I give to you my interview with Connecticut musician, the guitarist for She Walks Without Legs and Scatterhead, Eric Valad!
Alex Obert: How did you first get into music?
Eric Valad: As far as what I listen to, both of my parents are from different countries. My Mom is from Portugal and my Dad is from Iran. I did not know any instruments whatsoever at the time, but growing up, I’d always sit in the car or be at home and I’d hear this Persian melody stuff or Arabic. The first style of music that I listened to wasn’t like rock, techno, whatever, but it was like some of the stereotypical music that you hear from other countries.
As far as where I actually started getting my influence, I started listening to pop and techno music when I was a kid because I mean when you’re that young, you don’t really know music. I listened to, in my book, a lot of good music. It was just kind of like a gradual buildup from there. But I didn’t really listen to rock all that much until probably fifth grade. I was listening to Red Hot Chili Peppers because they were catchy. I mean if you were to ask me if I was listening to bands like Supertramp or Pink Floyd at that time, I would not be able to find myself listening to them, but eventually, it kind of came out of its shell, it was like a slow, gradual buildup, really. I went from listening to ethnic styles of music to pop and techno to rock and then pretty much everything else.
AO: What was the first album you bought?
EV: I can’t remember if it was Red Hot Chili Peppers’s Californication or Eiffel 65’s Europop, the band that did the Blue Da Bee De Da Ba Di song. It’s between those two, they were the first albums I bought. Everything else, I usually listen to on tape that my parents gave me. My Dad had a lot of the tape tracks, a lot of techno, a lot of the Persian stuff. Once in a while, I’d catch a glimpse of a rock song by the side. I remembering hearing Time by Pink Floyd. I didn’t know it was them at the time. I think it was the first Pink Floyd song I’ve ever heard. I was probably around seven. But it took me until the age of thirteen to finally realize, “Holy crap, this is a Pink Floyd song? Really?” It was kind of the same thing with Tool. I first started listening to Tool when I was sixteen or seventeen. I heard their song Parabola and it was one of those things where I had Radio 104.1, one of the rock stations that was on in Connecticut and I’d always hear that song every once in a while. When you’re that young, you listen to the radio station and you have it in the background, you’re multitasking, you don’t really think of who’s playing because your stations don’t always tend to tell you who’s playing, it’s kind of on the grid that that’s not what they’re ultimately getting paid for. It’s like, okay, let’s just fill in the blanks here. It was interesting. Between Eiffel 65 and Red Hot Chili Peppers, that was definitely the range that I was listening to when I was younger.
AO: What was the first band that you remember being obsessed with and following for their updates and when they’d be playing?
EV: I don’t know if I’d count them as a band, obviously when I was in around second or third grade, but, ‘N Sync. Just because everybody listened to them at the time. It was one of those things where once in a while, I’d listen to it, and I’d imagine myself being the performing singer. Nowadays, I look at it, and I’m like, “I’m so glad I had the excuse that I was really young to think that.”
But the first band I got obsessed with, it’s between System of a Down and Tool. System was one of those bands that I remember literally listening to the albums Toxicity or Mezmerize for a month straight, no other album, that was the only music I was listening to. It was bad to the point where if I heard something else, I’d get annoyed. And Tool was just an enigma, they were the conundrum that when you make something very mysterious, it tends to be very interesting. I’ve been listening to Tool for many years and I still try to find information out about each of the members.
Not many people know what the main story of each of the member’s lives were, but the bits that you do know, they’re very interesting.
AO: In relation to songwriting and song lyrics, what are some of your favorite lines from songs?
EV: Oh Jesus, I used to be a quote person myself. I could tell you which ones I’m thinking of right now, there’s a lot of Tool ones. I could say all the lyrics to Schism, pretty much. The thing I like about bands like Tool and Pink Floyd and their lyrics is that you listen to it one day, you think it’s this meaning, but then you listen to it seven years from now and you think to yourself it’s not a different meaning, but it’s a different feeling.
Some of my favorite ones growing up when I was a kid, because I was one of those “Hey, pity me! I’m gonna complain about my life.” individuals. One of my favorites was from Tool’s Parabola, “Feeling eternal, all this pain is an illusion.” and if you want to go as far as mind over matter, I always figure that that’s actually kind of true, you look at certain individuals in the world. I’ve seen Shaolin Monks using a power drill to their neck and it does nothing. It might leave a little scratch, but literally, it does nothing.
The other one is pretty much the whole chorus of Lateralus by Tool, which is “Over thinking, over analyzing separates the body from the mind. Withering my intuition leaving all these opportunities behind.” I was a major overthinker, still kind of am, but not to the extent that I was in high school. I spent most of my time indoors, kind of secluded, so all I did was think. I practically could have been the Socrates of my house, but nobody likes to sit down with a philosopher constantly because once in a while, you need to have that conversation of, “Say, how was that movie?”, not “This is why I believe this symbolism, yadda yadda, what is life?”, it’s just like I don’t really think anybody has an answer, but once in a while, you just want to hear things like DMX, where he says, “Walk into a strip club, just tryin to get my dick sucked.” You gotta balance the two. The way I look at it, you’ve got to have a philosophical moment in life, but at the same time, you’ve gotta have fun, you’ve gotta have your vices as well. Because if you’re entirely one or the other, you’re naturally not an intelligent individual in my book.
AO: And on the other side of music, what are the first three concerts that come to mind that you’ve been to?
EV: First one was Avenged Sevenfold with Shinedown, Shadows Fall, and Burn Halo because that was technically, I mean the first concert I’ve ever been to was a punk band show in Portugal, but I wasn’t too big into punk and all that, but it was enjoyable, but Avenged Sevenfold was the first one I’ve ever been to with friends of mine that I consider family. I was age eighteen and I hit the threshold where I was actually starting to figure out who I was as a person, finally opening up a little bit. And it was a fun concert because even friends of mine that had never been in a mosh pit were all of a sudden running into each other. It was kind of like my cherry was broken that day.
The second one was probably the Mastodon concert with Between the Buried and Me, Baroness, and Valient Thorr. It was just an interesting concert, the concept of it, because the first two bands, they were okay. They were the kind of bands that they were good, but they were a good opener to the last two. Between the Buried and Me sounded awesome. You could tell that they’re intelligent musicians because they did not trust the sound guy, they brought their own sound system and Mastodon was interesting because the singer, Brent Hinds, the whole entire time, he just sounded like he was about to have a fuckin stroke whenever he sang. Like if you listen to the albums, I mean you could tell that they definitely autotune his voice a little bit. He’s still a great performer, still a good singer. It was definitely interesting seeing Mastodon in a way that you would not expect them to. The thing that separates them from a lot of musicians though is that Brent came on stage with a cast. His right hand, I don’t know how it got damaged, but it looked pretty bad. But he took it off and played the guitar himself, but I guess something was happening with the guitar pedal and he was pointing down towards the sound guy and he was waving angrily and I was just like, “Jesus Christ dude, I know the adrenaline on stage is there, but you’re gonna regret that after the show is done.” And I just remember during the concert, he got really angry with his guitar tech and you could hear him arguing with the guy over the microphone, but they still just kept playing. A majority of the audience, if they closed their eyes, I don’t even think they could tell that they were screwing up or anything like that. Musicians have an ear pretty much for that. It was a good show though.
The third that comes to my mind and this was quite frankly the best show that I’ve ever seen, not just because they’re my favorite band, but just because overall everything, the show, the sound, who their opener was. System of a Down and Deftones. Deftones was good, they sounded crisp. My brother went and we were stoked that it was System of a Down and I guess he wasn’t used to the fact that when you’re playing on stage, especially when it comes to hard rock bands, metal bands, it sounds completely different on stage than it does in an album because you’ve gotta focus on acoustics, and to him it sounded a lot like glass plates were being thrown at a wall. But to me, I’m in a metal band. Most people who do not listen to metal, they figure it’s just hitting a lot of notes really, really fast, but really, you can actually start to differentiate. And that’s how he felt it was, but it was still a good show. System of a Down played a hell of a show too, I mean Daron, the guitar player, started playing Cigaro. He started singing the lyrics and he played it acoustically, just jokingly, and he ended the sentence with, “This song is really fuckin’ stupid.” That was probably the best concert I’ve ever seen, hands down. It was one of those moments where, not everybody feels the same way about System of a Down, but after it was done, it was kind of like I woke up from a dream. I was like, “I really wish I could go back.” It was one hell of a concert.
AO: And on the other side of the coin, what is the worst and/or biggest disappointment of a concert you’ve ever been to?
EV: I haven’t had that many, honestly. I could tell you the worst artists that I’ve seen live. Honestly, the worst that I’ve seen wasn’t even that bad, as far as famous goes. I’ve seen a lot of bad local bands, but In This Moment was probably the worst as far as vocally goes. I think the singer was just having a bad day. Instrumentally, they were good, but the singer had the focus on singing and screaming at the same time and I think that’s kind of a tough position too because you’re kind of throwing ping pong balls all over the place, just making sure you can balance between the two. That’s why bands like Slipknot’s Corey Taylor or Tool’s Maynard James Keenan, they are able to balance between the two because that’s all they do, they just practice. If you strengthen the way that your diaphragm and your throat works, then you’re gold there. Some of the most embarrassing moments I’ve seen, one was actually at the first show I went to that had Avenged Sevenfold and Shinedown. The first band, Burn Halo, they were just about to get famous, their name was just about to get out there, and I feel like they were trying too hard to get the audience pumped up. That’s one thing I’ve always figured playing shows and whatnot is “Do not try to purposely, over zealously get the audience excited.” Go at your own flow, if they get excited, they get excited. If you know how to get ’em excited, good job, you’re a pickup artist with that. But, it was one of those moments where everybody in the audience was just like, “Who the hell were these guys?”, instead of “Hey, let’s just listen to them. They’re good, maybe they’re entertaining.” But it’s also kind of hard because, don’t get me wrong, I’ve met the singer, really cool guy, I’ve seen Burn Halo twice. I think especially when you’re getting out in the business that, I don’t know if you’re being told pretty much, “Listen, this is how you have to do it.”, but at the same time, you don’t want to come off as pretentious with it. This isn’t the 70’s or 80’s now where you see a band and it’s like a Cathedral visit that you’re taken into. Nowadays, people already know who you are. People are already having large expectations, and chances are, they probably know more about your instrument than you do.
The second other embarrassing moments was probably Shadows Fall. You could tell that they were just an opener that night. They played a hell of a show, but the singer went down to the audience, he wanted to hear them sing it, he pointed the microphone towards the audience and nobody knew the words. And it’s just one of those moments where you’ve gotta think to yourself who you’re opening up for. You want to make sure that you’re on equal grounds and make sure you know that your audience knows the words to your songs. Like my band, She Walks Without Legs, we’ll play shows, and we’ll see people that we don’t even know singing the lyrics. And it’s just like, “How the hell do they know the lyrics?” I can tell you this much, I’ve seen a lot of shows and seen several embarrassing moments, but nonetheless, when you’re in a band, nine times out of ten, you tend to know what you’re doing.
AO: Tell me about all the bands you’ve been in from the start.
EV: You learn something new from every band that you’ve been in. Some bands I’d been in only lasted a day. It’s kind of one of those things where everybody says, “Hey, let’s do this.”, but next thing you know, you see people who aren’t committed, they don’t get in contact with you. I mean this is the days before everybody had cell phones. Everybody would be calling each other through house phones saying, “Hey, listen, do you wanna do this?” It wasn’t MySpace or Facebook or whatever, where everybody could just get in contact easily. You knew everybody was committed because they would actually take the time to contact you.
My first band, I think I was twelve or thirteen, and these were the days when I just focused on “Hey, the faster I am at guitar, the better I am.” and it’s kind of a stupid philosophy. It got me by. We practiced one day, I remember literally an hour long jam session and looking back on it, I just realized we were playing the same fuckin’ note over and over again. Did it suck? Probably. I don’t even remember it. But at the same time, it’s a learning experience. My first year of guitar, I didn’t really want to learn to play for personal reasons because my brother would say the second I got home, “Okay, we’re jamming.” It’s like, “Okay. I wanted to play XBox, but okay.” But that’s one of the few moments that my overzealous brother paid off. Well he paid off for a lot of things, but that’s one of the ones I’m really grateful for. After that, I was in one band called Ice 9, that I think we literally changed so many members, we kicked out nine singers. (laughs) We had members go in and come out. I think we had three different band names, but essentially, in spite of all the people, I count that as one band. We ended up being called Riven. Somehow, we managed to have an old and a young audience. That is a compliment in itself. If you can get people of that range to listen to your style of music, and I don’t even know how we were. We had some grunge, but then at the same time we had a lot of System of a Down style and metal involved, but then at the same time, two of our members listened to bands like Creed, Alter Bridge, and country, while my bassist and I were more into Tool, System, Red Hot Chili Peppers. The thing that was amazing about that band was we all had differentiation, even in religious beliefs. But at the same time, we collaborated and kept it together. It’s kind of like a relationship. A good relationship isn’t what you have in common, it’s how you deal with the differences. And that you accept each other’s differences. That band, we never broke up, essentially, but our drummer was from Rhode Island, and our rhythm guitar player was going to school and he was more focused on that which was reasonable and he kind of just stopped playing the guitar at that point.
But my buddy TJ and I, we started another band called Eye of the Pyramid. A lot of people had mixed opinions about the name. It’s reasonable, I mean we were another mixture, our singer was mostly into Shinedown and Red Hot Chili Peppers. I was more into System and Tool and Pink Floyd. My guitar player was more into Pearl Jam and Dave Matthews. And my drummer was just a stoner. That in its own way says a lot, he was a good drummer too. We played shows from Radio 104.1, this is pretty much where I learned the business aspect, when it came to being in a band. Our singer was one of those singers that by the third month, he was talking about making a full-fledged CD, we should work on new songs every single day, we should be the headliner for most of these shows that we’re doing. I remember there was one show we were doing, I think it was the first one we did, and he was like, “I’m gonna glare at the other band members of other bands to lower their morale.” And I looked at him and I called him an idiot because I was just like, “Why would you do that? Bands are supposed to help each other.” The thing that people don’t realize about being in a band, you’re at constant competition with yourself. It’s not like you’re sitting at home collecting money for these things. You’re constantly being like, “Okay, how can I be able to do this?” But the way I look at it to is if you’re not willing to do your hobby for free, then it’s not something you should do at all. It’s an expensive hobby, but it’s a really fun hobby. Whenever I run into bands who are just like, “We hope to get signed.” It’s just like, “Kid, you’ve got a way to go.” It’s like getting your book published, you’ve gotta build yourself a reputation first.
Pyramid was kind of getting there, we were playing shows for Radio 104.1, we were doing a lot of Webster Underground shows, our band was really well-known in a radius of three towns. We got by, we went through three bassists and we could have gone a little further, but our drummer, I don’t want to point the finger at him at all, but there were three show offers that he was just not interested in, the last one being Toad’s Place. Whether you’re in a band or not, you know that if you’re offered Toad’s Place, that is a grant given. It’s pretty much one of the few places in Connecticut where people will notice you. That’s where a lot of people go. That’s even where important people, as far as the industry, go. Not saying that we were gonna get signed the next day, let’s not be pretentious here, especially in Connecticut. Connecticut is the black hole when it comes to the music industry, it’s the black hole of a lot of things. A lot of talent in Connecticut, but it goes nowhere if you’re just sticking there. We were offered Toad’s Place and he turned it down, he didn’t have a really good excuse either. My singer and I just looked at each other one day and we were just like, “We’re done.” And he agreed, we were done. It wasn’t a breakup, but a mutual separation. We tried getting to do a reunion show every once in a while, but it just never came through. When band members split, it’s like relationships. They start to live different lives, there’s more opportunities. Sometimes if you’re not with a person, there’s more opportunities there.
And I joined She Walks Without Legs. They were together for two years, but they were stuck at one point and when I joined the band, I had to learn six songs within two weeks and that’s what I did. I didn’t know them fully, but they still said, “Listen, we’re doing a competition in Massachusetts.” And it pretty much fell on me if they were gonna do it or not. It was one of those moments where it felt like a film, we went to this competition, it was a matter of four rounds. We won the first round. And it was kind of the blossoming of She Walks Without Legs in a way, not saying it was entirely me. My bandmates are frickin’ phenomenal, they’re great members. And this is another thing I’m blessed with too was the fact that this band had members that listened to different styles of music, but we still put it together. We may get into arguments and all that, but no relationship should be perfect. If it’s too perfect, it’s gonna get boring. If there’s no learning experience, it’s not worth doing.
My other band I’m in right now, Scatterhead, is with my brother. They were just starting out. The mindset that they had was, “We’re gonna learn a bunch of songs that we can play at bars and whatnot.” Ever since I joined the band though, it’s been a matter of a lot of changes that kept happening. Prior to that, they had a guitar player who was with them for eight months, but would not remember a majority of the music, he would not be committed, and the week that they kicked him out was because he missed five practices in a row and the last straw was on the fifth one, he said, “Hey guys, I’m going to be playing with my friend’s band because they need a guitarist for tomorrow to play a show.” That set off everybody and they had to kick him out. And eventually I came in because I had more time on my hands because I was going through a really difficult relationship at the time and I didn’t have a lot of time to myself, but eventually when I did, that’s what I did. I joined Scatterhead. They were called Rude at the time. I alternate between She Walks Without Legs and Scatterhead. She Walks Without Legs, obviously is my priority band. I still love them both equally, but She Walks is my priority band, I’ve been with them longer, we’re number two or three on ReverbNation as far as Connecticut goes. It’s just exciting to us, it’s fun. The thing about being in a band that’s great is it’s an open relationship that is the only kind of relationship that you can be open in without there being much jealousy, depending what band members you have. When I first joined Scatterhead, my singer for She Walks was a little whatever about it, but I told him, “Listen, I’m not leaving this band. (She Walks)” The reason I’m in two bands right now is because I enjoy music. I enjoy making music I enjoy playing music. It’s really the only thing I was thinking about even before I picked up the guitar.
AO: Before we conclude, how would you personally define music?
EV: The best way I can put it is it’s the manmade sounds of nature. Music is like saying “What is life?” There’s no direct one way of saying it, there’s many ways to say it, say the same frickin’ thing, but how I would define music is if you’re a musician, it’s kind of a way of nonverbal language. How you play, what you play. You could see three people playing the same song, but the way they play it will pretty much show you, are they nervous, are they excited, do they know the song like the back of their hand, do they want to mix it up a little bit. It’s the same thing with life, talking about somebody who’s nervous all the time, are they just going with the flow of things or do they think too much, do they make that an advantage or a disadvantage. I could be wrong when I say that it’s the manmade voices of nature because prior to that, you hear people talking about white noises with thunderstorms or a fountain in the backyard that puts you to sleep. If it puts you in a certain mood like that, then I think it’s overall, what spectrum are you on, are you on the good spectrum or the bad spectrum? Are you listening to metal music because you’re an angry individual or are you listening to it because it’s like therapy? Do you get your anger out doing that? It’s the same thing with video games, do you shoot these aliens because you’re angry or do you shoot these aliens because it’s fun? And that’s the great thing about music, it’s universal. You can mold it and carve it in any single way that you want and honestly, there was a point where I felt music was the only language that I really could express myself in.
Eric (left) with the She Walks Without Legs’s bassist, Jordan Parsons