Memento : Interview : 07.20.2003
by Dave Dalka
Memento is definitely one
of the most compelling new bands of 2003, the album has heartfelt lyrics
layered with thoughtful music that if promoted heavily to radio should
tear up the currently humdrum alternative charts. The band Memento is
made of people who were trained in a variety of genres from classical
piano to jazz throughout thier development and you can hear the difference
in this album. It clearly shows. One listen does not do it justice,
it grows on you like a fungus. Now, straight from Ozzfest, Music Frisk
brings you our interview with the band Memento...
MF: Your current Active Rock single "Nothing Sacred", was it written about a certain individual or a variety of experiences?
Stewart Cotta of Memento: "Nothing
Sacred" is more about looking in the mirror and pointing the finger
at yourself to be honest. Taking responsibility for the things that
aren't necessarily sacred within yourself. You go through that age,
whether it's twelve or in your twenties, there is a lot of finger pointing.
There is a lot of why me? How could you do this to me? How come all
this happened to me? One day you kinda wake up and you are extremely
cognizant of the fact that you kind of put your self in a lot positions
through your own actions. There is potentially something that is not
holy sacred within yourself that you might want to work out first before
pointing a finger at everyone else, I think that was the basis for that
song. It ties in with the title, the lyric "the color of my bites, yes
they remind me of you". That's a precursor in the first verse to that
first phase of blaming things on people, whether it's bruises physically
or emotionally that you are constantly reminded of a certain individual
or certain people. By the end of the song it's about taking a good look
at yourself and basically getting over yourself…
MF: That's gotten some pretty decent active rock airplay; do you know what the single after that will be?
Stewart Cotta of Memento: I
have a feeling that "Saviour" is probably a song that everyone is really
happy with. We'd love to get to "Beginnings", if we get that privilege
of a third release - that would be an awesome scenario, we're really
keen for that song to be heard. But there is a song before that and
it will probably be "Saviour". Sometime later this year it will probably
come out… (Editor's note: I later
confirmed that "Saviour" will indeed be the next single to drop in September
even though an informal poll of Memento message board visitors definitely
would have prefered "Stare" as the choice).
MF: I ask because "Nothing Sacred" recently lost its bullet recently…
Justin Stewart Cotta of Memento: We had a good run for a baby band with a song that was not overtly commercial. The company wanted us to go with songs like "Saviour" or "Abyss" first. We were fairly adamant that with Ozzfest and how we wanted to establish ourselves, we think it's really important that the first song you release kind of stamps an identity on you, so we really wanted to go with "Nothing Sacred" first. That's why it's first on the album as well, it's our first step.
MF: You mention "Beginnings", it takes a lot of balls to play that song which primarily features an acoustic guitar at Ozzfest like you did today…
Stewart Cotta of Memento: We
didn't know if we had them ourselves until the day of the first Ozzfest
show! We were sitting around talking about it twenty minutes before
the set and we are like, 'this song is the core of what we are', we
should play it. We decided we had to be honest and put forth the best
songs that truly define who we are in the time we are allowed. It's
worked out well for us and has gotten amazingly good response considering
the crowd in attendance. I'm glad we made the decision that we did.
MF: Recently you were quoted as saying "This album (Memento's debut "Beginnings") challenges God to address the cesspit that has become planet earth."
Justin Stewart Cotta of Memento: Wow! I must have been in a great mood that day…(laughs)
MF: Please expand on what you meant by that, it's an interesting statement…
Stewart Cotta of Memento: Yeah,
well, it's the classic circular religious argument you have at one in
the morning staring at the stars with your friends, like if he…or she…is
out there, ya know, the whole free will argument, I understand and I
get that having grown up in Catholic school and all that kind of jive.
I understand the freewill thing but at a certain point you've got to
cut your losses and if you've got a control button. I'm just wondering
how much worse it can get before you actually hit the (pauses), if it's
all true, don't get me wrong I don't claim to subscribe to any particular
religion, but I did grow up in Catholic school, so that's kind of been
burned into my brain, the metaphors, the stories and the fables. They
are all there, subconsciously. I'm just wondering at what point you
press the eject button. It's like plan A ain't quite working out, let's
go to plan B and maybe fix things a little. But ultimately, you realize
there are billions of us on here and it takes a large group of people
to make things work. Things are so splintered right now; it's hard to
get a group of people to do anything. It's hard enough just to get a
band just to agree on things and, ya know, put out an album - let alone
the world coming together! I know it's kind of a silly thing to hope
for, but that comment really comes from a hopeful perspective. It's
like there's got to be something, there's got to be a way out of this
rat race. I'm not necessarily talking about war and atrocity, even just
the day to day grind of people going to work and not really living.
Even that is kind of depressing. It doesn't have to be dramatic. It's
a weird world. I'm not the first and not the last by any means to wonder
why the world is not a little better - a little more "Sesame Street".
You know what I mean? I mean that is what we are fed as kids, like you
see all these cartoons and movies with happy endings and its happy ending
after happy ending after happy ending and you get in the real world
and you are not prepared for the fact that's the rare occasion, it's
not the norm at all. But yet up until you are a teenager, everything
you see on TV or everything that you are allowed to watch by the censors
is all beautiful, it's all great, it's all Disney. You are not really
prepared for the carnage, whether it's, ya know, work-related or war-related
or the poles melting, whatever it is. It kind of smashes you in the
face when you wake up to it in high school; it's like "OK, so nothing
I heard was true…"
MF: When you grew up you played classical piano and Steve lists his main drumming influences as jazz drummers - these aren't the typical hard rock credentials - your thoughts on how this makes you either better, different or whatever…
Justin Stewart Cotta of Memento: Better is a dangerous word, I think different is a good word. I was attracted to Steve's drumming the first time I jammed with him in VAST (Visual Audio Sensory Theater) when I came to audition for VAST from Australia. It was one of the main reasons I wanted to really join the band because we had a really cool connection at the very first VAST jam, it was meant to be a twenty minute audition and it went for three hours! A lot of that was because after we played the songs, the VAST songs, we just started jamming and moving it around, particularly me and Steve. I was really taken away with his obvious jazz influence that he melted into rock. Really clever tasteful things, not necessarily chops or fills - just more of a feel thing - he had a sensibility for the song and for the jam and I just thought I saw a guy that I could play music with for a long time. It's great with his jazz background and a bit of classical in my life, there's a nice little crossover there. Not that we have a progressive album by any means, maybe Figure 8 kind of lends itself to more progressive rock. I was just really interested in songs and so was Steve, he puts a nice little taste on things to keep it interesting. It's just great to play with talented guys. Space, the guitar player, is heavily Hendrix influenced but kind of warped, because he also listened to Tubular Bells when he was a young kid from the Exorcist soundtrack and he was affected by that pretty deeply as well. So it's not necessarily classical influence from Space, but Hendrix meets "The Exorcist" meets trippy guy to me equals really cool guitar sound. In between the three guys, and Lats who actually was largely responsible for Figure 8, that was his baby. Just a bunch of guys that get along, have different influences and they work well together…
MF: You mention Space and Lats, you were here then (in the USA) and they were still in Australia, how were you aware of them?
Justin Stewart Cotta of Memento: Space and I have been jamming together and playing in bands together since 1994. We were in a band called Tower (If anyone has this Tower stuff, please contact me I'd like to hear it) in Australia which we did about three years - had a really cool underground following, borrowed money, went into debt to make our own CD, couldn't get a deal, didn't bother us, whatever, did our own thing, and at the point where we had no money left and we were drained from playing 250 shows a year with absolutely no love, not even from a distribution company, that's all we were after, just to help get it to other states in Australia, we couldn't even get that happening. At that point we took a break, got back together a couple times and recorded more, and then I heard about the VAST audition. I basically stayed in contact with him (Space) the whole time. Not sure what was going to happen, cause when I did audition for VAST there was a part of me that thought I could stay in VAST if it was going to be collaborative. Didn't turn out to be that way and that is no disrespect. Jon is a very effective songwriter and arranger and really didn't need support. Whereas I always came from the classic band setup where people jam and have a good time and talk about things as a group and do things together as a group. Thus calling Space after Steve and I decided to quit, I told Steve look "I know the guitar player". He was like, "Man that is a long way". There is a guitar player on every corner in LA, which is where he lived and he's like I can find one. I'm like "No, dude trust me, I've got the guitar player, it's all good." And Space in turn had been jamming with Lats in the Tower down time, he became really good friends with him. I'd seen Lats play in his band back home and he'd seen Tower, he used to be at the Tower shows, had his Tower CD and we signed it for him. So we all know each other. It just worked out perfectly. We got off to a brotherhood start before we even started in a lot of ways.
MF: What was the process of recording this album? Being a new band that often comes out quite different than you expect it to…
Stewart Cotta of Memento: There
was a lot of jamming. Nothing Sacred was initially conceived, the basics
of it were conceived on the VAST tour bus actually. We told everyone
we were quitting but we had eight weeks of touring left and we said
we'd make good on our commitment and see the tour through so that no
one was left in a lurch. Of course when you know you are about to do
something you get excited and you are like, 'Dude, I've got my eight
track here, let's just start.' Jon goes off and does press, it's better
than sitting around and doing nothing. Let's bust it out and start jamming
and writing, Nothing Sacred was one of those songs, Aybss was one of
those songs. Then the more 'jammy' stuff obviously happened two months
later when the boys landed. Figure 8 is a classic, no one knew what
was going to happen at rehearsal, we were bored of practicing the set.
We had a few songs that we were writing that we were ho-hum about and
we're like let's just play. Let's turn the lights off, put a lamp on,
low lit room, jam and see what happens. About four hours later we had
this twenty minute thing we recorded, we narrowed it down to twelve
minutes, but we didn't want to narrow it down any further because it
just felt so complete and to take any part away would have been too
much self censorship. A lot of jamming...A lot of time Space will come
in with a fairly complete musical idea, I put the lyrics and melody
over it and the rhythm section will jam out the bass and drums. Sometimes
I'll bring in with an acoustic idea and the jam will start from there.
Each song has a different catalyst, if you go through the album, as
I said Figure 8 is Lats' baby, Savior is Space's baby, Nothing Sacred
and Beginnings is my baby.
MF: Everybody gets input…
Justin Stewart Cotta of Memento: Yeah, exactly! It's a four way thing. Not to get into the business side of it, but that's how we do our song-writing splits as well, everyone's the same, whether you are the drummer or the singer you get paid the same and there is no separation there. U2 springs to mind in that regard, been together since high school, I remember reading an article about Bono in the Edge and they are talking about longevity and they said that was one of the key factors, everyone feeling equal in a band was a key to it lasting. They have their fights, but they get over them. In the crazy world that is music at the moment you don't need anything to handicap you, let alone internal strife. So it's best to just keep everything straight up, everyone's happy, everyone's equal, done.
MF: Speaking of
Figure 8, it's kind of a unique song in terms of its length and breadth
and changeability, about the only recent thing I could compare it to
would be Something Corporate's "Konstantine". You talk about how your
music has some critiques of the world and problems, but you also talked
about the positive aspects, like the phrase, "Make your demons your
friends", how did that come about?
Stewart Cotta of Memento: That
came about, just sick of being scared, sick of being nervous and scared
and just like, negative. Instead of kind of denying things about yourself
and going, you know what if I just ignore that part of me it will go
away. I found that wasn't working, I tried it for a good ten years.
That plan. You talk about if plan A not working go to plan B, we were
just talking about that before, I had to apply that to myself. It definitely
wasn't working. Denial kind of was convenient for a while but ended
up being even more destructive, so I just made friends with my personal
problems and personal demons, got to know them a lot better. You get
to know them a lot better you can nullify it. You can kind of blot it
out once you work out the code, but to get the code, you've got to actually
befriend it. That is part of the infinity, 'Figure 8', thing is a lot
of the time in addressing it, it takes you back to that really depressing
place. But going to the depressing place gives you a bit of hope, you
get through it. But then you've got to go to the next place and deal
with that. So it's a constant kind of ebb and flow. It's not exclusive
to me by any means, every person goes through, it only hit me recently
at about the time we were making this album.
MF: Speaking of plans, any touring plans set up after Ozzfest and geography such as Canada, Australia or Europe potentially?
Stewart Cotta of Memento: I
think at the moment the focus is very much on the United States. We
came here for a reason and it's a massive country. It's the home of
Blues, which makes it the home of Rock, which makes the home of hard
rock and metal and all these other things that are out there. It's an
appropriate audience for the kind of music we want to play. So we are
more focused on staying here for as long as we can tour. We are at 112
shows including today's show at Ozzfest and we'd like to see that up
around 250 by the end of the year, physicality holding up of course.
But if we're all good we want to get up to 250 shows and keep touring
next year, take a week off for Christmas and keep doing it. Our focus
is really on staying here. It's the United States, it's a bunch of countries
in one in a lot of ways. It's big enough as it is. It's a place that
we want to play, it's important to us, the bands that have come out
of here and the history that it has, there's no better place to play.
I don't mean that in terms of audiences are cooler here than everywhere
else. Everywhere has cool audiences, but just the population and the
amount of people that are into music. Even today at 9AM in the morning
today there was 4,000 or 5,000 people here man scattered around this
place. That's pretty rare and you got to give it up for that and that's
why we love being here.
MF: You are known for some pretty outrageous stage antics: the "Duct Tape Mohawk", the jumping in garbage cans, there is probably some others that you'll tell me about…
Cotta of Memento: Yeah, there's
been some others…(laughs)…
MF: Where does that
originate, it's pretty unique in terms of your willingness to interact
with anything around you in a random fashion. Some people can't do two
things at once, but when I've seen you go into a crowd, you don't miss
Stewart Cotta of Memento: A
lot of that is a real desire to meet people and like, there's like a
barrier, especially today even more so than a club show, there's a good
ten feet - I can stretch out as far as I can and the person in the front
row stretches out as far as they can and I'm still two feet from touching
their hand. I just remember when I'm at shows and I've had the privilege
of being in the front row what a good feeling it is to make eye contact
with the bass player, guitar player, drummer or singer. It's a great
feeling when you are seeing one of your favorite bands, or a new band,
and there's that connection. So, from the audience I always felt that,
so when you're on stage, for me, it hasn't changed. I still feel the
exact same way, the coolest part is making contact with people. As far
as the weirder stuff like trash cans and all that, I think you've got
to keep yourself interested, I don't believe in, unless there's something
really stupid about to come out of your mouth that's just going to piss
people off, I don't really believe in cutting off your impulses, unless
it's going to affect the liberties or freedoms of other people, etc,
etc. or hurt any one. I like to follow those little impulses and sometimes
its four minutes before a show, it's like, I'm sick of being the bald
guy, I'm gonna have a Mohawk today, bamm, done! Or whether it's a pink
moo-moo dress which has happened, or army boots with an extra, extra,
extra large blue t-shirt that comes down to your ankles. A lot of it
is keeping yourself interested, and in that way you are staying true
to your audience because if they still see you are still interested
and your still passionate about what you are doing even though you've
sung that song a billion times or it's the hundredth show for year,
it's a good way to keep yourself in check and in touch with reality,
which is people are there to be entertained. Some people are there to
heal. Some people are there just to listen. Some people are there just
to drink, but overall people are coming to see something and have an
experience and you got to be a part of that experience. So, however
you keep yourself interested is perfect. I don't do drugs, so I don't
have that luxury, I've got to keep myself interested in other ways.
This is my vice right here, nicotine, my bad… A lot of it is fantasy
too, a lot of its escapism, sometimes you are sick of being yourself,
you're sick of hearing your own voice, ya know, sick of a lot of things.
Sometimes you want to try to be, not someone different, but a different
part of yourself…
MF: You talked about the front row and you mentioned people who come there just to drink - sometimes people come there just to mosh or be a jack ass - they don't care about you, they aren't going to buy your CD or t-shirt - where do you see that trend going?
Stewart Cotta of Memento: Well,
there's two sides to it. I mean it's great there's people at a show
for a start for whatever reason because at least they are seeing a band
and they're not playing Playstation. Again, I love Playstation, but
I love movies and DVDs and everything like that but it's great to see
people at a show regardless because I could have done something else.
There is enough options out there, especially in America, there is so
many different forms of entertainment. I don't have to come to a rock
show to have fun that day. I could have gone go-cart racing (there's
a track next to the venue we were at) today or whatever, there is a
billion things to do. So, the fact they are there is great. As far as
the negative side of it, I try to look at that as a challenge to get
their interest. If they aren't paying attention, get in the trash can,
dump it on yourself, wrap the trash can around your head and sing through
it and poke out the eyes and stare the person in the face that is not
paying attention. In a lot of ways, I kind of see it as a positive.
I don't know where it's going to go to answer your question fully. But
to be honest, I'm just happy there's people at venues watching bands.
I think it's healthy. What I don't like it when people get hurt and
I don't like when someone gets hurt because of someone being a jack
ass. If someone gets hurt because they hurt themselves, "dude you made
your bed, lie in it." But when there is a young kid there or there is
a fourteen year old girl who gets a Doc Marten boot smack bang in the
middle of the face, that really pisses me off. She didn't come there
for that. A lot of people do come there to watch the bands so it's kind
of disrespectful. It's very selfish. I'm really not into people getting
hurt at rock shows or anywhere for that matter. It's not what it is
meant to be about.
MF: And the direction of music in general?
Stewart Cotta of Memento: Hopefully,
more people will start listening to more music. I think there has been
a lot of angry music recently. I think that maybe people are starting
to get that out of their system. What I am seeing talking to you, talking
to others in the press, talking to my own bandmates and talking to the
crowd, there seems to be this leaning toward melody and lyric at the
moment as a kind of recovery from the hangover that is a lot of heavy,
angry music over the last few years. When I say few, you could even
say ten or fifteen years. All kudos to Kurt Kobain for helping that
come about. It was much needed. I think just as much as that was needed
then, not that I'm a musical prophet because I don't really know what
I'm talking about, it's just a feeling I have, I think melody and lyric
and that feminine side, not that there should be an expense of that
masculine energy, but I think it's just creeped in a bit more and it's
been a bit more equal now. I think that is a really cool thing. Especially
as someone who grew up really loving like Annie Lenox for example, some
of the beautiful melodies and the tone in her voice that comes that
warmth that comes from that feminine energy. A guy who does it really
well is Maynard. We are in awe of Tool, we think they are an amazing
band, collectively. But he particularly has an ability to be extremely
angry with his vocal and has the ability to make you cry and that's
just like, "Shivers up the spine time." It will take you from that angry
place and let you know that it can be OK and you can actually get through
it. I think that's coming back and Tool have a lot to do with that and
hopefully I'm right for once in my life…it would be great to see that
Later Justin wrote this:
"Thank you for your amazing interview and your time!"
- Justin Stewart Cotta of Memento
Did you know Justin, Lats and Space are huge
Tommy Emmanuel fans? Learn about Tommy.
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