Socially Aware Lyrics Fueling Prog Rock Fury
While more passionate than political, The Memorials present chaotic music with drum beats as empowering as the lyrical content. Drumming genius and youngest-ever winner of the Guitar Center Drum-Off (at age nine), Thomas Pridgen founded The Memorials after walking away from The Mars Volta in 2009. Singer Viveca Hawkins adds the funky grace of a soul sister, transforming an otherwise gospel attitude into secular testifying. Nick Brewer’s psychedelic, sprawling guitars fill the spaces between Hawkins’ lyrics long enough to allow the mood of the music to be carried away by Pridgen’s unrelenting, thrash-inspired beats. Pridgen and Hawkins took some time to speak with Performer about the nature of their sophomore release, Delirium, their advocacy of marijuana and the natural chemistry of their creative process.
On why they record meaningful songs: “A lot of the prog rock records don’t be talkin’ about shit. They don’t have any kind of topic, just avant-garde art and lyrics.” –Thomas Pridgen
Weighing the spontaneity of living in the moment against the backbone of faith in what they are doing at any given moment, The Memorials chalk their success up to living in the moment and letting the music guide them.
How have you grown as a band between your debut and Delirium?
Thomas Pridgen: Well, the first album was done before we ever played a show together, so it was more of a guinea pig project. We didn’t want to start playing shows without something to send people home with. We had to put all the pieces together after the debut. This record [Delirium] came after all that; we traveled and figured out more about the band, so now we’re more unified and solid. We have more of a direct sound; it’s not as crazy and all over the place. The biggest difference is that we are a [real] band now. We’ve grown and gotten better as musicians and recording artists.
Is lyric writing collaborative? Do you write music around lyrics, melodies or vice versa?
Viveca Hawkins: Basically, I just end up writing to the track. Both times in the recording process, the guys just went ahead and laid down ideas they had in their heads. I get those cuts after they finish and I get to write whatever I want, with a little input from the guys, of course.
What is the message of the cover art for Delirium?
TP: I don’t know if it’s as much a message as a really cool-ass picture. For most prog rock records, they stick to adding weird art or graphic designs. With this record I felt so proud that I wanted to put our faces on the cover. We got a good photographer and started having fun with it.
VH: Yeah, I went out and spent about $200 on different outfits for the album cover shoot and then we came home and I put on my onesie and he [Pridgen] was like, ‘That’s it! That’s the outfit right there!’
How does the idea of delirium play into the messages and themes on the album?
VH: I wrote a song called ‘Delirium,’ and in the music industry we live this life of long hours, travel and, at times, we find ourselves exhausted to the point that we’re tripping and can’t function well. We find ourselves fighting with each other over stuff we don’t have to be upset about; we just struggle because we’re so tired. I found that on this album I wrote a lot more personal songs about experiences and feelings I was actually going through or watching my band mates go through. I feel like a lot of the music and songs on this record are pretty inspirational; they identify things people can relate to if they need to.
How do you work together as a band to draw out the inspiration between the music and the lyrics?
TP: It comes naturally to do what we’re doing. The first record we did in about six or seven days. This record we did in three days of recording in the studio. ‘Delirium’ was our first jam and I liked that jam so much that I said, ‘That’s the title track.’ A lot of this stuff doesn’t have as much of a true meaning as it just comes from art. Just like the album cover; there’s no crazy political meaning of a woman in a ski mask with a black Cabbage Patch doll; it’s just what we had. My grandmother passed while making this record and it just had a lot of personal aspects. The way the art and music came together was like destiny. We were riding a wave because this has been the easiest time putting out a record. It’s a lot more art than thinking.
VH: For me, when I write these songs, when they give me these tracks, I just let the music speak to me. I’m writing to music as it sounds, so if it sounds more cohesive that’s because that’s where the music takes me. I let the music tell me what to write. These guys are inspiring me with their music to write the songs that I write.
On songwriting: “I found that on this album I wrote a lot more personal songs about experiences and feelings I was actually going through or watching my band mates go through.” –Viveca Hawkins
A lot of the themes deal with the idea of living in the moment; how does that mesh with ‘delirium’ as an idea?
VH: We’ve been going through a lot of ups and down. Like he [Pridgen] said, his grandmother passed and we’ve been changing members of the band; we’ve gone through a lot of things that could have held us back from the things we are trying to achieve. Instead, we’ve taken those moments and accepted them and tried to persevere. We recognize that this is our moment to achieve well beyond that which might bring us down. We’re going to keep doing our thing and not look back.
TP: I give Viv a lot of credit for being hella-uplifting and positive, but I’ll be real with you. A lot of the prog rock records don’t be talkin’ about shit. They don’t have any kind of topic, just avant-garde art and lyrics, and that’s cool to make some song about a guy nobody knows. For me, I grew up in church where all the songs were about a story from the Bible or a story about what God did. This record is not a gospel record by any means, but it still has a lot of messages hidden inside of it – some are not as hidden; the message isn’t hard to find. I even throw stuff at Viv and tell her to rap. So, she rapped on a song and it ended up being super cool. Nobody tells us what to do. A lot of people our age have people producing their records, but we produce our own records. On the song ‘Daiseys,’ Nick [Brewer, guitar] and I did not hear a love song theme, but Viv said it was a love song, and after hearing it three or four times we agreed. But at first, we didn’t want to hear about love. It all switches up because we all hear things differently and we’re learning how to listen to each other more. We have three people whose minds are all over the place; we don’t plan it out.
VH: It just happens. We have chemistry and that’s the thing that brought us together in the first place. We don’t meticulously plan our outfits…
TP: For the longest time our songs were titled with numbers because we didn’t know they were about. Many songs have multiple breakdowns, verses and bridges. It’s kind of like cooking, where we put all the ingredients together and pray the casserole is awesome.
After watching the video for the single ‘Fluorescents,’ it’s obvious the band has an affection for marijuana, so what do you think legalization would do for society and creativity?
TP: People would be way less stressed out. Where we live [in California], everybody is so mellow. People have a whole different way of looking at shit here. In other cities there’s a complete drinking culture: in New Orleans people are riding around with alcohol in the car, but they arrest everybody for weed. Here, nobody is crashing cars because of weed. You go to Boston and it’s a super drinking culture [editor’s note: yep, that sounds about right]. Drunk lunatics walk down the street and are mean. Here people smile and walk by; they are kind and will help you.
VH: Besides the weed thing, though, that song is more about the funny aspects of the government and the things they create and allow. They try to pull the wool over our eyes about a lot of shit, including cannabis. I feel if cannabis was legal and people could plant medicine in their backyard it would really change the whole world. It wouldn’t just change our society and maybe that’s idealistic, but I’m an Aquarius so fuck it.
In the same single, the second verse speaks to the ‘necessary evil’ of selling crack to fund ‘the Dreamland’ and ‘put the bread in my hand.’ Who’s the narrator in this part? You don’t support selling crack, right?
VH: No, not at all. I was talking about the U.S. government. This song actually came about from Thomas [Pridgen] talking about a black budget. He was telling me about how the Dreamland is funded by their black ops and that includes the Columbian drug smuggling and heroin smuggling. They’re bringing it here and moving it all around the United States. They’re not sending the drugs to Thailand or Mexico; they’re bringing the drugs here from there, and they make it seem like bad people are doing this and that they don’t have anything to do with corruption. So, when I talk about ‘I fund the Dreamland and I’m moving more weight than any of you,’ it’s all behind the scenes. They think people don’t know about this shit. The whole song from top to bottom is making fun of the whole situation. ‘EBT vacation’ refers back to the propaganda of welfare fraud and how people think that people are buying plane tickets with their EBT card.
TP: I know a lot of people sell food stamps. So much of this is right there in your face. We live in the inner city. We get to travel the world and see all sides of people’s lives. Being the way we are without producers, it’s between me and Viv to determine what to talk about concerning politics and injustices. We talked about how we wanted to hit certain points while maintaining positivity on this album. When we shot the video it was a coincidence that we shot it right under a big pot leaf. We don’t live in San Francisco; we live in the East Bay closer to Oakland. It was just an awesome coincidence.
Photos by Raquel Horn and Demondre Ward