There is a lot of deathrock out there and not all of it is good, but LA band, Black Heroin Gallery does great gothic/deathrock and they wish to weave a tale out of the darkness for you. This year saw the unleashing of their album, Feast Of Bats, which is also a feast for the ears, Eyajo December Joseph is the founding member, main songwriter, keyboard player and lead singer, so we were very lucky to be able to talk to Eyajo about the band, the album and all good spidery things. Also a confession on my part…I too have a great love of the New Romantic music of Duran Duran and if you want to know why, then you better read on!
Welcome to the enveloping darkness that is Onyx, dear Eyajo December Joseph of Black Heroin Gallery. Join us as we have a tea party, in the moonlight of a graveyard, dusted in motes of mist.
You’ve been playing in Los Angeles glam/punk, deathrock, blackmetal and underground bands since the late 1980s. You and drummer Tony F. Corpse were both members of the brilliant Astrovamps, as well as gothic blackmetal band Willow Wisp. What was it like playing with those bands, and what was the Los Angeles scene like back then?
EYAJO: The scene was thriving and crazy for better or worse back then. Astrovamps were fun and we definitely left a mark on the deathrock scene. We played with a lot of notable bands, including opening up for Rozz’s original Christian Death for their last live album before he died. We were there for direct support. An awesome band called Praise of Folly also played and they went on before us. This was in 1993 at the Patriotic Hall in downtown Los Angeles. Tony started recording with us in 1993. And played drums for us on and off in the beginning, but soon became a more frequent/basically permanent member. Willow Wisp was his main band, so he played with us when he could. Yes, I joined Willow Wisp as keyboardist, many years later, for a short while and it was fun and crazy, but I found it hard to concentrate on both bands and besides, I think Willow Wisp needed a more classically train keyboardists and my minimalist technique with synth/keyboards probably wasn’t the best fit for them.
Does the LA scene still have the same vibe in some ways, and in what ways do you find it has changed?
EYAJO: Some of the vibe has remained, but there have been changes. Not as many goth clubs playing live bands as there use to be, but there is hope, 2022 has brought a lot of the underground out and there seems to be promoters popping up all over LA and Mexico, booking Goth, Deathrock, Metal and Post Punk bands. It’s very exciting, so we’re looking forward to playing more venues this year to support Feast of Bats.
What do you think being in Astrovamps taught you about the music industry that you have taken with you into your other musical projects?
EYAJO: Astrovamps taught me how to be a good live musician and live band, it also inspired me to write music and not just lyrics. That’s why I founded Black Heroin Gallery.
Black Heroin Gallery was originally created by you in 2007 with Tony following you soon after. What drove you to start up this project?
EYAJO: Well, Astrovamps wasn’t going as dark as I wanted it to, so I knew I had to start some kind of side project for that dark deathrock music I wanted to write and release. That manifested as Black Heroin Gallery. Even though I loved what the Astrovamps were doing and I loved co-writing some of the songs as a lyricist. I knew I had to have my own thing where I was Chief songwriter, musically and lyrically. Then Astrovamps broke up and were no more. So I had complete focus for the new project. Not as easy as I thought, many false starts, a number of member changes and a singer that didn’t work out. I knew I had to learn guitar to write the songs that I wanted to write and take over vocal duties or we might end up spending wasted years looking for a singer. Tony and my old bassist Kevin kept telling me to take over vocal duties, I’m glad I finally took their advice.
How would you describe your musical partnership with Tony?
EYAJO: Good and enduring. Tony is a very creative drum composer and I’ve been lucky to have him stay the test of time and stick it out with me. Tony is the metal influence in the band, so sometimes we butt heads, because I’m a minimalist with music and songwriting and Tony likes more detailed Drum compositions. So over the years, we’ve come to a creative compromise on the drums. I let him go off the rails sometimes and for me, he pulls back sometimes. Perfect. My favorite drum styles are the classic deathrock tribal sound. And this style will always be part of our sound in one variation or another. Not every song, but still a favorite color of mine on the palette.
You have three other band members, so can you introduce them to us please?
EYAJO: Krystal Fantom is our guitarist and he also co-wrote two songs on the album with me. Dracul Grotesque is our Bass player and he joined a few months ago, just in time to record on Feast of Bats with us. Lastly, we have Sky Lee Vague, our new live keyboardist.
In Astrovamps, Eyajo, you were the keyboard player and now with Black Heroin Gallery you are not only the keyboardist but also the lead singer. How much of a change was this for you, and do you find vocals easier or harder?
EYAJO: The change was needed, I’m glad I never looked back. I played a little keyboard live on stage, but mostly focused on the vocal performance, but we are grateful now to have Sky take over and play keyboards live, now for the first time in years, we’re gonna be able to perform with our full sound. I will still always write and record the synth parts, but Sky brings it to life for the band on stage and from time to time he adds a little of his own fills. I’m ok with a little improv from the guys on the songs live, as long as the main sound and chords that make the song are there.
Your new album has the unusual title, ‘Feast of Bats’, can you tell us the story behind that name?
EYAJO: It’s actually the name of a short dark fairytale that I wrote and was illustrating. I loved the title, so I thought it would work well for the album. And the cover art I drew is from the illustrated story as well.
Many of the song titles, while obviously inspired by gothic horror themes, also have a quirky playfulness about them, reminiscent of Tim Burton in some ways. Is Burton a source of inspiration, and is there an element of tongue-in-cheek dark humor, having fun with tropes of the goth genre?
EYAJO: Yes, I would say that there were some of those influences in my writing. My main influences are fairytales and poetry. I like dark and tragic romantic themes. Dark things in general, Dark humor or satire does also play a part in some of my writing and lastly myths, witchcraft and philosophy I find very inspiring too.
There are a lot of references to death and her darkness in the lyrics. Do you find comfort in the beauty of the macabre and grotesque?
EYAJO: Yes, I most certainly do, it’s a recurring theme in all my arts. Poetry, Music, filmmaking and illustration. Death is my loudest muse.
There are also multiple mentions about God and demons. Is this for lyrical effect or something deeper?
EYAJO: Oh, it’s definitely not for any effect. I would say, deeper is probably a better description. Most of those references are from parts of the bible that the church removed or banned from the public. These stories inspire some of my work and the others are just my own mythos that I create.
As the lyricist and composer for the band, is that an added pressure and do you find writing music easy or a heartache?
EYAJO: Yes it can be both, but it’s very rewarding as well. Especially when you’ve reached that moment where the song is done. Krystal co-wrote two songs with me on this album and Tony added his drums and Dracul the bass. Then I added keyboards and Synth after the song had the basic instrumentation recorded. I usually write with guitar, then show it to the band and they learn it and then we work out all the little arrangement issues that may or may not come about. I’m lucky to have such talented and creative musicians working with me. Of course, I have to mention that this album would not have come out as great as it did, if it were not for the producing/mixing/recording and engineer artistry of Roman Marisak.
The band has been around since 2007 but this is your third album. I also noticed that some tracks have been around for a few years, often found in live videos. Do you like to try and test songs before you commit them to an album?
EYAJO: Yes, there were some formative years to say the least. Actually, Feast of Bats is our second album. My Rotting Flower was an EP. I have learned that it does help us out if we play the song live for a few shows. But that’s not always the case. I can say with almost certainty that our future albums are gonna be closer together in release times, probably every 2 years. For as long as it makes sense to me. I’m already working on the art and music for those future releases.
Do you find the acts of writing music and live performance a catharsis of sorts?
EYAJO: Yes, most definitely.
I do adore your version of “Hush, Hush, Hush, Here Comes The Bogeyman”. Do you have a favorite track off the album at all?
EYAJO: Thank you, that little gem was arranged and brought to us as a potential cover song by our guitarist Krystal Fantom. I loved his guitar arrangement on the song, so it made the album cut. For my favorite? Well It’s hard to choose, because I definitely put my heart and soul into all of the songs in one capacity or another. So if I have to pick, I would say, “I cover her horns.” There are many reasons why I like that song, but the main one from me is the story it’s telling and the very haunting musical arrangement.
When the young Eyajo was getting into darker music, what or who were your gateway drugs?
EYAJO: Well it was Duran Duran, who inspired me to make music and get into a band, but the dark path with me started after I heard Depeche Mode’s “Blasphemous Rumours” for the first time. I fell in love with the song and then the band. Then I continued to find more dark gems, like Skinny Puppy, Gene loves Jezebel, Bauhaus, Alien Sex Fiend, Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen, Sisters of Mercy and Virgin Prunes to name a few.
Are there new acts you’re really getting into now?
EYAJO: Not really, but it’s not because I don’t like them, it’s more like, I just haven’t paid too much attention to new bands this year. Because I was working on Feast of Bats. Ask me that question a year from now and I’m sure I will be listening to some then.
If you could have a lovely tea party in a cemetery and the option to bury someone there and bring them back, Pet Cemetery style, would you do it and do you know who that would be? 🙂
EYAJO: The tea party sounds like fun, but I would probably pass on burying someone to bring them back. Because it more than likely wouldn’t end well.
Onyx symbolizes renewal, change and more than likely, my little black heart. What do you feel in your little dark heart, is next for Black Heroin Gallery?
EYAJO: Oh Hell, where do I start…Let me see, oh yes… We’ll be headlining a World Goth Day festival, May 14th in Mexico City, Mexico. Then we will concentrate on some music videos by June and continue to play as many live shows as we can. Also, remix and master the first album. Record 2-3 new songs for Feast of Bats vinyl release. Write and prepare songs for the third album. So needless to say, we’re going to keep busy.
Thank you Eyajo for joining us and chatting as we dance between the graves, like there is no tomorrow.
EYAJO: Thank you very much, it has been an honor to talk with you.