Chuck Schuldiner Project

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Interview with Brent Vallefuoco of Godlbess Thee, Mooseheart

After having been given the opportunity to review their stellar upcoming full-length album The Prison Pt.II, I recently got to set up a skype session with Godbless thee, Mooseheart mastermind Brent Vallefuoco to discuss the album in more depth.

1.       Could you explain the concept behind this record and tell us where it where it came from?

It’s really not as obtuse as it might seem. When I first started working on The Prison Pt.I, I was very influenced by albums like The Wall, 2112 or also Deathconsciousness, which has a huge book explaining its story. There’s a whole bunch of proggy concept albums like that made me want to make my “own story”, my own “prog-masterpiece”, and in Pt.I there was kind of a story. It’s really just about a kid growing up and dealing with shitty stuff in his family. However, as I was going through Pt.II, I came to realize that I was putting so much energy into trying to make this story but what I was really trying to communicate was all this stuff I was going through. So I figured it would be a lot less pretentious and a lot more intimate and meaningful to me if instead of trying to turn the concept into some grandiose story, I just wrote about what I was going through.
So there’s’ still somewhat of a narrative on the album but it’s more about the journey I went through as I was coping with the things in the songs.

You can kind of break down Mountain Song, Perdu and La Forêt Noire into one act, where I become aware of the rose colored glasses I had been wearing when I was a kid through which I would see everything in an idealized way. You grow up and you sort of realize that things are kind of amiss, realizing that there’s this family conflict that has been going on this whole time or that you never knew that there was one particular family member that was a drug addict or something like that. A lot of it is pretty self-evident if you read it in that way. I think La Forêt Noire is really just about grieving that loss of innocence of seeing things in a sort of way where everything was so much bigger than me, which would make me want to explore this world that didn’t make much sense to me but that felt so cool because I was only 6.

The next 3 songs, Molasses, The Monster Overlooking Everything Else, and Bodies of Water are about me coping with some of the deeper issues going on there, not just the ones on the surface. They’re about when I first started to come to terms with certain dramatic memories that I had repressed. Most particularly I had a really abusive relationship with a certain family member, and The Monster Overlooking Everything Else is about how that relationship impacted my ability to be able to connect with people because I had a fucked up model for intimacy. I would have this image that being close to someone is something that will get you hurt. In that song I’m expressing a lot of anger about it, whereas Bodies of Water represents the inverse of that, once the anger settles down you realize that it’s the lack of self-acceptance that is driving that anger. 

The last few songs, Through the Eyes of the Suburbs, The End, Neptune are really about realizing that I was holding on to all of these things from my childhood that weren’t really a part of my life anymore, which made them have such a big impact on me. Through the Eyes of the Suburbs is a portrait of how envision myself as a kid, and the song title itself is a reference to Through the eyes of Ruby by the Smashing Pumpkins, which captures a lot of that nostalgia for me. I think that the one very important song on the album for me is The End, because I wrote that song when someone suggested to me that if I really wanted to get in touch with all of that stuff and try to cope with it, I should try and ask the kid that went through that, asking him to talk and to tell me what he was feeling. So I sat down with a notepad and just said to myself “Alright little Brent, just tell me what’s wrong, what you’re feeling. I want to let you know that you can talk to me about anything you want right now.”  So that song is about everything that that kid had to say to me. I realized that I had been setting up so many defense mechanisms to keep myself protected because I was so afraid of being hurt that I was actually hurting myself. I was indirectly telling myself that I needed to be different in order to be accepted, the exact opposite of who I was. As a result, that kid just felt like he was worthless, that he wasn’t even worth being acknowledged. So I realized that the only way I was ever going to accept all of those things happening was to simply accept myself, and to accept that I can take care of myself, that I can be my own person to validate myself, that I don’t need to do all of that stuff to keep myself safe anymore. And then Neptune is really about how I envisioned myself after that. The whole time I had envisioned myself going on this journey away from everything, constantly fighting against everything to try and make things my way, try to make myself safe and try to get back at everyone, and at the end of it I’m just so far away from anything I ever liked, you know? I was just driving myself into a whole. So this was just me saying that I didn’t want to do that anymore.

2.  Speaking of which, Neptune feels to like it bears a connection with the opening track, as if the album shifted back to a fresh new start with a more positive outlook. Is this just me or do the songs bear no connections at all?
I think they should *laughs*. I feel like MAYBE that was what was going through my head, but I can’t really tell. That’s a very valid way of looking at it.
Mountain Song is the only song that still exists from that idea of my creating a narrative, since I originally intended to create this whole fantasy world for the whole album. So that’s me envisioning things how I would LIKE things to be… this lonely place where I could be by myself and explore things. The thing about that song that is always a little disturbing to me is that I’m alone there. I hadn’t realized it at that point but I’m beginning to isolate myself, which is a bad thing. In Neptune, it’s like: “Well, I’ve finally gotten to where I’ve wanted to go, but it’s so dissatisfying, and this is not where I want to be after all”. So I guess there is some sort of connection. They’re expressing the same thing but in completely different ways.  So I guess you could see it as a new start.

3.  The Prison Pt.II will be your first release with the band in over 3 years. Was there a different writing approach to this album compared to your previous albums?

Definitely. There was just so much I have learned from the time that I was working on Pt.II. I actually write about this in the liner notes of the album. I think Pt.II evolved so much from where I was at Pt.I that I almost don’t even consider it a sequel anymore. I almost consider it as an antithesis. I mean it clearly comes from the same root, but on Pt.I I just don’t think I had figured out how to maturely do what I was trying to do on Pt.II yet. There are also certain things about the first installment that still bother me a little bit; the production isn’t as good as I’d like it to be, and there a just certain things about the song structures where you can clearly see the ambition but I hadn’t figured out how to make all of my weird ideas work yet, how to make them cohesive. Certain songs are still kind of jarring, and you can tell especially towards the latter part of that album that certain songs aren’t really fleshed out all the way. I think that it’s because I was just too eager to get it finished. Once I had put it out and I was reading all of the reviews I got back, I kind of realized that I hadn’t let it really “cook” all the way, you know?
So on Pt.II, I just told myself “I’m not even going to think about releasing this thing until I know it’s DONE”. Every song was constantly being worked on for the entirety of that period. Mountain Song, Perdu and La Forêt Noire were all completely re-recorded because I just didn’t like the sounds I got the first time around. I ended up recording all of the drums at a studio that I now happen to work at.
As far as the composition goes, I was writing that album after a long tenure with Xanthochroid, where I learned so much more about theory. I spent so much more time learning theory, in college composition class, so you can hear that there’s more maturity to how the songs are arranged and there’s a lot more themes. For example the theme on the chorus for Mountain Song is the chorus in La Forêt Noire, simply in a different key and rearranged. The verse La Forêt Noire is also the interlude in Through the Eyes of the Suburbs simply redone. There’s a lot of ideas that pop up throughout the album.
I could also go more detail about the ways I recorded the guitars, which was completely different this time around. I put a lot of care into making sure it was the right guitar, the right mic, the right amp… things like that.
So there’s definitely a huge difference in maturity and how much effort you put into it.

4.                  I was actually going to ask you about one particular line that appears on a couple of tracks “This place is right for me”. Could you explain what that phrase means to you, its place within the story ark? Does the meaning of the phrase change from one song to the next?

It does. In Mountain Song it’s still coming from that feeling of being frightened, knowing all that I can figure out is that when I can just be by myself, isolated from everything, I feel safe. I think that phrase came to me in the middle of high-school where I was going through a lot of social anxiety and depression and things like that. In my own head I was becoming increasingly more alienated and depressed than I would otherwise. So I think that the second time those words come around, it takes on more of a feeling of being in denial about it I guess, trying to tell myself that I’m taking care of myself, that this is what’s best for me, but really knowing that something is wrong, that I just don’t know how to put all of the pieces together yet.
There’s also another line that comes up twice which first appears on The Monster Overlooking Everything Else:There’s a little boy inside of my and he’s always afraid to play”. In that song, it’s about how I was afraid of the person that song is about. At the end of the album when the phrase comes up again, it’s me realizing that it’s not just about that, but also that I’ve completely been afraid of expressing that inner-child, being in touch and accepting that it’s an inner part of me. It probably feels that way because I’ve dismissed it so many times.  

5.                  So your first few releases with Godbless thee, Mooseheart were strictly solo, but for this album you decided to turn the project into a band and started to play live shows as well.  Did this change anything regarding the writing and recording process?

Well most of the album is still a solo album because I still recorded almost everything. In the liner notes I mention the songs that I didn’t do things on; like for example I didn’t play the piano on The Monster Overlooking Everything Else and I didn’t do the drums on The End. However I try to shy away from this image of Godbless thee, Mooseheart as a solo band, because even though this is a very personal record and it is basically a solo album, it’s an important artistic evolution and also a kind of symbolic representation of the journey I went through while making the album that, eventually I would like to move out of that place of doing everything myself.
As far as the drums not being recorded by our drummer John Klawitter, that was more due to logistics, since I was almost done with the album by the time I found him. The only song we hadn’t done drums for was The End. I was going to do the drums but he proposed to learn the song and record it himself, and I’m really glad he did. I had done a mock version with me playing the drums, but when we did it with him, the song was just so much better, since he is such a better drummer than I am. He brought so much more life into that song, which is why I think the album needed that. It’s also important for me to express that because there’s a kind of like a theme of me being alienated and in my own head and trying to get out of it.
So for the future Godbless thee, Mooseheart album, I’m not going to do everything myself, we’re going to write it together as a band, with Sam on keyboards and John on drums. We also have a really good guitarist, his name is Bijan. I want to do a more “Swans-y” kind of approach. It’s not going to sound like Swans, but we’re going to flesh out the songs together, and I think they’re going to become a lot more jam and groove oriented. So that’s the direction I’d like to take the band into.

6.                  To close off this interview, could you name one of your favorite albums, films and books

Album: I always like to say Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd just because it was the first album I ever heard that was beyond the basic radio rock format that introduced me to the idea that there are more interesting albums out there. But recently  I’ve really, really, really been into Music for 18 Musicians  by Steve Reich, obsessed with it, all of the different recordings of it. I think that’s been my favorite thing that I’ve gotten into in the last year and a half, and I’ve just been obsessed with everything Steve Reich has done. I’m pretty sure his entire anthology that I bought recently, was the best music purchase I’ve made in years.

Book: My favorite book would have to be The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams or The Catcher in the Rye  by J. D. Salinger. Two very different books.

Movie: My favorite movie is definitely 2001, A Space Odyssey by Stanley Kubrick.

Interview by Robin

Godbless thee Mooseheart – The Prison, Pt.II
To be released on July 21st (digital and physical pre-orders already available through bandcamp)

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