Crusher Magazine Interview: Three

http://www.crushermagazine.com/features1_08/feat3.htm

January 2008
by Morgan Y. Evans

3Woodstock, New York’s Three are one of the hottest rising bands on the underground scene. From touring with the likes of Coheed and Cambria and Porcupine Tree, to conquering Headbanger’s Ball with their new video “All That Remains” from their second Metal Blade Records release The End Is Begun (and 5th album overall), they seem poised to climb higher and higher. Three will soon embark on their biggest tour yet opening for Dream Theater on the Progressive Nation tour where band founder Joey Eppard and company will surely blow minds amongst even the scene’s staunchest seen-it-all types.

I grew up in Woodstock with Joey and have know his family forever, it seems. We talked over the phone about the impending tours, the insanity of life in general, and exchanged some very interesting perspectives (to put it mildly) on the Woodstock scene Three came from.

MORGAN Y. EVANS: All right, man. You ready?

JOEY EPPARD: Yeah!

3 promo photo by Daniel McCabeMYE: All right. First and foremost, congrats on the new record. I’ve known you musically for almost fifteen years in the same Woodstock/Kingston scene.

JE: (Laughing) Yeah.

MYE: Half my life. Wow. It’s been so great to see Three doing well, especially in terms of how there’s so much pussy-ass, shitty, overly-compressed emo out now. If only more bands were like you or The Dresden Dolls. It’s great knowing that, like me, you guys came from Woodstock, the signifier of an initially well-meaning and proactive generation. You’re doing your own thing, it’s tied to the past, yet still with new elements and futuristic aspects and modern/current styles in there, too. Just knowing you people, it’s really fucking great! You guys deserve the recognition, you know.

JE: Thanks, dude.

MYE: The first thing I wanna ask about the new record is, what was your headspace writing it? What did you want to achieve after Wake Pig and how did you come up with the name The End Is Begun? It’s just a tad apocalyptic and what not (laughing).

JE: I didn’t put a lot of logical thought into it ahead of time. Once we’d got off the road from our first major tour of Europe…

MYE: Was that Coheed or Porcupine Tree?

JE: It was actually Atreyu and 36 Crazyfists with Chiodos for a few dates, too.

MYE: Oh, awesome! I didn’t even know about that tour.

JE: We just got home from that, and it was such a whirlwind experience, and I went right into my home studio and started whipping out ideas. One of the first things I tracked was an acoustic demo at the time, but it’s since become known as “The End Is Begun”, which is the title track for the record. My take after the fact on it is that we’re surrounded by impending change.

MYE: Impermanence.

JE: Yeah. Things are gonna change in the next six years. We’re gonna see a lot of things changing worldwide. For me, The End Is Begun–you sort of have to confront that fear aspect of it before you can look at it as an opportunity, you know, an opportunity to dismantle the structure that kind of holds us back, and have a chance to build things in a new, more sustainable way.

MYE: There’s a great quote in that horrible movie Armageddon, but it’s Steve Buscemi and it’s a great quote, where he says, “Embrace the Horror.” It’s not like, love it or anything, but it’s just like, accept it is there and face it and you won’t be living under a cloud of doubt and paralysis and powerlessness all the time. You can then get your shit done. That reminds me of what you just said.

JE: True. You have to face it and then you’re not ruled by it. You have to get past that and then any adversity can be transformed into an opportunity.

MYE: Right on. I wanted to talk about when I saw you with Coheed at Roseland Ballroom in New York City a few years ago. It was really cool ‘cuz Coheed were headlining Roseland for the first time which was awesome. You guys opened for them and Underoath, who I’m not too crazy about, not because of their music so much as that Mic Todd (Coheed and Cambria’s bassist) told me they supported George W. Bush. I didn’t think that was very punk or smart.

JE: Oh, it was awful, man. They really rubbed it in our faces, too, and I kind of felt sorry for them.

MYE: Me too. Everyone needs to listen to Jello Biafra (ex-Dead Kennedys) new spoken word set In The Grip Of Official Treason every single day. I mean, I’m not trying to hate on Underoath or anything; my grandfather was a minister. What I want to get across is, it was so awesome having seen you guys play gigs for years, but at the Roseland point, you guys had been around and were starting to break bigger, but a lot of people didn’t know your songs as well yet. Still, you guys just fucking owned it. My girlfriend, at the time, and I thought it was vindicating. As a fan and friend, I thought you guys had this 70’s Godhead shit going on, and we were so psyched.

JE: (laughing) Thanks!

MYE: It was really interesting to see how some of the more punk-police people were taking it, compared to those a little more open minded, to those who were already diehards or were more attuned to you via Claudio Sanchez and Travis Stever’s recommendation. New “emo” fans have the historical continuity of goldfish, but there were definitely people who did know you guys also. Now that people know you more, how does it feel comparatively to when you were proving yourselves? I thought it was really brave of you guys that you just took the stage and threw down your shit even if it was different, doing it your way. Now people know it. How does it feel now to have the kids know your tunes and be behind you?

JE: I think it gives you a lot of energy and power when an audience really knows the material. You feel this kind of support there. It’s an exchange of energy that drives the music. I still feel that we are out here to prove ourselves, and every tour we are on we are making new fans. Some of them have heard of us, but we are still making a lot of first impressions on the tours we’re doing. I enjoy that challenge of going out in front of an audience that might be skeptical right off the bat, and then winning them over. It’s something we’ve been doing for a while now.

3MYE: Right on. There are so many people in the world now that you will always have to do that to some extent. Even Linkin Park might feasibly have to do that in some place on Earth still, you know?

JE: Sure.

MYE: Given that the video for “All That Remains” is kicking ass on Headbanger’s Ball right now, how was it working with director David Brodsky? He’s worked with my friends The Smashup, and also on the claymation Kylesa video recently. (I love that band. They are fucking massive!) Brodsky is very talented, and I remember he told Vin Alfieri from The Smashup that he thought the Three video turned out particularly amazing. I know Brodsky is a big Tool fan, and your music is also very mature. How was the whole process?

JE: I was really impressed with him. That video was half the budget of our first video (“Alien Angel”), and it is so much more professional on a lot of levels. It was a different experience because I put a lot of ideas out on the table in the beginning, but I didn’t stay involved. I kind of just let Dave run with it, and he did a really good job. It was really a less complicated video, in that our first video was running with the whole They Live concept (a classic sci-fi horror film starring WWF wrestler “Rowdy” Roddy Piper and featuring aliens you could only see when you wore special sunglasses).

MYE: I loved how “Alien Angel” had the They Live references, and how Tom Benton, the head of your old label (Planet Noise Records), had a cameo. It’s cool how this time you just found a great location and basically played live. The time first I watched it, it seemed like there was this great, epic story there, but really it’s just great cinematography.

JE: The location really came across. I don’t know if you have ever seen that place.

MYE: What’s the name of that spot again? It’s on the Hudson River near Cold Spring.

JE: It’s Bannerman Island. [ Technically, it’s Pollepel Island. For more info on it, click here: –ed.]

MYE: You know, I actually do know the location because, funny enough, I used to see it on the train ride down to the city, and my new band talked about doing a photo shoot there. Our guitarist, wanted to take us down there in his boat, but it was winter and shit. We probably would have gotten drunk and crashed and drowned, and only had a shitty digital camera anyway, so it’s better that you guys had a whole film crew and did your shit there instead. I think it was a great visual match for your sound. Did you have to take a boat out there? I wasn’t sure if the island was attached to land on one side.

JE: This guy, Zac, took us out there on a pontoon boat. We basically had all of our gear on a glorified raft.

MYE: (laughing) That’s gotta be scary!

JE: It was the all-time most difficult thing, because once you get on the island you have to carry your gear up all these giant stairs. It was funny; we couldn’t believe we had to shoot the video after lugging the stuff up all the steps.

MYE: I can’t remember what guitar you used in the video, but did you take one of your least-favorite axes in case it ended up in the Hudson?

JE: I had a couple of guitars there, but I ended up using my ESP Extone, which is really a bad ass guitar. It’s got a really unique body shape, but it’s hard to really get a good sense of it because of the reflections in the surface of the guitar. It’s definitely one of my more important guitars. I wasn’t shy about it, it’s a video.

MYE: So you braved it. Right on, man. Lately you guys have done a lot of really good shows at the legendary Woodstock venue, The Bearsville Theater. For the people who don’t know, it used to be owned by Albert Grossman, who worked with Bob Dylan and other 60’s titans. Since we both grew up playing shows in Woodstock, I want to talk to you about some recent history. Woodstock has changed so much, even since I was a kid. I was looking at Muddy Waters’s The Woodstock Album, the last one he cut for Chess Records. It’s got Levon Helm and Paul Butterfield on it. There’s a very small picture on the back of the CD of a building I thought looked familiar. I realized it was actually a picture of Bearsville Studios (a famous Woodstock studio that has hosted the likes of R.E.M., The Pretenders, Phish, Metallica, and many classic earlier bands). It was just the first room, before it had any of the additions. I was thinking about how that studio isn’t even open anymore. The town itself has really become yuppiefied. Now I think the scene is getting great again, though. When we were growing up, there were bands like Peacebomb. You’ve worked a lot with them, and some of them even became part of Three at points, (including drummer Chris Gartmann). We had bands like Dripping Goss, of course the Bad Brains guys were always around, and even unknown bands like Lunchmeat. It used to be that you could go to a Shabütie show at the Woodstock Youth Center and see them cover Jane’s Addiction’s “Mountain Song”, and then later the same night see them at the famous Tinker Street Cafe where Hendrix used to play, doing a mellower set for an older audience. They’d do songs like “Star Cecil” and “Cassiopeia”. There was always something going on. Now the Joyous Lake (a once famous venue) is just a t-shirt shop. At least the scene is thriving again, despite a lack of Woodstock venues. You guys are doing great, of course Coheed have gone to the stratosphere and don’t play Woodstock anymore, but you are both representative of real music. Coheed blew up and have roots here, and Josh, your brother, an ex-Coheed drummer also known as the rapper Weerd Science, has forthcoming new material. There’s that band The Median, with ex-Anadivine dudes, who are phenomenal. How does it feel seeing the arc of all this now with Three being more widely recognized?

JE: I think it’s a very deep musical area, with such a rich pool of talent, and it’s crazy that there are so few local rock venues.

MYE: It’s ironic that the only Woodstock venue left is Bearsville Theater, originally part of the Bearsville Studio complex, and a real holdout of integrity. It was kind of the most important one all along.

JE: Yeah. And how does an up and coming band play the Bearsville Theater? We can barely pull it off there, you know what I mean?

MYE: I practiced like ten feet away from there in my first band and I still have never played there. You guys have been doing these great shows there recently, and I think it’s really inspiring.

JE: I feel really blessed that things have gone so well and we are able to play a room like that, but honestly, what I am really feeling in my gut is that I want to do a show with a lower ticket price, make it all-ages, and get everybody in a room and have a great time. At the Bearsville Theater there’s such a high overhead, it costs so much money, even if we didn’t take any money it would still be expensive. I want to find a place where we can put on a show like that, where kids can afford it and everyone comes. That’s what’s missing here. We’ve got the regional talent to fill the room, whatever it is.

MYE: One thing I’ve always admired about you is how you’ve always been very humble. You’ve always had this great ability as a songwriter and a guitarist, of course, but I’ve always loved how you’ve played big shows, little shows, headlining shows, opened for bands, but then you’ll play a regional street festival. Then you’ll be doing something with the band Drugs, with some of the P-Funk dudes, and you’ll just roll with it all. You’ve always said that’s what you were going to do, and you’ve maintained that. You’ll go if there’s any audience and people who care about the music.

JE: Absolutely. And also, to me that’s a big part of who I am and what contributes to the diversity in my own musical palate. Staying open and having the opportunity to play with the guys from P-Funk. There’s not a lot of guys I’ve run into who have that kind of experience. There’s so much you can absorb and learn doing that. I try to stay open.

MYE: What’s up with Drugs, are you doing anything with them right now?

JE: Actually, we are. We’re going to France with them to play a festival called MIDEM. It’s a one hour-long set. We’re doing it at the end of January and I’m really looking forward to it. It’s been a little while since I’ve gotten to let the soul-music side of what I do come out.

MYE: Dave Daw, of the band Counterfeit Disaster, told me you’ve got gigs coming up with Dream Theater, right? I’m more into noise bands, myself, but that’s huge.

JE: It’s going to be a huge tour, probably the biggest of our careers. It’s being called the Progressive Nation Tour, started by Dream Theater’s drummer.

MYE: (laughing) No pressure!

JE: (laughing) Yeah. It’s his brain child. It’s us, Between the Buried and Me, Opeth, and Dream Theater. It’s a very diverse array of bands.

MYE: Opeth is great.

JE: Yeah, they’re awesome. Those guys are amazing. We’re really excited just to be a part of it. The promoters are really excited, too. We don’t even know what the dates are yet, but the tour seems to be getting bigger and bigger.

MYE: One thing I really wanted to touch on in this interview is how Three has always held up a torch for diversity while also having signature sound elements. I was always really glad that the last Melancholy show, my first band ever, was with you guys at the Tinker Street Cafe (in 1996). We were kind of crazy punks and shit and our fans used to fight yours back in the day, even though the guys in the two different bands were friends. You, me and (original Three bassist and an engineer at Applehead Studios in Woodstock) Chris Bittner and Josh Eppard were all friends and stuff. You guys had a great prog and funk thing going on with alternative rock. I love how our last Melancholy show even kind of put some of that friction to bed on stage. I was always kind of envious how you guys had longevity with the band name Three, or even another regional band like Pitchfork Militia, who’ve had one band name for over a decade. We started around the same time but I’ve since been in like, 5 or 6 bands sine ’94. You guys have had the one moniker, and I know you considered changing it a few times. There was 3Jane for awhile, inspired by William Gibson’s classic book Neuromancer. I am happy, though, that you never changed the name from Three because, to me, it signifies the whole journey. There’s so much under the banner, but you are still doing fresh stuff, too. To wrap up my point, people can see you’re really dedicated. It’s like a life mission and shows how committed you are to the whole process.

JE: Yeah, right on! I wanted to change the name and refresh the whole concept at different points. It just wasn’t meant to be. We tried it. The toughest thing is finding a name, but the names, they just don’t really matter. You could have the dumbest name in the world, but if it’s a great band it becomes a great name.

MYE: Like the Red Hot Chili Peppers and the Smashing Pumpkins, awesome bands.

JE: We were just born Three, and as much as I wanted to change it at one point, I realized that this is what it is.

MYE: Well it started out being you, Josh, and Chris Bittner, three dudes, but I always liked how at a certain point you let go of it having to mean any one thing. It might have certain meanings but you let people decide for themselves while still talking about how the number three is often reoccurring throughout life. You have life stages, holy trinities, all kinds of things.

JE: Yeah. I certainly have my speech of “threes” that I give from time to time.

MYE: Well, you’ve had time to think about it over the years.

JE: Yeah, you know my standard answer to the “Why Three?” question is that for some reason I was always artistically obsessed with the number three. After the fact, I was soon looking at reality from a numeric perspective and seeing that we live in a three-dimensional space, we experience time as past, present, and future, and we have a body, mind, and a spirit.

MYE: Not to get all like 23 the movie or anything.

JE: (laughing) Yeah. That’s another one, “23”.

MYE: Don’t get me started on that. I read Robert Anton Wilson’s The Illuminatus! Trilogy [co-authored with Robert Shea/more info here –ed.] way too many times.

JE: This also relates musically. I’ve always wanted to be a three-dimensional artist, not just putting forward one face and being trapped in that identity. It’s exciting that we have more than one face as a band at different times.

MYE: That’s why I loved when I saw one Bearsville show and you mixed in a lot of songs from throughout your whole career, even really early stuff. I saw one show of yours at the Flying Saucer Cafe in Kingston, this weird room with UFO art and shit everywhere, and you were in this crazy psychedelic jam phase. You’d do these jams where you’d be vibing off Gartmann and Joe Cuchelo was on bass at the time (both ex-Peacebomb members). There’d be times where it was so intense, and you came on to some shit that you were never going to reproduce, but it was so sick. I love that you had real rehearsed material too, alongside that. You weren’t afraid to show all the sides of what you’d been. I always hate it when bands hide their arc. I love how Fugazi would play anything from their whole catalogue. It’s all about your real life, you know?

JE: Sure. Yeah, totally. That was a very interesting era, sort of this thing where we knew it could be not so great, but other times we’d create these things in the moment that were never going to happen again.

MYE: And everybody’s like “WHOA!!”

JE: There’s something that’s really exciting about that. I can’t wait until we’re doing more headlining shows so that we can do a little more of that again.

MYE: What’s up with Weerd Science these days? Josh was going to play the new Three record for me before it came out, but I got lost trying to find his fucking apartment. I had to wait to hear the new record like everyone else. I haven’t talked to him in a little while. I saw him recently and we were all good, but what’s up with your bro?

JE: I was just hanging out with him a couple hours ago. He played me a few of the new Weerd Science tracks and they sound amazing. It’s incredible. I sing on some of the tracks. I want to be as much a part of it as I can, but it’s mostly Josh and Dave Parker (ex-Divest, ex-Coheed and Cambria touring keyboardist, now Counterfeit Disaster). Mike “Clip” Payne (from P-Funk and Drugs) just got in there and did the intro to the record. It’s badass. The record’s gonna be called Sick Kids. It’s heavy, man.

MYE: I’m not sure about this, but did you guys do the Coheed tour with Clutch?

JE: No.

MYE: I wasn’t sure about that.

JE: That would have been amazing.

MYE: Clutch is my favorite band.

JE: We did a run of shows with Coheed. Four or five shows. This is going back to the time that Josh left the band.

MYE: So you haven’t played with them since he left? I’ve kind of been avoiding paying attention to them. I haven’t heard their new record or Claudio’s solo album on purpose.

JE: Well, those guys actually wanted to take us off the bill because they thought it would be too awkward. I called Travis (Stever, from Coheed) up, and said “You guys do what you’ve gotta do, but there’s no reason to get weird about it.” Me, of all people, I went through that with Josh. He was my drummer, and he quit Three. It’s a little weird that I have so much in common with Coheed, even working with the same producers, Mike Birnbaum and Chris Bittner at Applehead.

MYE: (laughing) I have the same fucking problem, my friend. (note: In 2003, a previous band of mine, Divest, did a record at Applehead produced by Mike, Chris, Danny Ilchuk, and Dr. Know of the Bad Brains. It remains unreleased.)

JE: (laughing) Yeah. It’s such a small world. Even losing my brother as a drummer and having to rebuild, I have that in common with them. I know what those guys are going through. I hope that at some point everything will be totally cool. It should be. I hope it for Josh especially, because they’ve gotta step back and say, “Yeah, maybe things got a little fucked up.” But they wouldn’t be where they are without him, and that’s the bigger thing. Life is too short, you know what I mean?

MYE: How was the tour with Porcupine Tree, dude? I thought your bands were excellently matched. You both care about tones and good arrangements.

JE: It was the best match-up I think we’ve ever had for a tour. Right off the bat we really just had this connection with their audience. It really worked for us. We sold a lot of records and met a lot of really cool people. It had the band flying high to be able to play with those guys, and have them come up to us and say they’ve never had another band do so well with their fan base.

MYE: Wow, really?

JE: Yeah, even to the point where it seemed like they almost didn’t want to do more tours with us or something. (laughing) Really, it was so inspiring to play with them. They are an amazing band. You have to see them live. Gavin is an insane drummer. Just to be around that kind of talent is good for you, for your playing. It raises the bar. We’re really looking forward to hopefully going to Europe to do a tour with those guys. Multiple times they said they wanted to take us to Europe to expose us to the European audience.

MYE: I just have one last question. Do you have any new solo stuff planned? I always love the contrast between what you do with Three and what you do solo, Joey.

JE: Yeah man. I have a ton of stuff. I’m literally swimming in it. I have enough for four albums, probably. It’s just a matter of finishing things up. That’s where I’m having trouble, is getting a chance to focus and work steady hours on finishing the songs. It’s stuff I’ve been working on since 2002, when I put out my last solo record. That’s why there’s so much material, and a lot of different kinds of stuff.

MYE: I always liked when Three used to cover “Purple Rain”, by Prince. If you’re backlogging that much material, then you deserve to cover Prince songs. I think him, Tupac, and you have maybe the most unreleased songs in music. You can still make royalties when you’re a ghost.

JE: (laughing) That was always a classic. I got to live the fantasy. I’ve been thinking about putting my solo stuff up online, and then maybe it won’t be this obstacle to get a record out and distribute it and all that. All the people can get it off the internet and have access to it.

MYE: That’s cool. Like Radiohead’s new shit. Thank you for your time. The last thing I want to say, in regards to this interview and you as my friend, is that Dr. Know from Bad Brains, who we all know and have worked with at some point, he always says “Each one, teach one.” I’ve always loved that quote. We’re all on different levels, we’re all different creatively as humans, but we all also have a lot to learn from each other. So let’s stay positive and keep it real.

JE: Absolutely man. I agree 100%.

MYE: Thanks, love you bro. God bless.

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