J Bennett (above, right) has written for metal publications such as Decibel, Terrorizer, and Revolver. And since 2010 he has played guitar for Ides of Gemini, an L.A. trio consisting of Sera Timms’s dreamy vocals and Kelly Johnston on drums. When I found out Ides was performing at the Slidebar in Fullerton I had to speak with the lanky, 6’5″ writer/guitarist, and ask him about the creation of “Constantinople,” as well as how it feels to be on the other side of the microphone.
[By Monica Harris, Photo by Steven Duncan]
Q: First, do you still review music for Decibel?
J Bennett: Yes.
Q. And do you still have a blog?
JB: Yeah, well, actually I do a column for Decibal every month. It’s called Cry Now, Cry Later,
and I use the blog as an archive for that column. So it comes out in the magazine, and then 3 months later I post it on the blog.
Q. Were you doing music before you were writing? Or did you start music after you were writing?
JB: I started playing guitar when I was 16, but I didn’t start writing about bands until I was maybe 19. And by that point I had kind of given up, I had stopped playing guitar. Before we started Ides of Gemini I hadn’t touched a guitar in 10 years.
Q. So who came up with the idea for Ides of Gemini?
JB: Me. And Sera, our singer, was in another band called Black Math Horseman. I was a roadie for them, selling merch, and I was going to all of their shows. And she’s a fantastically talented, beautiful singer. So I thought maybe I’d write some songs for her, and I conned her into singing them.
Q. Is she still with the other band too?
JB: Yes. Well, Black Math Horsemen aren’t playing a lot of shows these days. They’re working on writing their next record. And their drummer just had a baby a couple weeks ago.
Q. Do you think being a music reviewer helped you have a different insight into being onstage, and knowing what the audience is looking for?
JB: It definitely does not prepare you for onstage. But it definitely, at least for me, I feel I have a better sense of what I like, just because I’ve had the opportunity to hear so many records over the years, you know. So for instance if I had started a band when I was 19, it’d be totally different, and it would probably sound like whatever I was listening to at the time. Whereas now I’m old enough not to wear my influences on my sleeve all the time. Once in a while something comes through but I think I’m old enough now to have something that’s “our own” rather than derivative of someone else.
Q. What kind of music did you listen to growing up, before you started writing music reviews?
JB: All kinds of things. Mostly hard rock and heavy metal. Metallica. Danzig is a big favorite of mine. And then all the classics: Def Leppard, Judas Priest. All the ones you’d expect a young American male growing up in the middle of nowhere to listen to.
Q. How would you describe the fans of Ides of Gemini?
JB: They’re nice, they’re polite. I don’t know if I can put my finger on a characteristic they all share other than they like the band. We just kind of started and we’re playing shows here and there. I can imagine they like the music, and Sera’s voice. To me, she’s the star of the show here and that’s the main attraction. She’s the main attraction for me and I assume she’s the main attraction for anyone that’s coming to see us.
Q. So tell me about the process of writing the new album ‘Constantinople.’
JB: We put out an EP in November of 2010 that had 4 songs that we re-did on the album. With those 4 songs we didn’t have Kelly in the band at that point, so it was a drum machine. And we got Kelly in the band a few months after that, so we wanted to redo those songs with Kelly. The tempos had changed a little bit as we started playing them live. And also we recorded that EP at home so we wanted to take these songs and record them in a proper studio. The other songs were kind of a rough road because I spent about half of last year unable to walk. I had a problem with my spine and had to have surgery so I spent 6 months in bed. And the productive part, the only upside to that, is that I wrote all the songs while I was in bed. I don’t know if that comes through in any way, but it’s there. The writing process was me on a lot of painkillers, lying down. The painkillers weren’t even working, I was in a lot of pain.
Q. You’ve put out some music on cassette tape. What’s that about?
JB: I don’t know, I grew up listening to music on cassette. Vinyl had just tapered off a little bit when I started. My first records I got were on cassette. It wasn’t until years later that I started getting CDs. Cassettes are really cheap to make, too. We did like 100 copies of our EP and we sell them for like $5 and people like them. I see more and more bands doing that lately. I think its more for fun, they make a collector’s item and it has that — you know, if you grew up in the ‘80s.
Q. Before you go on and perform do you have some kind of ritual to get in the mood to go onstage?
JB: Yeah, I have a drink. To kind of calm down the nerves a bit.
Q. I haven’t seen you perform live before. What can I expect to see?
JB: My fantasy, especially in a place like this where you can see the windows all around, is that it will start raining. It probably won’t happen but that’s my fantasy. Maybe we’ll make rain. I don’t know… Wouldn’t you rather be surprised?
For more: IdesofGemini.com