Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Interview with Charles Chaussinand from Test of Time

I remember back in the Fall briefly reading that Bridge Nine had signed this new straight edge hardcore band Test of Time. I made a little mental note, assumed they’d probably start touring like crazy like most B9 bands do, and figured I’d see them at some point pretty soon. Then the other day I was on the B9 board posting about my band's new project and happened to see something on the site about them and wondered hmmmmm, “Why hasn’t that band blown up yet?”

I proceeded to head to their bandcamp and checked out their debut B9 7” “The Price” and was pleasantly surprised to hear some classic sounding, fast melodic hardcore. I then hopped over to the blog to see that these dudes were also pretty clever and had a good sense of humor. After that I did a little research and learned they their members have done time in The Effort, No Harm Done, Offsides, Daytrader and have shot photos of all sorts of bands over the years. Finally I ordered a physical copy of that 7” I mentioned earlier and when it arrived I was blown away to see the coolest layout I’ve seen on a hardcore record in years.

Okay that did it, I had to talk to these guys and learn more. I reached out and was warmly greeted by guitarist Charles Chaussinand who immediately agreed to do the interview.

Read on, these guys have a lot of awesome stuff coming up.  

Alright Charles, so talk a little but about your childhood growing up in Florida and how you eventually got into hardcore and punk. When did you start playing guitar, and at what point did you feel the confidence to go from someone attending shows to someone who would be creating and performing music?

While I spent most of my formative years in Florida, I was actually born in San Francisco, CA. I moved when I was pretty young and lived in Naples. I was six, and initially, had wanted to strike out on my own, but I caved and let my parents tag along. I lived from 6 - 18 in Naples, FL. There was basically nothing happening aside from retirement checks being cashed and a mall. I petitioned the city when I was 12 or 13 for them to build a skatepark. It was like two ramps, but they did it. I started booking small shows that year and booked shows until I moved. It was really difficult to get any bands to venture that far south in Florida, but I was able to get Trial, Reach the Sky, Fast Times and some other gems and there were some great local bands like Esteem (who I would later join). 

I got into punk via the radio. I loved "Dookie" and "Smash" when those records came out and I remember going to a Camelot Music and looking through the cheapest CDs, which were a new format, that they had. It was a bunch of punk samplers and I saw some from Lookout! and Nitro with Green Day and The Offspring, so I picked those up and started getting into some punk bands. Soon after, I was at the two-ramp skatepark and was handed a flyer for a show that Esteem was playing. 

I begged my parents to let me go and they gave me a lecture about how I could, but I had to "stay strong" and not drink. All of the bands but one were straight edge, and I actually claimed edge that night. I had never been curious about drinking and still just don't care about it, so I finally had a term for that and went with it. Punk bands really made me feel like "hey, I can do that too" because I would see the kids that were in these bands working around town and just hanging out and the division between band and fan was not there, so I started learning how to play guitar and would play along to Pennywise and Green Day records all the time. Eventually, I started a terrible band and I sleep soundly every night knowing we never recorded any of our terrible music to subject the world to. It just kind of snowballed from there to where I am now.

13 and convincing the city council to build skate ramps!?!? You need to come talk to my apathetic 15 year old Civics students, haha! On a serious level though, what possessed you at that young of an age to even attempt that?

The punk culture of DIY was engrained in me at an early age. It was a town with nothing to do, some kids skated, and they didn't want us on rails and stairs in town, so I thought I would ask and see what happened. It was actually really easy. I have long been a fan of "want something done? Do it yourself." I started a record label when I was 14 and just put out a couple tapes. I think all of that goes hand in hand. Just get out there and do whatever it is that you want to do. You should see the skatepark now. It is enormous.

Talk a little bit about the formation of No Harm Done. I know you guys had the Offsides split and the LP on Think Fast....what were some of your best experiences with that band and what lessons do you feel you learned that inform what you're doing now with Test of Time?

I joined No Harm Done after they had been rolling for a while. I was asked to "produce" an EP called "The Start of Something New" by my good buddy Neil that runs Anchorless Records, the label that put that out. While in the studio, they asked me to join. I was the oldest member of the band by a few years. That band was a lot of fun. I had been in a bunch of bands before, but that band was a lot of serious touring, my first time in a "real" studio, The Outpost, and getting to have that tight-knit brotherhood that a touring band can have. 

My other bands before had toured, but only like two weeks at a time. NHD toured for months and it was great. Offsides was a similar situation. I knew Danielle, was asked to fill in on a tour on bass, and then ended up flying to CT and writing the "It's a Struggle to Communicate" EP after the guitarist quit. Anytime I am in a band, it shows me what doesn't work. I don't know that I really know what does work, but I know volumes about what can stop a band immediately. It is always a growing and learning experience.

What prompted you to eventually relocate to Boston and how did you get together with the dudes in Test of Time?

I moved up to Boston after No Harm Done split up because I was offered a job working at The Outpost. I moved up and it ended up not working out because the owner has an immune system issue. I ended up getting work at MIT in the audio visual department because I went to school for audio engineering and have been working on records and live sound for years. Todd and I have known each other for a long time and I propositioned him with the idea of fronting a band. I will forever remember his response "Sure, I have stuff to say". We started getting together with Jeff soon after and really didn't expect to do all the stuff we've done. I thought that we would record a demo in my basement, play some shows, go slow. It ended up being very different. Not that we are big or anything, but we try and do as much as our time allows.

I wanted to ask about engineering because I read you guys have self recorded everything you’ve done up to this point. Going forward do you intend to keep things “in house” so to speak or do you think the outside perspective of another set of ears would be beneficial?

Well, the "Inclusion" demo 7" was done completely in my basement and I did all of the mixing with that. I wanted the next recordings to be stepped up sonically, since as I mentioned, I hadn't expected a lot of people to listen to what we were doing. I am sure there still aren't many, but for those that are listening, I wanted to make the subsequent recordings really stand on their own. 

For this, we tracked drums at Q Division here in Boston. We got to use the A Room, which is just a beautiful and incredible space. My friend Matt Russell helped us through all the drum tracking because I had never been in this space before and didn't know the sound or anything. Matt is a phenomenal engineer with a great working knowledge of the space. He helped achieve the sounds that I had in my head. From there, I tracked all the guitars, vocals and bass. I then went back to him and we mixed the record together. 

We did this for “The Price”, ”A Place Beyond” and “By Design”. He doesn't come from the world of hardcore, though he was asked to play drums for Shelter some years back, which is what I wanted. I didn't want a record that sounded like what everyone is doing. I wanted a fast, aggressive record that had the tonality of almost like a Foo Fighters or Third Eye Blind type album with big, organic drums and everything sounding smooth instead of punching you in the face. 

Talk about the pace of writing. In less than two years you guys have banged out over 30 songs (most of which are forthcoming). Does one of you guys just have an arsenal of riffs sitting around or is the chemistry within the band already just that strong?

As for the writing, I write a lot of music. It is just always something I have done. I think of songs in complete terms as I am writing, so I already have plans for all the instruments in my head and a loose vocal melody as I am playing out the guitar part. This doesn't mean it will stay that way, but in my head, I am seeing the drum parts that I am starting with in addition to whatever instrument I am playing at that time. Actually, a bunch of the songs I wrote toward the end of this were written on drums because there was a part I would think was fun to play and I would hear the other instruments on top of that. All of these songs were written before our new bassist, Robert Cheeseman (also a riff master), had joined, so it was just me coming up with ideas and showing everyone and then hearing how it worked together with everyone and changing stuff here and there. 

In less than two years as a band, we will have released 39 songs and we still have more recorded that are going to be coming out on splits we already have planned for later in the year. I wanted us to have a huge cache of music that we could release so nothing was rushed and no one had to wait. I never like when you see a band playing the same songs for a year because they haven't written another record. We already have enough to play tons of set lists. 

We also did six covers that are slowly trickling out. Each of us picked a song and we re-wrote them and turned them into our own thing. I have always loved doing that. Covering a song exactly has never appealed to me, on a recording. Live, you just want to achieve, as best you can, the feeling you get when you hear a particular song, but expanded to encompass an entire room of people. On a recording, I feel like you need to take that feeling, filter it, and put out something that still invokes the sentiment and maybe something else as well.

So sound-wise, you guys seem to fit primarily within the late 80's/youth crew mold, but with an expanded sense of melody and a couple of twists here and there (I'm thinking "Riptide" as well as some of your cover choices). In terms of the upcoming 7" and then the LP, how would you say the sound compares, and how important is it to you to pay homage to what seem like your core influences and at the same time put your own stamp on things?

Hmm... that is kind of tough to say. Since the records weren't written with gaps of time between them and it is more just that we are picking out songs that we want to go on each release from a pool that we already have together, there isn't really a difference in that I started listening to a lot of CIV one day and then wrote an EP that sounded like CIV songs. 

All of us listen to a lot of 80's, 90's and early 00's hardcore and punk, especially a lot of the catchy stuff, so I think we're writing what we want to be hearing, and that follows those trends, but I like to think that we are trying to write something a little different. I don't think that we're re-inventing the wheel, by any means, but I try and take from a lot of different things I listen to. I love stuff ranging from Osker to Faith No More and, this might be me fooling myself, but I think we give little nods to all of those bands. 

I hate to say this and I am sure I will seem like a dummy for even saying it, but I don't hear a lot these days that I am really impressed by. I don't mean to say that anyone should be impressing me, but when I hear a band I really like, it grabs me, and I haven't had that feeling in a while. I am trying to write those types of songs for myself and doing what I am able to within the parameters that each member brings to the table. This is something that everyone says now, and I know it is so cliché and lame. I want to hear songs that are played because people are passionate about what they are doing. There is a lot of transparency in music and people's intentions shine through what is being presented. No one wants to see a band performing what they think people will like. That might pass for a while, but those bands never stick around. Everyone wants to watch a band that is doing what they want because they are just having fun and enjoy listening to their own songs. Sorry that I went on a bit of a tangent there.

Lyrically it's often hard for me to take a lot of youth crew-ish stuff seriously because it often seems pretty cookie cutter and quite frankly just half baked. As I read the lyrics to "The Price" I feel a different sense of honesty and maybe that’s just because I know you guys are all a little older and it’s not your first dance so to speak. I guess I find the perspective there particularly appealing especially since so much of what seems to be gaining traction in hardcore nowadays is undeniably bleak and nihilistic. I was hoping you could speak a little bit to the lyrical approach you guys take and why that emphasis on positivity and critical thinking is important to the band.

This is the first band I have had any involvement with lyrics before, and I am really enjoying it. Todd or I, but mostly Todd, comes up with an idea and we just work on crafting that into lyrics. This is Todd's first band, which is awesome for both of us. He has a lot of things to talk about over the nearly 20 years he has been going to shows and hasn't gotten it out before. 

When we started, it was encouraged to write personally. We have a song on the new LP about a friend he had as a child and how through the years they have remained friends. "Timeline", the single that just went up, deals with someone getting into the hardcore scene, being into it for a while, and then how they feel years later after they are looking back. Lyrics should be something that the listener can internalize and even if they are turning the message into something other than originally intended, they personalize it and make it their own. I think that is all we can really hope for.

Yeah I read the little press statement that accompanied the stream of that song (“Timeline”) and it mentioned something about the place of hardcore as you get into adulthood. For you personally, what would you say the role of hardcore is in your life and how does it shape both your outlook and the way you interact with others?

Aside from the work-ethic that hardcore instilled in me, I think that ties together a lot of interpersonal relationship skills. Asking for help and collaborating with others is a large part of getting done what you want to accomplish. I think it also shows you the ways people can judge you based solely on appearance. It really made me overtly kind to show people that just because I am wearing a shirt with a skeleton skateboarding or says the word "fuck" on it, I am still nice and deserve to be treated kindly.

Jumping off on that piece about relationships, talk about your collaboration with B9. I imagine there was already a connection since Todd's photography has been featured on a lot of their releases, but how did the partnership between the label and band specifically come to fruition?

Todd and Chris are pretty good friends. Todd had shown Chris "Inclusion" not as a presentation to a label, but just showing his friend what he was involved in now. As Chris told me, he was interested, but wanted to make sure the band was going to actually do something. 

Later, Todd had casually mentioned to Chris that we just got done recording 26 new originals and 6 covers. Chris wanted to talk to us, so Todd and I went in and met with him and Seth. Having been in other bands and gotten into sticky situations with labels, I knew what I wanted out of a label, and I think Todd was on the same page without even talking about it much. We met with B9 and didn't want any money from them for the recording and told them we had plenty of ideas for promotion and whatnot so they didn't really need to devote a ton of resources to us. It seemed like a good fit for us both, so they took a chance on us. They have been great to work with and I hope to do a bunch more records with them.

So I've got to admit when I heard the songs off "The Price" on bandcamp I was definitely sold, but when I physically got the record in the mail and saw the layout that’s what really sealed the deal. I’ve always been a sucker for intricate layouts, anything involving die cuts especially, and it seems like you see less and less of that these days. I'm curious to hear more in detail how the concepts for the packaging came together.

That was a concept Todd and I put together. As much as we want to write music we would listen to, we want things to look the way we would love to see them. Our friend Justin Gonyea put our ideas into an incredible art project, really. Since it was the first release we were doing for B9, they weren't initially sold on the design. Once we showed them a mock-up of what Justin was doing, they were on board. I hope all of our layouts have this feel to them; not necessarily so intricate, but just different concepts. We have some cool ideas for the upcoming stuff.

I'd also love to hear more about how the execution of the new song "Timeline" came together. It seems more ambitious than what most bands would do in that you not only have this song with a cool concept, but you then found people whose place (for lack of a better word) in hardcore sort of matches what's going on lyrically.

Todd had the idea for the different singers, which I wouldn't have thought of and I really love. He and I really sat down and crafted lyrics he had already written into a "timeline" and it was so fitting for him to have talked to those people about singing on it. The music was actually written for an Offsides LP that never got finished.

In terms of touring I know you guys did some dates in Mexico/Central America last year and that in addition to TIHC this summer you've got a trip to Europe planned. Why the international focus out of the gates instead of concentrating more on the U.S.?

I get asked about why we haven't toured the US more quite a bit. Basically, my answer is that touring costs a lot any way you want to do it. We aren't able to tour too much because we have jobs that don't allow us a lot of time off. I work at MIT, Todd is an architect and Jeff works in the CVS corporate division. If we are going to pay money to get the name of the band out, why not go to places we would love to be going anyway? 

I have toured the US dozens of times, and to be honest, kids aren't as excited as in other places. There are too many bands all touring often and there is an over-saturation. Going to a place like Guatemala, kids are appreciative that you're there, they want to talk to you, and the shows are a lot of fun. There isn't really money to be made in a lot of these areas, so most bands don't look at going to them. We are fine with not recouping, so that is why we go there.

I've been really stoked on Atomic Action since booking Fucking Invincible this past summer. How did you get hooked up with them for the upcoming edge comp and when is that slated to see the light of day?

Brian from Atomic Action Records has long been a fixture in the New England hardcore scene. Since I haven't lived here long, he and I hadn't met before, but he, Jeff and Todd are all friends, so Brian asked Jeff if we would be interested. It was extremely nice of him to include us on such an awesome record. We wrote a song just for the comp and recorded it in our practice space. It really came out great. 

I mastered the comp and I was so blown away by the diversity of the bands and how good this record is. I think a lot of people will be looking back on this comp as a defining piece of the genre for this time. All of the bands are awesome, and I am not just saying that because we're included.

This is a question I always ask people who have been around a while because I think it’s interesting to hear different perspectives on it so how would you say hardcore and punk have changed over the course of your involvement in the scene and would you say those changes are for the better or for the worse?

I think I went to my first show about 17 years ago. In that time, the big change is the Internet. It was around when I started going, but obviously, not like it is now. I think while that has made things more accessible, that isn't a good thing, because now, people don't go to as many shows and they really go just to see particular bands. I might be remembering things wrong, but I remember that the band that traveled the furthest played last and everyone stayed. Everyone would pick up merch and really wanted to buy records and CDs. 

I feel like that is really not the case anymore. So many bands are touring now, which is awesome because they are getting out there, but at the same time, shows aren't something that kids have to seek out and make a point to go to because it was the only one coming through for a while. There are like five shows a night in big cities and people know there will be another five the next day, so they stay home and wait to go to just a few. It was awesome when all the shows were mixed bills because you couldn't find bands that sounded similar to play with whoever was on tour and coming through the area. 

One of the best shows I saw was Snapcase, Saves the Day, H2O, Buried Alive and Death By Stereo. This is a single show that was absolutely packed and everyone was excited about it. I want more of that to happen. There are too many fests, too many tours that have four bands on them, too many bands that sound the same and play together. While this all sounds like complaining, there are a lot of things that I love about the hardcore scene now that wasn't available when I started going. The ease of grabbing new music is astounding. I can sit in my house and check out ten new bands from around the world in a half hour. That sort of stuff blows my mind, still.

Alright man I think that's all I have. Any parting words or other things people should be aware of with the band?

A quick word on the band and then a quick rant:

Test of Time has a bunch of stuff planned for this year; three splits, the European tour, two releases coming out on Bridge 9 and as many shows as we can play. Please follow us online to get updates on all this stuff. If you live somewhere that you'd like us to play, just ask us. We want to play anywhere, especially if someone would actually like to see us. We can figure something out. If you want to just chat with any of us or talk about a song, tell us you don't like what we're doing and why, or try to have us play your kid's birthday, just shoot us a message in some way and we will be in touch.

My rant; if you don't like our band, start your own. If you don't like the shows happening in your area; book your own. The punk and hardcore scene is as much yours as it is anyone's. Take charge of that and really make it your own. There is nothing worse than a complainer that doesn't take any actions to make things better. Be kind to kids just getting into it, or really anyone for that matter. Positivity breeds positivity. Consider a vegetarian lifestyle. Really look into it and see if you think it seems for you. Your kindness can start in your own kitchen. Support what is happening today and don't worry about reunion merch from bands that stopped caring about hardcore 20 years ago. And finally, Sick of it All rules.

            Stay Current: http://www.xtestoftime.blogspot.com/

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