The Brooklyn band Beast Modulus are featuring in this week’s Meet The Band. After releasing an EP a couple years ago, their second album is Being which has elements of math metal, groove, prog and other genres. Drummer Jody Smith gives us an entertaining introduction to his band.
Chad Bowar: Give us a brief history of Beast Modulus.
Jody Smith: Beast Modulus was a project that started in 2004 when I still lived in New Orleans. I had a collection of “quirky” beats that I was cataloging and figured I’d employ an alternative writing process by mapping out some of said beats arranged as a “song.” From there I would record isolated drums at a particular tempo and share the file for another musician to collaborate on. The idea there being; what does this phrase evoke in someone else and how will they interpret it on their particular melodic instrument? The only tonal guidance that I would suggest in advance was to “make it heavy”. Interestingly enough, but not surprisingly, the end result with the same arrangement across different lineups completely changes! (laughs)
After Hurricane Katrina, I ended up moving to New York where after a few years of random gigging I answered a Craigslist ad for a Brooklyn band called Family. Turns out that I both got the gig and then had to learn some of the pre-existing material which was more “metal” than anything I’d played previously. While that was a tough experience at times, one of the many cool things that transpired from my time in that band was meeting guitarist Owen Burley and vocalist/bassist Kurt Applegate, who would eventually be two-quarters of the NY lineup of Beast Modulus (along with bass player/vocalist Jesse Adelson from NY metal band Prostitution). Whereas with previous incarnations it was an isolated writing process, it’s now one that operates as a legitimate group where we can bounce ideas off each other.
Describe the songwriting and recording process for Being.
Instrumentally, Owen and I bring in an arranged series of riffs or beats. Owen has a very “Loosey Goosey” writing style in that he brings in a series of riffs with an idea on arrangement and then we stitch some of them together as cohesively as possible. That process usually entails sitting down with a click track and identifying what is pushing/pulling and/or has drastic changes. When I bring in an arrangement, it’s all the same tempo (not trying to tempo map a stream of consciousness poem) and I then need Owen and Jesse to flesh out ideas for the best chords/progressions and other melodic aspects. One of my personal challenges is to create a dynamic and evolving arrangement that has perpetual energy and is also solid tempo-wise.
From there we get the bass and vocals involved. Jesse will figure out a bass line that can complement Owen’s style. Kurt tends to improvise at first just to get phrases in the mix as he tightens up lyrics about what ever sick shit he has circling in his brain at that particular time. (laughs) We usually end up doing multiple takes and tweaks over the course of a few months. I record these in the practice space then e-mail them to the other guys. We bring in notes and Kurt writes some more weird, perverted lyrics. And, at some point, we get so sick and tired of the whole process that we just book a studio date and hope for the best.
How has your sound evolved/progressed on this one?
Where the previous record was tracked in two different studios, mixed in another, then mastered elsewhere, we tracked/mixed in a single location for Being at Westfall Studios with Raymond Marte and Anthony Lopardo. Keeping the locale consistent seems to have allowed us to focus a little more on some of the minor details we might have skipped over previously. The end result is a little cleaner sounding record. We were also able to work a lot more kinks in advance/during the recording as a band to address whatever issues we had and to make sure once it came down to tracking we were all on the same page.
Also, with the first record I predominantly used samples from movies and with Being I was trying to compose beats in midi programs with ambiance, melodic instruments or other percussion/noise elements to the same BPM of the song so I could trigger them live/in-time. It took a while to get a work flow for composing, transferring, and triggering live, but the Roland SPD-SX has been an awesome investment for pulling it off. “TWRK,” “Running Backwards” and “Skeleton Key” all have elements of that.
Is there a lyrical theme or concept?
The subject matter of our songs varies from relationships and addiction to Argentinian boxers and Biblical plagues. Our last record had a song about the AK-47 and the new record has a song about conception and butt shaking. I think Kurt even says the word “semen” at some point. Most of the time you can’t really understand what Kurt’s screaming about, anyway!
Would you like to sign with a label, or do you prefer the DIY route?
One of the advantages of doing the recording with a more DIY process is that it does afford you the time to record and write at your own pace, which we certainly did for Being. The flip side of that is that it is advantageous to have distribution and name recognition in being associated with certain Labels, especially ones that have a strong roster of artists. While the internet is a great conduit for self-release, it will only get you so far. Deathwish Records for instance, would be a super cool label to be associated with I feel like. When you have Converge, Harms Way, Doomriders, Trap Them, Code Orange, etc. I’d say you’ve got one hell of a roster!
How was the video shoot for “Accustomed To Dysfunction”?
We brainstormed locations and themes, eventually coming to the consensus that we should shoot the video in our practice space, wearing all white, with some projections involved. Our friend (and resident metal documentarian) Frank Huang shot the footage. I work in post-production so I just prepped the song with an 8 quarter note count at the front of the song, ran it through the PA, we got an audio/visual clap on beat four and everyone ran through the song in its entirety at varying camera angles. I synced/edited all the footage from there! BooYah mofo’s!
What has the early response to the album been like?
Good thus far! You’re never going to get 10 out of 10 stars from everyone that reviews it, but I’d say the majority of the reviews have been positive. There were some Germans who wished we would have sounded more like Rammstein, Einster Neubauten or Kraftwerk and employed more Scheisse references in our lyrics so they were none too pleased with us. Mexico and Spain dug it, so our Latin brothers are down with us (Mexico City/Barcelona shows anyone?!). As for our friends who we’ve played it for, we just got them super stoned beforehand and gave them a free copy. Their cheap asses all had RAVE reviews! Imagine that?!
What are your upcoming show/tour plans?
April 23 for a matinee at Matchless. We’re working on getting some East Coast dates as well and so we can get the hell out of NY!
What has been your most memorable Beast Modulus live show or tour?
I’m going to pull a Nostradamus and say that this upcoming release show will be one of the more memorable ones we’ve played in sometime. We’re getting a dozen little people to join us on the stage during the show. We have little poles, and little mini-risers/trampolines for them to jump around on and Kurt’s gonna’ put one in a Baby Bjorn and pour PBR’s all over the two of them throughout the show!, Not to mention a dunk tank, an arm wrestling station, a bullet ant glove station, and a padded floor section in the corner (next to the Jaeger fountain/all you can eat donuts) where we’ll be paying some poor bastard that can do the most keg stands $100!
It seems many math metal band members were not actually that good at math in school. Is that the case with you?
Haha! In speaking for myself, not only was I not very good at math, but my entire academic career a story of barely getting C’s. I have recurring nightmares about still being in high school and if it weren’t for spell-check I would be sufficiently fucked in written communication. The phone calculator is my other very close friend. That said, the other three guys were actually quite good in school. So they say!
Seen any good movies or DVDs lately?
I’ve been doing the binging of series as of late. There’s the Walking Dead, Legion, new seasons of Archer, Better Call Saul, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Trailer Park Boys on Netflix. With the Walking Dead I must say “I’m not renting this shit anymore” on a weekly basis, but every Monday after it airs I’m renting that damn show. I don’t think I’ve ever had such a love/hate relationship with a show yet in the end I always acquiesce and rent it like clockwork!
As far as movies, Train to Busan, The Girl with All the Gifts, were all pretty awesome. I know Kurt’s been lovin’ Get Out and owns the bizarre distinction of watching the Revenant like four times. I personally watched it twice but you bet your sweet ass I forwarded through that bear attack scene. Good Lawd! Owen loves ’70s “bush heavy” pornography and most Burt Reynolds movies, especially Smokey & the Bandit. I think Jesse only watches skate videos. I’m being dead serious with that one. If only skateboards had a vagina.
What’s currently in your heavy musical rotation?
I’ve been fluctuating with Norma Jean, Every Time I Die, Down, old C.O.C., Danzig, Deftones, Dillinger, Car Bomb and the occasional Megadeth.
Anything else you’d like to mention or promote?
Our new reality show where we participate in competitive eating is due out this summer! We’re super excited! If you’re into four older gentlemen gorging themselves whilst wearing diapers and attempting to play an hour long set of raucous metal immediately afterwards and NOT lettin’ a deuce loose, we’ve got the show for you!
(interview published April 8, 2017)