Saturday, April 5, 2014

An Evening with The Bastard: Jon Macak (ex-Diamond Plate)

Longtime readers of mine know that I shifted from a throne atop the mighty penis of Chicagoan thrashers, Diamond Plate, to a spot in the gutter, silently cursing them as they flew away.  What that basically means is that I was a gigantic fucking fan of the band before they just suddenly started to get worse and worse, with Generation Why? being a huge disappointment to me, and Pulse being so brain numbingly dull/stupid that I've only been able to listen through two or three times.  The apex of my frustration with the band was likely reached when founding member, Jon Macak, was suddenly and mysteriously replaced with the unknown Matt Ares, another young guy with a much worse voice and completely bland delivery.  Recently, it dawned on me that Macak likely didn't hightail it to Istanbul after his time in Diamond Plate finished, so I took it upon myself to track him down.  After a few years, he finally relented and agreed to sit down with me for a spell on the condition that I stop throwing rocks at his car.  What follows is the surprisingly unsexy encounter.

I used the old logo because fuck you that's why

BastardHead: Well I suppose the logical place to start would be: the metal fandom hasn't heard much from you since 2012. What have you been doing since your departure from Diamond Plate? Any new projects on the horizon we can look forward to?

Jon Macak: Well mostly I've been keeping my ear to the ground waiting for the right opportunity to present itself while continuing to get better at what I do. I did not want to jump into anything unless I knew it was worthwhile and unfortunately that took about a year and a half. So I do have something coming up but as of now that information is classified!

BH: You tease! Can you at least throw us a bone in the sense like... is it gonna be along the lines of what we know you for or is it gonna be a different direction than thrash? Or is the answer still "shut up and wait", haha.

JM: Well its a little early to pin it down into any subgenres, but it's heavy and I enjoy what's been done so far. I think that's about as far as I'll go, so shut up and wait! 

BH: I'm a patient man, thankfully. I suppose I should just get the elephant in the room out of the way early. Your departure from Diamond Plate really caught a lot of fans off guard, including myself. Was that a decision that you kind of knew was coming down the pipeline, or was it as much of a shock to you as it was to us? 

JM: Well I certainly do my best to avoid drama, but to me there's nothing wrong with being honest. It was the biggest shock of my life. I pride myself on being very self aware and mindful of what is happening around me and I had absolutely no idea that it was coming.

BH: Any particular reason as to why? The press release had a vague mention of "musical differences", so would it be safe to assume that since Pulse wound up being much more experimental and proggy that the other guys were pushing for that direction and you were aiming to keep it more straightforward and heavy?  

JM: That would be the most obvious thing that you could draw from such a broad statement. In reality I would say "musical differences" is pretty far off from what the problem actually was. I won't get too far into the details but if I had to summarize everything I would chalk it up to a disrespectful lack of communication and understanding on their end in combination with me being a bit too trusting and na├»ve. 

BH: I can feel ya there, it's never good to have that surprise launched on you. Well working backwards from there, I personally didn't like Generation Why? NEARLY as much as the preceding demo and EP. I felt like the youthful exuberance was traded in for a more calculated precision, and I felt like the music suffered for it. Now obviously you guys were all very proud of the record at the time, but now that a few years have gone by, is there anything you would have changed about the process or the end result if you could do it all again? Or do you still think it holds up to the vision you guys had at the time? 

JM: We worked extremely hard on it, and to me it was our best effort up to that time. Obviously there's no debating it because you (and others) undeniably got things from the EPs that you did not get from the full length. Looking back on it, however, It doesn't excite me the way it did when we were working on it. We absolutely put our all into it and did our best, but the songwriting for the most part just wasn't anything exceptional. Personally I was ok with that because I felt like that was the best we could do while being so young and inexperienced and that the knack for songwriting would be the next step in the progression of the band. In hindsight I always thought, "ok, the first album had some moments but the next one is really going to be on another level". 

And there's another aspect that makes writing music such a delicate process. A lot of people loved the EPs, and they will always have some charm in my opinion, but we were hell bent on what we considered "getting better" but some of the fans didn't perceive it the same way.

BH: I thought you guys already had quite a knack for songwriting myself. "Relativity" is a beast of a track. Was there any one member who was sort of "the leader" when it came to the songwriting process? Or were most of the songs written by committee? Simply jamming on some riffs and letting the songs go naturally or were they planned out ahead of time?

JM: We were always together when we wrote, everyone was free to make suggestions. Based on our history and personalities I usually conceded to Jim and Konrad for quite a few reasons. There were times when we were young that I tried to be more proactive in the creative process and did not get the type of warm responses that I'd hoped for. I think that caused me to be a bit more self conscious and tentative with presenting my ideas. And on top of that it seemed to me that the other guys cared more about being in control than I did so I was comfortable with the fact that my best role would be to let them do most of the talking and contribute with little tweaks here and there when I knew that I had a really good idea. That was with the instrumental side of things, lyrics were a more independent process. I wrote a good amount of them, Konrad wrote a good amount, and Jim wrote some too.   

BH: So I personally first saw you guys open for Destruction in Mokena back five years ago, and your stage presence and energy just blew me away. After that I caught every show I could, and as such I watched you guys grow and mature and move on to bigger shows and stages. Since you have experience with doing a real North American tour, would you say that was more exciting for you than trying to prove yourselves against legends like Overkill and Sanctuary? Or was it more fun for you guys to be the underdog with the hometown crowd on your side? And furthermore, were you guys as warmly received across the country when you traveled? 

JM: That to me is what was always the key to our potential. Even though the songs were never on the same level as some of the bands we toured with, our performance always seemed to get through to people. Whether people like the songs or not they can get into a band that they know is playing their asses off onstage. So my idea was that if we could just get the songs where we wanted them to be that there would be no stopping us because people always seemed to get into our live show. Pretty much every crowd we played for around the world responded positively to our live performances, we always wanted to be the best band on the bill. 

BH: One thing I'm always interested in is an artist's FAVORITE albums/bands/whatnot, as opposed to just their influences. Like, anybody with ears can hear the Megadeth and Overkill and whatnot in the music, but if you've got a quiet night and you're gonna plop down in your comfy chair and light up a cigar, what albums are you reaching for? 

JM: Well being brought up in such a die hard metal scene as Chicago's, heaviness was king growing up. As I've gotten older I've learned to appreciate the bands that were true to themselves but are so immensely talented that they managed to become huge still. It's a very delicate balancing act between trying to make music that will attract as many fans as possible while still writing music that you love to play. A few off the top of my head that might surprise you: Audioslave, Sublime, Alice in Chains, System of a Down, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Avenged Sevenfold. 

BH: Man I grew up on Sublime and still spin that self titled on occasion, no shame!

JM: It's golden.

BH: I've kind of re-gotten into Alice in Chains as well. Black Gives Way to Blue is much, much better than it logically should be.  

JM: That's absolutely true. It was a very pleasant surprise for me.

BH: Haha, well I know I just mentioned that influences are boring to talk about, but I think there's a bit of a difference when it comes to the initial spark. Was there any one record or bassist that kind of delivered a "eureka" moment to you and made you decided that this was what you wanted to do?

JM: Cliff Burton was the first one, and I'm sure that goes for just about any metal musician. After that I got really into Dream Theater so John Myung would be up there as well. But as far as a guy that opened my eyes at just the right time to help me become a better player, I'd say Billy Sheehan. I discovered him at the most perfect stage of my playing and his lessons that I found online gave a me a lot to practice at a time when I was in need of new things to learn.

BH: Cliff was my first one as well, so you got that right, haha. Well that's about all I got for today. Thanks a ton for playing along, any parting words?

JM: Anytime dude, I appreciate that you reached out to me about this. I've been in exile for about two years and it feels good to talk about music again. And for anyone else reading, especially musicians, keep it real. Don't let the music industry turn you into a politician.

Interesting shit there!  I've been speculating internally about what the whole deal with Jon's sudden departure was, and it was definitely great to hear his side of the story for a change.  Since leaving the band, Jon's definitely been quiet, so I'm very pleased with the fact that he was willing to sit down with a professional dick-joke-maker like myself and shed some light on his time with a band that was poised to become kings of the world, but somehow derailed with alarming speed around the time he was replaced.  Massive, MASSIVE thanks to Jon for playing along and answering some stupid questions for me and for y'all.  He genuinely would not let a single detail slip about any upcoming projects other than the fact that there was one, so I'm just as in the dark and excited as the rest of you are.  In the meantime, here's a throwback to when they were all a bunch of adorable little children with no real idea what a vagina looked like:

PS: I saw Diamond Plate open for Vektor and Exmortus three days before Christmas in 2009 at the Beat Kitchen in Chicago.  Before the show, I met Jon outside and attempted to make some small talk.  I asked "Hey, how old were you again?", to which he responded "How old was I?  Well I was four".  My friends still make fun of me for that. 

1 comment:

  1. It's good to hear from Jon Macak. He's a talented young man. I have never considered myself a Diamond Plate fan, but I was curious about his departure from the band. I also did catch Diamond Plate while they were on tour with Kittie and Warbringer respectively. They put on a killer live show both times! Mad respect for that.

    I do wonder what the hell went wrong with "Pulse." I personally find it quite laughable in regards to how cheesy the songs are. Oh well. Here's hoping that Jon will move on to better things when the time is right!