Some bands toe the line between hardcore and metal, creating a third genre that doesn’t follow any of the rules. Gray Area attempts to catalog these works.
Gray Area Deluxe, however, is a spotlight on a fantastic band’s brand new album.
When Coliseum’s self-titled album dropped in 2004, it was a hardcore love letter to 80s thrash and D-beat, done in the Louisville tradition — crusty, loud, and with arrangements more intelligent and thought out than the speed they were played at suggested. Six years later, that hard-thinking has come to the forefront on House With a Curse.
Interspersing ambient guitar work with angular and rhythmic heavy riffs, the band is recalling the heyday of early 90s post-hardcore, a la Nation of Ulysses and Fugazi, while never betraying their Louisville hardcore roots. On “Everything to Everyone,” the band showcases their full transition — the song starts with with a driving riff and breaks into an intricate chorus, seeing Ryan Patterson turn his gravel throated growls into tuneful singing, offset by the melodic interplay between guitar and bass.
And while there are plenty of big riffs and stampeding tempos, it’s the slower songs that showcase the band’s new direction. “Perimeter Man,” featuring guest spots from Nick and Jeremy from Young Widows, follows a half-time thudding drum backing and rhythmic transitions that catch the listener off guard. But those aren’t the only guest spots. A careful listener will recognize backing vocals by another fellow Louisvillain on the shredding “Skeleton Smile” — Will Oldham.
Most impressive on the album, however, is the interplay between the three instruments. Ryan Patterson’s guitar work runs the gamut from straight chords to shrill stings and sweeping ambient tones, while Mike Pascal’s bass balances his role perfectly in rhythmic interchanges with the pounding drums as part of the rhythm section and melodic trade offs with Patterson’s guitar. Anchored by Carter Wilson’s pounding beats and well timed hits, the total sound is bigger than the sum of these three parts. To an impressive extent.
A first listen to the album might throw off fans of the band’s first album. But the truth is, House With a Curse has been culminating over the years through the band’s intermittent releases. With a drummer change cementing the line up, the appeal of the band goes beyond their original purist hardcore fanbase. It’s easy to imagine Coliseum being on the front of people’s tongues everywhere by the end of the summer.
Number one food consumed during the recording of this album:
Pizza – Carryout from Domino’s down the block from the studio, their entire front window was bulletproof glass with a slot just the size of a pizza box so they could slide it out to you.
Number of punches thrown between bandmates:
Number one song other than Coliseum material listened to during recording:
Didn’t listen to anything else at the studio, but I did read the 33 1/3 book about the recording of David Bowie’s Low album.
Number of cats involved with the recording process:
None at the studio, but two at my house: Waylon and Willie
Number one phrase uttered after screwing up a take:
“Fuck” or “That Ain’t Workin’” as quoted from Dire Straits “Money For Nothing.”
Amount of facecrushing riffs included on the final masters of the album:
Amount of time debating the merits of wristwatches:
Zero – Gave up a wristwatch around the time of the cell phone takeover.
Number one source for entertainment to unwind after a long day of tracking:
Tracked until 4am most of the time, so… Sleeping.
The new album is a huge stylistic shift from previous efforts. How much of this was premeditated, and how much evolved organically?
It’s a bit strange coming from my perspective, because I realize that if you compare it to No Salvation, you’d see House With a Curse as a massive change. But, if you revisit songs on No Salvation like “Profetas,” “Shake It Off,” or “Funeral Line,” you can see that we were starting to reach out a bit from our strictly hardcore/punk songs. Even on the Goddamage EP, the songs “Year of the Pig” and “Set It Straight” probably have more in common with House With a Curse than they do anything from No Salvation. Not to mention “True Quiet” from the single we did last year, which was a mostly straight-forward DC inspired tune. An even deeper critical listen could also possibly hear the push and pull in some of the No Salvation and True Quiet songs between my instincts and tastes as a songwriter and guitarist versus some of the drumming and the arrangement of the songs. This is was eventually led to our split with our previous drummer Chris, our tastes in the music we wanted to play -– or even how we wanted to play it — were just too different.
In terms of the songwriting, I knew that I didn’t want to cover the same ground we had already traveled. I didn’t want to abandon our fans or turn our backs on anything either, I just wanted to write music that was truly enjoyable, that had some longevity, that had more dynamics, that actually rocked harder but was more melodic. We also wanted to finally have a really powerful rhythm section that played great together and drove the songs with a solid backbone, giving the guitar and vocals more space.
All that said, how much of anything anyone does in their life or in their art is premeditated or just happens to occur? I think it’s all a grand combination of both – there’s nothing pre-determined in life, you take steps and other things pop up along the way. I see House With a Curse as being a big change for us, but in a lot of ways I see it as us getting back to what we loved about the band on our first LP and the Goddamage EP. There may not be any d-beat or super-fast hardcore songs, but I still see it as a punk rock record and I still see us as a band on the same mission.
Just as Minor Threat and Rites of Spring begat Fugazi and your self-titled album begat House WIth a Curse, your brother and sometimes musical collaborator Evan recently took Young Widows into more cerebral territory too. Is there a certain age that prompts a shift?
I’m not sure if it’s age or the experience and confidence that comes after many years of playing music, touring, and recording that enables you to stretch out a bit more and accomplish the things that may have seemed impossible in years past. Of course I would be fooling myself if I didn’t say that age had some affect, although my tastes now are fairly similar to my tastes seventeen or eighteen years ago, it’s just how those influences appear in my music that changes.
As for Evan and I, we have probably 90% of the same musical influences and have obviously shared a lot of the same life experiences, so I’ve always seen our individual bands as being different sides of the same coin. Our musical roots and the reasons we play music are nearly exactly the same, we just manifest them in different ways, filtered through our own personalities and perspectives.
Your mention of Minor Threat, Rites of Spring, and Fugazi hit the nail on the head, as those are three of my favorite bands and Fugazi was a defining band for me, in many ways they were like the Beatles of my generation. I still look to their music, especially In On The Kill Taker and End Hits, as the apex of what punk, hardcore, and its various offshoots are capable of accomplishing musically. It’s definitely a high water mark that I look to often, especially during the writing of House With a Curse.
As far as fellow Lousiville collaborators go, Will Oldham would be fairly low on most people’s list of expectations. How did that collaboration come about?
It was rather simple actually – I asked him to do it, and he accepted. I know Will a little from putting on a show for him in town a few years ago, my brother and I were organizing a monthly all ages show series and Will was gracious enough to play one of the installments, a really beautiful performance in a church theatre downtown. I think he was actually the first guest that I asked to appear on the record, I am a very big fan of his music and his voice, so the idea of him joining us on a Coliseum song seemed very unique. I imagine that’s what appealed to him as well. Along with just being a fan, it was part of a large idea to show some of how Louisville’s music community stretches throughout all these different little subgenres and peer groups. Since we were recording in Louisville, celebrating some of our town’s incredible musical culture and community was important to all of us.
There are a variety of other guests on the albums, from vocal contributions to string arrangements. Any chance of having performances with your guests to support the new album?
I don’t imagine any of the guests will perform with us, but I wouldn’t rule it out entirely. We’d considered bringing a couple of people up on stage in Louisville, but having people come in throughout the set can be a bit distracting from the vibe of the show. The idea of having Nick and Jeremy from Young Widows join us on “Perimeter Man” was tossed around, but setting up a second drum kit to play on half of a song seemed a bit ridiculous.
With such a stylistic departure from earlier works, and given the fickle and purist nature of a lot of hardcore fans, are you worried about the reception you will get when you start traveling from city to city.
I can’t say that I’m worried about it… I’m very excited about playing these songs on tour and sharing them with people. We might lose a few fans here and there, but I feel like the true Coliseum fans will follow us wherever our inspiration take us and I’m sure we’ll pick up new ones along the way as well. We have never had extremely dogmatic fans and we’ve never really experienced any backlash from anything we’ve done, because we’ve always made our choices with the best of intentions. It’s never seemed to me that fans of our band are narrow minded in any regard. I don’t think that House With a Curse is as huge of a departure as it might seem, ultimately the band is still a heavy punk band, it’s still very much uniquely Coliseum. If we’d put out another record that sounded just like No Salvation, or picked up right where that album left off, we would’ve drifted into a realm of bands that spend their years treading water. At the very least we would’ve lost interest, I imagine fans of the band would have too.
In fact, I feel like this record is much more rewarding to the listener than anything else we’ve done and we are definitely playing better than we ever have. There were some years spent where Coliseum was a speeding train that was barely on the tracks, where now we are more solid and powerful than we’ve ever been, thanks in great part to Carter’s addition to the band. This record’s range of dynamics and the individual personality of each song is definitely interesting and enjoyable to us. I think others will agree, but if not… I’m not going to lose sleep over it. Of course a big part of being in a band is sharing music with other people and there’s no feeling quite like a great show or having someone tell you what your band means to them, but ultimately we do this for ourselves and we don’t have anything to prove to anyone other than ourselves. The people that come to the shows and buy the records and shirts enable us to tour and keep releasing records, but if all that stopped – we’d still be dong just what we’re doing now. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate every single person who has ever supported Coliseum, it means the world to all of us, but we can’t spend our time trying to assume what anyone’s expectations will be, we do what we do and that’s that.
You’ve been involved in a number of bands, as well as now running Auxiliary Records, competing for your attention with Coliseum. Is the band becoming more of a full time gig for you now with the new album, or are you still trying to strike a perfect balance?
Coliseum has definitely been my full time priority since day one. Considering that in the last six years we’ve played over 600 shows across four continents and released three albums and a handful of EPs, there hasn’t been much spare time to devote to any other bands or consider Coliseum anything less than the driving force in my life. The only other band I’ve been in during this time is Black Cross, and while Black Cross is technically still a band, it’s been completely inactive for many years. My label Auxiliary Records put out about fifteen releases, mostly Coliseum and Young Widows related vinyl, but it was always a very part time thing, just releasing some of our own stuff and a few friends’ records. I’ve recently decided to put the label on hiatus, simply because I don’t have the time or finances to devote to it, and because both Coliseum and Young Widows are very happy working with Temporary Residence and having them handle all our releases now. Outside of Coliseum, I do freelance design for other bands, I co-own ShirtKiller.com, and I spend my time with my friends and my lovely wife. I do attempt to strike a balance of time spent at home and time spent on the road, which doesn’t mean that the band is part time, it just means that we will never be touring eight months out of the year… I never wanted to be the kind of band that is gone so much that our lives at home fell apart. We generally tour three or four months a year and that works for us.
It’s been a rough few years for music — are you ever concerned about making Coliseum work as a band?
I think it’s rough for many labels and maybe rough for certain bands, but for a band on our scale there haven’t been any major problems because of a suffering music industry. We’re a relatively small band, we play small clubs and sell a humble, but decent, amount of records. We’ve always run very low to the ground – we keep our expenses very, very low and our expectations in check. It also helps that we’re based in Louisville, where the cost of living is reasonable and that all of us have set up our lives to be able to do the band full time without being bogged down by massive expenses at home or on the road. If touring became incredibly difficult or recording advances dried up, we’d still be writing songs, playing shows, and putting out records… That’s just what we do and what we’ve always done.