Jack DeJohnette

If you're discussing the early intersection of jazz, rock and related styles, Miles Davis is an unavoidable name, and one of the players most directly responsible for helping Miles achieve his early breakthroughs in that area was Jack DeJohnette. While DeJohnette has never left the world of straight-ahead jazz and has also remained engaged with the avant-garde, this in-between zone that he explored with Miles in the late '60s and early '70s has remained a constant fascination for the drummer and pianist, from bands like Compost and Gateway right up to more recent projects like Hudson and his trio with Ravi Coltrane and Matthew Garrison.

Jack and his wife Lydia were kind enough to invite me to their home in upstate New York last summer (long before COVID!). Jack and I spoke about his time with Miles and Charles Lloyd, his connections to Earth, Wind and Fire, why he loved the drumming of both Mitch Mitchell and Levon Helm, his collaborations with members of Living Colour in his Music for the Fifth World album, and much more.

Defeated Sanity

For the first episode of Heavy Metal Bebop's second season, we have two guests, presented one after the other. They are Lille Gruber, drummer, co-founder and principal songwriter for the German death-metal band Defeated Sanity, and Jacob Schmidt, the band's bassist and co-songwriter since 2005. If you've listened to prior episodes of this show and/or read Heavy Metal Bebop interviews online, you've probably run across Defeated Sanity's name. That's because, like Meshuggah and Gorguts before them, during the past 15 years or so, Defeated Sanity have gradually evolved into an institution of forward-thinking metal, a band that open-minded musicians both inside and outside the genre look to as leaders in their field. Their work draws on the brutality of genre forefathers like Cannibal Corpse as well as the jazz savvy of bands like Cynic, creating a breathakingly diverse sound that wholly rejects the pristine veneer of modern extreme metal. In 2016, they released Disposal of the Dead / Dharmata, a "self-split" album that isolated the two different sides of their work.

Recently Lille and Jacob were in New York putting the finishing touches on their upcoming album at Menegroth, the Queens studio owned and operated by my friend Colin Marston. I dropped by and sat down with Lille and Jacob for sequential conversations touching on how Lille started the band with his fusion-loving father, Wolfgang Teske; why Lille considers the Mahavishnu Orchestra to be his Black Sabbath; why he'd like to combine Miles Davis' Tutu with death metal slams; Jacob's take on the difficulties of being a truly progressive band in an often conservative genre; and much more. If you're listening to this episode in March 2020, Defeated Sanity are about to head out on a big U.S. tour with Origin, so check their Facebook page for all the details.

Bill Ward

In an earlier episode of this podcast, drummer Kenny Grohowski spoke about what he called the unique swing of metal. In this episode, we delve into the root of that idea via a conversation with one of my musical heroes: Black Sabbath drummer Bill Ward. I met up with Bill in Los Angeles in early November for an unforgettable conversation during which he discussed why he views Gene Krupa as his definitive influence, how the behind-the-beat feel he perfected in the band's early days enhanced the sinister quality of their music, why he's just as inspired by death-metal drummers as he was by his early heroes, and much more. To learn more about Bill's current work with Day of Errors, the Bill Ward Band, and other projects, visit him on Facebook.


Pyrrhon formed in 2008, and during the past 10 years or so, they've become one of the standout heavy bands in the New York underground. At their core, Pyrrhon are an extremely intense death metal band, but over time, they've incorporated elements of noise-rock and free improvisation into their sound, resulting in fascinating and unclassifiable albums like 2014's The Mother of Virtues and 2017's What Passes for Survival. In 2016, they released an EP, Running Out of Skin, that featured two entirely improvised tracks, and as soon as I heard it, I knew I wanted to speak to them for this series. I met the entire band — guitarist Dylan DiLella, bassist Erik Malave, vocalist Doug Moore, and drummer Steve Schwegler — at Doug's apartment in Queens, and we discussed how Pyrrhon arrived at their genre-blurring sound, the influence of Miles Davis and Gorguts on their work, defying death metal's prevailing aesthetic of "perfection," and much more.

Jan Hammer

As anyone familiar with this interview series has most likely gathered, the original Mahavishnu Orchestra are something of an obsession for me — not to mention a gamechanging force in the early blending of jazz and heavy rock. Jan Hammer's passionate, virtuosic keyboard playing was a crucial element of the group, and his time with the band is only one brief chapter in his career. In this interview, conducted at Jan's home studio in upstate New York, we touch on the birth and development of Mahavishnu, as well as Jan's collaborations with great musicians across the jazz and rock spectrum, from Tony Williams, Elvin Jones, Sarah Vaughan and John Abercrombie to Jeff Beck, Eddie Van Halen, Carlos Santana and Journey's Neal Schon. Jan couldn't have been more enthusiastic or generous with his time, and it was an absolute honor speaking with him. To learn more about Jan, go to janhammer.com.

Wendy Eisenberg

Wendy Eisenberg is a jazz guitarist by training who can often be heard playing just about anything but conventional jazz guitar. That includes free improv, art pop, noise and avant-garde punk with radically inventive bands like the now-defunct Birthing Hips and the currently active Editrix. In 2018, during an episode of Jeremiah Cymerman's excellent 5049 Podcast, Wendy — who uses gender-neutral pronouns — made a passing mention of their love for the Australian death-metal band Portal, and at that point, I knew I wanted to speak to them for Heavy Metal Bebop. We met up in March and delved into Wendy's vast musical universe. Topics discussed include: how hearing Sonny Sharrock helped expand their musical horizons, why Portal is their favorite band ever, why they feel like an outsider in both jazz and metal, how Birthing Hips flourished within the context of higher education, why they're not a fan of jazz covers of pop and rock tunes, how their early love for Pantera informs the music of Editrix, what they took away from playing with Curtis Fuller and Earl Klugh, and much more.

Ches Smith

To call drummer Ches Smith merely versatile would be selling him way short. He's played the most advanced jazz with artists such as Tim Berne and massively heavy rock with bands like Theory of Ruin, and covered just about every point in between with projects like Marc Ribot's Ceramic Dog and Trevor Dunn's Trio-Convulsant. In this conversation, he discusses his early years playing Poison covers, how he absorbed the the language of bebop drumming, his time on the road with Mr. Bungle, the inner-workings of Trio-Convulsant and Theory of Ruin (a band that featured former Fudge Tunnel and Nailbomb guitarist-vocalist Alex Newport), what he learned from touring alongside Slayer's Dave Lombardo and the Melvins' Dale Crover, the metal metamorphosis of Good for Cows (his duo with bassist Devin Hoff), how he was eventually able to bring his full range of jazz and rock know-how to the table in a single setting, and much more. To learn more about Ches, go to chessmith.com.

Vernon Reid

In this series, I've spoken with many musicians who have a serious appreciation for heavy metal, and some who have plenty of experience playing it, but Vernon Reid is in another category altogether. He's a genuine legend of the genre whose band, Living Colour, achieved household-name status with their 1988 debut, Vivid. Both before Living Colour and alongside it, the guitarist and songwriter has worked on the cutting-edge of jazz, playing with artists such as drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson and pianist Geri Allen, as well as in the project Spectrum Road, a tribute to the Tony Williams Lifetime that featured Jack Bruce, John Medeski and Cindy Blackman-Santana.

In this episode, Vernon discusses the Decoding Society's unique musical DNA, how he came to work with Jack Bruce, what makes the power chord essential to his musical arsenal, why the Mahavishnu Orchestra foreshadows Meshuggah and much more.

Tyshawn Sorey

Tyshawn Sorey probably needs little introduction to listeners of this podcast. I first became familiar with Sorey via his astonishingly proficient and future-minded drumming in collaborations with Vijay Iyer and Steve Lehman, and have watched with awe as he's grown into a sui generis musical force on albums such as last year's monumental Pillars. In this episode, he discusses his love for metal bands such as Meshuggah and Gorguts, why his in-the-red improv project with guitarist Joe Morris has been so liberating, and how working with John Zorn helped him expand his creative horizons. To learn more about Tyshawn, go to tyshawnsorey.com.

Kenny Grohowski

The jazz/metal crossover can take many forms, but in the case of Kenny Grohowski, that overlap is clear and overt. Growing up as a serious fusion head, this NYC-via-Miami drummer went on to study jazz at the New School and play with established artists such as Lonnie Plaxico and Andy Milne. Metal was a later discovery for him, but as of 2019, Grohowski is now fully immersed in that scene. He regularly performs and records with the outlandish, eclectic Imperial Triumphant, as well as Simulacrum, a trio masterminded by John Zorn that draws on Grohowski's entire skill set.

Kenny and I spoke about how hearing Meshuggah helped him get over his fusion snobbery, the unique "swing" of metal, the anatomy of a Zorn session, how he's able to make his blastbeats breathe and much more.

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