Q&A and Track Premiere: Eight Bells – ‘Nadir’

Photo: Cody Keto

“The past four years changed me in some profound ways,” says Eight Bells founder Melynda Jackson. Jackson probably speaks for all of us. No one escapes from a period of rampant illness and death, uncertainty, and political and social upheaval unscathed. Jackson capitalized on that ennui in writing the new Eight Bells album Legacy Of Ruin (due on February 25 and available now for preorder), the band’s first record in roughly five years.

Some good news: Jackson found ideal collaborators in bassist (and Decibel staff writer) Matt Solis and drummer Brian Burke (No Shores, Cave Dweller). Legacy Of Ruin ably explores big-ticket feelings like grief and loss and humanity’s push to consume regardless of the outcome. It’s a bittersweet and often beautiful record with quirky power that isn’t beholden to any genre. Jackson talked to us about “Nadir,” the track we’re premiering today, and the story behind the new lineup and record. Read it after you watch the video premiere below.

Can you tell us about the song we’re premiering today?

Matt and I wrote “Nadir” together in a few practices and then showed it to Brian.  We wrote it right before we went into the sessions. It has a long, slow intro which might not be the best thing for a short attention span (laughs). The main riff is happy sounding, so I asked Matt to make it less happy sounding. I’ve toyed with that riff for a few years, and it sounded like a goofy Leprechaun. We worked on it enough to where it sounds sad but a little hopeful. The lyrics are about our use of everything around us and our inability to stop ourselves. There’s a lot of sadness involved. It’s also about my thoughts on being mortal. The future is precarious.

Where has the band been in the past half-decade? 

There were many people in the band over the past five years, and for various reasons, nothing stuck. After the Voivod tour in the spring of 2016, I parted ways with Haley (Westeiner, bass).  Rae (Amitay, drums) got busy with Immortal Bird. I tried a new bass player and keyboardist because I wanted a second female vocalist, but that didn’t work out.

It took me a long time to find the right people and people who would commit to playing music that’s not easily categorized for almost no money (laughs). There was also a lot of depression and questioning if I wanted to continue playing music. I was frustrated trying to hold a group together.

Brian moved here (Portland) from Arizona. We played with his old band in 2016 in Arizona during a tour. We talked more online and jammed and started playing together. Nate Carson (Witch Mountain and Nanotear Booking) told me that Matt Solis (previously of Cormorant) had moved to town. We started talking online about what we both looked for in a band. We meshed when we talked about our goals.  I can’t believe my luck.

You finished the record about a year ago. Why did it take so long to come out?

We set up a recording, but then Covid hit. It was the second time we had to cancel a recording session. Finally, we just decided to reschedule, and we did it about a year ago. Matt and I work from home and weren’t hanging out with anyone. Brian works construction outside masked. We knew there would always be a risk, but there was no way to avoid it outside of not recording a record for who knows how long. Matt showed up knowing the songs from the demo recordings and had sections he wanted to add. He added a few essential things to “The Well” and “Nadir.” “Nadir” was one of the most collaborative songs.

Did all the grief and pain in the world seep into the music?

Oh, God, yes. It was a challenging time. We were all distraught over the political situation, and everyone felt some misery because of fucking Trump and Covid. Then Oregon basically caught on fire, and you couldn’t breathe or go outside, and we were in a basement recording session with no airflow. I can’t speak for the guys, but I know I have had a lot of grief from the last few years. Things seem worse than I remember, and I don’t think it’s just because of social media. Does that seep in? I think it does. I also had to go through a lot to get to the point where I could record these songs with other people. But I did have a huge sense of gratitude that I could be in a place recording these songs.

It was easy to think in the early days of the pandemic that this could be the thing that takes us out entirely. 

I thought the world would be better off without us because we’re horrible stewards. We can’t stop consuming everything that’s given to us until it’s gone. We’re the authors of our doom, and it’s a difficult thing to accept. We think everything is for our consumption. We’re insatiable, like addicts.

Do you have any plans to get on the road for this album? 

We’ve been pretty slow to get going. There were even times we had to shut down because someone knew a person who got sick. I would be down to play shows and down to tour for the right opportunity. But it’s a little scary. I want to play shows where I know everyone is vaccinated. There’s no way to make that happen. I went to see Exhumed, and they asked to see vaccine cards, but it was sold out.

My partner got it, and he’s vaccinated. He stayed on his own for a few weeks, and I brought him food wearing an N-95 mask. It was mild, but the two of us usually don’t get sick. Still, how long can you live your life in a room? It’s a gamble, but, fuck, I can’t live my life isolated. It was so nice to go out and forget it. But I could be one of the vaccinated people who get it and die.

Eight Bells has been part of your life for more than a decade. Why are you still passionate about the project?

It’s the one thing I do that is about doing it and not about the result and a way to navigate through all of this terrifying and sad shit. I’m also stubborn as hell. If I want to do something, I want to do it. I’m also not getting any younger. Any album could be my last album. I’m still trying to make sense of the world around me. Every time I make a song or album, I learn something, and that’s inspiring. So I have to make things.