Profile / Interview: Jesse Zuretti of Binary Code

Binary Code

On the surface, calling a metal band’s newest offering “crushingly heavy” seems a bit cliche. But, in the case of Binary Code’s third full length, Memento Mori, it’s the closest to the truth as can possibly be. The album was born out of a tragic event that left founder/guitarist Jesse Zuretti devastated and with a deep need to find some sort of light, catharsis, and hope. As such, “crushing” is fully captured throughout each pained scream, each hauntingly quieter moment and a heartbreaking, yet beautiful, cover. Beyond that though, this is an incredible album that takes their earlier tech death cues and gels with their more progressive, heavy rock stance of today. We’re calling it their finest moment and highly suggest supporting the band and this album. Plus, the proceeds go to a much needed cause, more on that below. Just ahead of the album’s release we had the opportunity to send Jesse our set of Profile questions but modified it to dig deeper and get a little more personal. He fully obliged with his responses and we can’t thank him enough so, do the thing immediately below. 

Binary Code - Memento Mori

How did you first get into playing music, and have you achieved the level of success that you hoped for?

I just wanted to be in a band like Mudvayne, honestly. The more I surrounded myself with musicians who were better than me, the more I wanted to do more intricate stuff. I was 16 when I first started playing guitar in 2002, and it just kind of happened organically. I started a band w/ my best friend at the time, Harry – we both worked at Sam Ash when I was 16. Some other dudes joined the fold that were about 5-10 years older than me and eventually kind of overthrew the project. Our first show was at CBGBs, in front of like 30 people (par for the course story for so many people reading this). Harry was pushed out before this, and I followed suit. I was definitely hard to deal with at 16 hormonal years of age, aside from not driving as a huge issue too. But I think ultimately one of the dudes didn’t like that I was writing stuff that he couldn’t play (let alone the other guys). I was obsessed with Between the Buried and Me’s first album, and these guys were on a 4/4 metalcore train. The band didn’t last — there were a lot of holes in that ship that I think caught up to them and it eventually sank. Best thing that ever happened to me was that band falling apart. I formed Binary Code that year at age 17 in 2004 before I was about to turn 18. I’m happy with how Binary Code turned out, but furthermore, happy with my career in music as a composer. Grateful for every misstep and moment of stress that came along the way.

What’s the most you have ever pushed/debased/otherwise scraped to get your band onto a show, into a magazine or otherwise promoted, covered, and praised? (If you don’t have a story, please tell us any funny/embarrassing story.)

I’ve never been okay with blowing anyone for a leg up. In all honesty, if people never took to my approach, we just didn’t work together. But I’ve always been as authentically genuine as I can be in those moments. I think that has been a huge help in putting me into my career field, in some ways. But I will tell you this, nothing is more embarrassing than having to make a promoter get you money for a show you were contractually bound to be paid for. That happens to a lot of bands. Here’s two shitty moments that I think was retrospectively funny, and the other embarrassing:

Funny: we played a show in Ohio somewhere on tour in 2010. Our booking agent for the tour was and is a bad bitch to this very day, and he’s very successful and booking huge bands for this very ethic: the promoter didn’t make enough money to pay the tour package, and our promoter told me “Go inside, get the promoter, drive him to a fucking ATM, and get your guarantee. And don’t call me back unless you did this.” It didn’t have to get to that point thankfully, but the concept sure worked! Lesson of the day from this? Don’t take any shit from shady promoters, or anyone for that matter.

Embarrassing: we played a show in Massachusetts booked by a friend (Peter “Blue” Spinazola now the bassist in Fit For An Autopsy). My drummer at the time (this was maybe 2012) was on a booking kick, and made some great decisions, and some rather odd ones. I had enough experience with the odd decisions coming to a head that I was kinda skeptical of everything my drummer said. At the end of the night, we packed up to leave, and I said, “Wanna go grab the guarantee?” For those who don’t know, a “guarantee” is the cost a band asks for to play a show no matter the outcome. So my drummer said, “Yeah, uh, come with me?” So I went with him and my drummer asked (with a very obvious lack of confidence) Blue for the guarantee, to which Blue had NO idea what my drummer was talking about. I still, to this very day, feel bad that my drummer put Blue in such an awkward situation. It was certainly embarrassing, and it still makes me sink in my seat just to think about it. Sorry, Blue! I love you, and hope you forgive me ❤

What do you see as some of the great things happening in progressive/technical/forward thinking metal and what are some of the worst things happening inside the scene right now?

I think this question is the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of questions: on one hand, music is becoming so incredibly well-executed and polished, and technical. Genres are being explored and amalgamated into new crossovers. Really cool things have been coming from that experimentation. And then, there’s the contrived, throwing of shit at the wall method of melding two incredibly discordant in the worst ways possible. Mixing trap music and metal is a giant turnoff for me, because it rarely (if not never) sounds tasteful to me. It’s not necessarily new to the metal world, but my world, with the power of everyone wanting to be acknowledged, to fit in, to be unique, it has really manufactured some gigantic, lower than dog shit musical “art”. Every attempt at art, is art in itself, right? Then you put that dog shit on your mantle and brag about it to friends, I’m gonna pass.

One of my favorite Facebook accounts that illuminate the best examples of what I’m talking about that I wholeheartedly recommend everyone following is Catatonicyouths (partially run by Michael Bachich of the amazing band Nothing from Philadelphia). Catatonicyouths is a Facebook (et al) account where they post the cringiest music videos you can possibly find, and they edit it down to the cringiest moments. I also really appreciate that they don’t cite the bands or people so no one is tormented by trolling, which is a pandemic all in its own.

But I do love that some bands aren’t just throwing that shit we talked about at the wall, and they’re creating music that inspired them to pick up the instrument. I think a great example of achieving success in this is Twelve Foot Ninja, Animals as Leaders, Cult of Luna, Haken, and even more abstract bands like Deathspell Omega and Nightmarer who take the architecturally unsettling nature of dissonance from their influences that extend beyond metal, and make it really thought-provoking.

It seems that now everyone has a passion for some cause and that those people are very open about displaying their passions. This is probably a very, very good (and progressive) thing socially. What are some of the most important issues (social/political/humorous/etc.) for you and how do you insert those issues into your music?

I think the Mental Health stigma with the modern male is the route of everything wrong with this world. Every town, state, county, country, continent, race, gender, sexuality, etc — we all have brains that need the intro/extrospection that either involves personal work, or work with a therapist. I think a lot of pseudo-Alpha Males wander the roads of this world completely terrified to face their inner self. If toxic dudes could just get a grip on their inabilities to be vulnerable and talk about their feelings and their issues, we’d live in a much happier world. Even if we just start with men over the age of 50. I get it, they come from a different generation, they were raised by harder people who had less available to them – and that may have been an advantage in some ways. But it’s 2020, and a dude who is too afraid to go to a therapist to talk about their shit, their childhood issues they’re completely unaware of that have have shaped the person they’ve become, that guy is a threat to the evolution of humankind. And why am I singling out men? Because let’s be honest, a lot of men think that going to a therapist means you’re crazy, or something is wrong with you. It incites indignation and resentment, and generally backfires. The mind is a very fragile thing, and we’re often unaware of how affected we are by things. I’ve been to hell and back half a dozen times and walked out patting away the flames that were previously licking my flesh – I didn’t get to that level of battle-tested armor by being afraid of myself and never talking about my feelings. Heck, I’m still learning how to handle my conscious and subconscious states, two very opposing forces if left unchecked. I’ve always made it a point to make sure that day-to-day struggles are a part of the music I write, dating back to day 1 in 2004 for this band. As we evolve and experience new things, the music latches on and changes along with it.

Further to the previous question, Memento Mori was inspired by tragedy but born from it was a sign to keep going and keep pushing. How cathartic is it to finally have this available to the fans and masses? How did you manage to keep the negative thoughts at bay and focus on the positive?

I would’ve been perfectly satiated if this record never came out. I didn’t write the music for anyone but myself—I had no choice. The survival rate of witnessing a suicide, or discovering a loved one who has committed suicide (especially when it’s in the same day just hours before you were with them), it’s incredibly unlikely that people make it out. So for me, the odds were completely against me based on statisticians accounting of situations that mirrored mine. If the witness doesn’t turn to suicide themselves, often alcoholism and drug abuse takes place. PTSD is a VERY difficult and real thing. A lot of people experience it on varying levels. And while I’ve gone through a lot in my life, discovering my late-gf hanging after I saw her hours before, this was the peak of trauma. I still struggle with it to this day – I have moments where I think about every moment from that day, and it crushes me. No one deserves to feel so hurt by this world that you can’t live with yourself anymore. Even typing this right now hurts, because I think with patience and understanding from family and loved ones, people stand a chance. But it’s when those closest to you, like your mom and dad, or friends, when they minimize your struggle, or pile up the weight of the harshness of your reality, there’s no chance.

But yeah, I didn’t have a choice. I didn’t turn to alcohol or drugs. I lost multiple people within 3 weeks of the suicide. People I cared a great deal about, my aunt Debbie who I miss to this very day, my aunt Sue’s sister Pat who I loved and have such great memories of. I didn’t have a choice, you know? How else can I deal w/ just losing someone to suicide, but also losing two family members who mean a lot? One night I was in my bed crying so hard I’d lose my breath, and I was begging life to help me. The thoughts of pain and suffering and wanting it to end were unrelenting. It was like my mind was bullying me every time I’d blink – a flash of seeing her would flatten me. I actually said out loud, “Please, help me – tell me what to do, give me some guidance, help this pain end.” I eventually fell asleep, which was every day’s big challenge. I woke up, and picked up my acoustic guitar and started writing. The first song I wrote was “Away with Oneself” – as directly apropos as you can get to what I was going through. The songs just started pouring out of me.

The reason I say that I’d be fine if it never came out is because I’ve since resigned from my position of being a “band guy”. Which is (in a lot of ways) basically a customer service rep, a sales rep, a politician, and a manager. My obligation with music now has changed so drastically – with Memento Mori, I just want people who are struggling to know that you can survive if you want to. Or at the very least, know that you’re not alone. I wanted this album to be a musical testimony to feeling beaten down by life, and being able to come out of the other side. It’s never going to be easy if you’re struggling, but if you can try and think outside of the moment, you can make it out. So I want people to have this record who need it, more than who want it. I know it’s grandiose, but I hope Oded’s lyrics and the music speak to someone who is struggling, and they can see that they can survive, and that there’s others like them. Without that obligation that I’ve affixed to my subconscious, if my bandmates and close ones were the only people to hear it, I’d be fine with that.

Sales for this album will be donated to suicide prevention and honestly, that’s awesome of you guys to do. Any details you care to share about that?

As long as we’re getting streaming royalties, pre-orders, digital album sales, we’ll be donating that money. It’s not enough to pocket – the cost of the record is well-beyond $25k at this point, and it’s just unlikely for our band to recoup that. And since we’re not hard up for the money, we’d rather make a difference – even if it’s a drop in the ocean – with people who need the support. We’ve been donating to NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) who focus on Suicide Prevention.

What, or who, got you into metal and how old were you? How did your family take the news?

I was listening to metal music as a single digits child in the early 90s, just from watching movies like Demon Knight, Beavis and Butthead Do America, Mortal Kombat, The Crow, Ace Ventura, Waynes World, Airheads. I’d buy the soundtracks that had some of the best heavy music. White Zombie, Cannibal Corpse, Filter, Nine Inch Nails, Napalm Death, it was all sooooo good and had such an amazing vibe to it at the time. I eventually would just latch onto anything that kinda spooked me or creeped me out or gave me feelings. Mudvayne’s LD50 is easily the most important album in my life. When I read Rolling Stone and saw their LD50 review w/ the picture of the band all painted and edgy-like, I was hooked. I knew I wanted to play music then. I was 14 when I got hooked on Mudvayne and bands in that genre. Eventually I tried guitar, playing a Westone super strat with three strings on it that was left at my house by my close friend Dale. Eventually my friend Mo let me borrow even better gear and really got me hooked into learning music. I remember wanting to learn Dillinger Escape Plan “The Mullet Burden” and spent like 3 weeks trying to figure it out. The tab I did is STILL the only one for that song today, and I can’t even imagine how wrong it is, haha. I was 16 and had been playing guitar for like 5 months when I tabbed it. If you Google that song you’ll find my tab with my info – including my AIM screen name and old ass email address haha!  Maybe my friend Kevin who played guitar for Dillinger Escape Plan until they retired can confirm how bad my tab is!

Your sound has constantly evolved in a wide swath since the early days of technical death metal (so to speak) to today’s grandiose technical metal and atmospheric but hard driving rock/post-rock that has so much packed into every scale that it takes multiple listens to barely scratch the surface of its intricacies. Is this just artists never wanting to repeat the same thing over and over or was this, in a way, the plan all along?

Our evolution is just a product of my own evolution. Before 2016’s Moonsblood record (which I wrote mostly in 2011-2013), I wrote most of the music by jamming with my old drummer. From that point on, I started writing from home using the evolution of technology, like Toontrack drums, AxeFx and Kempers, etc. I wrote our first EP in 2004 using Toontrack and a direct out digital amplifier, but hadn’t done that since then until 2010 when we got home from tour. But what happens when you jam with a group of people is you have all of their influences, and while maybe technical death metal was a very fun thing to play at that time, I’ve always been a huge fan of more grandiose music like Katatonia, Devin Townsend, and even composers like Hans Zimmer and Danny Elfman. It took me a minute to find my way to contributing to that grandiosity, but I honestly attribute a lot of that to our producer Aaron Smith and I being so like-minded with musical influences and our backgrounds. When I started writing by myself, I was able to eliminate the unexpected, I was in control of the outcome. And that may not work for everyone, but I ended up with a record I am TRULY proud of, for the first time in 16 years of playing music. I can finally listen to an album that I wrote as though I bought it from a band I looked up to. Only took me nearly 2 decades. I’m a late bloomer, what can I say?!

What advice do you have for aspiring music critics and outlets out there? How can we all better serve the genre in the eyes of hard-working musicians?

I think that music outlets need to do what’s best for them, and that may not necessarily be something that would come from advice (or wishes) I’d have for them. I’d love it if metal websites would stop posting about things that suck just for clicks, because they’re taking away capacity to post about things that are good. But, positivity isn’t the only seller, on Earth in 2020. Metal websites can become full-time jobs for the creators if they can sell advertisements, and the only way you can do that is by creating a website that people will go to. And often, those sites will post stuff that is controversial or even so bad that you can’t look away. I’m super happy and proud of my good friends at MetalSucks and Metal Injection for being able to make these King Shit of Fuck Mountain websites that people love and hate. That hate is a byproduct of success from the websites – when people either love or hate you, you’re doing something right. And I’m so happy for them, regardless of any tactics they use for getting viewership. I want everyone I know who is rolling the dice with our infinitesimally small metal music scene to succeed. If you can have the drive to make anything metal music related your career, I support you 100%. And I think these websites do a good job of balancing the news.

What’s your goal? You guys thinking world domination? Maybe saving a continent? Maybe invading one? Any interest in starting a cult? Do you guys have day jobs or hobbies you want to share? Whatever it is, please let us know. Also, feel free to elaborate on your composing for Marvel Entertainment.

I’m a full-time music composer by trade; so about 70-80 hours a week is dedicated to writing music for work. In terms of the Marvel stuff, I’ve written about 40 pieces of music for them thus far. I’m really proud of the work we’ve done – one of the series I watched grow from day one is actually nominated for a Webby Award (and depending on when this comes out, we may have either won or lost). It’s given me the ability to write so many different genres, and even implement my metal influences on one occasion. I’ve grown so much as a musician since I started doing work for Marvel back in March of 2018. Like, exponential growth in a short amount of time. I couldn’t recommend enough to try branching out of songwriting and moving into composing for visual media. It has completely shifted my abilities to write personal music.

My personal goal is to keep doing Binary Code when the mood strikes. My drummer and best friend Austin Blau is also a composer, and both of us make music on the daily. I’d say an easy 70-80 hours a week of mine is dedicated to making music. So I don’t necessarily need to be aspiring to be a band in order to make music. So, right now the goal is to keep writing music that inspires me. I have a project I’m doing right now with some amazing musicians from amazing bands, literally dudes I’ve either looked up to or listen to on the reg as a fan. I’m also doing a darkwave project that I’m really excited about. Binary Code may also release an EP in 2020 in which we take a handful of songs from Memento Mori and either do acoustic versions, or change the genres completely. We’ll see if time permits!

What is the 12-month outlook for you or your band? Any specific events on the horizon that the masses should be aware of?

Nope! Put the record out, and move on!  We may do vinyl (definitely physical copies) in the Summer, but this is a really complex time to be consuming and producing anything, so we’ll see!

If you ever found yourself having to describe Binary Code to a newbie and could only use three albums from other artists, what would those three albums be? And, how have these albums influenced your sound and constant creativity?

Katatonia “The Great Cold Distance”, Gojira “The Way of all Flesh”, Textures “Silhouettes”. I think the effect those albums had on me are subconscious more than anything. I think as long as I can play guitar, I’ll always look to those bands for inspiration if I’m without it.

I know every band hopes listeners will take their art and apply their own takes to it, their own opinions and their own feelings. Seeing as this is a highly charged album with major events and emotion behind it, is there anything you hope listeners get from it or feel from it?

Hope itself. I want someone who listens to this record who woke up that day and was faced with emotional dissonance to hear our record and feel a metaphorical “there there, it’s going to be okay”. I really hope it doesn’t have the adverse affect and depresses anyone, because there are moments on the record where it can be quite depressing to connect the sound with the lyrics. But, it’s open for however it may affect someone.

The album features a cover of Mazzy Star’s “Fade Into You.” With the lyrical content of this track and the background of Memento Mori, it’s a great choice. Beyond tying in thematically, what was the thought process of selecting this particular track and how did you tackle making it your own without sacrificing the impact of it?

This is a GREAT question, and I’m so glad you guys picked up on that. So, we were originally going to do a covers EP – Oded and I had some great ideas for doing Peter Gabriel + Kate Bush, Paradise Lost, a Perfect Circle, The Cranberries, David Bowie, Nine Inch Nails. But, we ultimately didn’t get to that point, which never ever say never ever, as MacGruber says! But, we were going to do The Cranberries, and then Dolores passed away, and it felt tacky to seem like we were capitalizing on that. And honestly, I find it tacky to see any bands do that, where a musician dies and then people use that death to put themselves into the news cycle. Although I will say that our producer Aaron Smith, along with the help of Jeff Loomis (who played on ‘Those I Sought to Spare”) and Adon Fanion, did a cover of “Black Hole Sun” in tribute to Chris Cornell’s passing. This is VERY different to me, because they’re all Seattle-area residents, and it wasn’t about leeching, it was about showing the impact Chris Cornell had on them. And it was AMAZING, I highly recommend checking that out.

We’re still processing everything Memento Mori has to offer but at this point, we are of the opinion this is not only your finest moment but it successfully and cohesively brings in all the elements from your body of work into a total package, if you will. From the artist’s point of view, what’s your feeling on it and are you 100% satisfied that you fulfilled your vision of it?

That means a LOT to me, thank you so much for saying that. I am 100% happy with Memento Mori, and I’m so proud of everyone’s efforts. Oded’s lyrics and the vocal ideas that he and vocal producer John Douglass (also produced vocals for Moonsblood) manifested is so perfect to me. And all of the performances from Austin (drums), Connor (bass), PJ (guitar), Jeff (solo on “Those I Sought to Spare”), the production by Aaron Smith, and the rawness and realness of the record, it all just makes me really proud.

Summarize your band in exactly one word. (Disclosure: If you include additional words, we will select our favorite for the final publication.)

Imperfect

Many thanks to Jesse and Binary Code for their time!


Memento Mori will be available May 15 on the band’s Bandcamp page. For more information on Binary Code, visit their Facebook page.

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