Interview: Bruce Lamont Of Yakuza

[from The A.V. Club Chicago / June 15, 2010]

“Progressive doom metal with saxophone” may sound like a ridiculous musical recipe, but Chicago’s Yakuza has ridden the idea to five acclaimed albums and a place atop the local metal mountain. Not to mention singer/saxophonist Bruce Lamont’s numerous side projects, ranging from guest appearances with local punk outfit The Jai-Alai Savant to fronting tribute band Led Zeppelin 2. Ahead of the June 22 release of Yakuza’s latest full-length, Of Seismic Consequence, and a Sunday, June 20 set opening for Eyehategod at the Empty Bottle, The A.V. Club spoke with Lamont about genre definition, free jazz, and musical light beer.

The A.V. Club: Yakuza’s effectively entering its second decade now—

Bruce Lamont: [Laughs] That’s a unique way of putting it.

AVC: Well, for Chicago metal bands that’s a very long time. How does it feel to be elder statesmen at this point?

BL: I’d be honored to be called an elder statesman, I guess. [Drummer] Jim [Staffel] and I were just talking about this a few months ago. We just realized, “Oh shit, we’ve been a band for 10 years! That’s big!” But I never even gave it a thought until recently we brought it up, and then an interviewer asked that same question. “You’ve been a band for 10 years, what do you think about that?” Well, I don’t think about it. I just keep moving along.

AVC: The band straddles that line between being, if not a classic metal band, then what people would think of as a metal band, and a free-jazz, experimental side. How consciously do you maintain that balance? Do you, at this point, know the sound or do you ever have to step back and say, “Whoa, that’s not us!”?

BL: No, that never comes up. [Laughs.] We’re always developing our sound, and “free jazz” gets thrown out a lot, but I don’t hear any of that. Maybe it’s show-off saxophone parts or something like that, but when I think of free jazz, I think more of Ornette Coleman’s records. But of every record we’ve done, I think I can pinpoint exactly two spots that I thought have a hint of that, but otherwise I don’t hear it. As far as heavy sounds, Eastern sounds, art-metal, this part, that part—I don’t hear it anymore. It’s all the same thing.

When we first started this band, I was kind of afraid to bring the horn into the picture, because I didn’t want to force something—it’s a cliché, but it’s a square peg in a round hole. But it found its place, and it’s evolved, so it’s worth it. I like to use some effects on it, things like that; it’s all played unconsciously. I don’t hear a difference. Music’s music.

If you scroll through any band’s iPod, that’s where music springs from. I’ll pull mine up real quick and give you five examples: Badfinger, Bark Psychosis, Black Sabbath, The Byrds, Cro-Mags, Killing Joke, Lungfish, Meshuggah, Napalm Death, My Bloody Valentine. That’s more than five, but I’m just saying: It’s everything. Everything’s about what bigger thing your band fits in, and obviously it’s constantly affecting all of us creatively. And not in a bad way; I’m into it.

AVC: Usually when people get out the iPods, they skip over a couple spots; I notice you might have passed over Madonna.

BL: [Laughs] No, I don’t have any Madonna. That’s one thing I’m not really into: really popular stuff and really commercially based music. I was never a big fan, but then again I guess Led Zeppelin’s considered commercially successful and important. But as pretty as she is, Jessica Simpson’s just filler bullshit. That’s Miller Lite.

AVC: Do you find much overlap between the Yakuza and Led Zeppelin 2 shows? People know who you are, and people like Led Zeppelin—do you catch people coming to both shows?

BL: Besides friends and people I know, yeah, once in a while. Very rarely in Chicago, I’ll see a Yakuza shirt while we’re playing. There’s been a few people that have seen Zeppelin 2 that might venture into a Yakuza show—then they’re like, “Holy shit, what the fuck is this?”