Memento Interview

Memento Interview 

07.20.2003 : Chicago

MementoMemento band photos by Brian Milo

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?

Justin 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?

Justin 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?

Justin 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?

Justin 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?

Justin 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?

Justin 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?

Justin 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.

Photo by Mark Coatsworth of

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?

Justin Stewart 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 a beat?

Justin 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?

Justin 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?

Justin 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 come back?

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?