I sat down with Aaron Nordstrom of Gemini Syndrome at a club date at Shaka’s in Virginia Beach, VA on November 4th, 2014. What started out as a getting to know the band quickly dove into the deepest inner workings of the band and the state of music industry as a whole.
HHM: You guys formed in 2010, I know you were formerly with OTEP but what about the other guys?
Aaron: We’ve all been playing for years in all sorts of other bands. Brian and Mike were in a band together for years called Within The Eddy. AP played in Europe, he’s from Italy, so he’s played Europe for years and Years. I think about year before this band formed he has moved to Los Angeles. He kind of felt like he had reached the ceiling of what he was going to get in Europe. He came to LA to try and find a band. We were all in the same place. We had stopped doing what is was that we were doing, met each other and “this” happened.
HHM: Was it something you guys were kicking around for a while or kind of just…?
Aaron: I used to kind of call it the perfect storm. I guess I still do cause, I was in Chicago at the time, I had a band there with a couple friends of mine. This is post OTEP. I was really at a place where there was some personal stuff going with my family and I was trying to debate whether or not I wanted to stay in Chicago and continue pursuing that or if I wanted to move back to Los Angeles ‘cause I basically been out there since 2000 off and on. While I was on a pseudo vacation I guess you could say staying with a friend of mine, I got hit up to see if I wanted to sing for this band. We all just came together really quickly. Within just a couple months, I got the demos and went home to Chicago and wrote to the originals. Came back and was in the studio within three days of being back in LA with Mike Doling, wh did the first record. Yeah, it all just kind of all happened. Very organically and naturally. We didn’t have to force it. We didn’t have to go through members, we didn’t have to go audition people. Everybody who came immediately perfect for what it was.
HHM: Was it a little bit different direction for you guys musically or…?
Aaron: I guess Yes and No kinda. It was all in the same vein of what we’ve all done. We all listen to a very eclectic combination of stuff. Different genres. I grew up playing piano, classical jazz, I’ve gone to school for music. Brian grew up doing drumcorp. Mike grew up playing Country and doing the same choir stuff that I had did. We all very schooled in that sense, from all different genres but I think we all gravitated to Rock on a pretty constant basis.
HHM: As far as this band goes anyway, you guys sorta cut your teeth playing out on The Sunset Strip, how tough is that scene? Is it cutthroat or more of brotherhood?
Aaron: Its funny that you ask… It’s a little of both. I have to answer all these ambiguously. It is a brotherhood but the scene in Los Angeles has been lost for a really long time, since the late 90’s with Static-X, Linkin Park and System of a Down, all those bands that came out of there. Then it just kind of disappeared for a minute. When I was going to school out in LA in ’03, we had our little niche of bands. Brian funny enough was in a sorta of scene but in a different sect of it. We didn’t even meet back then, we were all playing similar shows in all the same venues but our paths never crossed. I think when we started playing, when this band came around, we got our start at The Roxy. They were our home base, as far as LA is concerned. They gave us a lot of love and a lot of support. We were able to facilitate, I don’t want to take credit for it, we were able to help facilitate a scene growing again. To become a community, comradery, a brotherhood again and a sisterhood depending on what bands you are talking about. At the same time, LA is just a cutthroat town. There’s always the cliché of you go and play LA and everyone’s got their arms crossed, nobody’s moving. They are all analyzing you. Everyone is trying to learn from everybody else because we’re all musicians out there coming to those shows.
HHM: I guess you could sort of say The Sunset Strip is the future Hall Of Fame.
Aaron: In a sense yes. I learned to take it with a grain of salt and stopped being offended by the fact that there weren’t mosh pits and people weren’t moving. I understand because I go to shows and I am the same way now as I’ve gotten older. Depending on the show obviously, I saw Lamb Of God at Rock On The Range last year when we played and I was in the pit crowd surfing for the second time in my life. I’m a fan still.
HHM: You paid for that the next day didn’t ya?
Aaron: Uh Yeah….yeah I did.
But, back to the other, we became family, we went on tour with bands that are from that area, that we grew up with, in the same place that we were trying to get noticed. Trying to make a wave in the industry. We helped each other for sure. Going back to that principle of having shows with bands that are not only friends with each other, but complement each other. So you don’t go see that same band four times in a row that night. At the time, if I can think of a show, like Butcher Babies, they’re now touring, they’re signed, us, Otherwise would come out form Vegas and play shows with us, the band Evolove, Stitched Up Heart. Ya know, all kind of different sounds but we came from the same place and we would organize it so we played shows together to draw all of our friends in. That created a scene again. That created a community. But, in a cutthroat sense, everybody is still analyzing everything you do.
HHM: Did you make any money playing shows out there or was it more of a necessity?
Aaron: In the beginning we got The Roxy to allow us to do free Metal Shows, I think it was Mondays. Free Metal Monday or whatever they called it. We would do the shows for free. You could get it for free. That’s another thing, everybody is an artist out there, nobody is making money. We offered shows for free so people could come out and then build that community. Having people coming out and networking with each other building relationships and future tours. It was necessary, it was a sacrifice in a sense. The money is not the same in the industry that is was ten years ago. Everyone I tell that to says ‘I know (bowing and shaking his head)’ We all know it. It’s not a secret anymore. The money doesn’t exist the way it used to. You have to reassess your strategy and how you go about it.
HHM: How do you think you fix it? Bands individually branding themselves to fix it. I don’t think you can fix it industrywide. I don’t know that it can be fixed. Can it be fixed in parts? You know what I mean?
Aaron: Yeah, you just have to reassess what your expectations are I think. Think about what you really want out of this. If you are an aspiring musicians at this stage in the game and want to make a career out of it. Don’t expect to have a mansion. Somebody was telling me, I think it was Brian, this is the first year that no one went platinum. Noone from any genre. Even Pop didn’t go platinum. The whole thing is changing. I heard that Taylor Swift just took all of her music off Spotify because she was getting hosed and not making anything. I think we are in kind of an interim period right now. Everyone from the executives at labels to the bands themselves and everyone in between is trying to reassess how to make this realistic for everybody. To make a living and be able to survive. People think that we have mansions and we don’t. We’re struggling. Even the big bands are. It’s a job man.
HHM: Even the lease on the bus these days, it’s heavy. It hurts.
Aaron: Yeah, totally. I saw an interview with Ben Folds Five about a year ago when I was staying with a friend of mine. They were doing the Guitar Center Sessions, Ben said he felt like they were the last generation of musicians to really make crazy money off of it. He said go back and look at history. Even the last hundred years, going back to like Mozart, Beethoven, classical composers and genius’ of their time that didn’t make money. Fast forward to the 50’s and Elvis came out. Pop culture really blew up. The Beatles happened, Black Sabbath happened and all those bands happened. That became its own culture in a timeline of like 50 years. People became rock stars. That’s where the whole concept came from. People were making millions of dollars, getting filthy rich. Ben stated that his generation of music was one the last ones of that kind. Musicians are going back to the typical artist route. Artists never make money in this industry, it has just been our lot in life. It is unfortunate in the sense that I wish I had kind of been born 10 years earlier so I was hitting it in the peak. I could go sell 50 million records like Korn.
HHM: This day in age, that makes bands quit sooner. They could have had another five years in them, but fuck why keep going? Big name bands have to go home and flip pizzas cause they can’t squeak out a living.
Aaron: Absolutely and it’s unfortunate but I also think it’s kind of a weeding out process. You’re either here because you really want to be or you’re here because of some expectation of fame. I think it shows people’s true colors. I have been playing music my whole life, since I was a little kid. I am here for the loving of what I do, truly. The suffering and the bullshit we go through we tolerate. Touring through Summer without air conditioning and touring through Winter without heat. It is not the glitz and glamour that people think it is, but it truly is the love of the fans. Every night somebody comes up to me who our record has helped them through some sort of hard time. The stories have been heart wrenching. I’ve held people and cried with them. There was lady in Mississippi that came up to me at merch and told me that her 15 year old son had just died. She came up to the merch booth crying. I didn’t say anything at first, I just hugged her, then I asked her what was going on and she told me the story. I just started crying, we held each other and cried for a bit. I helped her through the loss of her son as a teenager? I can’t even wrap my head around the pain that must have caused her. The fact that the music that I make was able to assist her through that period in her life, what better compliment could I get? Ya know what I mean? How else could I get paid? It isn’t money but at least I am having a positive influence on somebody in this world. I get that almost every day.
HHM: Which doesn’t make sense if you turn it around. Music is SO powerful but then aside from emotional gratitude and gratification, there’s not a whole lot left. But being so powerful it doesn’t make sense.
Aaron: I think it in time, this is really a game of staying the course in music nowadays. The reward is there, you can make a career out of it, you can make a living, have a family and do that. The work that goes into it and the sacrifices you make are very prevalent. They are very real. This game isn’t for everyone. It’s not for everybody. Not everybody can or wants to make the sacrifices necessary. I think as time goes on that is what will change the game. That’s what will change the nature of what we’re doing right now, the fact that the people that want to stick it out will and the people that don’t have the tenacity or the drive to do it, they won’t. Then that will kind of fall to the wayside.
HHM: When it becomes more of exclusive club again.
HHM: I guess social media I guess, this day in age it is so flooded with people. I see it every day. Guys start local bands, they last a year, they realize it costs money to record, it costs money for publicity..
Aaron: It costs money to tour.
HHM: It costs money for management.
Aaron: It costs money for everything.
HHM: It costs money. Well, this isn’t what we signed up for. We just wanted make it.
Aaron: We just wanted to be rock stars and that’s not the case. That’s a very interesting point you bring up. Social media helped us, the proverbial us, as musicians, helped us a lot. You could have access to everybody at the snap of a finger, the push of a button. But on the converse, like you just said, it became over saturated because now anybody can. I think we’re at a point where it is starting to weed out the people that don’t wanna really push through it, I don’t mean that in an insulting way at all. It’s just not for everyone. If you have the drive to do it and the will power to stick through the bullshit…It is gonna change the game again. I think, at least I hope we’re in for a change. I think something is coming.
HHM: I think the industry is trying to take steps themselves.
Aaron: Man, lemme say this, I think even the labels. We released our record on Warner Bros, it is a major label. I know people from a lot of the other smaller labels too. I think just as much as the musicians were confused, I think the labels were too or are. They are in the same place like “What do we do?” “How do we fix this problem?” I don’t think anyone has the answer yet. I think that as an industry we’re trying to figure out.
HHM: Labels have no other to make money but to sell units. Units are moving or not paying the bills. Production costs aren’t going down. Unless some are taking a cut themselves…
Aaron: Everybody is taking a cut in some way. Everybody is.
HHM: Big budget recording is still big budget recording. It is still 300K for a record at minimum. Those guys are used to making that, they are not coming off of that.
Aaron: That is a lot of money. A lot of money.
HHM: And it’s every day. Ya know what I mean?
Aaron: There’s this concept called ‘Entropy’ in the laws of thermo-dynamics. Entropy means, all systems dissolve to chaos. When you reach the pinnacle point of entropy you will re-adhere at a higher point of order or it collapses…it crumbles into nothing. I think that is where the industry is at. I think it will adhere to a higher point of order. I think we’ll figure it out. We’ll figure out a new way to go. At this point though, we have been living in the age of entropy in my mind. Nobody knows, nobody has a fucking clue what to do. They are trying to scramble to pay their bills. How do we break a band, how do we get them into the hands of people? God willing, I hope that we are close to the solution of that problem, even if just for my own well-being. I think we’ll get there.
HHM: I think it’s tough because a human being can be a fan of a lot of stuff but you can only be a fan of such much. Ya know what I mean?
HHM: I catch myself, I get so much music that I am like ‘That’s Awesome!” then unknowingly or subconsciously I forget about it and I am like “Oh, Yeah” it’s because there is so much out there, you can’t go to every show, you can’t listen to everything all the time. In the end, someone is always a loser.
Aaron: I had a friend of mine back in the day that had a theory of consciousness. He called it the ring on the napkin. He would put out a napkin, take off his ring and say if the napkin represented the entirety of consciousness, the ring represented your consciousness. You can move it around the napkin but you are only looking at that spot (the ring). In the same sense, when you have a billions bands to pay attention to, you can only pay attention to so much. That becomes the difficulty in the microwave age that I like to call it, how do you have staying power, how do you stick in people’s minds? How do you make yourselves relevant to their lives on a constant so they want to come back? The way that a band like Tool did or a band like Pantera did? They became a staple of the industry. How do you do that nowadays?
HHM: Do you think it’s harder with so many genres, sub-genres? It’s almost as if a band will be say, a rock band, and they see something a say ‘man, fans kind of dig that aspect” then POOF! There’s a new genre. There’s a genre. Ya know what I mean?
Aaron: Yup, absolutely.
HHM: But if it was tooled down a little bit, it would be a little more focused.
Aaron: I think the struggle for an artist with that now is to try…not try to stay ahead of the game but, I think bands that are ultimately sticking around and being successful are just truly good bands who are enjoying what they do. If you see a trend and try to follow that trend, that trend is gonna be gone by the time you get there. You just really have to try and stay the course. My new favorite band is Twelve Foot Ninja. I am a huge fan of theirs. I met them at Rock On The Range, they came up to me and said they were fans of us, which I thought was awesome. That was a huge compliment for me. I’ve listened to that record literally once a day, for the last 6 months. Those guys are just doing whatever they want and it’s catching on because, they are legitimately talented, They have a serious message if you dig into the lyrics, there’s something real and deep down there that exists. I’d like to think that we do as well. But then, they have a sense of humor about it too. They are not taking it totally serious. They take it with a tongue in cheek kind of style. The same way Tool always has, the same way Type O Negative always did. Bands like Incubus, the lists goes on, the kind of bands that had that sense of humor. They really did what they wanted to do, Deftones didn’t care what anyone else thought, not trying to adhere to the trend that is coming up. They want to make the trend. I think that has ultimate staying power at the end of the day in any facet of art. It’s just necessary to do what your integrity tells you to do. What you think you should do.
HHM: You released your debut EP in 2011, how long had you been fielding A&R or did you use that to try and acquire label support?
Aaron: We did that EP, which we recorded 14 songs for. It was a full album but we only released the 6 tracks. The we just really toured on that. There wasn’t really any interest from anybody at that point. The whole industry just wasn’t signing bands. We shopped it a little bit and got shot down in the beginning. Nobody was interested in signing anyone. It wasn’t just us, it was the whole…
HHM: Every band was a crap shoot.
Aaron: Yeah, we were new, the money wasn’t there. We were coming out of a recession and it just didn’t exist. We just decided to say fuck it and go on our own. We toured out of our own pockets and started really grassroots style. We made a lot of really dedicated fans. I think that was ultimately was led to us getting signed. We put in the work on our own. The labels looked at that a realized that we were willing to put in the effort so now they can get behind it. It wasn’t like back in the day where it was a baby band and they can mold it. They could put in the hundreds of thousand of dollars in to make them what we want them to be. We kind of did that ourselves. They looked at it and thought it is something they could invest in. It was really just the hardcore touring, suffering it out, just trying to make relationships across the country.
HHM: There was a phase where everyone started to become ‘anti-label’ did you get a little cold feet when Warner Bros. acted as though they were starting to show interest or were you totally down for it?
Aaron: I don’t think we got cold, we were very excited to have the opportunity to be with them and to get that kind of recognition from a major label. Every artist that signs with anyone says it comes with its good and its bad. I look at an artist like Tech9ine who have done it completely solo, on their own for their whole careers and bless them for it ‘cause that is an amazing feat. You get to be your own boss in that sense but, for us it was a blessing to have Warner support us and get behind us. To be a part of their giant machine.
HHM: They are a pretty big entity. They aren’t just a major label….
Aaron: They are one of the biggest corporations on the planet.
HHM: It is a pretty big entity as far as promotion, label support. I would imagine it would be comforting to know they not just going to sign then shelve you guys because they don’t have the money to support you.
HHM: How much of the original EP when into the Full Length?
Aaron: A little more than half of it I guess. We kept writing consistently going into it. I think we went in to do Lux with like 50 or 60 songs. We had a lot, so picking and choosing which were the best ones…it wasn’t even that some of those songs weren’t good, it was more what do we want to have on our first representation, what do we want on our first record? That was the most fickle part of the whole process.
HHM: Doesn’t it make it tougher having that many songs going in?
Aaron: Yeah, 100%. You fall in love with songs.
HHM: I’m sure there were plenty that were your baby that didn’t make the record.
Aaron: Maybe they will come on a future record, it was really tough. You fall in love with everything when you create art. Even the ones that aren’t as good you still care about. That was an interesting process to kind of wind it down and then stuff that we did like ‘Stardust’, ‘Pleasure and Pain’, ‘Pay For This’ ‘Falling Apart’ were all written during the process of doing the record. ‘Syndrome’ was from the original, “Basement’ was from the original, like ‘Mourning Star’ written in that process. Even now, looking to go do a second record, we still have all those songs to choose from but, at this point it has been a couple years. Do we really want to go back to the old catalogue or do we just really want to go from where we are now and take it forward?
HHM: Do you write a lot?
HHM: So you could hit the studio this time with 150 songs, shit can 148 of them and write a whole new record.
Aaron: Yeah, we did a bunch of tunes that didn’t go on the first record that we all love. They were great songs, they just weren’t right for that record. Maybe they will come out then. It is gonna be a process of elimination again I guess.
HHM: Have you ever thought about doing some ‘Perk’ releases?
Aaron: That’s kind of what we’re looking at right now. We’ll finish this tour, we’re coming up on the Holidays , then it’s New Year. This record has been out for over a year now so I think we’re are gonna try and do at least a little something we can release. Just to give something new.
HHM: A little baby EP or..
Aaron: Yeah, something like that. The details are still getting hacked out on all that. We definitely want to give the fans something new as soon as we can.
HHM: Who did you work with on the record?
Aaron: Kevin Churko
HHM: Had you ever worked with him before?
Aaron: No, we had never worked him before but, he’s done Five Finger Death Punch, In This Moment, Ozzy Osbourne, studied under Mutt Lange, he’s done Shania Twain, Britney Spears, Def Leppard. Mutt Lange is a staple in the industry and Kevin was kind of his protégé. Kevin was great man. We became friends over the period and we all still keep in touch with him and his family. Great people.
HHM: Are you guys taking part in any festivals this Spring coming up?
Aaron: I haven’t heard anything yet.
HHM: The six million festivals that crank up in the Spring.
Aaron: *haha Exactly. I haven’t heard anything about them. We were really lucky to do all the festivals we did this year.
HHM: Would you rather do the weekend festivals as opposed to the tour type festivals that go on and on?
Aaron: We’ve never done one of those type of festivals yet so I don’t even know yet. The last two years we’ve been doing club dates with the intermittent festival dates along the way. I honestly can’t answer that because I’ve never done it. I just know that it’s really really hot every day.
HHM: Well, I guess imagine what you did that day, then imagine doing it every day for about 3 weeks.
Aaron: Well, as long as the air conditioning in the RV works I’ll be happy. As long as we have AC I’d be down. I love the festivals man, to be able to interact with so many people. Not only onstage but afterwards as well. Being able to walk around meeting kids, chat with people, I love it man. I love what I do.
HHM: Plus, festivals normally have a crew that take care of all your shit for you.
Aaron: The crews are always really on point too. We don’t have to do but so much work. It is actually more work at club gigs for us.
HHM: Any other updates or treats you like to share with your fans?
Aaron: Not really, as I said man., we’ll finish this tour and hopefully look to head back to Vegas for a couple weekends in December. Work on some stuff and knock some things out. Just have something new to give them. All those details are still getting worked out so….
HHM: You guys have like 12 acoustic albums sitting on your hands….
Aaron: Oh, I would love to do an acoustic album, we gotten a lot of positive response from all the radio stuff that we’ve done with the piano and everything. That certainly stuff that we have talked about.
HHM: Fans seem to eat that up.
Aaron: Oh yeah and I love it. Like I said, I play everything, we all do. I love the way the music translates to acoustic. It becomes this whole new entity and I really enjoy that. We’ll see. We’ll see what happens. At this point we are focusing on this tour, do the best we can for it, get through it and see what the New Year brings.
HHM: Get off the road before the snow hits…
Aaron: We’ll see how well that works out..
HHM: I think you’re heading mostly South.
Aaron: Well, we do head South but we will be heading back up North. Just think, we’ll be in Colorado Springs in late November, it’s gonna be cold but, that’s alright. We’re used to it. Moving gear in the snow.
HHM: Well I really appreciate it man. It was very enjoyable.
Aaron: My pleasure man, this was very fun.
interview by DaveHHM
Check out their latest album LUX on iTunes
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