|Bedemon are a trad. Doom band that was active in the early seventies, they had only released one compilation until that, very recently, their first full-length came out. To celebrate their reunion, which is some kind of an event, doom-metal had an in-depth interview with Geof O'Keefe.|
|1. Hello Geof ! I hope everything is fine. My first question will be quite broad: how would you quickly introduce Bedemon to a newcomer?
Geof: Bedemon was never an actual band in the conventional sense. It was the name attached to a series of occasional recordings done as a favor to Randy Palmer, who was a good friend of Pentagram co-founders Bobby Liebling and myself. Palmer would write these dark, Black Sabbath-styled songs — they were his favorite band — and then ask Bobby and me, along with his schoolmate, bassist Mike Matthews, to record these songs. This went on between 1973 and 1979, during which time we recorded fifteen tracks, mostly Randy’s, a few of mine ("Frozen Fear" and "Axe To Grind") and one of Mike’s ("Last Call", currently featured in the excellent Bobby Liebling documentary film Last Days Here). After years of being bootlegged and passed among fans, these songs eventually were officially released in 2005 as Child of Darkness: From the Original Master Tapes
2. Your last album is finally out in Europe, it's got rather positive reviews up till now, but how was the reaction of the fans? Did it sell well so far?
Geof: It's too early to tell as far as sales. It’s only been out since August, and the US release was just a few weeks ago. The reaction from reviewers has been overwhelmingly positive, and fans — based on the comments on Facebook etc. — has been very positive.
3. When Bedemon made their first recordings back in the '70s, Doom Metal didn't exist nor as a genre neither as a scene, Black Sabbath was obviously the main influence in your music. When you started working on the second album, however, the Doom scene was already set up. Did any of the new bands which emerged in the '80s and '90s influence the new songs of Bedemon in any way?
Geof: Not really. Our influences have always been the classic 70s hard rock and metal bands we grew up listening to, groups like of course, Black Sabbath, along with others such as Uriah Heep, The Stooges, Budgie, The Gun, Stray, The Groundhogs, Blue Oyster Cult and so on.
4. I read that Bedemon "wasn't taken that seriously" in the '70s. What does it mean ? Was the band just a pastime for you, or was it kind of 'mocked' by others?
Geof: Others? It was even mocked by us at the time! Pentagram was the "serious" musical focus and as mentioned above, the Bedemon recordings were pretty much done for fun as a favor to Randy. The songs were sludgy, the lyrics were comically over-the-top in their dark horror-and-drugs themes and Randy's guitar playing wasn't the best; Randy would make fun of it himself. As I say..."at the time."
Over the years, the songs have grown on all of us. His songwriting was actually quite original and interesting, and his guitar playing had a feel to it that wasn't apparent compared to technically better players like Pentagram's Vincent McAllister. This is one of the reasons we were disappointed Randy chose not to play the solos on the new album; he wanted better playing and so asked bassist Mike Matthews (who actually plays guitar in his own musical projects rather than bass) and myself to perform the solos.
5. Most of your influences are rooted in the '70s. Are there in your opinion any bands from this period that would be shamefully overlooked or underrated?
Geof: Yeah, there are so many bands that, while known among metal fans, never rose above opening act/club status, despite incredible albums. Captain Beyond's debut ranks in my opinion as one of the top ten albums of all time, in any type of music, and some of the afore-mentioned bands like Budgie and Stray, along with Three Man Army, Clear Blue Sky, Sir Lord Baltimore, The Groundhogs, Bang, Savage Resurrection, Stray Dog...the list goes on and on of bands that should have been bigger commercially but for whatever reason, didn't make that leap to the A-list.
6. While the early recordings were made mostly for fun, this second album has been done in a more professional way. This must have changed everything in the process, hasn't it?
Geof: Yes, we decided to make a "serious" album this time, and I think the maturity in the songwriting, both musically and lyrically, reflects that. The songs are long and have more intricate and interesting parts, and the lyrics, while still pretty over-the-top in a very dark way, are intense and better composed.
7. The songs recorded in 1986 are left unreleased, except as bootlegs. Why? I remember reading in the first album's booklet that you wished to stop any bootlegging... Isn't it contradictory? Will you ever release them?
Geof: After doing the original recordings from 1973 through 1979 which are all contained on the Child of Darkness release, we didn't get together again until 1986. By that time, Mike had moved to Seattle, so Pentagram's Greg Mayne played bass and Norman Lawson played guitar. We recorded five songs including two takes of one, "Night of the Demon", but there were never any vocals added to these tracks. There were also musical mistakes and some technical problems with the recordings. Due to all these reasons, they wouldn't have fit in on the album and aren't really suitable for release. We would like to possibly re-record "Night of the Demon", though; Randy had a expressed a desire to do that on a future release.
8. The first album was out on Black Widow Records, but not the second one; it took you some time before finding a new label, why didn't you stay on the Italian one? Weren't they interested? How would you describe the experience with them?
Geof: Without getting into too much of the contractual side, Black Widow was interested, but to be honest, what they were offering wasn't anywhere near what we'd hoped for, considering how much we spent on recording costs. We took our time to search out the best possible deal, and Svart came through on that front. Svart has been fantastic. Our experience with Black Widow was positive as well; they do high-quality releases and had good communication. I've heard stories of less-than-positive experiences with them but that wasn't the case from our viewpoint.
9. Bedemon's songs are mainly riff-based, however each one of them seems to tell a story. What comes first, the riff or the theme? How would you describe the usual writing process?
Geof: It generally starts with a riff. Randy's demos that he sent to me and Mike were literally him playing one guitar with no overdubs or vocals into a simple cassette recorder. By contrast, my demos and Mike's were fully-realized with drum machines, vocals, overdubbed bass and guitar solos etc. I always come up with a riff first. Lyrics are the harder part of songwriting for me; I can't speak for Mike.
10. On the vinyl version of the second album, the tracklist order is slightly different, obviously because of the restrictions of this format. Isn't a bit frustrating to have another one, or does the tracklist order not matter for you at all?
Geof: No, the song order is very important. The tracks on the CD were sequenced the way they are to achieve a certain flow and is the preferred way to experience the album as intended. It was frustrating to have to re-sequence the songs for the vinyl version, but totally understandable, given the approximately fifteen minutes per side time limit to retain the best fidelity and pressing quality.
11. While Bedemon has always been a studio project, there was some talk about a tour in Europe next summer, will this idea ever take shape? And would you then play both albums?
Geof: It's just in the casual discussion stage as there are numerous logistical problems. Mike lives in Montana, Craig and I live in California. We don't have a guitarist. Bedemon has never played a gig, ever, anywhere. It's been strictly a recording project. If we are able to work these issues out, we would love to play live and yes, we'd definitely play songs from both albums.
12. Would it be possible to have a live album if any Bedemon concert ever takes place, or is it too far from the original spirit of Bedemon: the studio project ?
Geof: That's a very "in the future" hypothetical question, having never played a gig, and only considering possibility of playing live in 2013 as discussed above. But, I'd think it's safe to say we would be sure to record any shows we did play, with the goal of releasing something live.
13. In the booklet, Mike's only comment about "Hopeless" is: "Geof in the studio. What can I say ?" This leaves a lot of room to imagination. But what does he mean? Are you a kind of perfectionist tyrant or something?
Geof: You'd have to ask engineer Shawn or vocalist Craig, but I'd guess they'd both say..."yes" to the perfectionist label; hopefully not the tyrant label! Bottom line: I do hear a song in a very specific way in my head, and I know when it's not right. Many times I'd take a mix home that Shawn and I had worked hours on, and I'd hear a wrong note in a section when playing it back in the car that we hadn't heard in the studio. That type of thing would bother me forever if it went to press with mistakes and so on; I would always hear them and insist they be fixed.
In the specific case of my track "Hopeless," it was the very last song we recorded the day before Randy had to fly back to North Carolina, and with having to pack up the gear, we didn't really have time to work on the song properly. I believe we only had time to record one take of it, which is what you hear on the album.
For starters, I readily admit I played the song a bit too fast compared to my original demo, and being that's it's nearly ten minutes in length, there were sections that both Randy and Mike played incorrectly. In the end, and with Mike's full approval, I basically redid a majority of the bass and rhythm guitar track that Mike and Randy had recorded, in addition to adding many overdubs, tons of solos, keyboards, percussion etc. There are sections where we left their parts in the song because I wanted everyone to actually be playing on the song and am sorry we couldn't have just gotten the original backing track right to begin with, but I had to do what Shawn and I could to salvage it and make it sound like it should. I'm proud of the track and a number of reviews have cited it as one of the best numbers on the album, which is quite an honor.
14. About that song, "Hopeless", before receiving the album I thought it was one of Randy's song, and that it was kind of referring to his darkest days. Actually it's yours, a very emotional piece. Was it influenced by any actual event?
Geof: I know many are disturbed by my admittedly over-the-top lyrics, but I wanted to tackle the concept of what goes through someone's mind who becomes a psychopath committing horrible crimes. Do they have any sense of guilt? At one point in their lives they were presumably an innocent child with dreams of their future lives, finding a career, getting married etc., in other words, normal life; what threw them off course so tragically that they became the monsters they did? While not inspired by any one event or news story, "Hopeless" takes you inside the fictional and disturbed mind of one such individual who knows what they are doing is horribly wrong, yet feels powerless to stop themselves. Quoting from the lyrics: "I've got to find release from this pain, I think I'm going out of my mind, I want to kill and torture and rape, evil voices evil choices." At the very end of the song, the subject of the song finally declares, "The answer is so clear, I have found my release." And as one hears rather startlingly in the song... he does.
15. Religion is a recurring theme in Doom Metal, did this subject influence Bedemon in any way?
Geof: I wouldn't say it "influenced" our writing, but we had opinions about it. Obviously, in "Saviour," I reference priests preying on and betraying the innocent children that have entrusted them and turn to them for guidance. In one verse, the question is asked, "Where is your protector? Does he see the danger watching from above? How can he stand by, seeing angels cry in his house of love," challenging the theory that if an almighty god exists, how can he let horrible things happen to those who love and worship him the most? I'm pretty much in the atheist/agnostic camp and I believe Randy was as well; I can't speak for Mike or Craig as to their beliefs.
16. What's your opinion about Pentagram's present?
Geof: That's kind of difficult to answer because the line-up keeps changing every few months! Guitarist Victor Griffin has just left the band — again — and drummers have come and gone with Spinal Tap-like frequency.
While Pentagram started as a band when Bobby Liebling and I co-founded the group back in 1971, it has been pretty much Bobby and an ever-evolving line-up ever since. He trademarked the name and wrote a majority of the songs, so he can keep it going with anyone filling the other member roles.
Since the 80s line-up which was essentially Death Row with Bobby changing the name to the potentially more recognizable Pentagram, their sound has been a thick slab of Sabbath-inspired doom metal. I love it; "All Your Sins" is one of the greatest doom classics of all time. My only criticism would be that all the line-ups since the 80s — regardless of who is in the band — have that same sound pretty much throughout all the songs and albums; the original 70s Pentagram had more variety in their hard-rock style, with influences like Wishbone Ash, Mountain, Thin Lizzy etc. in addition to Sabbath. But, I love and totally support Pentagram and absolutely give credit to Bobby for keeping the band alive and kicking all these years; there's no denying that Bedemon benefits from Pentagram's existence and popularity.
17. In 'Last Days Here', Pentagram's "rockumentary", you say you didn't wanted to take the risk of being part of a high-publicity project with Bobby Liebling. Is it still the case?
Geof: That's a tough question; at the time, the debacle of the Black Cat gig — where Bobby collapsed on stage before the band played a note of the first song — was on our minds. Back in 2005, Vincent, Greg and myself had talked about the possibility of wanting to do a 35th anniversary gig or even an album with Bobby in 2006, but it just seemed like the same old Bobby story of him fucking up every chance he's given. With Vincent's tragic and unexpected death from cancer in 2006, that pretty much ended the chances of the "classic 70s line-up" from reuniting. There was talk in 2007 of getting me and Greg to play on a new album, but as shown in the movie, concern over Bobby's repeatedly falling back into drugs made the interested labels — and us — understandably wary. Musically, I'd love to work with him, whether it's writing some new songs, recording in the studio or even playing some gigs, but as with the Bedemon situation, there are logistical problems like me living in California and him living in Philadelphia. Of course, there is the risk of a disaster, and that causes the wariness of committing to a project. I have too many memories of having lived through that over and over, and heard many more tales of what later band members had to deal with.
18. Will the third Bedemon album ever be more than just an idea?
Geof: That's hard to say at this early stage. It really depends on how the reaction and sales are on Symphony of Shadows. It would be an artistic adventure to take Randy's new song ideas and flesh them out into songs, but it would also require a lot of time and money. The response to this new album will pretty much dictate whether we embark on that journey. I know we would like to.
19. What does the future hold for the remaining members of Bedemon ? You obviously have to carry on with music. Will a new band emerge? Will "Exterminator" or "Seeing Black" be recorded in another project?
Geof: Aside from the possibility of at least one more Bedemon album, I definitely want to finally put together a project of my songs. I have so many, going all the way back to the 70s Pentagram days up through things that I'm still writing now. Mike, as far as I know, plays in cover bands. Craig hasn't been playing with anyone recently, but I'd definitely like to work with him on my solo material although it would have a band name, not the Geof O'Keefe Project or anything of that nature.
20. I feel like Randy's life could define the word "doom", am I being cheesy or exaggerating? Perhaps could you share another anecdote in his memory?
Geof: Randy was a mass of contradictions. He was in some ways very innocent and childlike, yet incredibly intelligent and also very dark and cynical. He was hysterically funny yet had a hair-trigger temper over the smallest of incidents. We would get into feuds over ridiculous things, in one case resulting in our not talking for years. Yet, he was the brother I never had, and we knew each other so well.
I am sure much of his volatility came from his drug use, and then being on Methadone, which many feel is worse than heroin itself. Many times we would sit and talk about his drug use and be in tears, yet he would continue. My happiest memories of him were the first few years after we met, before he got really into the hard drugs. We'd enjoy music, work on Bedemon, go to every horror movie that played in the theaters, make our own movies, play pinball, sit around his house and watch Alfred Hitchcock and Twilight Zone and so on. I miss him every day and hope somewhere he is happy with how the album turned out.
21. Thank you for your time and answers! The last words are yours.
Geof: Mike, Craig and I appreciate your interest and kind words about Bedemon. We hope fans play the new album loud and often, in memory of the founder of Bedemon: Randy Palmer.
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