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Interview

IKILLYA Vocalist Jason Lekberg Talks About The Band's Debut "Recon"

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New York City is home to bands from all genres, every one of them looking to be the next breakout group. IKILLYA (web site) has been slowly gaining a fan base and recognition, having played several big shows around the area and gotten support from various blogs across the Internet. Their groove metal sound hits like a old-school Lamb of God tune, though with a melodic sheen. After years of fine-tuning and rehearsing their material, the group just launched their debut album “Recon.” I had the chance to speak to vocalist Jason Lekberg about “Recon” and the difficulties of being a screamer without sounding monotonous.

Heavytothebone2: When IKILLYA formed as a band, did the band have any goals, desires, or dreams in mind?

I think every band has the dream of wanting to support yourself with music. I think that’s definitely been a goal for us. A little more immediate was just wanting to push ourselves creatively and to make music that we were all inspired by and moved us and hopefully would move other people. Past that, all of us have been playing for a long time and a couple of us have had fair amounts of success in other local projects. The whole “16-year-old, I want to be a rockstar and be on Cribs” thing is a little bit in the past. We want to write music that pushes ourselves creatively, moved ourselves and other people, and at the end of the day, we would love to not have day jobs.

Heavytothebone2: The band is a part of the vast NYC metal scene. What is it about that environment that not only draws so much acts together, but inspires you from a creative standpoint?

I think New York is one of the cities, aside from the fact it’s a huge city and there’s a lot of people here, which means there’s bound to be more bands, it’s the hub of the music industry. There’s a lot of people that feel if they come here, they will have a better shot. That definitely played a lot into our moving here, since nobody in the band is a native New Yorker.

All of us moved here. I think all of us moved here partially because we wanted to play music and pursue it professionally, at least more seriously than where we came from. This city spoke to us more than where we lived. I think that has a lot to do with it. It’s a very creative city and there are people here that want to make that creative endeavor their life; make it their occupation.

As far as what inspires us, the city is actually very inspiring to us. There’s a rhythm to this city and almost a groove to the city. There’s a lot of action constantly. It’s always moving. There’s always something happening. For us, that’s a very inspiring thing. In fact, the last track on the record (“Echoes in Eternity"), which is just an outro, is actually just me taking a digital recorder, sticking it in my pocket, and recording a good portion of my journey from my house to our practice space one day. It was just the sounds that we hear everyday on the subway. It inspires us subconsciously. I don’t think that it’s something where we sit there and think, ‘Oh, this cop siren or this building make us want to write this type of a riff,’ but there’s an energy here that I think influences the way that we write and the way that we interpret metal.

Heavytothebone2: With the track that you mentioned, “Echoes in Eternity,” is there a deeper meaning behind it other than you walking with a digital recorder?

It’s funny. When we figured out the intro and the outro, and we put those two together, we didn’t have names for them. We really wanted to come up with something more profound than just “Intro” and “Outro.” We bounced back and forth with a whole bunch of different ideas and kept going and going, and I believe Dave (Kerr), our guitar player, came up with the idea to lift fragments from the movie “Gladiator.”

The beginning part is “At My Signal,” which is from the line in “Gladiator,” ‘At my signal, unleash hell.’ A tongue-in-cheek thing for us, since the next song, which is actually the first full song on the record, is “...And Hell Followed With Him.” The last part is “Echoes in Eternity,” which is from the “Gladiator” line, ‘What we do in life echoes in eternity.’

We felt like the music that we make and when we put this down, this is a definition of ourselves. If not right in this moment, also potentially for all time. This may be the last piece of recorded music we ever get to make. We always try to make something that we’ll be happy with if it’s the last thing we get to do. We feel this record and these songs will hopefully echo in eternity, if for no other reason than just simply they have the potential to outlive us physically and hopefully resonate with people.

Heavytothebone2: The band has recorded a few demos in the past, but how was it to sit down and write a full-length album?

It was great. The first demo that we did was years ago and it was a different line-up. We don’t have a lot of money now, but we definitely didn’t have a lot of money then. We went in and recorded with a guy who was a really nice guy, but it was the first metal band he had ever worked with. He really just had no idea what to do with us. We plugged in and we just played, and then when it came to mixing, he was just like, ‘I don’t know how to do this.’ The result was that was something that I don’t think any of us were proud of. It didn’t really accomplish what we were going for.

Having Dave join the band and being able to play with Jeff Gretz from Zao was a whole different inspiration level, a whole different band. Being able to record with Joshua (Wilbur), who works with Lamb of God and Slipknot and Paul Suarez..the team we got to work with was great. We really feel like they captured exactly what we were going for. The intensity is there, the aggression is there. It was an amazing experience. I’ve put out a couple of records on indie labels in the past, and this is definitely the best thing I’ve ever done.

Heavytothebone2: What are the origins of these songs on “Recon”? How did they come together?

We write everything as a band. Occasionally, Dave will come in with a couple guitar riffs, maybe have somewhat of a song structure in mind. Mansa (Gory, bassist) turns on a digital recorder, and he’ll just write, and just free-form thoughts. Then he would send us the MP3 of these crazy free-form ideas. When we get together in the practice room, we just start piecing things together and changing arraignments around. It’s a very collaborative thing.

We end up with strange songs like “Jet Fuel Genetic” and “Bombs Away,” where some of the parts at first brush are like, ‘How do these parts go together?’ We really thrive off of working together and having each person’s individual influences be an equal part of a song and then those influences challenging the other members of the band to rise to that thought process. All of the songs were written that way. They were written very collaboratively.

We have an annoying habit of starting to play the songs live and watching the crowd respond and seeing which things work and which things don’t and going back and reworking everything. Most of the songs have been reworked several times before they make it to the recording. That’s all musically. For a vocal and lyrical standpoint, I pretty much write all of that myself. I write a lot of lyrics before I hear songs. I write things that come to my mind and when we finish a song, I start playing around with lyrics and either I adjust something that fits or take pieces and fill in the holes. I write when I’m inspired to write.

Heavytothebone2: Do you get your lyrics from personal experiences or fictional tales?

I’m not really a dragons and wizards kind of writer. I’m pretty much real life. There’s only so many real life things you can speak about, but I try to draw from experiences. Sometimes, I think about a certain emotion that I want to talk about and write about. When I was a kid, everything I wrote was about how angry I was at the place I lived. Those lyrics were not really good. As I’ve grown up, I written a lot more about the more common struggles I go through and I think everybody else goes through in life.

When it came to being really angry in songs like “...And Hell Followed With Him,” I had to sit down and say, ‘We need a I’m going to punch you in the face type of song. I need to write this song.’ It drew on past experiences, but it wasn’t an in-the-moment thing. When I wrote that song, I wasn’t sitting there thinking, ‘Oh, I’m so pissed off about this,’ it was more, ‘Let me write a song that encompasses an emotion.’

I try to be very positive with what I write too. Not positive in the hardcore, we’re all a big family positive, but in the sense that even though I may talk about things that are depressing or angry or upsetting, the end result of it, I try usually to be very like, ‘That was a horrible situation, but this is how you’re going to get past it.’ I decided to scream in this band, which makes it difficult to understand my lyrics, but I put a lot of thought into them and I hope that someone will read them and at least identify with what I’m saying.

Heavytothebone2: Are there any particular influences that helped mold you as a vocalist?

Absolutely. There are so many people that I take inspiration from. I’ve been listening to rock ‘n’ roll and metal for the majority of my life. Sebastian Bach was a big influence and Axl Rose, but then, I’m a huge Haunted fan. Peter Dolving is a big influence on me. Surprisingly, from a melody standpoint, the second half of Depeche Mode’s career has had some influence on what I’ve done. I feel like they really write intelligent melodies.

I would say the biggest influence on me lyrically is a local band from where I grew up in Indiana called About The Fire. Their singer, Fat Sammy was what he called himself, had a way with words that I’d never seen. It was very inspiring to me, especially in the latter part of my career. Understanding how he took everyday situations and was able to write intelligently, but make it very accessible. That’s something that’s been a big inspiration to me.

Heavytothebone2: When you’re in the studio working on your vocals, do you find it difficult to do the screaming without it sounding too monotonous or trying to make it sound more tuneful?

I’ve always been a guy that loves melodic stuff. When I write melody lines for our songs, I usually write them as a clean melody first, and then I go in and figure out how to scream that melody. I work very hard to make it melodic, but it’s definitely something that I’m very aware of; how monotonous it’s getting in the middle of a song. Working with Joshua and Ryan Kelly on this record, both of those guys are very aware of that. There’s a few different things in the songs Josh threw in and said, ‘Okay, sing this like this part,’ and there are some voices I may not have used before. I think he was calling one the Biohazard voice, which is not something that I would have typically done. He just wanted to help me change it up even more.

It’s something that I welcome, because I listen back and I hear the diversity. I really appreciate that. I don’t want it to be monotonous and I don’t want it to be like a dog barking. There is emotion in what I’m saying and I want that to come across, even if you don’t understand the lyrics that I’m saying. I work very hard at that. I leave it up to the listener if I’m successful or not, but it’s definitely something I attempt to do.

Heavytothebone2: How many takes on average does it usually take you to nail a vocal track? Can you do it in a few or does it take you a while to find the right pitch and tone?

It kind of depends on how well I know the song. If it’s a song that we’ve been working on for a very long time and I feel comfortable with it, it’s a pretty quick process. I think on average with this record, I was doing final takes in about an hour-and-a-half per song. We doubled a lot of the songs and only used the doubles in certain areas, which takes much longer than anything else. You can’t fake a double, so I got to sing with exactly the same inflection and the same cadence that you would just going through it the first time.

Ryan liked to call some of the parts, “Story Time With Jason,” where I do a speaking part as opposed to singing it. Those things are always very off the cuff. If you see me live, the cadence of those will be a little bit different, because it’s very much about the emotion of the moment. Those were very hard to double because I don’t exactly remember where the parts are. That honestly takes a lot longer than hitting the notes and pitches.

I feel very fortunate to have been able to work with some of the people I have worked with in the past. I studied with Melissa Cross for a little while, which really helped me raise my game. I’ve worked very hard on my voice and I feel like I’m in a pretty comfortable place now. I’m not going to say I just walk in and it falls out, but it definitely doesn’t take me forever to get the sound I’m looking for.

Heavytothebone2: I noticed that the band is using a live drummer and had a different drummer in the studio. Are you guys looking for a permanent member or are you guys just happy switching off?

We absolutely would love to have somebody permanently in the band. It’s an interesting situation in New York City. There is such opportunity here that a lot of the really good musicians are people that are session musicians. So when you go try to find somebody to play in your band, a lot of times they are like, ‘Hey, that’s great, but this is how I make my living. So I want to be paid.’

Right now, we’re rotating. Jeff (Gretz), who played on the album, he’s been doing some live gigs with us as well. Those two guys, Jeff and Matt (Zebroski), are hired guns. They are both phenomenal drummers and we love playing with them, but we would love a permanent member. Any band will tell you it’s really tough to find a full line-up. You got to find people that not only musically get along, but personally get along and have the same goals.

It’s been a struggle to find the right line-up. This band has been together for six years and we’ve had nine different guitar players. Once we found our guitar player, we lost our drummer. At this point, we’re very happy working with Jeff and Matt, and paying those guys for doing what they do. We would absolutely love to have somebody that’s a contributing member and adds their creative process to what we’re doing.

Heavytothebone2: Does the band have any touring plans for the near future?

Yeah, we’re booking a whole lot right now. We’re mainly on the East Coast at the moment, but we got a lot of stuff in the works up and down the East Coast. We’re looking at Boston dates and Connecticut dates. We’re going to be down in Delaware. We’re looking at diving out into the Midwest a little later in the year and we’re taking it as it comes. We’re still very young. There’s not a lot of big-tour opportunities for us, but we’re getting out there and playing in front of as many people as we can.

Heavytothebone2: How do you psych yourself up before going out on stage for a show?

I really wish that honestly I had a little more time to psych myself up. One of the things I like the least about playing live is that at the stage we’re at, we don’t have any roadies. We’re out doing the work ourselves. When you’re playing a show, a lot of times you’re loading and checking and setting stuff up and making sure everybody’s got what they need. The next thing I know, the sound guy’s going, ‘All right, you guys ready?’ We’re like, ‘Okay, we’re going.’

I wish I did have a few more minutes. In opposition to psyching myself up, I’m the type of person that just likes to have a quiet moment to, and I don’t want to be Zen about it, but recenter yourself. Take a breath; just focus and be like, ‘Okay, this is what I’m here doing. This is what’s going on.’ The emotions in the songs are very real to me and the songs are very real. So I don’t have to get excited and run out there.

I’m ready to go. I’m ready to perform. It’s just about being focused and not jumping up there and running into it. I love performing. I love being on stage. My ego is far larger than it should be. I’m happy to be on stage and perform at anytime. I would just love the ability to take a moment, pause time, and focus on what I’m about to do, so I’m paying attention, instead of just grabbing a microphone and yelling.

Heavytothebone2: What’s your favorite song from “Recon” to play live?

That’s tough. Probably “E.H.R” just because it’s one of the most personal songs to me. It’s kind of an autobiography. I also really like playing “Bombs Away” because the vocal melody is not what people would expect from the music. So it’s fun to watch the crowd wince a little bit and go, ‘What the hell? I didn’t see that coming.’ Hopefully, it’s in a good way, but that’s a fun one to play because people are very surprised at how melodic that chorus is.

Heavytothebone2: If you could tour with one band, past or present, who would it be and why?

I think at this point, I would love to go out with Lamb of God. I would love to play to their audience. We’ve also been fortunate enough to have a relationship with some of those guys and I really like those guys. They’re down-to-earth good guys. I think they share our ideals a lot, or we share there’s, as it would be. I think they would be a lot of fun to tour with. It would not be a lot of drama and I would love to play with their crowd. Hopefully, I think we would fit with them.

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