Alter The Press!


Interview: Ceremony

Alter The Press recently sat down with guitarist Anthony Anzaldo of Ceremony to discuss the band's stunning new album, "Zoo", working with producer John Goodmanson, signing to Matador Records, getting reprimanded for stage diving at a No Age show and more.

Alter The Press: How have things changed for you since you signed to Matador?
Anthony Anzaldo (guitars): It's hard to say really because the record's only been out for two weeks, but we get a lot more press on Matador - not that we care about that too much, that's just how it is. I think more people are aware of the band now that we're on a bigger label. We've sold more records than we normally do, but at this point it's hard to tell. I think in six months to a year the benefits or the cons of being on Matador will really show. Not that I see there being any downfall at all - they're great. They love music and their only interest is putting out music that they like, y'know? They don't want any creative control. There are plenty of bands that they could sign who are popular and who a lot of people think are great, but it's just not their thing. They would rather sign a band like us who, at the end of the day, relatively won't sell them that many records, but it's what they're into. So being on a label like that is great.

ATP: How do you find working with them in comparison with Bridge 9?
Anthony: Bridge 9 and Deathwish are a little more one dimensional, which is fine, both are great labels, but we are probably the smallest band on Matador where as on Bridge 9 we were one of the more popular ones, so it's just a different dynamic. Matador puts out a lot of different styles of music, and with that you get people talking about your band or being interested in your band that wouldn't necessarily have heard of you before. Being on Bridge 9 it's like the only people that are going to seek you out are people who are into hardcore music. Even though there are a lot of people who haven't called us a hardcore band for a long time - and I don't agree - for someone who isn't really into hardcore who maybe would like us, they would never stumble upon us because they would just hear the hardcore tag and not care. It's not like it's our goal to reach a larger audience, necessarily, we just respect what Matador does. So the difference really is a more diverse crowd is now aware of the band.

ATP: Was it important for you to move away from a strictly hardcore label with "Zoo"?
Anthony: Probably. We had 4 or 5 songs written for "Zoo" before Matador came knocking on our door, so no matter what we were gonna do the record was always going to sound the way it does now. We did an EP, two singles, and two LP's with Bridge 9, so I think even if we didn't get picked up by Matador we probably wouldn't have gone with them just because we wanted to do something new. But it wasn't like, "well we need to not sign to a punk label anymore, because that's not what we're doing", we were just doing what we do and thankfully Matador was interested.

ATP: How do you think Ceremony has changed with "Zoo"?
Anthony: Going from "Rohnert Park" to "Zoo" was probably our biggest leap. I mean we have a new band member, Andy Nelson, who plays second guitar - he's in Paint It Black - so whenever something like that happens there's a whole new dynamic. He's a killer musician. But really the music is just a lot different. There's a lot more structure, a lot more cohesion.

ATP: Did you always intend to go somewhere more experimental with the new material or was it more of a natural progression?
Anthony: It just happened. We've never been 100% satisfied, so with every release we're always interested in doing new things, subconsciously. So it wasn't the intention but it doesn't surprise me that that's what happened. Even when we were still playing faster, shorter, abrasive stuff, we would try and incorporate different methods of songwriting into that.

ATP: There are hints of Joy Division and Pixies as well as some surf influences on the new record - which you always said would be stranger - how did you go about approaching the "stranger" sound that you wanted to achieve in terms of the writing process?
Anthony: It's strange in relation to our previous stuff. I don't think it's strange in the context of music in general - if anything, it's less strange. But bands like Joy Division and Pixies or the more surfy stuff like The Cramps are some of our favorite bands and with that there's always some level of conscious or subconscious influence that you're pulling from. So that's just what happened, you know, those bands are embedded in our musical filter and here they just came through.

ATP: Following on from the direction you took with "Rohnert Park", "Zoo" sounds less furious and more frustrated or fed up. The pace has really altered over the past few records. What have the major influences been in the progression of slowing things down?
Anthony: I don't think the slowing down was a conscious thing. On 'Rohnert Park' there really weren't any fast tracks….'Back In '84' I guess the chorus has that blast beat thing, but we were just going down the same road for 4 or 5 years and stuff like Wire and The Stooges have always been bands we have loved but never touched upon directly, so we were just ready to do something new.

ATP: How was working with John Goodmanson on the record?
Anthony: Awesome. He's so great. He just has a really good knack for sound and structure and he said from the beginning you know "this is your record, and I'm just here to help you guys". There are a bunch of songs on the record that wouldn't be that much different had he not been involved and there are others that would be entirely different if he wasn't there. With songs like "Hysteria" and "Video" he really had a firm hand in those. I can't imagine those songs any differently to how they are now so I'm really thankful that he was involved in the project and I'd love to work with him again. Just sonically he's great at what he does. He has a vast knowledge of music and a background in punk, so it was an obvious choice to work with him.

ATP: Was the decision influenced at all by any of the albums that he's produced before like Sleater-Kinny, Bikini Kill etc?
Anthony: What's funny is that when we signed to Matador they asked us if we'd be interested in working with a producer for the first time and we were like "yeah, that'd be cool". So they asked us who we'd want and, being the ambitious people that we are, we were like "we want Joan Jett!", because Joan Jett produced The Germs' record and some Bikini Kill records so that was our basis for wanting her. I don't know if we couldn't get a hold of her or whatever but she couldn't do it, so we put some feelers out and John was really excited. And once we met with him it turned out he had produced the Bikini Kill albums with Joan Jett on them, so we thought, well that rules! We wanted Joan Jett because of those records and it turns out he actually did them, so we were super psyched.

ATP: To what extent has Ross [Farrar, vocals] studying English and taking writing classes had an influence on the band?
Anthony: Significantly. You can see it, I think, in the evolution of his songwriting. If you look at his lyrics on the first EP and his lyrics on "Zoo", that says it all. He's a lot better at it, he has a lot more to say, he's not as one dimensional, he's more open minded. Him and other members being back in education actually takes a toll on the band because you're only allowed to tour so much, but it is what it is.

ATP: Have you noticed much of a change in your audience since you first started out?
Anthony: Yeah. It's like we were only in one specific world for the first few years, and now I think the crowds have become a little more eclectic. At the beginning it was just modern day hardcore kids, and now it's just people who like loud music. But people who are primarily into punk and hardcore still have a very prominent stance in our fan base.

ATP: Is it true you were reprimanded for stage diving at a No Age show? What happened there?!
Anthony: I did! We played with Health, Cults and No Age, which was a rad show but…well, it was an interesting show. It was at this fans warehouse in Brooklyn and you know, it was this VANS sponsored free show with a barrier and killer sound, like, everyone gets some free shoes…some corporate bullshit, and, well, we really wanted to play with No Age because we really dig that band. I think No Age is a punk band. To me, that's how they come across. When you talk to them it's like, these are punk kids, they're awesome, and they covered Black Flag. They covered Six Pack, which, wait….how did they do that without a bass player? Was it Six Pack? I'm almost positive it was Six Pack. Anyway, I did what you do when a band that you like covers another band that you like well - I had fun. So I stage dove and there was a pretty big barrier, so…I don't know, but the security got so fucking mad at me. They threw me up against the wall and started screaming in my face, and the dude who ran it, who was like an older dude - I remember at the beginning of the show him talking to us about how he used to go CBGB's or something, and he was wearing a Stranglers shirt or a Vibrators shirt or…I don't know, I don't really remember what shirt he was wearing, but I remember it being like an obscure older punk band - and he was fucking screaming at me like "don't you ever fucking jump off my stage!", just going off on one, so I thought pffft, you're a fucking poser, dude! You're a fucking old poser, if one stage dive for a Black Flag song - which you've probably never heard, you probably found this Vibrators shirt in some thrift store and started wearing it - can get you so angry. Anyway, everyone got really mad at me and it's funny because we played Amoeba records in San Francisco the day the record came out, and it was super wild - one of the CD racks got busted up and people were jumping off them to stage dive and loads CD's were cracked just the whole place got fucked. Afterwards we thought, "oh god, we're going to have to hear all this shit" and they didn't say a thing. We said sorry if we messed up anything but they were like "nah man, it's cool, we honestly thought it was gonna be worse". So, I mean, we have gotten in so much more trouble for way less stuff in more appropriate venues…which is probably the long winded answer to your question!

ATP: Do you think you'll play more shows with bands like No Age as opposed to bands like Sabertooth Zombie who you've toured with a lot before?
Anthony: I don't know. For the past few years we've been trying to play with a more eclectic group of bands, but I mean Sabertooth are some of our best friends, like, we grew up with those guys so hopefully we'll always keep playing shows with them. They're kind of slowing down, though. They have other bands, like No Sir, who are great. But yeah, I think we're not just going to be playing with straight up hardcore bands. We're playing with Royal Headache and The Screaming Females on US tour coming up, and Cold World played both our record release shows, who are dear friends of ours and they're great, and Chelsea Wolf played one of our other shows... So we definitely, for the last few years, have been trying to mix it up a bit. I feel like our band doesn't sound like one specific thing, so we try to put an eclectic mix together.

ATP: There's an obvious influence on "Rohnert Park", but how has growing up in the Bay Area had an influence on your music as a whole?
Anthony: I think it's had a pretty significant influence. The punk scene in the Bay Area from its inception has always been pretty diverse, which I think has come across in our music…but what do I know! We all grew up in this super ultra suburb of suburbs, and I think that is pretty prominent in all our records, especially the last two. I think it's had a pretty stark influence.

ATP: The cover of "Rohnert Park" - was that staged or accidental?
Anthony: That picture was taken 5 or 6 years ago. Ross took that of our bass player J.D. when Ceremony had probably just started. I mean, he'd been sitting on that for a while. He didn't take it thinking to use it. It was right outside my parents house, all of us just hanging out and J.D. skating.

ATP: With the new record just coming out, where do you think Ceremony will go from here, sonically?
ATP: I have no idea! I thought "Rohnert Park" was a turning point in the band, but I think 'Zoo' really is, so we'll probably stay on that plane, but it all depends. It depends on when we start writing, and when we start writing again depends on how well the record does, so there are so many variables it's hard to say. Every vision I've had for the next record has not been the way it's come out, really. I mean, vaguely yes, but specifically no…so I've just stopped trying to be like "this is what I wanna do for the next record". It'll just come out the way it's going to come out.

Emma Garland

Alter The Press!