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Infinite Impact In A Finite Existence: An Exclusive Interview with AARON NORDSTROM of GEMINI SYNDROME

By Curt Miller, Pittsburgh Correspondent
Monday, August 8, 2016 @ 1:53 PM


"At the end of the day, weíre all in this together. You can either fight against the current and push people away or accept the community of which youíre a part. Separation is all a matter of perception."

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GEMINI SYNDROME is a band built around the concept of dichotomy. As such, their lyrical content tends to reflect both sides of the issues they address. They certainly donít shy away from difficult topics, nor do they leave things opened-ended or listeners hopeless that answers cannot be found.

Memento Mori, the bandís soon to be released sophomore record and the second in what will be a trilogy of concept records, deals directly with the goings on in the world around us. Using powerful songs combined with thought-provoking lyrics, itís a great reminder that life is precious and what we do while weíre here very much matters.

Aaron Nordstrom, lead vocalist at GEMINI SYNDROME, took some time to chat with me about the new record and much more prior to the bandís show in Pittsburgh. Hereís what he shared with me.

KNAC.COM: Memento Mori, to be released August 19th, is a concept album; the second in what will be a trilogy including your first record Lux. Whatís the idea behind the trilogy and specifically the concept of this album?

NORDSTROM: Lux, meaning light, was kind of a light to the world, our first shining light, our birth basically. The lyrical content for that record comes from my earlier years, coming of age and getting comfortable in my own skin. I talk a lot about the albinism stuff, being different and being outcast from my peer group.

Memento Mori means remember that you have to die, ďRemember We DieĒ being the title track. This album is more or less about the current experience, give or take a few years. Itís about coming into adulthood, stamping your mark on the world and realizing that eventually itís going to end. Itís not an infinite existence. Life will be over someday. Itís about coming to grips with mortality, knowing what you can do while youíre here and not taking it for granted. Money, drugs, sex, sports or whatever easily sidetracks people and they forget that you can do more with your time here.

We havenít nailed down a title yet, but the third record will be more or less the ascension, trying to understand what comes after this.

KNAC.COM: Beyond the concept, thereís a message to this record. The idea behind the song title ďRemember We DieĒ is thematic. What do you hope listeners will take with them after hearing the record?

NORDSTROM: I hope people have some mindfulness of their own mortality and appreciate the very thing I say before we play ďRemember We DieĒ live: ĎThe people you love and the people who love you, donít take them for granted.í Iíve experienced a lot of death in my life, and at least for me personally, the majority of the time it wasnít the result of a terminal illness. It was immediate and that person was gone. You donít get a warning sign for it. It comes out of absolutely nowhere and suddenly that person is gone.

One of my teachers and mentors growing up passed away a few years ago. I got a phone call at midnight from his son. It was really late and I didnít know why he was calling me, so I didnít pick up, and then he called me right back again. I knew immediately that this person was gone. For months after, I would pick up my phone to call him because he was my go to guy, but realized that I couldnít. Thatís a really big part of this message. Appreciate the people you have and what you have, even in the crappy times, because they shape who you are and your entire existence.

KNAC.COM: While the tenor of the album is dark, thereís a dichotomy to it, as well. Itís not totally hopeless. Does a song such as ďOn PointĒ provide some insights into whatís necessary for things to improve, the idea of realizing that you canít learn anything if you think you already know everything?

NORDSTROM: Itís a very Taoist idea and it came from years of failing and learning lessons the hard way because of arrogance. The whole principle of GEMINI SYNDROME is based on dichotomy, so we talk about a lot of dark things, but thereís always some hope to it. Stating that youíre going to die isnít morbid. Itís true and it doesnít have to be a bad thing. Itís just a fact. Itís no different than stating that there will be a sunrise and a sunset. Itís not meant to be depressing. In a sense, itís meant to be a slap in the face. People need a reminder that this is going to happen. Itís easy to for people to think theyíre going to be here forever and can do whatever they want. Thatís just not the case.

ďOn PointĒ, in particular, is written as a conversation. The first verse is the arrogant person telling someone, ĎI know better than you do, soÖí The rest of the song is my response to that, saying like, ĎItís such a shame that you feel that way, that you canít learn anything from anyone else. You already know it all.í

Thereís old-school Kung Fu wisdom that teaches: I canít fill your cup if itís already full. If your cupís full of tea and you want tea from me, youíre going to have to empty your cup first. Otherwise, it spills over and you lose all of it and then you wonít retain anything.

KNAC.COM: Some of the heavier bands have gone the direction of screaming vocals. Yet yours remain mostly clean and decidedly melodic. Does the mood of a song and its lyrics come across better using more melodic vocals?

NORDSTROM: Yeah! I can almost blame my mom for that. [Laughing] She used to say, ĎI canít understand what youíre saying.í But dude, I love Randy Blythe and LAMB OF GOD. I love that kind of music. I grew up listening to FEAR FACTORY, MESHUGGAH, DEMON, HOZIER, EMPEROR and all of that stuff. If youíre screaming 100% of the time, though, the impact gets lost. Itís like, ĎOkay! We get it. Youíre pissed.í Thereís a whole gamut of emotion that can be expressed. To take someone on a journey, which is what music has always done for me, Iíd rather include really soft singing and high, soaring melodies that can make you feel something. When the time is right, then yeah, you scream.

Thereís definitely screaming in our music and my screams are more developed on this record, almost more death-metal, guttural style. There are also some high-pitched ones, kind of taking a page from Chino Moreno. In the middle of all of that there are lots of vocal harmonies and choir-esque stuff. It can put you in different places instead of riding the same wave the whole way through. It ebbs and flows the way life does.

KNAC.COM: Do you do most of the writing for GEMINI SYNDROME or are all of the bandís members equal contributors?

NORDSTROM: Itís fully collaborative. Everyone has input. It may be me or anyone else who has an idea that gets shut down or one that is accepted, but thatís just part of writing music with other people. Each member has the opportunity to say whatever he wants.

KNAC.COM: Kevin and Kane Churko seem to have the magic touch as producers, just this past year having been behind several of the top metal releases. What was your experience working with them in the studio?

NORDSTROM: We did a couple songs with Kevin, but the majority of this album was with Kane. Theyíre not hands off by any means. Rather, theyíre very hands on. Just like within the band itself, there might be an idea that we had that Kane didnít like and heíd propose something else. Maybe it was a better idea and we were like, ĎGreat! Letís do that instead.í There were also times when we had ideas that Kane didnít necessarily like and we fought him tooth and nail on them until he was kind of like, ĎAlright. Iíll let you do what you want with it.í

The input and communication was always back and forth with those guys. Theyíre very involved. Theyíre not just there to press record. Their whole philosophy is to try to make the best songs they can. Thatís why you hire them. This is almost a direct quote from Kane:

ĎIf you come to me and want me to do a record with you, Iím going to do my best to make that record the best that it can be. If I see something that isnít the best it can be, Iím going to suggest otherwise. If you arenít open to that at all, I donít want to work with you because youíre coming to me as a producer in order to enhance what you already had.í

If you want someone to just press record, then look elsewhere. But if you want input, then thatís the place to go. In some regards the producers have become additional members of the band during the recording process. Weíve worked with them on two records and itís kind of a family thing at this point. I just moved to Vegas, so I see them more than everyone else. We get together and have barbeques.

KNAC.COM: Along the lines of production, itís becoming more prevalent for bands to incorporate more technology into recording, things such as samples and triggered kick drums. Is it more demanding to recreate recorded material live as a result?

NORDSTROM: Yeah! The more perimeters you put in it, the more things can go wrong and the more things will go wrong. For example, on Memento Mori there are lots of keyboard parts. Iíve played piano for 30 years and spent a lot of time doing keyboards, so we wanted to add those layers and an orchestral feel. It isnít the same raw, though. We donít have a keyboard player who plays live. Thatís run on track. So yeah! There are more elements that go into it. Thereís even a quote from Jim Morrison that I canít say verbatim. Back in his day he kind of predicted that this is the way music would go as technology got more advanced and people had more options. It can be used for good or bad, obviously. There are bands that just run tracks and lip-sync, which isnít what weíre doing. Weíre using it because we canít have five other people on tour and on stage with us. I canít have a keyboard player and five backup singers, so I try to utilize whatever is most realistic to get the sound across without being hokey about it or faking it.

Hopefully, itís adding to it. If youíre going to use those elements, they have to be an addition to the music, not a hindrance. Thereís certainly way more stuff that can go wrong, too. Iím personally not very tech savvy. Luckily, the guys in my band are.

KNAC.COM: Youíre headed out on a headline tour in support of the new album. Likewise, this has been a big summer for festivals and multi-bands lineups such as Warped Tour. Do headlining tours give you better access to fans or was it more of a timing issue given the release date of Memento Mori?

NORDSTROM: Itís definitely more intimate in the sense that you have more one-on-one time with people, more face time after the show or even during the show because youíre that much closer. Thereís something to be said about playing to a few thousand people at those festivals, too. Those are really cool. You get in front of people who may not have heard you before and just having that many people being involved creates a lot of energy.

One drawback to festivals is communicating with those coming to the show. Thereís a lot of media stuff. Youíre going to all of the radio stations back to back to back. Then you go to a signing, but you only get 15 seconds with people to sign their posters. The beautiful part of those events is coming out and doing a headline tour like this thereafter. We make it a point after every show, and before if we can, to stay until the last person is gone or until the venue kicks them out. Thatís when you get to meet people and create friendships.

I can go virtually anywhere in this country now and I know at least somebody if not a few people who I look forward to seeing. We keep in touch and that just builds the community and family even more. Festivals and headline tours kind of complement one another, but theyíre definitely two different experiences.

Itís definitely nice being able to do interviews and hang out with fans without being on a time crunch, but on the performance end, thereís something fun about festivals. Thereís something pretty cool about walking out to thousands of people. That partís gnarly, but itís really not any different to me when we play a small club thatís packed. If itís only 250 people, but itís wall-to-wall, then itís that same energy condensed into a smaller space.

KNAC.COM: The new album broaches some very heavy topics and leaves listeners with a lot to think about. What does GEMINI SYNDROME do to maintain the balance, to find ďorder from chaos?Ē

NORDSTROM: Okay! So, I study Chinese Kung Fu. That helps keep me centered. Brian (Medina) and I are into the esoteric stuff such as esoteric mystery schools. We live this record on a day-to-day basis, trying to understand the balance of mortality and using your time appropriately. Trying not to take things too seriously, but not being a total jerkoff and not caring about things either. We write about these things because we live them. If not, weíd be writing about something else. If my life revolved around strip clubs, Iíd probably be writing about strip clubs, but it doesnít. Iím not saying that strip clubs are bad, the people who go are bad or the music that can come from that is bad, because itís not. That just happens to be the path theyíre on and this is our path.

KNAC.COM: Does the music create an outlet for you to deal with the events happening in the world around us and is it your hope that fans will find a refuge therein as well?

NORDSTROM: I would hope so. I did an interview a while back and one of the questions was, ĎDoes art imitate life or does life imitate art?í When we were doing the vocals for ďZealotĒ, Kane and I did a couple hours straight with me in the booth, this little booth with all of the lights off. I came out for my first break, we always had the news on because Iím a news junkie and thatís when the attacks on Paris were happening. If you read the lyrical content of that song, itís about religious zealots. I came out of the booth and religious zealots had killed 134 people. I went outside and cried, and then I went back in and finished recording the song.

I was recording vocals for another song on the record when San Bernardino happened. We were recording these songs in the moment as these mass killings were happening, killing all because of religious or racial divide. None of it matters. It makes no sense. Weíre all people. It is scientifically proven that, whether youíre white, black, Asian, African, whatever, the DNA structure of every human being makes us the same species. Iím albino, paler than everybody you know, but Iím no different than I guy from Nigeria.

People talk about Judaism v. Islam v. Christianity. Theyíre literally talking about the same god, just called by different names. It all comes from the same teachings. Itís all the same. Itís a matter of how people interpret it. After writing songs about those exact issues and then watching people getting shot live on TV, I was heartbroken. I went outside and cried for about twenty minutes. So yeah! Weíre definitely paying attention and the music certainly gives us a way to process it.

KNAC.COM: Whatís the most important thing for fans to know about GEMINI SYNDROME?

NORDSTROM: At the end of the day, weíre all in this together. You can either fight against the current and push people away or accept the community of which youíre a part. Separation is all a matter of perception. Itís all in the mind. We put up walls, barriers and labels to push people out, keep people away or to make us better or worse than others. Itís just a perceived notion. Weíve been part of creating a community family with our fans and that gives my life purpose. I get a lot of messages and people talking to me at shows telling me how our music helped them get through XY&Z. Iíve heard some really heartbreaking stories from people, but our music was able to help them weather their storm. Thatís the end goal. Thatís what itís about. Thatís what matters.

Somebody came up to me at one of the first shows on this tour and said, ĎIn case you ever wonder if youíre doing the right thing, you know if you impact one person, then itís worth it. Know that you should be doing what youíre doing because you impacted me, and if Iím the only one, which I know Iím not, then youíve already succeeded.í

Though Memento Mori makes it clear that life is finite, the impact we make on others and the world around us carries on well beyond our time here on Earth. What we do while weíre here matters and GEMINI SYNDROME hopes to spread that message via its music and the community being built around its band.


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