Interview with Five Hundredth Year
One of the best things about the annual Chill on the Hill Festival that local radio station 89X throws every years it that there are always some talented acts out of Michigan that make the bill. The station also hosts a competition to let one up and coming Detroit band kick off day two of the event. The winners this year were a band that has quite the year. From having their cover of Tove Lo’s “Talking Body” hit over 50,000 views to releasing their debut EP, A Rose From The Ashes, to sharing the stage with the likes of Gwar and Musroomhead, the Detroit sextet seem to be on the brink of breaking out of Detroit and hitting the mainstream. I saw down with all six members after their set at Chill on the Hill and talked about everything from where they go their start to where the band is heading next.
Under Bright Lights: How long has the band been together?
Zach Hunus (Drummer): 2 years.
UBL: How was the band formed?
Zach: Because I like writing music and I asked people to play music with me and it was a very good time.
Jonathan Immers (Rhythm Guitar): (laughing) The serious answer to that question is John (Pampreen) and Zach met each other, John is the lead singer of the band. I was brought on pretty shortly after as rhythm guitarist-
Zach: He wasn’t very good, we fired him the first time.
Jonathan (laughing): They did fire me the first time. I was a bass player before I was a guitar player. Then we switched me over to guitar because we couldn’t find any other guitarists-
Mike Heil (Keyboardist / Backup Vocals): That’s no excuse.
Jonathan: (Laughing) Fair enough. We brought Brenda (Bennett) on as the bass player. We cycled through a few guitarists during that time we brought Mike the keyboardist on board and Ben (Moss) here is the last one to join, he’s the lead guitarist.
Ben: I’m the baby of the bunch, it sounds cuter than it is, I promise.
UBL: I’m not a big fan of the hard rock / metal genre in general but after listening to your EP I feel like you guys really set yourself apart from other bands out there, how do you feel you do that?
Mike: How do you think we did that? How do we set ourselves apart for you?
UBL: Really I think it comes down to your music, specifically the compositions.
Mike: Personally I can say every song is an adventure. Every song is a story, a purpose, and it’s an adventure to perform in front of people. I can’t speak for anybody but myself, that’s how I keep it different.
Ben: I see it as, it’s everybody’s outside influences. My listening style, the style that I play is a little bit different than what everyone else here plays so it’s kind of a collaboration. Bringing six different influences into one group kind of sets us apart from that. I’m an All Shall Perish, As I Lay Dying, All That Remains kind of listener so I play the very shreddy, if you will, guitar parts and you have the hard rock influence people.
Ben: Yeah, Deftones, Nine Inch Nails, and Slipknot, you know, like that big sound. So the different influences is what I say sets us apart. It’s individual outside influences.
Zach: Where did all this come from, like I thought we were trying to write-
Zach: Something like that.
UBL: So you guys have had a pretty big year: The cover you did of Tove Lo’s “Talking Body” did really well, getting on this bill, you guys have done some other festivals this year. What is a personal highlight, what has been your favorite part of the year?
Zach: Being here and interviewing with you.
UBL: Awe, you guys are sweet.
John Pampreen: Kiss ass.
Mike: It’s not even being a ‘kiss ass,’ what he’s saying is true.
Jonathan: Oh yeah, we love the press, we really do.
Ben: The press does us a huge favor, when they actually put something out that’s worth a shit to read or to view it does us a huge favor because we can share that on our page and we can promote that ourselves. And not only do you do us a favor with your words but also-
Mike: Your answers are so preprogrammed (laughing).
Ben: They’re not, I’m making this shit up, I’m just really good at what I do.
Brenda: He’s just being honest.
Ben: Yeah, no seriously the fact that we can share your words and your thoughts and opinions on our music does us a huge favor because it’s either going to provoke or deter people from actually listening to our music. If they aren’t going to like what we do then they shouldn’t waste their time and they should go somewhere else, not that we don’t want those followers, we definitely do but if they aren’t going to enjoy it and they’re going to talk bad about it there’s no sense in having them come on to our page.
Mike: The fact that you give a fuck about what we give a fuck about means something to us because we put our heart and soul into this. The fact that you’re taking time out of your day to talk to us means something.
Ben: We have fun together and that’s a huge part of it.
UBL: Yeah you can tell. Were you guys surprised by the reception to your cover of Tove Lo’s “Talking Body?”
John P.: Oh yeah, a lot more people saw it then I thought would. Before we played that cover I had never heard of Tove Lo, I don’t listen to pop regularly.
UBL: I also don’t listen to a lot of pop so I really love when a rock band does a great cover, especially if it’s a song I wouldn’t have liked otherwise.
Ben: I love hearing that too, something that’s different. When you listen to a song and you can’t hear it going heavy but then you hear this band covering it and it’s heavy and you like it. It kind of speaks for the band covering the song and shows that they’re really good musicians.
Jonathan: We’ve gotten a lot of responses like that, people not caring for the song until they heard us play it.
Ben: We’ve actually had people who’ve said ‘hey, this lady (Tove Lo) did a cover of your song.’ So people thought it was our song.
Brenda: There were people that liked our version better.
UBL: Your debut EP is a solid introduction to your band. What is your writing process like?
Ben: The music usually comes first and then we have a solid idea as to what the song is going to be about and then we form the lyrics around that.
Brenda: We get a general concept.
Ben: Right, we get a general concept about this phrase, this verse. And then we tweak it and we change it until it’s what we need it to be.
John P: I sit in a bar and I get a beer and I write down every thing that comes to my mind and I hand it to everybody and they go ‘that sucks, that sucks that sucks, this is good, that sucks, this is good, this is good.’
Ben: It’s like forming clay into a pot, you have to start at the bottom and work to the top. You have a phrase or an idea and you work from that to build it to what you want it to be. The music is the beat, that’s what people are going to move to, that’s what they’re going to listen to and then the words come after.
Zach: We get a pretty general consensus and deal with each other’s ideas. At the end of the day I would say probably the rhythm section as well as the guitar players write most of the music.
Brenda: We just jam out.
Zach: We all as a band come up with they lyrics.
UBL: How long did it take you guys to write the EP?
Jonathan: It was kind of a bunch of songs we just had ready to go. We’ve been working for two years but it’s just been recently that we finished the song lineup.
UBL: What do you hope your listeners take away from the EP?
John P.: Good vibes.
Brenda: I think we have a nice variety of styles within that first EP as well. One of my personal favorites is also one of the heaviest, “Violent Descent.” Then we have “Blame” which is very radio friendly.
Zach: We really tried to make this album as diverse as we possibly could.
Mike: All I can say as far as our music goes is we’re only going up from here.
UBL: You guys have played typical shows and now you’ve done some festivals, how does the experience differ for you guys? I know you probably got a shorter set here.
Jonathan: Actually our set here was pretty long.
UBL: Yeah I was thinking ‘these guys are getting a really nice sized set.’
John P.: Well we kind of demanded it.
UBL: I saw they told you last song around 20 minutes before the next band was supposed to play.
John P.: Well there was some confusion about the time slotting. I was talking to our sound guy and he was like ‘dude you’ve got like twenty minutes.’ I was like four songs in and I was like ‘I cranked out four songs in ten minutes, ok, fine I’ll slow this down. We can jam this out a bit, I’ll bullshit some more. I’ll walk down, I’ll stand up on the guard rail.’ Michael goes stage diving.
Brenda: I think I’m preferring the festival type shows over regular shows personally.
UBL: Yeah, it seems that the great thing about a festival is you get to reach so many people that probably wouldn’t have heard your music otherwise.
John P.: Exactly.
UBL: And for me a live show really sells it. I can listen to your album and dig it but it’s the live show that really pulls me in and gets me hooked.
Ben: When I go to a show, I go to see, I don’t go to hear. If I wanted to buy your fucking album I would pay the same money I pay to get into this venue. I go to see you put on a show.
John P: We do try to give you a show.
Brenda: And we love playing live.
Ben: I feed off the crowd, when I see them get into it, it gets me excited. It makes me want to jump more, and move more, and headbang more, and jump off the stage and start a mosh pit. It gets me genuinely excited.
UBL: How long was the process to get into Chill on the Hill?
Zach: Two shows over two weeks.
UBL: Were you guys psyched to get in?
Ben: Oh definitely.
Jonathan: We competed last year as well but we didn’t get in, so it was nice to get it this year.
UBL: There’s got to be a lot of pressure opening a festival, especially on day two when people are hungover and tired from the previous day. How did you guys prepare to get people psyched up?
Zach: The same thing we do every time.
Ben: I felt the pressure a little bit but we had a pretty good sound check and that really makes all the difference.
Mike: You really just have to look at is as every other show that you do.
Ben: We switched up a few things, moved some songs around, took some out, added some others but for the most part it’s the same show we play every time. And when I saw show, I mean the movement on stage. The songs are different every time, we cater that to who we’re playing with, who we’re playing for, where we’re playing.
Brenda: We play to the audience.
Ben: The energy is always the same. We’re pretty accustomed to that and comfortable with it. Having a sound guy that is completely competent, you have a monitor mix and a main mix-
Brenda: It makes a HUGE difference.
Ben: It does because you don’t have to deal with those technical difficulties. Today we had a few things go wrong with my rig in particular.
John P.: I did try to cover that.
Ben: Having a competent sound guy makes the difference though.
UBL: How did you guys feel about the energy you were getting from the crowd?
Brenda: The crowd was awesome. I was very pleased with it.
Jonathan: I can’t believe they were moshing that early in the day. It was awesome.
Mike: 2 o’clock is not that early.
Jonathan: Well knowing that everyone was here yesterday and I think everyone was hungover today. 2 o’clock is very early if you were out the night before.
UBL: You guys were here yesterday?
Jonathan: I was here through the end of Weezer’s set.
John P.: I went home early so that I could be nice and rested for today.
UBL: Who were you guys excited to see?
Brenda, John P., Jonathan: Weezer.
Mike: Cage the Elephant. I love the play on words, I love the lyrical style. I’ve never seen them live so I’m excited. I hope they fulfill what I have in my head. Lyrically I prefer poetry, the way he writes is right up my alley, I love it.
Zach: Mike writes a lot of lyrics.
Mike: I do write a lot of lyrics, I’ve contributed a little to this band and I appreciate them letting me do that.
UBL: Last question, what’s next? Are you touring, is there more new music coming out, a full length album maybe?
Brenda: Writing and regional tours.
Mike: That’s for us to know and for you to never find out.
UBL: I can’t advertise for you if I never find out.
Mike: Ok, that’s for you to find out very soon.
John P.: What we want your readers and our fans to do is go follow our social media. We’ve got some upcoming things and that’s where we’ll announce it very very soon. We are going to be playing at The Machine Shop in, I think, early November. That’s the one show I can say for certain we will be playing. The rest of it, we still have details to work out which is typical stuff.
UBL: Anything else you want people to know.
In Unison: We love them.