Interview: Eight Bells’ Melynda Jackson
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Experimental music has always been vital, especially to heavy music. Without it, variety and true freedom are blanched into pointless genre masturbation and the cessation of original, creative voices.
One of these voices, Eight Bells founder Melynda Jackson, has spent her musical career fighting against boundaries both societal and artistic. As a member of sonic pathfinders SubArachnoid Space, her guitar work opened new pathways to musical consciousness with bursting arrays of texture and lysergic rock juxtaposed with minimalist, atmospheric drones. For more than a decade, SAS took listeners on a wild journey, with Hawkwind and Bauhaus as the soundtrack through a dark but exciting cosmos.
After the group called it a day, Melynda and SAS drummer Christopher Van Huffel formed Eight Bells, kidnapping bassist/vocalist Haley Westeiner and releasing The Captain’s Daughter in February 2013. The trio retains the experimental, spacey element of SAS, but delves much more deeply into darker moods and atmospheres. Their debut is chock full of blackened vocals, slow burning deconstruction, and a refreshingly creative interplay between Jackson and Westeiner.
After returning from a short West Coast jaunt with fellow happy campers SubRosa, the relentless pioneer checked in via email to discuss touring while having a “real” job, the experimental music state of affairs, and her love of reggae.
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You just wrapped up a tour with SubRosa. How did it go?
It went well. I will say that touring with SubRosa was a privilege and honor- not to mention they are good friends and super fun to be around. We all wished it could have been longer for sure. We hope to do more shows in the future. We were stoked to play with all the bands involved, and I hope we made a couple of new friends. I will also say that being able to hear vocals in the monitor is very important ….ha.
Along with SubRosa, you had the chance to share the bill with acts such as Amber Asylum and Wolvserpent. In your mind, what bonds you all together sonically?
We seem to be able to fit into a lot of different and varying places- we are stoked about this. I think that being ‘different’ or ‘genre less’ need not be viewed as a limitation but rather a freedom. We find acceptance in this, which is nice, but never an important motivator. All the bands we played with shared sincerity and I think that is really important.
The dichotomy between having to work a “regular” job to support your real interests can be a difficult one. Do you view touring as a break from the 9 to 5, or is it just as stressful? Obviously with the time you spent in SAS you spent quite a bit of time on the road.
Eight Bells touring is less stressful and more fun than SAS in most ways. I think balancing your regular job often feels like putting in time until you can do what you really love: music. Tour is a privilege and never easy- it has its own stresses. I enjoy the simplicity of it (once it starts). You simply get to a place and do what you love as best as you can. If you do that- you succeed every day.
This is very different from my job. I was really amazed when I got back to work at how I had just had the experience of doing what I like, and am best at and being treated as if I was good at something . . . and then coming back to have people talk to me in a totally different way – often dealing with ‘customers’ can be pretty demoralizing – some talk to you like a child or a person who doesn’t know what they are doing or is not very good at what they are doing-pretty much no one speaks to me like that in my ‘music job’.
Regarding Bandcamp and other social media outlets, do you feel it is a step in the right direction for artists to promote themselves, or is it information overload?
I think it is both. I like it that you don’t have to be ‘elite’ in order to put your music out there. But the same old trendy roadblocks will always remain in place. I accept this. It only feeds a fiercely passionate underground which survives on connection, friendship, and sharing.
The guitar appears to be your main instrument and method of expression. Do you create art in other areas as well (painting, writing, etc)?
Actually, I am not a good visual artist. I have a lot of ideas- but I cannot draw. Sound remains my main outlet- and to use guitar in a different way than what I am always hearing.
The dynamic you and Haley have onstage is interesting. Having never personally seen you live, and resorting to YouTube, your personalities play well off of each other. How did you come to meet?
We met through Nathan Carson at Nanotear Booking. He suggested we get in contact with each other and see if we could play together. I was blown away at Haley’s dexterity and melodic sensibility. I think she was stoked to play in a band like Eight Bells, and it took a bit of time for us to learn each other. I am excited that we have come to appreciate each other’s styles enough to being to create a new thing together. I am excited at what I learn from playing with her.
Some musicians have likened their art to a spiritual (not religious) experience. Do you feel that way about what you make, or are you more detached?
I feel really connected emotionally to what we do. Emotion is of the spirit. Art reflects whatever a person may believe to be their ‘soul’, but to me that is just another word for a person’s emotional world. I do believe in magic, but I don’t claim to understand it.
I think a person can have a ‘peak experience’ playing music. There is something about this form of communication that for some people is just so honest, that it digs out the core of their experience as a human being. To be emotionally naked and have others (either band mates, or an audience) witness it is a profound experience.
Growing up in rural Texas, who inspired you (as a person as well as music)?
Inspiration comes from various corners . . . wind howling around the corners of a prairie house . . . cracks in the dirt so deep that light can’t reach the bottom . . . rattling tin from a dilapidated barn making noise in the wind . . . Abandoned farm houses, barren hills, that one tree that will never grow tall . . . stinging nettles that entice you to touch their blossoms. Long periods without rain, thunder, and lightning. My amazing mom and grandmother. I dunno?
Everyone has their own way of dealing with suffering and hardship. If you didn’t play music, what would be another outlet you would use, if at all?
I don’t know what I would do. I think that the music keeps me from sinking too far – because I know that I will lose the will to do it if I let myself go hog wild with suffering and pain. I accept it as part of life – I know that I am not so different from others that I get to skip that part. I feel thankful that I can feel at all with so many people who seem to feel nothing walking around.
Do you think unique and extreme music has found more of an audience now than when you first began playing?
I do. Back in 1996 when SubArachnoid Space started, we were considered so ‘far out’, and constantly asked when we were going to get a ‘singer’. People didn’t know how to handle the fact that there was no ‘front person’. They didn’t know what to do with heavy music that was instrumental, and not sounding like Helmet or something. We could move among crowds who enjoyed psychedelia, but even back then SubArachnoid Space was a little too bleak and harsh for that scene…but over time it has changed.
I hear a lot of people bitching about keeping shit pure or whatever….I don’t subscribe to that point of view- a person who wants it pure should just keep in the confines of what they like and know and accept that others will always intrude on that. Fuck it. I don’t enjoy reggae music, so I don’t listen to it. I think ‘extreme’ music of all kinds is interesting – the first time I saw Khanate, I was stoked – that is pretty extreme. With black metal styles, I think it fills the void left by my sort of leaving the goth scene way back when – and adds the aggression that was missing from that. I think because of the time spent involved with Relapse Records way back in the day, I was able to be exposed to a lot of different aspects of ‘extreme’ and I am thankful for it.
What does the future hold for Eight Bells? Any other plans in the works?
We are so stoked after the tour and album that I would say yes there are plans. Playing in Europe would be nice. Of course releasing another record – we are writing now. I look forward to really dialing in our voice and identity musically – The Captain’s Daughter was referred to as a ‘statement of intent’. I look forward to expanding the story- we make no promises to make the same record twice – that is certain.