Friday, August 12, 2016

Interview with Joe Wood of BORGO PASS by Dave Wolff

Interview with Joe Wood of BORGO PASS

I recently saw Borgo Pass at Long Island’s Revolution with Black Dawn (whose interview you can read at this blog) and a few other local bands. How did the night go from your perspective?
We got tons of great feedback from the crowd and the bands we shared the bill with killed it! We actually played shows sharing the bill with Black Dawn since the late 1990's, so it felt very comfortable playing with them again. We started around roughly the same time and I think both bands got better and heavier with age.

How often has the band appeared with Black Dawn before that night? Are you good friends with them?
I can't recall how many shows we've done with Black Dawn but I do remember the first time we shared the stage was at New York Ave in Huntington. They're cool guys and a tight ass band!

You’re referring to The Roxy in Huntington which was open in the early 90s? What do you remember about that club?
We did quite a few shows at The Roxy back in the day. Always a good time and the promoter always took care of us. Unfortunately we were too late to play Sundance (best Long Island club ever!) but The Roxy did the trick!

The local scene likewise had Kronin, Spiders N Pigs, Voodoo Storm, Banglaa’s Dungeon, Absolut Drama and Violence Of Action. Did you know any of those bands?
We did a few shows with Kronin and the drummer recorded our second demo at SOS Studios. We had a good time recording that one, but it was a pain to mix it. We were never fully happy with the way that one came out. We played a show or two with Voodoo Storm, but we're talking almost 20 years ago, so my memory of those shows are hazy, haha!

Who named the band Borgo Pass and why the name change? The band was named after the road depicted in Bram Stoker’s Dracula that connected Moldavia to Transilvania. What sort of an inspiration was this to you?
I wasn't too keen on the Slow Painful Death moniker, so I started looking for inspiration for a band name. I was reading a biography of Vlad The Impaler called "Dracula - Prince of Many Faces" at the time and the mention of The Borgo Pass came up a few times in the book. For some strange reason that name just jumped off the page! I decided that Borgo Pass had a cool ring to it, I loved the history of the location, plus I figured nobody else would think of it!

Do you prefer Bram Stoker’s novelization of Dracula or any of the film versions of the novel?
Dracula by Bram Stoker was fascinating to me, but the film versions never captured the vibe if the book in my opinion. As I said, it was the biography of Vlad The Impaler that really renewed my interest in the Dracula legend. His actions were the influence of the vampire tale.

Did the members of Borgo Pass know each other before the band started? Who formed the band at the very beginning?
Borgo Pass/Slow Painful Death was started by me, Tom Crane and our original bassist, YT. I met these guys thru their first singer. We brought Paul Rosado into the band shortly afterwards. Paul was my roommate at the time, so we jammed together anyway and bringing him into the fold was an easy choice!

The first time I saw the band was at a fest of local Long Island bands at the Plattduetsche in Franklin Square (the band had a different name then). What do you remember of that show?
I remember that show. It was a festival called Rock In The Park that was booked by the manager of Stonehenge, our buddies' band. We were called Slow Painful Death back then and we played a mix of cover songs and originals. I believe we played that show shortly after we recorded our first demo tape (remember those?). We were the opening band on the bill. We still have regulars that come to our shows that 'discovered' us at that show! It was a great time.

How active was Stonehenge at the time you played Rock In The Park? Were you friends with any of the other bands who appeared at that festival?
Stonehenge we like our brothers back then. A great band to gig with and cool guys to drink with too! We played a slew of gigs with them, which secured us a spot on the Rock In The Park lineup. It was awhile back, so I don't recall all of the bands that played that festival. I can tell you that they all broke up eventually. We're probably the lone survivor of that show. Rock in the Park was a great festival, but very few shows like that were happening back then.

How many changes have you seen in the Long Island scene, with bands and clubs coming and going, et cetera?
Man, the scene here on Long Island is constantly shifting. Bands come and go and clubs change hands so often it makes my head spin! I do recall a time when the metal scene was much closer knit, like an extended family. There's still a strong scene here, but it's much more spread out. I think we've played every club that's ever existed for the past 20 years! I miss Industry, The Roxy, L'amour and many other great places. The vibe of those early clubs cannot be duplicated I think! But as long as people are interested in Borgo Pass we'll keep riding with the ever transforming scene. As long as we do it our way.

The city had many noteworthy clubs including CBGB, Wetlands, Coney Island High that unfortunately no longer exist. Has Borgo Pass appeared at any of those venues?
Borgo used to play a fair amount of NYC shows. We played at CBGB a few times and they had the best sound system ever! We were regulars at The Continental and Street Level on Houston St. We played one show at Coney Island High, at The Knitting Factory and Arlene's Grocery. I really miss the city; every club has closed down and the new are getting harder to break into because of the wealth of bands vying for a show.

Do you remember Slipped Disc Records? How do you feel about local record stores closing down due to the internet or rising rents?
Oh yes I remember Slipped Disc! I used to go there every other week to check out the new CDs that were shipped there daily. I used to visit all the local stores: Agents Of Fortune, Uncle Phil's and Titus Oaks. All great places to find underground bands. I'll admit that the Internet makes it way easier to find music, but I miss the thrill of the chase for new bands! I'm bummed that a record store simply cannot compete with the Internet these days.

Uncle Phil’s is another record store I remember from the old days. There was also Bleecker Bob’s in the city and None Of The Above in Suffolk, LI. What did you find at the local stores that is still in your possession? Slipped Disc is now a coffeehouse called Sip This and they carry Slipped Disc gear.
I still have most of my CD collection from the old local shops. The old thrash metal classics by Slayer, Voivod, Celtic Frost and Venom came from those stores. I turned to the Internet to buy all of my Stoner Rock/Doom CDs because nobody carried them! In that collection are releases by Kyuss, Sleep, Clutch, Fu Manchu and many others. I'll never get tired of those old CDs. I've never made it to any conventions. Hell, I didn't know Slipped Disc was still there as a coffee shop!

Are there any new doom and stoner rock albums you acquired recently? How much of it do you usually find on the internet?
I'm always being introduced to new bands either through the Internet or friends’ recommendations. I've been listening to Conan from the UK and a little known classic doom band called Green & Wood. I've been digging on some bands from the Maryland Doom scene and obsessing over the first Pallbearer CD. I belong to the Stoner Doom & Sludge group on Facebook and everyday people post new bands that I've never heard. It's the best FB group ever!

The owner Mike makes appearances at record conventions here and there. Have you attended some of those? Also, Utopia in Hicksville is one of the few record outlets that survived to this day. So has Mr. Cheapo’s.
Utopia will be around as long as their clothes and bongs sell. I think Mr Cheapo's will eventually fold because people just aren't buying CDs anymore.

Regarding your demos from 1993 and 1994, what songs were included and how did they represent the band’s direction?
Our first demo tape was recorded in May 1993 at Split Decision Studio. It was made just so we could hand out tapes to clubs and book shows. We did a mix of covers and original songs back then. The tape contained five songs: Snowblind (Black Sabbath), Little Ms. Lover (Jimi Hendrix), Jeremy (Pearl Jam) and our first two originals: 'Divine' and 'Go Away'. The second demo, recorded the following year contained a better-produced version of 'Go Away', 'Lost Soul' and 'Dead Falcon' which became an intro to another song. At this time we felt we were ready to take on the world of music! In hindsight, we had a lot of tightening up to do!

Why did you choose to cover Sabbath, Hendrix and Pearl Jam for the debut demo? How did the covers compare with the original versions of those songs?
We chose the cover songs that we played on that first demo specifically to highlight our strengths so we could book shows. We began as a Sabbath cover band, so a Sabbath classic had to be included! We chose Jimi Hendrix simply because we were huge fans, and we chose the Pearl Jam cover because they were the biggest band at the time and we felt it had to be included. I think our versions didn't quite hold up to the originals, but you can clearly hear a hint of the 'Borgo' sound that we became known for.

What were Go Away, Divine and Lost Soul written about? Did your second demo get a lot of local press following its release?
Go Away was about a stalker who used to follow the band around. Lost Soul was about a guy that was close to Paul, he suffered from schizophrenia and drug abuse. 'Divine' was written by Tom Crane. It was inspired by a hippy chick who was tripping on acid and dancing with her hands moving 'like a tree in motion'. We released that demo for friends and fans to hear our new stuff. We never made a push for press back then, just pretty much let it spread thru word of mouth.

How long did it take you to develop the Borgo sound? Was it an involved process to find the sound you were looking for?
That Borgo 'sludge' sound wasn't really something we worked out; it just came about as a result of two different guitar sounds/styles and a flowing bass on top. Paul plays more of a chugging, metal style while Tom plays a heavier rock/punk approach. Also, YT was great at writing a contrasting bass line, never quite syncing up with the guitars. I was never influenced by metal drummers, so my drum approach was always more groove-laden. Together those styles produced an interesting wall of sound which kind of became our signature sound.

How is your signature sound completed with the lead vocals? Can people tell how your style differs from most other bands?
As far as the vocals, once Jimmy joined the band the sound became much heavier. Jimmy's singing is pretty intense, and we wanted the music to match. I think our style differs from the other bands in that we have the heaviness and the thick tones without being very 'metal'. I think we lean more towards a blues-rock with the punch of a metal band. That's how Black Sabbath laid the foundation for metal, and we wanna keep that style alive!

How would you say the band has progressed and improved since their demo days, in terms of musicianship and lyrics?
Over the years we've gotten very comfortable jamming together. There's an instant connection when we're writing together; we can pretty much read each other's minds at this point! We each work with other projects to change things up and keep our playing on target. We've become much better musicians as a result.

Name other projects the band is currently involved in. How active have these projects been in the last few years?
I've worked with a number of bands over the years. I've played with 12 Eyes, Maegashira (NJ) and Negative Reaction. I'm currently working with my Doom band Eternal Black (Brooklyn) and Bloody Sabbath (Black Sabbath tribute). Paul Rosado (guitar) plays his solo acoustic guitar project at local pubs, Sasquatch (bass) has been jamming with Finally Balanced for 20 years, and Jimmy (vocals) fronts a Pantera tribute band called Black Tooth Grin. We all dedicate equal time to Borgo Pass and to our individual projects. I feel that branching out keeps our playing fresh and it feeds inspiration into the Borgo material.

Long Island has long had many tribute bands for the last ten years. What do you think are the pros and cons of having so many tribute bands in one area?
Tribute bands take you back to a time when that particular band meant a lot to you. I love a tribute band as long as they are true to the original recordings as opposed to injecting their own style into the songs.

What songs by Black Sabbath does Bloody Sabbath perform live? How sizable are the turnouts at club appearances?
Bloody Sabbath has over forty songs on our set list. We play all of the Ozzy-era classics (War Pigs, Into The Void, Fairies Wear Boots) and we love to play the more obscure tunes like Saint Vitus’ Dance, Under The Sun, Wheels Of Confusion, Spiral Architect and many more. We've built a great following of dedicated Sabbath heads and they love the b-side tunes! Usually bringing in a decent crowd to your local bars.

Was anything released on CD with the other bands you’re involved in? Tell the readers a few things about Eternal Black.
Eternal Black has been active for around two years. We're scheduled to go back into the studio in late September to record our first full length CD. We got started as a result of an ad in Craigslist. The ad asked for a drummer "influenced by The Obsessed, Saint Vitus, Sleep, Eyehategod, etc." This ad practically screamed my name! I'm a huge fan of all the above mentioned bands so I had to hear what this band was all about! It's just the style of music I was looking for. Classic Doom! Eternal Black has a three song CD called Obsidian Sky. It's available on Bandcamp. I also recorded a couple of comps and a five song EP with 12 Eyes. I recorded an album with Maegashira in Lansing, MI. It was a live recording, but it was never released because the band broke up before we could complete the vocals and the mixing.

When was Eternal Black’s three song CD recorded and how much exposure has it gotten through Bandcamp? What studio are you planning to record your new full length?
We recorded the Eternal Black EP at our buddy Joe Kelly's house last year. It was co-produced by Kol Marshall who has done work with King Diamond and many other great acts. They are a great team, they know what we want and they dig our sound! Since we finished the recording Ken worked like crazy getting the EP on Bandcamp and promoting it through online review sites. The reaction to the music has been positive throughout. That recording secured us a slot on The Maryland Doom Fest as well as a ton of NYC shows. We're headed back to the same studio in late September / early October to record our full length CD. Joe & Kol did a fantastic job on the last disc, so it felt right to return for round two!

How many songs were recorded for the Maegashira full length? Do you think work will ever resume on it?
The Maegashira record had five songs, all recorded live in one or two takes. Each song was over six minutes long, so it made for a good full length. But that record won't be finished. Maegashira recorded three CDs before I joined the band, so their material is available online if ya search for it. I was a huge fan of this band before I joined. I'd recommend the split CD with Sowbelly and OSSM if ya wanna hear their best stuff!

What did you like about Maegashira and the three full lengths they released before you joined?
What I really dig about Maegashira was that slow heavy rock groove. They had a full sound and monster doom riffs jammed out in a very rock fashion; not a trace of metal in those songs. They were very low key guys. No pretension in that group. When they asked me to join it felt natural for me to blend right in. I just had to up the ante a bit and play way harder! I broke s few more cymbals along the way!

Tell the readers some more information about the EP and compilation appearances from 12 Eyes.
12 Eyes was a great project because the rules were to throw out the rule book and just write whatever the hell comes to mind! We wrote and arranged songs together without worries about what the audience will dig. We never took it seriously. We recorded the five song EP in two sessions. Three songs were recorded during a two hour rehearsal session using a Mobile recording unit. The other two songs were recorded live at Ace Of Clubs in NYC. It was probably our second show, but it sounded tight enough to release! We were also featured in a set of comps produced by Ryan Lynch (12 Eyes guitar & vox) the first CD was 'Fumes From A Dead Scene' with John Wilkes Booth, Maegashira, Wormsmeat, Whiskey Life, LOMF and others. The second comp, also set up by Ryan, was called 'The Trilateral Commision' featuring John Wilkes Booth, Maegashira and 12 Eyes.

Who writes the lyrics for Borgo? What subjects do the lyricist or lyricists touch upon besides those already mentioned?
The lyrics are written by Jimmy. Before he joined the band every member would contribute lyrics but once Jimmy came onboard he proved to be an excellent lyricist, so he grabbed the reins and does an awesome job! His lyrics are very personal to where his head's at on any given moment... He'd be the guy to ask how he writes.

Any examples of Jimmy’s lyrics that speak to you on a personal level? How and why do they resonate with you?
I do identify with some of his material. An example is Ace Down, which he wrote while we were on tour, between New Orleans and Texas. We were all in that van, so we all identify with that experience! Another favorite of mine lyric-wise is Quint which is about the movie Jaws. Who can't relate to that?

In the days before social media, how did the band rely on promoting their CD releases and live shows? Which method do you prefer now that social media reaches more people?
Back before social media we promoted simply by our mailing list and touring the area and playing as many shows as possible. Also, attending tons of concerts and handing out flyers and tapes had gotten us some attention. Just about any given night, at least two of us were out telling people what we're about! We also got a good amount of reviews from the local music papers. These days we promote via Facebook and Instagram. It gets the word out efficiently, but it's never enough.

Which local publications have reviewed the band favorably? In the age of webzines, how much print do you see active?
In this age of webzine and online reviews, I seldom catch a review these days. The days of the local papers and the write ups is pretty much gone. I hope to hear some new voices online when we release this new album.

How many full length recordings has the band released altogether? Which of them are still available on CD today?
We released five CDs. The debut self-titled CD was released in 1996. It was followed by 'Powered By Sludge' in 1999. When Jimmy joined the band on vocals, we released an EP called 'Slightly Damaged' in 2002. It was back to the studio in 2005 to record 'Nervosa'. We hit the studio again in 2011 to record 'Deadwater'. We are now in the process of mastering our new CD. We don't have a name for the new album yet, but we did discuss the title 'The Sludge Remains The Same' which I think is very fitting for us!

Which songs from your five full lengths does Borgo Pass most often include in their set list?
These days our set list contains mostly songs from the Deadwater and Nervosa CDs. Some regulars in the set include The Dogs Know Better, Burning Breath, Nervosa, Atheist, Rotted Chain, Ace Down and much more. We try to change it up show to show.

Did the band have professional artists design the covers to any of your full lengths? If so, who would you recommend?
Jimmy also created the album artwork. He usually comes up with several designs; we all decide on the best choices and take it from there. With the new album, we are right in the middle of deciding which pieces we are gonna use. Nothing is finalized yet.

Which are your demos and full lengths are still available for purchase?
Borgo Pass has our three latest CDs available at We have 'Deadwater' 'Nervosa' and 'Slightly Damaged' ready to be shipped. We also carry 'Deadwater' for sale at all our shows. The first two CDs (first album & 'Powered By Sludge') are out of print, but I'm sure they're available online..

Where are you recording your new full length CD? Are you working with anyone or producing it independently?
Our new album was recorded at The Coop by our friend and longtime producer Chris Laybourne. He's worked on our last three albums and he knows exactly what the band wants and how to showcase our strengths. We always look to him as a sixth ear in the band, giving input into our writing process. I don't think we'd sound the same without him.

Had Chris Laybourne heard of Borgo Pass prior to working with the band? Have your longtime collaborations helped him to get to know the band more and improve his producing your albums?
Borgo Pass has been working with Chris for many years. We go way back to the early 90's when Paul and I used to attend an open jam that he hosted. The first time we worked together was for our fourth recording session in 1995 I believe. He performed magic with the vocal tracks! He's always loved our material and he's got a great sense of what the band needs to bring our sound to the next level. He's been an integral part of our growth over the years. It's hard to picture working with anyone else!

Who else has Laybourne produced full lengths for? How would you describe his approach to producing bands?
Chris works with many different artists whose styles range from jazz to funk to church music and everything else in between. I don't personally know anybody he's worked with in particular, but I've heard some of the other styles of music he's recorded. His abilities to work the strengths of bands is incredible!

How many songs does Borgo have for the next full length? Are they going to differ from your past releases in any way?
The new Borgo CD will have five songs; not quite a full length but it features a wide range of styles. We have the driving, uptempo 'Betrayer', the mosh pit inducing 'Spiders', the stoner rock-esque 'Burn The Devil's Hand', the almost-classic-rock style unnamed tune and a Borgo staple tune called 'Wrath' which in my opinion mirrors that classic Borgo sludge sound. This CD shows a wider range of sounds than our last CD, but it's all still heavy as hell!

How soon do you expect the new album to be released? Do you have live appearances planned to promote it?
The new album is almost done and we have a tentative release show in early November. We'll be releasing the venue and the show date shortly.

-Dave Wolff

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