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Coming out as trans brings Francis Ponton musical freedom

November 2, 2018

Text by Ben Seal. Image by Cassi Segulin.

Francis Ponton started out writing EDM and dubstep, but over the past couple years he left that scene behind in favor of a jazz-infused, synth-focused style.

“I wanted to do more stuff that was active performing,” says Ponton, who writes and records everything at his house in North Philly. “DJing was really fun, but performance-wise, you have all your stuff premade and just hop behind the decks and stand there and mix. So now being able to do live stuff and sing feels a lot better.”

It helps, he says, that about a year ago he came out as trans, clarifying so much about himself and his music in the process. His lyrics were always sincere and addressed issues like mental illness, but they’re now anchored by his comfort with his gender and sexuality.

“I spent a lot of time in my teenage years not being able to be as open as I am now. That stunted relationships for me, not being able to communicate who I am in truth,” Ponton says. “To be able to do that now, and especially to put that in music … it’s exciting to be able to be open about it and not feel like I have anything to be afraid of.”

In the year since he self-released the five-song Condor EP as Overwinter, he’s added live instrumentation to his blend of R&B, dance and electronica, and he’s put together his first full-length album slated for release this fall.

“It’s got a weird fusion this time around,” Ponton says of Francis Winter, which will be released by South Philly’s Good How Are You Records. “It’s got some dancey stuff on it. Then it ranges all the way down to very ambient, mellow stuff you could hear playing in a smoky bar where people don’t want the music too loud.”

Ponton, 25, grew up playing everything from guitar, bass and drums to saxophone, violin and piano, and for the first time he’s incorporating some if it into his music, cracking into a closetful of instruments to fill out Overwinter’s sound.

Matty Klauser, co-founder of Good How Are You Records, says he’s noticed Ponton’s newfound confidence in himself and his music.

“I think coming to a better place in regards to his gender identity has helped define who he is and who he will become,” Klauser says. “At the same time, it’s who he has always been.”

Ponton has always been an instrumentals first, lyrics later kind of songwriter, and that hasn’t changed, but now he can come at it all unobstructed.

“To have that wall taken down in my everyday life allowed for any other kind of wall that might be up to be taken down when I’m writing music,” Ponton says. “It all came down at once, and I can be very open and upfront about anything.”

He wants people to connect with the new album and find something in it that they can identify with, even if it can be difficult to be so open.

“It’s something that’s helpful for me,” Ponton says. “At the end of the day, I’m going to talk about it, and if I have to do it in my music, then fine, I’ll do it in my music.”

Soaring Success: Michelle Zauner and Japanese Breakfast’s unstoppable creative explosion

November 1, 2018

Text by Dave Miniaci. Image by Ashley Gellman.

Hanging in the entranceway to Michelle Zauner’s apartment are framed posters of concerts past, from her former band Little Big League and current band, Japanese Breakfast.

They serve as fun mementos but are also reminders of the hard work that has led Zauner to this stage in her career.

“I’m at the point where I’m achieving things I thought would just be comical and outlandish to achieve,” she says, then continues with a laugh. “So I’m just trying to do a good job and work hard and keep it that way.”

It may be surprising to Zauner, but here she is, performing internationally, playing to a sold-out crowd at Union Transfer last summer and headlining an end-of-the-year residency/three-day-long party at Johnny Brenda’s in December.

Zauner exhales as she sits down in her living room, a well-lit and cozy space in Washington Square West. This is her staycation, a few days in between tours.

The past year for Zauner has seen extensive touring in support of her latest album, Soft Sounds from Another Planet. The record was critically acclaimed and scored a spot on many end-of-the-year “Best Of” lists, including Stereogum  and Rolling Stone. The album deftly mixes elements of shoegaze, noise rock and ’80s alt rock. Rolling Stone called it “an expansively trippy album saturated in science fiction and 1980s shoegaze sounds.”

Zauner has spent the past few days mostly relaxing and catching up with friends. She and Marisa Dabice, lead singer of Mannequin Pussy, had been out the night before “drinking a whole pitcher of wine.”

Cleaning was among other evident activities—“I’ve basically just been cleaning my apartment for four days,” says Zauner—as the place was pretty spotless, save for some guitar amp parts lying around. They belong to Zauner’s husband and bandmate, Peter Bradley.

“He likes to tinker with that stuff, and I’m scared I’d electrocute myself,” she jokes.

While she may never be an electrician, Zauner has ventured into a number of other creative endeavors. Dabice describes Zauner as “this tiny person with the energy and presence of 10,000 men.” And that is certainly reflected in the number of projects she has undertaken.

Zauner has directed several of Japanese Breakfast’s music videos. “Machinist” is a dark sci-fi adventure reminiscent of 2001: A Space Odyssey, while the video for “Boyish” features Zauner and her bandmates playing a high school dance, following a main character dealing with insecurity and confidence issues, a theme of the song.

“I really wanna make a short film. I’ve directed most of the Japanese Breakfast music videos, and I want to venture more into that,” she says. “Anything that’s been a male-dominated field, my entire life I’ve had this desire to infiltrate, and there aren’t enough women directors, and I want to experiment more with that.”

Much to her surprise, Zauner became involved in the making of a video game. The game, “Japanese Breakquest,” was released to the internet last September. When the player wins, they are rewarded with the downloadable MIDI version of the album. It also led to Zauner being approached to soundtrack a game that was released earlier this year, “Sable.”

She has also written essays, from her recent, very personal piece published in The New Yorker called “Crying in H Mart” to her award-winning essay for Glamour she intends to turn into a book. Both of these deal with the heartbreak of Zauner losing her mom and finding comfort in cooking and the foods of her Korean heritage.

“[The Glamour essay] was a memoir about Korean cooking and grief and losing my mom and how that affected me, and I felt like I was losing half my identity,” Zauner says.

She isn’t sure when she will get to writing the book, and she knows it will take time to put together, especially with everything that comes with being a touring musician.

Zauner admits it’s time to hit the pause button ever so slightly, though. She has been on the road for extensive touring, and there was little time in between Soft Sounds and her first album, Psychopomp. She doesn’t want to rush right into the next album, but she doesn’t plan on slowing down altogether.

“I wanna take my sweet time with this [new record],” she says. “I wanna try on a couple things and live a little before the next record.”

She’s in an enviable position. On early Japanese Breakfast tours, Zauner planned nearly every aspect of the schedule. Now, she just worries about playing. And enjoying the company of her tourmates.

“We toured with Mitski, and I remember thinking if I could be where she is now [at the time of the tour] then I’d be happy,” Zauner says. “We’ve toured with friends like Mannequin Pussy and we’ve also toured with Tegan and Sara, which was always a dream.”

Zauner is excited for her run of upcoming shows at Johnny Brenda’s and plans to create a fun atmosphere. She even has Dabice DJing the New Year’s Eve show.

“I wanna do something super special and decorate it and learn some fun covers,” Zauner says. “I’m excited to hang out for a few days with friends at these shows.”

Zauner has found herself in uncharted territory and considers how far the band has come. Japanese Breakfast sold out Union Transfer last summer, but Zauner recalls working coat check at the venue when it first opened. When she started Japanese Breakfast, she had only hoped to release an album on vinyl and sell shirts out of her apartment.

“I didn’t think I’d still be in music,” she says frankly. “It wasn’t a stable job, and after something bad happens in your life, that’s what you want. But then there’s this slow growth of when you accomplish something, you move onto the next thing. Everything has just been so far beyond my expectations.”

The City and I push punk boundaries and reach out to a more diverse audience

November 1, 2018

Punk Like Me

Text by Hannah Kubik. Image by Julia Leiby.

You might recognize The City and I’s Colin Regisford as the bassist for punk/pop Philadelphia-based band Mannequin Pussy. And if you do, you probably know him as Bear, a nickname that stuck after a single day as a high school mascot.

According to Ben Roth, a friend of over a decade who helped record and co-produce tracks for The City and I, Regisford’s solo career is a natural progression.

“Since I’ve known Bear, he has lived and breathed through the writing and performing of his art,” Roth says, adding that he loves Regisford’s songwriting because it does not follow traditional structure. “The songs are [both] linear and tangential, like a guided tour through the strange funhouse that is Bear’s brain. I believe Bear is on the forefront of a movement that is reimagining what punk music is.”

Regisford started writing songs as a teenager while living in the Poconos. As a fan of bands like Blink-182 and Green Day, he gravitated toward the punk rock scene, but, as a black male, he found himself to be a minority. Often a minority of one.

“I used to have to trick people to let me play with them and would literally just show up at their doorstep and push my way inside,” Regisford says. “They would look at me and didn’t see a kid who could play bass and like punk.”

Eventually he encountered someone who recognized his talents. This someone was Casey Weissbuch from Diarrhea Planet, a Nashville-based garage punk band. While touring with Colleen Green, Regisford met Weissbuch, and Weissbach asked if Regisford knew anyone with a new sound. There was no hesitation.

“I played him some songs I wrote, and Weissbuch was like, ‘I need you to send me every single song. I want to put this out for you because this is really cool, and I think people should hear this,’” Regisford recalls.

In 2015, Regisford released Downer, his first The City And I album. While the seven-song release has a song or two that might betray his punk rock roots, the music is stoner hazy, sprinkled with snippets of conversation, with melodies that can be haunting and quite beautiful.

The good news is that there’s more on the way. Regisford shared a few singles with us that he plans to drop soon, including the doomy “Cecilia” and “ADD,” a super catchy rocker that devolves into a nightmarish chaos.

It all makes sense when you consider that Regisford claims the purpose of The City and I, is “to really destroy all of the old ways of people who were making punk music.”

And that is all rooted in the alienation he felt as a teen, an outsider looking in. Along the way, Regisford befriended someone who fully understands the loneliness of being a Black punk: Ruben Polo of Soul Glo, a Philly afro-punk band that uses lyrics to protest white power structures in punk and beyond. Both Regisford and Polo imagine a future where they see more diversity in the mosh pits.

Regisford says, “One day we won’t be showboating for a sea of cream.”

Experimental songwriter SAD Marquise iPhones it in

October 31, 2018

Pop Life

Text by John Morrison. Image by Charles Shan Cerrone.

It was an expensive inconvenience and a meeting with a budding rap superstar that led Philly singer/songwriter Marquise Miles (aka SAD Marquise) to a key development in his  career. “I met Chance the Rapper at a Made in America after party. We were chilling outside of the venue, and I lost my phone and all my music at that time. I asked him if he saw it. He didn’t, but I got a new phone with GarageBand on it.”

Referring to himself as an “iOS musician,” Miles explains, “I make my music solely on my GarageBand app using my phone’s mic.”

Born and raised in the Toby Farms section of Brookhaven, Miles had a musical youth, joining the Chester Children’s Chorus around age 12. Raised on a diet of R&B and soul, Miles began writing his own songs. “At the time I was inspired by Beyoncé and Brian McKnight vocally. Prince was big for me because he did it all himself, too. Legendary.” It’s telling that Prince’s D.I.Y. practice of writing, composing and creating his music on his own would serve as a key influence on SAD Marquise’s homemade aesthetic.

After releasing an EP, The Times, SAD Marquise followed up with his masterful debut full length, iPhone Pop.

Closing out iPhone Pop is “Pink Floyd,” a luminous piano ballad that clearly demonstrates Miles’ gift for constructing songs that exist as their own distinct worlds of colorful emotion and sound. In the song, Miles escorts us through a journey of pain and existential dread. “Half the world is a bastard. I preach things that I’ve yet to master,” he croons in a powerful, vulnerable tone that is part Frank Ocean, part Rufus Wainwright. The song is a fitting end to a collection of songs that exist as an ode to modern love, heartbreak and the emotional wreckage left when the two collide.

In October of last year, Miles released the Sea World EP, a gorgeous collection of futuristic love songs. Both projects were completed and released in 2017 as part of a furious outputting of creative energy and effort. “iPhone Pop took about two months to make, and it came about after I made my first EP, The Times. I wanted to make a project that was like an extended phone call through a colorful, and a little trippy, lens. Sea World was made in a few weeks. I was very inspired by the sea and its relation to sadness and emotion,” Miles explains.

Despite the downcast atmosphere that his work conjures, the music Miles creates is not hopeless; in fact it is the opposite. This is the sound of a young person wrestling with the gravity of fear and love in an age of alienation and disconnect. “I’m very into the idea of sad or melancholy songs with more lucid-feeling beats. It feels good to just say things out loud that let you tap into the hurt, but have fun with it. My upcoming mixtape, Yellow Tape, is more upbeat and light to contrast that. All my songs aren’t sad, but I am trying to create a sonic and emotional space for myself that I call my own.”

No Shame: After a mental health struggle, Petal’s Kiley Lotz is a light for others

October 31, 2018

Text by Lauren Silvestri. Image by Rachel Del Sordo.

The triumph of Kiley Lotz, better known by her stage name, Petal, seemed unimaginable only a few years ago. After relocating from New York City to Philadelphia, she returned to her hometown of Scranton early last year to enter treatment for her major depressive and panic disorders.

During treatment, she finally summoned, at the age of 25, the courage to admit to herself and others that she was queer.

“I think I always knew… but I didn’t really have examples of people who weren’t straight living their lives very publicly,” she says while sitting at a small table at Steap and Grind in Fishtown. “I just hit a breaking point where I was like, ‘If I don’t talk about this soon, I think it’s going to continue to negatively impact my life.’”

In her latest album, Magic Gone, a collection of mid-tempo pop-rock songs and contemplative ballads that she wrote over a three-year period before, during and after treatment, she wrestles with these internal struggles.

“I could have put out the record and not been specific about what [the songs are] about or what the topic is,” she explains, “but I made a conscious choice to talk about the content because I feel like it’s a universal struggle for people, and I want them to [feel] less shameful to talk about.”

The frankness of Magic Gone diverts from her previous and debut album, Shame.

“The album is so real,” states her friend and producer Will Yip, who also produced Shame and has witnessed Kiley’s evolution as an artist. “I can go on for days how she’s grown as a performer, writer, instrumentalist and singer. I don’t even consider it the same project. She’s a different beast now.”

Yip recalls how Lotz insisted on performing all the instruments on Magic Gone and recording vocals on full takes that showcase her emotional rawness and honesty.

“She’s growing into her true self, and it was a pleasure to capture on record,” he says.

Like the album cover for Magic Gone —which features Kiley crouching between a pale pink and cherry red backdrop—the songs capture a duality between more elaborate, produced songs, like the up-tempo “Better Than You” and the smoky, jazz-inspired “Shine” vs. the  more stripped-down, simple tracks like “I’m Sorry” and “Stardust.”

“They all equally strike me, but in different ways. You feel how crushing the vocals are,” says Yip.

Lotz’s big blue eyes widen with excitement when she discusses her recent tour in support of Magic Gone, which she kicked off at PhilaMOCA in June with Australian trio Camp Cope.

“The energy of the shows just felt really positive and safe and affirming for hopefully all kinds of people to come and have a good time,” she says, describing the mix of ages at the shows and the large amount of queer attendees. “I want to see how I can bring all different kinds of people together in the same space, and I feel like we were able to do that every time,” she continues.

While the album has been hailed by Rolling Stone and Pitchfork, Lotz is most concerned with how others struggling with similar issues identify with the record.

“On this tour I had a lot of young women approach me and say they read about my story and listened to the record, and it helped them come out to their families, and that felt pretty surreal. I don’t take that very lightly at all,” she says. “The state of things in the world and in our country are just so bad right now, and anything I can do that contributes to hopefully making it a better, safer place for myself and others is all I can hope for,” she adds.

Now 27, Lotz has not only accepted herself but learned to like who she is.

“It’s the best [feeling] because at one point there was a very strong possibility that I wouldn’t get that opportunity,” she says.

She emphasizes though that it’s “not a linear process,” and she expects to have ups and downs throughout her recovery.

“Instead of avoiding feeling pain, I just let myself feel sad. I don’t have to react to the sadness, but I can live in it and ask for help or just go about my day. Actually feeling heartbreak for the first time was really kind of amazing,” she says.

Now refocused on her music career, Lotz refuses to become complacent with what she views as oppressive structures in the music industry. She laments the uphill struggle for women and queer people, as well as the lack of healthcare and limited resources for musicians. When she sought treatment for her mental health disorders, she had no healthcare at the time. Fortunately the nonprofit MusiCares gave her a grant.

“It literally saved my life,” she states.

As she explains the problems in the industry, she speaks faster and with steadfast determination, her expressive face lighting up.

“If you’re not actively trying to make something better, it’s going to be the same,” she says.

Lotz recently moved to Fishtown, and the Philly community inspires her activism by the active dialogues about gentrification and how to make Philly a better place for everyone. She notices the rainbow flag everywhere and says “it’s really special.”

While Lotz prepares to go overseas supporting Shakey Graves this fall, she continues attempting to find preventative solutions to issues regarding assault, addiction and healthcare in the music industry, as well as breaking down barriers for women and queer artists.

Because of her troubled journey, she understands the value in confronting those obstacles. She realizes she needs to take care of herself, and does not have to be perfect.

She offers some words of advice: “At any point you’re unhappy, you have every right to try and change that.”

Less Than Zero: Nothing Look Back and Push Beyond

October 10, 2018

Words by Emily Kovach. Photo by Gene Smirnov.

Coming in through the back door of Ortlieb’s, the legendary jazz club-turned-modern music venue in Northern Liberties, is a disorienting experience. The mid-afternoon sunlight is quickly swallowed by the club’s windowless dark and the Lynch-ian red velvet draped behind the stage, which is weakly lit by a string of party lights. The city noise is muffled, and the recycled air is tinged with stale beer and body odor. Sun spots drift around my vision as my eyes adjust, focusing first on an ’80s arcade game in the corner called “Narc” and next on a creepy stuffed cat sitting on the window of the soundbooth.

On the low stage, the guys in the band Nothing are breaking down their gear after a practice, cracking jokes and reminiscing about old Eminem songs and his connection to 50 Cent. Their conversation is awash in reverb, ghostly little echoes picked up by a vocal mic someone forgot to turn off. “What was it, nine times, that he got shot?”   

The band is moving slowly, tired after a long morning rehearsal in the cramped space. Thanks to an ongoing arrangement with the club, Nothing has been allowed to use the room for the past few years during the club’s off hours. Today, though, they’re not packing it up until the next practice—this load-out is the unofficial start of a month-long U.S. tour spanning September and part of October; November and December will find them playing a few dates across Western Europe.

The JUMP photographer is setting up for a photoshoot, and front man Domenic Palermo announces he’s going to get changed first. “I should probably be in a shirt I haven’t been sweating in for the past four hours,” he muses. It’s a small moment, but one that points to something larger: Even without a publicist on-site, or the tour manager who will soon clear the way through the ups and downs of life on the road, Palermo knows, all punk cred aside, it’s probably best to not look a sweaty mess in a magazine cover photo. People are paying attention.

And they are. Though Nothing has been steadily gaining momentum in its seven-year run, the newest record, Dance on the Blacktop, released by Philly label Relapse Records on August 24, is pushing them ever-closer to that elusive moment of “blowing up.” Press coverage, from Revolver to NPR, has been glowingly positive (the new record was scored a 7.1 on Pitchfork, if you care about that sort of thing), they’ve got close to 93,000 monthly listens on Spotify and will almost surely sell out Union Transfer (which they call their “home venue”) on October 6.

Tour is a topic that nearly all bands have conflicted feelings about, and Nothing is no different. Yes, of course they love playing live, meeting new people, seeing old friends, experiencing different landscapes and getting a change from their regular routines. But there’s also the boredom backstage, the endless days in the van (which they’ve put 140,000 miles on in the five years since buying it), the missing of creature comforts. But ultimately, it’s a job, as Palermo points out. “We literally run ourselves to E financially when we’re doing this, because to do this band at this speed, there’s not a lot of time for anything else … we put everything into this,” he says. “[So, after tour] it’s obviously nice to not be poor for a little while.”

Looking around the table while we chat, I’m struck with the incongruence of the bands’ collective appearance and vibe and their sound. They are all heavily tattooed (Palermo has so many tattoos on his chest, it looks like he’s wearing another shirt under his clean button-up), with the aesthetic of skateboarders who know how to party; foul-mouthed ball-busters with a collective energy that borders on misanthropic.

Then there’s their music, a sort of shoegaze/grunge blend that, while maintaining a certain intensity and edge, would make a perfectly acceptable soundtrack to make out to. Most of the members of the band do, in fact, come from punk and hardcore music scenes (Palermo, notably, fronted the Philly hardcore band Horror Show), and maintain their connections to those roots through their bizarre, usually unsettling music videos (including the recently released “I Hate the Flowers,” directed by London-based videographer Matt Newman), emotionally raw and dark lyrics and their ridiculously loud stage volume, by now one of their signature calling cards.

 

There are also stints of bad behavior, both on record (Palermo served a two-year jail sentence starting in 2002 on charges of aggravated assault) and off (rumors that the band has thrown guitars into the audience during shows), though it can’t be denied that the guys have sweet sides. For example, guitarist Brandon Setta says that a watershed moment for him with the band was their sold-out show at Union Transfer on their last tour. “That’s a show I’m glad my mom was there to see,” he says. “All our families where there, all our friends were there, huge guest list … that was a defining show for me.”

Nothing is also community-minded: To celebrate the release of Dance on the Blacktop, they threw a block party in Port Richmond, near where Palermo grew up, as a sort of thank-you gift to the city. They’ve been involved with groups like Rock to the Future and are turning their record-release show in October into a fundraiser for the Philadelphia Prison Society. Palermo is also the founder of Belly of the Beats (BotB), a new nonprofit that will work toward prison reform and help families of people in the system. Through an ongoing partnership with the Pennsylvania Prison Society, the goal of the organization is to provide funding and volunteers to inmates with legal needs, assistance to their families and support during inmates’ transition to society once their sentence is complete. A core value of BotB is the belief that “reforms for inmates and an involved/informed community with the correct resources can help enact positive change, creating a domino effect to reach the youth.”

Nothing’s record label, Relapse Records, stacked with metal bands like Pig Destroyer, Obituary, and Obscura fits more closely with the band’s hardcore past. Bob Lugowe, the director of marketing and A&R at Relapse, says Nothing embodies the label’s aesthetic of “being dark, heavy and distinctive,” and “shatters conceptions on what an indie rock band can look and sound like.” The folks at Relapse originally discovered Nothing through Jeff Zeigler, a Philly producer who worked on the band’s 2014 album Guilty of Everything.

“Jeff raved about the band to us and soon as we heard [the album], we were hooked,” Lugowe remembers. “We all came out to see them open for Deafheaven at The Barbary when both bands were relatively unknown. That show sealed the deal.”

Though their live performances are epic, specifically thanks to a volume level that threatens to swallow you whole (in a good way), the band members uniformly agree that recording is their favorite mode of creativity. “You finally eventually hear your [lousy] demo turn into a huge studio sound, and it gets you more excited to work on it in a bigger way than in your bedroom,” Setta says.

Dance on the Blacktop was recorded in the late fall of 2017, in the legendary Dreamland Studio, inside a gorgeous 1896 church in Woodstock, New York, with producer John Agnello, who has worked with artists like Kurt Vile, Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr. The experience was immersive, a temporary floating Nothing Island.

“We had our own house, [we were] getting [wasted] the whole time, making music, and no one could bother us,” Palermo reflects. “Don’t get me wrong, I like playing in front of people, but recording is so much more personal … you’re in your own space.”

The result of life on the island is the nine-song full-length, headed up by the record’s first single, “Zero Day.” While unconfirmed that the song title is a nod to the Smashing Pumpkins, the first few riffs of the song channel ’90s grunge without flinching. The whole album is as awash with nostalgia as it is with distortion. The song “Us/We/are” sounds like something from a 1993-era Thom Yorke and Kurt Cobain supergroup, and, run through a different sequence of pedals, the melancholy opening notes of “The Carpenter’s Son,” a song about addiction, anger and death, could easily be mistaken for early Soundgarden.

Palermo readily admits that the album is informed by the bands he and the others loved in middle and high school, Seattle grunge, shoegaze bands from England and Boston, Britpop, and some punk and hardcore. But for him, the nostalgia goes deeper, gets personal. “Our songwriting has always been influenced by what’s going on around us, life-wise,” he says. “So, this record has that ’90s nostalgic sound and has me speaking on so many things, lyrically, from my time growing up in the ’90s in Philadelphia.”

“Zero Day,” is blanketed with a bleak claustrophobia, a feeling of being trapped, stuck, withering, as illustrated in the video, where Palermo is carried in a coffin by a group of men walking under the El train. “Light abandons me/I guess/I wasn’t meant to see/Hostage of/Unspeakable mistrust/Motionless/Emotionless/Empire of rust,” he sings in that quiet-but-tortured way of so many grunge rock front men before him. “Hail on Palace Pier” is an eerie ballad, a song for the half-feral kids running amok in the parts of the city untouched by tourism and economic progress. “Lost and found and lingering/Vapor angels climb from sewer holes/Young and dumb and full of tears/It’s never a true love until it goes,” he sings at the song’s start.

Philly is important to the band, wrapped up tightly with its identity and its history. But for Palermo, especially, it is tangled in ambivalence about his tough childhood and the weariness that comes with being a native of a place it seems no one can truly escape from. He and Setta moved to New York three years ago (the Lower East Side and Brooklyn, respectively), but somehow, Philly keeps its claws in them, pulling them back again and again with its hometown tractor beam.

“You can’t manage to get out of Philadelphia no matter what you do … no one in my family ever left,” he says. “New York doesn’t even seem like a real move.”

And so as Nothing departs for tour, crisscrossing the country, unloading at different clubs each night to play in front of bigger crowds than ever, staying in nicer hotels then ever and then heading out again each morning to do it all over again, they embrace a specific tension—a very rock and roll kind of tension—between nihilism and hope. Their name implies a void, an inevitable defeat. And their music is fatalistic and dark, dreamy in an almost-nightmare way.  “Our World is Nothing” reads the banner that hangs behind them onstage each night, but this is belied by their forward progress as a band, and the victories they’ve seen in spite of all their struggles. In their songs and videos, Nothing’s world may be full of heartbreak and chaos, but the real world is opening up for them.

 

 

Death metal quartet Horrendous’ arduous path to prog-metal greatness

October 10, 2018

Idol Hands

Words by Vince Bellino. Photo by Scott Kinkade.

The progressive death metal world is abuzz over Idol, the fourth album from Philadelphia’s Horrendous, and according to the band, the experience of recording it was excruciating.

It began in 2017, when Horrendous convened in Washington, D.C., at guitarist/vocalist Damian Herring’s own Subterranean Watchtower Studios. The setting proved to be both a blessing and a curse. On the positive side, they had all the time in the world to add layers and layers to the new album. On the flip side, they had all the time in the world.

“It was a very tedious project, especially at certain points, and it’s just a very technical and difficult record in general,” Herring says. “[It was] basically pushing our abilities as musicians, so that in and of itself is gonna result in a lot of redos and trying to fix things. Just a challenging process altogether.”

Drummer Jamie Knox describes the process as painful, with many weekends spent recording his parts and having to throw them out because they didn’t meet the lofty standards Horrendous had set for themselves.

“I remember the first weekend, we were driving home—I think I did three songs that weekend—and we listened to them in the car and I just wanted to cry,” Knox says. “In my head, I was like, ‘We’re not gonna keep any of these.’ ”

As painful as the process may have been, the band’s musicianship and attention to detail—and Herring’s skilled ear as a producer—shines through on Idol, from the cleanly sung vocals on “Divine Anhedonia” to the serpentine riffs and blistering guitar solos found throughout. The ominous introduction “…Prescience” sets the tone before making way for the pounding drums of the lead single, “Soothsayer.”

Obituary bassist Terry Butler, who shared the stage with Horrendous nightly on the Decibel Magazine Tour in 2017, also took note of the death metal phenoms’ meticulous riff craft.

“I thought they were a perfect blend of death metal and progressive death metal,” Butler recalls. “Killer riffs and cool time changes. They were very tight and showed lots of energy when they played.”

Though it’s been years since Horrendous really fit neatly into the old-school death metal revival category, there is no going back with Idol. With the release of a King Crimson-inspired album that pushes boundaries for both the band and the listener, they are counting on listeners investing their time in the record.

“I definitely hope that people give it some time to simmer,” Herring says. “It’s such a dense album, and just knowing how much time that we spent on it… even when we listen, it’s almost like we’re rediscovering things that we put in there that we didn’t remember. I just feel like if you don’t take care when listening to it, for certain people it’s almost gonna go in one ear and out the other.”

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