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Interviews

Ceremony and the Angst of Evolution

“There’s no sense in wasting peoples’ time with a fifth album from a band, unless it’s really good.”

Talk to virtually any band who has been around the block and they'll tell you, evolution is the key to keeping it fresh. But let's not get confused, there's forcing it, and there is following your muse. Ceremony has been following their muse since day one, evolving from the band responsible for the kinetic grindcore blasts of Violence Violence into the mature post-punk that can be found on their latest entry, The L-Shaped Man (preorder is here).

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As with virtually all of their releases, The L-Shaped Man is a departure from the last Ceremony record, seeing the band delve deep into melody and embracing Joy Division in the same way their previous work embraced Slap-A-Ham or the vitriol of Assuck. This time, the inspiration comes from heartbreak as opposed to young punk angst, with primary members Ross Ferrar and Anthony Anzaldo funneling recent break-ups into their songwriting. The result is an explosion of work that includes the record as well as a companion poetry book and much much more. Break-ups are a bitch.

With the band venturing into new territory yet again, we sat down with the California based band to talk about the John Reis-produced LP, following the music, and what it's like to swim in the pool full of money that they will obviously make from the new LP. Head below for a conversation with Ceremony.

Noisey: The new material is really completely different, which I guess is a bit of a pointless thing to say because every one of your records is always completely different. Were a lot of the instrumental parts were written by you, Anthony? Or did you contribute ideas on this Andy?
Andy Nelson: I probably did the least, actually, to be honest. Anthony did the most.

Anthony Anzaldo: For this stuff we have a very base blueprint idea of all the songs. When we went to record, John Reis had us in a room for four days – eight, nine, ten hour days. We just hashed out every song. So every song was a much different experience and much different process than any other album that we’ve ever done.

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This record was definitely the most collaborative. Musically, for a lot of these songs, we’d just go into a room with no material and just kind of start hashing stuff out. Before, it was a lot easier to be like, “okay, I have a riff,” and it’s kind of obvious that everyone’s parts fall into place from there. This was the time where we were really one unit.

Nelson: This is the first record that is explicitly a two-guitar record. Like, occasionally we will sometimes play as a four piece, but we’re not.

So, you wrote it in the studio. Did the kernels come from the stuff that you had already written? What was the process like?
Jake Casarotti: Different songs had different processes. A couple of songs we wrote while we were in San Diego with John Reis, some of the songs were almost the same as the first day we wrote them. Each song had a completely different writing process. Some songs were written eight months apart from each other.

Anzaldo: It depends. Some songs come really easy. Sometimes you come up with an idea, and the next idea comes really naturally, it’s really obvious. Then some songs we’ll hash out for an entire rehearsal and not really get it. We’ll have to come back to it next rehearsal and finish it and BAM! That song needs to be re-worked again in pre-production. So it really depends on the style, and just kind of where the original idea comes from.

Ross Ferrar: Andy and I were both going through breakups making that record. So we were kind of just sad in general, I think. In terms of me, with my parts, I wasn’t like, “oh I’m writing these things out of sadness.” They just came out that way.

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Anzaldo: …Maybe it was subconscious, but it was really sad. This record, for me, sounds the most like what I listen to in my real life. It was the perfect time to try and incorporate that into Ceremony.

Nelson: There was way more work on making the songs good. We should also say that we threw out, like, albums worth of stuff. Like, Anthony would come with a fully formed demo with a drum machine. Then he would spend days doing it, we’d hear it, we’d be like “meh,” and he’d be like, “alright, cool.”

Anzaldo: I was going through my demos the other day and I have nine songs that aren’t on it.

Nelson: A lot of times, it was about taking stuff away. Like, “Your Life In America” is one of the songs on the record that was a day where we were kind of struggling with what to do with it. The answer was just to take things out of it and make it more and more minimal.

Ferrar: That song specifically came from John Reis, I think. “Play one note for a long time.” There was this old ending, which I think people are going to be able to hear on the deluxe version, that has all the demos.

Oh really? Cool.
Nelson: I think the iTunes version has a whole separate thing from the record, that’s like a pre-production demo. But people will be able to see how different some of the songs actually were. A lot of them I think it was about stripping them down, and kind of, like, making them more tense and vibey.

Would you say this is your most relaxed record as far as approach and all of that go?
Anzaldo: The opposite. It took so long. It wasn’t an easy process, it wasn’t a short process. I’ve gotten used to having only us be aware of these songs that, now that they’re coming out, I feel like we’ve had this secret for a year and a half. Now it’s like, people are actually hearing these songs. Before it was really, we’d play these songs and it wasn’t so much of a separate, tangible thing like it was for this record. So I wouldn’t say it’s terrifying, but it’s definitely a new experience.

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Nelson: This whole record, everything about it, was a new approach for us. The new record’s done, and everyone in the band is like, “what are people gonna think of this?” It’s never like, part of the writing or creation of it. It’s afterwards. “Oh shit, what the fuck did we just do?” But yeah, it was definitely not relaxed at all. I think when you’re in the world of touring in a hardcore band for six months a year, it’s just part of what you’re doing. In this case, it’s our fifth record. There’s no sense in wasting peoples’ time with a fifth album from a band, unless it’s really good. And we’re all in different stages of our lives now. People are in school, getting their doctorates, getting married, all this type of stuff. So the kinds of things we spend our time doing, with the band, I think it shifted the focus to just being like, “well, okay, if we’re gonna make another record, then it needs to be the best Ceremony record.” And we did it.

But that’s not relaxing. That’s the opposite. It’s actually worse, I think, than like, going to recording an LP in two days, sending it to Bridge 9, having them press it, then going on tour with Rise & Fall. That’s relaxing. Opening for Converge is chill. Doing this and stressing about every little fucking aspect of it is way worse.

There’s a small club of bands that have gone from hardcore and broken out, and you guys are of course in that. What do you find liberating about coming out of that scene? What do you think is restraining about hardcore in general?
Anzlado: I don’t think we ever fit into this hardcore scene. I remember our first east coast show, people were like making fun of us for how we looked or how we played. That was a hard demo, you know? But yeah, I was talking about this yesterday where I feel that there are subsets of hardcore that are so removed from punk rock. I feel like the farther you get from punk rock ideology, the more close-minded and the more rules there are. I think we always just considered ourselves a punk band. The type of punk that we play definitely coincides with this hardcore style, but I never thought of us as a hardcore band. We’re a punk band. Hardcore is a subset of punk. But that’s how it is in my mind, and I think what we do now is a subset of punk.

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Nelson: People are more open minded now. Which is kind of nice, you know, speaking as part of a band who has done whatever we wanted. It’s nice. Better than it did three years ago.

Anzaldo: Yeah, and I think we’re the cause of people being so open minded when it comes to punk. [Laughs]

Nelson: [Laughs] Pretty much.

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I saw you guys a couple of times in Texas at SXSW, and your set differed each time. One time, you must have played four new songs or something like that? So that was the first time you guys ever took those songs out? It felt like there was a different vibe in the air when you guys were playing those new songs.
Ferrar: I think another big part of that is people haven’t heard them and got into them yet. So there isn’t much energy in the crowd, it’s more so just us vibing on the songs and figuring out the songs in that space.

Well, also getting comfortable with the songs as a band…
Anzaldo: They’re seeing the new material. Anyone who was at a show of ours at one in the morning at SXSW has to really want to see us. And I’m sure most people are familiar with our previous material. So they knew that there were new songs, and I feel like they were paying attention.

Ferrar: What I wanna see is a dense crowd, moving like this with their eyes closed, and feeling it. That’s all I really want. Maybe some pogo. That’s all I really need, you know what I’m saying? Because they’re very musical songs. I think they are moving in a lot of ways. I don’t think they’re moving to the point where people should be jumping and stage diving onto each other, but I think they move in a certain way.

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Anzaldo: The Red Seven set that you saw was interesting because, in retrospect, all the people that were fans probably waited in line in the rain for a really long time, stayed up til 1AM. Then it’s just like, “alright, here’s thirty minutes of stuff you’ve never heard before!”

Nelson: And they probably had to watch Swervedriver. [Laughs] Which is fine, but it creates a certain atmosphere. But, you know, a lot of bands just have one setting. Sick of It All only has one setting. And it’s classic. They’re also probably in one type of environment. We do all sorts of stuff.

Ferrar: I think it’s pretty cool, now, thinking about it. We have the ability to do that now at this point in our career. We have a good show no matter what. If no one’s into it, then we just play these new songs that don’t require this chaotic reaction. That’s great.

In the context of traditionally hardcore environments, the difference is really distinct, you know? We played This Is Hardcore a few years ago, and there were three thousand people just standing there, like, “hey.” Watching. Paying really, really close attention. Then we went into some old stuff and the place went crazy – one of the wildest shows we’ve ever played. Afterwards, all these people in other bands were coming up and being like, “man, it’s crazy how you guys can do that.”

Ceremony’s able to do stuff that other bands can’t in that setting. I don’t know. It’s cool. It’s provocative and interesting, I think. In the end, you’re putting stuff out into a room where no one else is putting out there. There’s such a wealth of classic traditional hardcore stuff on record and also in the sense that no band is broken up anymore. So like, if you love Cro-Mags, you can just see them. I think that’s why people are like, “I do wanna hear something new.” It is more exciting to have more colors in the palette at a festival or in my record collection.

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Kids are smarter nowadays and there are so many resources.
Nelson: Like, you were probably into wack shit when you were younger.

Absolutely.
Nelson: So was I. You didn’t know any better.

I would buy tapes because the cover was cool. I might see some guy with a Biohazard shirt on and I’d be like, “oh, I love his band, maybe I’ll like Biohazard!” Incorrect.
Anzaldo: There were a lot of bands like that, where friends would be like, “this is one of the bands that’s really popular right now that everyone likes. You have to like it.” But yeah, it’s just weird now.

The supply chain is short.
Nelson: But speaking of changing and peoples’ new attitudes on the new stuff – it’s weird to notice that now, for us, it’s become a cliché that people seem, and it’s embarrassing to say that they only like the old Ceremony stuff. You know? Like on the internet, I see more people making fun of people expressing that sentiment.

Really?
Ferrar: Yea, because it’s like, “what are you, an idiot? It’s been ten years.” It’s 2015. You just seem dumb, you know?

Casarotti: Summed up pretty good, someone was like, “I miss the old Ceremony” then someone else just goes, “then listen to it.” [Laughs] You don’t need to miss it. It’s still there. Just listen to it!

Anzaldo: Even if we made a record that sounded similar to the old stuff, it still wouldn’t be old Ceremony. It’s a new record. We still listen to it, too! [Laughs] I miss my grandma who I still see every Thanksgiving, Christmas, and birthday.

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Ferrar: I think all of us, we do take that personally, too. Obviously because we’ve spent all this time trying to make art for people, that when people say, “we don’t care about that new thing that you just made,” it is kind of unsettling.

Do you make art for the people or for yourself?
Ferrar: We make it for ourselves, first, but it’s such a public thing that’s part of our lives and our careers at this point.

Anzaldo: We need the people to like it for us to keep doing it, you know?

Casarotti: Personally, whether I’m in this band or not, I’ll still be sitting there playing on my little guitar and drums, recording stuff. When I think it sounds good I’ll record it on my iPhone, even if I didn’t know what I was gonna do with it. I’ve been doing that since I can remember. Before I was even in something that I cared about.

Anzaldo: The best stuff, like the best films or records or anything, are things that create a conversation between the listener, viewer, reader, and the person who creates it. You create stuff for yourself, but you are trying to communicate with people in some way. You’re hoping there is a connection with people. That connection can be found. It’s only momentary, at best you’re gonna get a moment when someone watching you play feels the same way. A spark of connection between people, and you feel something. This record in particular, people are already saying that it feels more direct. It’s a really sincere and honest record. You can hear and understand every word on the record, which this is the first one like that. He’s putting himself out there, he’s putting out another book of original writing. I mean, I don’t think many people put the lyrics out –

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If there even are lyrics…
Anzaldo: Exactly.

We were talking about poetry book. Are you guys planning on putting the lyrics out there with the record?
Ferrar: Yeah, definitely. I think we’re gonna be doing something where we release the lyrics before the record. I don’t know what the deal with that is, but. The lyrics are very very simple. They’re very direct. Depending on what you read or write, they’re pretty dry. There’s not a big vocabulary. It’s very straight forward and simple. We probably don’t need the lyrics to be out there, you can just understand them on the record. But there is a narrative that carries through the record, there is a form that’s all in second person. They do correspond with the poems I put out. Everything kind of matches together. It’s just a part of the story, basically. Everything just matches the narrative about a time in someone’s life, and something who goes in between that.

Nelson: It’s cool that there’s a sort of extra-textural… That there’s more stuff there. There’s some talk of doing some performances of speaking or artwork or whatever, just some different things we can add on. Ross is in a prestigious program for writing at UC Berkeley. We’re not really sure what we’re gonna do yet but it should be interesting.

What’s the plan post-record? You guys gonna go out a lot?
Anzaldo: This summer doing a US tour, Europe, then that’s all. That’s all we have planned. The L-Shaped Man is something we spent a lot of time on, and we definitely want to introduce it to the world and get as much out of it as we possibly can. It’s gonna be an interesting year. If it goes platinum we’ll probably have to hit some markets again. [Laughs]

Nelson: I mean, there’s gonna be a lot of money counting I think. It’s gonna take up a lot of our schedules after the summer’s over. There’s just gonna be stacks everywhere. L-shaped stacks, obviously. [Laughs] One thing that’s actually nice about this band is that no one relies on it for money so we kind of don’t make decisions based on how much money we’re getting paid.

Sounds great. I look forward to seeing you play some weird space sometime soon.
Nelson: Yeah. You know. Hardcore, man.

Fred Pessaro prefers Ceremony's iPhone demos to all of their other work. You can catch him on twitter.