Asbury Park-based Experiment 34 will celebrate the release of their debut full-length, “What Dying Feels Like,” on Feb. 16 at Asbury Lanes. Pictured from left to right are guitarist Kevin Nenichka, bassist Bryan Viegas, vocalist-lyricist Matthew Makin and drummer Keith Leming. PHOTO BY ANTHONY VITO COSENTINO
In age when the most daring bands seem afraid or indifferent about taking a stand against social injustice, environmental despair and the nightmare remnant of the American Dream, Asbury Park-based Experiment 34 have done that with the debut full-length, “What Dying Feels Like.”
“An artist’s duty, as far as I’m concerned, is to reflect the times. I think that is true of painters, sculptors, poets, musicians. As far as I’m concerned, it’s their choice, but I choose to reflect the times and the situations in which I find myself. That to me is my duty. And at this crucial time in our lives, when everything is so desperate, when every day is a matter of survival, I don’t think you can help but be involved. Young people, black and white, know this. That’s why they’re so involved in politics. We will shape and mold this country or it will not be molded and shaped at all anymore. So I don’t think you have a choice. How can you be an artist and NOT reflect the times? That to me is the definition of an artist.”
Those thoughts were shared in the 1960s during the Civil Rights Movement and Vietnam War by Nina Simone, the High Priestess of Soul and an outspoken activist. It’s amazing that while stated about 50 years ago, they are timeless, especially in light of what’s going on today in America regarding racism, economic inequality and the threat of war and environmental catastrophe.
Experiment 34’s full-length debut, “What Dying Feels Like,” is a brilliant political concept album that skewers Trump, his administration and supporters. Following two well-received EPs that led to tour dates from Albany, N.Y., to Arlington, Texas, “What Dying Feels Like” features seven powerful tunes and three dirge-like “Congregation” interludes based on the eclectic title track. That epic tune spans E34’s musical arsenal of punk, funk, rap, metal and psychedelic rock. Often compared to Faith No More, Incubus, Rage Against the Machine, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Clutch, Experiment 34 wage an intense assault throughout “What Dying Feels Like” against the unfair treatment of minorities, immigrants and the poor; a clear-cut decimation of our environment, and all those who fan the flames of hate, injustice and fascism.
While the album has much to say at a time when it needs to be said, E34 also know how to party. Co-founding vocalist-lyricist Matthew Makin (my son) and guitarist Kevin Nenichka will do just that on Feb. 16 at Asbury Lanes with new band mates, drummer Keith Leming (Fun While You Wait) and bassist Bryan Viegas, whose Matchbox Studios in Eatontown is the twice Asbury Park Music Award-nominated band’s new musical home. They will share the bill of an album release party with the ultra-funky lineup of Des & the Swagmatics, Bulletproof Belv feat. Matty Carlock, Flourish and P-Funk North, whose drummer, Ryan Weil, co-produced “What Dying Feels Like” with Makin and Nenichka at his Weilhouse Productions in Middletown. The album was mastered by Alan Douches, who’s worked with E34 influence Clutch, as well as Cage the Elephant, Dillinger Escape Plan and much more. Former bassist Johnny Zabe plays on and co-wrote the album and former drummer Jack LaMonica plays percussion.
I chatted with all four current members of E34 about how and why “What Dying Feels Like” and the new band lineup came together, how the album and band reflect the times, their album release party, and plans to follow it. Those plans include shows on March 2 at The Saint with Kosha Dillz and Cook Thugless; March 15 at the first of the two-day Spring Has Sprung Festival at Allstar Music Empire in Flemington with Jean Pool, Gallons of Pork, The Open Minds, A Door with No House, and CJ Dunleavy, and March 30, Cianfano’s Bar, Elizabeth, with Implicit Bias, Ernston and Justin Turk. And Experiment 34 also have a new lyric video for the title track of “What Dying Feels Like,” which you’ll find right here:
Why did you make ‘What Dying Feels Like,’ and what impact do you hope it has?
Matt: I just want people to listen and come to their own conclusions. If we can make some people think outside the box, then we’ve accomplished what we’ve set out to do in my opinion.
Kevin: I feel like this album came naturally. I didn’t think to myself, ‘OK, well this is the concept, and this is the reason for writing it.’ We just played, and it became what it became. That’s how I feel about it at least.
What about the album are you most proud of and why?
Matt: At first we just wanted to make some sick music, but then it became so much more than that. It really took a life of its own, and it inspired us to make a theme out of it. People may love that it’s politically driven, people may hate that. But we make the music we like to listen to, and I love music that makes a point.
Kevin: I would say the thing that stuck out to me was our progress and how we’ve evolved, become more equipped in the studio. Also, being able to take that progression and do it live.
Besides the message about protecting freedom, liberty and the environment while we still can, the things I love most about the album are the little nuances that make a good album great, like the coin drop on ‘Pocket Change,’ the slight cymbal touches that preface the choruses of ‘Well, You Know,’ and the three interludes, especially the gorgeous acoustic guitar part that ends the album. Kevin, you’re known as a shredder. How did ‘What Dying Feels Like’ give you chance to showcase other sides of your playing and why is that important to you?
Kevin: I feel like that’s the goal, to become more diverse. To me, that’s becoming a guitar player, not limiting yourself and sticking yourself in a box, but expanding your music vocabulary and embracing your growth.
How and why did you like working with Ryan Weil at Weilhouse Productions? What did he bring to the album that might not have been there without him?
Matt: Genius. The guy is a genius. I could ramble some inarticulate randomness that not even I understand, and in about 20 seconds, he would perfectly capture what I was trying to get across. Working at his studio is the perfect homey vibe, but still with an unbelievable professionalism added to it. Honestly, he delivered exactly what we were looking for. I would highly recommend to anyone trying to make any type of music to go there. He added an element that just wouldn’t have been there otherwise.
Kevin: He’s just ‘the guy.’ He was really the first we’ve worked with that was able to capture our live, raw sound and deliver that in the studio. He’s really smart. He co-wrote all of the (interlude) tracks titled ‘Congregation’ on the album, and that really added a lot to what we already had going on.
After he plays with P-Funk North on Feb. 16 at Asbury Lanes, Ryan is going to sit in with E34. What is he going to play and what are you looking forward to most about that?
Matt: I’m going to let what he’s going to play be a surprise, but I’m really looking forward to having him play with us because he’s a pleasure to work with, and he added so much depth to our recording. I’m sure he’ll do the same for our live show.
Kevin: You’ll have to come and see! It’s really going to add a different feel to our live sound that you may not have heard before if you’ve seen us play. It’s going to be a good time.
Experiment 34 like to mix up music styles and blend them into your eclectic sound. How does each act on the Lanes bill represent an element of E34?
Kevin: Flourish has that rock feel, while P-Funk North and Des & the Swagmatics bring that funk vibe.
Matt: Bulletproof Belv covers our hip-hop side, which is really where we live on this album.
Why did you want to have your album release party at Asbury Lanes?
Matt: It’s a classic venue, but they just renovated it, and honestly, it just really impressed me when I went to see Nalani & Sarina there. I immediately thought to myself, ‘Wow, this would be a great place to release this album.’ We worked really hard on this album, and I wanted to play somewhere that reflects that.
Having spent part of your childhood in the offices of The Aquarian Weekly, Matt, how do you feel about them sponsoring your album release party and putting E34 on the cover?
Matt: Well, it’s awesome. The Aquarian is read by everybody who cares about music in New Jersey. I love that they cover huge bands but still take the time to give us local guys a shout out. I wish everybody did that. I really appreciate that about this publication.
And thanks to New Jersey Stage for also putting us on the cover. We really appreciate that too.
Experiment 34 at YESTERcades in Red Bank. The band recently moved from New Brunswick to Eatontown, and now call Asbury Park their home base, having been nominated twice for Asbury Park Music Awards and played the majority of their shows there. PHOTO BY ANTHONY VITO COSENTINO
Keith and Bryan, why did you join Experiment 34, and what impact do you think you have on the band?
Keith: First, I was just a fill-in for a show or two, but then I was having a blast and quickly became a fulltime member. I think the diversity of my playing adds a ton of character to the band’s music.
Bryan: I have seen Experiment 34 play shows around NJ, and I was instantly a huge fan so it was a very easy decision whether or not to try out for the band. I hope to add more energy to an already very energetic band.
What do Keith and Bryan bring to the band that wasn’t there before?
Matt: It’s no secret that I like to listen to and play music that has balls. They play with big balls, and I dig that. They fit right in from the get go.
Kevin: Keith holds us together like glue. He has a hard-hitting steady pocket that we can really sit in. Bryan is a very aggressive, in-your-face bassist that holds the groove. They both really fit our style, and we’re really glad we found them.
Keith, you’ve shared the stage a couple of times with the previous lineup of Experiment 34. How is the band different now, and how and why does that bode well for the band?
Keith: The switching of the rhythm section is a hard process for any band, but I look at it as a ‘one door closes, another one opens’ kind of situation. The past lineup was tight and packed a huge punch, so they’re big shoes to fill as a drummer. But the band still packs that punch with our new lineup, and we’re still looking to further build that sound.
The band now rehearses at Bryan’s Matchbox Studios in Eatontown. How and why has that been beneficial to E34, and why would you recommend the studio?
Matt: It’s really comfortable, and the sound is great. We haven’t recorded there yet, but I’m excited for the future.
Kevin: Practicing there is really fun, and it’s in a great location.
Bryan, tell me about the studio’s video series you’re producing and how can bands get involved?
Bryan: Me and a couple of the guys at Matchbox Studios want to help give bands and musicians a platform where they can show off what they got. I think it’s a great way to help musicians improve their EPK and help them get exposure. You can get involved by contacting Matchbox Studios on Instagram or emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q: What’s your favorite track off of ‘What Dying Feels Like’?
Matt: I would say ‘Pocket Change.’ Don’t get me wrong, I love when we bring it hard, but I was really happy that we broke it down and played an acoustic song on this album. Plus, something about it just resonates with me.
Kevin: The title track, ‘What Dying Feels Like.’ I feel this song is really diverse and incorporates all of our elements.
Keith: Oh man, definitely a tough pick between ‘Black Canvas’ and ‘Well, You Know.’
Bryan: That’s funny, my favorite track is ‘Cut the String.’ I like the message, and it’s a very fun song to listen to.
Matt: I absolutely love that we all picked different songs.
What else would E34 like to accomplish in 2019?
Matt: Hopefully, we sell a bunch of records, our message makes people think, and we play some kick-ass shows.
Kevin: Yeah ... that sounds about right.
Bob Makin is the reporter for www.MyCentralJersey.com/entertainment and a former managing editor of The Aquarian Weekly, which launched this column in 1988. Contact him at email@example.com. And like Makin Waves at www.facebook.com/makinwavescolumn.