Objects Without Pain: An interview with Shane Mehling of Great Falls
For over two decades now, Neurot Recodings has been pushing the boundaries of music with its impressive curation. Founded in 1999 by members of the legendary Neurosis and Tribes of Neurot as a means to further their musical vision while achieving control of their own destiny, Neurot quickly expanded its horizons and garnered an eccletic and amazing selection of artists over the years that range from Amenra, Deaf Kids and Kowloon Walled City to A Storm of Light, CHRCH and Ufomammut. One of their most recent and most exciting acquisitions is Great Falls, a Seattle noise rock outfit that joined Neurot to release their monumental fourth full-length, Objects Without Pain, a record that takes the listener on a bleak, purgative journey through a separation; a snapshot of the turmoil and indecision that occurs after the initial realization of someone’s misery, and before the ultimate decision to end a decades-long partnership.
Objects Without Pain was released two months ago to high praise, and we took the opportunity to send in some questions to founder and bassist Shane Mehling about the creation of Great Falls, the creative and recording process behind Objects Without Pain and the platonic love that exists within the band.
What were your first contacts with music and what made you want to start playing?
I know Nick’s dad and older brother played in bands when he was growing up. Demian got into all of this through skateboarding, like a lot of kids. I played piano starting at age six but just sort of did it to make my mom happy. I hated going to lessons and had zero interest in popular music. Then one day, I don’t really remember why, music became the most important thing in my life and I knew enough from piano to think at about age 13, “Well, I’m sure I could at least play the bass.”
Tell me a bit about the formation of Great Falls – how did you guys meet, where did the decision to form a band come from and what inspired you to choose the name Great Falls?
I dropped out of college to fly across the country and join Playing Enemy, which at the time was Demian Johnston and Andrew Gormley. Demian had been in Undertow, nineironspitfire, and replaced Keith Huckins in Kiss it Goodbye. Andrew was in Rorschach with Keith, and Kiss it Goodbye. Playing Enemy had just put out their first record and that band lasted for another five years until we broke up; Demian and I then started a noise project called Hemingway. That went on for some years until we wanted to write real songs again and needed a new name. As far as that name, I have some friends from Great Falls, MT. One of them had talked about starting a bar called Great Falls. When that fell through, we stole it.
“[Hemingway] went on for some years until we wanted to write real songs again and needed a new name. As far as that name, I have some friends from Great Falls, MT. One of them had talked about starting a bar called Great Falls. When that fell through, we stole it.”
What were some artists that influenced and still influence the band, both inside and outside of music?
Neurosis, obviously, early Today is the Day, pretty much anything with heavy bass. Keith Huckins, Francis Bacon, Raymond Pettibone, Lebbeus Woods, David Wojnarowicz, Codeine, Craw, Jóhann Jóhannsson.
Going into your brand-new record, Objects Without Pain, how was the creative and recording process like? What were some ideas and themes you wanted to explore this time around?
Our goal with the record was really just to write the biggest record we could, trying to go a little overboard. We felt like this was a chance to challenge ourselves and make something that in the end may not work. So, we wrote some longer songs, and invited collaborators and used some different instrumentation. We wanted it to be the kind of record that had a chance of failure. As far as the themes, that didn’t really come intentionally, but Demian pushes himself to be very open and honest about what’s going on in his life and what keeps him up at night. And his family and his living situation just presented itself when it was time to start writing lyrics.
Objects Without Pain is the first record where you are joined by drummer Nick Parks. What do you feel are some of the main things that Parks contributed with during the writing and recording process?
We talk about Nick “leaning forward” when he plays drums, which just means that he is always playing hard and with purpose. And his brain is just constantly working out new things, adding different fills or flourishes, and it’s a very intense kind of playing that we love and does exactly what we want from that instrument. And when we write with him, it’s very much in sync with how we hear the songs as well. Or if it’s different, it’s a refreshing angle we would have never thought of.
Once again, mixing and engineering duties were handled by Scott Evans. How is it working with Evans and what do you feel he brings to the table in terms of recording and production?
Scott doesn’t share all the same tastes we do, but he shares a lot of the same principles of how music should be written and how it should sound, and we understand where each other is coming from. So, while he may not love everything we do, he gets why we want it and then records and mixes it appropriately. He’s very good at giving feedback and even better at receiving feedback, and it always feels like he wants nothing more than to deliver the exact record you want.
Objects Without Pain is also your first record with Neurot Recordings. How did this collaboration come about and what are the band’s feelings towards that relationship so far?
Scott is also in Kowloon Walled City, a Neurot band, and connected us. It was pretty straightforward, but we’re still excited to be part of the label and for them to be supportive of us, especially since we’re not a guaranteed success to sell even a modest amount of records. But of all the labels we’ve ever worked with, this has been the one that feels most aligned with how we view being in a band.
Speaking of relationships, the press release for this new record mentioned that the band view themselves as platonic soulmates. How do you feel that relationship has helped the band over the years, both in a personal and professional level?
Ha, well, that is really just Demian and I. We love Nick, but after 20+ years of Demian and I being in bands, we are incredibly close. And I think we’ve probably benefited the most from just wanting to go to practice to see each other and hang out. We talk all the time outside practice, but getting there and wasting a bunch of time is just a huge part of our lives. Writing music can be super frustrating and demoralizing, so having your best friend there makes you want to show up again, even when the music is the worst part of the trip.
With the record out, what does the near future look like for Great Falls? Any upcoming tours or other plans you’d like to mention?
Depending on when this comes out, we will either be on our way to the Northeast part of the States for a short run or we are back and figuring out how to either get a West Coast jaunt figured out next year or finally make it to Europe.
“Writing music can be super frustrating and demoralizing, so having your best friend there makes you want to show up again, even when the music is the worst part of the trip.”
Interview by Filipe Silva
Photo by Soren Hixenbaugh, courtesy of Great Falls