Roundtable Interview With The Sterile Jets

03/17/2017 02:45 pm ET
Robert Ortiz

Sitting down with the Sterile Jets was a surreal experience. They’re intellectual, quick with a comeback, and funny. I should add here that they don’t like to categorize their musical style; but hacks have to have something to refer to, so hacks tend to pigeonhole people.

RBM is Robert Bly Moore; Bean is GS Bean; B.ILL is Wm. B.ILL Partnoff.


What is the most trouble you’ve ever gotten into?

B.ILL: What do you mean? We are upstanding citizens!

Bean: I went to jail wearing only pants once. I was with the guy that drew our album cover. Go check out his art. @doom_bloom on instagram

RBM: I haven’t been to jail; the worst thing I can think of is getting booted from my apartment over excessively loud music. A certain bass player is involved in that story.

What are the five things you can’t live without?

B. ILL: 1. My Bass. 2. My bandmates. 3. Records. 4. Bukowski/Burroughs/Kerouac 5. Lately, watching Donnie make fool of himself.

RBM: You should know, Bill will only refer to the current POTUS as Donnie.

1. Affordable healthcare, 2. a living wage, 3. equal rights for all, 4. education, and 5. civil liberties … everything DT and the GOP are trying to take from us. Too heavy? Sorry these are heavy times.

Bean: Free will and all the essentials.

What’s your favorite song to belt out in the car or the shower?

Bean: Black Sabbath, “War Pigs.”

RBM: I don’t really sing much in the shower or car, but I do sing karaoke … I’ve been told that my rendition of David Lee Roth’s “Just A Gigolo” makes people yearn for the days of hair metal.

B. ILL: I got booted off the stage at a Korean bar for my “Stairway to Heaven” karaoke.

What kind of guitar do you play? And why?

RBM: My main axe right now is a Godin Core HB. It’s a semi-hollow body guitar made by a Canadian company. I was looking for a guitar with a smaller neck (like the Les Paul) that was light and had great sustain. I do a lot of controlled feedback, so sustain is key. I also dig the fact that it’s a small company. I like supporting the little guys. B.ILL plays a Gibson SG bass, and I think that has something to do with him being such a huge fan of Mike Watt.

B.ILL: My amp is a part of my sound too, my amp is a mutt. I blast 4x1, (Hartke) cab and a 15x1 (Ampeg) to get the meaty sound. I also use a slew petals (as does RBM) to get crazy effects and loudness. Head is a Peavey.

What brand of drums and cymbals does GS Bean play?

Bean: The only one I’ll publicly say is Zildjian.

What musicians influenced you the most?

RBM: I love really unique and original bands like Melvins, Shellac, Mclusky and The Dead Milkmen. I also have a great love for old rock and roll: The Beatles, The Stones, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath. I think all of those bands have been influences. Tony Iommi, Greg Ginn, Joey Santiago and Andy Falkous are the guitarists who have probably had the most impact on my playing style.

B.ILL: Steve Harris from Iron Maiden got me to pick up the Bass; Mike Watt completed my passion for it. Music wise, Sonic Youth, Stooges/Iggy Pop, Minutemen/fIREHOSE/Mike Watt, Cows, Velvet Underground/Lou Reed, the Fall, Melvins, Steve Albini/Shellac/Big Black/Rapeman, Codeine, Mudhoney Tad, Nirvana (Bleach/In Utero).

Bean: Touring with my other band, Swampland, and recording the Badlands EP with them had a big impact on me.

RBM: Wow, that was shameless! We’ll allow it; they’re great guys.

In my review of No Gods No Loss I described your musical style as “metallic punk.” How would you describe it?

RBM: I feel like we’re a band that doesn’t really conform to a style or genre. We have a ton of influences, and those are being added to all the time, but we usually don’t write music with any pre-conceived notion of what it’s going to sound like at the end. That said, we like noise and distortion an awful lot.

B. ILL: As far as “Stoner Punk,” “Art Punk,” and “Rebel Noise,” we never gave ourselves those labels, they were given to us. People would see us play, scratching their heads and come up with words, or terms of what, they thought, we sounded like. Each listener will have their own experience. I think that’s cool. Metallic Punk rules! When people ask me what do the Sterile Jets sound like? I say ‘We’re loud & noisy.’

Matt: What they said!!!!

Where do you find inspiration for your songs?

RBM: Inspiration comes from our lives, whether that’s responding to what’s going on in the world around us, or telling stories that are more personal about things we’ve gone through. We’re becoming more and more political. Songs like “White Satan” and “Free Pork Bougie” are us coming to grips with the fucked up capitalist patriarchy we live in. We like gritty stuff, writers like Chuck Bukowski, William S Burroughs, Hunter S Thompson, Kurt Vonnegut…

B.ILL ...and Jack Kerouac, JD Salinger.

Bean: I enjoy finding ways of playing that don’t really fit and are unusual as often as possible.

I started doing a lot with my left hand this record, sitting down and figuring out ways to use it more.

What is your songwriting process? Does the music come first and then the lyrics?

B.ILL: As far as music, it’s totally up to the player. I have never written anything for the guitar, or drums, and vice versa.

RBM: It always starts with the music. Someone brings a riff or beat to a jam session and we jam on it and let it evolve naturally. B. ILL and I both write lyrics, and we usually fit existing lyrics over the riffs, once the music has been worked out.

Matt: Sometimes we’ll get really high and jam for hours and always walk away with things that just stick in our heads. These guys always have lyrics laying around. I love bringing fucked up fills to these guys and trying to build songs around ‘em too.

So far, has No Gods No Loss been well-received by the critics? By listeners?

RBM: Critics so far are digging the album, and we’re getting really good feedback on the single, “Fireside Drive.” We’re excited for the record release to see what everyone thinks of the full LP.

Will you be touring in the near future? If so, where?

RBM: The record gets released in early May, and we’re hitting the road to support it! May 12 we kick off the tour at Oakland’s Stork Club, and I know we’ll be playing Sacramento, Portland, and Seattle just to name a few places. Our management, Spark Joy Music, is finishing up the details now. Keep an eye out, the full tour will be announced soon.

Are you working on any new songs? And when might your fans expect another album?

B.ILL: We are thinking differently, looking to push ourselves again. Think Voivod.

RBM: The next project is going to be scoring the Soviet propaganda film, Battleship Potemkin. It’s a silent film, which pioneered a lot of techniques that became commonplace in movies that followed. It was also, historically speaking, bullshit. Alternative facts anyone? We see a lot of parallels with the historical fabrications laid out in that film, and what’s going on with the US (and Russia) today. It’s going to be a big project, so don’t look for anything on that front until well after the tour.

Have any major labels expressed an interest in your music?

RBM: We don’t really see ourselves as a major label band. Just like nearly every other band, we’d love to have a wider audience for our music, but I think big labels require a lot of compromise. In my opinion, art should reflect truth. In this band, outside of the opinions of B.ILL, Bean and myself, there’s no room for compromise.

Did you study music in a formal setting, or pick it up on your own?

B.ILL: As far as my bassing …. I never took lessons, I just wanted to play. I started playing with friends and that was it.

RBM: Same for me. I took a couple of months’ worth of guitar lessons when I was 14, but I wasn’t all that interested in learning music theory, so I started learning songs through guitar tab, and taught myself.

Bean: I took lessons for a while, when I was little, by a jazz drummer. That had a hugely positive influence on me. I turned down the opportunity to go to a music/art-based high school because I didn't want to be at school 8 hours a day. Then I got denied after a failed jazz try out at the high school I ended up at. I discovered punk shortly after and would only play on my terms for a long time.

The production values on No Gods No Loss were superb. Who produced it?

RBM: Bil Lane is a good friend of the band. He’s a fellow musician in the LA area, and he worked for 17 years as an audio engineer for Jackson Browne. After our last record, Liquor Store, came out, Bil asked if he could record us. Naturally, we said, “Fuck yes!” We were one of the last bands to record at Jackson’s Groovemasters Recording Studio (David Crosby had recorded there a few weeks prior) before he closed it down. Bil’s idea was to have minimalist production for the record, so that it would sound closer to our live sound.

I have to ask: where did you come up with the name Sterile Jets? It’s a totally dope name!

RBM: Ha, thanks dude! So Bill used to live in San Francisco…

B.ILL: When I lived SF, I was big drinker. My roommate at the time suggested I take vitamins. So we went to a free clinic in the Tenderloin district. In addition to handing out free vitamins, they had a needle exchange for heroin users. This older black guy comes in; no one is at the needle exchange and he shouts out (this is verbatim): “What’s a n***a to do to get a sterile jet around here?” I usually leave out the n-word when I tell the story, but that’s how it happened. I thought: band name! It has that rock sound, like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest; but obscure.

Who do I have to know to get a T-shirt with “Sterile Jets” on it? LOL!

RBM: Ha, for sure man! What’s your size?

Find out more about the Sterile Jets:

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