After nearly a three year absence and some time rehabilitating, front man Nero Bellum and his dark industrial/metal act Psyclon Nine are ready for a new album and a new tour.
An InterView with Nero Bellum of Psyclon Nine
By Grant V. Ziegler (GVZ)
Bellum: You’ll have to excuse me, I just woke up. I know it is 7:00pm.
That’s awesome. So you just roll out of bed and onto the stage most nights and that’s your breakfast?
Bellum: Ha! Yea, a couple of cigarettes and some coffee and do a gig.
Let’s get this out of the way first. How are you feeling overall? Do you feel recovered or is there a better word?
Bellum: Oh, I was wondering if that was going to come up. It’s been a long, long road. I was thinking it took Trent Reznor four years to do The Downward Spiral and The Fragile and I’m reading interviews from back then and I see that he went through really similar stuff that I did. I think that as an artist, you need to take stock of what’s happening in your personal life and decide if you can keep moving forward in the same direction you’re going or not. Do you need to take a break and focus on yourself and get healthy and try again? It’s not without consequences, you know? When we were out in ’09, we were getting pretty big for awhile and we were even the No. 2 seller at Hot Topic and they were even asking me for an exclusive EP after the tour. I probably could have kept going from there, but I had to take a break for a couple of years and, like I said, take stock of my personal life. Everything around me was falling apart and I needed a foundation again to jump off of. It may have set us back a bit, but you know it gave us more time to perfect the new album so that when we did come out with something, it wasn’t just, ‘Oh, here’s another record.’ This is something I could put everything into.
Are you completely sober?
Bellum: I don’t think I’ll ever be completely sober. I just don’t do what I used to do, let’s put it that way. I don’t think the character could ever be completely sober. It goes back to when you’re watching bands like Metallica when I was growing up and they cut their hair and went to Alcoholics Anonymous. Then they put out bad records. To me, it goes back to taking stock and figuring out what’s most important. There’s a balance and I just needed to find that balance. For me, it was very, very difficult, but I also didn’t want to be one of those new age people in A.A. doing yoga. I tried doing yoga, but that didn’t work out. It wasn’t me just being sober all the time. It was completely and utterly fucking mind-numbing. As far as drugs are concerned, if you can use them as a tool without getting hooked or anything, they can help you see things and give you a new set of eyes with new perspectives. It helps the writing process. As long as you can keep control of things, I think that’s what I’d advocate. There’s nothing wrong with experimenting.
One more thing about this and then we’ll move on – has this kind of experience altered your usual creative process when writing music and lyrics?
Bellum: Yea, as a matter of fact, I’ve found a lot more clarity after I was sober for a matter of years. Then I kinda dived back in a little bit during the writing process. With Crwn Thy Frnicatr and We the Fallen, I had been doing a lot of drugs for a long time as in every day for years and years. I think I started getting a little cloudy. So I wanted to do this record with a little more clarity involved. There are not a lot of bands in this genre that have these Robert Downey breakdowns.
Bring him on tour with you next time.
Bellum: That would be amazing. I was just talking to my band members about having Patrick Stewart be our tour manager. He’d be the best. I can imagine him negotiating drink tickets with promoters.
Sure, the Psyclon Nine Enterprise would be awesome.
Bellum: (Laughs) That’d be great.
Can you give us some insight to the writing process of Order of the Shadow: Act I and what you hoped to accomplish with it?
Going back to the trilogy concept, is that something biblical or Nietzsche related, or is it just a trilogy to be a trilogy?
Bellum: Actually, I had a lot of influence by Nietzsche and the number three, like the beast, the holy trinity – I’ve noticed the number three has been coming up a lot over the past several months. Especially since I’ve finished the record, I keep running into that number a lot. I used to be heavily into numerology and the occult when I was younger. A lot of weird things have been happening since I finished this record. It was my just my 31st birthday, which happened to fall on a blue moon, which is the thirteenth moon in the cycle. Being 30 years old was horrible. (Laughs) I felt like I did nothing. I did finish the record, though. I think about the holy trinity and how Jesus died at age 33. The number three is hugely influential in this album and this may be the final thing I do. The trilogy came to me in a dream. Let’s put it this way, Order of the Shadow is the last Psyclon Nine record, although I may add installments to it, which is why I labeled it Act I. I always knew this would be the last record, so let’s see what happens.
So why is the tour happening a couple months before the album’s release?
Bellum: It wasn’t intended that way. Originally, I was in the studio trying to wrap up the new album when the idea of a tour started to approach. We gave ourselves about three or four months in advance and planned on having the album done and to the label in two or three weeks. But so many things kept getting in the way, it was ridiculous. Chris Vrenna had some emergencies so he had to run out of town. I had some personal stuff myself, so I had to stop for a while. There were so many road bumps, but eventually, we finished and I turned in the album last week. It was supposed to be done in three months and this was the soonest we could get it out. When you book a tour, you have to give it three or four months advance for promotion. It seemed like the right thing to do with all the issues in the recording process.
Sorry, that’s not an exciting answer for you. Although it does give the fans a chance to see more of We the Fallen live. Because there’s nothing more irritating than a band going out to tour the new record and they only play the new songs. When I see a band, I want to see the stuff I love them for. The artist is excited to play the new stuff because it’s fresh blood. For me, I’d love to only play the new songs, but I still love all the stuff off of Fallen and Crwn. If this album had come out when it was supposed to, it would have given us more time to adjust and get out there and play it. But it’s not how it worked out, so I’m remaking the set to be a final sendoff for We the Fallen and then preview the new stuff. Then, we’ll come back around again sometime after the release and that will be a full Order of the Shadow tour.
What’s Chris Vrenna’ role in Psyclon Nine currently?
Bellum: We recorded the entire album at his home studio. He did a lot of engineering and production. About halfway through the album process, I brought in Jamison Boaz who was the engineer and producer of We the Fallen. Like I said before, I was trying to go for a more ‘90s sound and I was even using Trent Reznor’s guitar from The Downward Spiral and the amps from Broken while I was recording a couple of the tracks those made sense on. I was going for more of that bombastic guitar sound with layers. Who can you go to? You go to the guy who actually worked on The Downward Spiral and Antichrist Superstar. It just made sense. Then I brought Jamison in and he knew me very well. He knew how I wanted my vocals; he knew my patterns and how I record. When I brought him in, things went a lot faster. Chris and I experimented a lot. We tried different guitar rigs with his 100 different pedals. We tried every single last one of them to get just one guitar sound. That’s why I wanted to work with Vrenna. Nails is known for experimentation, or at least they were back in the Spiral and Fragile days. Those were innovative albums and The Downward Spiral is probably one of my favorite records of all time. I just wanted someone to challenge me and give me ideas I wouldn’t have had. I wrote the songs, I brought them in, and it was like a coloring book. I brought the sketches and they brought the crayons.
Going back to the new single a bit, it was nice to see the lyrics on the Bandcamp page with the song. What inspired the lyrical content on this particular track?
Bellum: That was actually one of the drawbacks to releasing ‘Use Once and Destroy,’ because phonetically, if you listen to the music and the lyrics, it strays away from what we’re known for. But phonetically in the album, it really makes sense. A lot of the different songs on this record represent different deadly sins. I want to leave a little more to surprise and unveil a little more as time goes on about what everything really means. This track represents lust. It has a metaphysical meaning behind it that ties into the album phonetically. I won’t go into that now, but there are also very personal meanings behind it as well. The last few years I’ve been in Hollywood and just seeing the way that people interact here, it’s like a high school popularity contest; people in bands, guys in bands and the chicks that follow them around, and it’s just disgusting. Several of the women out here collect rock stars like trophies and it’s like, ‘Let’s see how many notches we can get in our belt.’ But yea, the way people interact out here is disgusting. It was just on the tip of my tongue when I happened to be writing the song and it just came out. It’s just talking shit about people in the rock scene, the rock world. It’s a Mötley Crüe mentality. It’s not like I haven’t done my share of horrible things and I have my own tour stories, but watching these people has really put a bad taste in my mouth. I think I just had to vent it. It did fit in with the album phonetically and it’s where I was going with the bigger picture of the album. But if you listen to the entire album all the way through, it will make sense.
You had said this stayed away from you have done previously, but one can find some similarities in this song to past work, and please correct me if I’m wrong, but there seems to be a focus on impurity throughout a lot of the Psyclon Nine music such as ‘Parasite,’ ‘Divine Infekt,’ and now ‘Use Once and Destroy.’ Is there an intentional focus on that or what has you in that mindset?
Bellum: I try to weave what I was trying to say lyrically into something that made sense. You can look at the words and say, ‘Oh, that’s Nero Bellum saying that.’ But this is a little more straightforward and almost has an immature theme to it, for me at least. I guess it’s just the words I’m using to describe the people in general and relating people to the harlot and the Whore of Babylon. If you read into it enough, you can gather that.
The last album gave sound to your real voice with tracks like ‘Under the Judas Tree.’ Might we hear more of you without the vocoder?
Bellum: I think I’m known for using a pitch shifter on my vocals, but I didn’t use it at all on this record. My engineer and I both wanted the same thing on this record. He said, ‘I see a lot of kids asking you how you get your vocals like that and I want you to be able to say they gave me a mic and that’s it.’ So that’s pretty much what I did. There’s a little overdrive here and there just to add a little flavor to certain songs. On ‘Use Once and Destroy,’ I use a pretty heavy overdrive on it, but that’s it. Yea, we have the ballads. ‘The Saint and the Valentine,’ which will be the second single off the next record, has a feeling like ‘Under the Judas Tree.’ But yea, there a couple tracks that are a little more ‘me.’
You have kind of a new look; it’s not drastically different, but you have some doll-like makeup going on. How do you evolve your image?
So do you think maybe this kind of clean cut image is coming from your experiences with rehab or sobriety? Is it a paradigm shift for you?
Bellum: Hmm, I definitely felt a little stronger after I came out of that ‘hole,’ I’d say. I can see that though as I’m kind of dusting myself off. I never really made the connection. It was more of a break and I found myself after putting myself back together after a really long time. This is just what you find when I came out the other side.
With your new character, you said this would be the last Psyclon Nine record. Is ‘The Saint’ going to spawn something new like a new project?
Bellum: No, this is something that is very Psyclon Nine. It’s the end of the story. As far as projects, that’s something I’ve definitely been thinking of. But, I wouldn’t borrow anything from Psyclon Nine. It’s its own world and I wouldn’t want to defile that by doing anything else or taking it a different direction. If I were to start a new project, I would completely and utterly abandon everything I did with Psyclon Nine, leave it the way it is. And if I wanted, I could leave the new project and come back to Psyclon Nine and pick up where it left off. I wouldn’t want to get that mixed up with anything else I have in my head.
It may seem obvious because of your lyrical content, but what’s your overall view of organized religion and if faith equals disease, what is the cure?
Bellum: (Laughs) That goes back a little ways. INRI was in 2005 and I was a bit younger and kind of discovering how I was upset about organized religion. I felt a lot of the problems in the world were caused by religion such as wars. But it’s just shit that you’ve heard from everyone. Religion is dead. We don’t have to bitch about it anymore. INRI was just purging that for me. It was therapy. I had to get it off my chest. I was an angry youth. I don’t think about organized religion at all. Maybe you see it here and there and in the Middle East, but I live in America and Hollywood. I’m directly affected by what’s around me and organized religion is not around me in the way that it was. You have the Westboro Baptist Church and that’s just funny to me. I actually sampled them for the intro to the new album. They were protesting by my house, so I just walked out with a camera and started filming. Most of the samples on this album aren’t taken from movies and things like that; they’re taken from things where I was actually there or it’s from something going on around me. One of those things was from the Westboro Baptist Church protesting gays at the fucking Chick-Fil-A, believe it or not. It’s just a joke to me at this point. I have my own beliefs and I don’t care to share them. But, it’s definitely not something neo-Judeo-Christian fucking whatever. Although, I do love the stories; I could read the bible all day. I love it. So, without taking it to heart, I can definitely read it and take it for what it’s worth, which is a story.
Through social media, you’ve been able to communicate with your fans and followers a bit more. Has that helped you through your ordeals?
Bellum: It’s important to stay in touch with fans on a certain basis. I try to get around to answering questions when I can and in this day and age, there’s not a lot of mystery behind who you are because of the internet. It’s something you should take advantage of. It’s right there and you can talk to them directly. I get a lot of messages from people saying how much the music means to them. That always makes me feel really good about what I’m doing and somehow it always happens when I’m having a bad day. I get one of those really uplifting messages. On top of that, it’s good to be able to update people on what’s going on behind the scenes.
In reference to Aleister Crowley, if you could put a sexual spell on any one celebrity who would it be and why? It can be a bad one, too. You can make Justin Bieber have a boner all the time or something.
Bellum: Can I split this into two separate celebrities?
Bellum: This can be really good. Is Ernie Hudson still a celebrity?
He attended a Comic-Con here in Dallas a few months ago so I’ll say yes.
Bellum: I want to see Ernie Hudson in his full Ghostbuster’s uniform masturbating on our stage. That would be really nice. That’d be great. I don’t know why that popped into my head, but the imagery made me really happy.
Who was the other celebrity you wanted to split this question up with?
Bellum: Oh, I was thinking about pairing him up with someone. Who would you pair him up with?
It would be fun to have a full circle jerk with the original cast and bring back Murray, Aykroyd, and Ramis.
Bellum: You can’t get Bill Murray back he doesn’t want to have anything to do with it. Although, he would make the circle jerk complete. (Laughs)
Psyclon Nine Website http://www.psyclon9.com
Psyclon Nine MySpace http://www.myspace.com/psyclonnine
Psyclon Nine Facebook https://www.facebook.com/pages/Psyclon-Nine/125011530660
Psyclon Nine Twitter http://twitter.com/officialP9
Psyclon Nine Bandcamp http://psyclonnine.bandcamp.com