Rachel Grimes: Chamber Of Secrets

Rachel

Rachel Grimes’ evocative piano compositions willfully defy categorization

“Words get in the way of the emotions I’m trying to convey,” says pianist and composer Rachel Grimes from her home in Louisville, Ky. “I don’t feel driven by lyrics, language or verbal content. I do sing and love the idea of songs, but the thing I’m after in chamber music is expressing a complexity of feeling. I want to be generous to my audience and let them make the music their own, without language or the specificity of words.”

Grimes has been composing genre-spanning instrumental pieces since her days with Rachel’s, an ensemble that played music that was often labeled post-rock and post-classical, categories she finds confusing. “We’re living in a society where music from all previous time periods is accessible to us,” she says. “Everything in the past is post-something. All music is in reference to things that came before.”

Rachel’s played instrumentals that drew on the minimal classical music of the late 20th century. The band started when Grimes met guitarist Jason Noble. “We started messing with songs he’d written, adding and subtracting parts in a slow, organic process,” says Grimes. “We wanted to record the pieces and didn’t realize we’d become a band until we actually put out a record and started doing shows. We had no definitive approach, just ideas for sounds that could be made with piano, cello, viola and guitar. When we played rock venues, we surprised people when they heard the textures we were producing. We got a kick out of the words people came up with to describe what we were doing.”

When Rachel’s went on an extended hiatus, Grimes continued playing and composing. She wrote film scores and orchestral works, did composing and sound design for the Portland Cello Project and the SITI Theater Company. She toured Europe, playing solo and with chamber ensembles like the Amsterdam Sinfonietta Trio and Orchestra Kandinskij. All the while, she was working on the music that would become The Clearing.

The Clearing sweeps you up with its cinematic strings, jazz-influenced chordal patterns and expansive classical string arrangements. The pieces are built around the simple pulsations Grimes plays on her piano, with cello, violin, sax and oboe darting in and out of the musical landscape. The lush, ambient sounds that give the music an intergalactic aura were generated by electro wizard loscil (Scott Morgan). “Scott’s a master at finding the perfect, soothing sonic complement to the organic sound of the strings,” says Grimes. “The heart and soul of the songs are contained in the idea of a clearing, with its implications of clearing the mind or a space in the woods that allows light to come out of the darkness. When I’m composing, I listen to the harmonic relationships and the emotional quality of the sound. What’s the picture the music is painting? What shapes is it building in your imagination? Music is about following something without knowing what it is. What I’m trying to describe are the emotional states we don’t quite understand.”

—j. poet

Coliseum: Fear Factory

Coliseum

Everyday anxieties fuel Coliseum’s impressive post-punk maturation

Coliseum vocalist/guitarist Ryan Patterson is nothing if not painfully honest. He wears his heart so openly on his sleeve that his dry cleaner long ago stopped trying to scrub out the crimson stains. For more than a decade, he’s manned the front car of the roller coaster that’s flung the Louisville, Ky., trio through a variety of rewarding and ridiculous moments. There was the time a former drummer quit the day before a tour and they found themselves teaching their then-replacement the set on van seats and headrests en route to Canada. Then, there was the time they were “arrested” for performing and filming an impromptu hometown outdoor gig in 2013.

Balancing out the hair-shirt incidents has been the steady stream of top-notch releases since 2004, as well as the group’s natural progression from rockin’ hardcore/punk band to the measured and melancholic post-punk outfit it is today. Latest full-length Anxiety’s Kiss delivers the most seamless combination of the eras thus far. The shimmery, soot-black twang of Thatcher-era Britannia, Midwest alt-rock melody and fiery D.C. punk are all stitched together with Coliseum calling cards like Patterson’s gruff voice, the steady-as-a-pacemaker rhythm section, and the sense that the band isn’t so much leaving its punk/hardcore tribe behind as pushing the goalposts back.

“While our music has undeniably changed, I don’t think we’ve changed where we are or our place,” says Patterson. “We’ve always been that band able to play with Napalm Death, then go play with Strike Anywhere, or whoever. That’s our biggest asset and biggest drawback, because people really want things to work into a niche, and if you don’t fit into that niche, then they don’t know what to do with you. It’s not about us reaching out into the world, because we’ve never really toured with bands outside of the punk, hardcore or metal world.”

Written with the goal of closing the gap on the usual three years between albums (“This is the only time in 11 years we’ve had the same lineup on consecutive records, and that was part of why I really wanted the three of us to do it right away”), Anxiety’s Kiss oozes with urgency and a shared continuity with 2013’s Sister Faith. It also has Patterson continuing to pour the most delicate and vulnerable sides of himself into the public discourse. From his raw, open-book lyrics to the emotional spigot he yanks out during his legendary between-song banter, he can usually be found introspectively peeling back layers of his fears in a scene/genre where most frontmen are concerned with rebelliously flipping off The Man or demonstrating why you should be fearing them, not yourself.

“Yeah, it has to do with me,” he says of the new album’s title. “I’ve always had anxieties and been a fearful person going back to being a kid. Sister Faith was largely about my wife’s dad and our friend Jason Noble from Shipping News dying, which was my first time dealing with mortality firsthand as an adult. After that happened, things started happening in my psyche that were difficult as a motherfucker to deal with, and I can only assume they were related. There were times of absolute anxiety from the minute I’d wake up to the minute I’d go to sleep. My wife would go to work and I’d be afraid she was going to die on the way. There were fears about things I’ve done a million times before. Like going on tour is as normal to me as brushing my teeth, but things about touring became overwhelming to where I didn’t know if I could do it anymore. So, what do you do? Write songs about it. I’ve always put periods of my life into our records, and that’s one of the things I appreciate about doing this band for so long: being able to put all that stuff into it to get it out there and deal with it.”

—Kevin Stewart-Panko

Eternal Summers: Gold Standard

EternalSummers

Consistency—and patience—is key to Eternal Summers’ success

Nicole Yun can’t think of many bands in the same situation as her own. Coming up on eight years and four albums together, the members of Eternal Summers still live two minutes apart from one another in a cozy Virginia neighborhood. They practice for free in drummer Daniel Cundiff’s basement twice a week. It gets pretty loud, but his roommates don’t mind.

Cundiff and Yun work part-time jobs at a local food co-op in Roanoke. Bassist Jonathan Woods is able to get by without a job. “I’m not sure how,” laughs Yun. “I think he might be hustling on eBay or something.”

Even when they have downtime, the bandmates still get together and jam on the regular. They challenge one another to find their way through different musical scenarios that may or may not turn into songs. Yun says it teaches them about their instincts and strengthens their psychic/musical connection. They also spend time outdoors, riding bikes, hiking in the woods.

“A lot of times, people feel bad for us,” says Yun. “‘Oh, you guys don’t live in a major city. You guys don’t get those opportunities.’ But I think that there are other benefits that we have. Like wow, same lineup—this is our third album with the same lineup. We’ve grown and really gotten to know each other.”

Cundiff and Yun formed Eternal Summers as a duo in 2008; Woods came on two years later, shortly after the release of their spunky indie-pop debut Silver. Whereas Yun sees many of the band’s peers constantly changing lineups and direction, her group has stayed on a relatively stable path.

“Sure, a guitarist is a guitarist,” she says. “But each one is different. It’s not going to sound the same; you’re not going to have the same communication with (another) person. I take it for granted sometimes, but that is one of the best things about this band.”

In an era driven by digital hype, where artists make a massive splash and burn out just as quickly, Eternal Summers have moved at a decidedly measured pace. They gain new fans on each tour; a run with Nada Surf in 2012 yielded a cadre of followers who now come to their shows with home-baked cookies.

But sometimes it’s a little too slow for Yun’s liking; the shimmering Britpop tones of 2012’s Correct Behavior were followed up last year by The Drop Beneath, a record that was unapologetically angry, aggressive and explosive. The title track alone is a seven-minute noise-rock catharsis of Sonic Youth proportions.

“I don’t think that 2013, when we wrote it, was the best year for us,” says Yun. “We were going through a lot of growing pains as a band, not sure if we were going to be on our label or not. There were personal frustrations, too, realizing, ‘Wow, we’re in our 30s and we’re still struggling at this.’ Or maybe not struggling, but still—there was a lot of self-questioning.”

Enter the new Gold And Stone. The album is a handy cross section of sounds Eternal Summers has explored up to this point, but taken several steps further. The aching “Black Diamond” echoes the moodiness of Drop to devastating effect; the blissed-out “Together Or Alone” soars in its revisit of Behavior’s Lush-with-a-capital-L tones. Elsewhere, there’s brilliant anthem “Come Alive,” featuring Yun’s most daring and confident vocal performance to date.

She says the process of taking stock to write Gold was at times perplexing. “Daniel and I used to write very poppy songs, especially in the beginning,” she says. “I don’t think I’m in the same position to write things like that anymore. But I can go back to those general sentiments and general emotional tones.”

It’s stuff that has resonated with listeners bit by bit since Eternal Summers’ earliest seven-inches. In its review of Drop, AllMusic characterized the trio as “the kind that other bands will look to for inspiration 20 years later.” A bit of a backhanded compliment, and Yun hears it a lot—“Eternal Summers: the most underrated band of the past five years” or “Eternal Summers: why does nobody know about them?”

“Maybe there is just a lot going on in the music world,” she says. “Maybe when things die down and people look at enduring music, they’ll consider us something like that.” She laughs and continues: “It’s kind of this weird combination of a really egotistical thing to say about ourselves and really self-deprecating at the same time.”

But if somebody calls your band underrated, they’re still saying it’s good. Just with a frustrating caveat: You’re good, but nobody knows. Then again, there’s another other benefit to Eternal Summers’ slow burn and creative isolation.

“We had no clue that any of this would happen,” says Yun. “We had no clue that we would ever be on a label or make more than one record. Or make any records. All this stuff was never a guarantee. And now, cool things I dreamt about when I was 12 years old are happening.”

Talk about an ideal situation.

—John Vettese

Drug For The Modern Age: Kopecky’s Steven Holmes Comes Clean

Kopecky

In a very moving and personal essay, Kopecky guitarist Steven Holmes details how new album Drug For The Modern Age got its title

I have never been one to wear my heart on my sleeve. I prefer to keep it in my pocket or my backpack or maybe under my bed. Vulnerability is often an unnatural and uncomfortable practice, but over the last few years, I’ve learned that it is integral if you truly want to share this life with the people around you—the people that you love the most, the ones that you hold to closest. Kopecky (formerly Kopecky Family Band) has been an enormous part my world for the past eight years. We have grown into adulthood together, and we have seen each other in our best moments while also seeing each other through our worst. During the years we have spent traversing the country together, we’ve made discoveries about life that may have taken decades to learn otherwise. Despite the somewhat ambitious and ambiguous title of our latest collection of songs, Drug For The Modern Age, at the end of the writing and recording process, we realized a common theme resonating throughout the songs. This record was inspired by real life, real stories—walking through the fire, keeping your chin up and letting your guard down when you have no choice to do otherwise. These songs were written through the lens of very personal experiences: finding love and losing it, addiction, illness, familial division, unexpected death … and finding healing in the midst of it all. Drug For The Modern Age is about learning how to get up when you fall down, and leaning on your friends when you are too weak to stand on your own. We each have our own story to tell, and each tale relates uniquely to what drove us forward throughout the writing process.

This particular story is mine.

Late in the summer of 2011, I quit my job to embark on the first legitimate tour of Kopecky’s career. Over one month of unbridled adventure and music and seeing the world! All of my romantic ideas of what “being in a band” was supposed to feel like would soon be destroyed and resurrected simultaneously. Many nights on the road were spent losing track of time, doing our best to find rest in our 15-passenger van; waking in a sweat or drifting in and out of dreams, lulled by the rattle of our humble van and trailer easing down the interstate. Most nights, we found ourselves on a new stage, sort of tearing our chests open for a new crowd of strangers to give them a glimpse of what was inside. Our first tour was an utterly exhilarating and exhausting introduction to life on the road, and I fell deeply in love with all of it. Six weeks sailed by and our maiden voyage ended; headed home, not quite knowing when we would set our sails next. What happened to me—or in me—during the seven-week jaunt changed life in a way that nothing ever has before, and I was blindsided.

A crippling darkness woke me on my first morning back home, sleeping in my own bed. Sunlight washed the bedroom in gold and yellow. I only saw black and gray. Without warning, nothing about life felt the same—nothing about myself felt the same. This room that I rented became both welcomed refuge, yet strange prison. I somehow lost essentially all desire to go anywhere or to talk to anyone. Phone calls were ignored, invitations were declined. I felt infinitely sad, yet had nothing to mourn save for the sadness itself. Time passed. We played more shows, went on more tours; the darkness remained.

As I tried to wriggle away from the awful emptiness that I had fallen prey to, I only found temporary solutions to a problem that I couldn’t work out alone. I made an appointment to see a doctor, desperation outweighing skepticism, and was treated for depression and social anxiety. I left the office with a prescription that was, in theory, going to chase away the rainclouds in my head and turn my black skies to blue. Yet, being honest about my condition and my feelings (Or, perhaps, lack thereof) felt intensely difficult for me, even with the band—the people that I spend the most of my waking and sleeping hours with. However, I was determined to be forthright with them. Transparent. I explained that I had been wrestling with depression for several months, and that I would be taking medication to even-out some sort of chemical imbalance. I told them that I was inexplicably sad, but soon I would be happy again. I told them that I was sad, and inexplicably so. But soon I would be happy again. I would be myself again. I ached so badly to be myself again.

I spent several months on the “take-one-pill-a-day-before-breakfast-and-the-other-pill-only-when-the-storm-is-blowing-in” regimen, only to find myself in a hole that felt oddly similar to the one that I had woken up in on that first fateful morning. The darkness was eerie and familiar, and I felt less like myself than ever before. Perhaps some chemicals had indeed been balanced in my brain, but I don’t believe it was a balance that my brain really needed. In my crazed quest for wellness, I began a self-medication regimen of my own invention. And so began a nearly endless night.

Over the course of nearly two years, I created a destructive, self-perpetuating system that allowed me to escape myself almost entirely, and by the time that I understood that I was in a dangerous place, it was too late. In my efforts to free myself of the sadness I was feeling, I had inadvertently chained myself to it. I was addicted to the consolation and numbness that I had found, and was terrified and the prospect of anyone knowing. What would my friends and family think of me if they found out the state I was in? The stigma that is branded onto situations of addiction or abuse was one that scared me witless. As far as I knew, my struggle was in secret; for some reason, I thought that it had to stay that way—just me and my demons duking it out until somebody had to throw in in the towel. In reality, my struggle had become painfully obvious to the people closest to me—most of all, the rest of the band.

After a long, blurry, and awfully disorienting streak of abuse, a light found me—several strong and loving hands shook me out of my stupor. Early in August 2014, I was pulled out of a downward spiral that could have become my demise. Also, as fate had it, this was also as Kopecky was entering the studio to begin tracking Drug For The Modern Age, the first week of which I was not present for. I spent a much needed time of rehabilitation with my family in South Carolina while the rest of the band began the process of piecing the new record together.

For myself, the first step in finding a source of real healing was the most important one, and it was simply the act of leveling with myself—being cognizant of my situation, and knowing that I didn’t have to live in a shadow of guilt or fear for feeling the way that I did. It is OK to be weak, it is OK to struggle, and it is OK to hurt. It is also OK to mess up, to stumble and, at times, to not feel like getting back up. As I came to terms with this concept, more light began to emerge around me. Human beings are born broken. We all have an Achilles heel, with each heel different from the next. I found myself stepping back from my immediate situation and began to see it next to the conflicts that my bandmates had faced in recent months and years, and that while circumstances vary, there is essentially one solution for all of us in the end: Open up and share the weight. Everyone is hurting. No one can heal alone.

This is not, by any means, an everything-is-great-and-the-world-is-beautiful-so-suck-it-up-and-smile philosophy. There is nothing to be gained pretending that pain doesn’t exist or that we can always skate around the potholes in the road. Life tosses you lemons, and sometimes life tosses you lemon-shaped hand grenades. Drug For The Modern Age isn’t about sweeping the tough issues under the rug—it’s about sweeping them out from under the rug and into the light of day. It’s finding peace in a den of vipers. Struggling to not be smitten by the things that you love but are bad for you/me/humankind. It’s forging through foggy valleys without a compass. Learning to let your guard down, and learning how to keep your chin up. Dancing, even through the sad songs.

The Weather Station: A Two-Way Street

WeatherStation

The one-woman whirlwind behind the Weather Station learns to take it and dish it out

“You don’t expect to get respect. Then you do, and you’re like, ‘What does this mean?’”

Canadian singer/songwriter Tamara Lindeman, principal member and guiding light for the Weather Station, is on the phone. Loyalty, her debut for North Carolina label Paradise Of Bachelors, has been four years in the making. She is wrestling with the odd nature of indie success and the self-imposed expectations that come with being a perfectionist.

“It was this funny experience where I made this record in a basement with my friends,” says Lindeman, referring to her unexpected 2011 breakout album, All Of It Was Mine. “I didn’t think I was a good songwriter or a good anything, and I wasn’t expecting anything. People were like, ‘This is amazing,’ and I was like, ‘What?’ But then I became very intimidated by it. Why did everybody like that record? I went through the classic thing: why, why, why?”

And while the Daniel Romano-produced All Of It Was Mine was modestly successful (“It’s not like I sold a million records”), its effect on Lindeman was profound.

“I went through a silly phase where I was overthinking everything,” says Lindeman. “I felt like, ‘Ugh, I’m never gonna make another record,’ and maybe I should just stop. Then this thing fell into my lap to make a record.”

This ‘thing’ was a block of time in a mansion-turned-studio outside of Paris with Afie Jurvanen of Bahamas and Robbie Lackritz of Feist. The result, Loyalty, is one of the year’s most stirring and understated folk records, a masterful collection of humble, ethereal and introspective music.

“Really, the main challenge was putting that silliness behind me and recognizing that I just gotta do it and dive in,” says Lindeman. “Then I did it, and it was great. Totally fine.”

—Sean L. Maloney