Friday, June 16, 2017

Interview with Pete Kowalsky of Ether (ex-Remembering Never, Bishop, Until the End, etc.)

I always get stoked to see people who have been into hardcore for a long time keeping it going, especially when they are continuing to take risks and push forward with new bands rather than resting on the laurels of their previous work. Pete Kowalsky is one such person.

Having served as the front-man for bands like Until the End, Remembering Never, and Bishop, Pete is a guy who has lived it for a very long time, racking countless miles on the road and releasing a deep and impressive back catalog.

In addition to running Dead Truth Recordings, in the last few years Pete has started a new project called Ether, which swaps out the socio-political straight edge mosh of his previous work in favor of a slower, gloomier approach.

Their new record “There is Nothing Left for Me Here”, was written in the midst of tremendous upheaval in Pete’s life, and will be coming out in a couple weeks on Dead Truth.

The band will also be doing an East Coast/Midwest run to coincide with the release of the record. If they’re coming your way, go get heavy with them.

For starters, talk a little bit about your background and childhood. Are you a lifetime Floridian? If so, how would you say coming up there impacted you....for better or for worse?

Hi, right into the deep cuts...I grew up in a broken family, single parent raising 3 kids after escaping an abusive relationship riddled with infidelity from NY to FL. I've been in FL since I was about 1, but I refuse to call myself a Floridian, especially where I live because there is 0 culture in south Florida. I would say because of my family situation I learned to detach from people easily.

I found hardcore when I was 13 by a weird coincidence that started with a death metal band called Hellwitch. Albeit separate, the late 90's had insane scenes weather it was hardcore, metal, rap metal, all of which were thriving and I wove in and out of all of them. Being so far south created a barrier to the rest of the country because we're fucking 5 hours from a border state, I think that’s a bit stifling. Also the heat cook’s peoples brains I think.

Holy shit! So in the aftermath of that, would you say you, your mom and your siblings became an even tighter support system than ever, or was everyone sort of reeling in their own separate ways?

Honestly, I think we didn't get that far because either one of my sisters lived elsewhere most of the time and my mom was at work from sun up until Sunday with a brief break to pick me up from school. My sisters are 10 years older than me so they had a different childhood than I did.
How did you stumble onto Hellwitch and what sort of spoke to you about underground music at that time?

As far as the Hellwitch thing, a family friend (sister’s ex-boyfriend) was super into metal and knew the drummer. He was the reason I got into metal at such an early age, so he brought me to their warehouse to watch them practice when I was like 11 or 12. A year later I rode my mom's beach cruiser to where I remember their warehouse was and sadly they were gone, HOWEVER, Malevolent Creation (and their side project band Hateplow) and LUNGS (formerly Collapsing Lungs) had warehouses in the same area so I hung around there as often as possible watching them practice. The dudes from MC/HP played full stacks and did coke and LUNGS was more friendly so they didn't mind me punishing them at least weekly. Tension also used to practice in their warehouse because they shared a drummer.

One day the drummer told me his old band was coming to town and invited me to the show. I went, the band was Murphy's fucking Law and they were touring with H2O (on their 1st record) and Shai Hulud opened (before the “Profound” EP)...and in that moment my life was changed forever. Hellwitch to hardcore. Music was always the only thing I was super into. No father figure to steer me in a direction, sports and bullshit. We moved often so I didn't have many friends so music was my only consistent friend. Any time I got any money ever, I spent it on cassettes and then CD’s.

FUN FACT: The guitar player from Malevolent Creation had a studio briefly and my high school rap metal band recorded there. One of our "riffs" ended up on the MC cd “The Fine Art of Murder”.
Damn that is wild!!! After the ML/H20/Hulud show what other local shows/bands did you start getting into? There are obviously lots of sick bands from Florida in the mid-late 90's, what was it like to come of age during that era?

It was a wild time really. I got into One King Down, Morning Again, Strongarm, Hatebreed, Earth Crisis, and New Day Rising super early, and that was my high school soundtrack basically. South FL was booming with tons of cool and unique bands, I felt like I hit the jackpot. Bird of Ill Omen, Morning Again, Strongarm, Glasseater, Keepsake, Poison the Well, Brethren, Where Fear & Weapons Meet... the list goes on, these are the bands that I saw every month or so and it seemed like every other weekend there was an insane show.

It was weird getting into HC at 13 as a metal kid, I felt out of place and these grown ass dudes were wearing visors and backpacks and baggy clothes, but after a while I made some acquaintances and then friends, and I started going to any show I could because I knew I was going to hear and see something thing new. Coming up at that time was weird, I saw many oddball shows like Hulud/Entombed and Coal Chamber/Bloodlet, and I existed in both worlds.

Talk about that first rap metal band, and whatever other bands you had before RN. Did you always do vocals or were you playing other instruments at that time?

Before that I played bass in a weird punk band called Incest, that was made up of old strangers. It was bad, I was never into punk music but wanted to be in a band. The rap metal band was a handful of friends that wanted to start a band and sound like Biohazard and Slayer somehow, and that sounds like an awful combination when I actually read that. I started playing guitar and vocals, switching off with someone else.

Our drummer would bail on practice so me and our bass player would go to a neighboring friends warehouse and he would play drums and I played guitar, and we used to play the first half of Hatebreed's “Satisfaction” record. This eventually led to forming the early version of Remembering Never, with me on guitar, Danny on drums (bass player of the rap metal band), and Justin on vocals (guitar/vox of rap metal band).

Alright so talk about the formation of both Until the End and Remembering Never, which both seemed to start around the same time. How did things get moving with each project, and as they started, which one would you say you were most excited about?

UTE had one practice before I joined I believe. It was Alan and Hornbrook from PTW, Wylie from MA, Dan from Keepsake, and Brendan from 200 North (now Circa Survive, weird). They wanted to be the straight edge version of Hatebreed, influenced by Machine Head. I knew Wylie from shows, he put the rap metal band on a show with The Judas Factor, it was awesome. That all kinda fell together, it was the first (and only) band I literally did almost nothing for. Obviously I was amped because I was in a band with strangers basically from bands that I was really into.

Recording the EP was a weird experience. Rich Thurtson (Culture) wrote lyrics for a song and sang it in the studio and our friend Brooklyn was losing it and carving X's into his hands. I remember feeling like I was a part of something that was important. Our first shows were super intense, everyone was super pumped on being straight edge and pissed off. It was 25 minutes of violence and pile ons.

RN started as I mentioned earlier, we just got serious from working on Hatebreed covers and started writing what was hot at the time in south FL. We wanted to sound like it all. We recorded our first record with our original lineup, which is still one of my favorite things I've ever done, and played some shows, recorded one song for a Ferret comp, and our singer quit so everyone shifted instruments basically. I started singing and we just left for tour forever.
I’m not sure which I was more excited about really, they both had their perks. I can say without a doubt RN wouldn't have ever taken off without UTE. I used to hustle RN demos on every UTE outing, made connects for shows, etc. There was some form of realization that occurred at a Hellfest during a UTE set, the dudes in RN were on the side of the stage and at one point I was laying on the stage with 30 people on top of me, nose to nose with the dudes in my band and just waving to them as they laughed hysterically. It was a weird time, man.

Haha that's incredible! So as you mentioned you got to tour a ton with both of those bands.... what were some of the best tours/shows/memories from that era?

I’ve played so many cool shows with huge bands for me that I learned to appreciate more after the fact. Perfect example, the first tour RN did was with a band called Suicide Note (imagine Black Flag and Converge joined forces)...their Ferret full-length was fucking insanity all the way through. Listening back to that record I still find new things to vibe on. Nicest guys too. I tried to get Casey to yell on an Ether track but I don’t think he does social media much.

The first out of country shows UTE did were with Cursed... that was a gut punch, before they even had a full-length out. RN toured with Ramallah which will probably be one of my favorite bands to tour with because I was such a huge fan of both their records and still love what they do. Touring with friends is always great, so tours with Most Precious Blood, On Broken Wings, Twelve Tribes, Zao, Scarlet and the like were always my favorite and are all wonderful bands in their own right.

Bishop's first Euro tour will always remain the best tour I've ever been a part of because all the best elements were there: good friends (Kingdom), good shows, good promoters, etc. There was the time in Romania that our fill in drummer got kissed by a very homely looking crust punk and at the same show Sam Kooby, being 3rd of 16 in line for food, in this case, piping hot stew, dropped the ladle in the stew and they had to find another to fish it out and serve it out. Everyone was pissed. Same show some dude was yelling "COCK MY SUCK!" at Kingdom during their set. I was steady on tour for years so a lot of it blends in really. Favorite memory was probably the Lit incident... I always get a good chuckle from that one.
Both bands (but especially RN with Ferret) rode the wave of bigger indie labels doing decently well, having good distribution, etc. to eventually crashing/fading out in many cases. What was it like to see that rise and fall first hand? I know you essentially self-released that final RN record after being on Ferret for many that point was it frustrating to have to do it yourself or was it more of a cool challenge?

Yeah, that was a weird time for hardcore. That was around the time of separation of metal-core and hardcore into more divisive scenes and the bigger HC labels (Ferret/Trustkill) got into some shit with big labels and lost their good names, which fucking sucks because both labels were those dude’s life’s work and have insane back catalogues. They got back on the horse and continued on with different names, but it’s still sad to not carry on the legacy with the original namesake.

RN fell apart due to internal bullshit that comes with 5 dudes all living together in a van and one of those dudes is doing alllll the wrong things and trying to pit everyone against each other. Starting back up was fun and the writing process was fun and I didn't know who would be interested so we just wanted to do it ourselves. We got some offers from some cool/bigger labels but I really wanted to do it ourselves which proved to be an awesome experience.

Was that the start of doing Dead Truth Recordings for you or had you been doing other stuff for a while before that? As a person who does a band and a label and thus sees things from both sides, what would you say are the most important lessons you've taken in terms of how to function in an era where so much of people's music consumption has gone digital?

With DTR we literally only planned on putting out the Remembering Never “God Save Us” record with no plans for anything else. We eventually went on to release most of the Bishop stuff and a few bands here and there (most of which broke up or stopped being active almost immediately after their album was pressed). We're just music nerds really, so any capacity that we can put out a record or band I like I will try to help in some way.

And lessons? Shit, it’s tough because taking a risk on a new band can turn out great or turn out terribly...and we've turned out more terribly than great. We were about to put out an EP for Full of Hell but my dude who sang for them quit and they had obvious lineup changes so that sank. Then we were supposed to put out a Kingdom/Axis split but some shit about the artwork happened and that got canned. We put out a really cool 7" by a band called Alarmed and it did pretty well, gave them some bucks to record their full-length and they broke up in the studio. Or Make It Reign, my dude Tony from AFB's band, imploded 30 minutes after the CD came out.

Lessons are, be prepared to get fucked and go into credit card debt. I really enjoy the process of doing my own band's releases cuz if it fails that’s on me entirely.
Talk about the origins of Ether. It’s quite a step away from RN, UTE, Bishop, etc. What made you want to explore the slower and more somber side of things?

Ether came about when RN was doing a short run with our original singer's band at the time, My Amends. I was riding with them from Philly to VA and bullshitting with their guitar player Devin (referred to as UD or Uncle Devin from here on out) and we were geeking the fuck out about NOLA bands and sludge and whatnot; Down, Crowbar, Eyehategod, etc. and just decided to try to lay some shit out along those lines.

We sent riffs back and forth, recruited our friend Chippy who always had gnarly bass sounds in previous bands and my roommate at the time on drums (who went on to play for Will To Die), then eventually Danny from RN on drums. We recorded a record, played a bunch of shows and had a ton of momentum and UD quit because he was struggling with coming out of the closet and kinda losing it a bit so he had to take a step back.

We tried to continue with a replacement but no one worked right and we just put it on hold. UD eventually joined RN years later and we figured it was as good a time as any to get back on the horse for Ether and everyone was down so we did that. With Ether it’s much more of an organic thing; the whole process, the writing, influences of stuff we listen to, the feeling, shows, etc. We don’t have to fit into a "hardcore" box because it isn’t a HC band but our work ethic is very much punk because that’s the only way I know how to do it. When I listen to music, its mostly sad or angry music, so normally I'm more inclined to play what I'm exposed to and what I identify with. Really, I'm just trying to get weird and sad with it, while trying to make ass-beater Sabbath riffs while ripping off Giant.

I think I saw somewhere that you described the new record as a "suicide note set to music". What sort of issues are you working through lyrically on this new record? I feel like your previous work has always been more social/political in nature...was it a challenge to turn inward, especially given the nature of the demons you have been wrestling with?

Hmmm yeah, musically, it’s a fucking miserable as you can get with heavy music. And on top of that, violins provide a last huge gut punch. But yea…we started writing the record a couple months before my wife left me, and the bulk of it was written during my whole grieving process (she left 2 days before I got home from a 2-week tour). All the lyrics were written after. There are only 2 (out of 7 songs with lyrics) that are about my personal shit, but that mood definitely creeped into the feel musically and lyrically for the rest of the record.
There is no good way to go about doing anything, let alone writing a record, when every day you wake up and all you want to do is kill yourself or find some kind of way out of feeling. That was all I thought about day in and day out, waking up, going to work, going to school, coming home and rotting amongst all of our stuff, begging her to come back and not understanding why she wouldn’t and not getting any sense of closure. I had friends calling me nearly every day just to check up on me, mostly to see if I was still alive.

The title of the record actually came from a conversation we had. She told me her parents told her not to work on her marriage so she could spend time to work on herself…the given reason for the split that she felt unloved. I truly believe she just didn’t want to be married anymore. I kind of knew when we started dating that she would leave one day. We signed the final papers last week or so, so there is closure on that front, but she has yet to simply say “I didn’t want to be married anymore”. I don’t think I need that closure anymore. Looking back now, it seems like such a different time.

There are still a lot of political themes on the record, most of which are based around feeling socially or politically isolated in one form or another, marginalization, how capitalism is the devil, the detriment of western ideology and normalization of Drumph (obviously). There is even a song that was based on a novel. I don’t think there is much on the record lyrically that is generally lighthearted.
I noticed you have Dan Weyandt on one of the new tracks. You've never been a big fan of organized religion (Christianity specifically) and while Zao's work has certainly grown more nuanced over time, they've always had a lot of religious themes in their material. Religious differences aside, what has drawn you to Dan's work over the years and how did you guys wind up getting him on the record?

Yes, that is correct. I’m less vocal about it in my old age because it is such an absurdity, but it’s a learned and programmed absurdity.

I liked Zao when I first heard them well enough (“Shards”), but when I heard “When Blood and Fire Bring Rest”… I lost my shit. It was the craziest thing I had ever heard and I’ve been a huge fan since. If you listen to one song on the first RN record, there is no doubt a song that would’ve fit on B & F or “Liberate”. RN was able to tour with them twice and became buds and that’s weird because I was still kinda star struck after having been a huge fan for a decade before that and that fucking voice man…it haunts.

When we were writing this record he was really the only person whose voice I felt fit perfectly in addition to our own, so he was kind enough to drop some lines on a couple songs. Perfect world; our next we write the music, he does the vox.

Alright final 2 questions. You guys are heading out for a couple weeks coming up here to celebrate the release of the new LP. What are you most looking forward to about the run...seeing old friends, playing the new material, other bands you get to share the stage with, etc. At this point you've been playing in bands for right around 20 years.... what is it about music (and heavy music in particular) that continues to draw you in?

That’s a loaded question. Since I’ve drastically slowed down touring to almost non-existence, I am able to actually enjoy being away from home and seeing places and people I don’t normally get to see, and I get to do it with some of my best friends. Everyone is vegan (except our fill in drummer who is veg/mostly vegan) so eating at new/old cool places is fun. I’m trying to ultimately hit whatever Chess records stuff possible in Chicago, Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame (which I have beef with because they have 6 miles of Paul Simon bullshit and like 3 Parliament outfits and a bass), Lasa Animal Sanctuary, and all the best vegan spots we can get to.

We’re playing with some awesome bands this run as well: Intercourse, Fashion Week, Axis, Hollow Earth, Yashira, A Film in Color, and some other cool bands. I don’t know, there’s so much, there is a life to live outside of working and rotting really, and I’m trying to experience what I can.

At this point you've been playing in bands for right around 20 years.... what is it about music (and heavy music in particular) that continues to draw you in?

In my old age and as corny as it sounds, music (heavy music in particular) has been the only thing that has been a constant since I was a kid. I’m just now learning how to be a “musician” (I don’t even know if I can properly call myself that, but I’m learning) and it’s like a new adventure. There is something that just resonates harder with metal/HC and aggressive music for me and always has.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Interview with Anthony Czerwinski of Annulment

I first got to know Anthony Czerwinksi last year when there was a comp being put together that our bands were both going to be on. The original comp line-up got changed a bit, so it didn't ultimately come together as initially intended, but Anthony struck me as a really thoughtful guy who seemed to have a lot of the same views on hardcore and such as I did. Not to mention, when I checked out Annulment's other releases, I was mighty impressed. 

Since then, the band has gone through some pretty significant line-up changes, but Anthony has kept things together and the band is currently recording what is most likely going to be their final release, a six song effort entitled "The Nihil of Vibrant Soul". Just based on the title alone, I was intrigued as I could tell there's a lot more going on than the typical hardcore record. 

We had a pretty extensive chat covering Anthony's family, views on anarchism and spirituality, and of course, the new record. Read on.

To begin with, talk a little bit about your childhood and family. To what extent was art, creativity, music part of your household coming up as a kid?

This might be a surprising question to some because it's not something I explicitly talk about, but my sister and I's childhood was heavily influenced by art because of our grandfather. Our grandfather John Buscema was a fairly well-known comic book artist with Marvel comics and also some DC stuff in the mid to late 20th century. So both myself and my sister were heavily supported when it came to the arts because of him. He was kind of like the glue that held our family together too - really genuine, generous, kind, and powerful guy. He was always pushing us to support whatever creative venture we had on our plate, my sister actually ended up going full throttle into the art field after he passed but I kind of ventured into writing because I was too intimidated to get into art full time.

I'm only now starting to say 'fuck it' and do more artwork, it's funny because I'm almost 32 and I'm only now thinking about getting into tattooing because I've worked every retail job under the sun and have been largely miserable. Punk was something that was introduced from my uncle to my sister, and then my sister onto me when I was about 10 years old. I held onto that at an early age because right off the bat it gave me something that was mine that I could hide away with. Granted, my first records I was ever introduced to were Rancid's "And Out Come the Wolves" and Op Ivy's "Energy" among other stuff that were more alternative or grunge in the 90s, but I know I listened to what little records I had to death pre-internet because I didn't know and was too young to find this stuff on my own.

It wasn't until I was 14 that I got into hardcore, and that was a huge jumping point and exploration for me because my sister wasn't really into hardcore, she was more of a punk and oi type but she did introduce me to my first two hardcore bands which as it turns out was Warzone and Blood for Blood. From there I found myself checking out Victory's late 90's/early 00's catalog and by association, Equal Vision and Revelation. I was absolutely obsessed as a teenager and it never really left me oddly enough, I'm either stubborn or stupid, haha.

Man that's awesome! Did your grandfather ever sit you down and show you the stuff he was working on, drawing techniques, etc. or was it more like you knew he was really good and you checked stuff out from afar?

No way! My grandfather was the type of guy that was extremely humble with his family, and even people outside of his family and willing to help out and guide people along. He was a really hard worker, but since he worked from home, he always made time for family and was constantly pushing me and my sister along in terms of art. Since I was just a kid though, I didn't utilize all of the resources he gave me - I was always doing other average kid things, but he was always planning for the future for us. He was definitely more like our father figure than anything else, especially since ours was out of our lives at a very young age. He himself had a really rough time growing up in the 30's and 40's in the red hook district of Brooklyn, he grew up really poor and his family life was far from stable, so this was a guy who built a life for himself out of complete ruin.

Have you ever talked to your uncle about how he fell into stuff when he was young? Did he ever take you and your sister to shows at all, or was it more like you guys just knew he was in the know on cooler shit?

My uncle was on a completely different plane of existence and underground music was something he exited out of by the time he was in his early 20's. I've never actually talked to him about what shows he'd seen but he would have been of a ripe enough age to see Cro-Mags during the AOQ-era, Gorilla Biscuits, and Youth of Today. I know he liked Suicidal Tendencies and the Dead Kennedys. I'll have to ask him about it one day, but I largely got into a lot of music through my sister.

Alright so you mentioned getting big into Victory and EVR when you were young....what were the shows like when you first started going and what bands made an impression on you? Obviously Long Island has such a storied scene and so many great bands, give us some insight into what it was like to experience that when you were coming up.

Going to hardcore shows on Long Island in 2001-ish were much different than going to shows now. It was the tail end of all of the 90s stuff that happened out here and bands like Vision of Disorder, Neglect, Indecision, and Silent Majority really weren't around anymore. The influence of all of that stuff was pretty huge though, especially Silent Majority. SM have always been like a reference point for a lot of bands that came after in the early 2000s - absolutely a band like Crime in Stereo or Heads Vs. Breakers (though Rich Jacovina from SM was in H vs. B for their entirety)

However, Kill Your Idols was really huge around here and they carved out their own niche within our scene and exploded. Really important LI band regardless of what your stance on them is. It was locals that made an impression on me first, and the vibe was more chill than how outwardly violent shows around here are today. That's not to say that early 00’s shows were any less energetic, but there was definitely more of an emphasis on pile-on’s and sing-a-longs than explicitly going to a show and expecting your teeth to get knocked in. Whenever there was any bullshit or nonsense, it was taken care of and people were confronted and thrown out of shows by the other attendees. No one does that anymore, but that's not to say Long Island is any less unified, it's just different now.

Melodic hardcore and straight up hardcore isn't as big now as it was then, metal-core and heavy hardcore seems to be taking the helm this era. Shows were always really diverse back then too - it wasn't uncommon to have a hardcore, metal-core, indie, singer-songwriter, punk, and emo band all on the same show. At some points I remember electronic projects being on hardcore shows for better or worse depending on who you asked, haha. Also pamphlets, benefits, donation jars for various causes. We're just seeing that coming back now over here.

Locals of my era that made an impression on me as a teenager were Subterfuge (Rick from This is Hell's band before This is Hell) Strongpoint, Gabriel, Heads Vs. Breakers, The Backup Plan, Kill Your Idols, Celebrity Murders (Artie from Indecision), Blood Red (ex-Silent Majority). Pretty much anything that wasn't Glassjaw (though Sons of Abraham were great) or Brand New. I couldn't stand that entire school of stuff because it harped on so many themes and attitudes that were born from our underground scene but was completely contrary to what makes Long Island's scene great. Pushed to the front, and it's what Long Island was largely known for. To each his own, of course, but I found the overall integrity of that stuff lacking when Long Island has so many diamonds in the rough. Bands that made an impression on me in general as a teen - Bane ("Holding This Moment"), The Hope Conspiracy, One King Down ("Bloodlust Revenge"), Most Precious Blood, Hatebreed, Stay Gold, Judge, Cave-In, Converge.

Talk a little bit more about that cultural change....less posi, less ideas oriented. That's something I've definitely noticed over the years as well...what do you see as driving that evolution and how do we bring it back around?

I can't say for sure, and I tread carefully when discussing this sort of thing because it seems to be reoccurring attitude to use the old "well, hardcore's not like it used to be" scapegoat. I mean, it's never going to be like whatever you or I were comfortable with it being or representing, that's dogma, and fuck dogma, that's what all of the older crowd who were in bands in days' past are trying to push onto the kids to keep their vision on life-support a bit longer to satiate whatever fragile ego they've built up. I have more of a problem with that than hardcore changing. it's going to shapeshift into something else almost by default.

What people seem to forget is that when you're heavily involved or devoted to a space, you are free to create within it. 90% of the time you're going to fall flat on your face, but it's worth committing to being the change you want to see. Admittedly, I get awfully jaded and bitter at times, but a larger part of me realizes that you can't fault a teenager or young kid just getting into this to adhere to you or I's vision of hardcore if it's something they've otherwise not been exposed to. Hardcore is not above marketing either, it's strange to me to be aware of what school of bands is the hot new thing, and I can't tell if it's a hot new thing or if people are actually finding substance in what's puked out at them. I would venture a guess that the internet and bands and shows being oversaturated and hyper-accessible might have a bit to do with how disposable hardcore can feel at times.

I'm not going to harp on "well this is what I had to do to find a show" nonsense, but there is some truth to the fact that social media has made flyering and booking shows INFINITELY easier. I can't speak too much on this because I got into this at the transition period of show dates being available on the internet, but they were always on some really crude website or forum. I also think a lot of people don't put their money where their mouth is either, and I think a lot of people overlook context in nearly every situation that sprouts up. I truly feel like this is a material problem, no matter what wing you lean towards, and in a lot of ways it feels like a smokescreen.

We live in really weird times and we're moving towards even weirder shit. People feel safer than they actually are, and that kind of recklessness is definitely a young man's game.

At what point did you start to pick up the mic/guitar and start doing your own projects?

I've been playing guitar since I was 19 (poorly) but I've only sung in two bands. My first was when I was 20 in a band called Invade, which actually wasn't terribly different from Annulment. We had a lot of momentum and we even got to do two splits, one with our friends in In Times of War (the same singer, Tim, sings in Carcosa now) and the other was with Die Young. It was cool because we had a ton of momentum propelling us forward but I was dealing with some pretty severe mental health issues in my early 20’s so I wasn't able to commit to the band and go on tour like we planned. I left the band and they kept going a bit longer, but they eventually called it quits shortly after.

The great thing about Invade is that I kept really close with all of those guys after the fact, they were so cool about my entire situation and were truly my friends before they were my bandmates. It took about 7 years of working with various people to finally get Annulment up and running, first started by our former guitarist Brian Christie. To be able to have something tangible I can put my hand in creating is essential to my sanity, haha.

I'm not sure if I'll ever stop playing music, I actually started playing guitar way more seriously lately, Matt Reed who was the previous singer of Jukai has been helping me out a ton, he's a crazy-skilled musician and also has had his hand in Annulment too. I hope I get to work with him too in the future, definitely a solid and genuine person.

Take us through your time with guys have the e.p. on Blasphemour, a couple digital songs and now you're working on the final will and testament. What would you say was the vision for the band both lyrically and sonically when you started, and how close would you say you've come to realizing that vision?

Annulment started in 2013 between me and Brian Christie, though our current guitarist Simon Swist was technically in the band from the beginning, but he left for a couple of years and we had him back with us in 2015. We had several other people play bass, second guitar, and drums. At this point I guess I’m the only original member the whole way through. For this upcoming record Dan Lomeli from Incendiary was kind enough to help us out with drums and working with him has been great, really laid-back, up-for-anything, salt-of-the-earth kind of guy. Our other friend Randy Nieves is on bass for the recording, also a really solid guy we all know from back in the day which was cool because we’ve been without a bassist since December.

Simon’s been handling the guitar-work and generally piecing together and writing a lot of the songs, which has definitely been a trip. I love working with the dude because he has a really good ear, a good taste in what works and what doesn’t, and I relate him in the sense that we both create manically and obsessively until whatever we’re working on is where we want it to be. As it turns out, he’s going to be working on mixing our record too, and I think he’s going to be doing more of that in the future too; he’s starting up a mixing and mastering gig called Late Bloomer Audio.

Annulment began as a really politically-driven band, and I’ve always tried to assess things I found to be detestable and grossly-exploiting. However, I found a problem with this along the way – not in what I was writing but that I didn’t want to pigeonhole ourselves as strictly-politics. I’ve always had a really easy time writing this sort of thing because it was stuff that deeply frustrated me, but you don’t have to look far anymore, these issues are everywhere.

It became apparent when we were writing and recording the “Filth Upon a Gaping Maw / Rage Against the Dying Light” 2-song’er that I was starting more and more to write about myself. It’s something I’ve previously had a really hard time doing because there’s a sense of narcissism that comes with publicly revealing yourself like that and in a lot of ways I felt selfish and shameful in writing about myself. But I’m also changing as a person too; there’s such an emphasis on labels, alignments, and absolute, black-and-white ideologies these days that I’m seeing intense isolation in other people as well as myself.

This is probably the first time I'm publicly stating this, but I feel more and more distance from traditional atheism, which is weird for me to say because it's something I rigidly adhered to since I was about 17. I’m not exactly sure where my beliefs lie but they’re more ambiguous than concrete at this point, which makes more sense for me as an anarchist. Whether it’s allegorical or literal, it’s still the same value to me. But, I'm seeing a sort of dogma in schools of thought that people like Richard Dawkins spearhead that is damn near equivalent to the sort we've been seeing fundamentalist theists put forth for centuries.

They are quite literally two sides of the same coin, their actions and motives are alarmingly similar. I believe in the sciences, but you can’t deny that there’s a sort of imperialism as to how it’s steamrolling its way through culture through colonialization and a sort of technophilia – we are quite literally a skip away from living in Blade Runner, and I have mixed feelings about that because technology as it stands is almost always going to be within a capitalist context, lining someone’s pockets, or turning the environment into a frothing septic tank - we already see this most perversely with the hold of the pharmaceutical and food industries in this country.

On the “Celestial Mother…” EP, I finished off the record with some alluding to where I was going spiritually with “Lilith of Fair Soil…” which was both allegorical and literal to me. It’s a common figure, but Lilith is a demon from Jewish mythology who was told to have been the first woman before Eve, and created at the same time as Adam. Lilith refused to be subservient to Adam, and consequently left Eden as a result – thus Eve was created to replace Lilith, who in some context might be represented as the first true rebellion, question, or refusal.

On "The Nihil of Vibrant Soul", our final record, this is a record about egoism, both in myself and forces that attempt to dictate others and the idea of egoism turning inward on itself. It's the literal and allegorical idea of the Gnostic demiurge Yaldabaoth, who as the mythology goes was a being or force that created the Earth but is a false god that is not the true creator of the universe. It keeps us suspended and trapped in time, mortality, and illusion and feeds itself off of human suffering believing that it created the entire cosmos and handicapping our potential. True salvation lies beyond overcoming this illusion and reaching the true "source" and the interesting thing about Gnostic thought is that there is no real legitimate hierarchy. In knowing, people have the ability and means to become equal to this "source", rather than live under the thumb of a false creator.

I thought this was a great analogy especially to the current state of American life, government, oppression, and means of control. In a sense, we all live in the Gnostic dilemma on a physical plane at bare minimum. Amebix was a band that realized a lot of these same themes and I definitely cite them as an influence too. 108 is a band that while I don't agree with everything they had to say, are probably the best and most important band to come out of hardcore because they definitely initiated a lot of important dialogue.
Ego is a powerful driving force, we see it in people whose voices are so loud to the point of narcissistic personality disorder, to sheer manipulation, and even depression has a lot to do with the ego. I see all of this in myself and also people I've known over the years.

The need for control and adoration is poisonous and if not truly and selflessly devoted to something outside of yourself, surrounding yourself with fiercely-creative and benevolent company, and by association some kind of self-discipline, I can guarantee that any and all people trapped in the confines of that egoism will have very sad, unfulfilled, and tragic ending to their lives. Over the years we’ve had overdoses and suicides from our friends; young people, and I can’t help but keep coming to that conclusion. Work through your shit and be devoted to others, you'd be surprised what kind of true and powerful bonds you'll create. We are not as grand as we build ourselves up to be. Fuck charisma without substance and merit to back it. That's a really hard lesson I had to learn and will continue to learn. All in all, I'm not sure what material I could even possibly write after this record, it feels very conclusive in a lot of ways. I'm excited to share it even if one or two people listen to it. I’ve always been in this for personal growth, dialogue, and deep bonds.

It's awesome to see you bring up these deep ideas, I wish more people in hardcore were wrestling with these big questions. So I come from a pretty religious background and have retained a lot of those spiritual beliefs but at the same time have shed a lot of them as well. largely because of what I've encountered through punk and hardcore. It's interesting to hear you talk about the limits of human capacity ("we are not as grand as we build ourselves up to be") while at the same time identifying as an anarchist. 

One of the criticisms that's always been in my mind when I hear people talk about anarchism is like yeah it's great to talk about autonomy and being unbounded and all that, but on the other hand, history has shown us that as humans we are more selfish and vicious than I think we even understand, so a little humility, and gasp! submission to some sort of authority is probably needed to control the worst of our excesses. Talk a little bit more about bringing together an anarchist perspective and an understanding of the human condition (I realize this is the type of question about which whole volumes are written, haha).

I think by nature something like punk rock and hardcore gives us a sense of skepticism for the organized religions we likely grew up with. I remember questioning at a very young age though, even before getting involved in underground music. I grew up Catholic and went to an afterschool program to receive communion and confirmation. I think I was about in 5th grade when I asked a question about Adam and Eve because I was confused as to how we were all descendants of two humans because it conflicted with what I was learning in the sciences at public school about genes overlapping and creating birth defects due to incestuous procreation. Basically the answer I got was “well, don’t you believe in miracles?” and that kind of set off a lightbulb in my head at a young age that critical thought was being squashed at the most basic level.

That’s not to say that I came from a deep and strict religious household though. As weird as it was growing up, we were never pressed for what we believed or disbelieved. We celebrated religious holidays for sure (and still do) but we were never really observing the religion, it’s always been more of a sense of family tradition and being a part of a societal norm than being explicitly connected to a religious observation spiritually. More frankly, it’s just an excuse to get the family together. But I can count on one hand the amount of times we actually went to church as a kid, haha. My family also saw any sort of spirituality as taboo – they’re the kind of people that aren’t really offended by astrologers, psychic mediums, or witchcraft. In that regard we had it really easy growing up!

As far as anarchism and spirituality goes, I strongly believe that they can go hand-in-hand. The issue is that we have monocultures and dogmatic schools of thought hovering over us. One thing that comes to mind was lightly studying anthropology when I was at university, specifically ancient African civilizations. This stuff changed my outlook on things significantly. From what I learned, pre-civilization humans traveled in extremely small groups of people, categorically ‘bands’, which is even smaller than a tribe – consisting of roughly about a dozen or so people. What’s really interesting is that by nature there wasn’t really a hierarchy to these bands of people, it was largely egalitarian, they just had duties so that they could actually subsist and survive (sounds a lot like anarchism to me) They also had spiritual beliefs too, believe it or not, but their gods were personal gods, and sometimes they were gods and deities and took the form of their deceased relatives and ancestors.

Here’s where things get interesting. As civilization grew and became more complex – from bands, to tribes, to chiefdoms, to states, to empires; it becomes less egalitarian and there is more of a need of a unified state spirituality, alignment, and cause in order for society and nation to function as a whole – but at what cost? It’s a no-brainer I guess; if you have millions or billions of people claiming their own individualized spiritual and political presence, there’s no unification if you have several dogmatic or resistant beliefs. Actually, they don’t even need to be dogmatic or resistant, if they’re merely different in any capacity that doesn’t support the larger growth; it becomes a problem in the eyes of an overreaching state.

Pure anarchism is largely a dream in the modern era, especially when we’ve overpopulated ourselves to exceed seven billion and growing, it would come off in a lot of regards as wholly selfish, which is why you see a lot of anarchists jumping ship and becoming anarcho-communists because (admittedly) it makes more sense in historical and in current political context. But I think to an extent, even in a seemingly egalitarian system like that, there’s still a degree of state control no matter how you slice it. As a point of reference, it’s no secret that Gnostics were largely exterminated by the greater Christian following and were nearly wiped out of Christian canon entirely until we discovered the Nag Hammadi texts in the 1940s. Which by the way, when Christianity was first founded, there were something like 100-150 sects of it. The idea of a state religion is absolutely an imperial endeavor.

I can’t speak for the rest of Annulment because I know we’ve always been a diverse bunch, but I have to really drive the point that I’m personally in complete opposition to Libertarianism or Anarcho-Capitalism (which is not anarchism any way you look at it. Ayn Rand and Rothbard were not anarchists) which is probably also why LaVeyan Satanism never appealed to me either, which just kind of comes off like Ayn Rand “fuck you, got mine” rhetoric with spooky and edgy teenage poetry. Of course, there are other schools of Satanism that are more cohesive but as a whole it never really appealed to me for its overemphasis on personal power and less on personal sacrifice. To me it just comes off to me as people who have tendencies of unapologetic empire-building and are largely afraid to die.

The strongest people I know are the most humble. They’re not doormats, but they’re spiritually connected to the idea that we exist here on an expendable physical plane and that materialism is worthless; that our personal connections to people, weakened groups of people, and self-exploration are so much more valuable and any wealth or power. But also that violence is sometimes necessary to defend these things as well on a personal, not militarized level.

As far as the idea of authority, I think leadership and authority are two entirely different things. Fuck anything that refers to itself as authority. We don’t need authority, but we can certainly stand to learn from the leadership of our peers. Some people are just better suited for certain tasks, and are better suited to learn from than others. All of this can still be egalitarian. A lot of my friends are way better musicians than I am and of course I’m going to learn from them instead of get this pig-headed idea in my mind that I can currently do better than them on my own. Maybe one day, but not today haha. I feel like you can apply that to nearly anything, I’ve always treated other people as equals even if there’s a difference in ability. I think that’s what anarchism is all about. Again, removing the ego, which is not the same as confidence but a perversion of it.

In the idea of humans being vicious and selfish, yes, that’s an unfortunate side of duality all of us come to face at one point or another. We can be ugly, disgusting, awful creatures to one another but we can’t curse this part of ourselves either, that ugliness is very much a part of us but we don’t have to feed it either. I also see no problem with excommunicating (not imprisoning) someone from a community if they are innately malicious and malevolent towards the community. That brings up a lot of grey areas and aspects of agreed-upon communal law and there are always ugly variables to deal with but the point is that nothing is black and white and you have to look at things on an individual basis. There is nothing inherently wrong with bending in my opinion.

As far humans being vicious and selfish in the modern era, I could chalk that up to the fact that there’s an obscene economic disparity between one person and another. We’ve been poisoned by the idea that we deserve and are entitled to the opportunity to build empires and I’d like to think we’re capable of being more than a colonial virus.

Alright so let's bring this back to Annulment and the new/final record you guys are working has the recording process been going thus far, and what should people expect from it sonically?

Recording has been going great. We recorded all of the instruments in a few days with our friend Taykwuan and in the coming weeks we’re doing vocals separately and taking a bit more time with that. Simon’s taking care of mixing the record, and we talked about sending it to Audiosiege to be mastered but we’re still unsure of that currently. It might take a few more months for all of this to be pushed out, but I would rather us be obsessive and particular about fine tuning the record to get it where we want rather than rush out something that could’ve been better.

I’m sure all of us would have a different input as to what the record sounds like sonically, but to give an idea – I would say that this record is some kind of cross-pollination of Jesuit, Unbroken, Deadguy, Converge, Turmoil, and a touch of Integrity. I hope I’m accurate in that description, but that’s the vibe I’ve gotten from us writing these songs for the last couple of years. Though those influences are rooted in the 90s, it’s definitely got a different vibe than the deliberate heavy 90s hardcore influence we had in the first release. The 2-song EP we put out in 2015 probably serves as a transition marker for sure.

As a final will and testament so to speak, what do you hope people take away from it?
I haven’t really thought about what I hope people take away from it because I’ve been so involved in internalizing the writing process. Whereas on previous releases, especially “Celestial Mother…” I was writing to reach out to people who felt the same way about social issues and find some semblance of a community. To an extent that was successful because I made a few good friends in other scenes out of it.

This is the first time I’ve found myself writing a very selfish record lyrically. It’s entirely unhinged and raw, and if people relate to it that’s fantastic, but like I said before, I’m in this for the dialogue. There’s definitely a part of me that’s curious to know what people take from it, if anything, and I hope I can look forward to some conversations in the future. There’s not enough of that in hardcore, in my opinion. Any and all criticism is always welcome, I’m not thin-skinned about what I create, I have no delusions about sitting on some golden egg or being entitled to reap the benefits of something I worked on or some nonsense.

Simply put, this record is just a lot about coping with my own experiences – socially, spiritually, and internally. The only stake I have in this is urging people to keep their minds open and look past a lot of the illusory waste that surrounds us; it’s not merely outside and explicitly pressing against us, it’s also very close to us – the people you keep closest and agree with you the most could often turn out to be the most vile. Make friends with a supposed enemy. You have no idea how valuable your presence could be in someone else’s life and how your dedication, drive, and consistency could change them and yourself. There is no polarity, just intention.

You mentioned potentially continuing to create music with some of the people involved in the current incarnation of Annulment, what sort of project are you hoping comes next?

I’ve been messing around with guitar, I don’t think I’ll ever personally stop making music. It’s compulsory, obsessive – the healthy kind, I assure you haha. Who really knows for sure, but I’ve always wanted to do something a little bit lighter – we’ll see how true to reality that actually sticks though. It’s true that this is shaping up to be our last hurrah of sorts, but I can’t predict what happens today or tomorrow. We may play a few more shows, we may play a good amount more, we may never play a show again. But this band certainly has a timeline, however long that stretches. It’s exhausting to reintroduce and say goodbye to several people when you’re steering a singular, lasting project. At what point do you hang it up and devote your energies elsewhere? If Axis comes back to Long Island and Withdrawal tours out this way again, maybe we’ll stick around for a bit longer. That’s my unreasonable ultimatum and I’m sticking to it. Anyway, thanks for the approach!

Annulment's "The Nihil of Vibrant Soul" will be out later this year. 

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Interview with Eric Dudley from Leveless (ex-Whenskiesaregray)

If you've followed my blog for a while, you probably know I like lots of different stuff that falls within the punk/hardcore/DIY spectrum, but I have a definite sweet spot for screamier type stuff. When I was in college the main kid who booked shows in Grand Rapids definitely gravitated toward that style, so I saw a lot of those kinds of bands, and was always drawn to their sense of urgency and intensity.

Anyway, I checked out Whenskiesaregray a couple years ago when they released their LP on Mayfly, ordered a copy from the band direct, but had to miss them when they came through Michigan on tour.  I was psyched when they came through again this past Fall, now as Leveless. While I dug WSAG, the live experience of seeing Leveless definitely exceeded my expectations. 

There was a different heaviness involved from what I was anticipating, pulling from noisier, metallic hardcore while at the same time still being rooted in the sonic geography of WSAG. I loved it, and thus decided to reach out to bass player Eric Dudley to learn more.

Leveless will be on tour much of the year, and have a new record coming out this Spring on Broken World Media. Don't sleep.  

I'm always interested in people's roots, so talk a little bit about your, childhood, etc. and how you eventually got into music stuff. 

I grew up in Brookeville, MD - a suburb of Montgomery County in between DC and Baltimore with my Mom, Dad, and Sister (older). I wouldn't necessarily say I grew up in a musical family, but music seemed to be always around. Whether it was riding in the car with my mom listening to top 40 or my dad using a Pink Floyd song to start the outgoing message for our answering machine. My whole family played instruments in the school band, but that didn't last any longer than when they graduated. I attempted to play saxophone in 4th grade, but that was short lived. They wanted me to practice all summer? Not for me. I was more interested in playing Goldeneye for N64 with my friends.
Fast forward to about 7th grade. I'd say that's when music really started to become a big part of my life. I had just given up on my dreams of becoming a professional baseball player and consequently that's when I started to become exposed to alternative music that spoke out to an audience of those who felt unaccepted. My sister was consistently listening to alternative radio stations while I was in the car and I liked what I heard. Korn, Linkin Park, and Papa Roach were in constant rotation in my portable CD player.
As my sister’s musical tastes grew, so did mine. The Offspring, Blink 182, and Good Charlotte were gateway bands to more of the punk rock side of things. Bad Religion, Less Than Jake, and Rancid were introduced in to my life. I knew I wanted to play this type of music that I was listening to. So, one Christmas I asked my parents for a bass guitar. I got lucky and they got me a black Squire P-Bass. Ever since then I've been in a band of one form or the other for the past 14 years. 
What lead you to want to pick up a bass as opposed to guitar or drums? Did you take lessons or did you just start figuring shit out on your own?

I think there were three reasons why I picked up the bass. 

1. My sister had attempted to get an electric guitar, but my parents would only allow her to get an acoustic. I knew the only way I could get an instrument at the time was through my parents purchasing it for me. I chose the bass because although there are acoustic basses, they are way less common than acoustic guitars. So, there was less likely a chance of my parents saying I needed to get an acoustic bass before I could get an electric

2. I feel like a lot of people don't realize the bass guitar is different than the guitar. It felt like a unique instrument that not many people in my area were playing. I knew of 5-6 guitarists at my school and maybe one bassist. Supply and demand. Little did I know that in the future drummers would prove to be a more difficult position in a band to fill than bass.

3. Mark Hoppus

I took lessons for about 2-3 years at a local music shop. It was a lot of learning other bands songs once I got the basics down. The lessons helped me out when I started messing around playing jazz. 
At what point did you start learning about the more DIY side of punk and hardcore? What were some of the first shows you went to, bands that you really connected with, spaces you spent time at?
I actually got into the DIY side of punk and hardcore right around when I started playing music. A lot of the first shows I attended were of local bands made up of kids around my same age. I became big fans of those bands and since I couldn't drive to DC or Baltimore it was much easier to get a ride to a basement show that was 20 minutes away from my house.
One venue that really stands out was called Blondeshells. It was basically a venue in this ladies (Mrs. Jones) basement where she would host shows. It was her response to needing a safe space where her daughter (Charlotte) could attend shows. What's safer than your own home!? I must have played 30 shows there and attended countless more. I saw bands like The Max Levine Ensemble, The Flaming Tsunamis, Valencia, etc. play in that basement. They always had Twinkies and Kool Aid which was an added bonus. 
Haha that bass story is so sneaky and awesome! Also, 2017 goals: Twinkies and Kool-Aid have to become widespread expectations for all promoters! 
So what were some of those first bands you were doing down in Mrs. Jones's basement? 

I had two bands that played Mrs. Jones basement. The first was a ska punk band that probably played there 30 + times. We would play a mixture of originals and Choking Victim/Aquabats covers. The other band that played was a weird combination of genres ranging from post hardcore to electronic. We only played one show there and I don't believe we were very well received.
At what point would you say you started to become more "serious" with stuff in terms of trying to tour, release records, etc.?                                                                     

I'd say the goal for me was always to tour and make records with all of my bands since day one, but I believe things really clicked in about 2007 right after I graduated high school. I joined a new band that was pretty established in the local Baltimore scene. They had decently recorded demos and were playing some of the more reputable clubs around town. They were already doing things that I wish my previous bands could have accomplished. I think it really helped that everyone in the band had either graduated high school or dropped out. None of us were attending four year universities and were just working and playing in a band. That band is the one where I got my first taste of recording in a professional recording studio and the one I did my first tour with. 

Talk about the formation of Whenskiesaregray. How did you all meet one another, and what were some of the shared influences you guys tried to build upon?

I can't talk too much about the initial formation of Whenskiesaregray, seeing how I was the third bassist to be a part of the band. I believe they were a band a couple years before I joined. I would like to think that when people look back on Whenskiesaregray they will hopefully think of the lineup with me in it. When I joined they were currently playing shows without a bass player. My band had just broken up and I had heard of WSAG through mutual friends and the internet.
So basically, one day I commented either on Brandon's Facebook wall or the band's if they needed a bass player. We jammed for about a month and then they asked if I wanted to be a permanent member. This was right around the time when the "screamo revival" was really popping off, so we bonded over bands like Pianos Become The Teeth, La Dispute, and Loma Prieta to name a few. The more we practiced/hung out, the more we found common interests musically. Groups like Saves The Day, Strike Anywhere, and Poison The Well were all band favorites. I'd also like to note that one of Brandon's main song writing influences is Modest Mouse. I was not necessarily a fan when I joined WSAG, but after working with Brandon for years I have grown an appreciation for them.
I noticed several WSAG releases were recorded by Mike from Pianos Become the Teeth.  I sometimes see bands talk about a particular engineer almost as if they were an additional member; what kind of chemistry did you develop over the years with Mike?

When I joined Whenskiesaregray recording with Mike was already scheduled to take place within a couple months. I'm not 100% sure on why he was selected to record the first WSAG album, one would have to ask the other members, but I'm glad we went with him! Early on, recording with Mike provided a sense of confidence that I think we all desperately needed.
If someone from a band that was on the rise, playing a somewhat similar genre, liked our songs then we must be doing something right. As the years went on we recorded two more albums with him. Despite his obvious musical talent and knowledge of recording, I think we kept going back to him because he did become like a fourth member. He had a devotion to our band that we couldn't find anywhere else. We knew going in to the studio that he would be striving to put out the best possible end product. He knew how to push us, so we could progress.
How did you wind up connecting with Mayfly for the release of the LP? Doing an LP feels like such a huge there anything you would have done differently in terms of writing, recording, etc.?

It's actually a pretty interesting story on how we got hooked up with Bob and Mayfly Records. During one of our earlier tours we played a show in Cleveland at this venue called The Tower. We had hopped on the show last minute and were given a 15 min time slot. I think there were maybe 8-10 bands on the bill. There were two other bands on the bill like ours, our tour mates Tigerscout and another touring band called Apart.

Besides that, all the bands were tough guy hardcore. At that time, Apart was a band on Mayfly Records, so Bob had come out to the show to check them out. We played our short set to an unresponsive crowd. We didn't sell any merch and didn't get paid. Our drummer ended up getting kicked in the stomach by someone in the pit and the show ended with people throwing glass bottles from the roof onto people hanging outside the show. We packed our things up and headed to the next city writing off that show as a bust. A few weeks later I believe Bob contacted Brandon via FB asking about the band and future plans. I believe the conversation continued for months here and there. We just kept in touch and kept him in the loop of our plans and one day he asked if we wanted our record to be released by Mayfly, so we jumped at the opportunity. It's the perfect example of play hard no matter what the gig is because you never know who is watching. 

One regret regarding the LP is that I wish we would have recorded it in one location. Due to scheduling/financial issues we ended up recording instruments in several different spots. Guitars were done at a dog grooming shop (shout out to Phil!), vocals were done at Charm City Art Space (RIP), and only drums/bass were recorded in an actual studio. Mike and Dan did an amazing job mixing/mastering the record to make it sound cohesive, but I still think it might have sounded better if all done in one place. The only other regret is that we didn't tour that much in support of it.
What ultimately led to the dissolution of WSAG?

I would say what lead to the dissolution of WSAG was member changes. There was also always this cloud hanging over our heads that we thought people might be turned off to our band based on the name. 
Alright let's bring it to the present.....a year or so ago WSAG sort of transformed to Leveless, you picked up a couple new members, etc. Talk about how that transition all went down.
The transition from Whenskiesaregray to Leveless has been smooth, but also rough. I'd say it was smooth in the sense that we were basically starting a new band, but had connections that most new bands would not have right off the bat. I don't think most new bands are able to get merch fronted to them for tours. We were starting off right where Whenskiesaregray left off.
On the other hand, it was rough getting friends and fans on board. Everyone had become so accustomed to WSAG. With Leveless not playing many shows/not having any music out, people were really unsure what to expect. We're still working on that, but the more and more we play out and post content online, I think people are starting to get into it. At least I hope?
When I saw you guys back in October, there were definitely a lot of similarities sonically to WSAG, but I was also picking up some Breather Resist-type noisy hardcore vibes as well. What kind of influences are currently in the mix and where are you hoping to move things sonically?

The goal when starting to write for Leveless was to sound like early 2000's post hardcore. You hit the nail on the head with Breather Resist. We were also channeling bands like Poison the Well and Hopesfall. I think we ended up accomplishing that goal, but with each member having a wide variety of musical influences, we ended up with a final product that I feel is pretty unique. This was the first time for most members writing together, so I think we were searching for our sound. I expect the next record to be a more mature/polished version of the previous album. 

In the video teaser you guys posted the other day I think I only noticed 4 members, with vocals coming from a member who was also playing guitar...however in October you were a 5 piece with a standalone vocalist...has the line-up evolved more since the Fall?

We've been working on Leveless for about a year now. That includes writing/recording/branding. When we first started, we were a four piece. About eight months into the process we added another guitarist (Nate) and Brandon moved to just vocals. A lot of things had been in motion for months before Nate joined. We spent a lot of time, energy, and money on the video/photos, so we didn't want them to go to waste. We will be represented as a five piece moving forward. 

Related to the video, it would obviously appear that new material has been recorded. What can you tell us about the writing/recording process for those songs, when they might see the light of day, label stuff, etc. Was the new stuff recorded by Mike as well or did you guys go elsewhere this time?

The writing process started to really get going in February of 2016. It was very sporadic though. With a member living out of state, school, and work scheduling practice/writing was a bit difficult at times. Some weeks we'd be able to get together 2-3 times and others we'd have to share material via videos through the web. Despite the limitations, I'd say it was the quickest writing process I had ever been a part of.

We recorded during the summer, split between two sessions. Both sessions were done at Developing Nations in Baltimore. Kevin Bernsten engineered/mixed the album. We're going to be releasing the album via Broken World Media on Vinyl/Cassette/Digital formats the Spring of 2017. 

What else is in store for Leveless this year? 

We plan to tour throughout 2017 and work on new material for the next album.