New York’s hardcore giants Brick by Brick’s new album Hive Mentality will be released on February 22nd via Upstate Records (pre-order here). The LP is a reminder of how much has gone wrong in the world. While it captures our harsh realities, the album also features a handful of guest musicians including Jessica Pimentel (Alekhine’s Gun vocalist, Orange is the New Black actress), The Acacia Strain’s Vincent Bennet, and Municipal Waste/Iron Reagan’s Tony Foresta. We caught up with guitarist Mike Valente to discuss the new album, today’s society, song covers, and more.
Hive Mentality is an aggressive album that shows you guys have a lot to say, can you discuss the meaning behind Hive Mentality?
Basically, Hive Mentality is the frustration I’ve been dealing with social media and the way it plays a big part in people’s lives. I’m an older person, and I believe in a personal interaction instead of all of the social media crap. Then you have what’s behind social media, you have corporations endorsing a lot of it, and behind the corporations, you have the politicians, then you have corporations behind the politicians, and it’s just a big business circle.
It’s about the people who live their lives through social media and don’t give it a break. The future doesn’t look good. That’s where we stand on it. It’s just; people shouldn’t be sheep, they should get a mind of their own and go out and live a little. How many times do you go to a concert and people are watching through their phone while they’re videotaping it. It’s crazy. Just watch the damn show, you know. I mean, I get it, you take a picture here and there but, I don’t know, I don’t like it.
It’s more about how people are relying more on the internet and social media than real life?
Yeah. Geez, I mean I come from a generation when you took a girl out, you actually had to ask her. Now you either swipe left or swipe right. It’s like oh, give me a break. It doesn’t seem like there’s any substance to it anymore, everything’s just fed. Everybody likes the click in the ratchet now; it doesn’t suit the way I live my life.
I guess it seems that people are more divided between reality and fantasy.
Correct. Yes, I mean you have all of these TV shows that’s feeding all of this crap. It’s just never-ending. You have to sit back and think what is behind this and why are all of these messages and social media, why is everything spoon fed? I believe there’s an alternative.
What was it like working with Jessica, Tony, and Vincent on the album?
It was fantastic, all three of those people are great people. I’ve known each one of them for a decent amount of time. Jessica, I’ve known, she plays in a metal band called Alekhine’s Gun, and she’s gained popularity with the Netflix series Orange is the New Black. But, I’ve known her from before that and just been great friends with her. She has a lot of the hardcore vibe since the being from Brooklyn and being in that metal hardcore scene forever. So, she has a little attitude behind her. It’s positive but, she’s got a little swagger to her, and I thought it was perfect for the song and mentality. She jumped right in with no hesitation. She was awesome and helped with that song.
Vincent, the song that he’s on, “In the Ruins,” we did that song probably about six years ago, I want to say. We did it for a split with a band in CA called Ruckus, Bad Ground Records, it was a very limited pressing. It didn’t get a lot of attention that it should have. I love that song. Now that we have Ray in the band, that was with our old singer when we recorded it. We wanted to revamp it and have Ray play his stamp on it. Then Vincent came in with no hesitation, and he was like, ‘yeah where? When? Let’s do it.’
For “Bar is Open,” we got Tony. I come from a thrash background, my first band was a thrash/metal band, and we definitely dipped out of hardcore and a couple of different genres but, most of what we’re about. But with “Bar is Open,” it’s a straight thrash tune. I was inspired by Municipal Waste and Iron Reagan and the writing for that song, I can’t stop listening to it. It’s just one of those bands; I just love them. They remind me of the great thrash bands from the 80s such as Exodus and Slayer. I asked Tony if he wanted to do this and he was like “absolutely.” It was phenomenal, I’m like geez, maybe I should ask Tom Araya from Slayer next. (laughs). I’m on a roll here. But Tony added his stamp on it, and it was perfect. The way that his vocals complimented Ray’s on that it just makes that song, it really does.
Awesome. The last two tracks on the album were cover songs, and the one that surprised me was Skid Row’s “Slave to the Grind,” can you talk more about your decision to cover that one?
Hell Yeah. Love that song. I saw Skid Row play with Pantera back in the 90s. I know they have more of a glam aspect, but that song is heavy to begin with. We jammed it in the van one time going to a show, a long time ago and it just stuck in the back of my head, “oh that would be a great song to redo.” After we were in the van, I said what do you think of that song “Slave to the Grind?” Everybody said, ‘Yes! Let’s do it.’ We like to do some obscure stuff here and there, and it just rolls right out. We revamped it and put our stamp on it. It just worked. I don’t say I’m the greatest guitar player, by no means but I came pretty close on that lead. It’s more of our style anyway, it just fit, and the way that Ray starts that song off is definitely out of the box for him too. It was fun to do, and we had a blast doing it.
Then we did “Iron Fist” by Motorhead, and that’s on a compilation to the same label that’s doing this record, Upstate Records. They did a Motorhead compilation that features Sheer Terror, Street Dogs, Unruly Boys, a bunch of bands. We did a Motorhead song, and we picked that song because it’s fast, aggressive, and it’s fun. Why are you going to pick a song that’s going to bore you? Not saying that the other songs are boring but, it’s just that it was just, boom. We could speed it up and make it a bit heavier. That’s why we chose those two tunes.
I think it’s nice to spice things up with a few cover songs at the end of the album. It gives you a chance not to take things too seriously and to be able to have fun doing what you do.
I love having two cover songs; it was so much fun I wanted to see what we could do with it. With Anthrax, they did “Carry on My Wayward Son” by Kansas, and I didn’t like it. Simply for the fact that they did it perfectly. They did it exactly the way Kansas did, and I’m just like, “why?!” Make it an Anthrax song! But they did phenomenally; they’re great musicians. I was just so excited because all of the cover songs they did in the past, they made it a little bit heavier, a little bit meaner, but this song sounded exactly like Kansas. I said, ‘ugh you guys could have done so much more with it.’ Now, if you look up on YouTube, GWAR, did a cover of the same song and it’s phenomenal because they put a stamp on it, they made it theirs. I love it. You have to have fun with it. Maybe they had fun with it to duplicate it to how it was, but that’s not how I roll.
You guys made the two cover songs your own, which didn’t sound like replication and I thought that was great.
Yeah. We didn’t stray too far from the path, we kept it within the bounds, we didn’t bastardize it, but you just have to make it a little bit “you.”
When did you start writing Hive Mentallity?
Well, I would say probably around the beginning of last year. Our writing process is pretty loose. We don’t have a formula that we follow. My drummer and myself, we jam at my house, we go down into my basement. We don’t rehearse that often because everybody’s slammed with work, family, and everything else. When we get down there and bang some songs, I just got a lot of ideas rattling around. Jameson comes in, and he’s so easy to work with, it kind of just clicks. He knows when I’m going to change, and I know where he’s going to do this weird fill.
I would say we started jamming around these songs probably around the beginning of last year. A couple of the songs that are on there are remakes, they are our songs, but we redid them because we had a previous to write, and all of those CDs are out of print and hard to find. It’s not impossible. We chose a couple of songs from the old CDs to redo, we revamped them and kind of put a stamp on them and did covers from ourselves. (laughs).
The writing process, Andy came in with a cool intro for “Bar is Open.” Things have to click, and if they don’t click, we’ll sit on it, and we’ll put it aside and tear it apart and put pieces in that idea into another song. And if it doesn’t flow, we don’t use it. Sometimes it takes ten minutes to write a song; sometimes we have to sit on it thinking of the next part, and a couple of weeks later, we’ll figure it out.
With the new lineup, how have things changed creatively for the band over the years?
Andy is more of a technical musician than our last bass player, not saying he wasn’t any good. It’s just a different style. He’s more of a guitarist than a bass player. He’s way better of a guitarist than I am but he wanted to play bass. He brings a lot to the table with his style of picking he’s kind of similar to mine, a lot of the stuff flows. Jameson and I, we’ve been together for years but Ray, he comes in, and he goes right to the songs. When we were writing before, the songs were exciting as a three-piece and when the vocals got added it was like, OK that’s cool of the song.
And now with Ray, he brings excitement to the songs. A lot of the times he doesn’t do anything until the studio. We barely rehearse the songs and vocals until the studio, and he adjusts to everything in the studio. No one knows what he’s going to do until it happens. It’s awesome. It’s like “oh, what are you going to do, what are you going to do?” I think creatively; it gives us a spark. I like it a lot better. The writing process is more fun for me now than it was a few years ago.
What plans do you have this year that you can reveal to us?
Right now, in March, we got added to the Rebellion tour that’s going through Europe. We’ll be there with Madball and Iron Reagon, ironically. So now, we got Tony, he can, nudge, nudge, come out and sing your song, Tony. Madball, Iron Reagon, Born From Pain, a great band from Germany, they’re phenomenal. I’m excited. Last year we went out with Slapshot, and the reception was phenomenal. And this, more of our style of music, we got thrash in there, hardcore, and metal. We’ll fit right in there. I can’t wait, I’m so excited for it. Then we have the Black and Blue Ball in May in NYC. Again, Iron Reagon is on that; there’s a couple of other bands on that. That will be fun, but we don’t have any other plans as of yet. There are things that are in the works but nothing’s finalized yet.
How has the hardcore music scene change over the last fifteen years?
I think, it ends and flows. The scene in Upstate New York, it kinda dips out, and you’re like, “oh! It’s over.” And the next thing you know, there’s a weird show out there, and it’s packed.I don’t get it, I don’t understand where it’s going. All of the older bands like Sick of it All and Madball, all of those bands, they’re still doing it and still bringing in great crowds. I’ve noticed that the older people will come out and support the older hardcore bands, the younger kids will come out and support the younger. But the older bands like Sick of it All and Madball are smart, and they will tour with all of these younger bands, you get a crossover crowd.
The crowds are mixing, and things are looking like they’re at an upswing in hardcore. Metal has always been kind of straight, it’s always, metal. It has proven to be a little bit more timeless; hardcore is starting to get to that level now. You have Judas Priest and Iron Maiden, and they will play in front of the same crowd, they will sell out and do whatever. But now, I noticed like Sick of it All and Madball, the older crowds, their crowds have staining power now and they’re still writing and putting out new stuff. So now they’re appealing to the younger crowd.
Hardcore is not dead, that’s for damn sure, and it’s crossing over into metal a lot now. And now the satelite radio stations, they play everything. Before you had to trade tapes and look to fan pages, have to do all of this stuff to get the one hardcore band that would draw the attention out. You had to go to shows, had to do all of this stuff but now, everything’s a bit more mainstream. Not in a corporate way but in an accessible way.
There’s a better streamline to access music nowadays.
Yeah. I think it’s on an upswing and it’s grabbing a lot more attention.
Is there anything else you want to say or add about the new album?
I’m really proud of this one. It’s the best production we had in a long time. We did it at a studio in Albany, NY. The studio is gorgeous. We walked in and were like, “OMG, we don’t belong in here!” (laughs). We’re used to recording in living rooms and rundown studios. We booked some dates, and it was affordable and Jay Bordeau, who also plays guitar in Stigmata, he engineered and produced the whole thing. They went through the mastering process with us, did everything with us, we handed it to him, and he did a great job. If any bands are looking for a great producer, he’s got his studio, marches over it, access to anything, I recommend him to anybody that wants someone to do their next record or whatever.