Interview by DJ Johnson
After a decade together, it looks like it's finally time for (hed) Planet Earth to make their move. Two and a half years ago, their second album, Broke, charted a few singles but didn't make the charts as an album, and while it started the snowball rolling, it didn't put them on top of the world, as they'd hoped and almost expected it would. For vocalist and lyricist Jahred, it was the beginning of some very hard times.
Blackout hit the stores last month (March, 2003), and this time there were many differences. A darker vibe in the music, a major producer known as Machine, early exposure of their songs through big name video games, a lot of buzz, and some devastating lyrics by Jahred. The hard times had been documented, or at least the resulting emotional devastation had. Blackout's powerful songs take angst to a new level, one where the rap-metal fans congregate. Those who haven't discovered (hed) P.E. yet are about to.
Just before the release of Blackout, I talked to Jahred about the album, a major change within the band, and the dark days and nights that led to the creation of those lyrics that caught my ear and worried me a little. If my questions sound a little like I was the voice at the other end of a crisis clinic line, rest assured Jahred sounded just fine. Even amused at times, chuckling a bit at my obvious dances around certain questions. Musicians are cursed in many ways, as are most creative people, doomed to feel too much and heal too slowly, but they're also blessed with a means for catharsis. Blackout seems to have provided Jahred with part of the cure for what ailed him, as you'll see.
Cosmik: I finally got ahold of a pre-release of Blackout the other day. The band's obviously tighter and more experienced from a few more years together since Broke, and the power is explosive, but the atmosphere feels different. Darker. What's it like from the inside?
Jahred: Well, you know, as a vocalist/lyricist, I'm always really honest with my stuff. Around the making of this album I was having some real personal turmoil, so that's what most of the album deals with.
Cosmik: Did it effect the way the band operates?
Jahred: The band is very compartmentalized, as far as... On our off-season we don't have this group mentality of all trudging through songs together as we write them. It's not done like that. It's more like the songwriters will pass me their music, and I'll pick and choose what I want to sing on. We each have home studios, like little tiny ones, so we can pass around musical ideas and work on them on our own.
Cosmik: It seemed to me, from listening to Broke, that there were some good times and humor that would attract a certain kind of crowd that might be surprised by the darkness of this album, and there are a lot of fans of the darker music that will embrace it. Over the long haul, which band are you?
Jahred: I don't think we have to choose. I, myself, don't have to choose. I don't choose to go one way or the other. It's just however I'm feeling at the time, really, when I'm dealing with that particular song.
Cosmik: And hopefully the fans get into both sides. The lyrics on this album make it clear you haven't had a very easy time of things over the past few years. So bad that in Get Away
it sounds like you're looking at suicide as salvation. Was that just projecting, or was did it get that bad? [Why should I stick around when no one understands me - I know there's something better for me? (from "Get Away")]
Jahred: I definitely was down at the lowest point of my life, where I definitely contemplated throwing it in. But it was a low point of my life and I got through it, and it was a crossroads, and I'm better from it, but in the midst of it, it seemed insurmountable.
Cosmik: Would it be fair to say that Broke was actually a pretty successful thing for you?
Jahred: No, I don't think Broke was successful because it didn't go gold or anything. It depends on who you talk to, but I think it should have sold at least twice as many copies as it did.
Cosmik: It did chart some songs, though, and that made people aware of you.
Cosmik: So it was the most success you'd had up to that point.
Jahred: Sure, but it wasn't anything that I could really feel in my wallet or sense once I got off tour.
Cosmik: Ah, I see. Well, it definitely got you some critical acclaim.
Jahred: Yeah, it got us a couple more fans and this and that, but like I say, nothing I could feel when I got off the road.
Cosmik: And after a decade together, you'd just made a very strong album, so maybe you were expecting more?
Jahred: Mm... Maybe. You expect something. You don't expect to sell ten million, but certainly you expect something.
Cosmik: So is it safe to say that the lyrics on this album can be taken as autobiography?
Jahred: Yeah, definitely.
Cosmik: In that case, Carnivale
spells a lot of things out. People who are supposed to be your friends are really your enemies and they're in the next room waiting for you to fall asleep. So you don't. It's interesting that a lot of these lyrics are extreme expressions of feelings a lot of us have had. I think people are going to relate to it, even if they haven't been through it on the same level you have.
Jahred: (Laughs) Well, that's good to know, because I really doubt many people will go through what I went through at the time. I was really opened up to the dark side of humanity, and I came out with some good expressions there, so yeah, I do hope people can relate.
Cosmik: At this point do you feel comfortable saying specifically what happened to you?
Jahred: Oh, I think the album is explicit enough without me getting into any more detail.
Cosmik: Aaah, I see, so buy the album!
Jahred: Exactly. (Laughs.)
Cosmik: Okay, you've explained that the band is pretty much compartmentalized, and I understand that, but they still got tapes back with the music they wrote and recorded and it had unexpected lyrics on it. How did your bandmates handle all this?
Jahred: Oh, there was some lashback as far as, you know, a "Jahred, you're sounding pretty negative" kind of thing, but I'm one who sticks to my guns, lyrically. I won't change lyrics for guys in my band. It's just not gonna happen.
Cosmik: But did they change the music later to suit your lyrics?
Jahred: What happened was just that I kept wanting to sing on the darker music, and the other stuff I was getting I was like "aah, whatever." See, what you're hearing is me choosing the music I want to sing on. That's the stuff that made the cut as far as I'm concerned.
Cosmik: So there are several other songs in embryonic form somewhere.
Jahred: Oh, there would be tons of music from these songwriters that I heard and didn't feel like singing on.
Cosmik: It's interesting to learn what the process is, because the music is so charged. I'm really feeling it when the lyric is basically conveying chaos and the music is like a tornado. I think in the typical band that's the players writing to the lyrics.
Jahred: Yeah, I think that's more just me complementing the music that's already there. It's already there, and then it's me jumping into that chaos.
Cosmik: Since you were working through so many painful things while writing this album, are there songs that are difficult for you to sing now?
Jahred: (Laughs.) You know... It's a good question. We haven't really started to play the whole album, so I can't say yet. Normally it's more therapeutic. I don't think these songs will be too difficult, but we'll have to see as they come up.
Cosmik: Sitting here talking to you, you sound very up and together. Which I have to admit I wasn't sure you'd be.
Jahred: Yeah, you know, the album's been in the can for like a year, so I'm in an up-time in my life where I'm feeling mentally healthy.
Cosmik: Did writing the album help?
Jahred: Writing the album helped, Buddha helped me.
Cosmik: Buddha. Is that a recent thing for you?
Jahred: I think that, like anything, getting into Buddhism and having it help me in my life wasn't something that happened on a Tuesday and then on a Wednesday I started feeling good. It was over the course of a few years dabbling in Buddhist literature, and then finally, after this crossroads of the darkness of this album, really embracing the literature more.
Cosmik: It always amazes me how different things work miracles for different people. It sounds like this was the thing that helped you center yourself when you were way off balance.
Jahred: It really helps me deal with life and the shit that life's trying to dish out to me. Just different theories and patterns of thinking that I find in Buddhism that I find, once I embrace, really help me.
Cosmik: Between the catharsis of writing and the help of Buddhism, over a period of how long did you start to come out of this?
Jahred: Well... I'd say I had to give up hard alcohol and hard drugs, too. I had to get some solitude. So only within the last six months have I really felt some relief.
Cosmik: You're a very lucky person, then, because most people just crash and burn.
Jahred: Well, I had to turn it around, though, because like I said, in the midst of it, it was really bad.
Cosmik: Well, shit, having to give up booze and drugs is hard enough, and you had to give up some of the people around you, too, which is always next to impossible. When it's a lot of people, it's gotta be a unreal.
Jahred: Yeah. (Laughs.) If you only knew.
Cosmik: Well let's get to the record and cheer it up a little bit. What are the tracks you're most satisfied with, and why?
Jahred: I like Blackout
because I wrote the music, and that whole song is one I'm kind of responsible for, so as an ego thing, I really like it. And then Suck It Up
I really like. I had a lot to do with the music there, too, as far as the intro and all that. And "Get Away" and Other Side
. Those are my four favorites.
Cosmik: Other side of the coin, are there any songs you're not happy with?
Jahred: Naw... They're all good. I mean, I wish I could go back and do stuff, but...
Cosmik: But you always do.
Jahred: Yeah, most of the time there's going to be this or that thing I want to go back and do, but with the deadlines that we're on, it can't happen.
Cosmik: And, as you know, everybody feels that way.
Cosmik: Chad Benekos left the band just after the recording of Blackout, is that right?
Jahred: That's right.
Cosmik: I've read that he suggested his replacement, Sonny Mayo. Does that mean he left on good terms? Because that almost never happens.
Jahred: Well, he left on good terms, but he actually suggested somebody else, and I suggested Sonny, so it still worked. It was as good as it can be when someone quits your band, you know?
Cosmik: After ten years, it's gotta just about feel like a divorce.
Jahred: Yeah, it's hard, but it wasn't that big of a deal, because we got Sonny, and Sonny's The Man.
Cosmik: Sonny is someone you'd all known a long time. Had you played with him before, even just jamming?
Jahred: Yeah, he was in a band called Snot, and we played with that band about eight years ago.
Cosmik: Had he ever sat in with you before?
Jahred: No, no.
Cosmik: So you'd never seen if there would be chemistry before this.
Jahred: Naw, we knew it would be cool.
Cosmik: You've said the band became better with Sonny in place. How so? What did he bring?
Jahred: It just seems like a more focused, solid, darker stage show now, and he brought a certain clear-headedness and sobriety to the band that really helps us out.
Cosmik: You also said it changed the live sound for the better.
Jahred: Well, Chad was more of a hippie-style guitar player, and Sonny's a more solid, metal, hard-core player.
Cosmik: There was a period of a few years between albums, and now you've got this new sound. Does this make you want to hurry up and get in the studio and get this on tape?
Jahred: We're always anxious to get into the studio. Definitely, I'm always anxious to get some stuff out.
Cosmik: When did the tour officially start?
Jahred: It started March 1st.
Cosmik: How long are you going out and where all will you be going?
Jahred: We're going to be out until like April 27th all over the country. East to west and back to east again.
Cosmik: That sounds pretty tiring. Is the road good enough for you that you're looking forward to it?
Jahred: Yeah, I love it. It's just part of the whole game. It's a way of life, and part of the whole game. You've got to embrace it or just stay home.
Cosmik: Is this just the first leg of a tour, or is it a quickie?
Jahred: Well, after this we go to Europe. We're playing in Paris, London, Holland, you know... We've got a lot of stuff planned out for the next three months.
Cosmik: Europe sounds amazing to me. Everyone I interview is on their way or just got back. It sounds great.
Jahred: [Sarcastic laugh] Been there so many times the thrill is gone.
Cosmik: Really?! I can't even imagine.
Jahred: It's always fun, but I'd say I've been over to Europe about six times, or seven.
Cosmik: I've never been, so to me it'd be very cool.
Jahred: See? It's all about perspective.
Cosmik: Blackout ends with the song Revelation
, which seems to be summing up the way you'd been feeling through that time period when you were writing. "There is nothing I can say I haven't said - Thank you for listening to these voices in my head - This is my revelation, Lord, this is the end - This is my exodus, oh Lord, I'll break before I bend..." Will you still, or have things changed somehow?
Jahred: Well, sometimes I don't mean an exodus like "leave the planet," sometimes I just mean "leave from a certain situation." I don't always mean like leaving out of my body through suicide. Sometimes I mean getting out of a certain situation or getting away from a certain bad vibration.
Cosmik: That makes sense. But I have to admit, I never even thought of that. I guess everyone hears a song a different way.
Jahred: Right on. I get a kick out of hearing other people's interpretations.
Cosmik: Has anyone else interpreted it the other way?
Jahred: Well, what's cool is Sonny will go "Oh, I always though you meant this, that and this..." and I'll say "Whoa, that's rad, because I really meant this.
Cosmik: I listen to this album and there's all this pain and betrayal, and loss, too. Betrayal is so hard. You said "if you only knew" when I asked if it was difficult cutting people loose from your life. Just the feeling of the album says it was devastating.
Jahred: Yeah... but the effect those people can have on my life now is close to nil.
Cosmik: Probably always was. That's probably something you learn through Buddhism is that this was always true, if you'd only known it.
Jahred: Yeah, well that's the thing, you know? That's the thing about being betrayed by someone evil: they're wearing the smile. Your enemy doesn't come into your life with fangs, dragging his knuckles, it's like your friend. That's you're enemy, and that's what's going to tear your heart out, you know what I mean? Buddha said, and it's so true, you don't even get this many things that happen to you in life, but when some of it does happen, you better look at it as a huge message and a crossroads for you to make something right out of it. Fortunately, I was able to do that.