Monday, November 21, 2016

Collab Interview with Tommy Cantwell from Axis and Ryan O'Neal from Seraph/The Light

For those who have perhaps been on an extended foray into the wilderness the last few years, you should know that Ferret Records has been reborn/reincarnated into an entity known as Good Fight Music, and they are absolutely crushing it. Recent output by bands like Axis, Exalt, and Hollow Earth have been raising the bar, as well as pushing things forward. Each of the aforementioned bands has been slowly growing and evolving from really sick hardcore bands into bands that have been incorporating more interesting and nuanced styles into their sonic attacks. As a fan of the label, it's been really cool to see Good Fight Music give bands the freedom to do what they want, as friends with a lot of the people in these bands, it's been inspiring to see them take chances and refuse to play along with notions of what might be cool, easy, or otherwise comfortable.

Enter the new collaborative record between Florida's Axis and Tennessee's Seraph/The Light. I was really stoked when I first saw videos of these songs go up online, and even more excited when pictures started to surface of them recording together. For the uninitiated, Seraph/the Light rose from the ashes of Seraphim, who released the much-praised "The Light in the Distance" several years back on A389, and since then has transformed with a new name and a new sound. Axis has released a handful of splits and 7 inches over the past several years, and last year released their debut LP "Show Your Greed". Put simply, in my opinion they are the best band in hardcore. 

The songs on this new project pull heavily from post-metal/Neur-isis type stuff, and they are fucking awesome. With two bands contributing, there are obviously layers upon layers of guitars, pulsing bass-lines which keep the tension thick, and of course Ryan and Tommy's drums weaving in and out in hypnotic fashion. Also worth noting are the vocals. I feel like a lot of bands somewhat misleadingly say they try to think of vocals "as just another instrument", but they're totally not used that way at all. Over the course of these 4 songs you get a variety of vocal approaches coming at you, which results in a record that truly does feel like the vocals are seemingly integrated just like any other instrument. Anyway, the songs are stunning.

As soon as this project was launched, I furiously hit up Tommy and Ryan wanting to pick their brains; here's what they had to say.


Give a little background on how you got into music, and how you got into playing drums specifically. Did your parents/family encourage you or was it something you picked up on your own?

Ryan/Seraph: I got into music and drums specifically because of my older brother. He always had new bands/albums for me to check out. He plays drums as well so naturally I kinda picked up drums from him and band in middle school. 

My parents were always really cool and encouraging about it. Shout out to my dad for letting us jam at his house for like 6+ years.

Talk a little bit about the transition from Seraphim to Seraph/The Light. I know there were some personnel changes and whatnot….how did one transform to the other?

Ryan/Seraph: I think changing the name and having a fresh start just felt right for us. New members/new shit. It just made sense. 
Sonically it sounds to me like “Field of Delusions”, the first release under the Seraph/The Light moniker, is a pretty natural extension of “The Light in the Distance” whereas “The Stages of Fading Away” and “Let Me Go” have taken the band into some starkly different territory. Does this reflect the new personalities in the band, a desire to explore new horizons sonically, or a little bit of both?

Ryan/Seraph: I think it’s a little bit of both. We’re always wanting to explore new horizons and play shit we enjoy playing.

With the exception of you guys and Yautja, I have basically zero knowledge of anything going on musically in Tennessee. What are things like down there in terms of the music scene and what other bands/artists should people be aware of?

Ryan/Seraph: Yautja rules. The music scene in Memphis is really cool. Plenty of awesome venues/bands. Definitely check out Reserving Dirtnaps, Holy Gallows, and Brian Hillhouse (guitar in Seraph) 

Aside from this collaborative project, what’s next for you guys? Any plans to get “Let Me Go” out physically, or just more writing/shows?

Ryan/Seraph: We'll definitely keep writing and playing more shows. Hopefully we can release “Let Me Go” physically at some point. We've definitely talked about it. 


Give a little background on how you got into music, and how you got into playing drums specifically. Did your parents/family encourage you or was it something you picked up on your own?
Tommy/Axis: I grew up with my dad playing guitar and singing all the time. And we had a music class at my elementary school with a huge drum set that I was always trying to play. I was just always surrounded by music. I didn't get an actual drum set of my own until the summer before 6th grade. It was a shitty beginner groove percussion kit and I remember once I learned how to play the "punk beat" with the heel toe bass drum pattern, I would play it so often that the pedal would keep falling apart. My parents hated the noise but I think they were glad that I was doing something productive.
Earlier in the year you guys got to do a leg of gigs on the final Bane run which doubled as the first extensive run of shows Burn has done in like 25 years. I assume you’re doing these songs with Seraph and then breaking up right, cuz what the fuck else can you do, haha. For real though, how were the shows and what were the highlights of that experience for you personally?
Tommy/Axis: That Bane tour was a great time. All those guys are super fun to hang out with and every set it looks like they're having so much fun and it gets me so pumped. I grew up listening to them and they were my first hardcore show. At the last show of the tour, they brought me on stage and I played drums for "What Holds Us Down" which is my favorite song by them. I was so nervous and was definitely freaking out before. I probably listened to the song like 300 times that day.
Getting to tour with Burn was amazing and such an honor. Getting to talk and hang out with them for two weeks was pretty surreal.
So the record has been out for a little under a year now. How did the relationship with Good Fight Music come together and how has the reaction to the songs been so far?
Tommy/Axis: “Show Your Greed” was supposed to come out on a different label, but after a bunch of delays and confusion with the pressing plant, we decided to end that relationship. I was talking to Brandon from Old Wounds about it and just venting about how frustrated we were at the time, and he mentioned that he sent the songs to Good Fight Music and Rick loved them. So within the hour, I was on the phone with Rick working out the deal with them. They have been so awesome to us and have helped us out with doing a lot of cool stuff like this collaboration record. People seem to really like “Show Your Greed”, but I'm excited to release these songs and the new AXIS songs whenever we get around to finishing those up.
I noticed that in addition to Axis you’ve also been doing some shows with Gouge Away. How was the run you did with them, and have you officially joined or are you playing with them more on an as needed/as available basis?
Tommy/Axis: I was just filling in at first, but now I'm actually in the band. Playing with them is so much fun but it's a very different dynamic than playing with AXIS. I've been playing heavy music for such a long time, so it's nice to change it up a little bit.
I talked to Pat probably two years ago and he was talking way back then about you guys wanting to write more expansive material, longer songs, etc. How would you say the new Axis material compares to the stuff you guys have done so far?
The new AXIS stuff is definitely a step up for us in songwriting. After a couple years of a mostly consistent lineup, I feel like we've really nailed down our formula. The new songs are coming together a lot faster than before and I think they're a lot more interesting. Some of the song lengths are longer but I think the general feel of the songs aren't wildly different.
I noticed you guys have played a decent handful of shows together even prior to the tour you did last December. How did you guys all get to know each other….previous bands or just friends of friend’s type thing?
Tommy/Axis: I met Brian on tour in like 2006 or something when our previous bands played together in Mississippi. And when Seraphim started touring more, we would always run into each other. I didn't meet Ryan and Nick until Seraph/The Light was touring.
Ryan/Seraph: I think I met the dudes in Axis around 2012? Just from running into them and playing shows together on random tours. 

When you initially started talking about doing a run of shows together last year did the idea always include writing some material together, or did that come along later?

Ryan/Seraph: I think we talked about it a few weeks before the tour started. We didn't know how much time we would have or how it would work out. Just kinda rolled with it and it worked itself out. 
Tommy/Axis: At first we were just going to do the shows, but the idea of writing some songs together started being thrown around. We thought it would be cool if we wrote a whole record together, but we didn't know how it would go trying to get eight people to agree on the songwriting. But it went a lot smoother than we expected.
Talk about the basics of the release… many songs will be on this thing, where are you recording, will Good Fight Music/A389 have a hand in releasing it, etc.
It's four songs, that were recorded in Gainesville with John Nunez from Torche and Good Fight Music is releasing it on January 13. It will be released digitally on December 2nd though for the shows that we're playing together.
In terms of the writing process, had the bands been exchanging riffs and ideas prior to meeting up for the tour, or did you just get together for a couple days before you left and let things spontaneously come together? Did you write any additional material in the studio or no?
Tommy/Axis: We met up a couple days before the tour started and wrote a little bit, but most of the songs were written before and after every show and at friend’s houses on tour. We finished up the end of one song the day before we recorded everything. Some extra things were tweaked and added in the studio since we didn't have much time to nail every single part down.
Ryan/Seraph: I think a couple riffs were exchanged but I can't remember if they were used on the record or thrown out. We got together a couple days before tour and jammed in a storage unit and on tour anywhere we could find a spot to practice before a show. I feel like we meshed well and everything fell into place. 
Is there any particular lyrical theme or musical mood you guys are exploring/trying to create with these songs?
From Brian Seraph/The Light: "The lyrics focus on society being torn. With the election coming up at the time, slowly watching people come out and let their true colors show overall. Seeing a side of an individual that you didn't know existed, what they stand for, and if they want change or to stay stagnant. A constant portrayal of how we are our own demise. 
Every song speaks about oppression in one way or another from different views. From telling someone what they want to hear to get your way, purposely hold someone or something back, or being to content to do anything to change things for the better of everyone."
Ryan, best thing about Tommy as a drummer, worst thing about Tommy as a human?
Tommy is better at drums than me. :)
His armpits. :/
Tommy, best thing about Ryan as a drummer, worst thing about Ryan as a human?
Ryan is a really creative drummer and he can play a lot of odd time signatures and weird rhythms. But he smokes cigarettes and that shit is gross.

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