the power of 3
THREE THE HARD WAY: Lojia at Duffy's Tavern in Salem during their pre-pandemic glory. From left: Matt Bosak, Grant Lewis, and JD Horvath.
B Y C O R Y F R Y E
SUMMER 2012, IDAHO, SOMEWHERE —
JD Horvath’s embarked on one of his solo motorcycle journeys, roaring down U.S. Route 12 with only his imagination for company. Some of his greatest ideas surface on these trips, and this one’s no different, as he draws inspiration from the tributary that runs astride the highway in the mountains of north central Idaho: the Lochsa River. The Nez Perce tribe named it for its rough waters — and as a musician, Horvath understood rough. He reveled in such sounds, poured them in savage riffs from six sick strings. Lochsa. That stuck with him.
When he returned to Salem, Oregon, he got together with two of his old Sprague High School classmates, Matt Bosak and Grant Lewis. The three musicians had known each other for years, yet strangely, had never been in the same band. Horvath dueled in Chemical Smile while Bosak ran bass for The Weed of Avarice, which had actually recorded an album in 2009 that wouldn’t see release until 2015, long after the death-metal trio had folded. Lewis drummed for the then-active Fuzzy Thunder, a name Bosak still considers awesome. That group described itself on Facebook thusly: “Three of us put our feelers together and it produces thunder that is fuzzy and tastes delicious.”
This new undertaking wouldn’t officially be monikered for a while. The three played shows as Opus until they realized the name wasn’t unique; an Austrian pop-rock quartet beat them to it by nearly 40 years, and that Opus sounded nothing like this one, redolent in Primus and Tool en route to glorious Meshuggah. Then Lochsa resurfaced, which became Loja, then, finally, Lojia, thanks in part to social media.
“Facebook wouldn’t let me use Loja,” Lewis says, explaining the platform’s complexities.
Incidentally, that’s pronounced “low-sha,” bearing an odd if hilariously unintended resemblance to late actor/director Robert Loggia, spoofed in multiple episodes of Family Guy. The trio paid tribute to this common error by sampling his voice during live performances.
Lojia’s initial three-EP catalog, all recorded between 2014 and 2018, remains unavailable, its existence having been deliberately scrubbed from cyberspace. The band’s Facebook page mysteriously leaps between those years, although it was indeed quite active during that time, recording and playing live.
“I just pulled them off the Internet,” Bosak says of the missing output. “They’re not that great. I would handle all the recording, mixing, and all that. But the band sounded different and probably unfocused. We were all over the place as far as genre went, sometimes within even the same song, which was fun."
Their focus grew sharp on Triumvirate, released in October 2018. The self-recorded release came together with members reporting from multiple separate locations. Despite the distance, it’s a nevertheless toothsome, fierce, malevolent pummeling for an efficient half-hour, with mind-bending effects (“Backhalf,” “3221.5”) and instrumental assaults boiling under feral throttling roars both vocal — the bellicose bark o’ Bosak — and technical; behold Horvath’s intricate rumble-rolls across “EMP” or Lewis’ shimmer-shards as the curtain slowly rises on “Perineum” only to explode into thunderous battle.
What separates Lojia from most of its similarly be-metalled counterparts is its relative brevity. Most acts of this stripe tend to sprawl in a million directions, unwinding and exploring at epic lengths. Lojia tends to speak its volumes, relay its heaviness, in four- to five-minute bursts. At 6 minutes and 48 seconds, Triumvirate’s “Heef” is the band’s longest track to date, and even that seems brief, diving between ideas at just the right speed.
“‘Heef’ repeats twice,” Bosak says. “It’s a really long verse/chorus, and then there’s a breakdown at the end. I don’t really have the patience for long songs. I like Opeth, a great band that can put a sick riff 8 minutes in, but it’s like, ‘Couldn’t you have written two songs?’ They’re great at extrapolating on themes, but I don’t think we’d pull it off. I don’t see the utility of it. Typically, if a song starts getting long, I’m the one to say, ‘Let’s end this.’”
“Once we have a certain riff we like,” Lewis adds, “a lot of times we’ll often come up with a bajillion tangents. Then we’ll say, ‘Let’s include all those tangents in one repetition, go riff to riff to riff to riff and then end it.’”
“We start with a riff,” Bosak continues. “And the riff comes typically from an improv jam between us three. We like to do that. We record ourselves in the practice space, go back, pick our favorites, and elaborate on those. But they all start with a riff we all thought was dope in the time when we were improvising on it.”
When the trio embarked on its next release, it changed its process by hiring a producer and recording the new music live in the same room: Dave Trenkel’s Unity Recording in Corvallis, to be precise. Bosak met Trenkel through sound designer Sam Kincaid (and brother to Mid Valley Noise cohort/musician/luthier/Live Sound & Light, LLC co-proprietor Paul Kincaid), a fellow employee on the regional Intel campus. “I do RF testing there,” he says. “Across from the RF test chamber is an acoustic test chamber. I got to be friends with Sam, who’s an engineer. We were talking about bands and he said, ‘If you’re looking for a studio, I got the hookup for you here.’”
So Lojia booked time at Unity in November 2019 and recorded the six tracks that will soon comprise YOLL over a three-day period — two, says Horvath, because the first didn’t count, due to a scheduled power outage, albeit one that wasn't scheduled inside the studio. Little rocking commenced as band and producer found themselves in the dark for 4 hours. But on Day 2, the trio made up for lost time, playing together for once during a session, laying down the classic guitar, bass, and drum attack simultaneously.
Trenkel still marvels at Lojia’s instrumental prowess: The initial guitar scratch tracks were good enough to overdub what Horvath would record later as augmentation. Everyone could replicate their respective parts meticulously. The producer raved about them to me when we convened last July for Mid Valley Noise’s inaugural story, “Recording in the Time of ’Rona,” and he remains just as effusive.
“I first met Lojia a few years back,” Trenkel says. “They played at a battle of the bands that Paul Kincaid and I ran sound for. ... They came in second. They should have won; they were the best band in the show. In 2019, Matt contacted me through Sam Kincaid. When I realized the band was Lojia, I was pretty enthused about the project. I really like their sound and I already knew they were killer players.
“The band was totally prepared to record. Their tunes are pretty complex, with tempo and time-signature shifts. They had programmed their own click tracks that followed all the time changes and had rehearsed extensively to the click, to where it wasn’t at all forced for them to do so.
“One of the things I like the most about the record is that, unlike many technical metal recordings, there is no quantizing and very little editing of the drum tracks. There was no drum replacement or sample layering; the drums are all Grant. He’s a monster. They all are.”
To what would Lojia attribute this virtuosity? Formal training? Self-imposed discipline? Lewis’ bold summation: “Well, the thing about that is JD’s really good.”
YOLL reveals this as an understatement: Horvath wrangles the stunning equivalent of witchcraft from his instrument, achieving much of his warped wizardry on such cuts as the stompaholic “Thunteen”* (so christened by the guitarist for its 13 time signature) and the muvvacrunch of “Plan B” with a DigiTech Whammy IV pedal in effects perfected through simple trial and error. (Imagine your blown brains spluttered by a thick, sexy truck.)
“JD replaced all the direct-recorded guitar parts, but we were able to re-amp the direct guitar tracks and use them as doubles to fatten the guitar sound,” Trenkel says. “He is such a precise player that there was very little slop between the parts, even though he knew we probably weren’t keeping the original direct tracks.”
Title cut “YOLL”* (a tongue-in-cheek reference to a neologistic coinage from Bosak and his girlfriend) dashes murderously toward your brain in heavy boots, with Bosak’s bass ’n’ bray crawling up your spine as Lewis clobbers vertebrae like cheap kindling.
If the execution’s impeccable, Bosak attributes that to having workshopped and honed the YOLL material for a year in live settings. Surrendering production to other hands (Trenkel handled studio duties; Ryan Foster mastered the works in Portland) was particularly liberating as well. In addition, it sounds fucking great.
“It was a pain to handle all that, and Dave did a way better job,” Bosak says. “I have the skills to put the tracks in place and everything, but I don’t have quite the ear for that. I just accepted that. The sound that was in my head at that time was closer to what we’re putting out now, but it wasn’t coming out that way. Plus. I found that I was so burned out and had really no perspective on these songs. We were talking about not obsessing over the details and doing a live recording. Our previous efforts, because I’m too much of a control freak, were overproduced to their detriment.”
“Having the outside ear was probably better,” Horvath adds. “The intention came through.”
YOLL was completed by mid-'20, but, y’know, yup, pandemic. Same old bullshit. Doldrums set in and Lojia sat on the album, with no release party in sight as venues locked their doors with increasing firmness. However, it afforded the band an opportunity to stagger the album over a period of time, releasing its songs piecemeal as opposed to burping it all out on one document. This allowed anticipation for the final product to build. So the majority of YOLL was unveiled in fragments over March 2021. The final two songs are scheduled to drop on May 21, making the album complete.
All will be caressed in a cover designed by Erik Turner, an artist Horvath discovered while motorcycling his way through Denver, Colorado, last year. While on foot in the city, he passed the Kamikaze Gallery, where he spotted Turner’s work through a window. “Fucking fantastic,” he recalls.
The piece, Broken Spirits (2017), depicts multiple shadow-shrouded figures, all enveloped in seeming tribunal in what Bosak likens to the Mine of Moria, a subterranean Middle-Earth structure found in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. When cropped to sleeve size, the seven slinky spirits become fewer: a trio emblematic of the power of three. “Matt's had an idea for a long time for a ‘YOLL’ music video,” Horvath says. “That art loosely fits into that idea.”
In the meantime, Lojia waits out the coronavirus by keeping its social media page active with videos of Horvath unspooling riffage and the band working its room magic, awaiting the opportunity to go big again.
ARTWORK BY ERIK TURNER/TAKEN FROM BROKEN SPIRITS (2017)
“I think it’ll probably be at least another year before we actually do another release,” Bosak says. “JD said something interesting when we were shooting the shit early in the pandemic: ‘I don’t know what it’ll be when we get back together, but it will have changed just by nature of so much time elapsing and our own musical explorations during that time.’ And yeah, it will be different. We’d like to play out again. That’s the next thing: a big show.”
* - MATT BOSAK: "All those goofy song titles come from the very early stage, before there are any lyrics or anything. Those songs are saved on a computer somewhere so we can keep track of them and send them to each other: 'Hey, check this out.' And we have to call them something. So a lot of times it’s just an exercise, a random word that comes out, whatever you’re feeling at the time, whoever makes it. We’ve done that in the past. I would write lyrics and rename the song. It would never stick. Grant and JD would just continue to call it whatever the working title was. That always irked me. If we’re just going to call it the working title, then I’m not going to change it; I’m going to write it into the prompt."