Divided Heaven // Feature Friday
Written by: Kayla Lee
Generally solo, sometimes full band, always genuine, and never lacking, Divided Heaven is the result of Jeff Berman's passion for creating raw, heartfelt music without losing the authentic, true-to-yourself sound that laid the groundwork for Divided Heaven's first release in 2011. Originally from Southern Pennsylvania, Jeff now resides in Los Angeles, although much of his time is spent on the road. Having been involved in various bands, such as Protagonist (currently) and VPR (previously), Jeff certainly knows his way around composition and delivery.
Jeff Berman continues to turn out raw, yet well composed, punk rock tracks on Divided Heaven's Pacific Avenue, released on July 7, 2017. From the beginning, you're immediately pulled in with the upbeat drums, guitar, and catchy vocals on the opening track 'Scott #1".
The following songs on Pacific Avenue easily meet the mark without sounding predictable or cliche. Berman's musical abilities shine though in tracks such as 'Caught Dead", where he sings "A reject / A fallout / A shitty song played too loud / A lost cause / A memory no longer worth remembering / In the ghost towns of lessons learned / Ideas stolen then returned." This chorus is one that easily sparks feelings of nostalgia within the listener.
If you've been a fan of Divided Heaven's previous two releases you can expect to be pleasantly surprised with this release. While different than both Youngblood and A Rival City, Pacific Avenue offers a new spin on an established sound. Mixing the elements of Jeff's songwriting style with a full band, Divided Heaven adopts a new sound without losing the original, personable style.
If you're new to Divided Heaven, this is a great album to start with, however their previous albums are worth lending an ear to, as well. Featuring distinctly different sounds, there's certainly a track for whatever music mood you are in.
Closing the album with "Mourning City, Bleeding Town", Divided Heaven doesn't skip a beat. Easily engaging you with Berman's vocals that are gently laced with a rough edge, the accompanying guitar and drums round out the delivery of Pacific Avenue. None of the six tracks sound like filler songs, rather, they sound purposeful and thoughtfully placed.
Divided Heaven | Betty's Grill | Nashville, TN
I was able to chat with Jeff at Betty's Grill, a small venue in Nashville, TN, before Divided Heaven performed. We talked about future plans for Divided Heaven, Jeff's time spent in Germany and more, including the pros and cons of west coast living. Read on to learn more about Jeff and Divided Heaven.
Q: I know that you've done a few different projects in the past. What led you to where you are now with Divided Heaven and what do you see in Divided Heaven's future?
A: The germ of the idea for Divided Heaven came about when I was living in Berlin. I was doing a semester abroad, so this was the fall of 2003. At that time, I was in a band called the Boils which was a punk rock band, and VPR which was a hardcore band. I had to leave those bands behind to go study in Europe and it was the first time in a number of years where I didn't have anybody to play with over there because I was just purely doing academics.
Because I was forced to play alone and write songs alone, it got me thinking about doing a solo project-- really beginning to have a desire to play solo songs and to sing my own songs. It wasn't really until 2009 when I was living in Los Angeles that I started actually performing solo shows and always kind of flirted with the idea of having Divided Heaven be a full band. It really took until about 2014 to have that come to full fruition and be a full band, so now it's like 50% of the time it's still a solo singer songwriter project and 50% of the time it's a full band.
For the future, I don't know-- whenever I'm in the middle of a solo tour I think "Oh it's going to be more solo for the next year" and whenever I'm in the middle of a full band tour like I am now, I can't imagine doing anything differently than what I'm doing, so who knows what the future will bring! I have no idea.
Q: From living in Germany and then coming back to the states, which music scene do you prefer, and what are the pros and cons of each?
A: When I was living there (Germany) I was really busy studying! For a lot of people when they go for a semester abroad it's like five months and one gulp. For me, it was the most difficult semester of my academic career, which was fine and I was okay with it. Having said that, I went to a lot of shows but I never really felt that I was part of a scene, but having toured there with Divided Heaven a number of times, I've gotten to experience the scene a lot.
I don't really have a preference from one to the other because It depends city to city. The bigger cities over there like Munich, Berlin, and London are kind of the same as Los Angeles and Chicago and New York in that it's very competitive, there's always a lot of stuff going on, and your show can be a hit or it can be a miss depending on the night that you're there and what your competition is throughout the city.
The DIY scenes in smaller places-- they mirror each other. I think that's a good signal. It's kind of a tribute to how well punk rockers have sprawled. That's what makes punk rock unique from other scenes. This city (Nashville) is a really good example, and Los Angeles is a really good example of where you have so many musicians, and so many singers, and so many singer songwriters, and I've dabbled in that world.
It's really uncomfortable, it can be really unfriendly, and it can be very lonely. I'm very thankful that I'm kind of cut from that punk rock cloth because there's always that homogeny, there's always that community even if I'm singing songs about girls with an acoustic guitar. I'm from that background, so I automatically have a web of people that I can relate to even if it's not until I step off stage and we start having a conversation. I think that the difference is rather minimal between them but the fact that they exist is a benefit for all involved.
Q: What is your favorite city that you've played in so far and why, for both Divided Heaven and past bands that you've played in?
A: For Divided Heaven, I would say Chicago, Washington DC, San Francisco, Las Cruses in New Mexico, and Atlanta.
In older bands, we used to do really well in Philly, and Boston, and the north east corridor. We used to do really well in South Florida and Tokyo! Not France though, nobody likes me in France. Scotland is pretty good and Italy and Germany just as a whole.
Q: For the foreseeable future, do you have any big touring plans after this current tour?
A: The rest of the year will be mostly just regional stuff in the Southwest and in California. We just finished a new album and that'll be out in the early new year. From there we'll take off and do a lot more!
Q: Since you're originally from PA, how did you end up in CA, and is that somewhere that you plan on staying?
A: I'm from Lancaster, PA which is great-- PA is not great, in my opinion. I went to college in DC, then I lived in NY for four years. I moved to LA because I was kind of over being in NY.
I wanted to try the west coast and figured that LA would be the best place to start. I did not have an intention of staying there-- I kind of saw it as a four year plan, you know-- high school, college, NY, LA, and then who knows? I really fell in love with it and made some great friends, had some really great work for a while, and I really enjoyed my time there. I really fell in love with living there.
I can see myself staying in California forever, and I can see myself not staying in California forever. For right now, for the next couple years at least, LA will be home!
Q: Do you think that the west coast in general is a good place for musicians to go, or is it over saturated?
A: Both-- I certainly did not move to LA for music. I just moved for more or less a lack of direction. That's how a lot of people end up in LA. Once I was there getting Divided Heaven off the ground it became a goal and a mission for me but it was certainly not my intention when i first landed there.
There's a of of opportunity there but it is over saturated. I guess if I'm being objective about it, if you were to look at how much I've toured in the last five years, maybe California isn't the best place because i wasn't there for a lot of the year for much of the last few years.
I lucked out-- I found a really great drummer. Our bass play is not from California originally but I met him out there and I've met some really great people. It's a really great place to live-- it all worked out. I definitely know people who move out there with stars in their eyes and all of these really bullshit goals and ambitions. I'm a pretty grounded and realistic person and I didn't move there for music and I certainly didn't move there to be famous. That's kind of the main objective for a lot of people that move out there weather they're musicians or they're artists or they're actors.
I found that when I got out there and I met other people that were also transplants living in LA from elsewhere, and they had the same goals and ambitions that I did, but they didn't have that cosmetic shallow thread of wanting to be famous-- when I met caliber people like that-- I just kid of held onto them a little bit tighter than i would have if i were still in New York or certainly if i were still in Pennsylvania because you meet so many clowns. When you meet an authentic person, like my drummer, you hold on. You work harder to make it work because it matters. It's not about what we're trying to achieve for fame. It's just that we can be a successful rock and roll band.
Q: For Divided Heaven, where does your inspiration for these specific tracks come from as opposed to previous projects?
A: It's a half step into what the next record, the full length, will be. The Pacific Avenue EP is a collection of songs that my bass player, Ben, and I wrote together a few years back that the time never really felt right to release. They were written at a time in my life when I wasn't playing music a lot. I really wanted to be.
I was a good quality version of myself but I was wearing suit every day and in a different life and a different frame of mind. I wrote these songs on a city bus to and from work every day. It's the first time that I really just wrote words and then came home and put music to it, and then I would show it to Ben and we would work out ideas and stuff.
This sounds really trite to say, but these songs are very special to me. They're such a time stamp of a very specific time in my life where I felt like I was really trying to find myself and in these songs I found myself. I had these songs mixed and mastered and ready to go but I was kind of waiting until the new record came out and then I figured maybe a year after this new ones out we'll release an EP of these songs, because it's more punk rock, it's more raw, it has a lot more aggression to it than my previous two records or any other stuff that I've released.
On June 1st, my friend, Brian Marquis, was like "are you going to do a release for this tour?" and i was like "Yeah, you know, there's going to be a song off the batch from the new record that probably isn't going to make the record. We'll probably do a digital single or something" and then he's like, "Why don't you just do an EP of that punk rock stuff?"
A light bulb went off in my head and i was like "You're right i should". By June 30th I had CD's in hand and the record came out digitally worldwide on the 7th of July, so it's been a very quick turn around time.
The songs had been recorded and mixed and mastered and ready to go and for whatever reason it was just in my blind spot. Brian put a spotlight on it and suggested we release it. The response to it has been really cool. I think that a lot of people who like Divided Heaven and who like my song writing have kind of been waiting for us to release something in this style. They were kind of waiting for a punk rock version of Divided Heaven.
The first record, A Rival City was a singer songwriter record. Youngblood, the second record, was a step away from that direction with some full band stuff, and this is just raw. It's just a totally different side of my songwriting and a different side of our band. it's been really fun. It'll be cool to really work this EP for the rest of the calendar year and then get into new record mode when the new year hits, and then go from there.
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Divided Heaven | Betty's Grill | Nashville, TN