Monday, March 3, 2014

Interview with Will Allard from Xerxes

It had literally been almost a decade since I'd booked a show, but back in 2010 I decided it was time to throw my hat in the ring again; and the first band I booked was Xerxes from Louisville. “Twins” hadn’t even come out on vinyl yet, but despite being really young, they absolutely killed it and you could tell they were super hungry and had their shit dialed in.

I booked them once or twice more, and hit it off pretty well with their bass player (now guitar player) Will Allard. He’s always seemed rather quiet and reserved, but he’s one of the nicest kids I’ve met through booking shows and has a sly, biting sense of humor.

Anyway, it’s been pretty cool as an outsider to watch them grow over the past couple years from that young screamo band on one of their first tours to a band that has really evolved and that to me seems on the cusp of doing some really cool things artistically.

I sent the first batch of these questions to Will like 6 or 8 months ago; he got real busy and never responded. I had sort of forgotten about them when a few days ago a bunch of answers showed up in my messages. I sent a few follow-ups and boom, here it is.

Xerxes is set to record their second LP for No Sleep at the end of next month; add it to your “most anticipated” list kids.

You're barely over 20 and yet you've done more in terms of touring, recording, etc. than most people a decade or more older. Talk to me about how you got turned on to punk and hardcore.
When I was in elementary school, I spent summers at a YMCA day camp. The locations changed year to year, but I always had the same camp counselor. He had an X tattooed on his ankle and EDGE scribbled on the inside of his lip. The summer before my fourth grade year he was absorbed into a boat propeller and as a result, was sliced into a million little pieces. Peter finally came back to camp but was on crutches and had this insane birdcage of a brace on his leg, which we all knew was definitely to keep his guts from spilling out all over the gymnasium floor.
This is when he started bringing in his guitar. As soon as Peter and that guitar came through the door, all us kids would immediately toss Magic the Gathering to the wayside and swarm Peter to get our weekly dose of whatever alternative music was going on in 2001 and MISFITS. Misfits – I remember a lot of Misfits – lots and lots of Misfits.
We would take field trips to various locations around town. One of them for some wild reason was this outdoor shopping strip on the far east end of Louisville. Our group found its way to Barnes and Noble and I found myself posted in front of this listening station where you could surf through the company’s entire catalog of music and hear a one minute sample from each song. It was at this listening station in a large big-box store in an upscale part of town that I discovered the sound of punk. Misfits, Buzzcocks, Ramones, Clash, Damned, Sex Pistols, you name it - I was hooked. I fell in love with it immediately. That week my mom and I went to go pick up Misfits Collection II and the rest is history.
Louisville is obviously a town with a storied history in terms of its independent music community. How would you say being from Louisville has influenced you both as an individual and collectively as a band?
Louisville is without a doubt the greatest city in the entire world and I am so extremely proud to say that I am from here. It is a city known for its creativity, its passion for flying the freak flag, its sincerity, and it’s no tolerance attitude for racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, etc. I feel so privileged and fortunate to have grown up in a community where those sorts of characteristics are so prevalent.
When you are from Louisville you have this weird isolation thing going on. It’s not a large city by any means but you have all these major cities surrounding you. Seriously there are like 10 of those Buzzfeed article worthy American cities lists within a five-hour drive. Because of this, not many bands come through our town. You really gotta reach out to find stuff and everyone’s into such a wide array of things that you get this really intense melting pot blend. There’s not much to do outside of hanging with your friends in a basement and making stuff. You can’t just walk down to the Smithsonian or whatever.
Everyone’s just kind of insane here; we’re almost revolving in our own world detached from reality. It takes a bit for the trends to make it our way. What’s cool in town right now has been happening on the coasts for years. I really do feel like the Kentucky freak when the van pulls up to a show in a city like Boston or LA and out pours our colorful cast of scraggly weirdo characters. I’m so prideful of that.
The last time we saw each other back in April in Ann Arbor you talked about how a couple years ago you guys played something like over 100 shows which was not only exhausting, but some of the tours were probably not the wisest in terms of how you guys fit with the packages, etc. How has all the time on the road helped you guys grow as a band and what have been some of the highs & lows?
In 2012 we played something like 180 shows. It was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had but also one of the toughest. Ya know, we’re not Van Halen, it was a grind. At one point we were out for nine weeks doing a full US and full Canada, turning around in Winnipeg and heading back to Santa Barbara to play Sound and Fury before heading back home. It was the year our debut LP came out on No Sleep so I feel like there was some pressure to hit it hard. We covered a lot of ground, saw a lot of the world, and accomplished so many goals. Going to Europe and playing The Fest in Gainesville for the first time was incredible!
But there’s a downside. When you are away from home for so long you forget that the home world moves on. The people there carry on with their daily routines. They grow and they change and they do things. When you’re on the road, you’re still out there thinking things back in town are frozen in time. That was one of the hardest things for me to learn; I’d get back and expect everything to be the same as I left it, but people carry on, and they should. What I think we could have done better was to pick smarter tours that would have been more beneficial to us. In reality, no band in this century should be out touring this much. There’s this thing called the Internet. Do you know what it is? Had we done a third of the touring but with tours that made sense, I think we would have been much more pleased with the results of our efforts. 
Speaking of growing as a band, I feel like the songs on the new 7" are a drastic leap forward in terms of diversifying your sound and bringing new influences to the fore. I'm curious what the writing process was like for those 2 songs and if you would anticipate continuing to move in a similar direction for future material.
I feel like on “Our Home Is a Deathbed” we were trying to do something we weren’t. We were also pretty young still when we wrote a lot of those songs so they obviously don’t sound as mature as some of the newer stuff. On that 7” it was actually just Calvin, Evan, and I. We wrote a lot of it as we were recording. Our guitar players left in 2012 as the year went on to continue with school. This is when I switched over to play guitar.
Although I wrote a lot of the songs on “Our Home Is a Deathbed”, my playing style is a lot different from the other guys. Our influences are a lot narrower with three people as opposed to five and I think you can really hear that. To me, that 7” sounds like us, it sounds like Xerxes. That’s what we’re into and that’s what we listen to. I’m extremely proud of that release.
Elaborate a little bit on your statement that with the last LP you guys were "trying to do something we weren't". In what sense were things forced or somehow not authentic?
I’ve thought about it a lot since “Our Home Is a Deathbed” came out. I think we were just kind of caught up in that world. We had the excitement that surrounded signing to No Sleep when we were teenagers and the opportunity to become THAT kind of band I think took hold and really clouded the creative process, ya know? It’s like all of the sudden we were looking at all these peers and bands who were already doing that thing – going back to that coasts statement – and felt some subliminal pressure to try and fit that mold. But as I sit here and revisit some of those thoughts I also want it to be known that to say the record is forced or not authentic would be wrong. I do not want to confuse you or the reader with that notion. A lot of those, by far, are the most passionate and true songs we have ever written. There are so many amazing moments on that record. I do not want my disdain for my past to totally dismiss any positive light or great work we have done. I just think we were writing from a different perspective than what would have been most natural. 

You guys did Europe towards the end of the year last year, what's next for Xerxes?
Right now we are working on our second LP for No Sleep. We are recording at the end of March in my studio and Evan Weiss from Into It. Over It. will be coming down to produce the record. This album is definitely more in the direction of the song “Tramadol” from our last 7” but further expanded upon and a bit weirder. We have a new lineup with Ben Sears on drums and Joseph Goode playing bass. It’s the best we’ve ever sounded, everyone’s getting along amazingly, and I’m so excited to share what we’ve been working on.
Yeah, I saw you recorded "Would You Understand?" as well. Talk about the process of building a studio as well as how starting to enter the realm of recording adds to your perspective as a song-writer, musician, etc.
I’ve been recording bands since I was in eighth grade and I feel like just now I am finally getting to a point where I really am pushing myself and studying it every day. I am absolutely obsessed with it. I am progressing so much and so rapidly that I am absolutely ashamed of my work from two weeks ago. So that’s kind of horrible but also really cool because I am getting better and better results with every session, but frowning so horribly on stuff I should be stoked on.
I moved into a house in August of 2012 and have been slowly piecing together a fully functional analog/digital hybrid recording studio in it. It’s kind of insane actually and like something out of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. The floors are completely slanted and the house is slowly morphing into this weird melting clock of a home. One day the back will be fully submerged into the ground and my bedroom will be like 1000 feet above sea level. It’s brilliant.
Recording has definitely improved my songwriting because it has made it tremendously easier. Crafting songs as you record them is such a great thing. Using recording as a songwriting tool, you can really get a grasp of the piece as a whole and listen to different layers and really get it what it needs. When you are just sitting there on the couch or wherever depressing place you like to write trying to imagine everything without these tools, you may not be thinking of things that are going to be realistic or even sound good together.
So yeah, recording has definitely been a big help with my songwriting. What recording isn’t great with however is with helping with my musicianship. Recently, I got in a crazy rut of fixing everything in mixing. I would just play a verse or a part just once and then pick the best little run and just paste it a bunch of times. And the results were SO STERILE. I also would write these songs and not be able to play them all the way through live. This is totally against the point, ya know? Yeah it’s great you can save a perfect take with a punch-in but this is insanely affecting your skills and technique. So now I try to practice, practice, and practice before even starting to attempt to track. The results are always a million times better. 

How deep into song-writing for the new LP are you guys? Can you give us any insight into the lyrical focus or the broader themes of the record?
We are almost done! I have no idea what any of the lyrics are about but I can tell you they are definitely about Calvin’s life. We only have a few songs that aren’t so if I were to put the last of my small, non-existent fortune on this guesstimation, I would say I wouldn’t end up too fucked. If you are a fan of anything recorded at Southern Studios, you might be into this record.
I'm really excited to hear you are working with Evan on the new material. How did you guys hook up with him and what do you foresee him bringing to the table? Are you thinking he will play/sing on the record at all or simply produce?
About a month ago, Calvin was up in Chicago hanging out with the IIOI guys and the idea came up. I thought Evan was joking and the next thing you know, the dates are booked and we are sending demos to him. I’ve never worked with a real producer before so it will be interesting. Evan is still punk so I don’t think it will be too wild. Anyone who knows Evan Weiss can tell you the guy is a prolific songwriter and that’s what I see him bringing most to the table. Sometimes it pays to have an outside perspective that can see things you can’t always see. I’m really curious as to what he and Calvin come up with. I’m so pumped for this record.
Last Xerxes at this point you and Calvin are the only remaining original members; you guys have seen a lot of the world together, gone through multiple members, and seen the band morph and change a good bit over the years. What is it that's held you guys together and kept you dedicated to the shared vision of Xerxes?
Calvin and I love each other, it’s that simple. We’ve been creating music together since we were 15 and were friends before that. We have some of that unspoken language going on and don’t even need words at this point. We are always on completely – like seriously – different pages but we get each other, ya know?

In addition to doing your own band, did I hear/read correctly that you are doing some touring with Coliseum as their sound guy? Are you recording any of their live sets at all (I'm imagining a Fugazi-esque live vault (-:) or do they just normally have bad luck with the sound people at the clubs they play?
You have heard correctly! I did a number of tours with them in 2013 and it was a blast. Touring with Coliseum is crazy fun. They’re a hilarious group of individuals and everyone is just in good spirits at all times. When you’re working for a band you don’t really have all the stresses that normally accompany tour life. You can sit back and enjoy the trip, it’s great. I definitely thought about it a lot but I didn’t record any of the sets. I did however actually just mix a Coliseum live record though. It’s called “Faith and Curses: Live” and it’s incredible.
To the final creative endeavor I wanted to ask recently released a short film with Max Moore. What led you to delve into film-making, and how did it go? How does the experience of working in the visual realm compare to working in the sonic realm?
I’ve been getting into film more and more lately. I really started thinking about getting involved after seeing Suki Hawley’s film “Half-Cocked”. It is one of my all time favorites. That and my Nick Cave obsession played a monstrous roll in me really wanting to make a short with someone. Max, aside from being one of the most talented people I know is one of my best friends and we’ve always just kind of tossed around the idea. It goes back to that question earlier when I was talking about there not being much to do in Louisville. One day both of us were off work and we were just like “Hey let’s do it”. We went down to the coffee shop that day and hammered it out. I think it turned out great. I am really proud of the score I composed.
Visual work and audio work are very similar in some regards but also incredibly different. When you are working in the visual realm there are so many more factors to consider. Lighting, location, acting – all this shit ya know? When you are working with audio, you still have a lot of factors, but there isn’t nearly as much to worry about.
Finally, being that you play in multiple bands, road dog/run sound for another, are making movies, touring around the world; I've gotta ask, what feeds the creative fire for you....and when do you sleep?
My creative fire is fueled by yerba mate and by the people I surround myself with. I live in a tight knit community where people are constantly working towards things in the pursuit of self-fulfillment. It’s contagious. 

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