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Metal/Prog Metal Interviews

The PB Army

Interviewed by Mike Korn
Interview with Keith Bergman of PB Army From 2005

This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2005 Year Book Volume 4 at

(NOTE: Keith Bergman of PB Army had to get emergency open heart surgery in 2004.)
MSJ: How are you doing physically, Keith?
I'm doing real good, actually. It was a pretty scary event but it got me straightened out a little bit. I don't really have to limit what I do. I have to take it a little easier than I used to, as far as partying and taking care of myself, eating right and that sort of thing.
MSJ: When you play live, can you still go nuts when you play or do you have to scale it back a bit?
Oh yeah. The first couple times we played after I got back, I was pretty winded but it was just a matter of getting my strength back up. Having major surgery is a really debilitating thing, and I've never been through anything like it before. You feel like you're never gonna get your strength back and you're going to be this weak, anemic little wallflower for the rest of your life. We did a lot of practicing after I got back and started playing right away. We played a lot of opening gigs where we'd do shorter sets, which helped. We practiced a lot for the new record, and it helped get my strength back. I actually feel better now because I'm taking better care of myself. I exercise a little bit more now and I've got more stamina than I used to.
MSJ: Other than the obvious physical effects, how did this situation manifest itself in the music on "Spine for the Snapback"?
The weird thing is, it seems like it did in hindsight. A lot of the lyrics sound like they're talking about my health situation but most of it was written before that episode happened. The only song that is blatantly about that is "A Temporary Absence". The second song on the album, "A Hole In the New Leaf", starts out with the line "Do not recognize this heart" and people have asked me if that had anything to do with my problems. It was weird, but we were playing that for a year before I went into the hospital! Looking back now, it almost seems like foreshadowing. I don't know if there's some sort of subconscious thing your body does to tell you or what!
MSJ: I thought even the title of the album might be a reference to this. You have definitely "snapped back" and that requires some "spine", I guess.
It definitely seemed to fall into place. It seemed a little more prophetic than it actually was. When I wrote the song "Martyr Bound", "spine for the snapback" was a line from that song. It was about a friend of a friend going out and getting dumped from his relationship, and this new guy swooping in. It's kind of a letter to the new guy saying "you don't have what it takes to deal with this when the same thing happens to you." But it could definitely apply to my situation and the band's situation. We had a lot of downtime, it was quite a while after the first record when this happened, and there was a point when we weren't sure if we were gonna pack it in or what. But I guess we did snap back!
MSJ: What exactly did you want to accomplish with the new CD, and did you achieve that result?
Well, we had a lot of little things we wanted to make better. Our first record was recorded under pretty hurried circumstances. We'd only had our bass player for about three weeks, and we hadn't been rehearsing much before we recorded. None of us had a ton of experience in the studio so we were a little more timid. We didn't have as much time or know-how to suggest different ways to do things or even to do more and better takes. We were really under the gun time-wise. This time, we wanted a lot more of a unique sounding record, we wanted things to be a little more individual. We didn't want there to be a riff where you could pull it out and say, "oh, this sounds like a stoner rock band" or "this sounds like a punk band". We all listen to a lot of different kinds of music, and my favorite records are the kinds that go all over the map. We definitely wanted to do that with our new one.
MSJ: That leads smoothly into the next question, which you've answered to some extent. You do have a very unique sound, it sounds like there's a very conscious effort to give the band an individual sound. Is that just the way it happens or is it very deliberate?
Yeah, there's a two-sided way to look at it. On one hand, we'll never throw a song out because it doesn't sound like the PB Army. On the new record, we have slow, doomy stuff and really fast stuff and even some shrieky vocals on one song and hardcore gang vocals on another song. I think it all hangs together OK. Some people disagree with me on that. If we come up with some and like it, at the end of the day, we're the ones who have to go out and play it 150 times on the road. I don't wanna say we do this just for ourselves, because that's such a cliched answer, but we do have to be happy with a song.
MSJ: There is definitely a core PB Army sound. The new record doesn't sound that radically different from the debut.
Yeah, I didn't think it did! I think it sounds better, but I think if you heard the first record, you definitely know who it is.
MSJ: How do you guys go about songwriting? Is it well planned out or more spontaneous?
Well, it's gone both ways. A lot of times, the riff will be the first thing we start to work on, and then we build on it. Everyone's in charge of their own parts. One thing that's interesting is having a bass player like Mahlon...he's definitely a pro-active bass player and is never really content to just follow the lead guitar. He'll take home the songs, study them and kick them around. His bass lines will completely change the dynamic of the song, which is great, because we don't have two guitar players and we have that room there for him to fill. Lyrically, there's been times that a song has been built off a melody line I'll come up with. There's actually a few songs I'm working on now for the third record where I'm going to experiment with going in and recording the song and arranging it myself from start to finish with just vocals and drums. I'll record it that way and then give it to the other guys to record their parts. That might work and it might not. We don't have one really orthodox way to approach writing a song. They're definitely never done before each of us puts his own stamp on them.
MSJ: Would you ever think about adding a second guitar player or maybe add something unusual like a keyboard or a horn part?
We've thought about adding keyboards. I actually kind of wish we had added a little bit to "Spine". On "Martyr Bound", there's a place on the track where I could actually hear an organ in my head, and it sounded great! But it would have to be something we wouldn't need to do live. I would actually like to do a little more studio work on the next record, a little more actual production instead of just setting up and knocking out the songs. As far as our live show, though, I don't see us ever being able to add a fourth person. We have this really weird dynamic as individuals and adding anybody else would screw that up. Live, we've adapted to the whole "singing drummer three piece" thing pretty well and we've gotten a lot of compliments on our live show. We've got so much going on. We've got a bass player that easily covers his ground and both him and Micah our guitarist are really energetic and active up front. As long as we can put on a good show, I can't see a reason to add anyone else.
MSJ: You're a drummer that sings lead for a real energetic band...that's got to be one of the hardest jobs in rock and roll!
(chuckles) If you're not rested up and hydrated...It's one of those things where I have to put a little more thought into a set than just walking up and knocking out a set half-drunk because there's a lot going on. I will actually structure the set list so there's a break in there - a song without many vocals. Or maybe a spot where I can get three or four really busy songs out of the way and then throw a slower song in there so I can catch a little bit of a breather.
MSJ: Most of your music is based on the power of the riff. What's your favorite riff out of all your material. I have to say that the one you come up with in the second half of the song "Sanguine" was absolutely classic. I mean, "Smoke on the Water" type classic.
Man! Thank you very much for that.
MSJ: That riff was repeated but I never got tired of it . I could have listened to another ten minutes of it!
(laughter) It's funny, because we've always talked about putting together a CD like that for ourselves to listen to. Just riffs that go on and on. We've got a few that we pick out and work with. I don't know how much death metal you listen to but on the third Obituary record ("The End Complete"), the last song does that very extended kind of riff. If you're not into the band, you'd probably think they are beating it into the ground, because they do the riff for a good two, two and a half minutes. You just get so into it.
MSJ: Are you familiar with the band Sleep? They did an album "Jerusalem" that was basically one big song with an endless riff. Brother, that was pushing it for me!
I can't say I'd be able to hack 52 minutes of that. One thing you notice about the first half of both of our records is that our pop side shows through. We've always been into the heavy stuff and a lot of metal, but one of our shared favorite bands is Devo. Their singer has always been an influence on how I structure some of the vocal melodies and lyrics and stuff. We're actually working on a cover of one of their songs right now, "Uncontrollable Urge". We're gonna do a split with another band from around here and then start working that into our set.
MSJ: You have a pretty interesting little scene in the Toledo, Ohio area.
It's definitely picked up. There's some really good bands from around here. It's never been a very unified scene around here, but right now it's the most unified I have ever seen in my lifetime. We've got bands that are not only trying to be original and make their own mark, but they're being smart about it and going out of town and playing shows and promoting themselves. They're not just sitting around bitching that no one's making them a rock star. There were so many bands that got big around here for six months and then they wouldn't do any work and they got frustrated and quit. As we're going out and making contacts, we're trying to help younger bands get out of town and play shows and get that experience. There's no better time than going out for a weekend and doing three or four shows. Meeting new people, sleeping on their floor...I'd much rather go play in Little Rock, Arkansas than play 3 blocks from my house. You meet tons of cool people, get to see the country, meet other cool bands.
MSJ: The vocals on the new record definitely show more range than on your debut. The vocals on the song "Bringing A Knife to the Gun Fight" uncork some very intense screams on that one. What's your theory of vocals?
I'm still learning and even since recording the record, I think some of the newer material is a lot better, a lot more controlled and a lot more range is shown. It's just another case of liking a lot of different styles. This is the first band I've ever sang lead in. When we did the first record, I was pretty new to singing, especially in the studio. We basically had to do the first album in about a day. I think getting more experience is helping me along. I think that on the first record, I wouldn't have nearly had enough nerve to try something like "Bringing A Knife to the Gun Fight". The last part of the song "Ashtabula", there's actually some singing and holding notes! I would have been scared to death to do that before. First few times we played that song live, I had no clue, I was just s!@#ting myself blind up there!
MSJ: One song that was different was "The Five Nines". It had a robotic kind of feel to it, and I could really feel the sarcasm in the lyrics.
You're not supposed to talk crap about your own record when it just came out, but that one I'm actually a little disappointed in. I had some bigger ideas for that song that we just didn't get done in time. I was actually going to do another harmony vocal to put on top, but it just didn't get done. I like it well enough, but that's just one where I wish I had a little more time to work with it.
MSJ: What are the lyrics of that song about?
Regarding the whole "Five Nines" thing, I read a lot of weird, esoteric stuff. I was reading this article about people who try to improve the quality of things coming off an assembly line or improve the number of successful surgeries. They're trying to get something up to 100%...basically, their job is to make something perfect. "The Five Nines" refers to 99.999. That's what some of these quality experts actually call it, they say they are going for the "five nines". It's like you've got to try really hard to make a goal you can't reach and you know you can't reach it but you still have to try.
MSJ: What's your take on the heavy music scene today? Some would say it's too unfocused and all over the place, but others would say it's the most creative it's ever been.
I would say it's both, and it's not gonna change. I think the era where there are just five or six big styles of music and there's just five big bands in each style is just over. There are so many bands out now. There isn't a Metallica anymore for every single metal kid to rally around. There's so many different subgenres and so many places to learn about them on the Internet that nothing's really obscure anymore. So rather than 500,000 kids all going out and buying "Master of Puppets", you're going to have 50,000 kids buying Shadows Fall, 40,000 buying Chimera, 30,000 more buying Dismember. They're not going to unite behind anyone anymore. I don't think that's good or bad, I just think it's the nature of how things are going to be now.
MSJ: I like having more to choose from but there's something I miss about having a leader of the pack.
I just don't think there can be anymore. When I was a kid and I got into the bands I knew about, I knew about six bands, because all I got were two magazines and watched "Headbanger's Ball" one night a week. I could tape trade with my friends. I didn't have an Internet resource like where I could sit there and read about 700 different bands. When bands like Napalm Death were putting stuff out in the late 80's, I was thinking I was underground because I had just discovered Sepultura, y'know. And now there's not only all this new stuff, but 30 years ago, there wasn't a back catalogue. Now, there's 30 years worth of metal as well as this deluge of new bands coming out. I know a few fellow writers who are 20, 21 years old and they're like "yeah, I just bought my first Judas Priest album!" (laughter) Oh my God, how is that possible?!
MSJ: You make an excellent point, the back catalogue is something I never really thought of before.
Kids are listening to all these melodic metalcore bands throwing these, quote unquote, classic metal guitar solos, and they don't even know where they came from. But enough seem to want to learn. I think things will be alright over all. Unless we go back to the Dark Ages and the Internet goes away, I don't think we'll go back to the days when everybody rallies behind a few bands anymore.
MSJ: I know you write for "Metal Maniacs" magazine. What got you into rock journalism?
Oh man...well, I got into hard rock and metal in 86 and 87, kinda slowly. When I went to college, I started working at the radio station, and I had my own metal show for a few years. Then I was tapped from that to do a few reviews for the local college paper. We have this newspaper here in Toledo called the "Glass Eye" that our label boss Eddie (Shimborske, brother of PB Army guitarist Micah and also member of Thessalonian Dope Gods) actually runs. He started it up about 12 years ago. That was basically about the best training ground anybody could have hoped for. The policy there from day one has been if you want to write it, go ahead. Just make sure it doesn't suck and we'll publish it. Dude, I turned in 8000 word interviews before and Eddie printed them verbatim.
MSJ: Do you have any sort of major touring plans on tap?
Well, we did three weeks in February, and we're gonna try to at least a week on the West Coast this fall, because we're going to try and showcase for some bigger labels. Other than that, we're going to try and do as many weekend trips as we can. We're in a good spot here...we can do a weekend in New York, a weekend in Chicago, we can head down South. We've got a long weekend booked in June where we're going to be in Cincinnati, St. Louis and Chicago.
MSJ: What was the last CD you picked up just for your own listening pleasure?
Last time I went to the record store, I bought the new Judas Priest. I had to buy it because I was reviewing it, but I was going to buy it regardless. I try to keep my hand in actually buying stuff and keeping the system going. If you have any history of dealing with a big label's promotional department, you'll realize it's easier to just go out and buy the disc instead of waiting to get a promo! I also bought an Agent Orange CD. I had lost the LP and needed to replace it.
MSJ: What was the last gig you went to just because you wanted to go?
Let's see...there again, I actually write a column for the weekly newspaper here so I'm going to a lot of shows to write about them. Let's see...oh, this is wild, but I shouldn't rag on it because I had a really good time. I went to go see the band that Jeff Scott-Soto and Neal Schon put together called Soul Sirkus. It was an interesting experience because I didn't really know the band's music but they were all just amazing musicians. It was almost like a private gig because it was $30.00 for a ticket to a club show. There were not even 100 people at this place and they were all super diehard underground AOR 80's rock guys. They reminded me of the real underground death metal and punk kids. These guys are looking for new AOR bands. They were out in full force. They already had the Japanese version of the CD. It was a really rabid crowd!
MSJ: Prog rock has that kind of following...
Yeah, it was definitely a similar vibe.These people were really into it, and the band played for actually two and a half hours!
MSJ: What's your Spinal Tap moment?
I think my favorite recent one was when we did that tour in February and a couple of things fell through, as they are wont to do. We ended up on a Sunday night in Athens, Georgia. We were there to see some really good friends of ours. Because of the laws in Georgia, it's hard for bars to even open up on Sunday, so it was hard to do a regular club show. We got a hold of some people who knew some other people, etc., etc., and at the last minute we set this show up in what we thought was going to be somebody's basement or garage. It was what they called a performance space, quote unquote. It wound up being a boarded-up abandoned building in the ghetto. They had permission to use it, I guess...they had electricity, but the front doors and windows were completely boarded up and nailed shut.
MSJ: Sounds like a crack house...
Yeah, it was definitely like a crack house. This other band in town rehearsed there and they had paintings up on the wall, a zine library where people could go and read zines. There were a lot of punk rock activist type kids there who we really don't deal with that much, because we're not in that scene. The first thing on the agenda that night was a vegan cereal potluck. So we walked in and there were all these punk/hippy hybrid kids eating vegan cereal. And then there were three completely acoustic acts that went on before us! (laughter) There was a girl singing these cute, off-key songs about her cervix...and we can't play after 11 o'clock, because the one thing the cops are real sticklers about is the noise ordinance. Well, it's getting to be 10, 10:30 and these people aren't finishing their acoustic sets. We don't really know any one so we don't want to just bust in their and start setting up our stuff. We don't even know if they want us to play! There were supposed to be three actual bands with equipment. One of them flat out said they weren't going to play. Us and the other band got to play just five songs each. (chuckles) The kids seemed really cool and they kind of passed the hat for us. We got $17.00 and change for the show!
MSJ: That's rock and roll...(laughter)
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