Hot off the Press

Caleb Bingham of Ascension

by Anabel DFlux
– Senior Photojournalist —

Senior photojournalist Anabel DFlux caught up with musician Caleb Bingham to chat about his band Ascension, what happened between him and Five Finger Death Punch, and what fans can expect next!

Caleb Bingham of Ascension 2015Anabel: Hi! How are you? Thank you for talking with me today!

Caleb: Hey Anabel! I am doing very well thanks. Thank you for the interview!

Anabel: When and why did you start playing?

Caleb: I got my start playing music when I was six years old. I was forced to take Classical piano lessons by my mother, which I hated at the time but am grateful for now. She was very strict when it came to my musical education and wouldn’t let me eat dinner as a kid until I had put my hour a day of practice in on the keys…

Anabel: Tell me about your band Ascension. How did you all meet?

Caleb: I first started Ascension as a one-man band while I was still in high school. I played with a number of various musicians over the first few years of the band’s existence before I met Mike in 2007 and got him involved. I met Brandon as a result of producing a previous band of his a few years back and had kept in touch with him since then. When I came back to the U.S. after parting ways with Zonaria last year I asked him if he would be interested in joining the band. Both him and Mike are fantastic players and bring a whole lot to the table musically.

Anabel: Who or what are your inspirations?

Caleb: I find whole lot of different things inspiring! As far as musical inspiration goes there is of course the aforementioned Classical music. As a young kid growing up in L.A. I was fortunate to be able to regularly attend the L.A. Opera/L.A. Philharmonic seasons, which exposed me to a ton of great Classical composers and musicians at a very impressionable age. I very fondly recall getting to meet John Williams backstage at the Hollywood Bowl once after watching him conduct the L.A. Philharmonic in a flawless rendition of “Star Wars.” (With pyro no less!)
As far as rock music and related goes, I first picked up the guitar after hearing Jimi Hendrix for the first time when I was about nine or ten years old. I had never heard anyone make sounds like that on a guitar before then and just absolutely had to learn how to do that too. He remains a huge influence on my playing even now. Other notable guitar players I have looked up to over the years have been B.B. King, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimmy Page, Ace Frehley, Eddie Van Halen, Yngwie Malmsteen, John Sykes (whom I am very fortunate and grateful to have been able to work with for a couple of years), Randy Rhoads, George Lynch, James Hetfield, Marty Friedman, Vivian Campbell, Jake E. Lee and Zakk Wylde (whom I happened to be rehearsing next door to with my first garage band when I was 13, whilst BLS was gearing up for the “Stronger Than Death” tour… That was also a monumentally inspiring and influential moment as a young player!). I could go on for days with guitar players probably.
As far as singers go, again I was brought up as a young kid listening to a lot of Classical and Opera so that has certainly had its share of influence. In the rock genre I really dig Ronnie James Dio, Janis Joplin, Bruce Dickinson and Jørn Lande among others. On the side of more heavy, extreme Metal singers I look up a lot to Abbath, Jon Nödtveit, Peter Tägtgren and Mikael Åkerfeldt. Pretty much anyone who can belt it out and make it sound like they gave their vocal chords a good once over with some coarse grit sandpaper are fair game. Haha!
As far as non-musical inspirations I am a huge history buff, enjoy studying physics, astronomy and philosophy and am into fantasy and science fiction as well. I also love to travel and spend a lot of time out in nature.

Anabel: What is the concept behind the music? I notice what appears to be a lot of occult/Masonic symbolism throughout the album art… What inspired that?

Caleb: Indeed you do! A couple of years ago I was visiting my grandparent’s graves back home in Ohio for the first time in many years. While there I noticed the square, compass and pentagram insignia’s of the Freemasons/Order of the Eastern Star on their tombstones. It had been so many years since I had visited that I had forgotten that these symbols were present there, and I as a young kid likely wouldn’t have known what they represented anyhow. I myself am not a member of a Lodge or any other Masonic affiliated organization and was never informed that my grandparents were members so I (being the history buff that I am) began to read up on them and their history as well as that of their predecessors such as the Gnostics, Rosicrucians and Templars. Shortly after beginning my studies on the subject I acquired my Washburn Flying V guitar with the mirrored top on it, noticed the similarity between its shape and that of the Masonic compass symbol, and then got the idea to do a concept album based on that subject matter and title it “The Order of the Silver Compass.” The rest is (quite literally) history!

Anabel: What has the recording process been like?

Caleb: Anyone who has ever worked with me in the studio knows I prefer performed music rather than actualized music. I also am a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to recording techniques and technology and I (whenever possible) prefer to work on analog tape. This project was no exception and was started on a 2” Stephens deck. Unfortunately tape is quite expensive these days and so is studio time in what few studios are still equipped with tape recorders so, due to time and budget constraints, we were forced to switch to digital partway through the process. With that being said we did capture performances rather than create them and didn’t digitally tune up, quantize or replace anything. What the listener is hearing on the disc is a real band playing real music. (What a concept!)

Caleb Bingham of Ascension

Anabel: Upcoming tours?

Caleb: We are heading out with Chris Amott’s band Armageddon the end of September… Very excited for that!

Anabel: I know you were in Five Finger Death Punch before forming Ascension. Did that experience have any influence on your current musical project?

Caleb: Five Finger who? (Laughs.) Yes actually due to passing out the early Ascension demos down on the Sunset Strip I did land a gig playing with that band the first two years they were together. Joined them right out of high school. I’d say it was more the other way around as far as one influencing the other as their first couple of records that I was involved with were certainly a lot heavier overall than what they have done since they fired me…

Anabel: Why did they fire you?

Caleb: Their version of the story (as outlined by Jeremy Spencer in his book “Death Punched”) was that they replaced me because I wouldn’t be allowed to play club gigs with the band since I was under 21 at the time. This is total B.S. considering that I was already playing regularly in clubs before I was 21 with other bands without issue and the other members of 5FDP had no issue getting me into clubs with them when we used to go out on the Sunset Strip and plug the band together. The real reason was that I was 19 at the time and they were all in their mid to late 30’s. I was making them look old. This is evidenced by the fact that they replaced me with Darrell Roberts who looks very similar to me and plays guitar a lot like I do as well but is their age. Unfortunately image is everything in this line of work!

Anabel: What is your opinion on the current state of music?

Caleb: I think we are living in a time where music, the arts and self-expression in general are in a steady state of decline and in dire need of a revival. Part of the problem is the obvious issue of digital technology making all physical, tangible media obsolete and worthless. It also levels the playing field as far as musicians go as one no longer has to put any time into actually learning their instrument before forming a band, making a record and hitting the stage since the computer can hold your hand throughout the entire process. Also at this point anyone can make a record in their bedroom and flood the internet with it leading to over saturation of the market with mass amounts of poorly written, poorly produced garbage that in the process makes it nearly impossible for bands who actually have talent to get heard. Furthermore, most all of the people on the business side (record execs, managers, A&R and so on, who once were avid music listeners that in essence were the filtration mechanism that decided who got heard or didn’t) have long since been replaced with guys in suits with MBA’s who most often have no idea how the music business is supposed to work or even what good music is to begin with. They are only interested in turning a profit and treat this industry like Wall Street. This has led to the total stagnation of music as an art form due to their unwillingness to take risks on anything new, unique or innovative. It has now gotten to the point where it is often impossible to tell one band from the other as they all have their vocals tuned to inhuman perfection and their drums quantized and replaced with the same set of samples from one to the next. I truly hope that this is merely a transitional time for music and that real musicians making great music will eventually be able to make a resurgence instead of continuing to go by the wayside.

Anabel: Are you looking to stay independent, or land a deal with a major record label?

Caleb: Ascension was an underground, DIY band for the first ten years it was around. We signed a development deal with a small indie label called KTR recently. That has definitely been a big leg up for us as far as being able to take our time in making a proper record without cutting any corners as well as getting some proper artwork and branding together on it and the related merchandise. We are definitely very grateful for having been given that opportunity. With that being said, there are perks to being on a major label that are undeniable, mainly related to marketing, promo and distribution. We certainly wouldn’t be opposed to hearing what a major had to offer us if the opportunity presented itself.

Anabel: Finally, what’s next for Ascension? What should fans look forward to?

Caleb: Album two is already pretty far along at least instrumentally. I have an album title and a handful of song titles I am tossing around as well as artwork ideas. I think it will be a continuation of what listeners will hear on this first record but with the musical progression that occurs when a band spends a lot of time working together in close quarters like we have. I hope to top ourselves with the writing and production and maintain or surpass the level of quality we have established with pressing this first record. Fans should look forward to ringing ears and various bruises acquired in the mosh the day after we punish them with our live show… Hope to see everyone reading this at a gig real soon!

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