OLD SPIRIT “Old Spirit, New Vision”

By Dr. Abner Mality

Some rebel souls are born to break chains and resist any path that restricts their creativity. They are hard to find, but they’re out there. In my own stomping grounds of Northern Illinois, Jason Hartman is such a soul. He’s been part of many different bands and projects around these parts, including VANISHING KIDS and JEX THOTH, but it’s impossible to tie him down to any particular sound or style.

That is certainly true of his project OLD SPIRIT, which has just released their second album “Burning In Heaven”. You can put OLD SPIRIT firmly in the heavy metal genre, but beyond that, things get hazy, as Jason integrates a ton of influences from 60’s psychedelic guitar to thunderous metal riffing ala CELTIC FROST and BATHORY and even some New Wave/Cold Wave synth work. Somehow it all coalesces together beautifully to form a headbanging but unpredictable journey through an eccentric metal maze.

Such vision must be acknowledged, so I hooked up with Jason and learned about his deep roots in the Rockford and Madison heavy music scene. The following interview will be of special interest to anybody who remembers the glory days of those times...

WORMWOOD CHRONICLES:  Greetings, Jason! Thanks for talking to us. I’m in Rockford, IL, a town you know well, and I’m sure I’ve seen you in action with various bands over the years. For fans in the Northern IL/Southern WI area, what are some of the past acts you’ve been involved with around here?

JASON HARTMAN: Hi Mike, thanks for having me! VANISHING KIDS has been my main band for the last 20+ years now! I spent a number of years in the Pacific NW. Mostly Portland but also Seattle briefly. I was involved in a few bands out there: LKN and TORNADO ATTACK. I was pretty sporadically involved with JEX THOTH for a number of years but only played a few Midwest shows with them. Going back to the 90’s, I was in a bunch of Madison and Freeport bands: KITES, FOOLFACE, EXTRA VIRGIN, PFCQ, JUST AND WEDGIE ( who actually played Rockford several times in the early 90s)! We played with SARKOMA, DEVOID, DECADENZA and PURE AGGRESSION at the Cherry Lounge which is a fun OLD memory!

WC: The new OLD SPIRIT album comes pretty fast on the heels on your debut. Have the tracks on “Burning In Heaven” been bubbling around for a while or were they written pretty recently?

JH: A few things were older riffs but mostly I started fresh. I have a lot of music in me! I could write another one (and I might!) this year. 

WC: To me, OLD SPIRIT is one of the most “free-thinking” bands out there. It really seems to have few boundaries, but the end result is always metallic. How liberating is it to work in this unlimited fashion? Were there any limits at all as to what could be used in the band? 

JH: There’s definitely limits which is why I have so many projects! That being said, I agree that I do cover a lot of ground within each project. OLD SPIRIT is my most metal band although I think you’ll find different rations of Metal within each project. 

WC: What’s the songwriting process like in general for OLD SPIRIT? Is there a kind of “riff bank” you make withdrawals from according to mood?

JH: Since I’m recording the songs myself (so far), I will start with riffs or song ideas I’ve developed and write the rest as I record. However, sometimes the best songs come out from sitting down to record with no idea and letting it just come together. It depends on the magic of the day!

WC: The word “psychedelic” is often used in conjunction with OLD SPIRIT. Is any of the music chemically created, if you know what I mean?

JH: Nah I’m lame ha! I’m moved by music and nature. I live in the forest now and it’s constantly inspiring. 

WC: What are some of the more obscure influences on the band that might not be immediately apparent to the listener?

JH: Each album may be a bit different with influences. This new one on the vocals, I have some influence from DEVASTATION and CANDLEMASS. VOIVOD is always an influence. QUEEN is my earliest fave and probably always in my playing a little. 

WC: The use of analog synth is really interesting...what’s your philosophy of injecting electronics into OLD SPIRIT’s music? Are there any limits to it?

JH: Guitar will always be in the forefront of OLD SPIRIT. Keys are used to add to the songs ,not dominate them. My project NIGHT EYEZ is the opposite, where keys play the lead role. 

WC:  I know you have a more synth/keyboard oriented project NIGHT EYEZ. Does some OLD SPIRIT ideas wind up being used in NIGHT EYEZ and vice versa?

JH: Once in awhile I will have a song that could go either way and then it comes down to the vocal approach and how it would fit with the rest of the album.

WC:  The vocals are widely varied on “Burning In Heaven”. Are the various vocal styles pretty much improvised or do you put a lot of thought as to what vocal goes where?

JH: Yeah, the vocals are always last so they’re inspired by the individual song. I grew up with a lot of bands that incorporated a lot of styles (again QUEEN but also JANES ADDICTION, FAITH NO MORE, etc) so it’s natural for me to have that variance.

WC: What’s the lyrical side of the band like? It seems pretty dark and somewhat occult on the new album?

JH: I always like to leave the lyrics a little vague and open for individual interpretations. I also like to try and be empowering and positive when possible! Sometimes they are a call to action on climate change or even self empowerment. But yes, there are some end of days type themes. Also anti religion but pro spirituality. 

WC:  Is there any possibility that OLD SPIRIT could be an actual band and play live anywhere?

JH: Yes, that idea is always a possibility. I have had some show offers and interest from players to be involved. I guess it depends on the reception of the music and if there’s an offer I can’t refuse!

WC:  Anything new coming from your other bands, VANISHING KIDS, NIGHT EYEZ and JEX THOTH? Any more new projects you are involved in?

JH: Yes! The new VANISHING KIDS album is done! It was mixed by the talented Randall Dunn who has worked with a lot of bands in the arty metal community: SUNN (((0))), EARTH, MYRKUR, CHELSEA WOLFE, “Mandy” (film), as well as WI artists ZOLA JESUS and JEX THOTH!  I have most of another NIGHT EYEZ album done and have been sporadically working on an early 80’s style guitar rock album titled “Diati” since 2017! JEX is always a secret.. 

WC:  The Madison/Milwaukee/Rockford/Chicago axis has produced some awesome music over the years. What are some memories of the glory days of the scene and would you say that modern times match them?

JH: My earliest all ages rock shows were in Rockford/ Freeport. MIRRORED IMAGE and FOR CHRIST’S  SAKE were big influences for me as a teen. It’s been very rewarding for me to have Jerry Sofran ( bassist from both those bands ) playing for VANISHING KIDS now. My first show was opening for MAS OPTICA in Monroe, WI and they had a big effect on me too. It’s hard to beat those early influential shows but great music always exists! In Madison ,TUBAL CAIN and OSSUARY are top notch Metal and INTERLAY are incredible grungy rock! 

WC:  If you could ask any 3 people from history to dinner, who would they be?

JH: I always revert to my musical heroes. I’d go with Randy Rhoads, Perry Farrell and Jake E Lee! 

WC:. In all your long years of playing, is there any “Spinal Tap” moment where things went wrong that you could share with us? This could be from any band you’ve been involved with?

JH: Ha, my worst embarrassing moment was playing with VANISHING KIDS in NYC at the Cake Shop around ‘05.  We got there pretty late on tour and had little time to set up, no sound check. It was packed and we were told James Iha (SMASHING PUMPKINS) was there! One of my favorite bands. Our first song is a build up that explodes with a wall of distorted guitars at the climax and when I go to click the pedal on.. all the sound goes out! The levels on the pedal were wrong and the volume was all the way down. I don’t know if that’s Spinal Tap but it was a bummer moment for sure! 

WC: Any last words for the faithful?

JH: Don’t be afraid to be different musically or otherwise. It’s the only way to keep moving forward. 

Thanks again!