It has been another grand year for doom, what with Altar Of Oblivion, Angel Witch and blessed Saint Vitus all delivering sermons worthy of their names and yet even in such company the ten-years-in-the-making debut by Bedemon stands very loud and very proud. Offered the chance to fire a few questions the way of drummer/ guitarist (and also Pentagram man) Geof O’Keefe I gratefully accepted. Read on for a warm insight into the definition of perseverance and artistic vision.
AN: Hello Geof. Thanks for giving up your time to do this interview, I really appreciate it, especially as you have just dropped such a superb slab of doom on us. Its a real privilege.
Geof: Thank-you Giz for your interest.
AN: I guess the first thing to ask is….. Ten years? Ten years? How the hell do you go about keeping a project like this on the tracks for ten years? Especially with the tragic and untimely passing of Randy Palmer. I gather that he had laid down the basic rhythm guitar tracks, but how do you pick things up after such a horrible event and how did it come to take a decade to get to this point; the first studio album from Bedemon?
Geof: Well, Mike and I decided within a day or so that the album would be finished, both as a tribute to Randy and also because we knew how strong the material was. However, there was a long period of grieving, and then personal issues in our own lives took precedent, such as my elderly father developing dementia and eventually passing away at age 100 in 2004, and then vocalist Craig Junghandel’s mother passed away as well. Shawn Hafley, the engineer who had the studio where we would eventually record the vocals, had other jobs and very little free time and so on and so forth.
We did have the basic backing tracks and most of the guitar solos, all recorded over a six-day period in April 2002, but there were some major issues — such as the less-than-perfect drum recording — Shawn had to spend untold hours fixing before we could even begin recording the vocals, when he could find the time.
AN: Who was the driving force to finally get a full studio album out?
Geof: It really wasn’t an issue; as I said, Mike and I knew right away we would finish this album.
AN: What was it like going into the studio the first time and hearing those Randy Palmer guitar tracks playing back?
Geof: Well, we had CDs of the backing tracks so we’d been able to listen to them from a week or so after we recorded them, so it wasn’t like hearing them in the studio was the first time. However . . . there were a number of times during the mixing process where I would totally lose it, sitting next to Shawn at the mixing board during a playback of a nearly-completed song, hearing how amazing it sounded and wishing Randy were here to enjoy the experience.
AN: How was the recording actually done? Snatched moments here and there or was it condensed into a few more lengthy sessions? How did you keep the atmosphere so damned consistent?
Geof: The basic backing tracks were recorded in my garage. Randy, Mike and myself would sit in my living room with unplugged guitars and learn the songs. We would then go down to the garage and record what we had just learned, usually in 2-3 takes max. There was virtually NO pre-recording rehearsal or anything of that nature.
While Mike and I had recorded demos of our songs — Mike wrote “The Plague,” and I wrote “Saviour” and “Hopeless” — which had drum machines, vocals, overdubs and so on, Randy’s demos he’d sent us were literally Randy playing one guitar recorded on a cheap cassette deck in his living room. No vocals, no solos, no drum beats, nothing. We had to come up with all that on the fly, as we were learning and then recording them. The drum patterns and fills, all that stuff was literally what was coming up during the few takes we were actually recording. We didn’t run through the songs before recording; I didn’t work up any drum parts before they arrived, because again, no one really knew what Randy wanted in his songs, and while I knew what I wanted in mine, I hadn’t actually played them until we recorded them.
And then . . . the solos. Randy didn’t want to do them, as he felt his guitar playing was not the greatest, despite what fans might say. He insisted that Mike and myself do the solos as we were both better guitarists than he was. But, we had no idea not only who would be playing a given solo, but where the solo would go and for how long. So, after we recorded a backing track, Randy would then listen and during playback, say, “Okay, the solo starts here and goes on for eight lines . . . Geof, why don’t you play this one?” Then they would go up to my living room and I would sit alone in the garage and record a solo until I was happy with it, and then call them down to listen. So again, there was literally NO pre-working out of any of this; it was all very spontaneous.
As for the atmosphere, that came in a lot during the mixing and producing. I knew I wanted it to have a very 70s feel, something you could play next to Black Sabbath, Uriah Heep, Budgie and so on and it would sound right at home. I would bring 70s albums in and play them for Shawn and tell him, “That’s how I want this song to sound!” and so on.
AN: It seems that a lot of duties were shared in the studio. Who actually did what and did anyone take the lead when it came to decisions being made?
Geof: When we did the original recordings in 2002, it was Randy calling the shots. Bedemon was his project to begin with back in the 70s. It was never a band in the proper sense of the word; it was a recording project of Randy’s where he asked bassist Mike Matthews along with Bobby Liebling and myself from Pentagram to play on the recordings of mostly his songs, all done for fun. We never rehearsed and there was never any talk of playing gigs; Pentagram was the “serious” band. While I am not shy about my opinions on something — we had quite a few blow-ups on the phone and a few in person — ultimately it was Randy’s decisions.
After Randy’s passing, Mike and I would discuss options and everything had to have the approval of Mike and Craig, or at least a two-out-of-three majority. However, with Mike in Arizona (and later Montana), after we got into the studio to record the vocals and then mix the album during 2006-2009, I alone was producing it, assisted by engineer Shawn Hafley. All recordings were of course sent to both Mike and Craig for their approval.
AN: I have to ask where you dug up Craig Junhandel from. It’s not a name I knew before but he has a truly excellent voice. Is he of a similar age to you all, or younger?
Geof: He’s younger. Shawn the engineer worked at the time for a local indie record shop in San Luis Obispo called Boo Boo’s, and he knew we were looking for a singer. He recommended I check out Craig, who was the manager of their other location. I subsequently met with Craig, played him our stuff and heard tapes of him singing Sabbath and Priest covers — and some very pop stuff as well — and passed the tapes along to Randy and Mike. We were blown away, and Craig was the man. He’d never worked on original material before. He did an amazing job on these tracks, and it’s sad he not only never met Randy, he never even spoke with him on the phone.
AN: Were all the songs completely written, or was there still a lot of work to do on them?
Geof: Well, of the nine songs, three were mine or Mike’s and they were pretty much completely written. The three of us — Randy, Mike and myself all co-wrote “Son of Darkness,” and Randy wrote the remaining five songs. The problem we faced after his sudden death was . . . we had NO idea what he wanted in the songs. No idea where the vocals would go, what the melodies would be etc. As mentioned, his demos were just one guitar, nothing else. We had his written lyrics and instrumental backing tracks. It essentially came down to me having to finish writing his five songs (and “Son of Darkness”), from determining where the vocals would go, writing the actual melodies, coming up with the background vocal arrangements etc. I would play the songs over and over at home and in the car, humming melodies, reading the lyrics and trying to see what the song felt like, and then working with Craig who would contribute his thoughts and then trying things out. Most ideas worked; others didn’t. In the case of three songs (“Lord of Desolation,” “D.E.D.” and “Eternally Unhuman”), there were long ending sections with repeating chords and long fade-outs but nothing going on. No guitar solos Randy had asked for, nothing. So I went back into the lyrics of each song and selected a line or two to repeat in some form as the songs ended. It was a real challenge but artistically quite satisfying in the end.
AN: What was the first thing you all did when you realized after ten years the album was finally finished?
Geof: It was actually finished and mastered at the very end of 2009. It took over a year to get a deal for the release, and then there were a number of issues that came up. Svart wanted to remaster it and made some huge improvements. They actually had the album in the summer of 2011 but it took a year of back and forth before it was ready to be unleashed. Speaking for myself, I’d lived with it for so long, it didn’t really hit me until I actually opened the box from Svart and held the actual CD and LP in my hands. I totally lost it. It was finally . . . real.
AN: There is a really twisted atmosphere to the album, a sense of sanity teetering on the edge. Is this something that interests you or is it more from experience. How does religion play into this? The album is full of religious references, but of religion going wrong.
Geof: I can’t speak for Randy’s lyrical influences, but they in general were horror films, drugs and a very bleak outlook on the future of society and the world.
Mike discussed his song, “The Plague,” and described it this way: “I was working for Mohave County in Arizona and there was a lot of paranoia from the health department about a possible bird flu pandemic and that was the idea that drove the lyrics. The music is sort of Pink Floyd meets Black Sabbath.”
As for my two songs, “Saviour” was inspired by the occasional news story of priests being arrested for sexually preying upon children and the whole concept of a person of trust — priest, teacher, relative, coach etc. — betraying a child in the worst, most damaging way possible. It was written before the widespread Catholic Church scandals of cover-ups and relocating abusive priests, and I knew after those stories came out people would wrongly assume I wrote it after that, but it was actually before. “Hopeless” is about an individual who knows he is committing horrible crimes against women. He hears voices in his head and feels himself slipping from reality. He is battling with the urges he can’t control and trying to find sanity in his insanity.
AN: I think its fair to say that lyrically this is a dark and very downbeat album. Is it hard to stay positive when laying down so much musical grimness? Is it a world view you have or just an area to explore musically?
Geof: I think in the genre of doom heavy metal, the lyrical content is usually grim and violent, although there are bands like Place of Skulls with Christian viewpoints and positive themes. The music often has very gothic, dark, sinister riffs and chord patterns, and I think the lyrics compliment the music. I don’t think I could picture “Saviour” having the same effect if it had the same music but with happy lyrics like, “Step into the sun, people having fun, swimming in the pool…playing volleyball, shopping at the mall, isn’t summer cool!” Maybe I should start a new form called ‘happy metal.’
AN: It is also a very dramatic album and the characters who often narrate the songs are a varied bunch of miscreants and psychos. Is this almost theatrical aspect something that could be used live?
Geof: Yes, I’d think if we were to get to the point of playing live, there could be an almost Alice Cooper-like staging to some of the songs, but we’d have to be careful not to teeter into Spinal Tap territory. In a way, Bedemon is almost a parody of the extremes of doom metal; some people take it SOOOOO seriously.. When I was writing a lyric in “Hopeless” like, “Maggots boring through my skull to feast upon my living brain,” I wasn’t under the illusion this was Lennon-McCartney. It was written to be so intentionally over-the-top and disturbing that most people would laugh. Laugh uncomfortably, as they slowly move away from me, but laugh nonetheless.
AN: One of the things that brings the album to life for me are some of the instrumental breaks. There is a brightness and an energy to them that would shame many a much younger band. What is it about this style of music that can keep your enthusiasm up year after year? Does doom keep you young or just helps hold the old bones together?
Geof: I don’t feel an age when playing music. It just is. I don’t care if a musician is 16 or 60; if it’s a good song and well-played, then it’s a good song and well-played. It’s ludicrous to say someone is too old to play a certain type of music. I think the fact that none of us in Pentagram or Bedemon have ever gotten to the “big time” also gives us that energy of still having something to prove. I have so many song ideas dating from Pentagram songs in the 70s to demos and ideas in my head right now. Yes, the body is having some signs of age, but the spirit is alive and well and living in the 70s.
AN: I think from my point of view this is an album very much centered on guitar work, particularly lead breaks. Is that something that is just how things were written or was there a conscious desire to keep that central as a reminder of Randy?
Geof: As mentioned, the solos were very much spontaneous and not pre-worked out at all. Mike did the first solo in “The Plague,” the amazing long jammy end solo in “Godless” and the middle solo in “Eternally Unhuman,” Randy had written his solo in “D.E.D.” and the rest were all me. “Saviour” and “Hopeless” I worked on extensively years later, but the other songs were just what came out during the original sessions in 2002. I wasn’t trying to play anything for Randy as much as just trying to play what emotion the song brought out in me.
AN: Back in the seventies was there a feeling amongst you that you were really onto something with the ominous sounds of doom metal with Bedemon and Pentagram? What were those times like?
Geof: From 1970 to 1975, I was 15 through 20 years old. It was the typical teenage life of that era: playing music, going to concerts, smoking pot, trying to get laid and so on. Pentagram was a hard-rock band; the doom version of them really began with the 80s line-up through the present. At the time Bobby and I formed Pentagram, we were into all sorts of bands like Blue Cheer, Sir Lord Baltimore, Dust, Stray, The Groundhogs, Wishbone Ash, Thin Lizzy, Mountain, Grand Funk, Uriah Heep, Captain Beyond, Deep Purple and of course, Black Sabbath, but Sabbath wasn’t our main influence. The 80s Pentagram was much more singularly influence by the thick and sludgy Sabbath sound.
Bedemon, on the other hand, was much more doomy when we first started recording Randy’s songs in 1973. His favorite band was Black Sabbath, and that came across in his writing, very slow and sinister ugly-chord songs with ominous melodies. But, he too was a fun-loving guy who loved playing pinball and riding roller coasters. We weren’t sitting around in robes in candle-lit dungeons sacrificing virgins. Okay, there was some deflowering of virgins that took place, but there was nothing satanic about it.
AN: Is there anything you wish you had done differently back then as far as Bedemon goes, or is regret not something you spend time on?
Geof: Well, again, Bedemon wasn’t a band. There are things I wish had gone differently in Pentagram, but no, there is no reason to sit around forty years later and dwell on the coulda/shoulda possibilities. I’m glad in 2012 that we got this album finished and out there for the world to hear.
AN: Particularly in “Lord Of Desolation” there are a couple of direct references to Black Sabbath. Bearing in mind that Bedemon were very much active in a similar era what do you see in the musical relationship between the two bands if anything?
Geof: That’s one of Randy’s songs, and as mentioned, his favorite band always was Black Sabbath, so I am sure his references were both intentional and reverential. The 70s stuff was very Sabbath-inspired, and even my contributions at that time like “Frozen Fear” were written with them in mind. The newer material was light years beyond the older stuff, but obviously songs like “Lord of Desolation” and “Eternally Unhuman” have Sabbath influence all over them. There are a few parts in “Hopeless” that I definitely wrote with Sabbath on the brain.
AN: So what next for Bedemon? You’ve managed to create a sound that both harks back to the seventies but still sounds fresh and modern. Can we expect more or was the birthing of this album not something you can repeat? Is there any chance that we will get to hear the music live?
Geof: Playing live is something we have discussed; it’s not out of the question and there definitely is a desire to but there are some obvious practical and logistical issues, starting with Randy being dead and unlikely to be available. Mike lives in Montana, Craig and I live in California. Mike and I did most of the guitar solos. We’d have to get one or perhaps better two guitarists to fill out the sound and recreate it on stage. Keep in mind, Bedemon has never played together live, in the past or present. It’s always been a studio-only project. So, we’re talking about it.
Album-wise, Randy left behind a few cassettes of new song ideas he’d come up with after recording Symphony of Shadows. There are easily songs and riffs on these tapes that are every bit as good as the songs on the album — maybe some even better — and we could take these ideas and flesh them out into complete songs. It would take a lot of work, but it could be done. It will depend on the overall reaction to this album and if there is enough interest to warrant the time, energy and money it would take to follow through on that idea. I personally would love to do it though.
AN: Thanks again for your time guys. And for giving us such great music.
Geof: Thank-you for your interest and for the great review. Play it loud and play it for Randy.
Thanks to Geof for being so generous with his time and being so willing to talk, it is much appreciated. To me one of the things about true doom that sets it apart from other branches is that for the most part it may be about looking darkness in the face, but it is also as much about not giving in to that darkness, about recognizing and fighting against the inevitable right up until it happens. I can’t help but feel that the Bedemon album exemplifies that spirit.
Doom or Be Doomed!