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Heart Of Barf's Ed RosenBerg Talks Saxophone In Metal

Going about as far from the traditional metal lineup as you can before entirely leaving the genre behind, the Heart of Barf trio defies expectations by consisting of a drummer, sax player, and extreme vocalist.

If the lineup and the name makes you think the group is joke to laugh at for 10 seconds and move on, think again: although clearly not taking themselves too seriously, the guys from Heart of Barf make surprisingly well crafted music that effectively shows the sax is a metal instrument. You can check out several songs from the band by heading over here.

To get the inside scoop on Heart of Barf and find out how the bizarre combination of musicians came to be I got in contact with sax maestro Ed RosenBerg, who discussed the band's history, how metal groups have used sax in the past, and the difficulties of writing sax parts for a heavy and fast paced band.

xFiruath: Is the name “Heart of Barf” a specific reference to something or more meant for shock value?

Ed: “Heart of Barf” originated as a name for a Christmas album recorded by another band I play with, Jerseyband. My friend Alex Hamlin suggested it as a joke. A few years later, when Brent Madsen and I were thinking of putting this group together, “Heart of Barf” seemed like a perfect fit. It’s not really intended to be shocking. I think of it more as a satire of a typical “metal” name. Names like Slayer, Death, Napalm Death, Carcass, Cannibal Corpse all have a certain tone to them. Staying more true to that tone we might have gone with “Heart Of Blood,” or “Heart Of Evil.” But instead, it’s the significantly more goofy “Heart Of Barf.” Ultimately, I guess it’s just meant to be weird and funny. Plus it almost rhymes.

xFiruath: Is Heart of Barf a main band for you guys or more of a side project?

Ed: These days it’s more of a side project. We all play with lots of different groups. Brent and I both play in a group called Jerseyband, which also uses horns in a metal-ish context.

xFiruath: Was the plan originally to do a three piece consisting of sax/drums/vocals, and can you give me a little history on the group and how the members know each other?

Ed: Brent Madsen (vox) and I met at music school. It was there that our other group Jerseyband formed. Over the years, Jerseyband’s music began to slide more and more in the metal direction and at a certain point I mentioned the idea to Brent of creating a super distilled version. Just sax, drums and vox. We originally modeled the group after Agoraphobic Nosebleed. We recorded 5 or 6 tracks with sax, vox and programmed drums (some can be heard at this location). Ed Klinger (drums) and I met in grad school. He could actually play all the programmed parts I had written, so that’s when we started using a human drummer.

xFiruath: In your own words, how would you describe the sound of the band to someone who hadn’t heard it yet?

Ed: If I was describing it to a metal fan, I would say something like “Think Pig Destroyer or Agoraphobic Nosebleed, but with a saxophone instead of guitar.” To someone who didn’t have any metal knowledge, I would say “Really fast and crazy saxophone with really fast and crazy drums with someone screaming overtop. All loud.”

xFiruath: What’s going on lyrically with “Look at These Teeth?”

Ed: With the earlier EPs, there were less lyrics. The songs were shorter also, but in general there was less for Brent to do. When I was writing these songs I wanted to give Brent lots to “say.” Almost too much, so he really has to go fast to get it all out. I think that results in a certain energy that matches the music well. So, after deciding to have lots more lyrics, I had to figure out what the hell he would actually say. I started trying to think about what sort of subjects/stories would fit the music well. If this music was the score to a film, what would have to be happening in the movie for it to make sense? So that led me to the 3 little stories for the 3 songs.

“Cave Life” is about a man obsessed with going to live with wolves. He thinks the wolves are expecting him. They’ll know him once they see his teeth. “I Smell Ninja” is written from the perspective of a little boy who wants to be a ninja. The vocals represent his internal monologue. He has all these grand ideas about battle and weapons, but it’s all a little juvenile. Ultimately we find out that some other kids are making fun of him. The last lines are his comeback to the other kids. I like the idea that a little kid imagines himself to be really tough and terrifying, but really he’s just a kid with a mask playing in the street.

“Parts” is about a man turning into a plant over the course of a few hours. It’s silly, but also pretty disturbing if you imagine what it would be like if it actually happened. Undergoing a strange Cronenberg-esque metamorphosis seemed like a good motivation for screaming.

xFiruath: Would you consider any other metal bands that have used saxophone in their music as influences on Heart of Barf (for instance, Ihsahn, Fallstaf, etc.)?

Ed: I would say no. The few things I’ve heard over the years haven’t really been to my liking. But I haven’t heard the groups you mentioned. I’ll have to check them out. Some people use saxophone in metal just like it’s used in other music… as a solo instrument. So you’ve got this song going, then suddenly there is a fusiony breakdown with a fusiony sax solo. It’s not bad, it’s just not what I’m after. I want the saxophone to be the source of the heaviness, not just riding on top. Some people also distort the saxophone, or apply so many effects that it basically sounds like a guitar or a synth. That’s fine too, but I want to keep the saxophone sounding as much like a saxophone as possible. I like the idea of this band being able to do an unplugged performance that sounds exactly the same as when we are amplified.

xFiruath: With such a non-traditional grouping of instruments making up the band, how do you write songs and how does the process differ from writing with a guitar and bass driven group?

Ed: The writing always starts with the lyrics. After that, I think about the rhythm of the words and try to imagine what sort of music would go with them. Being a saxophone player, and not a guitarist or bassist, I’m not sure how the writing process differs from guitar/bass, but the actual content of the music is different. Things that sound heavy on a guitar won’t necessarily sound heavy when you play them on a saxophone. In fact, there is a reasonable chance that it will sound goofy or cheesy. So, one of the main challenges is trying to write things for the saxophone that have the right level of intensity/energy without relying too much on guitar precedents.

xFiruath: Has Heart of Barf taken its sax-laden metal out for any live shows yet, and do you have any upcoming live appearances?

Ed: As of now, we’ve done only one live performance. When I was in graduate school for music composition, every once in a while they would have concerts to feature student compositions. At one such concert, I decided to include a Heart Of Barf song as my composition. We played “Barnyard Medical.” After we finished the song, a little boy on the verge of tears shouted, “Where am I?” Though I never like to upset a child, I admit that I was thrilled to have literally disoriented the little boy with our music. Definitely a once-in-a-lifetime reaction. As far as future shows go, we’ve been talking about it. I’d really love to turn it into a touring group, but there are no definite plans as of yet.

xFiruath: What bands are you listening to lately and do you have a favorite or most disappointing album so far this year?

Ed: I’m a huge Meshuggah fan, so I’m always listening to them. I’m greatly looking forward to their new album next year. I’m also a fan of Mastodon, but I prefer their older stuff. I’ll admit I’m not crazy about “The Hunter.“ I love everything up to and including “Leviathan.”

xFiruath: Been to any really great live shows lately?

Ed: I saw Meshuggah a while ago, and they were amazing.

xFiruath: What’s your local metal scene like these days?

Ed: I live in New York City. I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I have no idea what the metal scene is like. I suspect it’s great though.

xFiruath: Anything else you’d like to discuss?

Ed: Just want to say thanks to you and Metalunderground for helping us spread the word about the new EP and the band in general. We’re all very excited about the response so far. Hopefully we’ll have more new music and possible live shows in 2012!

xFiruath's avatar

Ty Arthur splits his time between writing dark fiction, spreading the word about underground metal bands, and bringing you the latest gaming news. His sci-fi, grimdark fantasy, and horror novels can be found at Amazon.

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