really bummed. As you mentioned though, yeah, Outburn gave us a good review, Sputnik magazine gave us a good review.
Becker: With someone with your talent, would it be still hard to get a label?
Novak: Yeah, and now metal has became such a ubiquitous style and so huge. There are so many bands out there.
Brill: I don’t even really care about the commercial scene. We are trying to create something new, something different...something… just something. Luckily, we are here and it has been really great so far. We have been getting a lot of positive reception that is always a good thing.
Becker: What bands would you like to tour with?
Elza: They need to dig up back Thin Lizzy. Torch, would love to play with them too.
Brill: Isis, would love to tour with Isis.
Elza: Angel Eyes too. If they would ever get off there butts and tour.
Becker: How about Mastodon, would you love to tour with Mastodon?
Czar: Of course.
Novak: It is really hard to get to tour with a band such as Mastodon. The labels don’t look for what a band like us could do; it is the other way around. Labels would want favors from us because we would get the exposure from them.
Becker: What is the metaphor for “In Defense of Pluto?”
Brill: It’s about not fitting in. Like if I was Pluto. How would you feel if I am not part of the solar system anymore? I’m not a planet anymore? It is a metaphor for someone to think they are a part of something but it turns out that you are not.
Novak: I got really pissed when that whole event happened. When we grew up in school we were taught this and now…
Elza: They even named a dog after it.
Becker: Cool. Well, I’ll see you guys at 11:45 pm.
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