Tuesday, 11 June 2013

INTERVIEW WITH STEVE JANIAK (Devil To Pay, Apostle of Solitude)

Photo credit: Kris Arnold
I got hipped to Steve Janiak's work only recently with Devil To Pay's latest album, 'Fate Is Your Muse', which I would sum up as an epic journey through the inner and outer life of man and how he interacts with himself and his immediate environment.  I reviewed the album a few weeks back and it's something I'm still listening to regularly.  You can check it out on the player below and be sure to click the link to follow through to the ripple music bandcamp site to buy the album.  It's essential listening.  After I posted the album review he took the time to leave a comment on the page and that's when I found his extremely entertaining and extremely "WTF" website Steve Janiak's F'n Rock n Roll Jamboree and General Hoedown.  It's well worth checking out if you're into having your mind warped while peering into someone else's.  There's also some cool live videos there and I'm not just saying that to be polite, there's some good stuff on that site.  After reading this excellent interview he did with Bloody Good Horror website I wanted to get to know the man behind the riffs just a little bit better and as you will see, I don't always have my facts straight, but who better to set me straight than the man himself?  My questions appear in black while Steve's responses appear in blue.

Hello, Steve Janiak!  Welcome to the blog, thanks for chatting with me today.  A proverbial doff of the cap to you for a fine album in the form of ‘Fate Is Your Muse’ by your band Devil To Pay.

Thank you!

So, ‘Fate is Your Muse’ made it to #5 on the ‘Super’ Doom Charts.  Were you happy with the recognition?  How do you feel about the whole thing? (By the way, Todd Severin of Ripple Music was a contributor but he did not allow himself to vote for you or Mothership as he felt it would be unethical to do so!).

We were stoked to make the list, and surprised to make it to #5. It’s always a big honor when people recognize your tunes. Thanks for doing all you do! Todd Severin not voting for us makes sense, he’s a stand-up gentleman.

How did you come to sign with Ripple Music?  Based on the depth of the label’s roster, does it seem like getting the nod of approval?

Well, not to be cliché, but it was a bit of fate, really. My online music buddy Jason had asked who was putting out our new record, I was embarrassed to say we were going to put it out ourselves, like our previous two records. Honestly, I gave up chasing record labels after our first album. I think I only sent Cash Is King (our 2nd record) to one label (Small Stone) before giving up on the idea. But when Jason was surprised we weren’t with a label, he was being supportive and suggested we should give it a go. I half-jokingly asked him if he wanted to manage us, and he said he would be glad to contact some labels on our behalf. The first label he contacted was Ripple Music, and I guess they liked what they heard. Without our buddy we might never have gotten to this point, so we owe him some serious gratitude!

There’s a couple choruses that really stand out to me on FIYM and I’ve been thinking a lot about them.  One is “Break your doubts and heave them, across the sky / All we are is a dream in your eyes”, it’s a line I am personally inspired by.  Do you feel it’s important to impart a little wisdom while melting faces?  I mean, here you’ve created this platform for yourself to really be able to say something and have others hear it.  Are you consciously aware of that and try to live up to the ‘responsibility’?

I don’t know if I’d call it a responsibility, necessarily. I guess I like songs with a deeper message that I can relate to. Personally, I have always aspired to have something to say lyrically that I believed in. Now that all the ‘spiritual awakening’ stuff has transpired I feel like I’m finally in a place where I can speak with a degree of clarity. That line and that song in particular are my way of embracing my mortality... a kind of shedding the old skin and baggage and focusing on what you want, instead of fearing what you don’t want.

The second is what ended up as the title of the record, “Fate is your muse / The end is what we choose”.  Aside from the performance which really makes the line stand out, why and how did you decide to go with that line as the album title?  And maybe I’ve interpreted the line in my own way, but do you think us puny mortals are motivated by our own mortality?

Thanks. We had most of the songs recorded and still didn’t have an album title. We came up with a few different ideas and nothing stuck. I went through the songs line by line and that particular line jumped out at me. It summed up the vibe of the record and the lyrics perfectly. In the song, I was trying to get across the idea that your beliefs shape your perceptions, they make your reality what it is. I never really had an opinion on the Free Will vs. Destiny debate until a few years ago. It’s whatever you believe it to be! Your ‘Fate’ isn’t preordained, it follows your own choices, and in that regard it’s very much like a piece of art, or music, or a story. Ideally, everyone should recognize this and feel inspired to create the life they want by following their own instincts, making their own path. It’s going to happen whether you are aware of it or not, you might as well follow your bliss!

A song like “Ten Lizardmen & One Pocketknife” is excellent storytelling.  Right the first thing you’ve established an immediately recognizable scenario but kept it weird and interesting and the scene is fraught with thick tension.  How and when did you develop such sharp storytelling skills?

Ha, I have no idea. That song is definitely different. My songwriting almost always starts with a guitar riff and each idea gets a name depending how the music makes me feel. It’s the only way I can keep track of them all. Some come from writing alone, most come from a full jam with all the guys. “Ten Lizardmen & One Pocketknife” was literally what popped in my head when I was trying to name those riffs, which ended up inspiring the storyline; the first verse being a dream about playing Dungeons & Dragons, the second is waking up from the dream and being abducted. I am not 100% sure how it ended up that way, I just trust completely in the process and follow where it leads me. I am pretty grateful that people are responding to it so positively.

Speaking of storytelling, you must have a “road story” or two to share?  …

We’ve been around for a long time and have lots of stories, some good, some awful and some hilarious. By far the best road story that I can think of goes back a few years. We played a venue in a town north of Indianapolis, and there was a band from a smaller college town (we’ll call them Dr. Wicked) playing that night. Dr. Wicked had brought a huge crowd with them and the entire club was literally filled with skinheads. Most of them had tattoos covering their skulls. Dr. Wicked wasn’t a skinhead band, however, they were a Marilyn Manson type of shock rock band. They wore heavy eyeliner, spiky hairspray hair and those long jackets with all the superfluous bondage straps. They had many keyboards, but the keyboard player only played one. They had no drummer, just a drum machine. They brought a giant wooden cross into the club and had it onstage. We had already played and were drinking our share of band beer. After a few songs, a girl who was with the band came out wearing a tiny thong bikini with black tape on her nipples (which explained their large following haha). She ‘sort of’ of danced around like a rhythmless stripper while they played this horrible racket. At some point the singer ‘chained’ her to the cross with her hands above her head as she was writhing around. Eventually he took his guitar headstock and rubbed it in and around her crotch while she kept pretending to enjoy herself. Two more songs of that nonsense and the show was over. We packed up our gear and were driving to stay at a relative’s house when a member of our entourage (who was not a member of the band) demanded that we get a hotel so he could spend some quality time with a young lady he had just met. We argued for a while and he agreed to pay for the hotel. He insisted we go to the same hotel where Dr. Wicked was staying, assuming we would all go to the big after-party that people were talking about, leaving him alone with the young lady. We finally got a room three doors down from the Dr. Wicked band and crew. After loading in our sleeping bags, myself and our original guitar player walked down to see what was happening at the ‘after-party’. We got within about 15 feet of a group of people standing outside their room and the singer was standing there, with his genitals out in his hand, saying “yeah baby, that’s how Dr. Wicked does it, harharhar” we looked at each other and immediately turned around and went right back to the room. “No thanks!” we laughed. So now our buddy has a dilemma, we’re all crashing out in the hotel room and he didn’t know what to do. I fell asleep and woke up a few hours later to what sounded like a bag of cornchips getting squeezed over and over. Turns out it was the bed next to me, and our buddy, with the girl. I tried to block it out and eventually fell back into a deep slumber. Not all the guys were as lucky. Some were awake the entire time. Haha... oops. The next morning, there was a huge knock at the door and people yelling for us to open up, but we ignored it. Turns out it was the cops. The bass player and singer for Dr. Wicked had gotten into a terrible fight over the girl with the nipple tape. Some skinheads jumped in. There was blood on the pavement. The police had shown up and taken them to jail. Everyone was gone except us and the guy who drove their equipment truck. He was waiting for them to get out of jail so he could get the keys and drive home. The moral of the story? Don’t let some horny dumbass convince you to get a hotel room, just go with the original plan, and don’t ever play a show with Dr. Wicked.

Photo credit: Jaki Cunha.
Has the band been able to tour the record and are there upcoming plans to hit the road to create some more road stories?

We haven’t toured as of yet for the new record. We do have a many of plans on the horizon, including some shows with Lo-Pan in the Midwest in July... and we’re planning to hit the east coast soon. Hopefully we’ll be able to get out and get all over, we’ve waited 10 years to do it right! 

Can you tell me the who, what, when, where, why and how of this new Devil to Pay album?

The ‘who’ are myself on vocals & guitar, Matt Stokes (bass), Chad Prifogle (drums), and Rob Hough (guitar). The ‘what’ is still up for debate, but the ‘when’ was last summer and the ‘where’ was Azmyth Studios in Indianapolis, with Ryan Adkins and M.P. Lyons behind the board. As for ‘why’, we just never quit, I suppose. There are always new songs to finish. The ‘how’ is pretty straightforward; get in a room and start jamming. I liken it to wood carving. You have these chunks of wood, they have various shapes. You get to make something out of them. 

I think the album pretty much speaks for itself in terms of promotion and enticing readers to pick it up, all they need do is listen really.  But is there anything you can tell me about the album or the writing / recording of it that I may not already know?

I’m not sure? Let’s see... there are still a handful of ideas that were never finished, probably enough to make Fate Is Your Muse 2: Electric Boogaloo? 

So the Pacers didn’t make it to the finals but Indianapolis boasts a small handful of amazing bands including your own Devil to Pay and Apostle of Solitude which shares a drummer with some other band called … The Gates of Slumber, or something?  Anyway, Apostle of Solitude has a new album coming out in the near future, yes?

Apostle of Solitude was started by my friends, former Gates of Slumber drummer Chuck Brown (who plays guitar & sings in Apostle) and Corey Webb (drums) back in 2004. I’m pretty sure I recommended Corey to Chuck when he was still playing with the Gates but wanted to start a new project. I joined a few years ago, along with Bob Fouts (current Gates of Slumber drummer) on bass. So technically we don’t share a drummer. Apostle is finishing up the songs for the new album at this time. But there are lots of other amazing local bands in and around Indy: Coffinworm, Goliathon, SoSayeth, Radiation Sickness, Devils of Belgrade, and that’s just scratching the surface.

I love your blog, ‘Steve Janiak's F'n Rock & Roll Jamboree & General Hoedown’.  Lately it’s become less of a rock & roll jamboree and more of a dumping ground for your dreams.  Fair or no?

My blog was supposed to be a music vlog . I have tons of footage of my bands and friends bands and other bands and just haven’t found the time to put it all together. I started putting my dreams up there one day because Facebook is a jumbled mess of crap, honestly.

Do you write down all your dreams?

I don’t. I don’t always remember them either, it’s frustrating. When I can, I will write down as much as I can remember. It’s best if I type it up shortly after waking from the notes, I end up remembering more.

I tried to do that for a little while but I was always too tired to get them down on paper.  I guess the obvious questions are why do you do it and what do you get out of it?

Well I am not sure exactly why I do it other than I find them entertaining.

Why do you think dreams reflect reality the way they do?  And are they the origin of the human imagination or creativity?  I’m talking way back, like, caveman era.  I mean, do you think there would even be art and mechanical ingenuity if dreams were more strictly representative of reality?

I am of the opinion that dreams are sometimes direct communication from the subconscious and sometimes from others who have passed on, but they are coded so abstractly that their actual intent is a mystery to the awakened mind. I can’t really say if they are the origin of anything, but my guess is they have played a major role in human development.

So, speaking of reality, you recently had an epiphanic experience involving a shiny or bright object, is that correct and would you care to elaborate a little / correct me if I’m wrong?

I did have an experience but it didn’t involve any shiny objects (editor's note: Having gone back and re-read the original Bloody Good Horror interview, the 'bright shiny object' I was referring to was in fact the TV screen itself).  I was initially reluctant to even bring it up because A. I am not sure what exactly it was, and B. I don’t want that to be the focus over what the band has accomplished, but eventually I went with it because it puts the lyrical shift into perspective.

What happened to me, as clear as I can explain it is this: I was sitting watching tv with my laptop as I often do in the evening, and something popped into my head, almost like an errant thought. Although I immediately recognized it as ‘not myself’, I wasn’t really concerned or frightened, mostly amused. It more or less told me that all things are one thing, all things are connected, and there is no separation. There was a bit more back and forth before I realized it had stopped, and then it kind of hit me. “What the hell just happened?” I told my wife about it and that was it. Then, the very next day I was searching for this podcast I had stumbled onto three weeks prior on the way home from practice. I heard it on NPR. It was a Radiolab episode about the Placebo Effect. It was so good I sat with my truck running to hear the last 20 minutes of it. I listened to it all over again, and that began what I call the ‘mad search’ of ‘following metaphysical breadcrumbs’ that lasted the better part of 2 years. I turned into Roy Neary from Close Encounters of the Third Kind, minus the Devil’s Tower sculpture. I was obsessed with anything paranormal or new age. It was like I went from a skeptic to a believer in a matter of seconds. I was discovering the work of Walter Russell, Jane Roberts, and Edgar Cayce. At the same time I’m reading about shamans, spirit molecules and astral traveling... I was also wrapping my head around Hugh Everett III’s many worlds theory, current ideas of multiple dimensions and grasping at straws with quantum mechanics. Everything coalesced for me, every day it got heavier and heavier, with each new thing strangely overlapping into the others, to the point where I was constantly talking about it to the exhaustion of my friends.  But the ideas were being validated, the coincidences were all clues. My entire world-view had changed, it was glorious. I wasn’t the same doubt-filled, negative person any more.

Philip K. Dick.  Artwork by Robert Crumb.
Are you aware that the sci-fi author Philip K. Dick had a similar experience?

I had read about Philip K. Dick’s experience years ago but never put too much thought into it. It sounded interesting, but it also sounded like he hit his head and imagined it, you know? Now I know better.

It’s just interesting to me that something like that could be the catalyst to a mind-expanding experience.  Like a key composed of pure light.  Amazing.

Well, I’m pretty sure anything can be a catalyst to a mind-expanding experience. All you really need to have is a real desire for it. It will find its way to you, believe me.

Okay Steve, now we come to the games and activities section of the interview, are you ready?

I’ll give it a shot!

I’d like to play a little madlibs type game here.  You just fill in the blanks … we’ll call it ‘Paranoid libs’, even though that doesn’t quite make sense now does it?  But that doesn’t matter because this whole idea is          stupid  , anyway.  Right, so now we know how this game works, let’s go up, up and away:

Dreams are      visions?           into the           inner realms? .  They make us                       see and feel?   and they make us           interpret?       things in a       different?       way.   They     can mirror?    reality, because reality is             a window of our desires and beliefs?          , nothing more than      dream itself?  .  Through dreams we can             learn? and     grow? , they also allow us to take our            fears?  and     shatter?          them across the             big rocks of delusion?           .
Excellent!        Pay me big money?   for playing ‘Paranoid libs’,      I am not sure what happened there?           !

Now, my brains maybe not work so right so I’d like you to complete a few sentences for me.

Man, I could really use a(n) … endorsement with Gibson guitars!

The best album I’ve ever heard is … either Sabbath’s Master of Reality or Masters of Reality’s debut or Faith No More’s The Real Thing or perhaps Janes Addiction’s Nothing’s Shocking or Danzig’s 1st album or the Full-Custom Gospel Sounds of the Reverend Horton Heat. Or maybe something by the Beatles. I can’t be sure.

But the best guitar solo of all-time is … probably not on my own list, but I am partial to Walter Becker’s guitar solos, the ones I can sing along to.

I read Paranoid Hitsophrenic blog because … there’s so much good new music out now, I need to hear it all!

Look, all I really want to say is … listen to your inner voice, pay attention to every coincidence (as there are none), and most importantly, uplift yourself!

Perfect!  Steve, thank you so much for playing along and hanging out with us on the blog today.  I extend a virtual handshake to you sir however clammy my palms may be.


  1. Hey (remember the introduction?), he did it again! ^^^ Isn't this guy just the greatest? You are indeed welcome my good man!


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