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A Short Conversation with Erick Bieger of West of House

14 September 2020

The first track I heard by you guys, “Yesterdays”, reminded me so much of any number of British, post-punk bands that I was surprised to find that you are from the quintessentially American Orange County. Perhaps we can start by discussing the band’s sound and influences?

Erick: The West of House “sound” is an interesting recipe of influences old and new, completely modern sounding but with threads of nostalgia throughout. As the primary songwriter in the band a lot of that comes from my influences which tend to be extremely broad both in terms of eras and genres, however there are a lot of UK and Irish influences in my foundation for sure – U2, Queen, The Cure, Peter Gabriel, The Icicle Works, Simple Minds, Pink Floyd, etc. Those bands taught me how to weave dancing sanguine melodies throughout a tapestry of melancholy.

The American strand of our DNA is pretty steeped in anthemic guitar bands, running the gamut from Terry Kath*-era *Chicago to the Foo Fighters to some amazing, more recent groups like The Classic Crime & Valleyheart. I’m always drawn in by melody but I tend to only stick around if there is substance as well.

Lyrically I’m so inspired by the “greats” like Leonard Cohen and Nick Cave, and poets like Kerouac and Ginsberg. I also can’t get enough of some of the younger artists like Julien Baker and Matthew Healy. They’re writing material with a wisdom that belies their age.

And can you tell us a bit about the band’s back story, how you met and the musical journey which got you to that point?

Erick: Strangely enough, when I started writing for the West of House project it was initially going to be a solo venture. I wrote the song “Fallen” in late December of 2019 and my plan was to bring in all my favorite musicians that I had worked with during my career to guest on the track.

Tommy (Maras) was my drummer from a band called god complex that we were in around the turn of the century. He’s a powerhouse drummer from the church of Rush and one of the finest I’ve ever played with. Lance (Bletscher) and I go back decades and recently played together in a hard rock band called The Mad Ones. I’ve never seen anyone turn the bass into an almost lead instrument while still holding down the groove like he does. Kevin (Huynh) was in that band as well and we also did an electronica post-rock project called Kings in the Back Row. His ability to create soundscapes consistently amazes me. He’s a lot like The Edge. And Dave is “new” guy. I’ve only known him for five years but I can’t think of another lead guitarist I’d rather play with. He’s straight fire with an axe.

The vibe these guys create is incendiary. It became clear early on that this needed to be a band and not my own vehicle. It’s like being in a band of All-Stars.

The time taken from the band’s formation to its debut album has been pretty fast, why do you think things have moved so quickly on the creative front?

Erick: The first factor was that I started to embrace a more “stream of consciousness” approach to songwriting with this project. The other guys in the band are far better musicians than I am from a technical standpoint so what I tried to do was lay down a blueprint with some scratch guitars and programmed drums and then get out of their way and let them do their thing.

The second factor was the unexpected one – COVID. When you’re a musician with the means to record at home and there’s nothing else to do…well, you write and record an album. What started as a four or five-song EP turned into a ten-song full length album. It was all recorded in our home studios, five guys spread over three different states. When we finished a song, we’d send it to Bobby Phillipps in Wyoming who does all our mixing and mastering.

I don’t know if we could have done this as quickly as we did if we weren’t in lockdown. It’s surreal to be creating art during a global pandemic but it’s a blessing as well to do something life-giving when surrounded by a world in chaos.

“Yesterdays’” was released just as lockdown and the effects of the pandemic were having a real impact on our lives. What was it like releasing a single which you couldn’t promote through the usual live channels?

Erick: Equally freeing and frustrating. Since we didn’t have to book shows we threw a great deal of time into online promotion. It was already a crowded marketplace before but exponentially so now because it’s all any of us can do. It’s so hard getting your four minutes in front of the right listeners when the choices are endless. And even when you do it may only be a one-night stand.

And similarly, with the album just out, what plans are now in place to promote that given the still unsure short-term future of live gigs?

Erick: We’re going to do our best to get into every corner of the music listening internet to get our stuff out there. The key will be coming up with something really creative to stand out without resorting to some sort of soulless PR stunt to build name recognition. Thankfully, we’ve all got day jobs so we don’t have to put ourselves in situations where our artistic integrity is at stake. I’ve been signed to a label before and I’m much happier doing everything on my own terms.

Not to go on about the UK connection but I notice that you are represented by a UK PR company. Was that a conscious decision or a happy accident?

Erick: The happiest accident. We reached out to a few PR companies and Decent Music, while not the biggest company, seemed to be filled with folks who genuinely love music. I think they also “get” what we’re about. Looking ahead it makes more sense for us as we’re starting to get a decent (no pun intended) amount of streams from the UK which we’re really excited about.

And if things returned to normal tomorrow and you got the chance to open up for any artist, who would it be and why?

Erick: If Freddie were still alive it would definitely be Queen (not that I would tell them “no” now if they asked). I would have loved to have been in his presence for just a moment. With that not being an option though I’d have to say U2. Their resume over the past five decades is without comparison. A litany of timeless classics by the same four guys. No drama. No breakups. We’ll never see anything like that again.

What’s the best bit of advice, musical or otherwise, you have ever been given?

Erick: “If you don’t have something to say, don’t say anything at all.”

My father was a man of very few words but when he did speak I always paid attention. This was one of his gems that had a profound effect on my personality and the relationships I keep. It doesn’t serve me well when it comes to small talk but it was priceless advice for songwriting.

I think that’s why I put so much stock in lyric writing. To me, lyrics are the soul of a song. I try to be very intentional and there are often dual or even triple meanings within my songs. I write to engage with the listener and I don’t necessarily want the listening experience to be comfortable if someone is actively following along with what I’m trying to say. There’s great power in music and the best songs are the ones that you wrestle with for a while and come away maybe bruised, but a better person.

And what does the immediate future look like for West of House?

Erick: We’re busy. We’re currently working on an EP of some B-sides and demos from the Crescendo of Silence sessions. Probably throwing in a cover from an extremely talented Scottish synth-pop band as well. We hope to have that out in December of this year.

2021 will see a vinyl release of Crescendo of Silence as well as more new music. If the lockdown continues over the winter I think another full album from us is likely. And I hope we get to finally play live. Or at least have all five of us in the same room together for the first time.

Thank you for your time and good luck with everything.