Interview: Touché Amoré
Alter The Press: You played one of the American Nightmare reunion shows in December. What did it mean to you to be asked to play that?
Jeremy Bolm (vocals): It was a big deal. I kicked and screamed to try to get on that show from the moment I heard about it! Luckily we have the same booking guys who handled that, so we had a bit of a foot-in, but the band had to approve us and the fact that they did got me super excited. American Nightmare were one of the first big influences we had when Touché Amoré started. At our first show we played an American Nightmare cover. We've only ever done a cover once, and it was then and we covered 'Hearts'. So it was like a cool full-circle thing. I'd never met Wes before and he was this really sweetheart guy. I didn't know what to expect because he's kind of an intimidating dude, but he was incredibly nice and it was a great experience. They were fucking awesome. They were so good. Obviously you sometimes wonder when stuff like that happens if they'll have the same energy, but I feel like they had even more energy. I was lucky enough to see them maybe five times before they broke up and Wes always has this unbridled amount of wild energy - just like running over people and swinging his arms and hitting things and it was just the same again. He didn't miss a step. If anything he was even more crazy. I feel like he had this built-up energy from not being involved in hardcore for a long time, and also with doing the Cold Cave thing he has to hold back, so I feel like those two shows were just an outlet for him to lose his mind. It was great.
ATP: How did your approach to writing 'Parting the Sea Between Brightness and Me' differ to your approach to previous releases?
Jeremy: Our first record was written without the intent of it ever becoming an album, really. We did a demo and then just continued to play and write songs together until we finally had enough to be like - hey, you wanna do a record? So we did. And we never thought that anyone would really ever hear it. My best friend put out that record - his name is Joey, he does a label called 6131 - but when he offered to do it we were like, you know we're gonna be the awkward kids on the label, right? It's like a really straight forward hardcore label and we're obviously a little different. So we just took a chance and recorded a bunch of songs that we had built up and it just did better than we had expected. Then with 'Parting the Sea' it was more like, okay, we're home now, let's write a record. We wanted to record with somebody "professional" who we looked up to and admired and the fact that Ed Rose took on the project was unbelievable for us. We were so excited about it because he's responsible for some of the most incredible sounding records. We also looked at it as maybe even a challenge for him because he'd never really done hardcore bands before. He's done stuff like Coalesce but that's more heavy, you know? So I think the whole experience was…well, I like to hope it was fun for him too, but it was definitely fun for us! And it was a challenge. When I first sent Ed an email about the record he asked for some demo songs, and when he responded he said everything that I ever wanted to hear him say, like, "I want to record this live" and "I want to focus more on inspired takes as opposed to perfect takes". He doesn't give a shit if it's off time, he doesn't give a shit if someone hit a sour note, he just wants to have the intensity behind it. When we were in the studio with him he would be like, yeah that was good, but play it again faster, play that song again faster, it'll sound better faster. And I was like, fuck yeah! It was really cool. He absolutely killed it. It's funny, he's kind of a grumpy guy and there were certain days were he was just like "urghhh" and we made jokes like if someone was to be all "hey, you recorded the Touché record!" he would be like, "yeah, I had a good time with those guys", and they would say, "cool, would you do their next record?" and he'd probably reply "absolutely not!". So who knows [laughs]. We had to drive out to Kansas to do the record and we've been there a couple of times since and he's come out to the shows. He's just the best dude and he's really excited for us and everything, but we'll see. I would definitely do another record with him, but we'll see, we haven't really thought about it yet.
ATP: With "…To the Beat of a Dead Horse" you assumed that anybody would really be hearing it, whereas with "Parting the Sea" you knew you would have more of an audience, so did your approach to writing change at all in terms of the lyrics?
Jeremy: When the demo was written, it was a case of: he's a bunch of songs about some bullshit I don't really care about. It was like "ahhh I'm angsty and I'm just going to yell about stuff that makes me mad" because it was just me having fun with my friends. Then with "…To The Beat of a Dead Horse" it was like, okay, if we're going to do a record I'm going to commit to actually writing about topics that I care about. I wanted to be more direct and write about things that were going on with me or things that I have really strong feelings about. It has songs about the Westboro Baptist Church and pro-gay marriage and stuff like that, so it's random hints at political stuff but nothing really outside of that. Before we did "…To The Beat of a Dead Horse" we'd only done a West Coast tour that was real brief, and after that record we did a lot of touring and that sort of became the main focus of "Parting the Sea". You know, relationships and how they deteriorate, or finding comfort in distance from being on tour so much and realizing you're more comfortable there than actually sitting at home. So "Parting the Sea" is a time and place sort of record. Just all that stuff pent up. But also, in terms of the lyrics, "…To The Beat of a Dead Horse" was written over a certain amount of time about all these different things, but "Parting the Sea" was like hey we're gonna write a record so I have to write lyrics for these thirteen songs in this two month period. So it became relative to everything that was going on at that moment. That's sort of the big difference, though -the focus for writing a record as opposed to having a selection of songs build up over time.
ATP: Do you think that the splits you've done with La Dispute and Make Do And Mend have had much of a hand in shaping your direction?
Jeremy: Those songs were written pretty quickly because we were on tour for "…To The Beat of a Dead Horse" for so long that when we finally got home we were like, let's fucking write new songs, we are so tired of playing these songs, we have to write new ones! So we just knocked those four out within about a month. We knew we wanted to do two splits and, I hadn't written lyrics yet, but when we heard the songs we thought well these ones make sense for Make Do And Mend and these ones make sense for La Dispute. Obviously I had ideas in mind for what I wanted to do with Jordan and all that sort of stuff. It's funny, I hadn't really thought about it until we were talking about it but those songs just came really quickly and it was probably the easiest writing we've done. There's only one song from those four that I'm really not a fan of which is on the Make Do And Mend split and we've only played it live once - "Smoke Signals". It didn't come out the way I wanted it to, for my sake. We did a BBC session while we were on tour with La Dispute though and did a live version of "Why It Scares Me", and the recording of that I feel is way better than the one on the EP! So I'm stoked for that to be released.
ATP: You're pretty close with La Dispute - could you talk a little about your relationship with those guys?
Jeremy: MAN, I HATE THOSE GUYS! [laughs] We first met them when they did their first West Coast tour which was 2009, I think. It was their second full length tour that summer between records and our demo had come maybe two months before - both on No Sleep - so they hit us up asking if we could help them out with an LA date. I booked two shows for them strictly because we were label-mates. Chris Hansen had given me their CD and I thought it was cool, but I hadn't gotten it yet. I kinda heard it and was like, oh it's got a mewithoutYou, At The Drive-In sort of vibe, that's cool. So I booked those shows and the first one was at MotionLA - it was a great line-up, like I look back at the flyer and it's like FUCK I could re-live that show! It was us, Comadre, Ghost Limb and La Dispute in a real small venue - and I remember standing behind Brad when they were playing and thinking okay, I get it, something special is going on here. But we met in the parking lot beforehand - some of the other guys showed up a little later but I was there super early because I'd booked the show - and as soon as we met we were all hugging each other and I had a real good conversation with Jordan where…you know, you meet certain people in your life and you're like, I connect with this person, I get this person. I mean I'm close with every dude in that band, like Adam Vass has come on tours with us just selling merch and stuff, but Jordan and I have, I feel, a really special bond between one another. So yeah, it went from there. We booked their shows and stayed in touch. Then we played a show together in Chicago and Jordan and I sat on a front porch and discussed the idea of doing a split together. I'm bummed out, actually, I'd written a short thing, sort of like a rhymey poem thing about us sitting together and I meant to have it re-printed in the fold-out for the EP before the tour but it totally slipped my mind. I was thinking about that the other day. There's like a third version of that coming out so maybe I can convince Chris to do something about it…
ATP: Touché Amoré and La Dispute are referred to as "The Wave". Where did that come from?
Jeremy: That whole thing is an inside joke that got taken too far! The idea of "The Wave" was just an excuse to have a name for our group of friends, like a bullshit kind of crew name. It was us, Pianos Become The Teeth, La Dispute, Make Do And Mend, Defeater…but what I've said a bunch of times is if "The Wave" were truly a thing, it would incorporate so many other bands, like Tigers Jaw, Title Fight, Balance And Composure, Former Thieves, Into It Over It…just every band that's going on right now that's exciting. The problem with saying that though is it seems like we're segregating ourselves from other bands, which we're not, we're no different from anybody else. There are certain bands that will always be boxed together, like us and La Dispute, you know? We did it to ourselves. We have a split together, we tour together, we verbally blow each other in every interview, we wear each others t-shirts every chance we get. It's clear that we're really close, but we share the same closeness with other bands like Pianos Become The Teeth. I would put my tongue in any member of that bands mouth any time of day. I love those guys to death, they're the best human beings. I guess it's easy for people to lump us together, but I think there's such an exciting thing going on right now. It feels kinda weird talking about it because I'm "a part of it", but there's so many good bands coming up right now, and that have been coming up in the past couple of years, that I feel have the power to sort of change things for the better. It's been years and years of awful, awful, awful insincere garbage that has taken over everything for so long now and I'd like to hope that it's starting to get weeded out…you know, like, the terrible swoop hair, rock star attitude, bullshit breakdown bands that have nothing to really offer anybody. But then at the same time, I'll hear about a new band and look them up on YouTube and they'll have like 9 million views and I'm like…how the fuck is this popular?! How is this doing well?! I don't get it. But I'd like to hope that, as bands like Balance And Composure continue to grow, that this may become something that gets more attention. It reminds me of the early 2000's when Glassjaw, Thursday, Thrice, and all those bands started to get attention, and they started to grow, and they ended up influencing the next generation of bands…but then the next generation of bands ended up being terrible…and so on…but I like to think that it's an exciting time right now. There's finally music being produced that isn't full of shit. I can talk about La Dispute or any of those bands and say the same thing, where everybody is friendly and no one has a shit-head attitude. We don't have a merch guy, we're not hiding backstage, you can have a conversation with any of us whenever and it's fine. I'm hoping that whole thing is something that'll continue to grow.
ATP: In terms of you guys growing as a band, you've obviously gained a massive amount of popularity since you first started out. How have you found dealing with playing bigger venues that may have barriers or more of a gap between the audience and the stage?
Jeremy: We just got off tour with Rise Against and that was taken as a chance to challenge ourselves to not rely on crowd participation and to sort of help us grow. You can only go so far doing what you're used to doing. And I don't mean go so far in the sense of "oh fuck, we need to become a big band", like, with a band like us there's always a ceiling and I can imagine we're at the ceiling right now. People we work with might say differently but I look at things now and think, it can't get crazier than this, you know? So we took the Rise Against tour as a chance to challenge ourselves to grow as a band - to work on playing as a tighter unit and playing to people who have no idea who we are. We're going to play our hearts out and play as hard as we can, but we're going to be dealing with at a sea of blank faces and people looking at their cell phones, which is what it was. Occasionally there were parts during the songs where kids would start clapping and stuff and that was crazy - to look out to a bunch of hands clapping. That was like, oh cool, they don't hate us, this might be okay! Some shows were better than others. We played Warsaw and had the craziest, best reaction. I just didn't understand it. It was nuts. And as for playing festivals it's more of the same - there are barriers there and can't rely on crowd participation. Like, if you were to give me a questionnaire that said "Hey, do you want a barrier? Circle A for yes and B for no" I would always circle B. We know what we prefer, but it's something that comes with the territory and having the opportunity to play to more people. Obviously once we got that tour we've done some other things and there was a lot of internet talk of people saying "they're not this anymore" or whatever, but - and I've said this onstage a couple of times - if you play in a band, don't just stick yourself in a situation where you're not going to challenge yourself . Take chances. Have fun. If you enjoy playing music for people then don't just continue doing the same thing over and over because you're going to get bored of it. So we'll play to 10,000 people, we'll play to 10 people. We'll play an arena, we'll play in a basement. It doesn't matter. We just like having fun and playing music with our friends.
ATP: You've worked closely with Thursday and Geoff Rickly - how do you feel about them splitting up recently?
Jeremy: It's heartbreaking. Those guys have had a real hard career where it kind of felt like the world was always against them. They would get put in situations where it just…wasn't good. I met them on their first West Coast tour and became friends with them a long time ago. I've known them from then and I've known them until now and they're still the same people they always were. They are the best goddamn people - people I really admire and look up to. It comes with the fall, I guess. It was really hard always seeing them barely staying together. They wanted to do a new record on this label and the label wouldn't allow them to do this and that, and they would have to do tours that they maybe didn't want to do but had to because that's the only way they could get enough money to support themselves. Because they're grown-ass men, you know? They're not young 20 year-olds who can make $200 a night and survive. It was rough. But that band taught me a lot about how to handle things, what to do and what not to do, and if I have any need for advice Geoff is the first person I go to because he's been through it all before. He's been a really good older brother figure for me.
ATP: Your lyrics are very honest and confessional. Do you think it's easier to disclose things through lyrics, and are there any topics you would feel uncomfortable exploring?
Jeremy: The first thing for sure. I'm guilty of being a very introverted person. Not in the sense that I just don't talk at all, but I've never been a very deeply open person with people. So writing songs is like the outlet for that. It's a lot easier for me to yell about it to a bunch of strangers than actually have a conversation with somebody. As for topics I wouldn't write about…I think if I really felt strongly enough about something, I'd write about it. Whatever it is. When it comes to writing lyrics I've never been like "I have to write a song about that" it's more like whatever is on my mind at that moment, I write about. There are songs I've written that I don't feel as strongly about now as I did when they were written, but when we play them live I just kind of get back into that mindset of what I was thinking about then.
ATP: You've been playing a new song live on this tour. Are you thinking about writing new material or are you still focused on touring?
Jeremy: We have a couple of new songs that we've written. The new song we've been playing doesn't have a title yet. We jokingly call it "C Beat", because it starts with this drum line and we're not in D, we're playing in C…which is dorky, but that's what we're calling it right now. It's my favorite song we've ever written though so I'm really thrilled to have that finally come out, but we're not gonna start thinking about a new record until next year.
ATP: Do you have any idea where you'll go with the new material, sonically?
Jeremy: I don't know… It's funny to talk about because most hardcore bands - I would say, 90% - don't make it to a third record, and if they do make it to a third record, it's shit. It's the truth! The third record is like the evil one where you do something that your audience doesn't want you to do or something. So I already have anxiety about it and we haven't even thought about it yet! For a lot of reasons - like, do I want to keep singing about the same stuff after two records? You start to wonder if people just think "oh, they're doing more of the same", you know? There's a lot of that that goes into it. We've had some funny wild ideas about who we want to record with and stuff like that, because we're definitely guilty of wanting to do what people won't expect. Like when we signed to Deathwish I had interviews where people would ask me things like "Oh so what was it like working with Jacob Bannon for your artwork" and "How was it having Kurt Ballou do your record" and I would have to tell them, Kurt didn't do our record and Nick still did our artwork. People just assume that once you do something you're going to continue to do it, so we've always been a fan of doing the unexpected. We've thrown out some ideas so we'll see what ends up happening.
ATP: Finally - I hear you're a massive vinyl nerd. Are there any records in your collection that stand out as really significant?
Jeremy: There's this old scream band called Saetia who did a press of their 'Eronel' 7", which is out of 20. They called it the 'Coffin Kids Club Press' which is like their little jokingly named fanbase that they had back then. I found a copy of it at the Hellfest in 2003. The doors had just opened and I walked up to this guy who was selling his personal collection and it was in there, and I just lost my mind and bought it off him for $30. So that's at the top of the list! Also Converge… I have a color shards copy of their "Axe To Fall" LP which was out of 100… They're the one band that like, since I was young, something in my head just snaps and I have no interest in my own safety or the people around me. I'm almost 30 years old and I jokingly say I come out of mosh retirement for that band! And the fact that we get to work with them on a personal level is just fucking exciting. But yeah, I'd spent a month living in Boston on our booking agent's couch, and our agency shares the office with Deathwish so I was just there everyday hanging out. It was before we'd even signed to Deathwish. And there was one funny day where Janelle - who's actually Jacob Bannon's wife now - who runs a lot of the merch asked me how often I ordered from Deathwish and I was like…I've ordered from Deathwish a lot. She thought I was full of shit, so she searched my name in the database and like four pages worth of orders came up and she was like, how many copies of "Axe To Fall" do you own?! There's 10 versions of it and I had about 7 of them. So I ended up going out for lunch and when I came back all the versions I didn't have were on the desk I was sitting at. They were just like, here you go. You've obviously helped the label, you've earned it. And that was really nice! So I look at that and think A) it's a really rare awesome record and B) it was gifted from Deathwish to me so it's like a cool friendship thing. So those are probably two of the most meaningful.