Idaho’s The Ongoing Concept broke new ground for heavy music with their 2013 freshman album, Saloon, which fused metalcore with an anything-goes attitude, including a country-western vibe channeled from the home town radio stations.
It was a fascinating album, and now the four-piece band from the tiny town of Rathdrum, Idaho will be releasing a hybrid album of sorts, one created with combining the progressive mindset of an indie album mixed with the security and resources of a label.
While that label, Solid State, was totally on board with the idea, it could have been shot down by any number of others: The band not only decided to shoot their own music videos at home; not only record, mix and master it at home; but the band also handmade their own instruments, even as far as cutting down the trees for the lumber.
Although they were raised in a culture of D.I.Y., Scholz said none of the band members had any experience making guitars, even though they did once make some drums from a template kit. But thanks to Google, YouTube and some precious time — about two months worth — they were able accomplish the tedious task.
Scholz, who describes himself as a perfectionist, would have it no other way. It’s always been their style. “I’ve always felt like I do better in the comfort of my home, getting my work done,” Scholz said. I caught up with Scholz to talk more about the true grassroots aspect of the album, what inspires their music and how they got into heavy music in a town that embraces country and classic rock.
My first reaction to The Ongoing Concept was, “Wow.” I really enjoyed Saloon when it first came out. I was really curious to see what your second album was going to be. There was just a lot of unique aspects to the album. I would like to start off with the homemade aspect. If I understand correctly, the album was recorded in your home with homemade instruments and your own homemade album art.
Yeah. Everything was done here in our house. You know, all the instruments were made here and we recorded it and mixed the masters here. And the artwork, the picture was not done at our house, but in a place like a mile from our house with that tree. It was all kind of done here.
I’ve always felt like I do better in the comfort of my home. I get more work done. I felt like to do it all here… It might not happen next time, but I just felt like it worked out really well here.
Let’s talk about the homemade instruments. That is just so cool to me. First of all, where’d you learn how to do that? And how long did it take to make all the instruments?
We honestly have no background with making them. We just looked up tutorials on YouTube or Google. A lot of it was thinking about how you would accomplish something like that. We’ve been building stuff. We built our own guitar cabs.
We built a drum set, in the past. Not actually building the wood, but we had (got it together) and put all the hardware on it. But we’d never actually built (the whole thing). It’s this style of a drum set where you connect pieces of wood together to build a circle. We’d never done that before. We used a lot of tutorials and had to do a lot of trial and error.
The whole process took probably two months. It would’ve taken a lot less, but there were a lot of little hiccups along the way. We were writing at the same time, so pre-production was happening. It’s hard to focus on one thing because you’ve got other projects. You set the building part aside for a few days to work on writing the music for the album. And then we would stop writing music and work on the instruments, so it was just kind of this tradeoff. It kind of doubled our time. It would’ve taken half as long to do it.
And another hiccup was just the microwaving of the wood.
Oh, yeah. I saw that.
It’s not a very fast process. It takes a very long time and we had to be very careful doing 20 or 30 second intervals because, you know, the wood is heating up to a very hot level and it could start on fire. You just have to be there the whole entire time. You can’t just leave it alone because I don’t want to start my house on fire.
It actually happened one time. It didn’t really do anything, but just the whole garage was in smoke. Dense smoke. Luckily it stopped before it actually started on fire, but I came out into the garage and I’m like, “Okay. Well, I guess we’re going to have to not leave the garage when we’re doing this. This is way too unsafe.”
That process took a very long time, and there’s just so many little things that took up precious time. It took about two months all around.
Was there ever a time where you were like, “Alright, forget it. Let’s give up on the homemade instrument aspect of this.” Or did you always know you were going to persevere through that?
Oh, there were definitely a few times. There were a few times where it just… With microwaving the wood. I didn’t actually think it would work. It just became really hard. The other thing was, we were working with pine. I’d go to every single forum, everything you could think of, and type in “building a tree out of pine,” and you won’t find a single thing about anyone saying, “Oh, pine is the best wood to use for making a drum set or building a guitar.” It’s just not good wood. There were a lot of times where I was like, “We’re doing this with pine, aren’t we? This is going to suck.” Then the whole thing would happen and the wood would crack, and it was just really discouraging.
But at the same time, I knew we had already gotten this far, and there was no turning back. We just kind of had to get through it.
A lot of money was involved, too. I had been renting this whole camera gear, and kind of making a documentary. That stuff adds up, you know? Renting a house. And you’ve already told the landlord you’re doing this, and they give you the budget money with the expectation that that’s what the money’s going towards. You just can’t really back down once you start. That was kind of what kept us going.
Sure. What do you think you’re going to do with the instruments now? Are you going to still use them?
Oh, yeah. They’re actually coming on the road with us for this next tour.
I was hoping to build another set, because I’m a little weary of bringing them on the road; I’m afraid they might break. But we’re going to try to do some conditioning. I love the way they look right now with them not being stained or finished. But we’re going to put some hardening wood protection on them to make sure they won’t break while they’re in the trailer, bouncing around.
Yeah, that’s what they’re going to go towards now. At some point we’ll probably hang them up somewhere in our storage space, you know? Hang out and bring them out again. But for this next tour and possibly the next year or so they’ll definitely be on the road with us.
And do you direct your own music videos as well? I remember seeing something about that. Is that true?
Yeah. I’ve done all my own music videos. I’ve just had way too many problems with people in the past. This isn’t putting down any director or anything. I just feel like I have a vision of what I want, and I’m a bit of a perfectionist. Sometimes people have a hard time working with me because I’m already capable of doing it myself, and so there’s a very fine line between me letting go of the reigns and saying, Just get off, let me do it. I am capable of doing this myself. I don’t know why I’m paying you to do this. You are good at what you do, but… Yeah, I don’t know. That might sound a little bit pretentious to say that, but…
I see what you’re saying, though.
I just have a vision. And some of our music videos are very cinematically based. I wrote that song in the beginning with that exact music video in my head, and I think I recreated it exactly how it was in my head. I think it’s really hard for me to portray and explain that to a director. You know, if I’m able to do it, I’ve been doing it since I was like 10 years old. Even with my parents. I don’t know, I’ve just been like this for a long time. It just doesn’t seem very impossible. It seems very capable for me to do it myself.
How does the rest of the band — which, two of them are your brothers, right? — feel about that? Are they cool with it, or does everyone pitch in?
Yeah. They all kind of have their part. We’ve basically been doing stuff ourselves for so long they’ve kind of just been… What’s the word I’m looking for? They’ve kind of just been brought into it, and it’s like second nature to them. They don’t really deny doing it ourselves. It almost seems weird to bring in an outside source, because we’re all brothers, you know? Even our bass player. I’ve known him, basically, my whole life.
It feels like whenever someone else from another party is brought in to our band, whether it’s recording us or doing or even doing merch for us, we always feel like it’s like an intrusion. We’re so close that it just feels like we’ve brought on another member of the band to portray who we are, and it’s like second nature for us to just expect to do everything ourselves because that’s how we’ve been doing it for long.
Let’s get into some of the music, too. You guys always have had some strange instrument combinations. Where did the idea to mix banjos and the Western style of music in with heavier music? Is that something that you had planned from the beginning, or did that just kind of happen while you started writing and taking music more seriously?
I don’t know. We never really felt bound to just being a band of guitar, bass, drums, vocals. I guess we never really think those instruments are the only thing that can be used, so we are always are open-minded about adding something to the song to make it better.
People probably think we’re a gimmick having a banjo in a song, but I think, when I initially wrote it, it was like, “I feel like this song has would be really cool if there was an instrument in here that was different. I think it would really be a clash with how crazy the song is.” I didn’t have a banjo, I just figured I feel like a banjo or something like that would really hit home and make it kind of have this folky vibe. Especially at the end. It’s like that ending part. It had nothing but guitar and tambourine. I can’t remember what all was in there, I just felt like there needed to be something else, and so the banjo seemed to be something that would work. I added it because it felt right.
That’s usually how we approach it is, does the song feels right with that type of instrument? Why not try it, and if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. There’s really no any boundaries with music. Especially these days. I just kind of go with whatever.
Did your label ever have any issues with some of these stranger instruments? For instance the idea of making your own instruments? Did they ever question that? Were they worried about that?
They definitely gave us free reign. I think they accepted we do what we want, basically.
They’ve always been totally cool with what we’re doing. They’ve never had any issues, and (they were) really stoked with what we’ve been doing with this new album, so it’s been really good.
That’s great. Let’s talk about a couple of specific songs. One that stuck out to me was “Soul.” The lyrics were very intense. The song overall was pretty intense. Is that a personal song, inspired by something?
Yeah. We wrote this song for a few reasons. We wrote it because we wanted people to be talking about it. I knew if I wrote the lyrics how they are, people are going to start asking, “Why are the lyrics that way? Are you guys atheists? Are you guys just selling your soul to the devil?”
I wanted those questions to be asked, because I feel like people are too quick to make judgements. They’re too quick to read or hear something and automatically assume something about the band.
I’ve just got an issue with it. Especially with social media. I see it way too often. I knew people were going to instantly assume things. The funniest part about that song is, it’s not about any one of us. Honestly it’s just about that guitar player. It was Robert Johnson, I believe? He’s a guitar player that, back in the day, claimed that he sold his soul to the devil. It’s actually from the movie Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?
Yeah, it was Robert Johnson. He obviously didn’t sell his soul to the devil, but he claimed he did. And now he is a legend because of it. And it was basically a lie he had to tell, and he got away with it. It was just a gimmick he played. Telling everyone he sold his soul to the devil spread through the country, and it’s interesting how, if he hadn’t said something like that, he probably would’ve been a lot less known. If not, he probably would’ve never been known at all.
The song is not about us. It’s just about a guy named Robert Johnson back in the 1930s that claimed to have sold his soul to the devil.
Let’s talk about a couple other songs, too. Like “Falling,” for instance. And “Melody.” Those two songs had such drastically different styles, musically. If you want to get into what inspired the musical side of those two songs?
I’ll start with “Falling.” “Falling” is the insinuation of “Goodbye, So Long My Love” from our previous album. It’s been an ongoing song concept throughout our music. I don’t know. It’s just about a guy, his first goodbye song. “Goodbye” was about a guy and his life and how she was dying and she didn’t believe in God and he does and he didn’t feel like he was going to see her again. This song is like a continuation of his life after that has all happened. It’s tied in with the very first song that was handmade. The whole beginning, it’s all connected. I thought it’d be really cool to do something that connected the albums in that way.
“Melody” is a song about writer’s block, to be honest.
It’s just one of those songs. I know a million songwriters that did a song about writer’s block. It’s not really new.
I feel like you (can) get trapped in this same style of music and work. You keep writing songs that sound very similar to each other, because they’re all kind of the same type of music. They’re all heavy. They all have the same song structure.
I just broke away from writing music for our album, and then it ended up being on our album, which is really funny. It’s just a song about writer’s block. I think it’s really cool because it really showcases this huge, roomy drum sound we got from those homemade drums. That’s one of my favorite parts of the whole album, is how dynamic that song is at the very end.
If I could add my opinion now, I’ll say it was probably one of my favorite as well. It was a good song. I definitely enjoyed that one.
It’s kind of like a break in the middle, do you know what I mean? It gives the listeners a bit of a break, but I feel like it’s a much more mature stance, a more poppy song for our style. I feel like “Melody” is strong and one of the better songs of the album itself.
I haven’t seen y’all live yet, but I’ve heard you’re pretty rowdy. Let’s talk about your approach to the live show and what you like to do in a live show.
I think we all have different ideas as far as the band members go. We want to bring something that isn’t the same.
I don’t really like going to shows that much. I look at going to shows these days as going back to your job when you’re on your day off. I honestly don’t like shows. But that’s different when there’s a band that comes through that is going to inspire me or that’s going to leave a mark. I’ve always brought up bands, like The Chariot, that do something that’s never the same, even if they play the same six songs in a 30-minute timeslot for a year straight. Every night there would be something different about their set that you could take away and go, “Wow. I was not expecting that. That was a completely different set,” even though they played all the same songs.
So we’ve just always been centered on that fact. There’s a very fine line between going crazy and playing your music right. I’ve always been more prone to just being at that line where I’m still playing the songs right, but not lose enough energy I can’t say my parts.
I feel like there’s a pretty good balance between Parker and I really pulling in on playing the music correctly, making sure it sounds on time and all the notes are being hit, and then T.J. and Kyle are much more prone to go a little crazier than us because they either aren’t playing the guitar at the same time. Or because the bass player doesn’t really have to play all the notes right, because, I mean, let’s face it: No one really cares about the bass players. (I’m kidding.)
There’s a certain jive in the band we all kind of fulfill. It’s very important to keep the songs sounding good at the same time as going super crazy. We don’t want to be the same every show, so we try to go for that.
Mix it up, right?
I noticed y’all were from Rathdrum, Idaho. It seems like a small town, way up north, far away from a lot of big cities. How did life in a small town like that influence what you do today as musicians? And how was it like? How did you get into concerts and music?
Yeah. It’s actually funny. We’ve only played maybe four actual legit shows in Idaho in our entire lives. They’ve all been in Boise, which is like eight hours south, and it’s the capital of Idaho. That’s the only place we’ve ever been able to play shows. Because Coeur d’Alene is like the city, we’re just a suburb of it. Coeur d’Alene is like the big city here, where we live. There’s just no shows.
We grew up listening to bands we really enjoyed. There’s a few bands around our area that played the same type of music that we did. There’s definitely a scene here in Coeur d’Alene, but the real shows that happened actually happened in Spokane, Washington, which is like 30 minutes west of us, across the border into Washington. There’s a lot bigger scene there.
We’re kind of a sheltered area. There’s not a lot going on. We were a bit naive to the world. We’ve always been that way. We really didn’t know how we were going to get it to work. We really didn’t know much, especially six, seven years ago when the Internet wasn’t nearly as crazy as it is now. We really had no sense, especially here, of how you would actually go on tour, how you would go about promoting your music the right way so that people would see it. It was all a learning game. We were probably one of the slower bands to figure it out.
I wanted to get your perspective on how it was growing up in a town like that, which, I think it’s safe to assume, the hardcore and metal genres probably weren’t the most popular.
Not really. It was definitely a country station town. Not really a lot of metal bands are out here.
You know, I don’t know. I honestly don’t even know how we got into this. It’s really hard. A lot of little things that happened to get us to where we are now. And honestly, I think this area brought home the whole handmade idea. We’re not a rich family, but we’re not a poor family either. We’re just kind of in this suburban family, middle class kind of state. You know? People are accustomed to building things themselves, one of those D.I.Y.-type things. Whether it be some redneck thing for your boat or stitching — just random things. People are just into that here. I think that sparked our interest in going to do it ourselves.
What music are you listening to right now? Anybody in particular?
Oh, man. This question is always hard. I’ve found myself writing like the bands that I’m listening to at the time, so I ended up just stopping listening to music all together. I actually told my band, “If you literally play ‘Uptown Funk’ one more freaking time, I’m going to punch you in the face.” That song is ruining my writing ability. I hate that song! I kind of stopped listening to music after writing my album. I’ve just been driving with no music now.
The Ongoing Concept was posted on June 24, 2015 for HM Magazine and authored by David Stagg.