Since forming in 2007, Balance And Composure has been constantly evolving its sound, pushing away from the indie/emo circle the Doylestown, PA band found itself in, but at the same time embracing its roots within that scene and peers like Brand New and Manchester Orchestra. Their third record, Light We Made, continues that exploratory trajectory, with the band veering off in some unusual and previous unheard directions, yet retaining the dark atmosphere that has always glowered beneath the surface of its songs.
But while the music pushes outwards, the themes of Light We Made are more inward looking. Coming three years after the last, it's full of self-examination of who the members are and why they're doing what they're doing. That's something vocalist/guitarist Jon Simmons is incredibly open and honest about as he discusses each song of this record, diving deep inside himself in what seems like an attempt to understand them all over again. Yet despite Simmons' uncertainty and self-doubt, it's a record that find the band—completed by Erik Petersen and Andy Slaymaker (guitars), Matt Warner (bass), and Bailey Van Ellis (drums/programming)—on fine, confident, and spell-binding form.
Jon Simmons: This is actually one of my favorite songs because I think it's one our most different ones. So I really love this. The Midnight Zone is the deepest part of the ocean, and in the song I mention the ocean. It's kind of like a metaphor for falling in love for the first time in a long time and expecting it to hurt you in the beginning stages because you have your guard up, but also kind of not caring what it does to you—you're prepared for anything, even if it wrecks you, because you're so in love and captured by this feeling. It feels so good that you just don't care what happens to you—it's saying that if someone's pulling you down and you're drowning with that person, you're fine with that. You're just letting go of all worries and just rolling with it.
Noisey: With that in mind, do you think it's harder to fall in love after the first time, because you've experienced the pitfalls of love before and you're aware of what could go wrong?
Yeah, but I think this song was trying to get rid of any type of worry like that. Of course you're worried about getting hurt and you're worried about hurting someone else, but you're getting rid of that. It's really embracing letting your guard down. Everyone's a little scared when they first start seeing somebody, and it's just embracing that feeling.
There's quite a soulful vibe to this song, as well.
Yeah. I'm going real high on my voice. I really like the chorus. I think it's one of my favorite choruses we have, and I hope other people like it, too.
It's about a Ferris wheel. No, I'm just kidding. Actually, Bailey [Van Ellis], our drummer, wrote this song, so I don't know exactly what he was writing about, but I interpret it as having someone you love slowing slip out of your life and there's nothing you can do about it, because people grow in different ways and people grow apart. It's like losing everything, but telling yourself everything's alright and you're going to get through it. That's how I took it, anyway.
It's a bit of a downer considering the optimism of the first song…
Exactly! It's one of the first songs we wrote for this album. He came with the lyrics and we finished it all together. But yeah, it's about feeling like someone's slowly slipping away and there's nothing you can do and you're telling yourself that there's nothing you can do and you're going to make it through. And that's life—it's part of growing up. People move on without you.
Is it weird for you to sing someone else's lyrics as opposed to your own?
It's actually pretty cool, because it's exhausting singing my own lyrics and going through everything that I've written. So it's refreshing. Bailey has written some verses for us here and there before, but with this record he really took charge and wanted to write some songs. I thought that was awesome and I love it. It's cool to see his brain work, so I really like singing them. And of course, you can flip it to relate to you and interpret it any way you want, which is the way I approached it.
Bailey actually wrote the first verse to this song and then he gave it to me to play with. I took what he was writing as seeing someone—like maybe darting eyes with somebody—and just becoming completely infatuated with them but being unable to communicate that. I'm sure a lot of people have felt that way. It's about wanting to express yourself to someone, and maybe start up a connection, but being absolutely horrified about doing that, because putting your feelings out there is an absolutely horrifying thing, because rejection is a real thing and it's something that nobody wants to feel. So he wrote the first verse and I made the chorus extremely literal, just because sometimes you have to say it like it is and I wanted to inspire other people to go with their heart. That's what we should do, but we usually don't. We're usually cowards and just let things be, when if you stood up, your life could be completely different. It's questioning how life would have turned out if you did say how you feel at that moment instead of running and hiding.
Do you have any specific moments like that, when you wish you'd spoken up instead of keeping quiet?
Yeah. I mean, I've been afraid of my feelings my whole life, but I recently got a girlfriend, and saying how I feel is the best thing I could have ever done in my life, and that's kind of what I was trying to bring into the song, like say how easy it is to just say it, and once it's out there, it's there. And it can change your life for the better. But it's one of the hardest parts of life, just being able to communicate how you feel to someone that you could potentially love. There's a lot of love themes on this album because that's just a place where we were—we had three years off and we all got to experience normal day-to-day life again. Most of the guys are with the loves of their live and I would like to believe so too.
"For a Walk"
This is a surprisingly electro and dancey track. What was your idea with this, sound-wise?
We just wanted to get crazy and do something that was completely new to us. We got bored of doing the alternative rock thing and we wanted to change it up and make a song that feels dirty to listen to. It was actually really cool—we used an OP-1, which is this synthesizer-type instrument we've been working with. I'm worried about what people will say about this song, though, because it's really nothing like our other stuff. But you know what? We like it! We'll see. My mom does not like this one, but I love it. It's my mom's least favorite, but my girlfriend's favorite.
Lyrically, it seems very much in keeping with the idea of giving yourself over to someone completely.
Yeah. It's the very first stages of a relationship, when you're just completely consumed by somebody and you want to know who that person is in any way and not caring about anything else in the world besides that person and your time with them. I think that's a beautiful part of relationship and I wanted to put it in a song.
So the title of this song is almost the exact opposite of the sentiment of the previous song…
Exactly. This was the last song we wrote for the album. It wasn't even going to be on the album because Bailey wrote it the third week in the studio. It was a little last minute, but we gave it a shot and we worked it out in the studio. But yeah, I see it as the opposite of "For A Walk." I interpret it as him wanting things to go back to the way they were with someone you love—wanting things to go back to how they used to be when you were happy and wanting to recreate a time that made you a better person. It's a shitty feeling. It's a really shitty feeling wondering how that person can sleep at night when you're tossing and turning and can't really move past them. It's just such a human feeling and I think it's a really beautiful song that, again, isn't really like anything else we've done.
It's one of a couple songs with a real post-punk vibe.
Yeah. I think so, too. I wonder if kids will like this one. We like it a lot, and I think we're going to play it on tour, but I'm a little worried about it. But whatever!
I think it might be obvious, but this is about missing someone when you're away from them. Bailey wrote the first verse—we tag-teamed a lot of the lyrics on this one—and it's about being apart from someone that you love and about someone slipping away through distance, which is a really shitty feeling. Especially with our work, where we're gone for months and months at a time. Being apart from someone that you love is one of the hardest things you can do, and you feel selfish for going. We feel selfish for going from our girlfriends, but this is our job. It's a missing song. And when I sing about looking at the stars, it's like the only connection you can really have with somebody when you're away from them is looking at the sky at the same time and looking at the stars and constellations and the moon. And that's kind of a beautiful thing, but it's pretty sad as well. We just wanted to write a song about missing the people we love when we're away. I really like this song. It's one of my favorites that we've written.
It must be hard to always be touring. Because as fun as it is, you will inevitably miss the people you love back home because you're gone for months out of the year.
It's hell. It really is. I haven't really been on tour since I've been dating my girlfriend, so I thought about what it would be like, and I can finally relate to the other guys who've been seeing their girlfriends for a long time. I used to be pretty selfish and be like, "Come on! Let's go on tour! Who cares?" and now I completely understand how they feel. It just makes so much sense. It's really, really hard, and it's asking a lot from a person to ask them to be away from the love of their life for two months or whatever. It's a crazy thing and I wish it didn't have to be that way.
"Call It Losing Touch"
This song and the next one are about where we are as a band. This is basically just not giving a shit anymore about anyone's opinion. It's the "We give up" song. It starts off cocky and how we'd think as a younger band a few years back, and by the second verse it just completely changes and it's like, "Whatever happens, happens. It doesn't matter." The band has done good things for us in a lot of ways, and it's also ruined our lives in a lot of ways, with bad habits we've picked up along the way, and maybe becoming more concerned with those than the actual art of it all. It's a song about how we're never going to please everybody and how maybe we don't even please ourselves anymore. It's an invite to ourselves to lose our place in the scene or whatever. That's how it is—people are going to abandon you and people are going to move on, and it's just kind of saying, "Take it from me."
That seems like a pretty depressing outlook, especially when you're writing a new record. Is it really that bad sometimes? Has it really ruined your lives?
I mean, I don't really want to say, but we've had some time off. We've had three years since the last album, and we haven't toured really in a year and a half. I don't know. Maybe when I was writing the song I was subconsciously feeling that we'd fallen off and people don't care anymore. I don't know if that's true, but in my head I doubt myself at all times, so this song is embracing that. You're totally right—it is depressing, but it's really honest. It was a really vulnerable time when I wrote this song and I think that's important to express.
And at the same time, you've created something positive out of that situation. Tthis song is almost like its own form of therapy, because you got a great song and album out of it.
Right. It's not that I don't love doing what we do, it's just exhausting. It's letting people say what they're going to say and not let it affect me anymore. Because that used to consume my entire existence. I grew up always wanting to be accepted and recognized, but I guess anyone in a band will agree with that!
This is an extremely and brutally honest song about where the band is. It's questioning your motives in this industry, like, "Am I a phony? Why am I doing this? Is it for recognition or self-therapy or expression?" It definitely started out as expression, but as you go on and do this for years, it becomes more of a job, and you find yourself making decisions that you don't understand. When I say the line "Fame is all we need," it's extremely sarcastic, but it's also calling myself out that I'm not always 100 percent honest. Like, every night onstage, I'm not always sad like the songs are saying. I don't know. I was just feeling like a fraud. We had a lot of time off and I had a lot of time to think and question myself. I love the band as an outlet, creatively and emotionally, but this is about losing some of the magic of those early stages in the band. There's a lot of pressure in writing lyrics and being a frontman. I'm a pretty reluctant frontman. I don't really like being up there with a microphone. So this is really questioning what I want from this. It's definitely not fame, but that seems to be everyone else's goal—not in our band. Because you give so much of yourself you become some kind of hollow shell. And for what reason?
And once you build a following, the band isn't yours anymore. It's not just for your own therapy or enjoyment—you have a fan base, and other people who are involved, and they all want something from you. That must be difficult.
It really is. I think a lot of artists have battled with that. We're killing ourselves. We're out there on the road and we're getting in the worst, darkest places and we're writing these songs and I just feel that bad habits form from any sort of self-medication and it's like 'Why are we doing this? What's our intention?' But I think that's a healthy thing to ask yourself. I'm worried about how people are going to take this song but it's just something that I wanted to say. Because you're looked up to a lot as a frontman, and that's something I really don't like, because I'm no-one to be looked up to, in my opinion. I'm not a brave person, but people think that I am. I'm not. I'm a coward, and I just wanted to be honest.
I imagine, too, when you are the frontman and you're singing mainly your lyrics, people think they know who you are as well. Which, however honest you're being, they probably don't. There's much more to who you are than just what you're singing and who you are onstage. It must be difficult to deal with that sometimes.
You know, I never thought it would be like this. It's really tough. In a way, I feel responsible, but I feel that I shouldn't feel responsible for other people. It's scary. I've had people at shows tell me I was the reason they're still alive, and that's a lot to put on somebody. And I don't think it was me. I said, "No, you did that." But that really woke me up. I'm glad that person's okay now, and I think that's wonderful, and if our music helped, that's wonderful. But to put all of it on me, like I was the reason, that just really stuck with me. And it scared the hell out of me. Let's move on. I'm freaking myself out!
"Is It so Much to Adore?"
This song is another one of the last ones we wrote in the studio. It's a questioning of why someone loves you. Growing up, I never felt that I deserved to be loved in any way, and when you get that, you're in the deep end at first. Or at least I am. It's asking, "What if someone really loves you? Do I really mean as much to you as you do to me?" But the lyrics are reversed—it's me putting myself in that person's shoes and trying to figure out why someone cares about me, because it's hard to understand at first. Again, it's scary to let your guard down, and this is what I was feeling when I met the person I'm seeing. It's wondering why the hell I deserve this feeling. I mean, I love the feeling, but I don't deserve this. Self-worth is something I've struggled with my whole life, but she's really helped me feel like I do deserve to be loved. She's really changed my life for the better. And that's a good thing, because I'm always trying to fight the feeling that I don't deserve things. I'm always the first to say, "I don't deserve anything good to happen to me." I've changed since this song, but this song is about that feeling.
Is it weird to sing songs once your feelings and thoughts have changed. You're singing about something that was true at the time but isn't anymore. Is that a weird conflict?
Yeah. And that goes back to "Fame"—the singing isn't honest. I say that in "Fame" because sometimes you're not going to feel how you feel on a song and people want to hear it anyway. That's definitely something I've struggled with. But then, it's not always for me, and when we play shows, it's for other people, and that's just something I'm going to have to understand. Maybe I can interpret it some other way when I'm singing it. That's what's beautiful about any song—you can make it about you again in some way. So yeah, it's a battle, but sometimes it's not always about me.
This is about trying so hard to grow as person. You see everyone else falling in love or moving on with their lives in a way, and this is about feeling like you'll never be there, and you'll never have that satisfaction. It's a song about craving what everybody else has. And that's really the conclusion of the album, that I'm just trying to grow and I'm trying my best to find happiness and be accepting of it. It's like you've tried everything, but you're going to keep going. You're not giving up. Love is a big theme on it, too, because when I was writing it I just wanted to fall in love so badly because I was seeing all my friends in love, and my parents, and it was just something I craved so much.
Was it written before you met your girlfriend, then?
Yeah, actually. I wrote it last year around this time, probably in September. I wrote the music and then the lyrics in my room and then I finished the lyrics when I was with my girlfriend. I was really hoping she was the one, and I was craving change, craving for something to completely rock your world and make you a different person and help you grow. And it happened and it's cool. I'm in a good spot right now.