A Conversation with Jeff Berman of Divided Heaven
Published: Thursday, April 26, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, April 25, 2012 15:04
I met Jeff Berman (AKA Divided Heaven) a few weeks ago at Get Better Fest in Keene. We had a good chat and he seemed like a pretty interesting dude, on top of being a great singer and guitarist, so I called him up last week to chat about life, his upbringing, his songs, his travels and the future of Divided Heaven. It turned into a pretty interesting talk about the state of the music industry and how tough it is to make in an oversaturated market where kids don’t pay for music. Jeff has found some innovative ways to get around these hurdles and get himself heard, while maintaining his integrity and disposition. Jeff is a really, truly awesome dude, and while that shouldn’t be a reason to listen to his music, it should make you feel better about downloading it and showing it to your friends. Check out Jeff’s stuff at www.dividedheaven.com and look into his awesome album, A Rival City. This would make a great soundtrack for those summer nights on the porch. Thanks Jeff!
BK: So how do you go from growing up in Pennsylvania to chasing the dream in Los Angeles?
JB: It wasn’t an immediate jump. I went to college at American University in Washington D.C., and then I moved to Brooklyn, New York shortly after I graduated. I was living in New York and I decided that I was kind of over it, and I wanted to try something new, and the girl that I was dating at the time and I’m still dating today was cool enough to move with me, and we agreed that Los Angeles would be a good place to start on the West Coast, and that was almost 4 years ago to the day.
And you were playing music this whole time?
Surprisingly no, when we were living in New York and I decided I wanted to move, I just started working as much as possible and I put music on the back burner so I could save as much as a possibly could. It kin of sucked, but at the same time I was able to save the money I needed to to make the move work. You know, I wanted a little buffer so that when I got out here I would have some money to spend and use before I needed to start working again. It wasn’t until I had been living here for a few months that I actually started to write songs again and re-kickstart the Divided Heaven project.
So Divided Heaven is not a Los Angeles invention, you’ve had this going for a while?
Yeah I failed to mention that while I was studying at American University in D.C., I did a semester abroad in Berlin and it was kind of strange because, while I was in D.C. I was in a few different bands and the summer before I went abroad, I wasn’t home at all. I was touring that whole summer. One night i played a show in Atlanta, went back to the hotel, took a shower, cut off my mohawk, drove to the airport, flew to Berlin and became and uber-serious student. You know, within the course of 24 hours. It was the weirdest thing, and I still had all this creative energy. It was almost like a withdrawl, going from playing so many shows and having such a good time to the studying. Not that studying isn’t a good time, it’s just definitely a different kind of satisfaction. So it was in Berlin that I started writing songs that didn’t fit into any of the bands that I was in. it was a just a pipe dream really, to be able to sing and play my own songs. So that was where the idea really came to life.
That’s such a wild story. You played a show, and then got on a plane to go abroad the next day?
Yeah, it’s fucking crazy. I was in a band called the Boils at the time and there was a festival that GMM Records used to put on called the Beer Olympics. It was a street punk, oi! kind of festival. I remember distinctly that night that we just killed it; we were so fucking good. We played right before the Anti-Heroes played, who were the headliners. So we played the show, went to the airport, snip snip to the mohawk and yeah, it was bizarre.
Were any of those bands you were in at that time on labels or put out records?
Yeah, my main band was the Boils, we were a street punk band that was based out of the Philadelphia area. Besides the fact that I was living in Washington, I was up there almost every weekend doing that. We were on TKO Records, which still exists. They’re a cool little street punk label. We did a couple releases on Creep Records, which is sort of a smaller East coast DIY label. I think they both exist, I’m not totally sure. The other bands I was in were on smaller labels and did kind of limited release stuff.
Very cool. So you get out to L.A., and you write what I assume is the majority of A Rival City out there?
About half of it.
And you were playing around, and how did Paper + Plastick find out about you?
Paper + Plastick got involved because Vinnie (Fiorello, P+P Owner and Less Than Jake drummer) met Brian from Protagonist, who is one of their guitar players, when Brian moved to Gainesville. I think they met in a Starbucks or something weird like that. Protagonist had recorded their record called The Chronicle, and it was done, and they just needed a label to put it out and they asked Vinnie and he said he would do it. So they had established a relationship with Vinnie and the Less Than Jake camp. And that was pretty close to when P+P had just started, that label was kind of in its infancy stage. And those guys are some of my best friends, so anytime I’m doing something they’re really supportive of me and they always try to spread the word. So Brian and Peter from Protagonist shared with Vinnie some of the Divided Heaven stuff after I had just recorded it, and there was this basic idea to launch kind of a side website to release music for free by artists that they liked who maybe didn’t want to press records or put a lot of money into it. I’m not so sure how I ended up in that kind of fold, but it worked out for the best because I was pressing CD’s myself and Vinnie said it would be cool if we put the P+P logo on them so it was associated with that family. It was released digitally for free on FreeMusicFirst.org and on the P+P site. I’m not technically an official P+P artist, but I’m on the family tree.