An Interview with Jeff Nisen of Lose Control.
Los Angeles. Patrick O’Heffernan. Lose Control just wrapped up a 40-day tour which they delightfully chronicled on their web site in daily (well, almost daily) tour notes. Following the band on the tour has been almost as much fun as listening to them, and they are a lot of fun to listen to. This is heavy metal, but with a few twists, including dual guitar leads. Everybody in the band is very, very talented and nobody in the band is egotistical – they play together like clockwork and the result is a sound of beauty.
Jeff Nisen co-founded the band with A.J. Bartholomew down the road from me in Hermosa Beach in 2011. They had been playing music together since they were in middle school together. They each formed their own separate bands after high school and then they reunited after honing their heavy metal skills. Drummer/producer Mike Sutherland joined soon thereafter. Lose Control came to life and started working on a debut album , Lose Control EP, released in 2012. The band didn’t stop for a moment – they kept touring, writing and recording and just released a new album, Let it Be Known, this April. Listening to Let It Be Known, you understand just how good heavy metal can be. And judging from the tour notes a lot of people across the United States now understand that too.
Jeff Nisen took time out from a wedding trip to Boston to find a shady tree on the Boston Common with five bars of connectivity to call me.
Patrick. Jeff, my first question is why heavy metal from Hermosa instead of beach music? Didn’t you grow up listening to music at beach places like Barnacles and the Lighthouse?
Jeff. I still play acoustic music at Barnacles – I used to played there every Tuesday night for about five years and I still play acoustic gigs around town.. I was raised on singer songwriters like James Taylor and Jim Croce. Then I got into a band from Hermosa Beach call Pennywise. From there I fell in love with 90’s punk bands and as a guitar player set out to learn everything I could about punk music until it got to be fairly standard. I was hungry to learn guitar from different players. I found Randy Rhodes and learned everything I possibly could on the guitar from him and then others. I learned to develop the metal effects in high school.
Patrick. I love the sophistication of your music, especially a song like “King of It All”. Did that take a lot of work to orchestrate?
Jeff. Honestly it did not. That song marked a change in our band. The first EP we put out was a little more structured, like a metal song would be, verse-chorus-verse-chorus. This song took on a life of its own – we just took it where the song needed to go. From the moment AJ played that intro riff in the studio it took about an hour to record. Like I said, that song marks the change in our music…a lot of songs we have written since then have that signature Lose Control sound. I don’t know how to explain it — it was like magic how that song was written. I already had a melody in my mind when he played the intro and the lyrics just flowed and it was just done. Mitch came in and the bass line came out of nowhere. The drummer too just clicked.
Patrick. The lyrics talk about somebody who always thinks they are better than they are. Who is that about?
Jeff. It is actually about me. I came back from a vacation and I had too much fun in Mexico and not feeling great about myself. I had a struggling rock band and I think I had a misconception of who I was. That song is me humbling myself. When I play it live, it about all the arrogant people in your life.
Patrick. Why a 40-day tour. I know you have to promote the album, but 40 days in a van with 4 guys?
Jeff. It ended up being us three of us. We were on tour with a band called Chrysalis from Barstow. Our bass player could not come, so we used their bass player and they needed a guitarist so AJ and I played guitar with them. So it ended up being just three people. But it was still 40 days. And it was not the most glamorous of tours- we slept in Walmart parking lots and Denny’s.
Patrick. Your song, “The Weight of the Sea” is another piece of metal with a twist. Very sophisticated arrangement, superb guitar riffs, a drummer so good you don’t know he is there. How did that song evolve?
Jeff. That song started with our bass player Mitch. He wrote the bass line for the intro and I love the way it goes to b-major in there. It just blew me away. I can take this and run with it. He said that whatever I did with it, make it piraty – he wanted Davy Jones kind of lyrics. For a while we just called it the pirate song. The lyrics chronicle this guy who died and is in purgatory at the sea bottom in Davy Jone’s locker. By the end of the song he wakes up face to face with the undertaker and he gets a new chance on life. I think we wrote this after “King of It All” and it has that same set up. We had learned to write much more patiently as we got better at writing together. The lyrics only come in for a minute and a half. We have the double guitar lead – we love it.
Patrick. How does the dual guitar lead work?
Jeff. It is basically AJ and I both play lead guitar in harmony, so when you hear a guitar solo we are both playing. We do that in “Dive” also. It just works. We both play Les Paul guitars and it works well. AJ and I are pretty unselfish about it– whoever comes up with a solo, takes it, or we play it together. I tend to be blusier – I am a Stevie Ray Vaughan fan. AJ can do really fast shred metal picking better than I can, so he takes those parts.
Patrick. How did you create the style of an intro – so many metal bands just start off with riffs and drums?
Jeff. It just developed. AJ was in a band called Allura which was heavier hard core and I was in an acoustic rock band. We just kind of met in the middle. We only give a song what it needs and not too much. We try to let the song breathe, rise and fall and take on a life of its own.
Patrick. Your tour notes were hilarious. You could write two books –“ The best and worst venues in America” and The best hamburgers in America”
Jeff. You could also call it “Denny’s Across America” because we ate in Denny’s across the country. I knows the full-value menu – mostly the $2 part – I don’t know the other higher priced parts well.
Patrick. What was your best experience and your worst experience?
Jeff. The best experience was in Florida. We had hit our stride and were grooving well together. AJ had a friend there who let us stay at his house. It was a huge mansion completely surrounded by the Gulf. The following night we played in a nearby town where the club was packed and everyone knew our songs. That was great.
The worst experience was in Denver when we were pretty much flat broke and were sleeping in the van. We were peeing in a jug while we drove and I accidently put the pee jug next to my water jug and woke up thirsty in the middle of the night and took a big drink from the wrong bottle. That was not only the low point of the tour, but of my whole life. When we got towed, that was not nearly as bad as the pee jug.
Patrick. Your album’s title song, “Let It Be Known”, is a great piece of signature Lose Control music, but the lyrics are a downer. You sing about cities exploding and not knowing where we are and evil and broken people. Is that how you see your future?
Jeff. That song was written the day of the Boston bombing – that is what the song is about. It is not about my future. I was in a gym on a treadmill and all the TV’s were saying the same thing – who’s to blame. I just thought let’s take a moment and see that something is wrong here before we start pointing blame. It’s a song to bring people together, not bring them down. I wrote that song in about 25 min on a piano. I write on a piano a lot – it is easier to make things heavier than less heavy so it works to write on a piano or an acoustic guitar instead of starting on an electric guitar. I could hardly wait to get to the studio and hammer it out.
Patrick. Did you come home richer or poorer from your tour?
Jeff. Poorer. But I didn’t leave rich.
Patrick. In your song “Overboard” you sing You’re free to go once you’ve paid the toll/Name your price for your rock n’ roll/And your soul. Is that a comment on the music industry?
Jeff. Yes. We have done so many pay-to-play venues where they give you 50 tickets and you give them $600 and hope you break even or make a little money. I guess it is true in any industry its one for the money and two for the show, but we just got fed up with having to deal with it. We did it for 8 or 10 years and it got annoying.
Patrick. Jeff. Thank you.
Patrick O’Heffernan. Host, Music FridayLive!
Let it Be Known, by Lose Control
Available at www. losecontrolrock.com