[IMGLEFT]http://www.russell.ultimatemetal.com/Interview/yakuza.jpg[/IMGLEFT]By Jason Jordan Perhaps its ironic that Yakuza unlike their name implies are nice guys. First reaching out to the metal audience through Amount to Nothing, their big break came when giants Century Media released their follow-up Way of the Dead in 2002, which, as a result of their whimsical nature, garnered both acclaim and ridicule. After revaluation and noticeable downtime, Yakuza signed to Prosthetic Records known for Lamb of God, Himsa, and The Esoteric and unleashed their groundbreaking Samsara recording this past March. Charging headfirst into the seedy underbelly of Evansville, Indiana, I cornered Bruce Lamont (saxophones, clarinet, vocals, effects) and James Staffel (drums, percussion, keyboards) to discuss their relationship to various labels, album artwork, and of course the new Guns N Roses. I want to talk to you guys first about Century Media. What exactly happened with them? Describe your relationship with them, for me, if you would. Bruce: Really simple: we did a one-off licensing agreement with them to release Way of the Dead in 2002. Thats the end of it. It was a five-year licensing agreement. Thats all. We were never signed to Century Media. Thats been a topic of conversation, like we were dropped. That was never the case at all. It was one record. We did it. It went through its cycle. Its done. Yeah, that actually explains a lot because when a band releases an album with a label, you think, Well, maybe they had a multi-album contract with em, so why werent there any others? James: Originally they wanted, like, seven. The first company wanted a lot of records. They had just signed Candiria, and were trying to branch out into death metal. So we said, Okay, theyre making an honest move. We went for that, but they were unsure and we were unsure. Between negotiations it got down that one record was gonna be released, and then we talked beyond that. How they handled it didnt go well, so obviously we didnt give them anything else. That makes a lot of sense. James: It went okay. Their staff was awesome, and their networking was awesome. It was the higher-ups that were just scared, trapped in their little genre and thats it. It seems like they dont like to put a lot of financial muscle behind bands, except the major ones. James: No, we didnt take anything. We didnt ask for anything basically, just the recording costs of the album. They put out some decent advertising, and they did help in certain areas. Ultimately, no, there wasnt a lot of push or support. They were scared. You guys were picked up by Prosthetic, which is cool. Ive been in talks with Bob (PR). Seems like a really cool label. James: Theyre not as scared as Century Media. They dont have the huge roster that Century Media does. They dont have one type of music that they support. Its pretty varied, you know. They like the record, and they like what we do. Theyre not scared. They heard Way of the Dead . James: Well, they actually approached us about Way of the Dead, but we passed on it. They were pretty early on. They didnt have the distribution like they do now. Century had all of that, and we were already in talks with Century when they came around. It just never worked out. Obviously later on down the road they did some good things. Lamb of God. Theyve got some great bands on their label. Kylesa. It proves that they attend to music, and they can push a record and do good things with it. Like The Esoteric. James: Yeah, exactly. Himsas doing really well. Theyre pushing that record really well. Congrats on Samsara. Good record, I think. I have a friend who writes for UM as well. Hes out in California. He actually works with Century Media some, but he was wondering why you guys decided to release only an inlet card as a booklet. Can you get into that at all? James: The original artwork for the album was supposed to be a digipak. It was not supposed to be a jewel case. It was all set up for a digipak, and at the last minute well not at the last minute they never agreed to the digipak. He agreed to do it later, so it might actually come out the way its supposed to. I mean, not in the jewel case. The original idea of it being a digipak was it wouldnt have a booklet, be open, and all these things. Its just a one-fold object. When he was like, Oh, were gonna jewel case it, I thought about other ideas about adding on to the artwork that was done. All right, lets make a booklet out of this I had the material, but ultimately it just wasnt the idea. If we were gonna cram and throw something together, its gonna suck too. Our past few records had been fairly simple also, as far as the packaging, the images are nice and theyre strong. I dont feel a need to put out a huge eight-panel booklet just to be redundant or anything like that. The covers strong, and as far as lyric printing, weve gone back and forth. Wed like the lyrics available, but not necessarily in the artwork. Ive listened to an album for years, and you think you know what the lyrics are but then you hear it and (Laughs) James: Its not spoon-fed. Theres interpretation allowed. It should be simple. I have lots of elaborate ideas, and different paper, and different things, but this is the first record for Prosthetic. Lets keep it simple. The artwork is fairly minimal, generally. Our first record was the same way, the Century album had only a four-panel that opened up once, and it originally wasnt gonna have that. Hopefully it [Samsara] will be released on digipak like it shouldve been, and theres no booklet required. So what about the issue of downloading music? Do you think it would dissuade someone from buying the record if they knew they were only getting an inlet card? James: I hope general people who go to buy an album arent buying it because of the 4 x 4 inch booklet that comes in it. Its about the songs and the music. Obviously theres art and theres imagery, and all of that has something to do with the music theyre about to hear. Bruce: But cool packaging does tend to draw people in at some point. We didnt have the budget Tool had for Lateralus. If we had that, of course we wouldve went all out. And not to draw people in, Hey, look at our cool artwork! Its part of the whole experience of the record itself. If theyre going to download it, as opposed to buying it, because of the fact that theres not this elaborate artwork, then whatever, sorry. James: And you know theres still a cover. Theres still a back cover. It is a package. You get CD-Rs from your buddy its fine and great and you like the music but youre still kinda missing something I think. I have some CD-Rs that Ive never even seen the artwork, and you go back and see the art and youre like, Woah! Of course if I get a CD-R and I generally like the music, then I go buy the real product. Same thing with downloading: you get a song and the songs really good. I will go and support music that I like, and thats it. Im not gonna be like, Im gonna rip this whole album artwork aside. Im gonna buy it anyway. Sometimes youll notice that different age groups have different M.O.s as far as what they do with a CD. Bruce: True. It seems like the younger kids are just downloading stuff, and filing it away on their computer. Bruce: Oh yeah. James: Were really psyched to release it on vinyl, which is the ultimate representation of that artwork. Theres no booklet. Its the same as the digipak. Its the exact same thing, aside from the vinyl itself. Bruce: And thats a medium that you cant really reproduce digitally. James: For art purposes, like youre saying, the younger generations didnt have records. They grew up on cassettes. Their first albums were the first cassettes they bought, and after that CDs have been around for 15 years. Youve got 12 and 13-year olds getting into metal. They only know CDs. They see dads old records, maybe, and play em, but for us we love that 12-inch package and big art. Thats what an album was. For me, personally, thats the most satisfying way to have it. James: Its the most pure. Maybe its not the most practical if youre playing it all the time . James: Ive had records forever that still sound awesome. Bruce: Yeah, aesthetically especially sonically I prefer the vinyl. A good turntable and a good set of speakers you just cant beat the warmth. I mean, youve heard that a million times over the years, but even more so now. If someones out there looking to combat the digital download Oh, I want you to buy the product or whatever. well there you go. Thats it. You just cannot get that sound to be reproduced digitally, properly. With being on lots of different message boards at UltimateMetal, theres always the people who are arguing that CD has a better sound quality versus vinyl. Its like an ongoing debate. There are all kinds of stats about how many well, I dont really know the technical aspects of it. So you guys are saying that you prefer vinyl? James: Oh for sure. I think its probably the purest way to get the warmth and the sound you want. Its the same aspect when looking at a movie that was done with digital cameras as opposed to film. Its the same thing with recording in ProTools or recording on tape. Tape is real. Film is real. Vinyl is real. CD is fake. Its not a real thing, so it loses some of that warmth all-around. Bruce: As far as the way to archive things, digitally hands-down. Its obviously the wave of the future. Tape is unrealistic in that sense. It doesnt hold up. It falls apart, and thats why every artist under the sun is going back and remastering their works and whatnot because tape wont survive, unfortunately. I dont know how film is transferred to digital, if thatll hold up or not, but theyve gotta figure out a way quick or those films are gone forever. Yeah, theyre always fooling around with that kind of stuff. Another interesting thing with vinyl is its an opportunity to make the artwork shine. Youve got a very large casing. James: Like I said, the original intention even for the digipak the digipak to me is paper. Its not this plastic thing. The photos not under this little plastic sleeve. Its the closest you can get to a vinyl package, with still being a CD. Its still a paper product. It has a texture to it. That was the original intention the digipak and then hopefully the vinyl, which is the same only four times as big. Thats the ultimate way to present your art: big, opens up, and those images make more sense if they arent right next to each other, and theres not this jewel case and plastic and hinges separating it. Even the hinge juts up the middle of the jewel case that Samsara came out with. That little strip wasnt supposed to be there. It was a bad thing. Digipak wouldnt have had that. It wouldve made more sense. Its going to come out on digipak, hopefully by the end of the year. We agreed to something that hopefully will happen. With Prosthetic, have they said, Get this one disc and well see what happens, or . James: We have options with them. Theyre gonna get some more stuff from us, for sure. It seems like theyve been handling it really well. James: Were very comfortable with what the future holds, with us and them, and theyve been great so far. Most of the press has been positive about it. Bruce: Yeah, pretty good. Especially stepping up from Way of the Dead. James: Its an evolution of the band. That album came out a while ago under different circumstances different players. Half of the band is new, and I cant even listen to Way of the Dead anymore. If you compare the two, its a huge evolution. Weve grown and changed, and become what we shouldve been. Not that Way of the Dead was a bad album, but this new album is far superior on so many levels. As far as influence, I know you guys have probably answered the question a million times, like Bruce: We actually dont answer that question because its way too difficult. And I know every other band is, like, We dont sound like anybody, dude! We cant even begin to start with one. Youre talking about some serious, serious music geeks in different realms and different genres, through all of recorded history. Im not kidding when I say that. The skys the limit anything goes. James: Theres a lot. Too many. Bruce: Too much. Thats why I was wanting to sidestep it and say, it seems like you guys have some Eastern influence and Oriental as well as Arabian, metal, and core. It doesnt seem, maybe, as seamless as far as your influences. You wear them on your sleeves. Would you say thats an accurate statement? James: Its very natural. Like, Here were gonna bust into this Middle Eastern raga rhythm theres never any of that. We dont intellectualize it. We all have this variety of influences that is very strong. Bruce: Theres very little verbalization when it comes to the creative process. James: I listen to a lot of Indian music. It comes through, but Im not going to say to the band during a song, Hey, lets do this. Itll come out naturally or things will happen, or somebody will play something and Ill react in a certain way based on those influences. Bruce: Yeah, thats how we are. James: Its all just a filter. We all listen to so many different things, and they come out unintentionally. I jotted down some notes as far as about what certain songs remind me of, a little bit, like the Arabian-esque Cancer of Industry, especially the beginning of that. Have you guys thought about how Dimmu Borgir was approached for the Hellboy soundtrack? Have you thought about movies or videogame soundtracks? Bruce: Sure, of course. Would you create new music for it? James: I mean, I think thats a natural evolution of our band, actually scoring some type of film thats really good. Or say a director hears us and likes us and vice-versa, and we like what they do find a project thats right, score an original film, or lend stuff to movies and videogames. There are two movies that our songs have been, yknow, put out for. They havent been chosen yet, but theyve put into the mix. Bruce: Theres been some talk of a couple things. James: And one of em sounds great, and one of em weve been its become an inside joke the past three weeks, and it just keeps getting funnier. Originally we were like, Yeah, sure, submit it. We need some money. We cant turn stuff down, but after, we were like, I think we should turn this one down. But weve even been rethinking that. Music and movies are interchangeable, and most of my favorite movies a lot of it has to do with the music. We do a lot of instrumental things. We have a side project band where we improv a lot of stuff, and a lot of it is very score-ish sounding not intentionally but it just happens to come out that way. A natural progression for the band is to get into some of that, for sure. I guess a classic example, in recent times, would be Fear Factory. Theyve done a million things like that. Theyve even created new music for videogames and stuff, like Raymond Herrera their drummer was always involved in videogames. James: Thats great. Thats a great outlet for music, and videogames need that. Same way they work in movies, they work in videogames. Make it stronger. I would rather create original music for a movie or a videogame rather than giving them a song that really wasnt meant to be in a movie or a videogame, but were open to whatever. If you want to use our stuff for other media thats awesome. Thats the main question: would you create something new? James: Oh for sure. Probably because if you could actually look at what you were going to be scoring . James: Thats the idea. A long time ago, one of the first guys to really do a huge score who was a popular musician was Miles Davis. He worked with a French filmmaker, and one of his agreements was he wanted to see the film, and he got to see almost the final cut of the film. Then he did the music in time with what he saw. And wed write music for a movie, but if we have no idea what it is or what its about its kind of foolish. We want to talk and find out what this is about, and whats going on, but we also dont want to give something really strong or put a lot of time into something that we dont believe in. It has to be equal, like I said someone searching us out and, We like what you do. Lets work on this. Theres an independent filmmaker in Chicago named Justin Ferrin. I met him a long time ago weve collaborated on several projects, some involving his films and some involving video work for us. Hes done live footage. He did our Chicago Typewriter (Way of the Dead) video. He did our new live video, and weve been working with him obviously on a small level. Hopefully well get even more of that. Cool. Yeah, I mean, uh, kinda switch gears real quick and talk about Back to the Mountain with Troy Sanders of Mastodon. How did that arrangement come about? Bruce: Troys been a friend of the band for years. We were looking to add something else to the song, towards the end of recording everything, and we just got the idea of adding a third vocalist. We kinda threw it his way to feel him out. We kinda talked him into it they had come through on the Slayer tour about a year before that, or six months, and I was like, Are you interested in collaborating? Have you ever done that before? He was like, Oh no, Id love to! Id love to! Guys got a cool voice. So he came through, they were playing in Chicago toward the end of what we were doing, so we brought him in the studio a bottle of Jack and a can of Coke, and bang, bang, bang, and done. He did his part. Yeah, it worked out good. Yeah, theyve done really well, which is an understatement, you know? Bruce: Sure. James: We played shows with them very early on, and they had just signed to Relapse before Remission came out. Was it even before Lifesblood? Bruce: Yeah, it was before Lifesblood. James: We met them a long time ago just out of the blue. They didnt know who we were. We didnt know who they were. Over the years we became friends. Weve played five shows with them over the years, and every time they come to Chicago we hang out. Theyve become buddies, and Bruce had this vocal idea in mind for the song and Troy was perfect for it. We had their number, Hey, you wanna sing on this? Yeah, lets make it happen. It was pretty simple. Have you guys been fortunate enough to hear anything from Blood Mountain? Bruce: No. We just talked to those guys, though, last week James: The recordings done. Theyre mixing, what, next week? Bruce: Yeah. Think youll get an early listen, I take it. James: Probably, but were not gonna talk about it. Bruce: Yeah. Were not even gonna see them until theyre touring. James: Theyre in Chicago when were gone, right? Bruce: I think we just cross paths a bunch of times. James: Maybe well meet them Bruce: in Milwaukee or something. Well have to see them at least one time, dude. Unholy Alliance tour. Yeah, Thine Eyes Bleed, Mastodon, Slayer. James: Lamb of God. Bruce: And Children of Bodom. James: Pretty good show bummed that were not gonna be in Chicago for it. What are your expectations for Blood Mountain, just to be curious? Is it gonna surpass Lifesblood, Remission Bruce: Who knows! James: My only hope is that on the new record they got into some different stuff for themselves, a little more melodic things, just branching out. Hopefully theyre evolving as a band, which Im sure they are. Like the last record, everythings been an evolution for them. Im sure theyre gonna take it a step further. Hopefully I like it a little better than the last one. They are evolving as a band, so it is gonna be awesome. Theyve got a lot of work to do if they want to surpass Leviathan. James: Yeah, but theyre just the guys to do it, though. Bruce: I know that didnt even come to mind, like they feel they have to outdo themselves. Theyre just naturally gonna do what they do, and thats it. If you like, fine. If you dont, then whatever. James: Theyre very genuine. Its gonna be awesome. I mean, theyve already proven themselves as far as James: They have nothing to prove. I dont think thats ever been their intention. Once again, they just do what they feel is right for themselves, regardless of style or genre. They fit in with a lot of things, but they do their own thing. I dont view them as just another band. Its not that simple. Once again their new record will be just another evolution of what they do. I cant wait to hear it. Bruce: Different personalities, down-to-earth . Im really looking forward to it. James: I guess were similar in the fact that they dont have a lot of outside influence I dont think theyre gonna, Lets go for a radio hit here. Theyre just gonna what theyre gonna do, and thats what makes them what they are. With them signing to Warner, do you as a band think youre a little too eclectic to reach that kind of audience as far as such a wide base? James: Id say probably. Bruce: I dont know. More streamlined, maybe? James: I wouldnt say theyre more streamlined. I think theres some accessibility in what we do that things could probably come through, but I never really look at the band that way or try to think about that type of stuff. Honestly, no, I dont think were the type of band that would sell millions and millions of records. Maybe well sell thousands and thousands and be able to keep doing the work we do. I mean, major labels, cmon. You gotta sell millions of fuckin albums. Definitely. James: Hopefully something that we didnt plan will break through, and that would be fine, too. Bruce: Thats the thing, though, too is that James: I dont even see that as an option or even really care. Bruce: I dont think the industry itself has the grasp on whats going on as much as theyd like to. I know that especially the major industry would like to channel things to go a particular way because its easy for them to market and whatnot. But all of a sudden some band will come in and rear its ugly head and screw it all up, and its like, There we go. Oh, and whats funny then therell be a thousand bands that follow that little path, whether it be good or bad. Im not talking about the revolution of the alternative rock of the early 90s or rap metal or whatever the hell. Im just saying it seems like the industry is always still trying to catch up. Theyll attempt to create things that they feel are marketable, and theyll reinforce that to an audience, Oh this is good! This is good! See?! Look, there are people out there! No. Just because theres 40,000 people out there and two million records have been sold does not mean somethings good. Thats just the way it is. I mean, a lot of it seems to be a numbers game. Bruce: Right. as far as how much you sell. I think a few years back it was like, you sell 20K and youre unsigned, you get signed immediately. Bruce: Sure. A lot of em seem completely outside like they just pay attention to numbers. James: Thats what its about for them. Its huge money at stake. They drop huge money in the bands, and then these bands have to come through and make a profit. I dont ever see us fitting in with that not intentionally or unintentionally. Personally I would like to shy away from that as much as possible. All my favorite records come out on indie labels, on smaller labels, and from people who put out music for musics sake rather than whats marketable. I dont think were very marketable, and even Prosthetic kinda scratched their heads. Everybody does. To me, that reinforces what we do not that its intentional. There are no pop hits. There are no 3-minute radio-friendly songs here. Thats just the way it is. I only imagine it getting worse. Even if you reach that plateau, if you dont try to further expectations, then you might be turned around and dropped. James: Right. I like the idea of a lot of past major label bands that sell great and do this awesome, amazing successful record, and go into their second record in debt. Yeah. James: Who wants that? Fuck that. Im sure you guys are really familiar with Earache. Bruce: Oh yeah. About how its come out recently that theyre treating I cant really remember Justin, maybe? Their main guy there, but apparently he treats his bands really shitty wont return phone calls/emails, wont pay studio costs, stuff like that. But yet theyre still a pretty major label and theyre selling really well. Bruce: Huh. There have been so many bands have you heard of Lee Barrett, started Candlelight Records? Bruce: Yeah. And done some stuff with Elitist Records . Bruce: Elitist is done now. Yeah, exactly, but hes had a real tough time with them, even making it to that milestone still, there are some people who run into bad luck. Bruce: True. Well have to ask the Municipal Waste guys. Theyll let us know. Yeah, what label are they on? Bruce: Theyre on Earache. Thats right. Thats right. Theyll be in Louisville pretty soon Keswick Democratic Club. Just a couple of general questions for you guys. Whats been the most satisfying thing about your career in music thus far? James: (Laughs) (Laughs) Anything at all. Bruce: (Taps trailer) This 5 by 8 trailer. James: Yeah, that trailer is really fuckin fun. Bruce: If anything, the best weve ever gotten was a 4 by 6, and a 5 by 8 were really moving up in the world. James: That fucking tofu dog I ate earlier. So its a unanimous decision then. James: I dont know. Im happy as a person when were writing and creating songs, and playing music. All the other bullshit that comes along with it you gotta deal with it in order to get to play. I think ultimately thats probably when Im my happiest, playing. We write music based on what the four of us feel and think, so its not like Im playing other peoples music or playing someones whose doesnt relate to me. Its an expression. It gets all this shit outta my head, outta my fuckin spirit or whatever. So yeah, thats my favorite part to get to play. Playing lives great. You cant match that energy. James: Lives great, and then theres also the energy of when were in a room, arranging songs, putting things together, and recording songs. All of it. They all have different dynamics to them, but theyre all the same thing. Theyre all the same expression.