Sub-Etha, Doug Adams and Jungian philosophy
Travis Jewell hails from Weston and plays bass in local band Sub-Etha (Hint: Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) along with J.B. Tenney, of Elkins on guitar and vocals, and Paul Lamb, also from Weston, on drums. They have been playing together locally for over 20 years in one form or another, with Sub-Etha being their first project focusing on original, recorded material.
The band recently performed at the Riverside Blues Festival as backing band for B.B. King’s daughter, Shirley, and others, as well as their own showcase.
The recently released self-produced debut title “Intro to Paradox” is 42 minutes long (another Hitchhiker’s Guide reference) and contains seven tracks.
The youtube link below contains the CD in its entirety.
Facebook page: www.facebook.com/BeginningOfficial
Graffiti: How was Sub-Etha conceived? Were you guys friends prior to the band’s formation or did the concept of being in a band bring you together?
Jewell: Paul and I have been playing and working together for 20 years in different bands and different instrument combinations; we were in the drum-line together in high-school and have been friends for eons. J.B. Tenney and Paul were in a blues based classic rock band about 20 years ago. The three of us have had a few spontaneous sessions over the years – for example, I sat in on drums for JB at a gig once – but nothing significant. About a year ago, Paul started sitting in with JB for a few sessions – who was doing a solo act at the time – and I started going and bugging both of them to let me sit in on bass; I saw the potential immediately. We got together, and hit it off instantly; the video of us doing the Nine Inch Nails cover of ‘Only’ was only our second rehearsal.
Graffiti: Some people might not know from what the name “Sub-Etha” is derived. What gave you the idea? How did you arrive at the decision?
Jewell: J.B. and I holed ourselves up in my apartment for about a month in March where we recorded and mixed the CD, and would spend two or three days without sleep, discussing Jungian concepts like synchronicity, duality, the Shadow, and the collective unconscious in between sessions. We had a rough time coming up with a name that didn’t come off as too pretentious. We both really love Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – which is satirical – and one night I stumbled on the term while going through the book.
In the story, the main character is hitching a ride off of planet Earth because it’s being destroyed to make way for an interstellar highway; Sub-Etha is an interstellar faster-than-light telecommunications network used by hitchhikers to flag down passing spaceships. The primary hitcher’s tool is known as the Electronic Thumb, a short, black rod that can be used to contact passing ships and ask to be let on board. (Hitchhiker’s main character) Ford (Prefect) also carries a Sens-O-Matic, a device for monitoring ships’ Sub-Etha signals, and learns from it that the Vogons are on their way to demolish the Earth. Sub-Etha is used throughout the Milky Way for any kind of data transmission, such as listening to the news or updating the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy itself. The name is a reference to the ether, which was once believed to be a medium filling the universe. So there’s a lot of symbolic interactionism occurring that ties in with the overall concept of the album.
We mixed the CD as if the Sub-Etha was kind of like a mix between an interstellar Internet/radio connection, and this was our broadcast to the heavens, begging to be rescued.
Graffiti: Were there any discussions on musical direction at first?
Jewell: We talked about ‘style’ going for a combination of hard rock and ‘organic’ electro, with the content consisting of a release of melodic melodies and emotionally driven lyrics. We decided very early on to focus on personal and social battles – the process itself was very organic – it took on a life of its own. It’s just a good symbiotic combo in several ways.
Graffiti: Shifting to the music for a bit, Sub-Etha’s sound is a bit different than what many of the bands in the region are doing at the moment. It’s definitely firmly planted in rock ‘n’ roll, but it’s not attempting to be bone-crushing metal. Much of the music could easily fit in on modern rock radio. At the same time, you guys do a good cover of Nine Inch Nails. Does the band sound today as it originally did in your beginning or have there been significant changes over time?
Jewell: We have a million different influences between us: everything from Dave Brubeck, The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Grateful Dead, Herbie Hancock, Nine Inch Nails, Tool, Bob Dylan, Hendrix, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Radiohead, Coldplay, and everything in between, the list is endless.
J.B. had been playing in New York off and on for a few years with some of the members from the band Three as well as a lot of jazz/fusion and funk with people like Zach Brock, Marshall Keys, George Clinton, and others. Paul and I came also came from a very regimented, extensive, academic, musical background. We are all musical chameleons. We have been able to cover a wide variety of material in a wide variety of situations: we backed B.B. King’s daughter (Shirley) and a couple of other acts at the Riverside Blues Festival this summer and we are doing a few jazz/fusion gigs this fall.
The sound of the album fits in with the Jungian theme of duality and paradox: heavy, but light. Dark, but bright also. Pop, but also alternative. Modern, but historical in that it is an alchemy of all of our past influences. Electronic, but organic. Original, but also a collection of covers. Local, yet foreign. We didn’t want to just go with the flow of the local music scene. We wanted to provide our own original approach to the overall mix of music coming out of the area. Blues and early rock has a strong historical tradition of reworking and sharing other material; we wanted to carry that tradition into the future as well.
Graffiti: You’ve released an album entitled ‘Intro to Paradox’. Was this the first official release for Sub-Etha?
Jewell: Yes, the whole process was very quick. We started rehearsing in January of this year and had the album mixed and ready to press by April.
Graffiti: What has the reaction been like to the new album been so far?
Jewell: Extremely positive.
Graffiti: Who wrote the songs that wound up on ‘Intro To Paradox’? Is there a specific process the band employs to create new material when the time comes?
Jewell: The first track is a reworked cover of Nine Inch Nails – “Something I Can Never Have” – and was written by Trent Reznor. The second track, Bedroom in Hell is by Three, a NY band that J.B. has grown up and played with. J.B. wrote the next four songs on the album: “All That You Feel,” “Bleed,” “Save Me,” and “Tragic”. The last song on the track – “Well, Well, Well,” was written by Bob Dylan and Danny O’Keefe. The process is very organic: Jb usually introduces a song and Paul and I start noodleing until it falls into place.
Graffiti: How was the material for the record chosen? Were there more tracks that didn’t make the cut for some reason?
Jewell: We had a strong idea of what direction we wanted to go; we were unified in purpose and direction very early on. We were all going through major personal issues and were literally purging our unconscious. Once the tracks were recorded, we realized that this was happening and tried to arrange the songs and create an arch to the overall theme: it begins with the conflict inherent in relationships as it descends into decay, the questioning of existence, identity and consciousness, parasitic relationships, regret, then finally a reaching out to ‘other’ for redemption – which is where Sub-Etha as a concept fits it – and finally a letting go after confronting the darkness, the Shadow. The theme of paradox ties in with the ancient redemptive theme of confronting the darkness to see the light. To live is to die, and so on. Once we had mixed the CD – strictly by coincidence – we noticed that it clocked in at exactly 42 minutes, which is significant to our association with Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: the answer to the universe in the narrative is the number 42. We were very happy with the track selection, that’s all we had to work with that early in the process; we were actually worried that we didn’t have enough material initially.
Graffiti: What was the recording process like for you guys?
Jewell: Cathartic, personal, and unifying in terms of relating to each-other; it was the first project where J.B. dumped all of his emotions without focusing too much on the technical details. It really took a life of its own. J.B. has been a recording engineer for over 20 years and oversaw the recording, mixing, programming, sequencing, etc – it was very effortless and natural for Paul and I – I recorded the bass lines in my living room.
Graffiti: The album has a really clean, crisp sound that translates into a really clear production. How did you achieve that final mix and master? Who sat in as the record’s producer?
Jewell: Again, J.B. has been a recording engineer for over 20 years, He used a Macbook pro, Ableton Live 9, and Guitar Rig Pro, the same setup that we use for live shows. We produced it together, the three of us.
Graffiti: Musicians are notoriously picky people, especially when it comes to themselves and their potential to write and perform. Are there any moments on ‘Intro To Paradox’ that someone was ultimately unhappy with and would change in hindsight now?
Jewell: Not a single thing. We are all very happy with the album.
Graffiti: Who would you guys like to go on the road with, if ever given the opportunity?
Jewell: We would like to perform with Three, based in New York. This has all happened so fast; we are taking it one step at a time. It usually takes a band several times longer to put together an album of this caliber this quickly. Ideally, we would like to go on the road with someone that would compliment our sound and approach, and vice versa.
Graffiti: What are some of the most challenging aspects of being in a band where you are located? Has anything hindered potential progress or opportunities as a result of the band’s location?
Jewell: So far, nothing has hindered the progress; everyone we have come into contact with has been very supportive. We have only played a handful of shows at this point; we are just beginning to promote ourselves and the album. The shows that we have played at this point have received enthusiastic audience reaction.
Graffiti: Sub-Etha live – what is a live show like? Are there ever any surprises like unexpected cover songs, special guests, interactive crowd participation?
Jewell: Our live show focuses on combining an audio-visual experience; we employ a projector and mix classic science fiction/horror films like “Nosferatu” and “Metropolis” with electronic and digital effects that sequences with the music. We want to take you out of this world and interact with the audience through the whole media experience. We sometimes throw in a cover to throw the audience off, for example, like “Isn’t She Lovely” by Stevie Wonder, or “Purple Rain” by Prince. We’ve covered U2, David Bowie, Pink Floyd, The Police, and Interpol, to name a few. Rob Masten of Elkins has sat in with us on sax a time or two and probably will again whenever we play at El Gran Sabor.
Graffiti: Looking a little further down the line, what does the rest of 2014 hold for the band? Have you guys even begun to think about what 2015 might bring?
Jewell: Hopefully, the rest of 2014 will see us getting the CD and the act promoted and result in more exposure for 2015.