Exclusive Interview with Contra
When I first saw Contra at Healing Waters Festival, it was after a Grateful Dead tribute band and a smattering of other bluegrass/folk acts that were all talented, but the usual festival fare. When this four piece band took the stage and delved right into their robust rock melodies, there was a burst of energy throughout the venue and everyone turned their heads to listen. Their music invokes a powerful emotion and each song takes you on a journey through different tones and feelings. After learning that their music is often conceptual, meant to convey a story or emotion, it suddenly all made sense. With heavy progressive rock sounds and influences, but dynamic rhythms and trance-like spaced out jams, Contra dances a truly unique line between heavy rock n roll and psychedelic jam. I sat down with the band to discuss their captivating sound and their album, Primordial.
Brandon Wildman – Drums
Matt Baros – Keyboard
Alex Peters – guitar
Charles Rupertus– bass
What is your hometown?
Brandon – Mayo, MD
Matt – Catonsville, MD
Charles – Edgewater , MD
Alex – Mayo , MD
Are you all living in Annapolis now?
B: Not all of us, no. We’re kind of spread out. Matt is in Baltimore.
M: North of Baltimore.
C: Edgewater area.
B: Alex is in Annapolis, and I’m in Edgewater now.
How did you all meet and form the band?
B: I guess about June of 2008, Alex, the guitar player, and I were jammin’ out, coming up with whatever we could come up with. That’s kind of what we were doing with a bunch of different people, eventually we were pulling people together and writing songs and getting serious. Charles came in about August 2008, and Matt came in September 2010.
What was some of your favorite music growing up?
C: I think a lot of us were pretty influenced by Tool. Matt was probably a little bit different. But the main core of us were into stuff like Tool, I know looking back I liked a lot of Pink Floyd, and definitely stuff like that. I know Alex does, too. We’re kind of all over the place when it comes to our music.
Would you say Tool had a big influence on your sound, or is there another band you would say influenced your music?
A: We get a lot of interesting things, there have been people who have said we sound like Tool, Iron Maiden, I’ve heard Rush. I even heard Metallica, but I don’t think we necessarily sound like that. I guess people just take what they hear within the music because it’s instrumental, and relate that to something that reminds them of that a little bit. We are all really broad listeners. We listen to anything from classical music, to classic rock, to video game music. We like everything.
I love how instrumental music can be so much more engaging and dynamic than lyric driven music. Why did you all choose to be instrumental?
B: A lot of bands with the type of music we play have singers that scream or yell a lot, we didn’t like that, it kind of takes away from the music. And we never got a singer, either (laughter).
So it kind of worked out that way?
B: We’ve gotten really used to playing instrumental, I think we’ve come to love it as a band.
What are some advantages and what are some disadvantages of playing instrumental music?
C: We get the chance to play for a lot of different people. We got to play that festival, Healing Waters, which was great. We also do a lot of local stuff, at bars and such, and we get half responses that are like “Wow your music is awesome, it’s great, but where’s your singer?” And then the other half of people go, “You know, I don’t even want to hear a singer on top of that, I just want to hear what you guys are doing, because it sounds great.” We all really influence off of each other when we’re playing, we really take a lot of feel from the audience and just feel great about playing music.
Can everyone tell me a little bit about their musical history, like how you got into playing music?
M: Started with the keyboard when I was 5 or 6. I played trombone in elementary school. I started taking guitar lessons around high school, and I have a drum set that I mess around with. But yeah, it’s pretty much always been keyboard. After a while I stopped taking lessons and just started playing what I like playing. That’s pretty much the extent of my musical education I guess.
A: I started playing guitar, not until I was 16 or so. My father plays guitar so we always had instruments in the house. I guess it took me a while to get into it, I was into sports for a while. But then I smoked some weed and listened to Led Zeppelin, and then that was that.
C: I started playing music when I was 6 or 7 years old, I started playing the trumpet. I was in band class and wanted to play something, they didn’t have string instruments so I picked up the trumpet and then as I got into middle school I picked up guitar a little bit. I played guitar for a couple years and felt like I wasn’t really getting any better. A friend of mine, Kenny, said “Hey, you should pick up a bass, you’re really rhythm influenced, you like stuff like that.” So I picked up a bass and since then I haven’t stopped playing.
B: I’ve been playing since I really early age, I guess 8 or 9 I started playing drums. I picked up the guitar and bass around 12, piano somewhere shortly thereafter. I just like to write music and listen. I’ve always gravitated towards it whether it be dancing, listening, learning. I’m just one of them cats.
How do you guys usually write music, is it a collaboration or is there a person who writes more of the music than the others? How does that process go?
A: Usually I come up with guitar riffs and show it to Brandon or Charles, and we start making up parts from there. Me and Brandon tend to write stuff, then Charles will come in after we laid a foundation down, then Matt, the keyboardist, is usually last to come up with his awesome parts, that’s usually the order.
M: I just let them know when they’re doing something wrong and how they should do it. (laughter) A lot of times it’s them starting something out then I’ll add stuff and see how they like it.
C: I would say that Matt really…adding a keyboard was a great addition for us. It really melded all of our sounds together, so I think we all have a great sound together. I don’t think we knew about picking up a keyboard, like “Oh I wonder how that’s going to work,” but then it was like “Wow, that really melds everything together.” It gives it a completely different feel.
A: Go Matt! We’re Matt’s fan club, actually.
I feel like your music fits in with the jam scene and music festivals, do you feel like your music fits in with that, and what do you think of this recent rise in music festivals and more people getting into the scene?
B: I think it’s really cool, when I was younger I didn’t really go to a lot of it so I didn’t know what it was all about, and somehow I ended up wandering into one and had a great time, and saw that everyone was all about the music and having a good time, and bringing everyone together. I thought that was such a good idea and people have been doing it forever. So it’s cool, I think there’s a lot of really good bands out there that you’ve never heard of, that we’ve never heard of, and we kind of fit into that category. Kind of our aim and goal for next year is to get ourselves out there and play more festival type shows. We get a good response. And how Charles mentioned earlier, when we’re playing locally, we play a lot of local bars. There’s not a lot of music venues around here that are available to any bands let alone an instrumental band, so we’re going to really break out into the scene this year.
C: I could say, that when it comes to performing and playing, whenever we play an outside show, we end up having so much fun, the atmosphere is so great. People are always willing to take it how it is, and not necessarily criticize but give a good vibe. We played at a couple of little, small festivals locally with some friends of my brother. It was more of a DJ thing and then they brought a couple bands, and they want to bring us back to next year. We have a chance to play at the event that we all met at. We got to play more fest shows than we ever played and we have a great scene right there. I hope we get a chance to keep doing those shows because I think the outside atmosphere is really great for us.
What’s your favorite show that you’ve played so far?
B: My personal favorite moment is when Alex kicked this girl off stage. We played this weird show and this goofy chick ends up wandering on stage, and we really don’t want for people to recognize that image with what we’re about and what we do. So that was kind of cool (laughter). As far as favorite show I can’t really put my finger on it…I’d say the next one. The next big thing we get to do is going to be our favorite.
What’s a venue that you’d like to play that you haven’t gotten to yet?
B: Ram’s Head Live is a cool place, that’s a stage that we’d like to revisit. I’d like to visit the Coliseum in Rome; I think that would be a nice, natural amphitheater.
Who would you like to collaborate with, dead or alive?
B: There are a lot of bands in the field of what we do that have a lot of good music and a huge scene. I guess Russian Circles is one of those bands that we would like to play with. As far as collaborations I think if Freddie Mercury came back from the dead he would totally be our singer.
C: Personally, I’ve always been a huge Doors fan. Always been a Pink Floyd fan, anything to do with the guys that started all of this would be hugely influential to me.
M: I’ve always been a huge Trent Reznor fan, obviously that collaboration is never gonna happen. He does that industrial kind of stuff that would go well with instrumental.
A: I can’t think of anyone, really. We didn’t really jam too much until recently. A lot of our stuff is very structured. So I guess someone to jump in and collaborate with us would be great but I really like the four piece that we are now.
I love your new album, I’m in love with the song Primordial, how would you say this album is different from the ones you’ve had before?
B: The first album started out with the idea that we would do something like Peter and the Wolf, with our own dialogue. Everything within the music itself told the story, so people could follow along with the emotion, the ups and downs. We also included a 12 page booklet with the album that had the entire story. That was one of our nerdly ideas that we put together, in a Tolkein-esque fantasy world, it was a creative story. We try to be creative and put plot twists in there to create tension. The new album we had the idea that we would do a space odyssey. So we would sit down and come up with a story, and ideas started getting lost, so we just decided it would be cool to do the theme. We had a hard time coming up with a way to categorize it, so we came up with chronicling each time period in the Earth’s history, focusing on mankind and thinking inwardly we focused on the big picture behind it. Every single song that’s on there we took the mood that what we felt that time period would have been like, and did our best to capture that moment in music.
A: We like writing concept albums; I think it adds a lot of depth to the music. I’ve always been a fan of concept albums growing up. I think I’m still a fan of concept albums. Being instrumental I think it’s really cool to try to set up a mood, like we have a song about the ice age, and we tried to make it sound…just like the ice age. To have a certain color to it, you know? Some people say they can feel that emotion, and it’s very cool to try and create that through instrumental music without even singing, to have people pick up on that vibe.
To get a little philosophical on you guys, what is your outlook on life? What is the meaning you see behind it that keeps you motivated?
B: Life in general, to me, is about respecting where you came from and the many, many generations before you. People have been people long before I was around. And I’m a big nature fanatic, I love being outside and doing that, and I believe the healing process of the Earth is first and foremost for me.
A: I like music a lot because it’s a good outlet for me, I think playing guitar is a good escape from your everyday reality in this life and the society that we’re in. It’s a fun thing, it’s a healthy outlet as opposed to, you know, drinking amongst other stuff. I think being creative is a very important thing, I think it keeps this human life going, it keeps us going.
M: I would say my outlook is to do what makes you happy, try to be the person you want to be and do what you want to do. Don’t do what other people make you do, but don’t be selfish, either? (laughter) I don’t know. My outlook is that I’m not going to try to pretend who I am if it’s unpopular, but I’m not going to hurt other people’s feelings in the process. I want to be myself and be a beneficial person.
C: My outlook is a little bit different than everybody else, from a couple of past events. Music has always been the same to me, it’s always been a great outlet of emotions and feelings. I’ve had some ups and downs recently and I like to think, before I was scared a lot about what people thought about me and what I do with my life. And now, not to necessarily say that I don’t care what they think, but I’m going to keep doing what I do whether people like it or not. If it comes to me working, or playing music, it’s the music that I want to play, or anything in life, if it’s something that I want I to do and someone else is trying to make me feel bad about it, I’m just going to turn my head and say “Well, that’s what you think.”
What do you have planned for the future as far as shows and events?
We’re going to quietly take over the world. (laughter)
We do have some local shows in our hometown, Annapolis, and the Baltimore area in the next couple of months. WE have a Halloween thing we’re doing in October. We’re looking for more festivals, like I mentioned earlier. We want to move onward and upward and play to the crowds that really appreciate the music itself, whether it be our music or others’ music. You’re welcome to like us, and you’re welcome to not like us. We really want to get ourselves out there. We’d like to thank Healing Waters for having us and giving us the opportunity to interview with Appalachian Jamwich!