Interview: JIMMY PITTS – The Light on the Rock

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The moon satellites the earth as steady as a metronome, raising and lowering the tides. But, without the sun to reflect upon her face, she’s just a rock. 

JIMMY PITTS is the light up on the satellites of Metal, those who evolve, revolve, and raise the tides of blood and electricity within us and around us. 

He’s shined with the greats all around the world, most notably Christian Muenzner in Eternity’s End and recently, Virulent Depravity. He had a hand in the very special benefit project, Equipoise and has his own work, as well.

 Perhaps most notably, he’s also the ‘evil twin’ of Tom “Fountainhead” Geldschlager, a steady and true partner in crime in sound, even though that may be the only thing they really have in common…except breathing.

 All of this is extraordinary in of itself. But, what is most remarkable is that he’s a keyboardist, which would seem to take the ‘extreme’ out of the Metal – but, nothing could be further from the truth.

 Today, his ivory-tickling hands are in many pots, including the very anxiously awaited NYN project and co-owner of the new Prog label, Vmbrella. He is here, he is there, and though his name may not be on everyone’s tongue, he’s pretty much everywhere at least where Progressive Metal moves.

The Black Siren determined that it was time to meet the man who can turn Rock into wonder…

TBS: Obviously the first question is: when someone thinks of extreme Metal, the mind does not go to keyboards.

Jimmy: Right, yeah *laughs*

TBS: So, how in the hell did you end up doing this?  How did you end up making the exception?

Jimmy: Sure, well first of all, I’m a lot older than the guys I play with, so it actually started back in the 90’s for me. With Scholomance, and actually before that, we had a Death Metal band called Communion, and I just started added bits and pieces with keyboard. I didn’t really know how to play them initially, I just started playing at 20 or 21, so I began really late. But, I learned fast because I was very motivated.

The reason why I wanted to play keyboards at first was to add atmosphere to Death Metal music and embrace that further with Communion. I was inspired by Grave and Entombed, Into the Grave, and Left Hand Path respectively, as Swedish bands were just starting to incorporate spooky intros and segues, and then you know later you had Amorphis, Samael, Emperor, and stuff like that. But, by then, I was already incorporating more complex keyboards into Scholomance, which had piano throughout every song, choirs, strings, it was more classical-based.

We were one of the earliest signings for The End Records, which used to be an avant-garde Metal label in the 90’s. I don’t really know them personally anymore, but it seems they’ve changed a lot. Now they have had Danzig, Lordi, and stuff like that.

TBS: So, what happened to the band?

Jimmy: That band put out two albums with The End. They did really well for us, and we were working on our third album and the guitarist disbanded us on a forum without talking to the rest of the band.  We lost our record label, everything. From that point on, I never stopped doing music.

The next thing I did was guest with Ron Jarzombek (Watchtower, Blotted Science), I just did a little solo spot on Spastic Ink’s Ink Compatible, but that little thirty second spot did more for my reputation than both of those albums with Scholomance.

TBS: Can we talk a little bit about how you’re working with some of the most pristine and elite talents in the industry right now? It’s also kind of neat that you are an American working with all Europeans. And you’re also from…

Jimmy: Battlefield, Missouri…

TBS: *laughs*…essentially nowhere!

Jimmy:  Exactly, it is a tiny town, although right by Springfield which is the third biggest in Missouri, but after Kansas City and St. Louis it’s a pretty big drop-off. Yeah, there are not many people who think like me around here, I’m kind of the odd man out.

TBS: A band is a very tight-knit type of relationship, intimate on many levels. How did you manage to cope and rise above it?

Jimmy: When Scholomance broke up I actually took a day off of work and I remember my mom telling me, because we work together, (I have a day job of course) “You can’t let these things get to you like this.” But I don’t think that most people understand that a band is, like you said, like a relationship.

I’d been divorced by this time once. I’ve only had one divorce, I’m married now, but the band splitting felt like another divorce, it was crushing. Scholomance was everything to me. I think you probably noticed…that if I’m into something I am basically obsessed with it.

I love music and I loved that band so much that it felt like another divorce.

And I was reflecting on this just a few weeks ago actually and thinking, you know, that might be the best thing that ever happened to me, because at that point I was so focused on having a band like “this is my band” and everybody’s got to live close to me, and it was right at the time that the internet was really burgeoning, and … and then it started; I started just contacting people, just shamelessly emailing, “Hey I love your music! I’d love to play with you.” And that’s how I got with Ron Jarzombek.

Then once I had that under my belt I could tell people I played on Spastic Ink, you know that small snippet, and it just opened doors.

I just wrote them out of the blue, “Hey you’ve never heard of me, but I’m an alright player. I’ll record for free, I have a day job, and I just want to play with the best people.” I would just spend my time with ridiculous amounts of practicing, that’s all I did for years was study and woodshed. I went through a divorce and that’s when I really started playing piano, and just poured everything into that.  That became my impetus for self-growth.

TBS: How can something that would be seemingly unemotional, like Prog Metal, have such an emotional impact on its listener?

Jimmy: I think, for me I’ve always felt like when I was coming up in music, it was not popular at all to be complex. Like the Death Metal scene at that time was very simple. In the early 90’s it was just absolute simpletons, and then of course the popular music on the radio was terrible, there was not much skill. I hate 90’s popular and rock music.

So, I felt like at that time, the prevailing belief around my town, and probably the greater scene, was if you’re playing technical you’re playing with no soul, you’re playing with no emotion and I think that is a misnomer. I think it is not true.  So Tom (Fountainhead) might disagree with me here but I don’t know.

To me, and I think there are people that play, “*mockingly making wheedle sounds* Oh I’m technical,”  but that was never my thing. This was how I expressed my emotions best.

Eternity’s End line-up: Ian Parry, Christian Muenzner, Jimmy, Linus Klausenitzer, and Hannes Grossmann

To have more theory, more skills so that whatever I wanted, I didn’t want limitations on what I was going to create. Used to, it seemed like people just considered soul, *imitates blues guitar*… you know like a few notes like you played three notes and you bend them just right and people are like “Oh he’s so soulful.” Well then you have someone like Steve Vai, that can do that, but he can also do so much more, and it’s dripping with emotion.  It’s beautiful if you know how to listen to it.

I think that that’s why certain musicians veer toward that more complex stuff, because they listen to it differently. And I think that while there are some bands that are just absolutely in it just to be technical, they obviously derive some type of joy or ego aggrandizement from that, or else they wouldn’t do it. So there is still a heart and soul to it even if they are playing this brutal, crazy shit, you know? Occupy your mind!

TBS: Exactly. Apply the left brain when the right brain is going crazy. So it is very possible that those musicians that are really technical for the sake of being technical, I could see where that can be incredibly therapeutic on that principle.

Jimmy: It’s like athleticism.

TBS: There you go.

Jimmy: That’s the bliss for some musicians, is the athleticism of music. And in other people, their bliss might be to play the blues or play three notes or five notes or six notes, and I think both are legitimate and I think there is so much.

People aren’t very open-minded.They’re like, “Oh, I’m super technical so if you’re playing simple music it can’t be as valid…” You know, like the Yngwie (Malmsteen) quote, “More is more,” which you know, I agree with at times. But, I also really like to throw on Pink Floyd and listen to David Gilmour and he plays so beautifully, nothing more could be added.

I think both things are so wonderful, so some days I wanna just play really simple music, some days tech. I’m kind of an odd bird that way.

TBS: Is it really odd? Because some of the best musicians in the world are influenced by more than one genre.

Jimmy: Yeah, everything has crossed over to such a degree, yet when I came up it was very clique-ish, “Oh we’re SO tech” or “Oh we’re SO slow and brutal”, there wasn’t this crossover to the degree there is now.

Metal is always being crossed over with other things like Jazz-Metal, Neo-classical Metal, but once those become a style, it becomes pigeonholed still. Just like Prog, “Well, this doesn’t sound like prog.”

When I got into Jazz-fusion people were telling me, “Well your music doesn’t sound like fusion.” What is fusion supposed to sound like?

TBS: So for you, what’s your bliss? Does it really change all the time or is there a Jimmy Pitts signature that you bring in to your work?

Jimmy: I am proud that I have found a way to fit my limitations into multiple genres of music somehow. I’m really not doing something that’s that different, but I often think it is the other players who make me sound like I’m crossing all these different genres. So just playing music, I don’t enjoy as much recording music and the process like I used to, it’s more about after its done and listening, because I’m still in love with being a listener to music, and I’m really proud to be able to be a creator of music, but I’m still a huge fan of listening.

I know it’s supposedly lame to say you listen to your own stuff, but I’m not listening to it going “Oh I’m so good!” I’m listening to it going “That’s cool, I always wanted to do an album like this,” and “Thank goodness somebody got a hold of me and hooked me up with Christian or Fountainhead or one of those guys and we created that.”

I went through a phase where I had a great big stupid ego, and it’s completely gone.

I just think that the most important thing is to not be arrogant about your art because you want to share it, you don’t want to make people put up walls. And when you have an arrogance about your art, you’ve put up a wall for yourself too, because there is always going to be something better and cooler.

So, I would say my musical bliss is listening, and my primary bliss is family, so you’ll find on my CDs there is almost always a dedication to family or friends, and that will continue.

TBS: It is so wild how we kind of create these communities without ever seeing each other face to face.

Jimmy: Exactly, it is a brand-new paradigm. You know there were people with ham radios or writing letters, people far away communicating before. However, to the degree now, that we are able to communicate worldwide in an instant, there’s never been anything like it.

I’ve been told, “Oh those people don’t really know you.” One time Tom told me this, which is funny because I think of him as one of my best friends, and he said, “I think sometimes you romanticize your relationships with people online and think that you are better friends than you really are.” But I refuse to entirely believe that.

TBS: I love that saying, “I’d rather be an optimist and a fool than a pessimist and right.” But, I think that there is a fear of intimacy because when you’re online, you have a delete button, you have a backspace so you have an opportunity to present certain aspects of yourself.  The best of yourself not your truth, not your whole truth.  It’s not like standing next to somebody, having to look them in the eye, and seeing that they have a little bit of a Buddha, or having to smell them, you know?

Jimmy: *laughs*

TBS: You can show only certain aspects. So, on the one hand I can see where Fountainhead is coming from, however on the other hand I can see where you would find that energetic connection. It’s all electric, even the computer is quartz.  Quartz crystal in there!

Jimmy:  It’s true.  And you know when Fountainhead told me that, in regards to the person he was talking about he was probably right. It’s more of a business relationship.  I didn’t want to admit it at the time.  That is certainly not the case with Tom and I though. We are like brothers in my eyes. I think Fountainhead and I feel that way about each other, like we really are close, I hope.

I think if I just moved to Germany we’d be the best of friends.  He’s been very good for me, because Fountainhead he’s brutally honest.

Pitts-Minnemann Project

And it’s not just him, but both he and my friend, Jeff Williams, who did the Dark Star interactive movie I worked on. Those two guys are very blunt if they don’t like something, but they’re usually right.

I used to not be able to take criticism.  I was very self-conscious about it and it would hurt my feelings and those guys have both done me wonders because now it doesn’t really bother me, and I trust both of them.

But, Tom has really helped to shape me into a person that can take other people’s advice and criticism more to heart but without getting hurt by it, which is not very ‘tough and Metal’ to say but, yeah, it’s true.  I’m a sensitive dude.

TBS: I think every artist needs to be to some degree.

Jimmy: Yeah, you can’t be just all one thing, I think we’re all a bit schizophrenic as artists.  It is part of the necessity to become an artist, that you’re open to extreme emotional swings.  That’s what the album Fountainhead and I did the 2 L8 2 B Normal album, which was all about was mood swings and being on an emotional roller coaster. There were no lyrics, we just had to express that instrumentally.

TBS: So, how do you manage to balance?

Jimmy: I think it is a good balance. Now I play with people who I’m probably more immediately in tune with like Vishal Singh or Christian Muenzner, or of course Jerry Twyford, who plays bass on all my albums. So, I play with these people that I probably think more like or they think more like me and that works too. Not to disparage that at all, because there are certain projects where that needs to be the way it is, and that’s easy with Christian’s stuff.

My input is soloing, and he writes the music. We know exactly what to play to make it sound right. With Vishal, I usually write the music and he plays on it. Fountainhead and I collaborate more equally than probably anybody else I work with. I think that is where that comes in handy because I have somebody with Tom who I know is going to keep me in check if I write something he doesn’t like the quality of. Now, I may not change it because I might feel strongly about it.

It isn’t like a pushover thing of, “Oh I guess if you don’t like it, I’ll change it.” A lot of the times I don’t, but it makes me listen more closely and have to justify it in my head as, “Is he right?” And a lot of people won’t do that for you, they just want to be the nice guy and then I’ve had people tell me, “Oh it’s great!” and then the album comes out and I’m not there, you know? That’s happened…It’s weird. I would have changed my parts had the guy been up front.

But with Fountainhead, the broader point is just with him; you know exactly where you stand and you know he’s not telling you anything out of maliciousness.

He loves me, he’s telling me because that’s how he feels, very strongly and with a desire to put out the best project we can…he’s very, very blunt.  You have to learn to accept it but also defend your position. *laughs*

 

TBS: In speaking of what you’re working on, help me understand this.  Is the Pitts- Minnemann Project a project or your actual band?

Jimmy: A project.

TBS: That’s just a project?

Jimmy: Yes. And as far I know that’s over, but Tom said, “Don’t tell people that publicly because you never know.”

TBS: He’s right…

Jimmy: … if something happens with that again it will be quite some time. But we are open to it, so I hope he is.

For now, I have enough material for one single and I’m just going to release a single just because I have one more track left that we didn’t get on the album. So yeah, that’s more of a project.

Eternity’s End, as long as that keeps going, I would consider my main project.

That’s what I told Christian, that I consider it my main band because I want him to know that’s where my focus is. When he calls, I’m there, you know?  And there’s Equipoise, where I don’t really write much, but I’m considered a full member.

TBS: And you’re working on more material for Equipoise now…

Jimmy: They haven’t sent it to me yet, but I’ve heard some of it, it’s kick-ass.

The thing I am working on right now is for Noyan from Heavy Blog, it is the NYN album and Fountainhead and I are both on it. It’s insane.

I’ve got another project, but I’m not supposed to talk about it…

TBS: You hussy.

Jimmy: I’m a band slut.

I always say when someone approaches me… my problem is I like too many styles of music.  You want to do some Power Metal? I love Power Metal! You want to do some Tech-Death? I love that Tech-Death!  I’m also working on a Jazz-fusion thing..

TBS: Will this all be on the Vmbrella label?

Jimmy: Equipoise is on the Artisan Era, and then Eternity’s End is of course on Power Prog. I don’t know what will come out on Vmbrella, probably the The Fractured Dimension…and maybe the NYN album.

TBS: You’re like that high school kid that signs up for every club. *laughs*

Jimmy: That’s me!  Jimmy: Absolutely! I want to be cool and all that.

You know I was into freestyle BMX on a competitive level and I was a total loner. But, now with the music thing, oh my God, I am Mr. “Oh you want some Mongolian throat singing and want Ohm keyboards? I’ll do it!”

It’s just me now. It keeps life interesting.

Jimmy Pitts on Facebook

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