Interview: Pam and Mark Schaff
Photos: Pam and Mark Schaff
MGM : So how was Lightning Born? What brought you guys together?
Brenna Leath : Well, I’m in a band called The Hell No, and Doza is in a band called Mega Colossus, and we’ve known each other for a few years now because our bands have kinda played together here and there. And Doza puts on a really cool festival called, Kraken fest, which is out, kinda in the middle of nowhere of Chapel Hill, but it’s a really cool bar, and like you just have a cookout, and all your friends are there playing metal all day and all night. And he had the Hell No out to play, and then we kinda got to chatting afterward. He was like, you know, I’ve been really thinking about starting another band, like a slower band that has female vocals, and I’d really like to work with you sometime. I was like, yeah that sounds really cool. And as things like that usually go, you just don’t follow up on it for like a few months. It didn’t really come together until one day I was like, feeling similarly penned up creatively, and I was like, you know what, we’re doing this. So I followed up with him, and I asked, are you ready to go man, and he said yeah, I have a couple people that might play guitar. You know anyone that would want to play bass? And I was like, I just finished doing an album with Mike, he produced The Hell No’s full-length album, and I was in there with him finishing up some vocal stuff. I said, hey man, what do you think about coming to play some bass with me, and Doza and Erik. And he said he might be into that, and I was thinking, you know this dude like famous and really cool, he doesn’t want to play bass in my band. And then he showed up, played bass and he liked it, and we kept playing, It was cool.
Doza Hawes : Yeah, Yeah, I like the way you told that story because I get most of the credit which is good.
Brenna : Well I invited Mike to play, that was really the most important part.
Doza : Yes that was important. You made that happen.
Mike Dean : Who knows that guy, from that band?
Brenna : It was me!
Doza : But yeah, I was really impressed with your performance at Kraken fest. I was like, that girl can sing, I want to do something with her. And it just kinda went from there.
Brenna : And your clearly one of the best drummers in the triangle so, it was a no brainer that I would want to play with you.
Doza : Yeah, and then Erik’s name came up
Erik Sugg : I got thrown into the mix somehow. It was awesome. We just kinda started writing stuff immediately, from day one.
Brenna : Yeah, our first song, we still play it live, is ‘Power Struggle’. And it came out in like the first five minutes. It was structured, had vocals and lyrics, everything. By the end of that practice, it was finished.
Erik : It just shows how well people can click if you know one another musically. The songs just kinda wrote themselves. Brenna can write lyrics to a song in like thirty minutes, you know, you play her a riff, and she gets the feel for it. Just gotta come up with a vocal melody.
Doza : Yeah this is the easiest songwriting process, us all together, that I’ve ever had. The songs just pop out.
Brenna : Very organic.
Erik : They just have a flow to them, it just kinda happens.
Brenna : And it’s cool, because like, I do some traveling for work, so sometimes I can’t be there to get together. And Mike has a studio, that’s where we practice a lot of the time, so it’s very easy for him to just press a button and record what they do. So I’ll come back sometimes and there’s like three songs practically finished, and I just go into the studio and put vocals down on them. And then the next time I come to practice, they’re all surprised that there are vocals. And he’s like, I was gonna put a guitar solo there, but what you’re doing sounds really cool. So that’s a kinda funny twist on it from time to time.
Erik : What we thought was cool when we stared writing these songs was that I don’t think we consciously tried to do this but, none of this in the band, sounds like any of our other bands. We don’t think it sound like The Hell No, Mega Colossus, or Demon Eye. Or Corrosion of Conformity for that matter.
Brenna : But definitely when I listen to it, you can hear a little bit of everything in it. Because like, your riffs are very, I was actually just talking to somebody about this today, they’re very distinct. You have a signature on your guitar style, so it’s very easy to pick you out from like a recording. So your songwriting style is very unique and awesome obviously.
Erik : Thank you!
Brenna : And the same thing for some of the songs, we have like, Mike kinda brought a riff to the table, and you could tell it was very COC influenced, it came from his brain, you can tell that. And the same thing for the ones I’ve written, you can tell that those came from my brain. But they don’t sound like they’re all from different bands to me, you can clearly hear each person’s songwriting stamp in there. And then Doza’s just a genius, he can play anything.
Doza : Thanks!
Brenna : Don’t get your head too full!
Doza : We need more bongos.
MGM : Do you guys have an album recorded, or in the process?
Brenna : We do.
Erik : At least an albums length worth of songs.
Brenna : One of the things is that working that way, having Mike’s studio right there, the songs get incrementally put together. So some of them you do them, and they’re finished and there’s nothing left to do. But others, you’ve recorded them almost as soon as you’ve written them, then you play them a few times live, and you realize that’s actually faster than it should be, or that it’s kinda changed like, yeah I put that riff in there. So you want to go back and redo it. So it’s both good and bad to do it that way. Because you end up having to like erase, then re-record once you’ve kinda let something live and breathe.
Erik : We were practicing for a pretty significant chunk of time without a bassist at first. I mean we had been talking to Mike, but it had been a while since we had been playing some of those early songs before he actually got into the mix. So sometimes you had to rethink it all. There was this song I thought I had, this really groovy, kinda Hendrix, fingery guitar kinda song, and once Mike got in he was like, No.
Mike : Yeah we’re getting it together, slowly but surely. Real life is an obstacle.
Doza : Yeah, we’ve gotten to play some really cool gigs together. Almost all our shows are with bands we really enjoy at least. Or impressed by.
Brenna : We’ve played with Ruby The Hatchet a few times, and that band is like, out of this world awesome. We got to play with The Sword, that was really, really cool.
Erik : That Earthless show really stands out for me.
Brenna : Earthless, yes, Conan they were awesome.
Doza : That was our first show!
Brenna : That was our first show. Our first show we played with Conan.
MGM : That’s not a bad first show.
Brenna : No not at all, can’t complain about that.
Doza : Conan and Serial Hawk.
MGM : Oh, they’re great too. We saw both bands last year.
Brenna : And obviously this fest is really freakin’ cool!
MGM : We must have seen the same tour.
Erik : Yeah it was probably a little over a year ago.
MGM : Yeah that was it. It was a great show, but it would have been a better show if you guys had been there with them.
Erik : Yeah, we’ll come to your guys neck of the woods and do it next time.
MGM : That would be great!
MGM : Will this be emotional tonight seeing how it’s Erik’s last show with the band?
Erik : Yes, you know it’s bittersweet, but I know they’ll be in good hands with whoever they pick to play.
Brenna : Well it’s not like we haven’t tried to beg him to stay several times already. But we’re not desperate.
Doza : Even Mike’s begging him.
MGM : Now do you have somebody already to replace him, or is this an ongoing search?
Brenna : We have somebody that’s kinda on a trial period right now. I mean it wasn’t hard to find people that were interested. But it is hard to find somebody that can fill Erik’s shoes and the songs that he’s written. Like I said his playing is very signature and cool, so you want somebody that will be able to like, come in and do it justice.
Erik : Yeah I think that’s what Mike was talking about, just the style thing. I play in a very, um, I’m not the tightest guitar player. I’ve kinda got this loose, the seventies kinda swing to it. And a lot of these guitar players you guys have talked to are probably just too good. Get them to play a little shittier and they’ll be alright.
Brenna : It’s kinda hard to like because we’re all in other bands, of various states of business and activity. And touring schedule, and then when you put real life in the mix…
Erik : There’s just no real way of saying it without sounding so un-rock and roll, but that’s what it gets down to. Life just kinda happens, and I don’t even have children. Doza is the only one in the band that’s a parent, that’s always, of course, the main excuse for a lot of musicians. But life just kind of started happening for me. And I had other obligations that started stacking up, kinda freaking me out, and had to make some decisions. You know I wanted to talk to these guys about it as far in advance as I could. I didn’t want to make them put on the brakes on a project he has such good things happening. I think these guys are gonna be just fine.
Brenna : A two band lifestyle is occasionally just overwhelming. I mean Doza and I have both been doing like benefits, learning extra songs for extra shows. And that sort of thing kinda ends up becoming like a third band. So when you add work, life and two to three bands madness into it, it definitely takes a toll after a while.
Doza : Because opportunities come up and they sound cool! You get invited to do a Dio cover band, I’m not gonna say no to that. That’s bad ass! So you know I played the Dio cover band and it was great. And I’ve got another cover thing I’m doing that’s coming up. So, yeah, it makes you busy but…..
Brenna : And Mega Colossus is such a funny, fun band. They’ve been one of my favorite bands since I moved to Raleigh. They’re so catchy, they’re like party power metal.
Erik : Hell yeah! That’s a good description of them actually.
Doza : What did you say? Party power metal?
Brenna : Party power metal.
Doza : Yes! I’ll take that.
Brenna : Like the power to the party.
Doza : I’m into that. If it’s like a Dungeons and Dragons party.
Brenna : Yeah, if it’s a dorky party.
Erik : I just feel lucky to be living in a town where there’s just so many amazing musicians, so many amazing bands.
Doza : Good places to play.
Brenna : Yeah, Raleigh is awesome!
Erik : It’s inspiring you to know, a lot of good stuff comes out of it.
MGM : Are you guys looking at, when you get the album out, some extensive touring?
Doza : Extensive is a strong word.
MGM : I could kinda see that being difficult with your schedules.
Mike : I’m all for it, for playing shows. After a while, you wear out the same three places.
Brenna : Mikes favorite phrase is “Gigs man, Gigs”
Mike : Yeah, absolutely. Gigs man. I think there’s a single of just like the um like everyone knows the band Venom, but nobody really listens to Venom. Thurston Moore made a single of just the things they would say in between songs. “Alright!! Gigs Man, Gigs!”
Brenna : I hope nobody ever does that for the things I say in between songs.
Mike : Look up Venom stage banter.
Brenna : I mean if we were to get an awesome opportunity, I’m sure we would all do our best to take advantage of it to the fullest, But I think the main focus right now is to just get to finishing the album. Erik is gonna put his finishing touches on it. And then when the new person gets in the mix if they feel like they want to add things, or we write some new things with them, then that going to factor into what goes into the finished product. As it is, I would say we have at least an EP’s worth of material that is close to finished. I think Mike is very, he takes a lot of pride and precision in his recording and his producing, so he’s the last person that would let anything out into the world without his full seal of approval. So I think whether that becomes an EP or a full length is really up to him. Cause it’s all his stuff that we recorded it on.
Doza : Yeah it’s a reflection on him as a recording artist and a producer, and an engineer, so all those things reflect on him.
Brenna : You know COC is working on a new album right now, so he’s been spending a lot of time on that. I will say to his credit, he makes us feel just as important.
Erik : Yeah, he’s having a good time for sure. Mike always has a good time. I can’t even picture the guy not smiling.
Mike : I’m Mike Dean and I approve this message.
MGM : How does it feel to be in a band that’s different than COC?
Mike : Oh it’s really good. I mean that’s all well, and good, very enabling. You know kind of a lot of years of the same thing or variations of the same thing. So it’s cool to get with some creative people, focus just on playing bass and stuff like that. Surprised people you know, because this is like not being part of something that’s very familiar, I’m just part of the establishment now. You know, how’s that feel’s, Mike? What is this shit? This shits pretty good. So it’s a great phenomenon to be a part of.
MGM : Glad to finally get to meet my fellow Patti Smith fan’s Mike & Erik.
Mike : Yeah Yeah and you like the hippie tunes! Like the ‘Dancing Barefoot’ or ‘Ghost dance’.
Erik : ‘Birdland’ is one of the best songs ever written.
MGM : Yes!
Mike : I went to see them when I was like in junior high school. She played the Omaha Music Hall, and they were like, shit I think the radio station was giving away some tickets, so I got tickets, and seen them like when Wave came out. It was pretty cool.
MGM : I have to say though, I think you singer here is a little better than Patti Smith. And I’m a huge Patti Smith fan.
Erik : I would agree with that!
Mike : Patti Smith would tell you that she was a poet.
Brenna : Yeah, poet first singer second.
Doza : And you were worried about my head getting big.
Mike : Patti Smith into that kinda stream of consciousness, it’s a little pretentious but really cool. If you could fuse that with somebody that has the voice….
Brenna : Patti Smith cover band coming up next.
Doza : I’ll do that.
Mike : You can break out your bongos.
Doza : Yesssss! I’ve been saying that, the power of the bongos.
Brenna : He keeps trying to play the bongos. And the cowbell.
Mike : I almost brought the cowbell. Just because.
Doza : I’ll sneak it in there.
Mike : I figured you would.
MGM : There’s nothing wrong with a cowbell.
Mike : You gotta stay up on the stuff I was telling you about. So you can get the backhanded floor tom fake double bass and the (waves his arm)
Brenna : I hear that will break your elbow. You’ll end up in the hospital after a little while of that.
Mike : Your shoulder and your elbows will be all jacked up.
Doza : Tendonitis, thanks, man.
MGM : Well, we just want to thank you all for sitting with us. You’re on stage next so we don’t want to keep you any longer. Thank you!