The world that founding member Joshua McCaslin has established with his band Roselit Bone is paved with disorienting neglect, unspeakable violence, and personal degradation. The desolating nature of Roselit Bone is not easily embraceable with lyrics that are bleak and hard to digest at times. With that being said, Roselit Bone coercively grips your emotions overall.
Roselit Bone’s sophomoric effort Blister Steel expands on McCaslin’s dystopian world with bigger arrangements. As a seasoned unit, the band moves deftly from one spectrum to another; there’s moments of maddening rage with simmering minimalism. Then there’s the swarming of Western-style influences that orchestrates a thing of beauty.
We caught up with McCaslin recently to talk more about the band’s evolution over the years, the influences behind Blister Steel, and poetry. Here’s what he said.
You moved to Portland after growing up in California. What sparked your need to move towards the Pacific Northwest?
I needed to strike out on my own, and a few things aligned to make Portland seem like a good place to get established. All I really knew was that it was cheap. I spent about a year out in the coastal woods before making it to the city, and it’s taken nearly a decade to become financially stable enough here to take on the risk of going on tour for long stretches. Unfortunately things are getting expensive in this (and every other) city, so I might have to either strike it rich or move back into the forest soon.
I have read that you write vivid nightmare-poetry. What was it the influenced you to go into that area of writing?
I just don’t know how to write any other way. I’m a pretty content, emotionally stable person but I’ve been told I radiate gloom. I suppose that writing a song about how carefree I am would make me feel like a terrible or naive person considering how chaotic and violent the world is. I remember hearing “Soak Up the Sun” on the radio days after 9/11 and thinking ”Thanks, Sheryl Crow. Thanks for rubbing our faces in shit.”
Roselit Bone has transformed over the years; beginning as a duo to now 10-piece ensemble. What has been the reason for the many formations of the band?
When we were playing as a duo I had very little freedom to improvise, focus on my vocal performance, or leave a sense of space in a song. I slowly would add more members to fill out the sound and then push things a little further as I became more confident with my arrangements. It’s easy to make something sound huge with loud distorted rock guitar, but I decided to avoid that approach and try to build up a full sound like they had to before Marshall stacks.
The new record is heavily influenced with classic country and Mexican ranchero music. Actually-you bonded with Franco over it. What was that piqued your interest in ranchero music?
Ranchera is a very full, cinematic style of music built around powerful, charismatic singers. I love that a huge band of musicians can come together to drive home feelings of heartbreak and loneliness. There’s almost a military feel to big band ranchera though the music is very emotional and inextricably tied to the landscape.
For the new album Blister Steel, what was the group collectively wanting to accomplish sonically?
The approach to the album varied drastically from song to song. On “Like So Much Garbage” I pushed the maximalist, wall of sound elements as far as I could within the limits of my recording setup. There were definitely some heated discussions within the band about my abandonment of good taste on that one, but I wanted it to sound unhinged. On the other hand, “Only Falling Sounds,” was sort of a last minute living room session with a communal bluegrass feel.
Lyrically, the songs from Roselit Bone paint a painful picture that showcases pain, abuse, and torment. Are the lyrics partly or fully autobiographical?
Partly autobiographical. I’m going to politely decline to show all my cards here.
Blister Steel is their label debut for Friendship Fever Records. How did the partnership come about?
We played to about 15 people at our first New Orleans gig last August, and one of the people in attendance suggested to Chris Watson, owner of Friendship Fever, that he sign us. The label is brand new, based in Sacramento, and already has a ton of great acts all across the country, mostly in the indie rock vein.
When the band walks onto the stage for shows, would you say that there’s a change in everyone’s persona? The dark content of the music would suggest so.
Any pent up frustrations from being on the road are focused onto the audience once we hit the stage, and we always do our best to command attention. Country musicians have always embraced and toyed with the divide between audience and performer. I recognize that a large part of what I do live is theater.
Roselit Bone’s Blister Steel is available now via Friendship Fever Records.