An interview with Mega Beardo

Some time ago I posted a review of Mega Beardo‘s Belmont, a Castlevania-inspired concept album from Ryan Postlethwait, who some may know from his work with West Virginia metallers Descension Rate. The review led to a dialogue with Mr. Postlethwait, who was kind enough to take a moment from working on his upcoming album The Ledjent of Zelda to give an interview to RedgoateeRob’s Horror Pages about his work on Belmont, his preferred axe, his favorite horror films, and recording The Ledjent of Zelda.


I know you’re a busy guy with all your projects- thanks for taking the time to do this interview!

Ryan Postlethwait with the NEStrat

I’m sure I’m not alone in being super-jealous of your NES guitar, because it’s clearly one of the coolest guitars ever made- can you give us some details about it i.e. what sort of humbucker is in it, what are the tonal characteristics of the guitar, etc.?

The NES guitar was custom-made by the guys at getlofi.com, but I unfortunately don’t know much about the hardware. It’s got your basic strat-style rosewood neck and a single humbucker by the bridge. I will say that it plays like a dream, at least when you consider that it’s simply a guitar neck attached to a hollow plastic box.

The tonal characteristics are probably the most unique in my arsenal. It has a pretty stellar sustain for what it is, and I get a pretty healthy chug out of it for rhythm stuff. But I’ve found that it is quite useful for doing leads since the tone tends to cut a little more through the mix. So it was my main guitar for doing leads on “Belmont.” I’d say 80% of the leads, including “Medusa’s Scream” and “I Return to Rain,” were recorded with the NES guitar.

There’s some live footage on YouTube of me playing a Mega Man 2 medley with the NES guitar. When it’s coupled with my beloved Whammy pedal, it sounds fantastic.

In addition to the NES guitar, your videos show a Schecter and an SG, both of which are nice guitars- but I think every guitar player has a favorite in their collection. Which guitar do you reach for first when you have an idea?

It typically depends on the idea and the tuning I suspect that idea would be in. My Schecter is an Omen 7-string, and my SG is typically tuned to Drop-C. The rest of my guitars (Telecaster, NES Guitar, and Ephiphone Les Paul) are all in standard tuning.

Ryan with his “Mickey Mouse” SG

With that said, I will typically reach for my Epiphone G-400 SG. I bought that guitar on eBay back in 1997, and it’s been my baby ever since. It’s completely sweat-logged and covered in stickers at this point. It has a Mickey Mouse sticker on the top cutaway. I put that on there back in 2001 as a joke, and people still give me crap about it haha.

I have absolutely no idea how that guitar still works. On the road, it’s been dropped, thrown off stage, stepped on, you name it. Back in 2003, I was playing in a punk band, and we were headlining some local show with some weird stage act where a guy dressed up as a Mad Scientist and performed these pretty dumb horror gags with stage props and stuff. At one point, he started mixing up potions and what-not that were intended to explode all over the audience I guess. Like a gory Sea World. Well instead, it exploded all over my equipment, which was already set up on stage. So I got to the stage and realized my guitar, cables, and pedals were all covered with this green goop. The pedals and the cables were all shot. The only things that survived were my Whammy pedal, my amp, and my SG.

Needless to say, I’ll probably end up taking that guitar to my grave. I recorded the “Dr. Wily” portion of my Mega Man 2 album with the SG. It was also the main guitar I used for all rhythms and leads on my band Descension Rate’s last album (descensionrate1.bandcamp.com)

One very noticeable element of Belmont was the power of the vocal performance. On average, how many vocal tracks were used for each song?

I really do appreciate that! I’ve always felt that my vocals were a weak point. All the vocals were double-tracked, with the exception of the intro of “Simon” and the verses of “Such is the Curse,” to my recollection. My friend Terry Smith mixed and mastered “Belmont” and wanted me to double-track as many things as possible. It just helps fill things out better, and you get a natural chorus. So most times, I have two vocal tracks going, with another two for harmonies. Actually, pretty much all of “I Return to Rain” was quadruple-tracked. I also have a couple of chants throughout “Shadows Without a Sun” and “The War of Dark and Light” that have eight vocal tracks going at once.

In my review of Belmont I mentioned that one of my favorite parts of the record is the canon speculation worked into the lyrics about things like how the holy water and Vampire Killer whip work. Can we expect to see more speculation like that worked into the lyrics of future albums?

Most definitely. From day one, I always wanted to bring in some of my own interpretations for “Belmont.” Some of my early conversations with my good friend Joe (who was the voice of Medusa on the album) dealt with aspects of the first three games. So a lot of it was gonna be basically answering the question “What does Simon Belmont think of all of this?” You know, does he just go with the flow and think, “Well this is what I’m supposed to do with my life,” or does he have reservations about it? Is he conflicted? Does he have any self-doubt? What happens to Trevor psychologically and physically when he gets poisoned?

Eventually, I decided to just concentrate on just the first game, because I felt there were a lot of ideas and characters that were ripe with possible interpretation. Most of all, I wanted to keep the overall theme centered around Simon and what he sort of goes through physically and emotionally level after level. Plus, with so many other famous characters in that game, it was fun as hell to introduce aspects of classic Universal monster movies. Like, how did Dracula end up with Frankenstein’s monster? What happened to Dr. Frankenstein? Those lyrics were a lot of fun to write. Plus it gave me a chance to make a really damn goofy video about it!

Mega Man and Castlevania are two of the most-beloved third-party NES titles, and they still get sequels to this day. What do you think it is about those games that gives them such staying power, while so many other third-party IP’s fell by the wayside?

That’s a fantastic question and one that probably has many answers. I think Mega Man’s longevity has a lot to do with the concept of the Robot Masters. Breaking every stage up like that made the levels, the bosses, and the music extremely memorable, and the formula was quite easy to duplicate. Castlevania’s longevity is probably due to the attention paid towards the Belmont name. Of course, it helped to have big, recognizable villains from other properties. But so did Frankenstein: The Monster Returns, which is a pretty cool game in its own right. But introducing the Belmont family made it possible to have different Belmonts in different eras, thus expanding on the storylines.

But when it comes down to regarding them as classics, it all comes down to the usual gameplay, level design, characters, story line and music for me. Both series possess a fun array of power-ups, which just makes them fun games to come back to over and over again. Contra is the same way. I think it really depends on how much you can expand on that established universe. The possibilities with Mega Man are seemingly endless. I lost track with how many games are in that series now, especially on portable systems.

Then you have games like Metal Storm that got very little attention upon its release and was never expanded upon. I think that was just a case of it coming out too late in the NES run and too soon before the SNES run. It just got lost in that shuffle. And that was a really awesome Capcom game, as was Bionic Commando. I would think the mechanics of Bionic Commando would’ve lent itself to greater possibilities, especially in the 16-bit era. Kid Icarus also got the shaft for over 20 years before getting a sequel. He was even in that Captain N cartoon with Mega Man and Simon Belmont! He was also annoying as hell in that, so maybe that explains it haha.

Recording ‘The Ledjent of Zelda’

Regarding the next album- what made you pick The Legend of Zelda to mix with Djent instead of, for instance, making a ‘Nindjent Gaiden’. Why specifically Zelda?

Funny that you mention Ninja Gaiden because, for the longest time, I always told myself and others that I was going to do a Ninja Gaiden tribute album after “Belmont.” That game’s music is just so good, and I can see it fitting with my style quite easily. I’m not sure it would really fit with the djent style, though.

So in my mind, Ninja Gaiden was next, right? So I was driving to Pittsburgh from West Virginia earlier this year, and I decided to fire up the Ninja Gaiden soundtrack to start getting in that mindset. As I listened to it, I realized that –holy crap—there is a TON of music here. I instantly made up my mind that I didn’t want to get involved with another long album quite yet. Belmont took too long. So I flipped through the NES soundtracks that I had on my iPod to see what game had the least amount of music haha. Sure enough, it was Legend of Zelda!

If you think about it, there are only 4 songs on that game, and they are all relatively short. So I thought to myself, “Okay, cool. It won’t take too long, and there’s a lot of room for my own ideas and interpretations.” Then the Dungeon Theme came on and, in my mind, I pictured that main melody being played by finger tapping on guitar. It just seemed like a natural fit. So to myself, I thought, “Wow, you could really djent this up…wait a minute…djent. Legend….Ledjent! Perfect!”

You’ve already explained the meaning of Djent in other interviews and the reason for its appearance in the title (The Ledjent of Zelda)- however, I couldn’t help but notice the term ‘Led’ in there as well. Was that a hint that, amidst the Djent riffs, we might also be hearing some Jimmy Page inspired riffery on the album?

The “Led” was not a conscious reference to Zeppelin. That’s just kind of how it got spelled out when adding the word “djent” in there. But I will say that my natural lead style is quite bluesy, so some of the solos might come off with a little bit of a Jimmy Page vibe, like the first solo in my version of the Overworld Theme. I always felt Page and Bonham were the best things about Zeppelin. I never did care for Robert Plant’s voice. Some would call that blasphemy!

What kind of timeframe are you shooting for to get Ledjent of Zelda out?
Right now, I’m aiming for December 2012. Once I finish the writing process, recording the album should be a bit of a breeze compared to “Belmont,” and that was kind of the whole point. “Belmont” took so damn long to do. I just wanted the next album to be the opposite of that.

Mega Beardo live!

You’ve mentioned to me that you’re a big horror fan- what are some of your favorite horror films?
Whew, I could go on forever with that question. I’m a big, crazy nerd about the Universal monster movies and slashers from the 1980s. I grew up on those, so I know a lot of them by heart. I could talk your ear off for days about Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street flicks. Although, my favorite all-time horror flick is John Carpenter’s The Thing. Everything that man did from Halloween to They Live was just pure gold. He was untouchable in those genres. Hell, even that TV Elvis movie he did with Kurt Russell was really awesome.

I’m also a big fan of the Hammer horror films with Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. Along with Vincent Price, they were part of that last great clan of horror movie icons. I was a big gore hound growing up. I like the magic behind practical effects. So all those sloppy splatter films like Braindead, Re-Animator, and Evil Dead are on heavy rotation at the house. Then you’ve got Fred Dekker’s films Monster Squad and Night of the Creeps. I would say Night of the Creeps is probably in my top 5 horror films of all time. Tom Atkins is a big part of that. He’s awesome in everything he does. I met him last year, and he was one of the nicest old dudes ever. He also is one of the reasons I think Halloween 3 is a good damn movie. See? Get me talking about horror movies, and I ramble haha.

Other random top favorites would be stuff like American Werewolf in London, Phantasm, Susperia, The Omen, The Exorcist, the original Black Christmas. And I gotta throw Dead & Buried in that list because not enough people have seen it, and it’s written by the late, great Dan O’Bannon. I dig a lot of giallo films, but there are still a bunch I haven’t seen. I know everyone is still gaga over zombies these days, but I can’t really think of anything outside of Shaun of the Dead that has got me going in the zombie genre in a while. And it’s not the whole “zombies don’t run” thing because one of my all-time favorites is Return of the Living Dead. Modern horror is just in a rut. I would have to rack my brain to name 10 horror movies in that last decade that I loved. Though, I Saw the Devil was amazing, if you count that as horror. I’d say that’s the best horror movie I’ve seen in a while. If you have any recommendations, I would love to hear them!

Speaking of horror, do you dig any horror games other than Castlevania?
Well I already mentioned Frankenstein: The Monster Returns on the NES. I do enjoy playing that one on occasion. And of course Monster Party and Ghosts ‘N Goblins, even though it’s hard as fuck. I still get a kick out of playing Halloween and the Texas Chainsaw Massacre on the Atari 2600, even though I have to play the ROMs. The carts are too rich for my blood. And I know I’ll probably catch shit for this, but I think Friday the 13th on the NES is a damn scary game at times, and it can be quite fun. Sure, the map system is really wonky, but that game still makes me jump, and I’m desensitized to just about anything at this point. So that’s saying something. I’m sure the original Alone in the Dark would do that to me too, though. Oh! And I have to throw Splatterhouse in that list as well.

As far as more modern horror games, I still dig the Resident Evil series, and my friend has recently gotten me into Dead Space. Bioshock was a lot of fun, if you count that as horror. And another good friend of mine keeps recommending Eternal Darkness, so that sounds like a good excuse to break out my Gamecube again. I’m really bad with keeping up with modern games since it’s hard to find the time to play them these days. So once again, any recommendations would be great!

Mr. Postlethwait in his home studio

Finally- and this is the question that I think everyone is dying to know the answer to- is your cat really named Simon Belmont?
Yep, my cat is indeed named Simon Belmont. I got him when he was a kitten right around the time I was recording Belmont. And literally the first toy he grabbed when I brought him home was this whip type of thing with a black wand and an elastic string with ribbons and stuff on it. He dragged that thing around everywhere he went like a security blanket. So of course, seeing as he was always carrying a whip, it was only fitting to give him that name.

My sincere thanks to Ryan Postlethwait for taking the time to do this interview. All images are from Mega Beardo media via Youtube and are the intellectual property of Mr. Postlethwait. If you have read this far and haven’t already checked out Mega Beardo and Descension Rate, go get a copy of Belmont! Simon Belmont the kitty-cat commands it!

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~ by Redgoateerob on August 26, 2012.

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