Cheap Shot Philly Interview with Three’s Joey Eppard

December 7, 2007
by Sean Monaghan

The End is Begun… don’t take the title of Woodstock, N.Y.’s Three’s latest release as a pessimistic statement, but as a positive one. This album is not telling us that this is the end of music. It is telling us to think for ourselves. It is striving to put an END to mediocre and dull music – that you hear most of the time on radio – and to BEGIN reemerging a new chapter of music like Three. They are one of the most important bands on the progressive rock/metal scene today. The End is Begun is a blend of metal, folk, pop, funk and melody all mixed into one exciting release. You’ve never heard a band like this. Just check it out for yourself and you’ll get it.

Cheap Shot! had the pleasure to sit down with songwriter/vocalist/guitarist of Three, Joey Eppard, at the The Troc Balcony, as the band was midway through a mini-headlining tour of the east coast. We were lucky enough to be able to watch Joey do a quick sound check, since the venue let them in only an hour before the doors opened up. He already had his fingers moving; this man needs no pick, and he played a bit from Three’s “The World Is Born of Flame” and “The Game” from his solo release. This was a pleasure for Cheap Shot! writer Sean Monaghan, who was the one who sat down and talked with Joey at the vacant balcony above The Troc main stage. They spoke about the upcoming “Progressive Nation” tour, his solo releases, Steven Wilson possibly producing the next Three release, renting Unsolved Mysteries DVD sets and much more!

CS: What are your thoughts on this venue?

Joey: I actually will probably have a lot more to comment on that after the show. I mean, I’ve never been here before. It’s a small stage, so that’s always a challenge for a band like us, with so much gear. But you know, that’s part of the fun…part of paying the dues. So ,we’ll make it work up there, and hopefully I won’t break anything or hurt myself or others in the process.

CS: You are from Woodstock, N.Y. and Three had a hometown show there last week during the Thanksgiving holiday, how was your Thanksgiving at home and the hometown show?

Joey: It was great! It was actually really nice to be home for a minute. We spent a lot of time on the road this summer and fall, so having a moment at home was really nice. And it was nice to do the hometown show with all the friends and family. It’s kind of our support center – so it was a lot of fun.

Three's Joey Eppard (left) talking to Sean Monaghan

Three's Joey Eppard (left) talking to Sean Monaghan

CS: Three will be joining Dream Theater, Opeth, and Between the Buried and Me for the upcoming “Progressive Nation” tour in the spring. Mike Portnoy [drummer of Dream Theater] has been big fan of your live show ever since he seen you guys in Philly at the Electric Factory, last year. What does this tour mean to Three and are you a fan of any of the bands you’ll be hitting the road with?

Joey: Absolutely man! I think they are all very influential bands. We feel like we have to have our “A” game on this tour. I think, every band that you tour with, you take a little something, you know, from that experience. That’s one of the main reasons why I’m looking forward to it. And, of course, to expand our fan base in front of some new people. Especially Mike…his whole thing is that he feels the people that they [Dream Theater] draw are going to appreciate what we do, and that’s why he’s been the driving force behind putting this thing together.

CS: How cool was it to shoot the “All That Remains” video in the remains of an old castle?

Joey: That’s something I’ve always dreamed about doing. Because I used to see this pretty random…you would take a train from Poughkeepsie down to New York and you’d see this castle in the middle of the Hudson River. Like, what’s a castle, you know, (laughs) doing in the middle of the Hudson River? But it’s a pretty cool story, and it just so happened that we asked the right questions at the right time, and we were able to get permission to take a pontoon boat with all our gear – that was practically sinking -out to this island. And it was actually a tougher load in than this gig is (laughs), and that’s saying a lot, but it was an awesome, amazing place.

CS: Three has been on tour with Porcupine Tree two times now across the U.S. in the past year. How important were those gigs for Three to build a bigger fan base? Are there any future collaboration between Steven Wilson and the band? Maybe Steven producing the next Three release?

Joey: We love Steven, and I feel like we became friends. We actually did two tours with him this year; first was in May, and the second in October. About midway through that second tour, he actually approached me and said that he loved the new record, and he would love for us to keep him in mind when we do the next record. So there’s a good chance of that. But, you know, it’s hard to say when we’re ready to make the next record, is he going to be out on tour or unavailable? That’s a possibility. But if he’s around, and we’re around, and the stars align, we would love to work together.

CS: That’s great, because he produced three great records with Opeth.

Joey: Yeah, he’s done great work with Opeth, and I think it’s benefited Porcupine Tree and Opeth. You sort of see a little bit of a cross-pollination between those bands – Porcupine Tree getting heavier, Opeth exploring a little more of a progressive thing.

CS: Percussionist/keyboardist Joe Stote has been with Three for a few years now. When exactly did he join the band?

Joey: Well I used to see him go play with Chris, our drummer; they used to have a band called Peacebomb, and I was a big fan. So they’ve been playing together for years, and Peacebomb kind of fell apart, and everyone sort of scattered for awhile. I was doing my thing with Three, and when I needed to kinda put the band back together, I went after the guys from Peacebomb, because they were a major influence for me. We, for a little while, had the bass player from Peacebomb, Joe Cuchelo, and we had Chris Gartmann. We were doing a hometown gig and Joe Stote happened to be around and I said “why don’t you grab some percussion stuff, man and you know see what happens?” We actually had a lot of fun. It felt really good, and we asked him to join the band right then and there and that was 2002-2003, in that range. Yeah, those guys have been playing together longer than I’ve been playing with them, so they have good chemistry.

CS: They have an impressive duet drum/percussion solo that they do during Three’s live show.

Joey: Yeah, they have a thing that they do, and I’m a fan of that, so to have them in my band is a lot of fun for me.

CS: Your 2002 solo release Been to the Future is well received and popular among fans of Three. Are there any plans for a future solo release or tour?

Joey: It’s hard to say when I’ll be able to put together a tour, as far as a solo thing, because we’re trying to break this band right now. So it’s, pretty much, we’re gonna tour non-stop. Anytime we’re not touring is precious time that you need to recuperate at home. It takes a lot out of you – all the traveling and stuff. It’s going to be a little while before I can do a solo tour. I do one -ff shows here and there and sometimes during the 3 shows I…(cell phone rings) ..lost my train of thought. Sometimes during the Three shows I’ll do some acoustic tracks and when we do a longer set I like to do that, it depends on the situation. But I do have a disc in the car right now with 20 some songs that are all in consideration for the next solo release, and I actually have a solo record that I did and it’s basically done. And then I have another record that I did with Jerry Marotta [studio drummer and member of Philly’s own Hall and Oates from 1979-81]. I have these three – really it’s more than three, more like four – albums of material that have to be finalized. I have to decide how I want to handle putting them out.

CS: So there’s a lot to look forward to regarding your solo material?

Joey: Yeah, there’s a lot to look forward to, and I’ve been saying it for a long time. I’m going to find the time to get these records out. I think, once we’ve built enough of a foundation with Three, it will sorta be like an umbrella of these other projects within that, as well.

CS: On your MySpace it says that you are “basically addicted to writing songs, it’s a healthy thing though” – which is very true! What is your favorite song that you’ve ever written?

Joey: I think that changes from time to time. Usually it’s whatever song I’m in the middle of working on is what I’m inspired by. A lot of people, as far as songs, seem to latch on to this song called “Dead” which is on my MySpace page. That is one of the oldest songs I wrote, but it really holds up. It’s very delicate – a lot of great lines in that one. That’s one of them. The others, they just kind of rotate.

CS: Any particular Three song you like to play live?

Joey: Lately I’ve been really digging playing “[These] Iron Bones”

CS: The song about Terminator 2?

Joey: (laughs) Yeah, it wasn’t intended to be, but it works. There’s that one…“Amaze Disgrace” is a lot of fun to play live…

CS: Yeah, that leads to the next question actually, “Amaze Disgrace.” It’s been featured on THREE of your Three albums, as well your solo release. And it’s been a live staple for the band for a long time. What is the reason behind it being on Summercamp NightmareWake Pig, – and it wasn’t on The End is Begun. Did it feel weird releasing that album without that song, because you’re so used to it being on your albums?

Joey: (laughs) You know, it’s funny the way things happen. Often you make a record, and then there’s a holdup and you don’t get to put that record out…until you’ve actually…you’re already on to the next thing, musically, by the time the record comes out. So, with Summercamp Nightmare, by the time that record was ready to be released, we were already well into making Wake Pig. And we felt like the identity of the band was growing and changing, and we had these early tracks, “Amaze Disgrace” and “Dregs.” And so we decided to add them to the Summercamp Nightmare record as bonus tracks. Just to sort of give people a taste of where the band is right now, at the moment, rather than not have those on the record, but go out and tour and play those songs live.

So, we developed the songs a little bit more after the fact, and they really belong on Wake Pig, but we put them on Summercamp Nightmare because we wanted people to have a sense of where we were at the moment. So, really, Summercamp Nightmare is one record, from one era, with two more recent songs on it as bonus tracks. On Half Life we included a live version of “Amaze Disgrace” – it’s kind of a collection of different live performances – so we threw one of the live “Amaze Disgrace”’s on to that record, from a TV show we’d done.

And I do it as a solo artist. It’s a very different experience. Just vocals and guitar, and it has its own merits. I wanted to a version just like that on my solo record.

CS: Throughout most of Three’s career, there seems to be a theme in the lyrics: aliens and outer space. Many of the song titles such as “Broadway Alien,” “Alien Angel,” and “The Latest From Mars.” Is this something you’re interested in, or just a theme you like to pursue in your music?

Joey: I guess it is. It’s not something I set out to focus on, but it comes up again and again. I think I can trace it back to…it’s funny. There’s an Unsolved Mysteries UFO Files set, and I just rented that. And I’m watching it, ‘cause there’s an episode totally focused on the Hudson Valley UFO sighting. I’m from Hudson Valley.

When I was a kid, for about six years, there were all these crazy sightings. I had one of the best UFO sightings there were, because I saw it before it was nighttime. I think that affected me a lot – seeing this thing that was obviously not something that the public had any kind of knowledge of. Whatever it was. We still don’t know what it was. But what’s funny is that I saw it before it was nighttime, so I could see this massive solid object. I mean, I was young when I saw it, but, to me, it looked almost like a beehive…like a mechanical-looking beehive. People called it a “floating city.” It just sort of floated along very slowly. It was very deliberate. So many people saw it.

It hovered above the Indian Point Nuclear Reactor. It did all these things. There’s a whole Unsolved Mysteries episode devoted to this thing, and I’m one of the people who saw it. That set me on a certain path, when I was younger. It was like, “Wow, there’s something going on.” The funny thing was that the government released a statement saying it was a flight of fourteen planes. To which me and the other people who saw it, we basically laughed. Because we were some of the people who’d seen it before it was nighttime. At nighttime, it just looked like a formation of lights, and they could kind of get away with saying that. But we saw it in the daytime, and it was this massive solid object – one object.

That’s one thing I know is that there’s obviously an agenda to keep these things from being understood by the public. That interests me, and I’d like to know why, to have the answers. But I’d just like to know why, and that’s, I think, something that inspires me to look for those answers in the creative pursuits.

CS: You have a very unique way of playing guitar, all using your fingers – even when you are strumming. Why do you choose not to use a pick? And is using your fingers something that came natural, or is something that you’ve practiced a lot?

Joey: It definitely came natural. It’s natural for me to use my fingers. When I first started playing guitar, what drew me to the guitar was fingerpicking. Basically, I really liked fingerpicking and sad, acoustic guitar parts. It somehow made me feel better playing them. That was my focus early on. That just sort of grew into, once I started playing with a band – “how do I make this guitar cut through the mix?” How do I lean on it, basically. I found a lot of different ways to approach the strings, and I’m still exploring it.

CS: Are there any plans or anything written for the next Three album? Are they any plans for anything to release, like a DVD?

Joey: Well, one of the thing’s that’s going on…a couple months after we released the new record, we got asked to do a Pink Floyd tribute. So we started just considering the possibility – it’s actually a Syd Barrett tribute – and we did the song, “See Emily Play.” It came out great, and all of a sudden our management, our record label, was really excited about this track that we did. They decided they wanted to do a re-release of The End is Begun with this track on it, and then adding DVD footage…three songs that we did from New England Metal Fest, this past April.

It was a pretty crazy performance. It was, like, a twenty minute set in front of a very metal crowd. So it was one of those things where, like, you know, we stick out like a sore thumb at a show like that. We were all kinda going, “I wonder how this is gonna go over.” You know what I mean? It was just a sea of black. Surprisingly, man, it was just, something had shifted. Whereas, we played it the year before. It was okay. But this year, people were somehow just that much more open minded. We got to be kind of this breath of fresh air. [We were] doing something a little bit different, so it was a successful show.

We put up three tracks from that show on the DVD, to let people get a little bit of a sense of what we’re like live. That’s [The End is Begun re-release, with bonus DVD] gonna come out in February.

CS: This is a bit of a silly question. Where do you get your superhuman strength to break all your strings at the end of your set? You must be putting a lot of guitar string companies in debt.

Joey: It’s an expensive habit! It’s a set of strings every gig. I use Knucklehead strings, [and the company is] kind enough to give me a pretty severe discount. It keeps me afloat, but there’s no way around it. I mean, even if I only break three strings, I’ve gotta change all the strings. They don’t survive more than a set. It’s a lot of string changing.

I think it also has to do a lot with the crowd, too. Sometimes I can measure a gig by the number of strings that I break. You know, sometimes the crowd’s really into it, the strings just…I don’t even know how it happens. They just fly off the guitar. It’s also true sometimes that doesn’t happen, no matter how hard I play. I play as hard as I can, and nothing breaks. I think it has something to do with the crowd, at the end of the day.

[Ed: By the way, Eppard broke several strings during his band’s Balcony set, so it must’ve been a good show.]

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Joey Eppard

Don’t miss Three out on the inaugural “Progressive Nation” tour throughout April & May 2008, and definitely check out their latest album, The End Is Begun, out on Metal Blade Records

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