Writing has always been one of our ways to escape mental illness. So, when a band you love has that in common with you, it creates a special bond. Divided Heaven's latest album Cold War is a testament to what great lyrics will do to an awesome melody. It grabs you by the heart and finds a place to stay.
We spent some time with Jeff Berman from Divided Heaven to talk about the new album, his own personal battles, and what his professional wrestling name would be.
NON: How did Divided Heaven come to be?
Jeff: Divided Heaven started as a solo endeavor for me. Around 2014 I put out a record called Youngblood, that record had full band songs for the first time. That year, Divided Heaven started to shift into a full band. But, I do still tour solo. It was more a necessity at first because I didn't have any band mates. I didn't have time at that point in my life to find others to play with me. As the music changed and evolved, I needed people to play with me. My friend Nick was nice enough to jump in on drums and it took off from there.
NON: So, tell us where the name of the band comes from.
Jeff: I read a book while I was in college called "Divided Heaven." The book is about a young couple that is falling in love/breaking up as their hometown, the city of Berlin, is being divided by the building of the Berlin Wall. I loved the use of the word "heaven" in a secular context. I really enjoyed the story of the city of Berlin being formed through the eyes of a couple in love. So, I took the name from that and kinda ran with it.
NON: We saw your video for "Home for the Summer." Tell us about that video.
Jeff: I'm a big fan of music videos and I just love music videos when they are simplistic. It helps if I like the music as well(laughs.) The studio that we show in the video is also where we recorded Cold War, our new album. We wanted to get back to the roots of where those songs came to life. We wanted to showcase the studio because when we recorded there it wasn't as nice as it is now. We wanted to give a bit of a promotion to the studio, which is called The Clocktower recording studio in Joshua Tree, California. We really wanted to echo back to those music videos in the 80s, where like Def Leppard was in a studio or when Tom Petty was just playing in a studio and hanging out. We liked that aspect of it a lot. We also wanted a full live rock and roll vibe.
NON: Who are your influences? Who inspired you to want to make music?
Jeff: Influences...way too many to mention. I draw influence from any number of things. It can be music, film or literature. But, I would say the biggest influence for me musically would be The Beatles or Green Day. They have such a wide breadth of catalog. Every record is unique, every record is different. Every album is interesting, I've always been drawn to bands that do that. Saves the Day is another band that does that. I really love them as well.
NON: Music is not just about a great song or melody, but heart felt lyrics. Lyrics that really hit deep. Your music does that. Tell us about the your writing process.
Jeff: First of all, thank you so much for the kind words, I appreciate that a lot! At times I am able to compartmentalize what we do as a band and it feels good to hear from people that we write great lyrics, that we are deep and thoughtful...it means a lot. Everything sort of comes in a different fashion. The only songs that are the same, are the ones I have to force. I know that if I have to force it too hard it's not gonna be a good song. It's not going to feel right. There are times when I would write a song title on the top of a page and the lyrics just kinda came out just like thoughts. And there are times that I get struck by some sort of inspiration and then I can't finish the song for some reason. But, I'll come back to it 5 or 6 years later and finish it. I've found that one of the over-arching themes within the dialogue of my songs is that it sounds like an argument. Parts of the verses tend to contradict each other because I try to write the song from my perspective or the perspective of another person. That's what I feel is a good song. I can't control what other people may think about that because it's subjective and up to their personal tastes. My favorite songs are the ones where I'm grappling or wrestling with a notion that I can't really understand. The internal argument I'm having is written on a page and sang in the song.
NON: Do you have any favorite songs on the album?
Jeff: Yes, the song "1983." Not to say that I don't love the others, but if I had to pick a favorite it would be that. I really love the song, "Dance with Old Habits." The lyrics to that song are a lot more literal then I tend to write. It was also scary as hell to write and sing about that stuff. The song I love the most lyrically is "Love Letter to New York." I was having these dreams that I was in New York City and I knew I was in that city, but I didn't recognize anything because it had changed so fast. When I'm awake I would go back to New York and realize just how fast this city has changed. Coming to terms that the time that I spent there, the blood, the sweat, the tears was only met with indifference. You're just a spoke on the wheel, it will continue without you. I ended up writing 2 or 3 songs about that notion. I'm really proud of this song, the lyrics are deeply telling and personal.
NON: Our podcast focuses on mental illness, anxiety, and depression. And we talk about our ways to deal with stress and mental illness. Do you have any experience with this and what do you do to help cope and escape?
Jeff: Yes, I suffer from anxiety and have had points in my life where its been debilitating. It comes and it goes because I am better at managing it. I never really put it together that my hyper focus, nerdy-ness or dorky-ness is a blessing. I deal with my issues by focusing on my writing and my musicianship. When it comes to the nerd aspect of it, I am a huge professional wrestling fan. I have been since I was a little boy. Now that I am in my mid-thirties, it's a bit remarkable to look back and see the years I used my love for professional wrestling as a crutch. If I was upset about a girl or relationship, that was my thing. If I read something on the news and it upsets me, I'm able to go back to it. It's my safe place in a way. When it comes to your show, one of your co-hosts goes to Harry Potter when she needs an escape. I completely relate to that. I think that's awesome and it's great. I think nerds like us really dive in and create a bond with this form of entertainment. To me it feels like it's part of my DNA, if you take away music and professional wrestling, I am not the same person. It keeps me grounded and not hating myself.
NON: Since you are a fan of professional wrestling, who are some of your favorites through the years?
Jeff: I love Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels, When it comes to guys today, I love Seth Rollins, The Miz, and AJ Styles. I'm a shorter guy so I always cheered for the smaller guys(laughs.) The bigger guys like Undertaker, Stone Cold, Hulk Hogan...I couldn't relate to those guys.
NON: Just for fun, what would your wrestling name be?
Jeff: You know I should have an answer for this off the top of my head(laughs.) I am a huge fan of the band Agnostic Front, so I am going to steal a name from one of their songs. So, my name would be "The Eliminator" Jeff Berman. I would come out to that song(sings guitar riffs from song.) And I would be a bad guy...a really bad guy.
For more info on Divided Heaven, including music and tour dates, check out dividedheaven.com!
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