Loss, anxiety and change are inevitable parts of the human experience. Some react with flexibility, but for most, these are a source of chaos, despair, and eventually growth and understanding. When Pennsylvania quartet Reservoir began writing Mirage Sower, their forthcoming LP for Glory Kid Ltd. the band was putting this experience on record. The result is a relentless combination of churning rhythms and bob and weave melodies that harken Slint and Sunny Day Real Estate that is especially poignant given its thematic context.
Rejecting the premise of their homestead, York, PA, which is a town 100 miles southwest of Philadelphia whose main export is business major undergrads, Reservoir have been churning and building for nearly a decade. Starting out as a more-conventionally leaning emo quartet, for the development of the unit’s output today, weight has begun to displace volume, twinkling plucks have driven out by a menacing drone, contorted forms sprawl and contract on their way out of the speakers.
Following a number of U.S. east coast tours in support of 2013’s I Heard You As I Walked Away, and a New England tour with Seattle, Washington’s Where My Bones Rest Easy, the band signed to Glory Kid Ltd., and released their debut EP, the haunted emocore masterwork Cicurina Vol 1 in early 2015.
The 2016 west coast leg of the band’s touring schedule unveiled a number of new cuts, equal parts menace and anxiety, and the band enlisted J Robbins to capture them at his Magpie Cage Studios in Silver Springs, Maryland over the course of a week in the spring of 2016.
Ghettoblaster recently caught up with Josh Allamon (bass/vocals) and Justin Lutz (guitar/vocals) to discuss Mirage Sower, which hits the streets in mid-March, working with Robbins, and writing from experience.
What are the primary lessons you’ve learned as a result of being in a band for several years?
Josh Allamon: We started this band in 2011, so it’s been a little less than a decade but still a long time. I think the biggest lesson I’ve learned is to enjoy the struggle of it all. When you start a band, the sky is the limit. It’s easy to get flustered when things don’t come together the way you think they will or when a tour falls through or any of the countless things that can happen. You have to learn to cherish every show that you play and see every practice as your outlet after a tough week.
Justin Lutz: In a lot of ways I’ve learned that longevity is its own reward. Countless friends have started bands, toured a ton, and fizzled out. We do things at a pace that works for all the members, and it has allowed us to stay active in one way or another for a long while.
Did you begin writing Mirage Sower after your mid-2016 tour? What catalysts were inspiring this writing?
JL: Honestly it’s kind of hard to pinpoint exactly when we began writing the songs that eventually became Mirage Sower. We kick riffs around practice for months and sometimes they still never get used. We get to practice and jam out an idea that one of us has while recording it on Andy’s phone, and then that idea morphs and stretches and sometimes changes altogether.
A lot of what was going into Mirage Sower for me was a sense of loss and change. During the course of writing the record I lost both my grandmothers and a longtime pet, as well as changed jobs and living situations. The overall anxiety of all of those events drove a lot of my lyrical content and helped shape the tone of my guitar playing.
This record was tracked by J Robbins. I imagine this was a highlight of your time as a band. What did J contribute to the process?
JA: This was definitely a highlight. There are a lot of moving parts in these songs and the dynamic changes quite a bit, we wanted the sound to accent those changes but we also wanted to maintain the energy we have when we run through these songs at our practice space. We feel like J nailed that aesthetic. Personally, tracking vocals with J was one of my favorite parts of the process. He focused on every detail and threw around ideas for different parts. J had a lot of layers of vocals to work with and we couldn’t be happier with how the mix turned out.
So many bands that I know seek out J because of what he does with the drum sound. What was your drummer able to learn by working the J?
JL: That’s hard to say without Steven’s opinion, but I know he liked being able to play the different kits J had and just experiment with the sounds and textures we could get by layering different elements of percussion.
What message were you hoping to impart with Mirage Sower?
JL: I’m not sure that we were trying to impart a particular message, we just wanted to write from an honest place lyrically, and musically create something that was engaging to play and record and hopefully listen to. We always just want to write from honest personal experience, and if someone is able to connect with that it’s a bonus.
What are your proudest moments on the record?
JA: There are a lot of layers on this record. I’m really happy with how they come through but remain subtle throughout the album. There’s not much that clashes, there’s more open space than we’ve ever had in our songs and I’m just really happy with taking that approach and how the production reflected that. JL: Vocally this is the proudest I’ve ever been of a recording. I tried some approaches that I was nervous about, and J helped us develop them in a way that seemed natural.
What has GKL done to nurture your band and your ability to make art on your own terms?
JA: Andrew’s band Slumberbox (formerly Where My Bones Rest Easy) toured the East Coast with us a couple years back and we helped with getting that together, then he returned the favor this past summer when we went out west. It’s cool to make connections like that through music and be able to put out music with someone who is also in a band and knows what it’s about.
What is it about York, PA, that has inspired your input? Why not relocate to a larger city?
JA: York is where Andy and Steven grew up. We had a garage to use as a practice space, so it made sense to begin to practice and write there. The Skid Row Garage where we practice has shows all the time. Our first show was there, we’ve seen so many of our favorite bands there, even parts of a music video we just shot were done there. It’s truly ‘home’ for Reservoir. Everything we’ve written, for better or worse, came from the four of us in that tiny garage.
The small community that exists in York has allowed us to enjoy some cool opportunities and bands to play with. Central and South Central PA is in the middle of so many big cities, so you get a lot of touring bands that come through if they’re going from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia, New York to Baltimore, etc. There was never really a reason to move.
This effort also reminds me a lot of another PA band, Ethel Meserve. Is anyone in the band fans of them? How about Balance and Composure?
JA: Ethel Meserve I haven’t listened to, I’ll need to check that out. Balance and Composure is great, I still put on Separation regularly. It’s crazy to think that when we were all starting bands, there wasn’t a whole lot coming out of PA. Now there are so many amazing bands from this state. JL: Steve Roche introduced me to Ethel Meserve when we recorded with him a few years ago, and I appreciate the connection.
Is there still a place for big, darkened emo records in the current indie climate?
JL: That’s kind of a tricky question for me, because I’m not the most plugged in, but I would really like to think so. Smaller trends in music ebb and flow so there’s never any telling what will be in favor at any particular time, but I think that people are always open to thoughtful honest records, and that’s what we were trying to do when we made Mirage Sower. Rather than making it to be any particular thing, we were just trying to make a record that sounded like something we’d want to listen to. The four of us have pretty different influences and tastes, and I think they all swirled together in a pretty interesting way.
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