EXCLUSIVE: Wilkes-Barre sci-fi stoner rockers Gods of Space stream album release show on May 28
A futuristic spaceship is flying gently through the stars, floating over a swirling blue and green planet surrounded by a thick atmosphere of gray and white gas. Suddenly, the crew is attacked by an unknown enemy that was hiding on board, leading to an action-packed fight and the eventual destruction of the vessel. Pieces of the failing ship are breaking away and falling fast to the surface below…
This isn’t a new movie or streaming series on television – it’s the setting of the new album by Gods of Space. In only five songs, the Wilkes-Barre-based sci-fi stoner rock band tells an epic tale in “Against a Falling Sky,” released on all major platforms on April 20, so now that this planet is slowly but surely returning to normal after a long and difficult year, vocalist/guitarist Jake Waxmonsky, bassist Matt Hannon, and drummer TJ Lepkowski are ready to perform live in front of actual audiences again starting next month.
But first, NEPA Scene will live stream a special performance of these otherworldly songs from Novro Studios in Shavertown, where the trio recorded the album over a year ago. Tune in this Friday, May 28 at 8 p.m. on NEPA Scene’s Facebook page and YouTube channel and get lost in the music, which is easy to do when it comes on such a cosmic scale – and in high definition with studio-quality sound.
To prepare, we strapped in and communed with the Gods about their intergalactic journey to this point, their love of science fiction, the real-world creation process before and during the pandemic, their best shows out on tour and here in “the post-industrial world of Wilkes-Barre,” as they put it, and we even broke down the story song by song for the nerds out there who just love to analyze those sorts of things. Yes, we’re those nerds.
NEPA SCENE: Give the readers some background on yourself. When and how did you get started in music?
MATT HANNON: I grew up listening to Rock 107 with my dad and developed an appreciation for the classics like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Cream, Black Sabbath, Hendrix, Zeppelin, etc. I started playing guitar when I was 15 after hearing Jimi Hendrix play “Voodoo Chile” and having my mind blown. I played guitar with some friends in a band in high school, and then switched to bass in another band while I was in college. I stuck with bass for a while, playing in a noise/free jazz/experimental band called Mother Mime.
When Jake and I started jamming together for Gods of Space, I originally played rhythm guitar, but once Derick, our original bassist, left, I felt we were better as a three-piece and took over on bass.
JAKE WAXMONKSY: I also grew up on those classic bands like Matt. I will always remember being on the Cross Valley and my pops pulled out Rush’s “2112” and how the silver disc with the red star shined in the summer light.
So I started guitar when I was like 12, maybe 11? I had this neighbor Brain who had this black Ibanez and Marshall MG10. He wouldn’t let me touch his guitar because “I would break the strings,” so like it had this “Oh no, it’s taboo” thing about it, while in my world it became this object that was outside my power to use or obtain, so it made it extra powerful in that sense.
So he played Sabbath’s “Paranoid” for me and it was like that guitar pattern was instantly implanted in my brain. I got my own junky Ibanez and we started jamming. He also introduced me to Judas Priest and we discovered I could hit that type of high notes. We’d sit in front of these huge Kenwood speakers with like six drivers and a 15-inch woofer (which I still own) blasting “Painkiller” and he’d be like, “Do the thing!”
So basically I was negged into playing guitar and being a tenor metal singer by my good friend. [laughs] I’d never ask for any other type of espouse to music. Shout out to Brain! So after that, I did some high school bands with people, played at some VFWs, and got burned by old men taking advantage of door covers and such forth. Eventually Matt and I linked up via Craigslist and the rest is now “our story.”
TJ LEPKOWSKI: I’m keeping it short and sweet on this one. I started playing drums when I was about 10; however, before that, I remember getting the video game “Rock Band” and, after beating the crap out of those cheap plastic pads and having to replace them countless times, my parents finally got me a real set. I’ve been playing ever since. I did some other bands before Gods asked me to start playing with them in, oh man, was it 2018? Yeah, January 2018. After that, we’ve been just doing our thing together.
NS: The band formed in 2014 and parted ways for a bit. What made you stop for a few years, then want to reform in 2017 and continue forward?
HANNON: Jake and I originally started jamming together in 2012, tossing ideas around and laying the groundwork for what would become the full band. We added our original drummer Matt Yuscavage and bassist Derick Haigh around that time and played a few shows over 2014. In 2015, I moved to New Orleans and we put the band on hold. Throughout my time living in New Orleans, I’d send Jake snippets of riffs I was working on, and he’d send ideas and comments back. When I moved back to NEPA, one of my first goals was getting the band off the ground again. Jake and I work well together in writing songs and riffs, and I wanted to continue that again.
NS: How would you describe your sound or “genre?”
HANNON: Heavy psychedelic space metal, with a few other genres sprinkled in.
WAXMONKSY: Yup, what Matt said. I use “sci-fi stoner rock/metal” to keep things simple these days unless I am talking to a huge musichead.
NS: What is it that you love about science fiction, and why did you want to include that influence in your own music?
HANNON: I think it’s the vastness of the genre. There’s so much that can be written about that there can always be new stories. You can have stories grounded in reality and physics like “The Martian” or “The Expanse” series or stories that have a more fantastical feeling to them like “Star Wars” or “Dune.” When we first started out, horror and satanic elements were big in doom, stoner, and sludge metal, which is cool, but I felt everyone was getting in on that. We thought for a while and decided on space and science fiction as an untapped venue for inspiration.
NS: What made you want to dive more heavily into those sci-fi concepts on this album?
HANNON: I think it was just a natural progression of our sound and ideas for the band – just wanting to share more stories from our “universe.”
WAXMONKSY: I agree with Matt that it did come naturally. For myself, I wanted to write a more focused record. The last one was like a smashed together group of ideas that were like a round peg shoved into a star-shaped hole labeled “sci-fi.”
“Mind Hive” off the last record comes to mind because it’s 100 percent a song about social media echo chambers – not fiction.
NS: Talk about the story told on this album and how you developed that concept and brought it together in the music.
WAXMONKSY: So like I said, I wanted a complete idea on this EP. I got some songwriting books over the shutdown, dumped all the lyrics I wrote beforehand, and started fresh. I focused on the type of stuff you’d learn in any creative writing class. As much as I want to nerd out and be like, “I used a first-person view here and this word here versus that word,” I don’t think anyone wants to read a dissertation!
The story is about a ship leaving a planet, going up into its launch, and once it’s moving out of the local solar system, it’s sabotaged by some stowaways. We come in with our story with the rescue crew on “Against All Odds.”
It’s essentially a scene setting for the whole record. We’re following a rescue crew that is going to save our sabotaged ship. You move from like, “Cool, this spaceship is taking off, now they’re doing space shit,” then in verse three we’re going, “Oh it’s a rescue?” and the bridge is a move to first-person view to nail in the point that our crew’s rescue is in vain.
So then our next tune is “Suborbital Hymn.” We’re now in the perspective of one of the crewmates on the jettisoned ship; you’re now living through anxiety of the sabotage. One thing that I like in this song is that musically its changing on each part. It helps pace the tension of the story, with the hook of the song being an anchor to latch on. The changes also make you feel like you’re in that frantic anxious “We need to take action or else” mindset. It’s also such a challenge to sing and play, so it makes me feel like it’s do or die!
Next is “Exit Point.” We’re now in the mind of a ship navigator who’s having a flashback. I took inspiration from “Dune” with how their navigators are like these special chosen vessels to navigate space. This song is the most cliché stoner rock thing I did on this record. It’s just a dude minding his own business when some space witch is like, “I am gonna touch your third eye and you’re gonna trip face. Oh, and by the way, I am kidnapping you to be a space navigator.” So this song is like a nice break from the action overall. You get a little personal story inside this overall narrative.
“Falling Sky” is another setting change. We’re on the planet below watching the ship literally explode and it is falling into the planet like a meteor shower. I wrote the lyrics as if a tribe that was outside mainstream techy society was seeing this as some fate-ridden prophecy from their deities. I did not want to write it like “haha dumb natives” because I can’t stand the “savages” narratives indigenous cultures often get treated from media or Hollywood, so I really choose my words to make it feel the least amount of cliché possible. That idea of tribalness kind of reflects in that bridge where TJ laid down a great drum beat over Matt’s groove where I used this real beautiful scale that has an Eastern feel to it.
“Prisoner Transport” is our last song. It’s quiet and subdued. We’re now aware that a prison ship was the target of the attack. It’s a tune about a prisoner getting off the ship and a warden choosing to let these people free as opposed to commit them to death. I love this song because it’s functionally a surf song. We were referencing lots of surf music as we wrote the tune. When we finished writing, we heard Dick Dale died. In that sense, we accidentally wrote a tribute and we like to keep that homage in mind to him and that genre as a whole.
NS: Tell us about the beautiful album artwork. Was that image of the ship something you had in mind or did the artist come up with that on their own?
HANNON: I ended up finding this amazing artist on Reddit named Karl Poyzer from the U.K. He was posting all kinds of great artwork that reminded me of classic sci-fi book covers and I thought I’d send him a message. I knew we wanted to call the album “Against a Falling Sky” and had kind of a rough idea of what we’d like the artwork to look like. Karl and I discussed ideas for a bit over email, and I brought up the concept of a ship being ripped apart in orbit by the gravity of a planet. Karl went to work and, within a couple of hours, he had sent us back a quick sketch of the idea, which was spot-on with what we were looking for. He added a few touches and colored it and sent it to us within a couple days, and we were blown away. It really wrapped the whole album concept up.
NS: How do you think this album differs from your last album, “Til Human Voices Wake Us,” and your original EP?
HANNON: One of the main differences between all of our albums is that each one has a different drummer on it, and each one of those drummers added their own unique element to the playing. For example, on “Til Human Voices Wake Us,” Tommy [Pudimont] had a fantastic heavy bombastic feel to his drumming, and I think that made us write heavier riffs to compliment his style. TJ on our latest album is really great at coming up with fills that tie a section together, and he isn’t afraid to experiment within the songs. I also got into modular synthesizers between the last two albums, and we wanted to add elements of that to our production. We also went into the recording process with an open mind and added new sonic elements within the songs, whether it was keys or different percussion, just to add some new sounds.
WAXMONKSY: For me, it was the focus on songwriting and music theory. I just thought about lyric flow, concepts, and chord progressions. I think overall we spent more time writing music versus “Man, that’s cool – write more cool parts.”
NS: How did the pandemic affect the creation of these songs? Did the downtime give you some more time to write or were things made more difficult with quarantines and things like that?
HANNON: The pandemic actually didn’t impact the writing much, but the recording process did take quite a while because of it. We had pretty much the whole album written by the time we went in to record last January/February right before the pandemic hit. We managed to track all of the drum and bass tracks in one session, but when the shutdown happened, it impacted Jake’s guitar and vocal tracking. Being extra cautious, if anyone had even a slight possibility of exposure, we shifted the recording schedule around. I do think it gave us more time to think about different production elements we could add or things we could have Eric [Novro] change in the engineering side of the recordings.
WAXMONKSY: Like I said, I tossed all my old lyrics and went into a new approach to writing, so I had a 180 as shit hit the fan. As Matt said, I got the shutdown recording schedule, so even that gave more so much more time to focus on singing and auditioning ideas. I know all our guitars were like 10 hours and our vocals 12. We did like 190 vocal takes overall. I even took the time to write all the vocal melodies as opposed to my old approach of “I don’t know, that is just how I sing everything maaann.” It really changed my laissez-faire approach to a more choice-driven process.
NS: What was it like working with Novro Studios on this album and the live video?
HANNON: Eric at Novro Studios is always great to work with. He’s very easygoing and laidback during the sessions, so there’s never any rush to get something down that we don’t like. He convinced us very early in the recording process to try out playing to a click track, which we’re normally opposed to. [laughs] I think that decision helped tie the whole album together and make it feel more polished and refined.
WAXMONKSY: I, for one, am and always have been pro click track.
On a real note, I love Eric. We’ve been friends for, what, seven years now? His work style is the perfect mix of pushing you into being your best and being relaxed. Funny enough, we challenged Eric with his mixing style. To quote him, he said, “I get your music is more about textures, not ‘This part is cool, highlight it.” I don’t think my vocals would have been so under the microscope if I was self-producing this. If you ask him to be honest and tell you if something is bad, he will tell you. Most people blow smoke up your ass looking for more money.
As for the video, it’s the same vibe – just add in his awesomely talented wife Sarah and our other good friend Travis Antoniello [from Toothless] working the cameras. With all that, you’ve got a team you can drink coffee with while getting the job done.
LEPKOWSKI: I know Jake and Matt have a few albums under their belt, but this was my first time in the studio and I couldn’t have asked for a more chill and comfortable environment. Eric’s great and has it down to a science. He also has the patience and charisma to get the best takes out of all of us. We had been doing some punch in takes on “Falling Sky” for the drums, and it easily could have turned into a frustrating situation if he didn’t have the personality and knowledge to help that whole situation run smoothly.
NS: Of course it’s not the same as playing in front of a live audience, but did you enjoy recording this video performance for fans online?
HANNON: Oh definitely. It is a much different experience and you don’t have the immediate feedback from a crowd to vibe off of, but we enjoyed it. Eric again was great to deal with, and his wife Sarah and Travis, who were our videographers, were easy to work with. And the beauty of recording it was that if we messed up a part or flubbed a queue, we laughed it off and did another take, which is a nice difference from live shows.
NS: What is your personal favorite track on the album and why?
HANNON: Hmm, this is definitely a tough one since I love all the tracks on the album. I guess I’d say either “Falling Sky” or “Prisoner Transport.” Every time we play “Falling Sky,” I get hypnotized in the middle section and it’s such a groove, I just want to keep playing it. “Prisoner Transport” was a different song for us than we normally do, and I think it turned out great. Jake wrote that riff, unknowingly, the day after surf guitar legend Dick Dale passed away, so we played up the surf vibes in it more and more until we all went, “Did we write a heavy surf track?”
WAXMONKSY: “Against All Odds” and “Suborbital” are mine. They’re a huge challenge to sing and play. One mistake and I have to get back on the rails real fast. I think if I had to pick a third it’s “Prisoner Transport” because it’s tame at first and my guitar pattern is another “ Don’t. Fuck. This. Up.” situation.
LEPKOWSKI: I’ve always enjoyed playing early ‘90s rock like Mudhoney, the Melvins, and Alice in Chains. The song that feels the most like those to me is “Exit Point,” so I always get excited when we play that. It has a little more energy, like it’s going to fly off the handle, especially in that chorus section. When Matt pitched the title “Exit Point,” he was speaking in reference to an exit point of hyperspace, so when we are in that tune, I always think like I am coming out of some crazy fast warp when we’re doing that song.
NS: What have the public reactions been like to the album so far? It seems like the feedback has been really positive.
HANNON: Definitely has been very positive so far. We had a few write-ups in some psych and stoner metal blogs, and a few hard rock/metal internet radio shows featured us and everyone’s been very receptive to it – very happy with that.
WAXMONKSY: I am honestly scared because no one has even left negative comments on YouTube. You know something is good if people are shitting on it in the comments. My favorite one from our first EP was “Gods of Space? What a lazy name!” Then people promptly responded to that with “Yeah, OK, should be BongWeedGoatGodsOfCthulhu or something unoriginal?”
NS: What have been some of your favorite shows that you’ve played over the years and some of the best bands you’ve shared stages with?
WAXMONKSY: I think the Barnstorm Bash [at Karl Hall in Wilkes-Barre] strictly because it was a huge friend hang. Outside that, I think when we did Harrisburg at JB Lovedraft’s sticks in my mind. I really think doing stuff with James Simon’s projects These Idol Hands or Black Nihil feels the best, along with that JB gig where local cats Dour played with us. Outside our area, The Stone Eye are always fun to play with.
LEPKOWSKI: Ditto on Jake’s band choices. I do miss Gypsy Valley Kings with my man Bryan on the drums. They always put on a great show. I agree that the Barnstorm show sticks out for me, along with JB Lovedraft’s. Mainly anything at Karl Hall because it’s like going to your friends wild basement jam space and then more friends show up and get drunk.
HANNON: The Barnstorm Bash was definitely a great show to play right before the pandemic hit. It was the kind of show you’d hope for in a situation like that – a big group of friends hanging out, vibing on each other’s songs, and having a good time. Another favorite show of mine is back years ago when we played New York City. We got invited by a coworker of mine to play this big birthday bash she always puts together. We set up quick and started playing and there weren’t many people in the room but, by the end of our first song, the room was packed wall to wall, front to back. Everybody was going nuts for us, and when we got done, people were asking where we were from and we’d say, “Wilkes-Barre, PA.” They were like, “Where?!” [laughs]
NS: Did you have any major musical plans for 2020, and if so, how did you adjust?
HANNON: We had some shows planned and some out of the area gigs set up and, like everything else, we just pushed it right off the calendar. Hopefully we can set something up next year to revisit those places.
NS: What in-person shows do you have coming up?
HANNON: June 12th at The V-Spot [in Scranton], we’re playing with These Idol Hands as a farewell show for James Simon, who’s moving to the West Coast shortly after. We’re also playing the Out Back at Karl Hall series on Aug. 29th with University Drive, Toothless, and Machine Arms. I’m sure, just like everybody, we’re stoked to be able to play shows again and have that community.
NS: What’s next for you guys then? Do you have any other plans for this year?
HANNON: More songwriting for another album, hopefully more shows. We’re currently learning songs from the first six Black Sabbath albums to play for a Halloween wedding for a friend of the band. It’s keeping us busy but also growing our skills at the same time.
NS: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
LEPKOWSKI: Stay hazy, friends.
HANNON: Just hoping everyone is staying safe and that we can see you soon at some live shows again.
WAXMONKSY: I recently read a Buddhist piece called “The Parable of the Raft.”
A man needs to cross a body of water. He builds a raft. He crosses the water.
Does he carry that raft to the next body of water he may encounter? No, he leaves it behind and builds a new raft when necessary.
Ask yourself if you’re still carrying some type of raft in these strange days.
Learn more about Gods of Space in Episode 92 of the NEPA Scene Podcast:
by Rich Howells
Rich is an award-winning journalist, longtime blogger, photographer, and podcast host. He is the founder and editor of NEPA Scene.