The musical act known as JOHN 3:16 is no stranger to the Rivetheads and Dark 3rd radio shows, with a sound that bridges drone, psychedelic, post rock, industrial and noise. The mastermind of this project is Philippe Gerber, formerly of the band Heat From A DeadStar. Since 2007 John 3:16 has released a number of EPs and collaborations as well as a critically acclaimed debut album ‘Visions of the Hereafter – Visions of Heaven, Hell and Purgatory’. JOHN 3:16 has also played numerous live dates across the globe. John E Smoke caught up with Philippe to see what is next in the world of JOHN 3:16.
PG – First of all, thank you for your support. I’m very grateful to the radio stations that have been playing my tracks for years now. My goal is for my music to be heard. That’s all I want and I really appreciate you’ve been helping me with that. I tend to say my music is purely Industrial, but over the years I unconsciously integrated elements from Shoegaze, Drone, Rock, Electronica, etc, making JOHN 3:16 even harder to describe. Many reviews have labeled my music as being of the Post-Rock genre, but I don’t feel like my music is part of that scene.
JES – Do you have a mission statement with JOHN 3:16? What are you ultimately hoping to achieve, personally and musically?
PG – Through JOHN 3:16 I’m trying to be an art preacher. I want people to feel something strong inside from the very first note they hear, when they take a look at the visuals/art or when they see me play live. JOHN 3:16 is a reflection of who I am as an individual and as an artist. I have been trying to translate into sound my personal feelings, bits of my life, major events and my vision of the world. Each release, each song, has deep personal meaning, from ‘Marks of Sin’ to ‘Ascent of The Blessed’. I want people to absorb JOHN 3:16 as a whole and interpret the music/art themselves. In other words, JOHN 3:16 is a reflection of my soul. JOHN 3:16 is a metaphysical journey through life.
JES – Your former band Heat From a DeadStar were perhaps more traditional in terms of set up and composition. What triggered the shift towards creating more experimental and atmospheric and perhaps less traditionally song based?
PG – Heat From a DeadStar could have been great, but Pierrique (guitar, vocals) and I (guitar, bass and synth/samples) had different visions for the band. Pierrique wanted to be famous, but I wasn’t ready to make any compromises. While I kept pulling HFADS into a more experimental and progressive musical direction, Pierrique was looking for something easy to play live. I always wanted HFADS to be instrumental-only, but Pierrique wanted to reach a larger audience and was willing to play shorter tracks more easily played on major radio stations. This is why I started JOHN 3:16 while on tour with HFADS. The very first JOHN 3:16 release (s/t, out via White Label Music and then Alrealon Musique) was a combination of tracks that was too experimental for HFADS. I had no idea at the time that JOHN 3:16 would be my main project today.
JES – There is an obviously religious aspect to your recent work with not only the name under which you perform but your album/song titles. Would you care to elaborate on your belief systems and how they influence your art?
PG – I’m an atheist. I had a very strict religious education during my teenage years, which resulted in me rejecting all forms of religion in my 20’s. A few years ago, I realized some of the texts have deep meaning. The Bible is full of paradoxes and imaginary tales, but it can be poetic, epic and even realistic. I wanted to translate into sound the images and atmospheres I felt after reading the Bible many years later. The Book of Revelation, for example, is a fantastic story. It’s full of symbols that are purely fascinating. It doesn’t matter what we believe or not, no one can deny the influence of religion on our civilization.
PG – The gear I’m using is definitely what makes my sound. I use both Les Paul and SG Gibson guitars. They are my favourites. They both sound great in studio and live. I combine them with Orange amps. I also use a Fender P bass (69) and a 1976 4001 Rickenbaker with a Fender Bassman coupled with an Ampeg cabinet. I work with Moog pedals for both guitar and bass. They are very expensive, but they are worth it. I got them 12 years ago and they are still great. I also have a couple of analog keyboards I acquired over the years, as well as a MPC1000 I use as sampler, drum machine and sequencer. For years, I worked only with a Roland VS1680 (I recorded the first two JOHN 3:16 releases with it), but I switched to Logic and Ableton Live a few years ago. I purchased Battery 4 this year. It has great drum sounds.
JES – How do you translate the solo studio work of JOHN 3:16 into the live environment? Describe a JOHN 3:16 show to us.
PG – In the studio, most of the guitar and bass parts are recorded as overdubs. I can have more than 20 guitar tracks for one song (‘Eternal Sin Offering’ for example). Live, I have a sequencer, a keyboard and a guitar. I could try to re-create step by step what I did in studio when I play live, building the song bit by bit and ending up looping the parts recorded during the show, but I want to offer something else to the audience. I want to add another dimension to the project. I usually re-interpret all my tracks live. I have a couple of pre-recorded loops and trigger them while I’m playing guitar and keyboards. For example, the original 16-min ‘Eternal Sin Offering’ became a 22-min song with new original parts when I played it in Israel last year. Some of the songs like ‘Sinners in The Hands of An Angry God’ are played close to the studio version, because they were meant to be played live when I started recording them, but so far, I’ve never played the same song the same way twice. Visuals are also an important part of my shows.
JES – William Schaff (Okkervil River, Songs: Ohia, Godspeed You! Black Emperor…) designed the artwork for your debut album. How did this come about? How much input into the design did you have directly?
PG – I wanted to work with William Schaff for a while (I started thinking about it when we recorded the first HFADS album). I always admired his unique style and some of my favourite art covers were designed by William (Okkervil River ‘Black Sheep Boy’ and Godspeed You, Black Emperor!’s ‘Lift Your Skinny Fists to the Sky’). I got in touch with him via email, asking him if he was interested in working on the art for the first JOHN 3:16 album ‘Visions of The Hereafter’ (Alrealon Musique). I guess he was intrigued by the project, because he agreed to work on something right away. I sent him a couple of tracks I was working on for the album. He designed the whole piece while listening to my music. What he sent me was far beyond what I was expecting. I didn’t give him any direction, only the album title and the tracks. I let his artistic inspiration take the lead. William will also be working on the art for the next JOHN 3:16 EP.
JES – I understand that you are working on a new release for 2015, ‘La Fin Absolue Du Monde’, to be released on Alrealon Musique. What can we expect from this release?
PG – The ‘La Fin Absolue Du Monde’ EP is a direct homage to film director/music composer John Carpenter, who has been influencing my musical and cinematographic tastes from an early age. ‘La Fin Absolue Du Monde’ is also a prelude to the second JOHN 3:16 album ‘The Sun Shall Be Turned Into Darkness and The Moon Into Blood…’ (to be released in 2016). This album is inspired by The Book of Revelation. ‘La Fin Absolue Du Monde’ will include five new tracks illustrated by five videos. The first video was screened on the Film Day of the Experi-MENTAL Music Festival 6 (Spectrum, NYC). You can watch it on Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/105762357
JES – Do you have any other projects in the pipeline?
PG – More than a year ago, I was telling webzines and magazines I was focusing solely on JOHN 3:16 for the next decade. I would have never imagined I could have so many projects lined up this year. As JOHN 3:16, I have been collaborating with a lot of artists I really like. Earlier this year, I worked with British artist Anthony Donovan (Murmurists, Vultures Quartet) and we managed to write and record 7 Drone/Experimental/Industrial tracks together. James Plotkin mastered the entire album and honestly, it sounds great. I have a lot of respect for Anthony Donovan, he’s a great musician. I’m proud of this collaboration. Anthony came up with astonishing bass and drum lines and his vocals are so intense. The album, called ‘Of the Hex and Its Likenesses’ will be released in 2015 via Flood Sounds (Japan – CD+Digital). I’m also excited about two other collaborations (as JOHN 3:16), one already started and one is about to start. They are both taking JOHN 3:16 to another level. I asked Mark Harris (England) if he wanted to work on a full album with me. I really like his music. I think he’s one of the best Ambient artists out there. The albums he released on n5MD (USA) are really great. We managed to record 4 tracks together so far and hopefully the album will be ready for 2016. The other collaboration I mentioned is with Dréa Drury of ANILAH (Canada). Dréa will be recording vocals for one track from ‘La Fin Absolue Du Monde’ and a couple of tracks for the second JOHN 3:16 album. We are hoping to start working on a full length together next year. I can’t wait to hear what is going to come from this collaboration. I’ll be also be working on more tracks in 2015 with Carolyn O’Neill aka Rasplyn, who played clarinet on ‘Abyss of Hell/Clouds of Fire’ from ‘Visions of the Hereafter’. We also did another collaboration for her debut EP ‘Priestess of the Goddess’. She brings a beautiful sacred quality to my music.
I was very happy when Robert L. Pepper (PAS Musique, Limax Maximus) asked me to be part of his new project EYRYX (https://soundcloud.com/eyryx). We recorded 8 tracks together and we are now looking for a label to release it.
In 2010, I started a Techno/Electronic project called mNIPK with Canadian/gay rights activist Nate Ford. In 2 years we released one album, a couple of EPs and singles. Nate Ford stopped doing music in 2012 and I focused more on JOHN 3:16. I released 2 EPs on my own as mNIPK in 2012-2013. Some labels showed some interest in hearing fresh material, so I decided to join forces with Chris Gilmore (FluiD) and started working on new songs and remixed them a couple of months ago. The second mNIPK album will be released in 2015. We played at two festivals this year (Experi-MENTAL Music 6 and Omega Sound Fix 4.0) and we are booking a bunch of shows for next year.
JES – We like to explore the musical tastes of our interviewees. Can you remember the first piece of music you purchased/borrowed/stole? What about the most recent piece of music that left an impression on you?
PG – The two first albums I ever owned were tapes. Both were stolen in a supermarket by a good friend of mine. I gave him a bit of cash in return. These albums were ‘Master of Puppets’ by Metallica and ‘Bad’ by Michael Jackson. The latest album I have been really into is Ex’ (Mute) from Plastikman.
JES – You are also heavily involved with the Alrealon Musique label. Would you like to tell us about the label and your future plans?
PG – Alrealon Musique was supposed to be the name of the structure (label and management) set up for Heat From a DeadStar. But we signed a deal with Boston-based producer Rick Harte (Ace of Hearts Records – Mission of Burma, Lyres, The Real Kids, etc). After that, Alrealon became the home for new and innovative artists I’ve met mostly online. I wasn’t happy with the way White Label Music (UK, Ann Shenton/Add N to (X)’s label) dealt with the first JOHN 3:16 release. I decided to re-release it in a limited edition CD-R via Alrealon Musique (ALRN001). The following releases were from US artists subudxtion (Chris Gilmore), Black Saturn vs. subduxtion (Ned Jackson with Chris Gilmore) and PAS Musique (Robert L. Pepper). In our 5 years we have had more than 60 releases, spanning a multitude of genres, locales and formats (CD’s, Vinyls, Digital). Artists on Alrealon include, PAS Musique, Black Saturn, The Use, [owt kri], Rasplyn, Rapoon, Big Brother On Acid, Mobius, JOHN 3:16, Fat Kneel, Laica, Philippe Petit, FluiD, the JazzFakers, Trey Crim and Jim Tuite. Managed by Chris Gilmore, Robert L. Pepper and myself, the label is taking a direction we didn’t expect when we all started working together.
We are hoping to keep releasing CD’s and vinyl, but we also want to try different things. Alrealon is about experimenting, so it’s time to prove we can really innovate. For the near future, we are hoping to set up a different verison of the Experi-MENTAL Festival in Philadelphia. Michael Durek aka The Use (check out his stellar album ‘What’s The Use? released on Alrealon Musique) is curating an exclusive digital series on Alrealon, which is very exciting knowing Michael’s personal music taste. The first release of the series will be an EP from Mobius.
PG – To be honest, it’s tough right now. Services like Spotify are killing independent labels. We’ll keep releasing physicals, but we have to be careful as to what we release. We can’t spend a large amount of money if the artist isn’t ready to play shows or to be pro-actively promoting his/her music or if he/she doesn’t understand what Alrealon is about. Alrealon is a family, we share ideas, we help each other. It’s the only way to succeed. We’ve made a couple of mistakes in the past, but now, we have a very strong artist core.
JES – Thank you once again for having a chin wag with Rivetheads Radio, is there anything you’d like to add?
PG – Thank you again for your support. I’ll be playing more shows next year as JOHN 3:16 and mNIPK. Hopefully, I’ll be coming to the UK soon.