20th May 2017
Lionize: where Clutch meets Bob Marley
Maryland revolutionaries Lionize bring together classic rock grooves and reggae vibes. “Bob Marley made rock records,” they tell Ramblin’ Man’s Malcolm Dome
As you might expect from a band who are based in Maryland, Lionize have a close relationship with Clutch. They’re signed to the latter’s Weathermaker label in the US, while Clutch’s Neil Fallon, Tim Sult and Jean-Paul Gaster have all guested on their records in the past. Sult, in particular, is a frequent additional guitarist on Lionize recordings, and Gaster also produced their most recent album, 2014’s ‘Jetpack Soundtrack’.
Formed in 2004, Lionize feature vocalist/guitarist Nathan Bergman, vocalist/keyboard player Chris Brooks, bassist/vocalist Henry Upton and drummer Chase Lapp. Their style not only embraces blues and hard rock, but also has distinct references from dub, reggae and funk. This has been developed spontaneously through a series of five albums and three EPs, starting with 2005’s ‘Danger My Dear’ album and continuing through to last year’s ‘The Voyage’ EP. Lionize have also toured with a diverse set of bands, from Orange Goblin and, inevitably, Clutch to reggae heroes Steel Pulse and The Wailers, plus hardcore crossover masters the Bad Brains and modern rockers Hoobastank and Concrete Blonde.
The four will be bringing their unique vision to Ramblin’ Man this year, performing on the Grooverider Stage. So, it’s seems sensible to let Bergman explain what we can expect from these Maryland mavericks.
You have strong connections to Clutch. How did this come about?
“Well, in two ways actually. Firstly, there was a drum teacher in Maryland named Walter Saald. He taught Jean-Paul Gaster and also our own Chase Lapp. It did seem for a while that everything connected to music in the local area revolved around Walter’s place.
“The second one was that when I was six years old, my father owned a seafood restaurant. And Neil Fallon’s first job was working there. That was in 1988/9, and I used to bug the hell out of him when I was that age – I still do, ha! So, yes Lionize and Clutch have a relationship that goes a long way back. And, naturally, they are a big influence on us.”
Aside from Clutch, what are the band’s main influences?
“Deep Purple is a big one for all of us in this band. And so are Led Zeppelin and Cream. We also love bands like Parliament and Funkadelic. Oh, and Queen”
You have a close interest in reggae. When did this begin?
“We grew up loving Peter Tosh, The Heptones and Bob Marley. When we listened to these bands, it opened up our musical world to different ideas and tones. And Steel Pulse, a reggae band who obviously come from Birmingham in England, were one of the first big names to offer us the chance to go on tour with them. That was a huge deal for us.”
People will be surprised you have such a passion for reggae. Do you think rock fans fail to give this genre the respect it deserves?
“The problem is that these days people listen to what is called reggae, and they hear very synth-driven music that also has a lot of hip hop in there. But this is not the type of reggae that we love. What made a big impact on us was classic reggae, where you can clearly hear a lot of rock related inferences, plus soul, funk and r’n’b. It owed so much in those days to Motown, as well as soul and funk in the way it developed. Look, anyone who doubts what I’m saying should go back and listen to Marley’s ‘Exodus’ or ‘Burnin” albums. They are really rock records, as much as anything else.”
Your third album, ‘Space Pop And The Glass Machine’ (2008), was recorded in Jamaica. How did that come about?
“When we toured with Steel Pulse, a couple of the guys in the band and their producer Sidney Mills asked us if we’d like to go out to Jamaica to record. We were really into that idea, but then nothing more was said, so we thought it had gone away. Then a couple of months later, Sidney called and repeated the offer. He was very keen for us to come out to Kingston, and work at Harry Studio, Boot Camp Studio and Portmore Studio 100. Sidney himself was our producer for the album.”
What was the experience like of recording in Jamaica?
“It was amazing. For a start, we got to work out there for a month, whereas for the same cost we could only have afforded to go into the studio for two weeks back in the States. The whole experience was totally pleasurable. Once people realised what type of musicians we were, and we embraced the whole culture out there, then they treated us really well. In every sense we had a fantastic time, even as far as tasting the food was concerned. And the album that came out of this was better than we could have expected.”
The band love experimenting musically. What’s the most left field thing you’ve so far done?
“Well, that is our new album. We have only just finished recording it at Magpie Cage Studios in Baltimore, where the last couple of albums. Were also done This time around not only did we have Jean-Paul Gaster and J, Robbins helping us out on the production side, as they have done in the past, but we also got a lot more involved on this side of things.”
What makes this album so different?
“For a start, we recorded everything on two inch tape, using an analogue desk. There are no overdubs, and no digital enhancement anywhere. We just went in and did it as live. And when everyone hears what we have done, it will put us in a different light as far as they’re concerned.
“One thing we did this time was play all the songs live when we toured in the UK and Europe last year with Clutch. That’s the first occasion we have ever done material onstage before recording it. In the past, we’ve written the tracks, then gone in to record before ever playing these live. But what we discovered previously was that once we went out on did these songs onstage, they began to change. The way we jam and improvise live meant that it was only then the tracks really came into their own. Now I don’t understand why bands insist on recording songs before they have lived with them on the road. That’s what we have appreciated with the new album, and because of this Lionize in the studio have taken on a whole fresh dimension.”
Lionize have become known for having an array of guests on albums. Is that something you actively encourage?
“It’s not anything that we pursue in advance. But over the years, we have gotten to know some great musicians through touring. So, after we have written an album, then we may think that a certain guitarist would be good to get in to play on a particular song. That’s when we’ll call and ask if they’d like to come down to the studio and guest. On the new album, we have Tim Sult playing on two songs – he’s the only musician outside of the band we have guesting this time. So far, we have been very lucky that nobody we have asked to help us out in this way has turned us down.”
Your last album, ‘Jetpack Soundtrack’, came out three years ago. So, when might we expect the new record to be released?
“It’s already to go now; there will be 12 songs in all. But the idea is to have it out sometime in the summer. The End Records are to release it in Europe and Britain. We do have a title for it, however right now that has to remain under wraps. It should be announced in a month or so.”
Do you encourage jamming and spontaneity live?
“Definitely. What happens is that every night one member of the band on a rotation basis writes out the set list. So if you see us live more than once then you are guaranteed to see a different performance each time. The solos change, as does the transition from one song into another. We hate the idea of going out and doing the same setlist in the same way every night. That becomes boring for the musicians, and therefore must be boring the fans. So, when you see us at Ramblin’ Man, you can be certain that you will see a unique gig from Lionize. One that will never be repeated.”
You’re playing the Grooverider Stage at Ramblin’ Man. Do you feel a bond to early ’70s hard rock?
“For us, that is the most exciting and dynamic era of rock. Of course, there are some fantastic bands around in modern times. However, we all love the early 1970s, when there was something really special about music. The energy, the freshness… the whole concept of a touring rock band was new, and it made the experience just very exciting. That’s what we want to emulate.
“This will be the first time Lionize have ever played at a festival in the UK. We’ve done them in America and even Greece. But never there before. It means a lot. As I said earlier, so many of our biggest inspirations come from the UK. Whenever we come over we always feel like we are standing on the shoulders of giants. It happened when we were fortunate enough to appear at The Roundhouse in London last December; just to be in the same room where so many iconic artists have performed previously was remarkable. And now to be at Ramblin’ Man with such a list of great bands means a lot. I can promise everyone we will do our best to make Lionize worthy of being on that bill!”
Lionize play the Grooverider Stage on Saturday July 29. Buy your tickets to see them here