Yakuza: Psycho Las Vegas Preview


In a mere 30 days, the 2022 edition of America’s best heavy-music festival, Psycho Las Vegas, will kick off once again. Stationed for the first time at Resorts World, we’re counting down the days until the throw-down begins with a series of profiles focusing on this year’s participants.

Yesterday we cut the ribbon on our 2022 preview series with an epic conversation involving Witch Mountain’s co-founder/drummer, Nathan Carson. His band will celebrate its 25th birthday at Psycho Las Vegas with a special performance featuring former vocalist Uta Plotkin and fill-in bassist/engine-“ear” Billy Anderson.

Today we unveil another stimulating (and lengthy) interview we recently conducted, this time with Bruce Lamont. The saxophone/singer’s avant-garde jazz-metal fusion band, Yakuza, are commemorating their own anniversary (of sorts) this year: Ten years have elapsed since the release of their last studio album, Beyul.

Having previously played at Psycho Las Vegas in 2018 and 2019, Yakuza are the most reliable sleeper hit of the festival; their live performances are a spectacle characterized by limitless amounts of often-eerie experimentalism, energy and sweat. (Lamont’s other project, a Led Zeppelin tribute band called Led Zeppelin 2, played two gigs at Psycho Las Vegas 2019 as well.)

When we recently caught up with Lamont, he was in a sunny mood, having just picked up a trailer that Yakuza will utilize on their 26-hour drive from the band’s hometown of Chicago to Las Vegas. In a wide-ranging conversation, the always-friendly Lamont revealed why he was in particularly high spirits, whether Yakuza will play any new tunes during their August 19 (Friday) and August 20 (Saturday) performances, and why the fearless foursome keep getting invited back to Psycho (spoiler alert: it’s because they rule).

Hey Bruce, thanks for chatting today ahead of your performances at Psycho Las Vegas next month. It seems you’re always up to something intriguing. What do you have going on today?

BRUCE LAMONT: Oh, let’s start with what I’m doing right now. Back in January, I was touring with Led Zeppelin 2 during the height of Omicron 1 or 2 — I don’t recall which one — and we got caught in a blizzard in Minneapolis. We ended up wrecking our trailer. It was pretty disastrous, very stressful. It took a number of months, but we took it back to Elkhart, Indiana — where they actually [manufacture the trailer] — and had it rebuilt. I just picked it up, and it looks like a brand-new trailer. It’s amazing. I didn’t expect it to look so good. So I’m in a really good mood. [Laughs.]

Sorry to hear about the accident. Is everyone in the band OK?

LAMONT: Yes, everyone’s all right. The only loss we had was one of the back windows in the vehicle we were driving blew out. Oh, and our sound guy’s coveted White Sox hat flew out the window. He had that hat forever! But no one got hurt, just the trailer, which was very good. 

Were you in need of this trailer for touring?

LAMONT: It helps. We were renting [one] while we didn’t have it. We’re about to head out to the West Coast at the end of the month, so it’s perfect timing to get it back, and in the condition it’s in. So it’s all good.

Have you been keeping your pipes in tip-top shape?

LAMONT: I’m doing my best. Trying to eat healthy and stay healthy. I don’t drink too much alcohol … but I don’t drink too little, either.

I’m pretty sure you and I were in the same exercise room at Psycho in 2019, around 10 a.m. Is that right?

LAMONT: In ’21, I was in the exercise room every day. [He played a solo set at Psycho last year.] I’ll be down there in the morning again this year, on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. We get in on Thursday night. I’ll be sweating out the toxins.

I’m a bit of a health nut. To go back a bit, I started playing sax when I was a kid. I quit and then started playing again in my 20s. I was smoking cigarettes at the time. I quit not because of health reasons but because, in Chicago, the price of a pack of cigarettes you’d get in the [vending] machines went up to three dollars a pack. They’re 17 dollars a pack now. I’m glad I quit when I did.

That’s when I started to consider my overall health. I found that, without smoking, it was easier to handle breathing while playing the sax. I want to stay at a high, intense level of performing. I don’t want anything to hinder that.

Are you excited or anxious to go back, or is it just comfortable now, as you’re playing Psycho for the third time?

LAMONT: I feel really comfortable. Honestly, the Psycho folks have been nothing but amazing to me personally, along with the bands — especially Yakuza. They’ve given us a lot of love, and we really appreciate that. We’re all really excited. We’ve had an interesting year to say the least, so it’s nice for all of us to get outta Chi-ca-ga and do a couple of shows.

When you say it’s been an “interesting year,” is that in terms of Yakuza? Or are you talking about the state of the country or the state of the world?

LAMONT: Specifically Yakuza. Our guitar player, Matt McClellan … his 11-year-old daughter was diagnosed with lupus earlier this year. It’s been really hard on him and his family — and us as a band, because we’re all family. She’s going to have a kidney transplant in the near future. But everyone’s trying to keep positive, and she’s doing OK. It’s manageable and treatable. Thank Lord Satan for modern medical technology and knowledge. It’s something we all have to get through. It’s not the end of the world, and she’s a tough kid.

On behalf of anyone reading this article, we are sorry to hear about what Matt’s daughter and Matt are going through. The experience must have brought you all closer together as a band. Have you been meeting up a lot lately?

LAMONT: Yeah, we’ve been rehearsing, and playing here and there. Not a ton, but enough. We recorded a new album, our first one in over a decade. It’s due out next year, but we will definitely be playing some of those new songs at Psycho this year. That’s exciting. And having two sets will give us more freedom as to how much we can play.

There are a number of songs new and old that we’ve been playing. We haven’t actually put the set lists together, but we have an idea of the songs we’re going to do. We’ve rehearsed a couple of new songs we haven’t played before.

How did the new record materialize? Have you been writing a lot in recent years?

LAMONT: Yeah. We were on a slight hiatus for a couple of years, but when [bassist] Jerome Marshall joined the band in 2018, that’s when we started working on a new album. We’ve been working on it ever since, even though the pandemic. Last summer, we were able to record it, and over the last four or five months, we mixed and mastered it. We like to take our time, now that we’re in our twilight years. Slow and steady wins the race. [Laughs.]

When you write, do you tend to patch together different riffs you’ve come up with? Or do you take a song-by-song approach with your songwriting?

LAMONT: It’s on a song-by-song basis. Each song is different, but yeah, normally some riffs are involved. We play around to see if they work together or if they don’t. Sometimes there’s a song that writes itself.

Your songs seem like living organisms, as you often seem to transform them live. Do you take a lot of liberties when playing in concert or do you try to stick to how the songs sound on your records?

LAMONT: There’s always some room for spontaneity and variance, right there in the moment. We try to keep close to what we did, but yeah … we try to make it unique for the moment but try not to fall off the rails. If we do, you’ll notice, because we’ll smile at each other. We don’t smile much. [Laughs.]

Was the songwriting process different given your new configuration?

LAMONT: Jerome has been a friend of the band since we began, and his music sensibilities fall right in line with how we work and think about things. He’s beyond a great human; he is the fourth member that we probably needed for a very long time. No slight on anybody that’s been in the band before, but he’s the guy. The dude crushed it in the studio. We call him “One-Take Johnny.” He laid down all his bass tracks in 75 or 80 minutes.

I knew he was gung-ho about this recording. I would pop into our rehearsal facility at 2 or 3 in the morning, and either there would be a sleeping bag there or he would be there. He’d go in late at night to work on stuff. He was always prepared, and you can’t ask for anything better than that. Jerome Marshall, he’s all right.

Did you get introduced to him through Cobalt or one of the other bands he’s in?

LAMONT: I met him when we played at the Metro in Chicago in 2000 or 2001. He was a 15-year-old, wide-eyed, little metal kid. He was like, “Hey man, what the hell was that?! Do you like jazz? My dad’s a huge jazz fan!” He never thought in a million years those two worlds would collide. It was like peanut butter and chocolate got mashed together for him. He was a sweet and cool kid. Now he’s 36 or 37 years old. When Cobalt asked him to be in their band, I was like, “Duh, the guy can play anything!”

To join a band after being a fan for so many years must have brought new life to Yakuza.

LAMONT: For sure. We were going to get a new bass player and kicking around some ideas here and there. I was working Dark Lord Day at 3 Floyds [Brewing], and he was as well. He came up to me and said, “I heard I’m your new bass player.” That was the right attitude to have. I was like, “Oh, are you?” He also rattled off the Yakuza songs he already knew how to play. Later on, I texted the other two members of the band [McClelland and drummer/keyboardist James Staffel] and said, “Two words: Jerome Marshall.” It was way easier to recruit a new bassist than I thought it was going to be.

Had you jammed together before?

LAMONT: Nope. We had done shows together with his other bands, so I knew he was a sick player, but we had never played together.

Has Yakuza’s sound changed with Jerome having come onboard?

LAMONT: Yes, and you’ll hear it on the new record. There’s a ton of low end, which may have been the one thing we were always lacking. Now the bottom end is really supporting the riffs. That’s probably the biggest difference I can hear. We still have Jim’s Drunken Master push-and-pull with the tempos, and the psychedelic mix that we’ve embraced over the years is still there.

When you say “Drunken Master,” is that a kung-fu reference?

LAMONT: It is. I stole it from my wife’s youngest brother, who is a music major and appears on the new record. I love that term: Drunken Master drumming.

What are you most looking forward to at this year’s Psycho fest?

LAMONT: Uhh … Mercyful Fate. [Laughs.]

Have you seen them before?

LAMONT: No. I’ve seen King Diamond a million times, but I somehow screwed up and haven’t seen Mercyful Fate. I’m a bigger Mercyful Fate fan than a King Diamond fan. But the King can do no wrong, in my opinion. It’s all good vibes at Psycho. It’s like a little summer vacation in a really, really hot August in Las Vegas, Nevada. [Laughs.]

Last time we chatted, you had a great story about how you tried to help Rocket From the Crypt when their sax player’s instrument broke. Do you have any good stories from ’21?

LAMONT: Yes I do, actually. Before I did my solo set — it was Sunday afternoon, earlier in the day — I had all my stuff set up. I like to play on the floor so people can gather around. Anyhoo, I had all my saxophones on stands and ready to go, and this guy — a rather large, heavy-metal-looking dude — was making a B-line for my stuff. It looked like he had maybe a couple of beers. I couldn’t quite tell. Regardless, this wasn’t the first time something like that had gone down while I was playing on the floor, so I cut this person off the pass. He was growling and goes, “Hey brother, are you going to play Black Sabbath on those things?” I said, “No, I am not going to play Black Sabbath on those things.” He said, “I’m sorry, man.” I was, like, “It’s OK, dude.” He could tell I was a little annoyed.

He proceeded to stay through most of my set, and there was a video caught of him rocking out to a very somber, acoustic song. Apparently someone — and I don’t know who it was — said he had to go. They were trying to drag him away. Someone said he had been up all night drinking. No judgment on that, of course. As he was getting dragged away, he broke free from those people and ran up to me, gave me some devil horns and took off. I later found out it was Corpsegrinder from Cannibal Corpse. That’s my story for ’21.

That’s a hell of an anecdote.

LAMONT: I have another one, if you’re interested.


LAMONT: Last year, I did a live interview with Phil Anselmo. We’ve become friends over the past decade. Somehow we got to talking about holidays, and I asked him if he was decorating his house for Halloween. He said yes and that Halloween is his favorite holiday. It’s mine too. Then he said he also likes Christmas. I said, “Christmas, huh?” He said, “Yeah.” Then I turned to the crowd and said, “How many of you would like to hear a Phil Anselmo Christmas album?” The whole place went berserk.

Phil looked at me and gave me a dirty look. I wasn’t in trouble, but as we were saying our goodbyes after the interview, he said, “Motherfucker, I’ll tell you what: If I get roped into making a Christmas album, you’re going to ‘toot toot toot’ that saxophone all over that goddamn record.” I said, “Yessir.” Phil’s a really sweet guy. It was all in good fun.

You’re such a friendly dude, even if you don’t smile much onstage. Have you forged a lot of friendships at Psycho?

LAMONT: Yeah, I feel like I have. Evan Hagen, the guy behind it all, we had some great conversations last year while hanging out. He’s a sweetheart. Shannon, his partner who also works for Psycho, is a real sweetheart as well. Everybody from the crew to the higher-ups is nice to work with. It’s great to see friends of mine from bands that are at different [stages] in their careers. My boys in Mastodon and Cephalic Carnage … Matt Pike … it’s always great to see friends there.

Did you go to Matt Pike’s wedding? [Pike got married at a small chapel in Vegas while in town for Psycho]

LAMONT: I didn’t, but I saw him right after[ward]. I gave him a pat on the butt and said my congratulations.

Given that it’s a three-day festival and that the lines are blurred between socializing and performing, is it hard to know which mode you need to be in?

LAMONT: Yeah, that’s a real challenge. But it’s always in the back of my mind that, if I have to play later on a given day, I have to get a nap in. There’s a balance.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask whether you have gotten COVID.

LAMONT: [A few months ago,] I finally did. I got married in May, and three weeks before [the ceremony,] I got it. I’d been playing some shows, working, in public and traveling a bit. It was two days of the worst flu I’ve had in 20 years. Then it was gone. That was it. My now-wife never got it, and I’m really glad. I was more concerned about her getting it.

Congratulations on getting married! You buried the lede there.

LAMONT: Thanks. I waited till I was 50 to do it for the first and only time. We had a small ceremony and reception in North Carolina, where she’s from. We’ve been together over five years, and she’s amazing.

Check back in the weeks leading up to Psycho Las Vegas for more previews of artists playing at the rock festival. For the Bad Penny’s 2019 Psycho profiles, go here.

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