Interview with Clayton Bartholomew – Guitar
Interview by Lee Carter
Hey and thank you for your time. Please state your name and position in the band.
Thank you for the interest and questions. My name is Clayton Bartholomew and I play guitar in Mountaineer.
Having formed in 2015 and now on your third album, it would be fair to state that Mountaineer are very much a well-established band – what keeps you going in such a tricky industry?
I’ve never thought of us as well-established, but maybe there is something to say about having three albums done regardless of how much recognition the entirety of the output has been. Honestly, I think we would have made these records with or without any industry support or recognition. There is some cathartic release in simply creating and expressing. It is nice that Lifeforce have released our albums and given the music a chance at an audience, but that is just icing on the cake. The real reward is being able to write albums that have significance to us as individuals.
Do you see much of a difference in the wider music industry from when you first started out compared to now?
Maybe with previous bands, but since Mountaineers inception in 2015, things seem pretty status quo.
What do you see as the greatest difficulty in music in 2020, and how have you overcome that?
Clearly the lack of being able to play live, the fact that most folks no longer have discretionary budgets to spend on vinyl and merch, etc makes this new ground for the entertainment community by and large. There is no overcoming the current situation, it’s just a waiting game.
Moving onto the band’s sound: how would you describe your music to someone who has never heard it?
I’d like to think of our sound as cinematic… At least that is how we attempt to write albums. Writing for me is like scoring a movie if we are doing it right. There should be a plot to the music; it should start in one place and end up in another. It should tell a story… But an abstract story that is open to interpretation.
Does ‘Bloodletting’ differ much from its predecessors, ‘Sirens & Slumber’ and ‘Passages’?
I’d say this record was written in a similar fashion as the previous ones, with an overarching theme tying the songs together and a clearly defined vibe throughout. This record explores darker subject matter in a sense and thus may come across as being heavier sonically though.
Lamb Of God’s Randy Blythe recently stated that he “hated making records” – how was the recording process for ‘Bloodletting’?
I love every aspect of making a record. From coming up with a general inspirational concept, to writing and arranging, to capturing the recording in a studio. That is the fun part for me; working on something for a long period of time to get it just right and then quickly putting it to tape and being able to sit back once it is mixed and mastered and finished and breathe a sigh of relief. It is also a stressful time for me (the entire album cycle to be honest). Once the album is birthed, you need to give it to a variety of other people and hope that they will raise it with care.
Did you do anything different to previous album cycles, or do you have a set method for recording? A preferred studio or location, etc.?
We’ve done all three Mountaineer records at Nu-Tone Studios in Pittsburg, California with Ben Hirschfield at the helm. Ben has worn lots of hats for us… Engineer, mixer, occasional producer, general sounding board, etc. He even helped film and edit both music videos from ‘Bloodletting’ along with director Danny Sperry. I think each recording project has been approached differently in terms of desired outcome, but we’ve always managed to be on the same page with Ben and the working arrangement has yielded the results we were after.
As with each Mountaineer release, ‘Bloodletting’ is based on a concept, with this album on the theme of “letting go” – what drew you to write an album based around that?
I believe I proposed a “concept” to the guys initially and then we all internalized and personalized it to suit our individual output. For me, it started with someone from my past contacting me via social media and sort of demanding to pick back up where our friendship had left off… Like 20 years ago. In this instance, it put me in an uncomfortable position because I just couldn’t relate to this person anymore, yet I felt strangely obligated to rehash times I didn’t feel like rehashing. I felt like there was enough emotional baggage there that could be the start of a concept, so I brought it to the guys, and I think we refined it. It’s an album that means something different to each member of the band, yet somehow each individual meaning overlaps and gels into one solid statement. We realize that each listener may have their own interpretation and we encourage that.
Who would you say your musical influences are? What artists/genres do you listen to personally?
I am influenced by all kinds of things. For ‘Bloodletting’, I was mostly influenced by Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’. But I dig all kinds of stuff. I try not to listen to any music when writing because I don’t want to write a song and then realize I ripped something off, haha. Movie soundtracks are a big inspiration for me usually… more so than rock music or whatever.
Did you experience any difficulty when writing for ‘Bloodletting’, or did everything come together quite easily?
I think the writing flowed pretty well for this record. It seemed like most of us were on the same page throughout the sessions, and there were no big disagreements that I can recall.
After the line-up changes that followed the release of ‘Passages’, how did this affect the writing dynamic within the band? Has there always been a chief songwriter, or is there now a more collaborative approach?
The first two records were written by myself and Miguel (vocals) primarily. This new record was my first time in a long time working with another guitar player who is also a songwriter, Isaac Rigler. It was a great experience to be able to collaborate on songs and co-write. Our third guitar player, Forrest Harvey, joined well into the writing process, but he also contributed musical ideas along with Patrick (drums) and Miguel (vocals). From experience, things can get sticky when you have a bunch of cooks in the kitchen but for this album it worked out great.
How have you found the initial response to the new album and how has that affected you?
So far, so good. We’ve only seen a handful of reviews, but those have been overwhelmingly positive. It’s nice when people write smart, well thought out reviews and you can tell that the writer took the time to really get to know the album. We’ve seen a few of those already. It’s a nice thing.
Similarly, have you ever had a negative response to an album or live show, and how have you considered the criticism? Do you use it as fuel for your work, or ignore it? Or do you not concern yourself too much with reviews, etc.?
I think we take it all with a grain of salt. Bad reviews are usually funny and are typically used as inside jokes within the band.
With regards to live performances, what is it like touring for you guys? Do you all get on all of the time? Or do you have times you need space from each other?
We have only just recently been a six-piece band and thus able to play live shows. We did a handful in 2019, while gearing up to record ‘Bloodletting’. Those live experiences were really positive and we were planning on a much more involved period of live performances to support this new album.
Naturally the coronavirus pandemic has likely scuppered any plans you may have had to tour the album in the immediate future, but what would you have done?
We were planning on several weeks of touring throughout the summer in the U.S. Maybe we will have a chance to do that next year… I really hope so.
How is the band finding things at the moment? How are you all holding up? What is your take on it all?
I think everyone is doing alright, all things considered. A few have been laid off from jobs… you see the true colours of capitalism in times like these. I’m hoping everyone lands on their feet and comes out the other side relatively intact. My perspective is that we should all be taking this seriously and following recommended guidelines. Be patient, be conscientious, keep your wits. That is my hope for everyone.
What is the situation like in Oakland? Are people in lockdown, or protesting?
People in the bay area are taking it seriously and have been. We were the first in the country to shut it down, and overall, everyone bought into it. As a result, you can see that California has been less impacted than other areas that may not have heeded the warnings quickly enough. That’s my view anyways.
Once it is all over, where will you be heading out to? Is there any likelihood of a European tour (including an appearance in the UK)?
We would love to do a European tour. We have talked about it. If there is enough interest, we will definitely do it. We would absolutely want to visit the UK.
Is there anyone or anywhere you would like to play (with/at) and haven’t yet? What would be your dream tour?
Oh, we haven’t played in lots of places! I’ve personally toured a lot of the U.S. in previous bands, but never outside of the states. I would love to tour in Europe. I’ve heard venues and fans are great over there.
Are there any new bands or artists that have caught your attention recently? Any recommendations for the readers?
I recently discovered Ancestors… Really dig them. Also, Lantlos. Both great bands. We dig another Bay Area band called Chrome Ghost and want to try to line up some shows with them when things settle down.
Thank you for your time, is there anything you’d like to say to our readers?
Thanks for taking the time to read this! Thanks to Lee and the Independent Voice for expressing interest and asking good questions!
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