Saturday, April 23, 2016

Interview with Tom Kelly of BLACK DAWN by Dave Wolff

Interview with Tom Kelly of Black Dawn

Black Dawn has been active on Long Island since the mid 90s. How many changes have you witnessed in the scene since you started playing shows, as far as venues and audiences go?
Many things change in any local scene in two decades. We have seen plenty of Long Island and New York City bands and venues come and go in that time. Some places closed that we really miss playing in, like CBGB, the Continental, Castle Heights, and most recently, Even Flow in Bay Shore. There are also other venues that we regret never having had the opportunity to play in, such as the Roxy Music Hall in Huntington. Our first live performance ever was at the Right Track Inn in Freeport. That place is gone too. People get older, get married, and have less time for shows. People you used to always see in front of the stage don't go to the shows any more. They eventually become replaced by new faces.

Does anyone playing in the band today balance private lives with playing in a local working band? If anyone in the band is married, do their families support their careers?
All band members are married and have careers, which is why we do not tour. We have a lot of support from our families and friends, which is what makes it possible for us to continue doing this.

Some clubs have stayed open and several new clubs have emerged in the last ten years. With that in mind, what made you want to continue with Black Dawn all this time?
Mainly because I know that we have songs that are worth sharing with everybody, and I know that there are plenty more songs to write. I don't know how long we will keep going, but we aren't thinking of stopping yet.

Black Dawn recently played a show with Long Islanders Voodoo Storm. It was at this show we met up and traded zines for CDs and shirts. Was this the first show you played in 2016 so far or were there others before it?
Our first show of 2016 was at Blackthorn 51 in Queens, NY on Friday, February 5. We opened for Whiplash that night. Other bands on the bill included Magus Beast, Lost Legacy, Paralysis, Sycarian, Bad Groove and Bestial God.

How can you say the Whiplash and Voodoo Storm shows went? How many shows have you played besides those in 2016?
Both the Whiplash and Voodoo Storm shows went well. We had good stage sound and a zealous crowd at both. We had a lot of fun. Aside from those two shows, we have only played one other so far in 2016, which was at the "Backstage Pass" in Ronkonkoma. It is located right across the street from the Ronkonkoma train station. Our friend Mike Eisemann (vocalist of "Armed and Dangerous") is the manager. He invited us to play the show with "For the Kill". Great stage and sound system with a kickass bar and kitchen. I recommend checking out the place and watching their calendar for your favorite local bands.

Are Magus Beast, Lost Legacy, Paralysis, Sycarian, Bad Groove and Bestial God local bands from Long Island? Are you friends with any of those bands and perform with them often?
They are all local bands from New York and New Jersey. I am acquainted with certain members of most of those bands. I either see them or play with them every once in a while. We are playing with Magus Beast again on May 7 when we open for Prong at Revolution in Amityville.

The first time I saw Black Dawn was during the Long Island Music Festival hosted by Good Times Magazine around 1996 or ’97. How many Good Times hosted festivals have you played?
I can't believe you remember that! Maybe we did that festival one other time? Kind of difficult to remember. At that time, we had only a six-song demo released even though we had more songs written. We had been playing shows only a couple of years with cheap amplifiers, playing the songs 100 mph with the guitars out of tune. Thankfully we have improved since then! Equipment has been upgraded too, except for my sunburst Les Paul and Randall 4x12 cabinet which I still use on stage today, as you may have seen at the Crooked Rail show a couple of weeks ago.

How many metal bands were involved in those music festivals around the time you took part in them?
As I recall, there were a few metal bands. Much of the time at those festivals, it seemed like our music was the closest to heavy metal out of all the bands there. I think we are closer to hard rock than heavy metal.

What memories do you have of appearing at the venues you mentioned earlier in their heyday?
Just the thrill of playing in those places is what I remember most. I still think it's great to be able to tell people that we played at CBGB. So many other stories. We were booked to play a festival upstate in the late 90's on the site of the Woodstock festival in Bethel. Matt had a very bad toothache that morning, but insisted on playing the show. He had an ice pack on his jaw for most of the ride up there. We arrived at noon, only to find we were not going on until 8:00. I have no idea how he did it, but he lasted the eight hours and then belted out those vocals on stage. You would never suspect he was in pain. There was a massive crowd that we could only hear from the darkness in front of us. We only got to play two songs that night because the sky opened up and let out a massive downpour while we were on stage.

Who were the other bands playing that festival in Bethel? Did you get to meet with any of them? How well did the audience appreciate those two songs you played?
Because the event was multi-genre, I had no genuine interest in the bands we played with at that show, as talented as they all were. I am sorry to say that all I even remember of the other bands from that show was one song from a band I do not remember the name of, which might have been entitled "I Smoke the Sinsemilla, I Don't Sniff the Coke", and I remember a very talented man who played an electric glass (or plexiglass) violin. As far as our set of two songs in the middle of a downpour, they seemed to like us from the cheering I heard in the darkness. I find shows that focus as close as possible to one genre to be far more beneficial for everybody.

Has Black Dawn played any fests outside of New York/Long Island? I’ve heard of a few including Maryland Deathfest where death and black metal bands perform.
In 2000 we played a show in LA that was technically a festival in that bands from all over the country were invited to play, but it took place in about a dozen venues around town. Small places. I don't think the Whiskey was on the list, but the Viper Room and the troubadour were. We played in a place called the "Coconut Teaser".

What was the scene in LA like when you played there? Of the venues where the band got to perform, which was the band’s favorite? How were your audiences out there?
The crowd was very receptive of us. We made a bunch of new friends and fans. Overall the scene was not so dissimilar from New York. There were a bunch of venues ranging from small and shitty to big and nice. Where your band gets to play is all a matter of how hard you work for it.

Getting back to local bands in the Long Island scene, what bands besides those we discussed are most active these days? How often do you get to see Borgo Pass, and do you remember the band Spiders N Pigs?
One of the most active is a band called "NFU" from Suffolk County. Those guys must play about three dozen shows per year. Bands like Borgo Pass and Killcode just keep kicking ass. I’ve seen Borgo Pass probably since the 90's off and on. I always enjoy their shows. I haven’t heard Spiders N Pigs but I will check out their songs if I can find them.

How many releases does the band have on CD altogether? How many full lengths have you released since the beginning?
Including the aforementioned demo, the band has four studio albums out as of now with a total of thirty-one songs between them. The fifth album is now in progress, and it will have five songs.

How much distribution did your demo receive when it was released? Was it passed around Long Island and New York or did it make it to other states in the US?
As I recall, the demo made its way around the US and into parts of Canada through a radio campaign at first. I remember that it was available for sale on the band website and through our online merch store. There may have been some other outlets. I know our albums are now sold on ITunes, Amazon, CD Baby, etc, but that demo is not available anymore. I still have some in my closet if you want one, but I think it sounds like shit.

What songs do you remember recording for your debut demo, and how did they represent the band at that point?
The six songs on the demo were: Thoughts Of Yesterday, Hindu, Goodbye, Drift, Man In Rusted Chains and I Am Who I Am. At the time (1996), these songs were the very best from a young band of very limited means. "Thoughts of Yesterday" has been recently re-recorded for our currently unreleased album. "I Am Who I Am" was re-released on "Age of Reason" in 2004. I, for one, would like to re-record all those tracks and just forget that demo ever happened.

What contributed to the demo’s less than average production? How would you have done it differently? Who wrote the lyrics to the songs on the first demo, and what inspired them lyrically? Who is the band’s main lyricist?
If we had the money to spend back then, we would have gone to a better studio and used better equipment, at least a pair of tube amps with a lot of gain. I would have also used a metronome to record if we could do that again. Matt wrote all the lyrics to every song in our catalog. His lyrics usually come from personal experiences that are both profound and likely to have relevance to certain others.

Being that Matt’s lyrics come from personal experiences, can fans who might feel the same way relate to them?
I would think so. Many of the lyrics are about others close to you (parents and other family members, friends, lovers, or people who have passed on that you wish you could have back).

When was your first CD released? Were any songs from your demo re-recorded for it or were they all newer?
Our first album after the demo was "Absence Of Time" in 1999. Nothing on the demo was re-recorded on this album, although it does include "Hostile Intentions", which was re-recorded on "Age Of Reason" a few years later. It also includes "Bill's Song", one of my personal favorites. While I do not like the sound of this album either, it was definitely an improvement over the demo. Because of a disagreement between the band and the studio, we were forced to switch studios halfway through the project. In my opinion, this contributed to the album's poor quality.

In how many different ways did you subsequent albums mark an improvement in the band’s sound on the first? Were they improvements in songwriting or equipment or both?
As time went on, we were able to afford better equipment, and we also learned how to write and perform better.

How does the band go about composing material during practices, and choosing songs to appear on your albums?
It begins with riffs that Matt brings in. We work on the arrangements from there. The only reason we would withhold a song from inclusion on an album is if we just felt that it could have been recorded better overall, which we have done.

What songs from your most recent full lengths would you recommend the readers check out any why?
I would recommend two songs in particular from our most recent release "Until We Meet". "I Wanna Fly" has a groove that I really get into on stage. It's one of my favorites to play live, and it has been played at every show for over a year. "Pray For Me" is the closing track on "Until We Meet" and starts off with a pre-recorded intro that begins with a pair of voices vocalizing very softly. This transitions into a plethora of machine gun fire, mortars, rockets, and bombs. I had considered playing this recording when we play this live, but it would really make the venue sound just like a war zone. This recording transitions into Matt's clean-channel intro. Then comes the carefully palm-muted repeating triplets of notes that comprise the signature riff. Definitely another one of my favorites to play live. We usually close our set with either this, "December Moon", or "Dangerous".

How much of your past material is still available, along with merchandise such as shirts?
We currently have one shirt, but I am going to have another design printed up soon. All albums except the demo are still available.

Tell the readers about the show you have coming up with Prong, which you referred to earlier.
I have been waiting for this for months. So psyched to see Tommy Victor perform up close in Revolution Music Hall in Amityville, much less play the show with them! In addition to Prong and Black Dawn, the lineup includes the aforementioned Magus Beast, The Hard Way, and One More Breath, all of whom are local Long Island/New York City bands that I would highly recommend checking out. We still have some tickets for this show, and we always sell for less than what the venue or ticketing services will charge. Anyone who wants to purchase tickets can e-mail me directly. 

Is Black Dawn planning to release new material in the coming year? What do you plan to do once the new material is out?
We just put what will hopefully be the finishing touches on the tracking to our next album, tentatively titled "On Blackened Wings". We are aiming for a release later this year. Once released, we will offer a new line of merchandise and play the songs live as much as we can near and far to promote the album. We will, of course, also have massive radio and press campaigns for the album.

How many songs do you have completed for the next full length so far? How do these compare with your past releases?
We recorded six. Of these, five will be included on the new album. I think it is a little of something for everybody. One song has a really slow and heavy feel like Type O Negative. One of the longer songs features a guitar solo in the middle that goes on for almost two minutes, which is uncharacteristic of prior releases. I think it is an interesting next step for us.

-Dave Wolff

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