An Interview with Rob Beckley of PILLAR

Interview by Ray Van Horn, Jr. - October 2006

Pillar has just released their new CD, "The Reckoning," in both a standard edition and a Special Edition which includes packaging and a bonus DVD featuring over two hours of footage including a live concert and track by track commentary on every song by the band. Our own Ray Van Horn, Jr. caught up with the band's Rob Beckley and talked to him about the new CD, the climate of music today and much more.  I’m intrigued by your comments about the music scene in the U.S. being confined media-wise to New York and L.A., in turn making a case for other regions like the Midwest, Oklahoma in particular where you guys are from.  I’ve always commented on how the music radar just seems to be concentrated on those hubs almost purposefully, almost as if in order to make it at all, you have to do it in those places. Given your perspective from the Midwest, let’s have you elaborate a little on your position of good music coming from locations other than the big two.

Rob Beckley:  I just know of so many bands that have started and there’s so many bands out there that nowhere near those places.  In Columbus, Ohio there’s a parade of bands coming out of that area!  It’s just weird to me.  I think a lot of the reasons are it’s so convenient for an A&R rep that works in L.A. or New York to just walk down the street or catch a cab over to the Nokia or the Rainbow Room or wherever and go catch a show and they see this amazing band and they get all excited about it and they go home to their beds at night ... it’s a lot more work for them to actually travel somewhere, to fly into Akron, Ohio or Tulsa, Oklahoma and go catch a show and be gone two days and then go back.  It’s work on their part to actually go out and seek these bands out.  I really don’t know why it is.  L.A. and New York are very trendy areas and there’s a lot of creative minds there, so obviously the pool of creativity is larger to draw from.  I guess that’s why there’s so much stuff that comes out of there, I don’t know.  Do you feel there’s something of a concentrated effort to—generally speaking—keep the “outsider” territories out of the limelight?  You can even add Nashville, I suppose, as prime music territory, specifically for country music.  I know your label is in Tennessee, so that’s perhaps a unique angle to generate a perspective ...

Rob Beckley:  Honestly, there’s not a lot of bands that come out of Nashville; there’s a lot of bands that move to Nashville.  But I suppose so; I wish I understood the industry more.  I guess that’s why we choose to live in Tulsa.  There’s nothing industry there!  Garth Brooks lives there and that’s about it, Hanson came out of there, and the All-American Rejects are from around there.  Why is everything considered out of the radar?  It’s so hard for me to answer the question because I honestly haven’t a clue and I have the same question!  So I guess if you can answer it, then we’ll both know!  (laughs)   In my opinion, that’s seems to be the case. It’s interesting you brought up Columbus because there’s a lot of great bands from there and Cleveland, you know, Mushroomhead and Billy Morris…it’s fucking criminal sometimes. 

Rob Beckley:  It just saddens me.  You’re like ‘Gosh, there’s so many good bands!  How do they not get recognized?’  Honestly, it could be that there’s not so many A&R people working for the labels anymore, they can’t afford to travel, they can’t afford to get away from the office as much as they used to.  Record labels used to have tons of A&R guys!  That’s all they did, was travel the country and watch rock shows or whatever genre they’d watch.  Well, you could probably tell me from the band’s perspective that most of the money is made on the road selling merch ... 

Rob Beckley:  Yeah.  I think that’s part of the thing, most of the money that’s being made—the little there is of it—okay, to use an example, the new Norma Jean album was announced as debuting at number 33 or whatever on Billboard with unit sales of about 22,000.  This is obviously good for today, but wheel back to the eighties and 22,000 would be looked at as small market!  That kind of big-league market is just not available anymore! 

Rob Beckley:  Exactly.  There’ll never be another Def Leppard or Michael Jackson or Garth Brooks selling 20 million records on one album!  There’ll never be another Hysteria in the rock world again!  Glancing through your guys’ backgrounds, you guys seem like a bunch of regular homies with families, children, houses and rock'n'roll. Do you feel that having the best of both worlds, so to speak, kind of grounds your band so much that it reflects in your always-evolving music? 

Rob Beckley:  I never really thought about it, but yeah, that probably plays a big part into it.  I guess we never really get a chance to really get caught up in being a rock star, because when I get home I still get in trouble for not taking the trash out!   Yeah, that’s a good perception of it there!  You don’t even know me!  That’s awesome!  (laughs)  Thanks, man.  I always appreciate bands doing something with honesty and integrity and to me, it resonates better when you know that…if you know the band Seemless, they all have families and regular jobs.  I wish they could make it to the next level because they’re so damned good, but they’re adamant their families come first, and I think that’s just incredible. 

Rob Beckley:  That has been tough for us.  I’m the first to say it.  We hosted Headbangers Ball about two years ago and I didn’t get to come out and host it because some family things that I needed to be with my wife for.  She probably could’ve survived, but I told her I’d be there and when it got scheduled, it was like ‘I’m sorry, man, I just can’t do this!’  It meant the world to my wife.  Sometimes the industry people didn’t really see eye-to-eye with me on that.  They were like ‘You can’t do that!  We just booked you on Headbangers Ball!’  I was like ‘That’s cool, but there’s three other guys in the band that can cover it!’  The world’s not going to end if all four of us aren’t there! (laughs)  The Reckoning is your most diverse effort in comparison to previous albums like Above and Fireproof.  It seems to me this transition was kind of birthed on the last album Where Do We Go From Here, which means on your new album you take a journey of sounds that Pillar has toyed with in the past to newer grooves and approaches, thus kind of creating a sort of internal timeline, if you will.  Do you see it that way at all? 

Rob Beckley:  Oh, absolutely, man!  We’re very concerned when we’re writing a record with how we’re writing the songs.  We never want to write a song that we’ve already written, you know the Nickelback Clause, or whatever you want to call it.  We don’t want to write a song where you (laughs) put one on top of the other and they play together, you know?  With that in mind, it’s tough, because it’s our fourth record and because we have changed, it’s easy to write new songs when you evolve your style a bit.  Papa Roach is great at that.  I really, really respect that band and they way they’ve grown and they’ve changed.  I kind of feel the same way about us.  We didn’t want to make the same record; we haven’t come close to making the same record!  We put a lot of work into this record physically and emotionally, just the blood, sweat and tears, you know?  That’s the type of fuel that it takes to keep making records that don’t sound the same.  We wrote over a two-year time period.  As soon as we released our last record we were like ‘All right, look, we don’t want to run into a situation where we don’t have enough material to make the next record,’ or we’re trying to write within a two-month time span.  Exactly. 

Rob Beckley:  When we were touring, we were setting up every day in the dressing room so that we could just jam and write!  The work that went into it collectively was probably more work on this one album than the last three combined.  I believe it!  Some people might consider The Reckoning a bit schizophrenic with the heavy Sevendust-like sound of “Crossfire” to a more eighties-based rock feel of “Resolution,” and then you’ve got the outright pop of “Angel in Disguise” and “Wherever the Wind Blows.”  I don’t detect any direct methodology to the album’s diversity, but there’s an obvious all-over-the-place element to The Reckoning.  How do you explain all of this? 

Rob Beckley:  The biggest thing was that we really had the mindset that we didn’t give a crap.  We stopped caring, you know?  Everyone tries to make these records where you have to have the single and everything else you kind of write to that vibe in order to get the record out.  Whatever happened to the Pink Floyds and the Led Zeppelins, bands where you can sit down with the entire freaking record and it’s awesome from start-to-finish?  I’m not putting us on a platform with those bands at all, but my point is that we focus on making a record and not just writing one song and then putting a bunch of filler stuff on there.  So with that in mind, the writing process went over a year and then we started recording in three sessions for a little over another year.  When you’re writing a record over that long period of time, you suffer different emotions, you have different vibes that you’re going through, you capture different kinds of moods with the music.  It’s not like you go in to write a record and record it in a certain timeframe where everything does matter, but I think all of that plays into the diversity this record, by having that long time span, because “The Reckoning” was the last song that was written and it ended up being the title track.  “Everything” was one of the last songs and “Sometimes” was probably one of the first songs in the sessions that we had. We were joking around trying some stuff and it ended up being a song that sounded like a single, maybe that red-headed stepchild on the record!  I’m glad you brought that song up!  

Rob Beckley:  That’s a fun song!  Absolutely!  I was going to say I’m a real sucker for that song! 

Rob Beckley:  Listen to this, when we were picking the songs for this record, none of us wanted to admit that we liked that song!  (laughs) 

Rob Beckley:  Every single one of us would finally go “Yeah, dude, let’s put it on the record, that’s a cool song!’  Everyone else was like ‘Yeah, I love that song!  That’s my favorite song!’  Every place we go, that’s what we’re finding out, and I’m not ashamed of it!  I don’t care if it’s a pop rock song!  We wrote it and it’s a killer song.  Dude, I’m telling you right now, my wife listens to Top 40 radio, doesn’t listen to much heavy music at all.  Normally she runs out of my office when I’m doing my work, but when she heard that song, she sat down and said ‘What a great song that is!’  I mean, look, I know you’re releasing “Everything” first, but you can easily capitalized with “Sometimes.” 

Rob Beckley:  Exactly.  Everyone’s in agreement that “The Reckoning” is a good lead-in track but it’s not the best song on the record.  We’ll see.  I have no idea.  There are so many debates going on right now about what the second single should be.  I personally don’t care what the second single is; we’ll play whatever.  We can play the songs we recorded.  We’re not a band that can’t play what they’ve recorded, you know?  Where I’m going by pointing out all of this diversity on The Reckoning is that you guys have written a set of tunes that you can attack many corners of the rock market should you wish to.  Do you feel that this presents any challenges to your band’s identity?  You could easily go in one direction and miss another angle or vice-versa, if you get what I’m saying.

Rob Beckley:  Well, I don’t think so.  Like I said, we wanted to write a record that we felt good about and it scares me a little about formulas.  This is rock'n'roll, man!  There are no formulas as opposed to having to write the radio hit first.  Yeah, there are formulas in rock'n'roll but we wrote a record that doesn’t follow blueprints!  We can talk about songwriting and recording ethics in today’s scene.  What do you feel certain bands today lack in the process of recording and releasing new material?  Music today is so much easier to do.  I mean, from my standpoint as a music journalist, I’m frankly astounded by number one, the amount of bands out there and number two, the amount of product that comes out so fast! 

Rob Beckley:  Right.  Records are being made a little bit cheaper now.  It seems like a band puts out a record every so many months now.  Even the bigger bands don’t have to wait every three years to put out a new record.  Why not let your career build?  Record labels don’t want that; they want that record out fast.  They don’t care, just put a couple of good songs on there, it doesn’t matter.  Cash cow commodity mentality.  It’s heartbreaking because there are a lot of good bands out there not being given a chance at proper artist development.  

Rob Beckley:  Yeah.  We’ve been doing this for nine years now and that’s exactly what time did for us; artist development.  That was not as important for our band to have more exposure four years ago because we weren’t ready for it!  Now I feel like we’re a band that can play every night with Sevendust, one of the best live bands I’ve ever seen!  We’re not going to be afraid of that now because we’ve developed as a band.  

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Copyright © 2006 by R. Scott Bolton. All rights reserved.
Revised: 31 Jul 2018 23:38:09 -0400