An Interview with Bassist Luke Bemand of lespecial
Zachary Franck interviewing Luke Bemand of lespecial:
Luke Bemand is 1/3 of the power trio Lespecial. The band has solidified themselves as one of the most talented and original bands in the northeast, and they're steadily expanding their fanbase across the country. After just releasing their new project CHEEN, they opened up for the Disco Biscuits in Worcester, MA. I caught up with Luke to discuss what's been happening with Lespecial as they finish 2017 strong.
ZF: You guys have climbed to the top of the live music scene in the northeast. You’ve become known as the premier power trio. Which trios of the past inspired you guys to keep the triangle approach and push it to the next level?
LB: Thank you for saying so. I think we’ve always been drawn to power trio’s. In high school we loved seeing bands like Medeski Martin and Wood, Primus and a violin, bass and drums trio called Skeletonbreath. I think there’s a special energy that comes from a trio. Our manager commented that a key characteristic of a trio is you’re only as strong as your weakest link and every member has to be able to hold the spotlight at certain times, and I think we enjoy that dynamic. Plus, having two of us play synths beats having to pay out a keyboard player.
ZF: As a bassist, who are three of your biggest influences that have different stylistic approaches?
LB: I don’t think it would surprise anyone to say that Les Claypool has been a pretty big influence on me. I love the creativity and ingenuity he brings to the instrument, as well as how relaxed his technique is considering how technical and demanding it sounds. Chris Wood is another big influence. He was the first player that bridged the gap between jazz and hip hop on bass for me. His phrasing is simple, subtle and masterful. Tone-wise I would say Justin Chancellor of Tool is a big influence. His tone is so gritty and powerful and grabs you by the throat. Learning the bassline to “Schism” in high school was a glorious moment in my life, as I’m sure it was for a lot of other bassists in the early 2000’s.
ZF: I know you saw King Crimson the other night, everyone has been saying that the tour has been impeccable. Can you describe the impact that the show had on you?
LB: It was an incredible show. They’ve managed to take music spanning a pretty incredible career and up the complexity and groove of it. A lot of that has to do with three drummers, but seeing Tony Levin up there playing some of the most badass bass lines I’ve ever heard him play on a Chapman Stick at his age is inspiring to say the least. Any drummers out there this show is a must see.
ZF: For the musicians and gear heads that are reading this, what is your current set up?
LB: My two main basses I’ve been using for the past few years are custom Carvin’s. My 4 string fretted is a swamp ash body Carvin that I bought from the engineer of our “Ceremony EP”, who built the bass. My 5 string fretless Carvin was a birthday gift from my bandmates, who enlisted the help of some friends and family to have it custom made at the Carvin factory. It has a P Bass body with a split pickup as well as a single coil by the bridge and has a pretty unique sound. My amp is the same beat up Hartke HA 5500 head and Ampeg Classic Series 4x10 cab I’ve had for many years. I’ve used a lot of other amps at gigs, but this still is the most punchy, clear sound and works great with the lespecial dynamic. And people are used to seeing the deer skull stencil at this point and I wouldn’t want to disappoint them.
ZF: Lespecial just released CHEEN on Halloween, can you explain the concept behind this project? What are two of your favorite songs off the album?
LB: With CHEEN we wanted to put out an album that best represented our sound and the live lespecial experience. Our manager pointed us in the direction of Applehead Studios in Woodstock NY, which is best known for an amazing live room, which was key to translating our sound. King Crimson has rehearsed there, so you know its got some vibes. We also had access to John Medeski’s mellotron, so we had to take advantage of that. It’s not strictly a concept album, like “Omnisquid” was, but there are themes that flow throughout. The music overall has a spooky and dark vibe, which is nothing new for us, but I think there’s more of a general reaction to how insane and scary the current state of the world is and how it affects us. We live in an absurd world and the only sane response is to be more absurd than it. To me, that has always been a part of our music and identity. But like anything we do, the listener’s experience is completely subjective to their interpretation. It’s just “cheen” at the end of the day. If I had to pick two favorite tracks off the album I would go with “Gallows Hill”, because I think it’s one of the best compositions we’ve written, dynamically and thematically, and “Skull Kid” because we weren’t sure how it would translate on the album and it ended up being one of our favorites, and a fan favorite. It combines some of the characteristic components of a lespecial track all melted into one little skull baby.
ZF: If I'm not mistaken, you guys had another successful Lespectacle in Brooklyn on Halloween? This year you guys transformed the Brooklyn Bowl into a mesmerizing setting. For those that don’t know, can you explain Lespectacle?
LB: This was our 7th year doing an autumnal event. It started with “lespeshtival” in Millerton NY in 2011 which was more of a community potluck/one day mini-festival, and has since transformed into a one night concert/multi-media event. We put an emphasis on music we consider to be forward thinking with plenty to stimulate the visual senses. We’re fortunate to have worked with “The Reliquarium” for almost every year and they bring an amazing netherworld vibe to the event. This was the first year that we did it at an established venue rather than a late-night warehouse and there were advantages and disadvantages to that. At the end of the day we brought the lespectacle flavor to a new place, flipped Brooklyn Bowl upside down for a night and hopefully created an experience people will remember.
ZF: What do Rory and Jonathon bring to the table that has catapulted your own playing to the next level?
LB: A lot probably haha. Those guys are just always raising their game. Jon has a great handle for effects and creating sounds and the more he hones it in the more it expands our pallet. I don’t know any other guitarist that is able to do what he does with live looping and effects. Rory and I have been playing together since we were kids so there’s an intrinsic lock between us that we’re fortunate to have. We still go to a lot of shows together so our influences have sort of continued to evolve together. I play with a few other bands but I’m very fortunate to have the history and chemistry I do with those guys. Good guys too.
ZF: You guys have continuously hit the road heavily since you started touring, what are some of your favorite rooms that you’ve across the country? What are a few of the most memorable shows of 2017?
LB: 2017 has definitely been our busiest touring year yet. We hit a lot of new cities and venues. It was great to headline BMH in Boston for the first time, which we’ll be doing again Dec. 9th. Another highlight was headlining Disc Jam’s Thursday night in the summer and having Fro from Dopapod rock with us on guitar, as well as an acoustic sit in from my brother. And in Denver we got to cover a Primus tune in front of original Primus drummer Jay Lane, and hang and talk with him after, which was a very cool experience.
ZF: You guys are masters of composition, but also masters of live performance. Do you guys have a specific approach to improvisation or are your sets 100% constructed?
LB: I appreciate the kind words, I feel we are quite far from mastering any of that, but we are proud to be eternal students of the game! Ed Mann told us that we have what he calls “micro-improvisations”, where most of our sets are performing written compositions, but there are small pockets within each tune that we improvise within. We like to begin sets or certain tunes with improv, a technique Medeski Martin and Wood calls “foreplay”. But each show is different. If we are playing a two-set show you’re going to see more improvisation. For 45 min-1 hr sets, we focus more on showcasing our songs. In our earlier days there was a lot more fearless, and sometimes disastrous, sometimes special, improv, and now that we are playing live more than ever we are trying to get back to that. For a lot of “jam bands”, improvising is the rhythm section playing a chord progression that the guitarist solo’s over, and that has never been as interesting to us. We like to improvise where we start from scratch, a loop, a riff, or a rhythmic idea. Something that stems from a vibe or color pallet rather than a chord progression.
ZF: What is on the horizon for Lespecial?
LB: We’ll be getting back on the road with our friends from Nashville, Backup Planet, next week for a run in the midwest, followed by a Northeast run with them in December, and we’re excited for some of our homebase fans to check them out, great songwriters and sound. We just announced a New Years run in RI, VT and CT, which will be fun. And then winter tour. We’re excited for more people to hear the new album and to keep exploring and evolving the songs live. The cheen train rolls on.