A Journey into Adventure Rock
On Being Human – January 2014 Band of the Month
By Bradley Weinholtz
Combining electronic and orchestral influences with a traditional hard-rock approach, On Being Human has carved out a new and innovative sub-genre they call "Adventure Rock."
The band has a strong gig schedule, a compelling presence on YouTube with a slate of powerful videos, and a back catalog of accomplished music releases. With its focus on sci-fi and fantasy themes, the band’s music has turned up on major film and video game soundtracks. In the winter of 2013 On Being Human released their self-produced EP, eVe, recorded at Alchemy Studio in California with new videos executive-produced by Qatar-based Innovation Films.
Hailing from Murrieta, California, On Being Human features five talented musicians: Travis Baker, Beau Trembly, Greg Lesondak, Gustin Flaig, and Greg Johnson. Each has his own distinct musical roots and a passion for composing, playing, and producing original scores and noteworthy songs. The band has evolved over the years, and a pivotal part of the On Being Human adventure began with founding members Trembly, Baker, and Johnson moving to Hamburg, Germany in 2009. During the next seven months of living in the city where the Beatles developed their sound, On Being Human wrote their debut album, then returned to the States and released To Light the Coals of Hearts. In the wake of this release, Hot Topic named them Unsigned Band of the Month for July 2011.
In late 2012 the band was invited to Doha, Qatar where their music was featured in four movies produced by Innovation Films that all premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival. Aside from touring as a band, On Being Human are established composers and their scores and orchestral compositions are featured in the following TV shows, films and video games: The Package Vol. 1, Lockdown: Red Moon Escape, Rocket Racing League, AMBL, Galactic Bowling, and Top Hand Rodeo Tour. Currently On Being Human is working on tracks for their follow up LP In Search of Adam as well as scoring films, television and video games. Following is our interview with the Band plus individual member bios plus a list of their gear. Check out On Being Human’s fan page.
"Automation" from On Being Human's EP eVe.
The HUB: You seem to put a lot of emphasis on video and video game music. Where do you see them fitting into the band's game plan?
On Being Human: Our original music was almost entirely influenced by video game music. Whether it is was chiptune synths, video game-esque visuals or lyrics based on games, it’s always been a part of us. When RetrowareTV.com asked us to be a part of their site by doing video game covers we jumped on it. We all love retro games and the music is very nostalgic to us; it’s something we all grew up with. Greg J and Travis both worked as video game composers at one point doing games for the Wii, Xbox 360, PC and iOS. When we did our second video game cover of “Intro and Prelude” from Super Metroid we still weren’t expecting a whole lot from the covers until suddenly some serious video game websites started posting it. It went up on Screwattack, Gametrailers, Nintendolife, IGN (Germany) and more.It sort of took off in a way we weren’t expecting. We even got compliments from some of the original composers of these games! After our third cover we were invited to play MAGfest in National Harbor, Maryland and we are just about to go back in January 2014 to play the main stage! The video game covers will always be secondary to our original music, it can never replace that, but it’s just another fun avenue to raise awareness about what we do.
The HUB: You describe your approach as "Adventure Rock." Can you talk a little about that?
OBH: We frequently get the comment “your music sounds like it should be in a movie” or “your music sounds like it’s taking me on an adventure”. We only hope that they really mean it because it’s exactly what we were trying to do! A friend of ours once jokingly said we were “Adventure Rock” so we kind of lovingly adopted the term. I think there are a couple of other bands before us us who used the term as well but we just try to have fun with it. I suppose calling ourselves hard rock/electronic/alternative music would be a bit much, even though that’s probably a more accurate term. Who needs genres these days anyway?
The HUB: Sci-fi and fantasy are sources of inspiration for you. Are there any particular books, games, or films that are especially influential right now?
OBH: Travis has always been the kind of lyricist who drew inspiration from outward than inward. Not to say what he wrote wasn’t heartfelt but there’s something about wrapping something personal and heartfelt around the classics that people are familiar with. Ray Bradbury, The Twilight Zone and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry were heavy influences on our first record To Light the Coals or Hearts. On our upcoming LP, In Search of Adam, we drew heavily from games like Ico, Bioshock and Braid. Beau wrote a song called “Flesh on Fire” based on a documentary of the same name that he scored so there’s sort of cross inspiration that happens frequently with our work as composers. Our visual influences also lean toward the space/fantasy type visuals so we try to keep everything cohesive between lyrics, timbre and visuals.
The HUB: You guys have some very unique tones in your music. What are the go-to instruments you guys play/use and what led you to them?
OBH: Greg J has a guitar called the Robocaster from Visionary instruments. It’s a guitar with a built-in MIDI controller that’s controlling effects on our laptop via Guitar Rig which is running back into a pedalboard then amp. His guitar can do anything! Whether it’s pitch bending/stuttering or bit crushing, any effect can be assigned to any button on the guitar. Beau loves to play synth bass so he’s running a Midi Fighter 3D tied to Omnisphere then routed back into his Mesa/Boogie bass amp so it sounds monstrous! We use lots of synths in the backing tracks live too, we keep it to just keys and some electronic percussion though. Gus has some trigger pads so he can play some of the electronic percussion too.
Other than that we have some pretty straightforward gear, Les Pauls and Orange Amps. Gus plays OCDP drums and Zildjian cymbals. Travis loves his Shure Beta 87a mic live and a Manley Reference Cardioid mic in the studio. We play in a lot of different keys so we have TronicalTune automatic tuners on all our guitars as well. We all work as composers too so we have almost the entire EastWest Collection of samplers, the entire Spectrasonic collection just to name a few.
The HUB: You guys went to Hamburg, Germany to find your own sound and to grow as a band. What made you decide to go there as a group?
OBH: The idea of going to Hamburg wasn’t entirely ours. We were lucky enough to be approached by Tronical (the company that invented the automatic tuners most commonly seen on Gibson’s MinE-Tune and Robot Guitar models). Chris Adams (the nventor) was the brother-in-law of Travis’ old neighbor, Robert, who had a side garage that we used to rehearse in. If I can say anything to upcoming bands, it’s that you never know who is listening! One day we are jamming in a garage in Murrieta, California and the next we were living in Germany recording and writing music in the same city that the Beatles cut their teeth. We were put through the wringer by musicians far superior to us, but we learned a ton about songwriting and producing. It was there that we found our sound. We are still constantly growing of course, but if it wasn’t for Tronical and Chris, we wouldn’t be the musicians we are today, nor would we have our first album To Light the Coals of Hearts, which they executive produced. Plus being flown to the other side of the world as a band will teach you a lot about who you are as a person; we learned life lessons from that experience that we will never forget.
The HUB: You really have established your own sonic identity. What advice do you have for other players and bands trying to create their own unique sounds?
OBH: In today’s state of the music industry, you can do whatever you want! Of course there’s a downside as no one is selling many records anymore and the labels aren’t what they used to be. But, if you think about it, it also took away the “gatekeepers,” so to speak. You can look at it as a negative thing, but it won’t get you anywhere. The question is: how can you turn a disadvantage into an advantage? I think a ton of people are doing just that by being themselves. Being unique is the only way to stand out and if you practice a ton and work everyday at what you love, then people WILL notice. In our own case, we just happened to land in a groove and a style of music that sort of happened over the last nine years or so. A lot of bad songs have come and gone but hopefully as time goes on we can continue to work hard and grow as a unit to be whatever it is we are supposed to be.
The HUB: You have had some significant exposure as a band including a strong reception to your debut album, acknowledgment by Hot Topic, concerts abroad, scores for films, TV, and video games plus recognition by Musician’s Friend as the January 2014 Band of the Month. How do you create these opportunities?
OBH: As we started to write better songs and learned our instruments, opportunities started to present themselves. With a certain amount of luck, and the help of some good friends, things started to happen for us. Hot Topic was definitely a huge win for us as they debuted the music video for our song “Addicted,” and had our merch on their website for quite some time. When it came time for us to score our first film together, we all hunkered down and got to work. We scored a film called The Package Vol. 1 for Innovation Films in Doha, Qatar which featured our song “Addicted” as well. They were kind enough to executive produce our next few music videos as well as our EP eVe, and in return we scored four more short films for them. That lead to us going to Doha, Qatar to be a part of the Tribeca Film Festival. As we said earlier, you never know who is listening, so it’s important to always have your game face on and do your best, even when you may not think it matters.
The HUB: You guys are all living under one roof in beautiful sunny Southern California. Has been complex living together as a Band? What the pro’s and con’s?
OBH: We are all really tight friends, Travis and Beau as well as Greg and Greg have known each other for half our lives. Our drummer Gus is probably the easiest person to get along with in the world. We wanted a place to inspire creativity, and more importantly, be really loud! We got a house together and we loaded it full of music gear and video games and that’s just what we do. I think it’s better than trying to subject a roommate who is not a musician to our noise, so it just works. We know each other well and we can rehearse in our living room whenever we want. Our dreams and goals are all tied together so we just get it done. The cons being we have slow Internet and we make a mess [laughter].
The HUB: You guys are positioned for an incredible 2014. What are some of your plans for the new year?
OBH: NEW ALBUM! We will be releasing our second full-length In Search of Adam in 2014. We have at least 30 songs right now, some even done and recorded, but we need to take the necessary steps to make sure the songwriting is as strong as it can be. We are playing MainStage at MAGfest right at the beginning of the year, and we will be doing more scores for our friends at Innovation Films over in Qatar as well. There’s a couple other top secret things we have in the works too. I wish I could say, but we have to confirm them. It will be our best year yet; we feel it!
On Being Human performing "Unforgiving Sea", directed by John Darko.
On Being Human Band Member Bios
Travis Baker has been singing for the band since 2008, and has been writing with the band since it's creation. Travis started the band with his brother and a high school friend in 2000, but after several changes of style and comings and goings of new band members, On Being Human became what it is today. He has always been inspired by science fiction stories, especially those by Ray Bradbury, and old Twilight Zone episodes, and those inspirations have found their way into the themes of the band's lyrics. When it comes to singing, Travis' influences are Michael Jackson, Matt Bellamy and Thom Yorke. Like the other members of On Being Human, Travis has worked as a composer soundtracks produced by On Being Human.
Beau Trembly is a guitar player turned bass player—does anyone really choose to be a bass player? He joined the band in 2004 as a guitarist, then left, and rejoined the band to play bass in 2007 while they were working on their first album in Hamburg, Germany, To Light the Coals of Hearts. His influences range from Colin Greenwood and Christopher Wolstenholme to Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Beau also works as a composer for On Being Human-produced soundtracks as well as scoring on his own for short films such as "Fragile Hearts", "Peculiar Grace" and "Flesh on Fire" for which he wrote the On Being Human track of the same name.
Gustin Flaig is the latest and final addition to On Being Human, joining in early 2013. Born and raised in Orange County he has spent the last seven years playing in and around the Los Angeles, San Diego and Inland Empire music scenes. Gustin grew up with a background of pop punk and hard-hitting rock that lead to some of his influences including Travis Barker, Dave Grohl, Josh Freese and Joey Jordison.
Greg Lesondak joined the band in early 2012 and came aboard as both guitarist and composer. A SoCal native, his blend of hard rock and electronic sounds accompanied with a wide range of other musical influences, made him an ideal fit for the group. As a guitarist, Greg's ability to go from creating ambient textures to squealing out a face-melter when needed, reflects the stylings of modern guitar players as well as those of the past. His influences range from bands like Radiohead and A Perfect Circle to guitar greats Eddie Van Halen and Steve Vai. His friendship with fellow guitarist Greg Johnson dates back to high school where the two began working on music projects together. The guitarists kept in contact over the years, helping out with each other’s solo efforts and working in the studio with other bands. They would eventually join forces through OBH when the opening for a second guitarist presented itself.
Greg Johnson joined On Being Human in 2008 and was immediately transplanted to Hamburg, Germany to work on their debut album To Light the Coals of Hearts. Previously coming from a progressive metal background, Greg was looking to bring his influences of video game and film soundtrack music into a rock setting. His friendship and mutual love of video games with Travis Baker lead him to join the group. As a composer on video games such as Alien Monster Bowling League for the Wii and Top Hand Rodeo Tour for the Xbox360, it seemed like a natural fit to join forces with his fellow bandmates to produce soundtracks for film and TV. The Qatari--based film, The Package Vol. 1, was the first On Being Human soundtrack featuring Travis Baker, Beau Trembly and Greg. Greg is also a music producer/engineer at Alchemy Studios in Murrieta, California working with bands such as Heartist, I Am Cassettes and BloodTypeG. Greg's influence as a guitar player include Trevor Rabin, James Hetfield and Matt Bellamy; as a producer, Arnold Lanni, Trevor Horn and Dr Luke; and as composer, Hans Zimmer, Chad Seiter, Nobuo Uematsu and Thomas Newman.
"Dream Garden" by On Being Human, from the eVe EP (now on iTunes!)
Animation created by Jason Baker using After Effects and Elements 3D.
The Gear List
Beau Trembly’s Equipment List
Mesa/Boogie M6 Carbine head
Aguilar 412 cab
Sans amp model RB1
Fender American P bass
Ernie Ball bass strings
Axiom Pro 49
MainStage 3 with Spectrasonic's Omnisphere and EastWest Samplers.
Greg Lesondak’s Equipment List
Gibson Les Paul Studio
Ernie Ball Music Man John Petrucci Signature
Orange Rockerverb 50
Bogner 2x12 Cabinet
Ernie Ball Regular Slinky Strings
TC Electronics Nova Delay
TC Electronics Dreamscape Chorus
Exotic FX RC Boost
Ernie Ball VP Jr.
Voodoo Lab Micro Vibe
Greg Johnson’s Equipment List
Visionary Instruments Robocaster
Gibson Les Paul Customs
Orange Rockerverb 50
Orange 2x12 Closed back Cab
Ernie Ball strings and accessories
Native Instruments Guitar Rig 5
Diamond Quantum Leap
Way Huge Swollen Pickle
Ebtech Hum X
Voodoo Labs Pedal Power
Trailer Trash Pedal Board
Ernie Ball VP Jr.
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