Monday, January 4, 2016

Interview with Jeremy Nelson from Itto

I don't really remember how I heard about Itto, all I know is when I did I was thoroughly impressed. The 5 piece Chicago unit pretty much defies classification.....take the frantic energy of screamo, the complexity of math rock, and the ethics of hardcore, and that'll put you somewhere in the ballpark. Anyway, after snagging both their 10" and last years' 4 way split LP, I knew I needed to see them at some point, but had to miss them the last time they came through Michigan.

As luck would have it, at the end of November while in Chicago recording an LP with my band, I happened to notice they were playing  just a mile or two from the studio. After we finished tracking that night, I headed over to a house show and got to see the band in my favorite type of environment.....cozy little basement, fairly packed in, it was awesome.

I had a chance to introduce myself to both James and Jeremy that night, but I definitely wanted to know more, so I hit up Jeremy and the rest is history. The band is poised to drop their first LP this year, and it's certainly among my most anticipated releases of 2016. Don't sleep kids.

I always love to hear a little bit about people's back story, so talk to me about where you came up and how you eventually got connected to music. Were your parents, siblings, or extended family particularly into it or did you stumble into things yourself?

I actually came from actually pretty boring place. Springfield, IL. It's kinda like a suburb with no city. It's a boring place so I spent a lot of time indoors playing guitar and games. My pop was a big influence musically, he was always just playing guitar and singing in our living room. I would try to play his guitar and put it back without him noticing until he got me my own guitar. My dad has always been (and still is) in some sort of classic rock def a big influence.

So how did you go from tinkering on your dad's instrument to getting into punk/hardcore/DIY? Is he excited that you've picked up his love for music, or do you get the sense that he wishes you'd play something more "normal", haha.

Yeah, we had an all ages DIY spot open up when I was in middle school. I went pretty frequently but never really understood the DIY ethos or anything until moving to Chicago. I mean, when I hear my pop talk about it, he's pretty proud that the songs are originals, LOL. My dad has heard me get into some pretty strange music so he's pretty exposed.

So how did you wind up in Chicago and what were some of the first experiences you had there where you were like "Yeah, this is it for me"?

I actually wound up in Chicago through Craigslist. I found a house and the girl on the phone said they had "shows" sometimes and asked if I was cool with that. I was desperate to move out of Springfield and I didn't really know what having "shows" actually meant. But yeah I pulled up to the house with my U-Haul and bands were loading in. The Reptilian was actually playing and they helped me bring all my shit in, LOL . That was a great night though. It was a Reptilian and Lautrec show I think. All the people there were super nice and I pretty much slammed 2 40oz and made friends with everyone I saw. I lucked out for sure.
FYI the girl on the phone was Anne and we ended up starting the band Suffix together

Damn, that is insane! So wait, did the Craigslist ad say anything about it being a punk house or hardcore kids or did the stars just literally align to where you fell in with the right people?

Yeah the ad didn't say anything about it being hardcore or punk shows at all. I think the posting was more looking for "college student" and "no weirdos". I was just looking for a cheapish place. They took me to a bunch of shows though. In like one week I had seen Couger Den, Hewhocorrupts, Native, Castevet, Locrian, Loin of the North. and a ton more. All the music was way better than music in Springfield at the time, and it seemed like every show I went to everyone was friends and there was a big sense of community.

Springfield had one place, and Chicago had like 10 places to go to for DIY shows so I was learning the city and meeting new friends super fast. Everything just kinda lined up.

So talk about Suffix a little bit. I've seen that name before but had no idea y’all were a Chicago band and have never checked it out. How was that band different from the music you'd been doing/had been exposed to growing up in Springfield? What were the highlights of Suffix in terms of shows, records, tours; just learning more about working in the context of a group of artists?

Suffix was me and some roommates having some fun. It got me hooked on touring. It was when I realized "Oh hey, all these cool people and friends I've made that have played at my house, I can like, go see them too". One tour was to Canada, that really got me hooked.

It's cool to hear you talk about community in a city like Chicago....being that it's so huge I would imagine it'd be pretty easy to feel lost and overwhelmed. How important has the underground/DIY community been for you as you've built your life there?

You are correct that the Chicago DIY community is super big, but you don't really get lost, it’s more that there are just always parts that you don't know about. And that's a good thing. There are so many different groups and new DIY spots come and go pretty quickly. I guess it just changes so much that it's always new, and gives you something to look forward to. It never seems stagnant like other scenes can get. But the scene has gave me a ton of friends, pushed me musically, took me to places all over the world, and it's something I've used as an outlet to help others.

Alright so talk to me about the origins of Itto. How did the five of you come together and what we're some of the common influences you guys talked about in terms of what you wanted to shoot for sonically?
We want people to hear us and be like "that's Itto". I was really pushing myself and the band to form our own take on hardcore. The thing I love about just dumb hardcore and pv is that all the riffs are interchangeable and most any punk band can do it.

My favorite shows in Chicago have had mosh pits and people yelling and singing along for the first band all the way to the last. And in fact it doesn't really matter who the bands are, it's just hardcore and people are having fun. That's the best part in my eyes and we really wanted to try and put that in our sound.

That being said, we still like to fuck with time signatures and sometimes just not even use one. We like dynamics and grooves, noise and feedback. So it's really a matter of combining all those things and trying to create our own sound. We don't want to alienate people, but we want to write music that challenges us as musicians.

I'm also really curious to hear about the song writing process for Itto. The songs have so much going on with dizzying guitar and drum work all over the place. I know for my relatively dumb, mostly chugga-chugga hardcore band it sometimes takes several practices to get a song where we want it, how do you guys go about assembling all the chaos you have happening?

Haha, well it's about the same my dumb hardcore band too I'd say. It takes us a while to write. Usually it depends how thought out an idea is, sometimes a riff is set in stone and everyone kinda knows what's should happen, but that's rare. Recently we've been getting more into describing a concept or feeling rather than just explaining riff frets. For example the intro to our new full length is pretty much all 2hits. The idea is to take 20 year old dumb hardcore riffs /breakdowns with different tempos and arrange them in a way that they sound crazy and new...i.e. "Itto".

Once everyone one understands the concept or idea the song is trying to get across, it's a lot easier than just showing someone where to put their fingers on a guitar fretboard. It also makes the song more than just a collection of zany guitar wanking,

That might not be the best example, but it kinda gives the idea. We've tried to take "mathy" hardcore and put the complexity in the conceptual, opposed to the technical.

Alright so speaking of the new record, when we talked a little bit in person last month you were saying it's pretty close to being done. How would you say it compares to what you guys have done before.....What new directions were you trying to push yourselves, your sound and your listeners to?
I would say this record is more intense and like our live set. The songs are more distorted, pissed off, they flow into each other, and are more dynamic. I think the above all goal was to capture our live presence, the intensity, and we're all pretty happy with it.

So you mentioned writing with a particular feeling or concept in mind, and I can't help but imagine that aside from the musical energy you are trying to evoke, that the lyrics obviously fit into that puzzle as well. That said, what sort of themes are people going to see lyrically this time around? I know the 10" seems to revolve around a lot of socio-political ideas like power, tradition, and people pushing back against that those sorts of ideas continue to dominate or have things gone in different directions? Also, does James sort of have free reign in the lyrical department or are things more collaborative there?

James is really a part of the whole process, he's there when we're going over guitar parts and hashing out ideas, he's in on the concepts and interprets accordingly. While we're spending 2 hours on a 15 second part, he's writing lyrics down.

The new album is going to be called "Pursuant" and it's about questioning what we all are pursuing in life and the cyclical patterns that unite us.

You guys have toured a decent amount, there have been a bunch of different runs all over the place, y’all did Cali with Capacities a couple years back, etc. How would you say your road experiences have shaped Itto as a band and what sort of plans are there once the new stuff drops?
I mean we're absolutely a touring band above all. We've done the East Coast a few times, West Coast, Western Canada, East Canada three or four times, and this time last year we were on our Mexico yeah we've got all of North America checked off the list. Our goal is total world domination really....that being said, we're finally taking our butts to Europe in Spring of 2016 with the new record.

So you started this conversation talking about community.....the community you were introduced to as a young kid in Springfield and then later the community that welcomed you in Chicago.  After multiple bands, tours, records etc., what would you say it is about the punk and hardcore community that keeps you engaged, inspired, and wanting to create?

The DIY community and Chicago give me that feeling of exciting undiscovered stuff, it's like the harder I look the more cool new things there are to find. A Chicago DIY benefit just made a poster of all the DIY spots and the list was enormous, I only knew of maybe 35% of it.  You can always dig deeper, and even then the part you're used to and comfortable in is going to change. I guess to tie it up, in Springfield I thought that the little space that punk bands would play was really just that. Once I discovered it was part of this larger thing that could take you around the world, I've been fascinated ever since.


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