INTERVIEW: Peter Guzzardi (Written In Ashes)

By Jett Black

Chain Border

Big noises underground develop slowly and seldom break through to the surface. For several years now, Written in Ashes has developed a strong and steady following in the Pacific Northwest of the USA. Releasing their first full-length (Eternal) in '97, Written in Ashes went on to appear on Cleopatra's The Unquiet Grave compilation in '98 with NightFeast. Followed closely by an ep entitled Eclipse in '99. After releasing the track Please to Doppler Effect's Transcendence compilation (2000), Written in Ashes now unveils Epiphany on RainCloud (a subsidiary of RainForest Records) just in time for their first tour.

All musicians contributing to Written in Ashes are seasoned. Some are veterans of many continuing musical projects such as Sumerland, and Noxious Emotion. Other projects have included Nocturne, and Monochrome.

With distribution services now through Projekt Darkwave, Nightbreed Recordings, and Metropolis Records, Written in Ashes is as accessible as an evening breeze.

Peter Guzzardi, lead guitarist, emerges from the ashes of Monochrome to join other rising stars within Written in Ashes. Recently, Pete opened up a few doors to reveal skeletal treasures about the family tree of musicians rising up from the Pacific Northwest, particularly through the hands that have become Written in Ashes. Let's tune in now as Pete divulges the goods:

Let's begin with Monochrome. Give us the background on what you were trying to pull together.

I started Monochrome in 1995. We wanted to do something that was sort of a cross between The Sisters of Mercy and Duran Duran. We played quite often and in various states of being. Unfortunately, we weren't all that talented and things went the way they often go for bands that don't have 'The Whole Package.' But the positive thing that came out of Monochrome was that I met a lot of interesting people. Monochrome used to open for Megan's (Fritter) band at the time, Nocturne (of Portland). And as many people know Dave Battrick was the drummer in Monochrome. W.I.A. was just starting when Monochrome (and Nocturne) broke up. Fast forward 3 years later: Keyvn Hay and myself were talking, and I ended up playing lead in W.I.A. Which is obviously where I am now.

As a guitarist, what do you believe you bring into Written in Ashes?

Well, the first two players (Dave and Nathan) are probably better players, and there's really no probably about it. I don't/can't replicate what they were doing. I should say that both their styles are somewhat similar. I am more 'The Rock Guy.' I bring a style that's far more aggressive. And to that extent, I believe the other members are pleased with the change. I don't subscribe to any of the conventions of 'Goth,' or 'Darkwave,' or 'Industrial.' I think it's far more inventive to take from the past and mesh it with your own style. While I purposefully try to break stereotypes of the aforementioned genres, it's easy for fans to get 'the wrong idea' about my intent and the band's direction.

Please describe how you believe each band member contributes to Written in Ashes' overall musical style.

Personally, the band's members all approach the material (old and new) from decidedly different angles. While Dave and I are probably the most similar in taste and style of play, I think the variance of styles is helpful to getting across the musical themes we are all trying to do. How this plays out when we move to the studio, as this line-up, remains to be seen. I'm sure the up-coming tour will serve to solidify the core values of the band. And often times having creative pushing and pulling helps a band to write more original creative material and I'm sure everyone wants that, I know I do. I don't think anyone, especially me, is interested with rehashing, or maintaining the party line of any particular genre, or sub-genre for that matter. It's really, for me, about creating the new genre by collaging what would be seemingly unrelatable musical styles. That's how the classic bands have all done it (The Banshees, The Cure, Jane's Addiction, Sisters, Bauhaus, Specimen). Did I say that?.

What did you do to keep making music after Monochrome dissolved?

Jason Carter (Monochrome's lead player) and I began recording more of the New Wave & Twin Peaks styled stuff we could get done in Monochrome. We used an MPC 2000, Roland Juno, Nord Synth, A Yamaha CS-15, a DR-5. Very eclectic demos. That was a lot of fun. We're good friends, Jason and I. And it kept us going.

What influences your guitar playing style that produces the 'aggressive' edge?

Well, the stuff I listen to, compared to the other members, is a bit more mainstream. Stuff like Duran, Janes, Joan Jett, Slayer, Devo, alot of Metal and New Wave, generally from the 80s. So, I suppose I just play in the style I am accustomed to hearing. But there's no doubt it's a heavier style than had existed before, for better or worse.

Tell us a little about the 'creative pushing and pulling' that goes on between Written in Ashes members in the rehearsal studio.

LOL. Well, to be honest, there isn't much tension in the writing process. We're all pretty laid back about that, mostly. I think what gets brought to rehearsal, when anything does, is the direction that everyone see the band headed in. That is to say that some may have different aspirations than others. So, if you're writing to sound one way and another is writing to sound another way, well there in would lie the 'pushing and pulling' aspect. But generally rehearsal is very casual.

You mentioned 'core values of the band.' How would you describe the core values of Written in Ashes?

I'd say that the most important value we have is wanting to put out a quality product. We are all very different people so it makes it hard to have a straight 'party line' across the board. But I feel everyone wants to drop quality releases and play quality shows. No one is apathetic, about quality.

You mentioned that Fritter, who provides half of the keyboard contributions for Written in Ashes, had a band called Nocturne a few years ago. What can you tell us about Nocturne?

Well, Nocturne was _THE_ band when Monochrome started. They were an act that had 'The Whole Package' ... in my opinion. Everyone did what they were supposed to do on stage. They were a very talented, hard working act that most other bands strove to emulate, in one fashion or another. I don't think they always knew how well people regarded them, or how important they were to a lot of the other bands. If you ever got a chance to see them do Prayer For Rain, you know what I mean. Just very good stuff. They had one release though (as far as I know). It's unfortunate that there wasn't more material.

What did Fritter contribute to the music of Nocturne?

Well, musically I had very little contact, concerning what she wrote and didn't write. On stage she was as you would imagine. Very cool and professional.

Who do you admire most in the musical specialty of lead guitar performance?

Well, probably Dave Navarro from Jane's Addiction. The Edge, Robert Smith, of course. Andy Taylor from Duran. All these guys have that nice bed of atmosphere and enough power to push it when needed. That's the playing I like, heady but willing to rock.

How does song writing evolve from the perspective of your contributions?

Chris and Kevyn come up with most of the newer stuff. I generally try to embellish first. And then once a part or two is set, then begin to push the rhythm. The writing process in this band is a bit intuitive.

When & where will Written in Ashes be touring next?

We go out either September 30 in San Fran or October 1 in Salt Lake City, Utah. We'll be on the road until the 14th of October with nearly as many shows. Should be a lot of fun.

How prepared are you now for the upcoming tour?

Personally? Well, I have to get out the canteen and some field rations, but musically, I think we're all good to go. We've got some old chestnuts working and some new tracks on deck. We've been doing a lot of work for all the release shows (9/6-10) and for the tour. It should be something to see.

What do you look forward to most about the upcoming tour?

There are a few cities on the tour I haven't seen. It's always cool meeting new people. Most of my family lives in L.A. So, I'll have them come to a few of the shows. Musically, it's nice to begin 'locking in' and being a unit. That kind of 'well-oiled machine' attitude. I'm also looking forward to stages full of fog. The more fog, the better I feel.

Prior to the tour itself, what exactly does Written in Ashes have planned to debut and promote the latest release, Epiphany?

We are doing the K-Boo.org webcast Wed Sept 6th, a show at The Cobalt Lounge (here in PDX), a listening party at Bar Of The Gods, and then we have an in-store at Music Millennium NW. Readers can get all that info at the website: http://www.writteninashes.com.

Mark Blewett is a name inextricably attached to Written in Ashes releases and live performances. Why is Mark Blewett such an "indispensable" member of Written in Ashes productions?

Well, he's the man responsible for the live sound. He's a heady guy musically. Mark gives you the straight story about what's working and not working. He was also the drummer in Nocturne. I know Battrick relies on him from that angle. He's just a good friend, very honest and objective. An all-around asset to the group, PLUS he's got the bitchin' hair.

When did Christopher Robin join Written in Ashes?

About a week before I did. He was in a group called Mechanism when Nocturne and Monochrome were around. Everyone has known everyone for awhile. Jason Carter and I had worked out with Chris in the period following the demise of Monochrome. Chris is a great writer and singer as well. You can always depend on him for crazy stories...and the pictures to prove them.

How does Christopher Robins keyboard contributions differ from those provided by Fritter?

Can I take the 5th? That's a tough question. He and Megan have been trying to get most of the LPs material down. Often they are doing parts that are similar, at least to me. Chris is a programmer/writer first (I think he would say). There's an aspect of one school as opposed to another. Kind of the old Apples and Oranges theory. Both are very talented, smart players. Pro-level for sure.

What is it about the music of Written in Ashes that is benefited by having two keyboardists contributing to the music?

I suppose the idea is to allow for the other elements to have room. Megan plays a lot of drums, so having Chris allows her that space. Chris also uses an ASR, so if he's on that bit of gear we've still got the synth pumping. You gotta have LFO's and phat filter sweeps.

What do you enjoy most so far about performing live with Written in Ashes?

The wine... Nah, I like the attitude that we have about live shows, which is to 'perform,' not just stare at our shoes and moan. It's good to be in a group that likes fog and lights and power. You know, being about THE show.

How often does Written in Ashes gather together its member for rehearsals each week?

Well, we generally get together twice a week, sometimes 3 times. We have a nice comfortable studio at Mike Draper's house. Everyone there is very accommodating.

What do you believe you accomplish together during these rehearsals?

You know I've often asked that very question of the band. I think to begin it's to get Chris and I up to speed, which is there now. Second is to keep the rust off the set-list. Third is new material. After the tour I know the emphasis will be on new material. I think everyone is excited about that period.

Tell us a bit about the most memorable performance you have had with Written in Ashes to date. Which bands were on the bill? In which venue? And what was most memorable about that performance?

Faith and the Muse was the best show I've done. It was nice having a full ensemble. It was at the Paris (Paris Theatre, Portland, Oregon).

How is Written in Ashes evolving?

We are developing a good chemistry together. We're getting tighter. Personally and musically. I'd like to write material that reaches a larger audience than strictly 'this genre,' or 'that sub-genre.' I think we're getting there.

What lies ahead for Written in Ashes musical developments?

I know the band will come off this tour very tight. I know we'll be ready for new material to be written. I know we have ideas that want to come out. Personally, I think our crew is pretty talented and capable of doing things musically that people probably won't expect, or believe we can do.

What milestones have you reached in your personal musical interests and development?

Jeez, that's tough. I wouldn't say there has been a one single 'milestone' reached for me. If one had, I would hope it would be able to make people understand where I'm coming from musically. That is to say, if someone were to approach me and say, "I didn't really get how this kind of music was related to that kind until I heard you." That would be a giant milestone for me. To get across that philosophy of mine, that only by hybriding seemingly unrelated musical forms do you really become that break-out bad-ass band/performer. I don't like musical stereotypes especially the Goth/Darkwave kind. A lot of people in the scene complain about how the genre is dead and no one's interested. I think a lot of people are too elitist, or afraid to change how things are done, image-wise and musically speaking. If I could convey that to people, I suppose a milestone might be reached for me.

What would you most aspire to accomplish?

I'd like to be respected as a guitarist. Not for talent level, but for that kind of influential player people dig; a Daniel Ash or Robert Smith. But that's many years down the road.

Thinking upon pride and satisfaction, what gives you the most pride and satisfaction?

Wow, that's another tough one. I'm probably never really satisfied. It seems like things could always be better for me. But I'm proud of the effort I make in the group and how I try to approach this band. Personally, I guess it would again be my work ethic. At the end of the day that's all you really have, work (i.e. Art) and family.

Where can our readers find audio and mp3s of Written in Ashes music?

The website has some. And MP3.com (http://www.mp3.com/writteninashes). I do know the group picture hasn't been updated, so that's not me in the black and white group shot. The website has updated pictures.

Where can readers write with any further questions and feedback?

WIA web - http://www.writteninashes.com/
WIA email - bludsukr@earthlink.net

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