INTERVIEW: MIKE HERMANN (enemy of the rose, tines, the missing worker)

In November of 2021, almost one year ago, James Hallenbeck released the album of his dreams – Event via his eclectic, folk infused metal band, ENEMY OF THE ROSE. The album received praise from mostly his friends and family in the Buffalo and Rochester music communities at first, but would soon catch on throughout the region as being one of the most unique, and versatile albums ever recorded by a band in this area. Event by ENEMY OF THE ROSE is a journey through nature as a whole, but more specifically, the changing seasons, the rotation of the Earth, and the impact the subtle beauties of the natural world have on the human mind. More accurately however, the concept of the record was written by drummer vocalist, and lyricist, Monica Finger, and is something of a recollection of her own life experiences.

Getting back to the memorial aspect of this article, James Hallenbeck was unexpectedly murdered just walking down the street in his own neighborhood on Sunday August 21, 2022. This was a tragedy that struck the lives of hundreds of musicians across our community, and in the aftermath of his death, vinyl copies of Event were sold with all proceeds going to benefit a charity that was ever so important to James – The Nature Conservancy Fund (an initiative organized by Monica Finger).

James was a musical talent, and an individual like no other. As such, I wanted to include Event by ENEMY OF THE ROSE in this album-focused issue of Wretched Sound as a tribute to James. Speaking on behalf of the album, and recalling the recording process with James will be guitarist, Mike Hermann. Mike was more than happy to do this interview and the discussion evolved into as much of a love letter to James as a discussion about the making of Event.

1. Talk about the beginning of your journey with Enemy of the Rose. How did you first come into the fold and what were your first impressions?

I was actually approached with the idea by James and Monica (vocals/drums/trumpet) at the final Lair show in 2019. I had been acquainted with Monica for a while at the time, but that was my first time meeting James. A casual in-between sets conversation turned into them telling me about a concept album they had collaboratively written and that they were looking for a guitarist for the band. They asked if I’d be interested in learning a song or two and trying out. They described it as a mash up of metal, rock, prog, and folk. Which was just too interesting to say no to.

2. Describe the learning curve when it came to learning James Hallenbeck’s songs, and any transposing headaches you may have had when learning sections played on instruments other than guitar.

Luckily for me, James, who entirely composed the music for the album, created Guitar Pro files for every instrument on the album, so I had a very detailed outline on what to learn. I believe he wrote the guitar parts on piano, so there were some wild looking tabs going on! I had some challenges reworking the parts to a single guitar, but James was extremely open to me taking some liberties with my interpretation and allowing me to add my own subtle touches here and there. It was humbling to see how open he was to that, considering all the hard work he poured into it. Both he and Monica were very encouraging and liked what I was doing, so it was a labor of love.

3. Describe the writing process for Event. Walk us through the typical Enemy of the Rose rehearsal prior to recording the final product.

Since I live in Buffalo, we had biweekly practices out at their space in Rochester. They’re very motivated and focused individuals, so every practice was productive. Even though the songs were already written, I still felt like James wanted Monica and I to leave our own mark on it instrumentally. He often encouraged us to experiment. Monica was always coming up with variations on her drum parts, which would inspire me to find something new-ish to add, too.

4. What was the recording process for Event like? When you guys hit the studio, did you have to make any last minute changes to the songs you weren’t expecting? Were some songs easier to lock down than others?

The recording process was one of the best experiences I’ve had. Probably the biggest reason for me, personally, was using a re-amping method, which would allow me to record my dry guitar signal at home through my computer, and later run those tracks through my amps at the studio to record the real sound. It gave me the time and space to work out the finer details needed on the recording. James had written many sections that were intended for two distinct guitars, so as I was recording I was deconstructing some parts back into two separate tracks and even learning entire parts I hadn’t played before. That part of the process was especially fun and challenging. Joe Leising recorded us and Zane Knight mixed and mastered the album. I’ve worked with Joe a few times and he was magnificent as always. This was my first time working with Zane, and he’s one of the nicest and most talented guys around, so they both added alot to the experience for me.

5. Without thinking and just going with your gut, list five guitar players you feel influence your playing style the most.

The top of the list forever for me will be Alex Lifeson of Rush. I can’t even calculate how much I’ve probably ripped off from him as part of my rhythmic approach. After that, Robert Fripp, Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, Bill Kelliher, and Tony Iommi. They all in one way or another inspire me heavily.

6. Where can we find your other music online? Are there any physical copies available? List off your online presence here apart from the work you did with Enemy of the Rose here:

I’ve been the bassist for Tines since late 2017, and that’s been my main band. You can check us out at: https://tinesrock.bandcamp.com/

Earlier this year, I joined The Missing Worker on guitar, which has been a very fun and creative outlet for me as well. Our music can be found at:

https://themissingworker.bandcamp.com/

Both bands have CDs/tapes/vinyl out and available.

7. Per James, did you ever happen to learn the story behind the name, Enemy of the Rose?

The name Enemy of the Rose is directly related to the album’s concept and story, which Monica wrote and based from her life experiences. Because of this, I believe the intention was that this album was the band’s singular statement and nothing else was planned for the future, besides a contemplated live performance or two. It’s a very personal piece for her, obviously, so that’s another reason I’m proud to have been a part of it.

8. Talk about any shows or future recording plans you have lined up for your other projects that you’re allowed to discuss.

Tines is currently working on writing and arranging songs for a new album, which we hope to have completed next year. It’s really weird shit, which is our modus operandi.

The Missing Worker is currently finishing up arranging our 3rd full-length album and the first with me on board. Reverb/delay/octaver/phaser-drenched goodness.

9. What is the best advice you can think of to give someone looking to join or start a band for the very first time?

My advice is to work with the most advanced musicians you can find and learn from them. Every progression I’ve had in my playing was due to having to keep up with my band mates. It doesn’t necessarily only mean technical skills. It can also mean demeanor and maturity, too.

10. Take some time to highlight some of your fondest memories of making music with James Hallenbeck.

Learning his music and assisting him in materializing his ideas has impacted me in so many meaningful ways, even before his horrific passing. His music pushed me to be better and to expand my playing style. I know how lucky I am to have gotten to know him and call him a friend, aside from being in this project with him. James was just so intensely loved and respected by so many.

I’ll always remember the smile on his face every time we’d meet up. The trouble in the world that he was keenly aware of never stopped him from being a positive soul to anyone he’d meet.

11. Going with your gut, what’s your favorite Enemy of the Rose song? Why is it your favorite?

I’d have to say the closing track, “Event”. It was so fun to play. Monica and I came up with some of the accented parts in the verse, which was really fun to work on. Other than the playing, the song itself is a proggy banger that closes the album perfectly.

ENEMY OF THE ROSEEVENT (album art by Autonomous Foxfire)

Memorial patches for James by Oz Asbjorn (Rochester Metal Booking)

(James’s memorial at the tree near where he was shot and killed)

Just to quickly share my own James stories, here is the post I made the day I found out he was murdered:

On June 29th, 2019, I tried out for Enemy of the Rose and FAILED. The reason was everything I wrote on guitar was more or less a departure, as I was bouncing ideas off James instead of learning his songs. He had sent me a zip folder of midi files which I still have downloaded. I’m simping to these tracks right now over dinner. What I remember most about the whole interaction was how kind and receptive James was to my ideas, even though I was way off the mark. He was very encouraging about my playing and said he loved hearing what others heard in his music. I’m sad I didn’t get to know him better overall.”

I also want to add that on 8/18/18, James played accordion with my band, Aspired Infliction, during the outro of a single song. He drove out to two band practices in Buffalo from Rochester to learn and perform less than one minute of music with us. That was the kind of person he was.

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