Dec 2023 15

Bill Bednarcyk Jr. speaks with ReGen about the long road his Dead Prophet Alive studio project has taken, helping to usher in a new wave of alt. metal.
 

 

An InterView with Bill Bednarcyk Jr. of Dead Prophet Alive

By Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)

As the nostalgia for the ’80s persists, so has a resurgence for the grittier alternative sounds of the ’90s been steadily working its way back into the zeitgeist. While the fashion trends have (perhaps thankfully) managed to stay muted, the genre-bending and groove-driven thrust of alt. and nü-metal is being given a major overhaul in the current waves of underground rock and metal, placing a greater emphasis on the inclusion of hip-hop rhythms, electronic and industrial textures, while striving for a more palpable balance of melody and aggression. Enter Bill Bednarcyk Jr. with his studio project Dead Prophet Alive and the 2023 release of his 16,000 Days on Earth EP marking the culmination of years of songwriting and production, with Seethe’s Patrick McElravy providing his acerbic vocals and lyrics. ReGen had the opportunity to speak with Bednarcyk about his creative development, touching on the depth of his youthful influences, his perspectives on the reappraisals of the past, the current state of the music industry, and more.

 

Would you tell us about your original conception for Dead Prophet Alive, and how that may have evolved or changed over the past several years to become what it is now?

Bednarcyk: I started Dead Prophet Alive (unofficially) as a way to capture the songs that were beginning to culminate in my brain. I was in my early 20’s, living at home, and had no way of recording the myriad of songs that were on a constant spin in my mind, so I traded my older acoustic guitar for my first Tascam 414 Portastudio four-track recorder from a friend of mine. Finally, I was able to at the very least start to document these tracks and study them to make better recordings later on in life. Some of them still have 20+ years of dust on them and I’d like to shape them into something shareable. Over the years, my equipment got better, as did the way I studied my approach to music theories and mechanics, which has shaped the way I produce my music to this day. I’m always learning new tricks in the trade and apply them anywhere I can in my music.

How did you and Seethe come to work together? Did Patrick also write the lyrics? In what ways do you feel his vocals best presented your vision for Dead Prophet Alive’s music? Are there plans to work with him more in the future, or will we perhaps see different vocals make their mark in Dead Prophet Alive?

Bednarcyk: I first heard Patrick on a track he did vocals on with a mutual friend of ours in Washington State. The moment he let out that opening scream on that song, I absolutely knew I had to have Patrick working his magic on a few of my songs. After reaching out to my friend, he was able to bring the two of us together, and it wasn’t long before he and I were working on 16,000 Days on Earth. I gave Patrick the skeletal song tracks and titles, and he was amazing at creating the lyrics and vocal compositions based solely on those titles and overall atmospheres surrounding each song. Because the EP is very heavy in sound, I knew Patrick’s unique voice would fit the project extremely well, and sure enough, he spared no effort in giving his all on each song. I sure hope to be able to keep him close by for future works just because of how well we worked together and how talented he is overall as an artist. In the meantime, I’m writing new material I hope to be able to show my vocal ability on in the coming months.

16,000 Days roughly equates to just over 43 years… is there any significance to this as it relates to either you, Patrick, or the band?

Bednarcyk: I was struggling to create a title for the album, so I began researching otherwise meaningless Fibonacci-like number patterns and palindromes. Then I thought to myself, ‘I wonder how many days old I currently am.’ Needless to say, when the album dropped in April this year, it was just about at the 16,000 day mark that I had been womb-free and breathing on my own. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to make it the title of my first release.

There are a great deal of synths and programming underlying the heavy and organic sounds of the drums and guitars; please tell us about the songwriting process for Dead Prophet Alive? What do you find to be the most challenging part of your composition and production?

Bednarcyk: My first love of any instrument came from the multitude of sounds that came from keyboards and synthesizers. Before I owned any guitars, I had cheap Casio and Yamaha keyboards as a kid and remember sitting down with them for hours trying to tweak out as many fun sounds as I could. I still remember being dragged to my younger brother’s baseball game one day when I was 14 and being bored out of my skull. So, I asked my dad for the keys to his car so I could sit and listen to 106.9 WCCC and rock out. I’ll never forget hearing Type O Negative’s ‘Christian Woman’ for the first time over the airwaves that day and it was like I saw God. That band immediately became one of my favorites and still is to this day. The way they used keyboards and the way Pete Steele delivered his vocals became a biblical example of how I knew I wanted to deliver my songs and ideas without sounding like I was ripping them off. But Pete Steele said it best once before – a lot of how they wrote songs was derived from bands like The Doors and The Beatles; if you’re going to rip someone off, it may as well be from the best. I’d have to say the most difficult part of composing and producing is staying focused. I’m the king of ADHD and keeping to the task at hand requires an exhausting amount of focus and ambition that pushes well past my limits.

 

 

After it seemed like the ’80s wouldn’t die (with the resurgence of postpunk, synthwave, and ’80s nostalgia across all media), Dead Prophet Alive seems more centered on the ’90s alt. and nü-metal sounds. Would you tell us what about these sounds and styles most resonate with you?

Bednarcyk: I got through high school during the early-to-mid ’90s and it was a time when grunge and alternative were dominating peoples’ tastes in music, mine included. Friends of mine and I were attending alternative music festivals in the springtime, our bedroom walls were plastered with Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Tad, and Nirvana posters, and we were living in that era’s moment of bountiful offerings, taking in what we could get our hands on and running with it. Then toward the later part of the decade and having graduated, the music was adopting heavier, more metal influences that led to the birth of nü-metal (or alt. metal for those who hate that word), and our appetites were insatiable. I had begun to see dozens upon dozens of new bands emerge and go global. The JNCO Jeans kids, ball necklaces, pierced tongues, super long chain wallets, and spiky frosted tipped hair freakshow of it all was so infectious, and being roughly 20 years old then, it was regarded as being some the best times of my youth. We were invincible. The music that surrounded all of those good times, the friendships we created, the adventures we were taking part of are so crisp in my mind to this day, and being able to create music from an era that put the Joker’s smile on my face makes me feel like I can continue to enjoy and preserve those good times and memories… even if I’m now 44 years old and it is 20 years later!

What are your thoughts on the reputation of toxic masculinity and misplaced aggression that has followed nü-metal, both in its original form and in retrospect? Do you feel that newer bands pursuing a modern take on the style are elevating nü-metal beyond those perceptions?

Bednarcyk: Toxic masculinity is a phrase I’m hearing being thrown around a lot nowadays it seems. After digging a tad, it is a bit of a blanket topic for every guy engaging in anything having to do with an outlet for others to see. Whether it’s the NFL, Hollywood, movie stars, country, pop, metal, or EDM musicians, it exists in every single facet of the public limelight. I think as far as nü-metal goes, I can rattle off a dozen artists I’ve seen over the years act like total machismo douchebags onstage and publicly exploit their ignorance cloaked in a shroud of lighthearted humor. Does it make it okay? Probably not, but when the front person or any other member of a band engages in questionable rhetoric, it reflects poorly on every other member in that band and casts shadows. Times are changing, generational views are shifting, and younger musicians today bringing nü-metal back to the stage I’ve noticed tend to have a more neutralized approach with it, though there are a few loose cannons out there. Mostly everyone is out there playing their hearts out in front of crowds with very little to contribute in opinionated banter that could paint a target on them, but focus more on the task at hand. It’s a tougher industry these days. I think they’re leaving it to how well they can play instead of being drunk and lippy, which is rather admirable.

On the other hand, there are elements of electronic and industrial/rock music present, which raises the question of ‘genre’ and their validity in an age when there’s so much cross-pollination in music. Do you find there to be any validity to genres? Do we still need them for marketing purposes, or do they matter at all?

Bednarcyk: I think putting music under a certain genre helps people and databases organize their collections without it being too insulting to the artist. I mean, there are plenty cover-all descriptor genres that require some to be further classified by ‘subgenres’ that still do a good job at educating the unknowing music fan as to what they’re in for if they decide to dabble in it. Libraries use them for organizing books and then go further with the Dewey-Decimal system. Music is extremely unique in the sense that an artist can create something that gives each listener a little bit of something they personally like. Marketing purposes? Absolutely. The key isn’t to worry about wrongfully flying a band under the wrong banner; it’s about getting people together to enjoy what they like about them as a whole. I’m sure if more people could see past the cover of a book by opening it and finding something they like about it, the same can be done with bands that give them the superpower of opportunity to show everyone who they are and what they’re capable of.

Dead Prophet Alive was founded as a studio project; is that how it will remain, or are there any ambitions to take the project to the live environment? What would the logistics be for such an undertaking?

Bednarcyk: I think right now in this day and age, being in my 40’s, working a steady career that pays as well as it does with a pension and rockstar health benefits, it’d be very tough to roll the dice on the possibility of trying something on the live and touring platform. The only way I see myself doing anything differently is if I magically wow the pants off of someone with connections and limitless income who wants to invest in the project to make sure I can hire a talented group of touring musicians, techs, roadies, buy equipment, stage effects, a bus and trailer, etc. I surely won’t candy coat that one – it’s about making a major lifestyle change. But I wouldn’t say no to being a freelance songwriter for a major production outlet that wants to purchase my material. That would be an amazing way to earn a living.

The cover image is rather striking, like a talisman made from nails. How important are the visuals for you in terms of Dead Prophet Alive’s overall presentation – or to put it another way, what is the significance of ‘image’ vs. how the visuals complement the themes you explore in your music? Any chance that we’ll see a music video or some other visual accompaniment beyond the cover art?

Bednarcyk: I actually needed a logo for Dead Prophet Alive as the EP was nearing completion. I looked in my tool closet and found a few boxes of finishing nails from update projects I did on my townhome when I lived in Minnesota. I tossed a few around on a paper towel laid out on my coffee table, and before I knew it, I had a perfect layout for the letters DPA. I was surprised with how well and how quickly I made that logo. I think I was just so focused on the musical part of 16,000 Days on Earth and wanted to get the album out to listeners as quickly as possible that I did just the bare minimum on making it happen with minimalistic approaches on the artwork. Images and sound need to go hand in hand in creating a magnanimous project that will get people to take notice, for sure. Some bands overdo it with visual aesthetics, videos, effects, masks, and appearances to distract the listener from subpar musicianship, and it ultimately can unveil their true colors. I believe if a good balance is laid out and well thought of before pulling the trigger, a lot of people can be drawn in and mesmerized by the band’s intent on delivery with pleasing results. I’d love to be able to deliver on that canvas as well and have every intention on finding a few good people to help me with it in the near future.

You released 16,000 Days… independently, without a record label. What are your thoughts on the traditional models of releasing music and art and how they apply to you? Do you think we will still be bound to record labels? To what degree do you feel that the changes in the technology and the means of consuming art must affect change in the institutions that distribute them? Number of units sold, number of plays/streams on Spotify, etc. will it continue to just be ‘product-by-numbers?’

Bednarcyk: A record label would be the optimal way to promote new releases for anyone looking to go the whole mile. They take care of many red-tape barriers, logistical hurdles, piles of legal paperwork, and assist in the crippling financial needs most bands often struggle to conquer on their own. If I was most concerned with taking the avenue of financial gain and touring, I’d definitely be seeking out a label to help with those needs. Thankfully, right now, my main goal is to simply create art and share it with as many people as I can. I’ve been enjoying chipping away at the tip of the grassroots iceberg, letting people in here and there, generating opinions and responses that allow me to connect organically with those who have been interested in my efforts. That doesn’t go so far as to say that I’m not hopeful to garner a buzz or draw a fun-sized response to anything I’ve been working on, but I remain true to my chosen path in hopes I can reach more listeners in the future who can appreciate those efforts.
As far as technology is concerned, people are more drawn toward a simplistic way of getting the music they want as quickly as possible. I remember years ago waiting for a band to release a CD, then having to drive to the closest place (for me that was a Strawberries 25 minutes away) just to get my hands on the physical copy and frantically open that case, fumbling with that incessant sticker that practically had it cemented shut, and get it into the CD player in my car. Nowadays, it’s a matter of signing into your digital platform’s account, downloading the thing, and in 10 seconds, you’re ready to listen. What impacts they have on the record labels themselves, I have absolutely no clue. But, as far as the musicians who are utilizing these platforms, myself included, we just want fairness in the compensation for each of those downloads. I use a distribution service that manages a huge portion of the legwork for a modest fee. Once I’ve uploaded my work into my account on their site and set a release date, it’s up and running on virtually every digital music outlet possible.

Outside of music, what are you most enjoying? Hiking, reading, movies, sports, gaming, etc.? What is giving you the most joy now?

Bednarcyk: Aside from working 50 hours a week? Heh. I’m definitely enjoying living back in Connecticut again. I get more hikes in for sure. I visit the half-dozen new craft breweries that have popped up locally in recent years, make homemade wine, get together with old and new friends by the bonfire, and visit family. I love that it’s football season again and I can justifiably scream at the TV. I’ve been slowly breaking up with the Raiders after being a fan for 26 disappointing years and migrating toward the Buffalo Bills, but this season has been horseshit for them too. I’ve been experimenting with making shock-jock rock radio DJ shows, but legally won’t be able to launch those anywhere due to all of the music I use in them. That’s another thing helping me keep the early 2000s spirit alive. I used to love dialing into WCCC in Hartford or WAAF out of Boston and listening to those guys and gals flapping their gums and playing awesome music. They were responsible for a lot of the music and bands I got to learn about and there was always some kind of festival or event happening they’d be putting on where these bands would play. I wish we still had more of that these days, but it’s a platform that’s going extinct.

What’s next for Dead Prophet Alive?

Bednarcyk: I’m currently working on an eight or nine track LP of songs that I wrote when I lived in northern California. These songs had been collecting dust for 15 years and have been getting some much needed love lately, so it’s looking like there will be another release in late 2024 or whenever I can manage to get lyrics and vocals laid down on them. Definitely stay tuned!

 

Dead Prophet Alive
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Photography provided courtesy of Dead Prophet Alive

 

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