Jeff Berman was on a city bus in Los Angeles when creativity struck. “I wanted to write a song about the other side of the Satanic Panic movement─the bands and the kids that loved that music,” he says. Known onstage as Divided Heaven, Berman quickly began noodling out his own memories he had of “religious zealots pinning the term ‘evil’ on bands and when they tried to blame music as the prevailing negative influence on culture.”
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With “The Filthy 15,” a unapologetic punk song ripped right out of the early aughts, Berman pokes “holes in all their fearful arguments and hyperbole,” he tells American Songwriter. With Jeff Antons on drums and Ben Rasucher on bass, the track, premiering today (May 20), was recorded at FunHub Studios and produced/mixed by Nick Ruroede of Lost in Society.
“The sight of Motley Crue and Def Leppard records being tossed into the fire at a rally was supposed to scare me out of wanting to listen to their music. It had the opposite effect,” Berman recalls. “I fell in love with music, rock music, at the height of the Satanic Panic movement in the ‘80s. This song is for everyone who’s led good, interesting, dangerous, musical lives in the face of all that fear-mongering, the PMRC, and conservative poison.”
Originally from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Berman boasts quite a resume, stretching back to the early ‘90s when he first hit the scene. His work includes playing in such bands as The Statiks, The Boils, and a hardcore outfit called V.P.R., among many others. With a knack of always going hard into the pavement, he was studying abroad in Germany when the seed of an idea for Divided Heaven entered his brain. It was 2009, and it would be another three years before he dropped his debut record.
Throughout all of his various pursuits, he remains rooted in an honest songwriting approach. “I love the journey of taking an idea and crafting it to life. I love how a simple riff, chord, lyric, or even just a word can grow into a beautiful and powerful piece of music that resounds with people all over the world,” he says. “Songwriting is a natural extension of my imagination.
“I am always singing to myself─my own songs, other artist’s songs, songs I love, songs I dislike, and especially songs that I make up on the spot. I do so with a purpose, however. I am always searching for that next lovely melody. If a voyeur could watch me at home as I sing annoying songs to my wife and silly songs to my dog, it may look maniacal,” he admits, “but it helps keep my ear focused on potential ideas. The ideas come in the form of vocal melodies that I can build a song around or even musical notation that is just begging to be played on the piano or guitar.”
Berman then fine-tunes the delicate balance between “the musical tune with the vocal melody until it feels right,” he adds. “Occasionally, I will think of a song title or a single word and then immediately write all the lyrics straight away.”
30 years under his belt, Berman certainly knows a thing or two about song structure. “The Filthy 15,” officially out this Friday (May 21), testifies to his adept capabilities. Even so, he’s had to learn a thing or two over the years. “I spent years writing songs that were decent but ultimately fell victim to duration, lack of focus, and overindulgence. There’s a place for long songs, and there’s a place for far-out and unconventional ideas and song structures, even in pop music. Learning some simple structures and transitions was helpful for me and has made me a better songwriter. Without such knowledge and experience I would probably still be laying down seven-minute punk songs into GarageBand.”
Listen to “The Filthy 15” below.The Filthy 15 by DIVIDED HEAVEN