Tallah's story is a mixture of old school rock royalty and modern day social media popularity, held together with hardcore's staple characteristic of aggressive hardwork.
Drummer Max Portnoy, son of Mike Portnoy - the long tenured backbone of Dream Theater, started the band with Derrick Schneider (guitar) and Andrew Cooper (bass) before courting Justin Bonitz on vocals based on his immensely popular Youtube metal covers on his channels Hungry Covers & originals on Hungry Lights. The legend quickly grew as they played their first ever show at the metal Mecca, Saint Vitus in New York.
But that's only the origin story, something they've quickly surpassed as they've dominated on the merit of their conspicuous display of talent through creatively genre-splicing demented music and miss-and-regret frenzied live shows.
The band's idolization of early 2000's nu-metal is obvious as they definitely emulate that hardcore attitude throughout their identity, not just through their music style but in their cinematic scope of vision and headline grabbing antics.
This newest track "Overconfidence" is definitely a fresh reprise on the nu-metal scene but transcends that typical boxed genre formula. It has your comfortable familiarity of hip hop influenced vocals across heavy distorted bass lines peaking into hammering breakdowns, but instead of retreading in the shallow water, the band elevates by tapping into their maniacal persona, ultimately accomplishing their goal of #MAKEMETALDISTURBINGAGAIN
On the cusp of their first full album 'Matriphagy' releasing Oct 2nd and the premiere of "Overconfidence" finally here (below), Justin & Max talk new record, lyric-writing process, and more in the Knotfest interview below.
This newest video is confined inside a home, almost claustrophobically chained to that home, how much is based on our current situation of all being in quarantine and how much is a precursor built around the album theme of Matriphagy (consumption of the mother by her offspring)?
Justin: None of this imagery has any relation to the current COVID-19 situation whatsoever. 'Matriphagy' is a concept album expanded from our concept EP, “No One Should Read This,” which we released back in 2018. The concept has always been about this man who is essentially being held captive by his mother for over two decades and eventually snaps from the cabin fever at the peak of an identity crisis.
You create interesting and at times, almost deranged storylines for the music videos and ultimately the entire album, does the music influence the story or does the story influence the music?
Justin: This is a tough question to answer. I have a lot of solo projects, which are all concept albums. When I joined Tallah, I asked Max if it was cool for me to do the same thing with Tallah because that is just how I prefer to write lyrics. He said, “Yeah, just make the concept dark.” I came up with the story, then I structured lyrics that could tell that tale over the music.
I do not like writing free-form lyrics and trying to force them to fit over a song. It always feels wrong. I believe my voice needs to be a percussive instrument just as much as a melodic one, so my lyrics are always written to the music, and the vibe/atmosphere of each part absolutely influences what I am saying and the way I am saying it but around the overall concept I had already planned before I heard the instrumental. It is almost like I go in with a rough, pre-planned synopsis, and the music refines it.
When we make a music video, we pull little things from the lyrics to use for visuals. For example, in our video for “Placenta,” we got the idea of having papers strewn everywhere because of the repeating line in the pre-chorus, “No one should read this,” which was a line I came up with based on the vibe of the music, and which later became a major part of the story. As our old EP evolved into a full-length album, Max began playing with reprises, some based on my lyrics and vocal melodies, which in return, made me want to bring back certain lyrical passages! It all just spirals and builds on itself. Since day one of my joining, Max and I have had this weird and amazing synergy that we cannot explain. He does his thing, I do my thing, and it fits like a circle into a circular hole.
You’ve mentioned the year 2001 when describing your tracks and sound, what is it that draws you to that year? What do you see as the biggest differences between now and 2001? And how does that play into your ongoing album hashtag #MAKEMETALDISTURBINGAGAIN?
Justin: In my opinion, the early 2000s were just an iconic time for music in general, but it was very incredible for metal. 2001 is when Slipknot’s 'Iowa', System Of A Down’s 'Toxicity', Tool’s 'Lateralus', and Drowning Pool’s 'Sinner' came out. The year before that, we got Linkin Park’s 'Hybrid Theory', Papa Roach’s 'Infest', Deftones’ 'White Pony', Disturbed’s 'The Sickness', Godsmack’s 'Awake', Lamb Of God’s 'New American Gospel', and Mudvayne’s 'L.D. 50'. 2002, we got Chevelle’s 'Wonder What’s Next', Korn’s 'Untouchables', and Trapt’s self-titled. Static-X, P.O.D., Limp Bizkit, Rammstein, etc. 1994 - 2005 was just an overall colossal decade for the rock/metal community. I named a few bands that do not fit the genre, but this decade was really the rise and fall of what essentially became “nu-metal.”
In 2020, there are a lot of awesome up-and-coming bands, which are all reaching to make a new terrific decade for music, but I just feel like they are missing something. I do not know what it is exactly, but whatever it is, I think Tallah has it.
Your last few tracks prior, “Red Light” & “Placenta” were initially released back in 2018 on your EP ‘No One Should Reach This’. Now that they’ve both been re-released with Earache Records for your upcoming album, have you noticed a difference in reaction between their initial release back in 2018 and now in 2020?
Max: The relaunch for the songs that were featured on our EP "No One Should Read This" has been very exciting. It's a good way to show our current fans the new mix that matches the rest of the songs on the album, and it's really cool to see the interaction from new listeners who hadn't heard these songs initially.
Earache has been doing a great job with their pull and getting these songs out to more people than we initially had launched to, and seeing feedback from new listeners is always really exciting. These songs are also getting added to a bunch of Spotify playlists that they weren't added to from our original debut, which has helped give these tracks a bigger platform to be heard from and reach new people. So we're really happy to have been able to reignite the flame beneath some of those EP songs.
One of the things that hooks a lot of people to you is the insanity of your live shows. A couple of months ago you did a virtual reality show part of Lost Horizon Fest. With lockdowns still in place, how do you plan on still connecting in such an explosive way with your fans?
Max: Our live show is such a big part of what we do and love. We want to give the audience a reckless and chaotic performance full of energy, and we love feeling that same vibe reciprocated back to us from the crowd. So being quarantined has definitely put one of our favorite aspects of the band on hold. We aren't going to let that stop us though.
Like you mentioned, we did a virtual reality concert which was really interesting to pull off. We tracked the set live in front of a green screen but each person was sort of trapped within a certain perimeter so they wouldn't hop off the screen. It was a bit of a challenge for us since we can't ever stay in one place when we perform, but we had fun with it. We have something really cool in the works right now that will give our fans the live Tallah experience we haven't been able to give for months. It's going to be really special and push us to our limits, not only physically, but creatively as well, and we can't be anymore excited to get it out there.
Back in May, you covered 6ix9ine’s “Gooba" with a quarantine style video, about a week after the original version was dropped. What about this track made you want to seemingly drop everything and knock out a killer cover so quickly? Are there more surprises like this on the way?
Max: It was a lot of little things that ended up resulting in that cover. With the lockdown going on, we were brainstorming ideas with each other about what we can do to get more content out, since we couldn't tour or play shows. The idea if a cover was talked about but we all agreed that if we did a one it would have to be of something outside of our genre that we can redo in our own style.
Next thing we knew, 6ix9ine was released from prison and dropped a brand new song, and at that point it was sort of a no brainer. We always thought his vocals and songs (for the most part) were borderline metal, so there was a lot of room for us to rewrite the song like a metal track. The timing of everything just fell into place and we ended up with a pretty fun cover.
Tallah's 'Matriphagy' releases Oct 2nd, pre-order available here.