Interview: Nathan Kane and Paul Lierman of The Wise Man’s Fear/Whale Bones

Nathan Kane and Paul Lierman are two members of post-hardcore/metalcore band The Wise Man’s Fear, and founding members of indie/alternative rock band Whale Bones. Both bands have recently released their debut albums, being “Castle In The Clouds” (The Wise Man’s Fear) and “The Seaside EP” (Whale Bones). I had the chance to sit down with them via Skype and discuss their bands, influences, and future plans.

Note: The interview is edited for time and length constraints. I have posted a link to the full transcript at the bottom of the page.

How long have you guys known each other? Did you meet at the University of Indiana?

Nathan Kane: Yeah, we lived in the same dorm. It’s like an artsy dorm, so all the kids are maybe into arts or want to be around it, are into Doctor Who, or weird stuff like that. Anyways, Paul and I were in a talent show, but were playing separate. I was playing a song I wrote and I forgot the words. So Paul went up and drummed… he ended up winning the talent competition. So I went up to him after, and he was playing like a Devil Wears Prada song, and I was like “Dude, we should jam sometime.”

Do you ever hold that over him that you won?

NK: He should, but he doesn’t.

Paul Lierman: It’s only because he forgot the lyrics to his own song.

NK: Here’s the thing, it was right away too. I gave a speech of what the song is about. Right when I get to the part where it starts, I go “…and I forgot the words.” So I played a cover song. It was bad. Then one of the judges went up and played a song, and he was like “I brought lyrics so I won’t forget like that other guy.” He just flat out called me out, and I was mad. So one day, Paul was like “Here’s my number. We’re going to jam tonight.” We were looking through each other’s iPods to find out what music we had in common. We found all these bands that we thought were like hidden gems. None of my friends listened to them.

PL: The whole dorm was like that. Everyone listened to super hipster stuff.

NK: It was like Urban Outfitters. Which is cool, like I’ll mess with Andrew Bird and St. Vincent, and it’s really good.

PL: But I was like “Oh, this guy listens to Devil Wears Prada and Circa Survive.”

NK: We both actually really love Switchfoot. It’s one of those bands that if you mention Switchfoot, people are like “man, whatever.” They have like one hit song, but they’re actually a really good band. So it was cool to realize we both have that in common. So, we just started jamming and playing on the street, earned some extra money. Eventually, we were like “we can do this as our own project instead of covers.”

PL: Yeah, we jammed covers for a couple months. Then it was like, “wanna just write something instead of covering other stuff?” We got to work doing that.

NK: The Beatles would play for 10 hours a day when they lived in Germany for a while, and it really improved their togetherness or tightness as a group. I think that’s what helped us, playing on the street we were able to understand each other, our individual queues, and the ebb and flow of songs as we play together.

PL: It was useful because I myself hadn’t really played in front of audiences ever. I’ve done some public speaking but never played in front of people. So it helped me get over a lot of the nerves you get.

Who are your greatest influences on the guitar and the drums?

PL: One group we talked about a second ago, Secret and Whisper, they were a huge impactful band for me growing up stylistically. I loved everything they did, and I still do. Soasin is huge; Alex Rodriguez does some of the sweetest fills that are all arms, which is really insane. But as time went on, I started getting into wider ranges of stuff. Woe Is Me was a huge influence for me. The drums are all really robotically programmed, but they are still really fun to try and play along with and think through. Devil Wears Prada, August Burns Red; those are all bands I looked up to.

NK: My big drumming influence… just kidding. So I learned playing Motion City Soundtrack. It pretty much was my starting out band, and I think I take a lot of chord progressions from them. They helped me with my strumming hand, getting fast, understanding barre chords, and understanding the whole guitar.

PL: And he just sweeps.

NK: Yeah, now I just sweep pick all over. (laughs) I’m really influenced by bands like Now, Now, Minus the Bear, Yvette Young, Covet, From Indian Lakes, and Copeland as well, because they all use different tunings. Some of them are very mathy and some aren’t at all. I get really stagnant when I use standard tuning. I feel like I don’t have anywhere to go, that I’ve written the song 500 times before. As far as Wise Man’s Fear goes, I’m thinking a lot about bands like Of Mice And Men and Secret and Whisper. Those are my two go-to artists. This is bad to say, but they have the pop sensibilities of metalcore; they keep it on a regimented “I know where to go” order-wise, but they have a very melodic post-hardcore sound to them that is where I get a lot of my lead melodies.

What bands or albums have you been listening to lately? Have you discovered any new bands recently?

PL: Always. We’re always trying to listen to new stuff. Mostly for me, Skylit Drive put out three singles. I’ve been listening to those on repeat for half a week now. And there’s a new Blacktone record. In my mind, they have redefined down tempo, heavy beatdown, however you want to call it…

NK: It’s ridiculous. It’s double drop A, and parts where I laugh out loud because it’s so heavy, it’s obnoxious. It’s massive, laughable and cool at the same time.

PL: Bless The Fall put out a new record, which is really sick. I’m digging that a lot. There’s an album called “Terrapin” by Outrun the Sunlight. It’s all instrumental, kind of ambient metal, kind of atmospheric, but so beautiful. I don’t usually do instrumental albums because, not to say they bore me, but when I’m listening to music I have ADD in that I need it to be fully occupying my attention at all times. Sometimes I don’t get that, but this record is awesome.

NK: I’ve always been super into Copeland. They put out a new record last year after six years of not saying anything. Underoath is always great. They are on the heavier side for me as far as their progressions, chord shapes, everything about them is really intricate and well thought out. Yvette Young; she’s a really good friend. She’s a really good songwriter, and is always working on different things. Dance Gavin Dance put out a new record I really like, and The Fall of Troy is back out there doing stuff. There’s a band called Valise; they’re from Florida. They are super nice guys.

When you guys aren’t playing music, what do you guys do in your free time?

NK: Sleep. (laughs)

PL: We’re both in school right now. We’re seniors at good ol’ Indiana University. So, a bunch of school work.

NK: We go out exploring. There’s a few spots we like to go out and do adventures with friends. We’ll head out to the lake or something like that.

PL: I haven’t really done anything since the summer, but my brothers and I are starting up a longboard company. We’re making longboard decks out of carbon fiber. We’ve got a prototype and know what we want to do, but we’re figuring out branding. Hopefully once time frees up, I’ll get more involved with it again. I like to read when I have free time. Yeah, we just hang out with friends, go explore sometimes, watch a movie.

NK: I also do MIDI and mastering for bands. I work with a bunch of people that I can’t say… super top secret. (laughs) But I’ll mix records and then master them.

PL: Then I make album screen videos for bands, which is way lower brow than mixing and mastering.

NK: It looks awesome. He does lyric videos for bands.

What is the music scene like in Indiana, and how has it impacted your own sound?

NK: It’s different in different places in Indiana. We’ve been lucky enough to have good reception with both bands. Indianapolis is a lot heavier than Bloomington. It’s a much more metropolitan area, so more kids are into heavier music. We fit right in there with Wise Man’s Fear, and we’ve gotten really good reception. Down in Bloomington, it’s a college town, so people are into indie rock or college surfer rock. With both bands, it’s convenient because when the Wise Man’s Fear plays in Bloomington, there’s nothing else like that here. It’s really heavy, so people are really stoked by that.

PL: There are a lot of kids that listen to heavy stuff down here, it’s just not prevalent.

NK: Then when we play in Indianapolis, people are into is because they’re into that kind of music. Then when Whale Bones plays in Bloomington, people are stoked because it’s a little edgier than what people normally listen to, but it has the pop sensibilities to be accessible. Then when we play in Indianapolis, people are like “we don’t have something like this here because we’re into heavy stuff.” So we take advantage of that.

PL: The scene in Indianapolis has impacted us so much, though. Nathan had a little different experience growing up, but I grew up way out in the country and was never able to go to local shows because there wasn’t anything around. I think there were 650 people in my hometown.

NK: Yep. Yesserree. That’s about right.

PL: It’s like a mile trip to my next door neighbor. There’s just nothing there. So when we started playing together with both bands, it was eye-opening for me. There are so many people out in Indianapolis in the local scene that will volunteer their time to run awesome shows and make sure there’s this vibrant culture. Then in Bloomington, there’s this sweet house culture. It’s different everywhere you go, but it impacted both of us by going out to shows and seeing how it’s done, and now getting to participate in it.

the wise man's fear castle in the clouds

I have a few questions for The Wise Man’s Fear in particular. If I’m not mistaken, that came first. How did they start? Did you know everyone in the band prior to joining?

PL: No actually. That’s kind of a funny story. We started playing in the summer of ’13 in my freshman year. Nathan and I were jamming, playing on the streets. Before I started playing with The Wise Man’s Fear, though, the first guitarist we had wanted to start a group. So we found our other guitarist on Craigslist. It was the shadiest thing ever; he seemed ok, looked like a total hard-baller. But he turned out to be the sweetest guy in the world. That summer we all hung out in a basement and worked on an EP. It wasn’t the greatest quality (laughs), your typical first EP material. Then we replaced our other guitarist with Nathan, and we added Tyler, who does clean vocals. That’s when everything started falling into place.

NK: I’m the glue that keeps it together. (laughs) I think it was winter break when I was asked to jam with The Wise Man’s Fear. I didn’t know if I had enough time to do this, but we started jamming and ended up writing a whole song in that day, which was “Vitality.” It’s really cool to see from the get-go we were productive. It just made sense chemically. They’re some of the best people I’ve ever met, and I wouldn’t want to be in a band with anyone else.

You dubbed yourselves as “fantasycore.” How would you describe your music, and how has that influenced your sound? What does it mean to be “fantasycore” to you?

PL: I’ll speak to that one because it’s sort of my brainchild. So we took the name of the band from a novel of the same title by Patrick Rothfuss. He’s one of the most famous contemporary fantasy writers right now, like being called the second coming of JRR Tolkein. (laughs) I had just finished reading the book “The Wise Man’s Fear” near a time when we were settling for a new name. We didn’t want to become a band that wrote about the novel. We didn’t want to limit ourselves in that way, put ourselves in a box. So we readapted the name as a statement against the danger of pride. Even the wisest, most intelligent people are the most laidback, least assuming people. Then we figured it’d be a shame if we named ourselves after a fantasy novel but then not reference it in any way. When we were brainstorming for the album, we wanted to do a concept album to break out of the mold. We had conversations like “this band came out with a new EP. It sounds cool, the vocals are awesome, but the lyrics are garbage.” So wanted to avoid that, wanted to be purposeful with whatever we wrote. We ended up developing this fantastical storyline…

NK: Yeah, you did.

PL: We brainstormed ideas, bounced it back and forth in the studio. It’s set in this fantasy universe. It’s a knight going on a journey, and he’s seeking this castle in the clouds. He’s got to discover the meaning of life by finding out what’s in the castle in a nutshell. We’ve done a lot of posts on Facebook about the symbolism, but that’s mostly what it is. Sonically, that translated in the studio as writing riffy stuff, and writing orchestral MIDI and sound effects. We describe “fantasycore” as a combination of fantasy themed lyrics, fast, riffy, melodic guitar, and toss in sweet orchestral, symphonic sounds to make it sound more medieval.

You actually touched upon my next question, because I was going to ask you if you can describe some of the themes and concepts behind “Castle In The Clouds.” Is there anything else you’d like to add to that?

PL: The album had a lot of personal meaning to me. I ended up writing a lot of lyrics on it. We had a few conversations about what we wanted to say. Growing up, music was huge in all of our lives. We felt if we were going to put out an album, we needed a message that we love and support, and that will be beneficial if people hear it. Because there’s so much negative metal out there that doesn’t support my moral code. We wanted to be this intense band that may sound intimidating on the outside, but has a message that’s positive, about self-betterment. So the main themes that we really took care to build into the story… there’s one line in the last song “Castle In The Clouds”: “Live your life without the fear of death. Glory fades and the grave takes the rest.” To me that means not to waste your life figuring out who you are, why you are, what you’re meant to be. I’ve personally experienced a lot of anxiety figuring out what college to go to, what career to pursue, figuring out what life I’m meant to lead. The point of the album is to not worry about what you’re supposed to do, but instead just do. Stop overthinking. I mean, thinking is awesome, but overthinking is dangerous. At the end of the day, you’re going to die and it’s not going to matter what you’re supposed to do.

NK: Meaning your wealth, or your rank.

PL: Another theme… not all the guys in the band are Christian, but I am personally. Another big theme was supposed to represent a religious experience. There’s a character in the story that’s metaphorical for God, and the protagonist of the story is allegorical for mankind. It’s supposed to represent humanity trying to find its path and its purpose. In the last track when it all culminates, the character that represents God says “I’ve been here this whole time, letting you do your own thing and get lost and find your own purpose. The minute you’re ready to come back to me, I’ve always been here.” For me, it was a spiritual reflection about college and how my life and world view was impacted. We tried to leave it open ended enough that if you aren’t a Christian, it’s not going to bum you out.

What is the first concert you ever performed as The Wise Man’s Fear?

PL: Our first show we played was in Kokomo, Indiana, and it was really bad.

NK: Have you ever seen “The Blues Brothers?” In a scene, they go to Kokomo and there’s chicken wire in front of the stage. They ask why there’s chicken wire, and they know right away because people throw beer bottles at the stage. We didn’t have that sort of experience; the venue wasn’t trashy…

PL: We had only practiced the set in one day, and we ran through it three times. It was not great. Plus our lineup was different which ended up making a big difference. That was the first who we played, but it was fun.

I saw that you guys performed a show for the Vans Warped Tour recently. What was it like doing that?

NK: It was hot. (laughs)

PL: It was incredible. It was the coolest show I had ever performed. There were a lot more kids than we were expecting. That was one of our worries: are people going to leave to see a different band? Who’s playing at the same time? There might be more important people to see. It ended up working out, it was packed. Plus our screamer ended up puking like three times on stage. It was so metal. (laughs)

NK: I ended up wearing all black and pants. It was a bad decision, but it looked good. It was 90-something outside, but it was a nice show. It flowed smoothly, and the crowd was receptive. That was maybe the best we played; we left everything on stage. Joe left a lot of himself out, and even ruined the monitor. (laughs) Right away people wanted to talk to us. I couldn’t speak because I was so hot. I needed to take five minutes to close my gear and drink some water beforehand. It was fulfilling to feel we played our hardest at this event.

How is the creative process for The Wise Man’s Fear? Is there a main songwriter in terms of the actual music, or is it a collaborative effort?

NK: It definitely varies between both bands. For the Wise Man’s Fear, everybody brings something to the table depending. A lot of the subject matter are all decided beforehand. Then we will write a song based on lyrics or story planned out.

PL: It’s a really rambunctious effort in the writing. For a third of the tracks, I had most of the album’s lyrics done before the instrumentals were done. Then the lyrics changed a lot to fit the format of the songs. Conceptually, the eleven plot points of each track and the symbolism was established beforehand. For another third of the songs, Cody would bring a riff that would inspired us. We’d toss ideas back and forth. The other third Nathan would write the general structure, and we’d throw ideas on top of that. It was really collaborative. Joe helped write guitar for a couple songs. Tyler wrote the vocal pattern for every chorus, and helped the lyrics for much of the album. We all were pretty involved. Nathan and Cody were the engines behind the song structure writing.

NK: I think drums are very intricate. I don’t think anyone else actually plays the drums, so Paul performs all the drums. I’ll give him a mood, but I don’t know how that translates. I’m more of a chorus writer, the more melodic stuff, while Cody writes more of the heavy stuff. That’s nice for both of us because I didn’t know how to play heavy stuff before.

I just have a few more questions. Are there any interesting stories you’d like to tell since starting The Wise Man’s Fear? Maybe there’s any stories from touring or in the studio? Anything interesting, funny?

NK: Yeah, there’s definitely a lot, some that I shouldn’t say. (laughs)

Yeah, maybe we should keep it PG. Maybe PG-13.

PL: There’s been all sorts of crazy stuff. When we were at the studio for the last session for the Wise Man’s Fear album, we just stayed in the basement for ten days. You don’t realize how much that messes with your psyche. The last day, when we drove home, we hadn’t seen actual sunlight since we’d gotten there. We’d wake up at 9 in the morning in this basement with no windows, record until 5, then afterwards work on stuff for the next day. It was vicious. We didn’t see the sunlight for 10 days, so it was a shock to us. One night when we were there, at 2 or 3 in the morning, we went out to get some food. A buddy who helped track with us ran over a bungee cord or something and punctured our tire. So we were sitting in a parking lot at Taco Bell trying to figure out how AAA works, or how to change a tire, but we were missing all the tools. He still doesn’t know this, but he was joking or something, and we were like “Hey man. Not cool. Nathan’s dad’s black.” (laughs) We pretended it was really offensive to Nathan. He bought it and apologized; he’s normally such a goofball, we can never get him to be serious.

NK: He was very somber and polite to me for the rest of the time.

PL: I actually hope he doesn’t see this because we never told him. He still thinks that. There’s Joe puking on stage as well.

NK: We give him crap for it all the time now. We also did a video interview with The Wise Man’s Fear. Tyler our singer couldn’t be there, so we had his brother fill in for him. We didn’t announce it either, he actually spoke on his behalf. (laughs)

Is there any information you’d like to share about either band? A new tour, album, or updates?

PL: We’ve got stuff coming down the tubes for both. In nine days from now, we’re going to shoot a music video for the Wise Man’s Fear. That’s going to be done by a guy name Sam (Lee), who’s responsible for Memphis May Fire and Sleeping With Sirens music videos. He’s doing the music video tour, which will be at a show. He’s going to 20 different locations in the US, and it will be a documentary of him shooting a different music video every day in a new city. So we’re going to be the Indiana episode of his show.

NK: It’ll be like the Jersey Shore, but with bands. Way more scandalous.

PL: We don’t know exactly know when it’s going to be aired. He hasn’t been able to share with us. That will be available once the episode is ready.

NK: Since we’re in school, we can’t do a lot of tours. But we’re going to try to tour the Midwest on weekends. We’ll see what happens with the summer. Hopefully, things will ramp up because we’re both graduating. The goal is to do this all full time.

One last question: Have you learned anything about each other or yourself since being in the band?

PL: Nathan snores. (laughs)

NK: I sleep with my eyes partly open. It’s because I don’t trust anybody. (laughs) I think we learned how to manage different types of people. We’re both very much leadership personalities. Sometimes it’s hard for us to recognize other people taking initiative of things. Sometimes we need to take a step back and realize our role. Also, just managing other people and their feelings or opinions. Having the guts to stand up for yourself. Or being exhausted and working your hardest and being as personable as possible.

PL: That’s what I was going to say. Everybody’s cards are on the table when you’re super tired. That’s when your character shows. That’s when you get the chance to either help out your band or give in and be unproductive. A summer ago, we went on a tour in the east coast for a couple weeks. We left Indiana at one or two in the morning because of Tyler’s internship. He was coming from work, did something at home, then came over, packed and left. We were driving to like Georgia, so it was like a 9 hour drive, ended up getting there at 10 in the morning. We sat there shell-shocked. That’s when it’s important to stick to your guns as a person and not become snippy with people because you’re tired. Or when you are cleaning up after a show, you’re exhausted anyways. You learn more about yourself than anything, what pushes your buttons.

A special thanks to Nathan and Paul for taking the time to chat with me!

You can read the full transcript here.

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