Interview with the band BERNARD
Interview by: Joel
Official buzz-band and one of the most pleasant surprises for me personally was the band Bernard. With cinematic grace and epic musical soundscapes they captivated their audience in the packed-out tent, shining like a light amidst thousands of bumper-car-core shows, the three-piece ambient-rock band Bernard blew me away. I instantly stole to the back waiting to meet up with one of the members for an interview. As soon as the main questions were done I turned off my recorder and spent another half hour just talking about our views on religion and the church, one of my most memorable conversations at Cornerstone 2006, here’s what I got for you guys:
First, a word from an audience member.
Joel IVM: All right, you’re a random guy; tell us what you thought of that show?
Guy: The Bernard show rocked! I especially liked how the movie playing matched a lot of the stuff, one of the songs I was watching, fireworks would go off when [they]’d hit a major beat. I just loved it…reminded me a lot of Coldplay and stuff like that, which I love. I love all the slower stuff, piano and everything. It sounded awesome.
Joel IVM: Awesome, what’s your name, where you from!?
Guy: (what I make out as) Vincent Charis, from Jacksonville, Illinois.
Joel IVM: Sweet man, Thanks!
Joel IVM: All right, tell me who you are and what you play.
Ryan/Bernard: My name’s Ryan and I play the bass, and I do all the visual art.
Joel IVM: Give me the history of the band, how did you guys first form?
Ryan/Bernard: Well Jonathan and Jared, that’s the drummer and the singer, used to be in a band called ‘Okay’. We played a show together, because I actually used to be in a rap group called ‘A2R in the Image’.
Joel IVM: That’s awesome!
Ryan/Bernard: Yeah, so we played a show together, didn’t really know each other but we kinda mutually… well they thought what we were doing was funny, which it was and I thought what they were doing was pretty artistic, which it was. That was about it, we saw each other in passing and a couple weeks later Jonathan and I actually met and he had moved to St. Augustine, didn’t really know anybody, so we started hanging out. Then we talked about maybe doing music together sometime. Their band eventually dissolved, Jonathan had several songs already written, and he called me and asked “Would you like to come join this band?” So, we started practicing in February of 2004 and we had maybe five hours of practice before we played our first show. This was kind of a showcase with Cool Hand Luke which is half of the reason we started playing and we’ve been doing it for two and a half years now. We started as a four piece, grew to a five piece, went down to four, and now we’re a three piece.
Joel IVM: When you were a five piece, were you working with some unique instruments as well?
Ryan/Bernard: No, actually we had three guitar players, it was essentially the same thing just more layering. We brought this extra guy in just to play guitar but we decided we didn’t really need it. When we went down to a three piece that’s when we actually found ourselves becoming the most professional.
Joel IVM: Whose idea was it to use the visual image part and was that a part of the band before, you said they were quite artistic, were they using something like that before?
Ryan/Bernard: They hadn’t really done too much of that really, that was something that we collectively decided upon right when we started the band really, we were like this is what we really wanted to do. We want to incorporate as many senses as possible into the show to make it more of an experience because if you can tap into all five senses in some way at a show then people are going to remember it more. It becomes more of an experience, like taking you out of the time and place you’re in and putting you somewhere else into a new environment. That’s basically where we were going with the visuals.
Joel IVM: You said you were the guy in charge of all that?
Ryan/Bernard: I do the art itself, the t-shirts, the CDs… Jonathan our singer puts together the videos.
Joel IVM: So is he a bit of a film nut?
Ryan/Bernard: No, he just picked it up; he has a natural talent for technical things. When we started working it, our songs were a lot longer and not quite as technical so a lot of it was more streaming ideas and streaming video. Then we started to chop it up, saying ‘Why don’t we go ahead and try to visually represent what’s going on audibly?’ So basically, I think, in the last two and a half years he’s learned to get a better grasp on it. Now it’s very easy for him to go into it and put things together.
Joel IVM: One of the video’s mentioned, with the fireworks, that was all perfectly timed, do you guys do anything special to keep yourselves on time with the video?
Ryan/Bernard: Yeah we have a laptop playing and Jared and Jonathan both have inner ear, so they hear a click. It’s almost like making a play list in Itunes, but that also has visuals, running that out to the projector. So we just hit play, essentially, and then you start hearing the click, the video will go while we play overtop of it.
Joel IVM: Who does the song writing mostly, is it collaborative?
Ryan/Bernard: There’s a little bit of both, Jared lives up in Jacksonville and Jonathan and I live about 20 minutes apart. So oftentimes Jonathan will write the skeleton of a song and email it to both of us and we will listen to it over and over again and kinda dissect it, add our own parts, just tell him what needs to be worked on. Then when we are able to come together we just build upon that, see what we need to do. We might take it out a show and play it, see if it works, bring it back, to the lab, so to speak. Other songs have been written completely by just sitting down and playing, somebody will have a riff and we’ll just build on top of it until we grasp that part that we really want to use and then orchestrate around that.
Joel IVM: How does it flow then from the writing form to the visual, do you write and you’re already making those visuals in your mind?
Ryan/Bernard: Sometimes we do. Sometimes we’ll have a certain part of a song, and we’ll say, ‘this part of the song is very soft, is very graceful’. So we try and come up with visual concepts that repeat that soft in the visual, or the hard and heavy, things that have a lot of power. We have, you know, that classic footage of the nuclear warheads going off in the deserts, blowing away all the houses, very powerful images that represent that more aggressive hard hitting part that we have at our shows. Then we have the very pretty orchestral part that we have some with actual orchestras playing. With this band we try to take into account every single thing that goes on and we want it all to sync up and make sense. It’s not that we are trying to convey something in the visuals, so much as leaving it up to people’s interpretations but we do want that aspect of aesthetic control.
Joel IVM: Have you ever had some video footage that you wrote music to?
Ryan/Bernard: No… Not really. We’ve actually been approached by a couple of people to do little soundtracks which we’re considering doing at some point perhaps, but usually the music is first and foremost. We try to perfect the song before we start adding to that and making it an experience.
Joel IVM: So we’re at a Christian music festival, so I’m assuming you guys are Christians.
Joel IVM: So if we could just talk about your faith and how you integrate that into your music as it is more of an ambient instrumental thing.
Ryan/Bernard: It’s interesting because we aren’t outspoken at all onstage, regardless of if we’re speaking about anything really. We like to keep it that way. Basically we write about what’s important to us anything that’s important to us, it doesn’t matter what it is. We don’t differentiate between things that are religious, quote-on-quote, and not religious. So we write about what we feel is important. So a lot of our songs deal with issues that we feel, especially in this day-and-age, we’re all going through, being lost and wandering through, not really knowing what’s going on. The three of us have decided that, as Christians, we think that we might have an answer, we have something that keeps us going, something that keeps us hopeful and we just want to share that in our music, that you aren’t alone. I think that you can even pick that up in instrumental music. There are instrumental bands that I know for a fact aren’t ‘Christian’, that I listen to and I still get a religious experience from it because it’s just what it interprets to me. I feel the power of God through everything. Gosh, we were out in Chicago on Monday, watching the fireworks. There was the city line behind us and the water in front of us and all these explosions going off. The explosions, the sound that they made, echoing through the cityscape itself, just this low rumble that went on forever, and that is not a religious experience but for me it was just so powerful, I know that I could feel the power of God. If you’re in tune with it you can see the power of God anywhere, you just have to be in tune to it because it’s so subtle that if you’re not paying attention you’re going to miss.
Joel IVM: It’s the whole, ‘the world displays the Glory of God’.
Ryan/Bernard: Exactly. I think that God speaks to us through a whisper right now. We no longer have these big miracles; we don’t have one on one interactions with Jesus as a person. God is speaking to us quietly because he doesn’t want to get in a shouting match with the world. I think if you can get in tune with our music, we’ve had people that have come up and said they felt a religious experience from watching us and we have people that don’t, and that’s fine. We are just providing the vehicle for people that can possibly accept that and find that in our music and that’s okay. We’re not trying to do that necessarily, but I know for us up there, playing, I think we’re starting to learn how just the act of playing music can be a form of worship. So, for us it’s a religious experience for some people in the audience can tune that, some people don’t and that’s fine.
Joel IVM: What do you think of Cornerstone Music Festival? Is this your first time playing here?
Ryan/Bernard: Yeah, this is our first time playing here…
Joel IVM: Are you guys camping on the grounds?
Ryan/Bernard: Yeah we have an RV, I think we had the option of a hotel but it’s nice having an RV, it really has turned into a home for us. I think Jared’s room is now full of dead animals, his dad’s a hunter, and I moved in with a couple from my church, so I have a one-bedroom place that I hardly spend time at. So, this is home. This is our family.
Joel IVM: So this is just like another stop on the road, as far as the camping?
Ryan/Bernard: Yeah… it’s more then that, it’s great. It’s so funny, this is only our third festival and we’re already making friends with people like, I saw the tour manager for Showdown, Riley, big guy from Tennessee, and he remembered me, and we were just bro’n it down for a while. Little things like that. I really like the sense of community and brotherhood that there is here. Seeing our friends getting to see our friends play and getting to hang out. We get to meet new people and make new friends. I’ve seen people here that have been to shows of ours all over the east coast and that’s amazing. It’s really fun.
Joel IVM: I don’t know, it’s my first time at Cornerstone, but a couple of people have said that it can be a little too happy-go-lucky, that everyone’s feeling good and feeling happy.
Ryan/Bernard: I think that Cornerstone’s missions, it seems, is just to provide good Christian music and to let people know that there is music with integrity out there that you don’t have to be stuck listening to secular music that you feel uncomfortable with. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, it’s an individual person’s choice whether they can handle listening to it or not, but they also don’t have to choose the alternative of listening to horrible, horrible Christian music, which there’s a lot of out there and most importantly Christian music that isn’t genuine. I think we’re finally getting to a point with music in the Christian market where it’s almost as if we’re not giving people enough credit. I think people can see genuine music when they see it and they can feel the emotion and the honesty and they can see right through anybody who’s doing it as a scam. The truth is you can make a lot of money in the Christian music scene. I think a lot of people go into that who aren’t even Christians, but I see bands like mewithoutYou or Cool Hand Luke and you just know that they’re doing this because there is nothing else in the world that they want to do. I think a lot of the people that come to these things can pick up on that. It’s more about building seeds. I think that the one stop conversion thing is a rare occasion.
Joel IVM: It’s a process.
Ryan/Bernard: It’s totally a process. You might grow up, you might not. You just pick up little bits as you go along though life and it just starts to build up your faith. I think that this is another one of those spots for people and it’s great if they can pick up on that. It’s good that it’s a positive atmosphere; it’s good that some people are getting challenged by what they hear. There are some great speakers here. There are some amazing things going on. There are people who have devoted their lives to just confessing their beliefs and they’re here, they have to be sought out but it’s nice that they’re providing that for people. More people can come and just have a good time.
Joel IVM: Sweet. Any closing remarks, anything you want to shout-out, prayer requests, anything like that?
Ryan/Bernard: Just pray for this band. Pray that we just have the energy and that we keep up the passion. For everybody in the music scene that we continue to keep our passion and our integrity to do what we love, and that we just learn to worship God through what we do, everything that we do both musically and non-musical, that we continue to seek and seek out that walk of life.