Pillars of the 90s: An Interview with Coalesce
This is the 11th installment of the Pillars interview series. You can check out the rest here]
Album: 0:12 Revolution in Just Listening
Label: Relapse Records
Favorite Song: "Counting Murders and Drinking Beer (the $46,000 Escape)"
The Bare Bones: 0:12 Revolution in Just Listening is the third full-length by Kansas City metalcore innovators Coalesce, and the last before the band called it quits before temporarily reuniting in the 2000s.
The Beating Heart: Along with contemporaries such as Botch and Converge Coalesce were one of the driving forces in the manic melding of hardcore, mathcore, and metal that left an indelible mark on the underground music scene of the late 90s. Like their peers their music seemed like an experiment in unlikely tension, bringing together the angst and rage of hardcore, the cerebral, math-like time-space distortions of post-rock, and the sheer brutality of metallic hardcore and metal. However, what set Coalesce apart was how volatile it all seemed to be. If that was what it was, an experiment in tension, then Coalesce seemed to most likely to detonate and implode at any given moment, adding a disturbing sense of suspense and anxiety to what was already a very flammable mix. And that volatility serves as the core to their 1999 masterpiece 0:12 Revolution in Just Listening. It's there on the level of music, with the band introducing inhuman amounts of groove and propulsion into their spastic mix, resulting in an album that is at the same time accessible and dangerously on edge. And it's there on the most biographical level, with the album being written and recorded in order to fulfill obligations to their label after the band had already, and not quite amicably, decided to call it quits. It's a small wonder, perhaps some kind of dark miracle, that this album even exists, a suspension and unliklihood that, 22 years later, is a huge part of its charm, endurance, and influence. All of which was more than ample reason for us to want to discuss this groundbreaking recording with Coalesce frontman Sean Ingram (who is also the founder of merch site Merchtable and screen printers Blue Collar Press).
Before that, however, a few words about what this all is, and what I hope to achieve in an investigation of the great albums of the 1990s. I feel like what happened, inadvertently with the Albums of the Decade project was a documentation and to an extent consolidation of what it is that I have loved an admired about the music of the past 10 years or so. I began writing this blog as a way back into music and heavy music after something of a hiatus from metal in the early 2000s and it was for me an investigation not only of what I love but also why I love it. And those interviews were instrumental in my own understanding of my appreciation of music and, really of art more generally. However, having gone through that series as long as I have has also pitted me face to face with the understanding that the wellspring of my own musical inspiration as well as that of many of the artists I admire today – that weird, unique confluence of inspirations that made up the musical scene of the 1990s – had to be tackled in some way.
So, now that that's out of the way, follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Spotify (now also on Twitter) and support whatever it is that we do on Patreon, and check out our kinda-sorta podcast, MATEKHET (YouTube, Spotify and all that). On to the interview with Sean.
Do you remember a moment you had, maybe as a younger person, with a song or an album that just shocked or scared you? Or just completely changed the way you thought about music or what music was and what it could do?
Well, there’s one, I'll tell you right now, it was All Out War by Earth Crisis, no question. It was absolutely All Out War by Earth Crisis. So, I wasn’t really into music growing up and music was kinda new to me. I got into music through skate videos, and my buddy Dan Askew who owns Second Nature Records, who put out a lot of our records, he was the music dude. So I got into music through him and through skateboarding. But i didn’t own my own record player or CD player or anything like that until i was probably 17 or 18. That was the first time I actually bought my own records, you know? So, I don’t have this background like a lot of people have,”It was Zeppelin, it was Black Sabbath,” I got into music when I got into hardcore. That was my first introduction to music! So like, admittedly my taste is gonna be kind of stunted. It wasn’t until much later that I was like “oh my god the world of music there’s so much!” I didn’t know I love jazz, I didn’t know I loved all these other things. So, when we’re talking back in the nineties, I guess we to got to frame it that way – my world was hardcore, that’s all it was. It was hardcore punk. It was Misfits, Fugazi, Nirvana.
So, I remember Earth Crisis, hearing All Out War. We got a videotape of them playing Madison Fest or something like that, before they broke big, and that just blew us away. And then I got a bootleg copy of the song somehow, I must have listened to that thing just over and over for weeks. I mean, who does that? The same song! just never heard anything so heavy, just that “tchoom Tchhom! Tchoom tchoom!”, I mean, everything about it. Even so much that I just wanted to be part of the music scene out there. And when I graduated high school I actually moved to Syracuse.
And lived at Harvard place, which is, I lived across the street from Guav [Justin Guavin] and those guys, all the people in the scene there, and lived with Ben from Earth Crisis for a little bit before I left town. And so, I was in the thick of the hard-line, straight-edge kids. It’s definitely not my world, but I did my best to fit in, because I was just absolutely taken by the songs. That’s how I ended in the band I was in, I just wanted to be a part of it. And this is way before Coalesce, it wasn’t until I moved back home, as all nineteen-year olds, eighteen-year olds who can’t make it on their own, figure it out and go back home to reset and I started discovering other types of music. But, that’s the one. All roads lead back to Earth Crisis.
So, I have a couple of questions about that. That first is that, well, I have asked this question quite a few times, but never has the answer entailed physically moving somewhere else.
Sean: [Laughs] I mean, think about that, I’m in Grandview, Missouri, It’s a suburb of Kansas City. I am a very self-motivated person, I’m an entrepreneur, I have only worked for two companies my entire life, and that was when I was a teenager. I mean, DIY, it’s something that’s in my DNA. So I saw what was going on and I wanted to be a part of it. That wasn’t crazy to me. Now when my kids come up with ideas like that, i’m like "C'mon let's be reasonable!"
Sean: One day, it was Christmas morning, and we had opened presents, and I said “are we done?” And they went “Yeah,” and I said: “OK bye, I’m going to Syracuse, I’ll see you later!” And I literally drove all Christmas Day. I was so excited to get there, I couldn’t wait. I had pen pals, writing through the mail – this is before the internet – I was writing letters to the people like: “Hey do you need a roommate? Do you have a room open?” and they did! And they said “Yeah you can move in.” It was wild, it was really weird. I don’t talk about it real often, but it was a very surreal experience in retrospect. I have four kids, I have two daughters who are under 20 and I see them going, trying to discover themselves. I’m surprised my mom didn’t try to stop me – “OK bye!” And boom! That was it, I was gone.
Can you estimate or gauge, I mean you already said how heavy this riff was, but I mean it couldn’t be just the fact that It was so heavy, right? Or was it just that It was so heavy?
Sean: Well, no, because I had heard other heavy bands, but It’s like when you have this message that makes it heavier, and it has this commitment. It’s taken a long time for me to figure this out. I’ve always been drawn to anything that has a sense of camaraderie or like a brotherhood, those types of things. So, the whole idea of: “We’re in this together, and we all have the same purpose” super attracted me. And it wasn’t half-hearted either, so there was something, it seemed committed. Like “These guys are serious about those things,” and there’s this camaraderie and there’s this brotherhood, just the whole package. And just the way that Karl [Buechner] sang his vocals just spoke to me. I was just hooked, was their biggest fan, I was just absolutely in love with that band.
Assuming that you still consider yourself a musician today and thinking back, not as an 18-year-old or 17-year-old, but as a mature musician…. How old were you when you heard that song at first?
Well, I was probably 17 or 18, well… September, just turned eighteen. So I was probably seventeen and then I moved on Christmas.
So, sometimes things happen to us when we’re 17 and it’s like being hit by a truck, right? And then you just act on it and you kinda chase that thread. And you do things after that, but one of the things that artistic endeavor entails is that you amass experience and you amass objects that you made that are different from one another, and all these things kinda happen and then suddenly you can stop and look back and say “That’s kinda weird that path I took there,” and you can actually start looking at some of the choice you made. So I guess my question will be: Do you now, as an older person, look at that 17-year-old and say “I get what was attractive about that to the point where I Identify that also to what I do now,” or “There’s a grain of whatever it is that blew up in my mind when I was 17 or 18 that has become something I can talk about now?”
I mean, I think that I had this experience several times in my life. Like for instance – in my thirties, I had left this church, actually I was asked to leave a church. I left on bad terms with the pastor. And again, I want community, always wanted to be around community. And I left, and as I’m driving down the street I saw these kids playing this game called bike polo, polo on bikes. And, I looked at them and again, same thing, it just struck me, I was like: “You know what? This is Sunday and these guys, they’re going to bike church, and I bet these guys have the best relationships,” and I’m projecting all these things, like what I wished I had, but didn’t have like in a church setting. And like these guys, they’re not going to church but they still have the same complete camaraderie.I was there the next Sunday, and this is my 30s, not when I was 17.
Next thing you know, I started a bike polo company and I want to be a part of it. Next thing you know, my bike polo company was actually the biggest bike polo company in the world. We were investing in pilots and we were gonna try to take it mainstream, we got a deal with a cable network. I mean, we went as far as it can go! And so my experience at seventeen verses thirty, twenty-four, is basically the same. I met my wife, I fell in love with her, I married her six months later, we've been married over twenty five years. It’s like my personality is that I just know what I want when I see it. And then I know that I just have a very entrepreneurial spirit, so to me it’s just like: “How can I make this work for me?” Or “How can I do what I love and make money and keep doing it? How can I take this thing and make it bigger?” So when I think back about how I did it back then, to me it’s not much different.
For instance, if I could talk to myself again at 17 and I had the chance to warn myself about all those things that were going to happen, I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t say a word. Because you know what? Everything that happened there was life changing. I went on Christmas Day and then I came back for Easter and I didn’t bother going back because I was so homesick. And I did so much growing up in those couple months that it seemed like an eternity, but like it was just a couple months. I do love those life challenges and I’m not saying it to everything I’ve ever done, that I wouldn’t redo anything, there’s many things I like to undo and redo, but as far as adventuring, and that’s how I classify that is like, what type of life-adventure I’m going on now – I’m getting out of Greenview, what’s the worst that can happen, If I come back alive I’m ok. To me, it’s just kinda who I am.
And me joining Coalesce, it’s the same thing! I met Jes [Steineger], saw how he played and I was like “I want to be a part of this.” I didn’t like everything that he was doing, I didn’t understand most of it, but I knew, I was smart enough to know that something special was going on and I wanted to be a part of it. So I moved mountains to be a part of that, as I did in other instances of my life, and that’s still a part of my life today.
I actually wanted to ask a question about that – pertaining to Coalesce. One of the things that you notice when you listen to Coalesce is that, and I don’t really know how to frame this in a most brilliant way, the band, and I’m excluding you from it, right? It seems like it’s a very intense, cerebral effort, to play the way they play. You can’t just wing that. That has to be, I mean at least for me as my experience as a listener, I don’t know about the truth of it right, but that has to be something that’s rehearsed, that has to be something that’s thought out, it feels like someone’s brain is straining. I think one of the reasons people use that term “mathcore” is because it sounds nerdy, right? It sounds like someone really over-thought this. Now, when I add you, that’s something different, because it sounds like you’re doing your thing, it sounds like you’re saying what it is you want to say and it sounds like you don’t really care about doing it right or doing it precisely. Even your lyrics are weird that way because it’s a run-on sentence followed by another run-on sentence, you don’t necessarily feel like you need to fit with the band. And so, it feels like it’s this clashing of two forces, right? There’s the band that’s doing everything they can to keep it like tight even though it’s chaotic and weird, it’s really kind of, very well thought-out, and it feels like you’re just freaking out all over it.
And so, I guess I wanted to ask about the process: Was it the case that Jes and the guys were like, figuring out how the song will be and you would just come out and yell at it? I mean, how did that dynamic work? I guess that’s the one question. And the other question will be – does anything that I said makes sense at all?
So, we always had a thing, internally, that went: “Blood and scars, not computer-chip guitars.” To us, we definitely weren't like a tech-metal precise thing, we always wanted to have feel. Now, as far as how it panned out with math and all of that stuff. I had no clue what a 4/4 beat was, and actually I think Coalesce ruined me on 4/4 beats because, to me a 4/4 beat, it’s a 5/5, I'm so used to writing 5/5, it just sounds more natural to me. So when we were doing 4/4 later on, like on the Salt And Passage, I kept messing it up in the studio and they were like “Sean it’s not 5/5.”
Again, I’m somebody who just didn’t come from music. My education comes from that. That being said, Coalesce is Jes. All of that cerebral stuff is Jes. Jes is weird, he’s a super-unique person, that's how he plays. When he plays an acoustic guitar, that’s how he plays. He is the biggest Metallica fan I have ever met but he never plays like Metallica, except for no double picking, all fully downstrokes.
The Hetfield school of picking.
But that’s how he thought. So, the idea that he sat down and got bored and did math and all that stuff, that’s isn’t how it worked. James [Dewees] or Jim [Redd[, whichever drummer at the time, would say “play the riff,” and they would count it out, and then they would create the beat and if he added the riff, with the right attitude or whatever, then they would count it in, and then they would mess around with it, reduce one, add one. And if it felt right then it’s day. So it was always the feel, never based around a sound, it was always based on a feel, if it felt cool to play it. Because there are riffs later on that were just two or three notes. “Cowards.Com” is on that record, three notes. They had to feel cool, It just had to feel cool to play, if it didn’t then it wouldn’t make it past the writing process.
Now, that’s not to say that there are some songs that, after a while, just didn’t feel fun to play live. Sometimes there’s something that feels great to play in a studio that then suck to play live. And that being said, those songs didn’t last very long. There’s a handful on 0:12 that we played once or twice live and we're like “You know what? We don’t want to play this anymore, this is not fun.”
As far as the writing process, that’s Jes. Now as far as when I do my part, if you start to count up my syllables and you see where they land on beats and actually find the patterns on it. The way that I wrote was actually more like rap than it was punk. I remember some magazines would critique me saying “Sean uses too many syllables,” or whatever, or “He uses too many words,” because they didn’t know what syllable were.
To me, those syllables have to fit in a certain way. Maybe that’s not as easy to tell on the early records, but on Ox you can definitely tell because it’s more precise and we were better at our craft at that point in our lives. But no, it’s not just yelling, it is very precise and it is definitely a line you have to walk between “What I want to say” and “In how many syllables can I say it without it sounding dumb.” It’s a complete thought, where can this thought carries on to the next thought, which is the run-on sentences you’re talking about. The lyrics are meant really to be read on their own, they’re meant to be a part of the mood. Some of these run-on sentences are part of the riff and how it’s going on and on, just like on one of our first songs “The Harvest of Maturity” when I go “Again and again and again.” That’s how I approached it.
You know it’s interesting, the way you’re describing how lyrics fit a beat and not necessarily, say an entity unto itself, right? Is a way of poetry that is dead. But it was very much alive, Anglo-Saxon poetry. Anglo-Saxon poetry was not a rhyme-based poetry, it was a stress-based poetry. So, they would write poetry with a beat, like an internal beat that follows the stresses of the words, as opposed to how the sentence ends or how long the line is. And that is closer to how hip-hop is since hip-hop, even if you don’t have the music, you can hear the beat in the cadence, in the stresses. In modern times that way of doing poetry is kind of a dead art because everyone usually does rhyme-based poetry or no structure at all. But it makes me think of a man called Gerard Manley Hopkins who invented something called “sprung rhythm” in the 19th century. He was kinda very aware of Anglo-Saxon tradition and he was trying to bring them back, in a way, as a kind of rebellion against his contemporary culture. I think part of it was the fact that he was a Catholic in a Protestant world and he felt like he needed to rebel, in a way that wasn’t just content, if it makes sense, he wanted to rebel in form. And it’s funny, this whole conversation, because I never thought of hardcore as rebellion verses form in that way, but maybe there’s something relatable there.
Anyway, it’s interesting to hear you say that what you did was to follow the beat, and then you got criticized by critics, who will say that you’re using too many words and the fact that it all sounds…. Obviously it’s not done on a chalkboard, like you said, it’s all done by feel and obviously Coalesce is a very feel-based band, I didn’t mean to say that you guys were sterile in any way. Just that it was very well thought out.
That makes sense because, I was gonna say too, when we would have to rehearse without Jes it was me and the drummer.
If we were ready to go on tour, we would always rehearse for two weeks before we left for tour. Three, four times a week. And Jes might not be there because Jes has always lived in Chicago or St. Louis or wherever. You know, he’s never really lived here, so we would have to phone it in. Now that I’m hearing you, it does make a lot more sense why if they played basslines and the guitar I couldn’t do it, I had no clue where the words go with the beat. Also it has a lot to do with the fact that, live, I would wait for the beat. You can’t hear any riffs, you can’t hear any tones or anything like that live too, so, yeah. That’s interesting. It makes a lot of sense when you put it that way.
So, I want to get to 0:12 Revolution in Just Listening. I kind of went all over the place trying to decide what album I wanted to talk about, but that one had some things that are interesting to me and so I wanted to bring them up. One of the things was that it’s a very interesting album in the lifetime of the band, because you were basically done as a band when it came out. That’s kind of an odd thing.
We were done when we wrote it. Like, not even when it came out, we weren’t on speaking, we were not on speaking terms when we were writing it.
Yeah, it sucked really bad. I mean, there were some things that, because of that, made that record really interesting and special, but I wouldn’t want to go through it again.
I was about to say that the album, even if you didn’t know that biographical detail, which is a very odd detail, not a lot of albums are made when bandmates don’t want to talk to each other, or have already decided that they don’t want to be a band anymore, so that’s a very special kind of moment in a band’s life. But even if you didn’t know that, it feels like it’s an album where everyone is waking up from something, right? It’s as if you went on this trip and you maybe went loaded with certain preconceptions or ideals that you want to act out in the world through being a musician, through making art and so on. And there’s that cliche of young artists, that there’s always this kind of initial impetus, you always want to change something, you always want to do something, and then it kinda hits a wall and you realize that maybe the thing you want to change, maybe some of it is not changeable, maybe some it is not as bad as you thought and the revolutionary spirit of it gets narrowed down. Which is also why I love the title: Revolution in Just Listening. Because “revolution” is a very big word and “just listening is supposedly a very minor thing to do in life, you're supposed to do it all the time: at home, at work, in your band. And so, it feels like it’s an album where a lot of things kinda get cut down to size, in a very interesting way.
And I guess I’d like to ask you, and obviously some of it is referenced in the album, the cost of being on the road all the time and “maybe that’s not the life I want,” but to what extent was that album a coming to terms with the fact that something is not what you thought it was going to be?
Well, speaking for myself…. Before I knew we were going to talk, I wanted to think back about everything. My recollection is that Jes just didn’t want to be in a band anymore. Jes is like that He would be like “I want to be in the band!” and we would do the band again. That’s how Salt And Passage happened, and then it moved into Ox and OxEP. But if Jes didn’t want to do the band then it was like: “OK, cool, we won’t do the band.” He didn’t have much emotional attachment to it, not the same way I did. So that frustration, lyrically from my end, was the frustration that I did want to be on the road. Coalesce was the coolest thing I had ever done in my life at that point, so I wanted to keep doing things, I wanted to keep being creative, it was important to me. So from my end “What Happens on the Road” was not just from a personal perspective it was also me putting words in other people’s mouths. It was how I viewed people viewing the situation.
So, that’s where the tension came from, lyrically, from wanting to keep doing it. We had incredible adventures, we met incredible people. That whole time was so exciting. We were nobodies in Kansas City, nobody came to see our shows in Kansas City up until the end. And then we would go to the East Coast and we’re playing these huge places with Converge and Jesuit and we’re accepted with our contemporaries and all that stuff. It was a really cool feeling and, again, that whole theme of belonging and having a tribe, so that was important for me. That’s where all of that kinda came from. When you’re saying, and I’m probably paraphrasing here, but you’re saying like “Maybe things weren’t exactly as I wanted them to be” – that was Ox. When we got back together that is when my attitude or my behavior of wanting to do more or wanting them to do more than they wanted to do….. I was notorious for pushing Jes. It’s like “We have to get this done! We wanna do this, don’t we want to do this thing? Let’s go on tour, let’s do this,” always planning things. I was the guy that was doing all that stuff, and toward the later years it created friction because to Jes it was just a band, to me it was my life. I couldn’t just set it down, it was really hard for me to set it down.
You wanted it to be your life full-time?
Sure, totally. At 19? Totally, why not? That’s what I appreciate about Converge – it wasn't my band that did that but goddamnit I wasn’t wrong, a band could’ve done it. I appreciate Converge so much, they were our contemporaries and we were playing these little shows with them and they’re still killing it and it’s their full-time job. They do other stuff I get it, that there are things you do, I’m sure I would’ve done it too, but, people would tell me that I was crazy to think that I can do that Coalesce or any hardcore band could be that. “Hardcore bands are bands that you can’t support yourself with,” so like tell that to Neurosis, tell that to Converge, these guys worked for it and they deserve what they got because they made sacrifices and they worked hard. So, that is what I wanted.
But when we got back together for Salt And Passage later on, that was at the point where it was like “You know what? I’m not making these guys do anything. You want to do something, you tell me and I’ll do it.” And my position was very very passive at that point, in my opinion. Our European tour, Jes pushed for that, he made that happen, and Ox was something that Jes wanted to do, so he worked it out with the bandmates and we made it happen. I worked with Relapse on figuring what was going with our contract at the time because it was very unclear, so I helped with that part, but I wasn’t pushing like I had done back in the past.
So that was more of me dealing with my own shit, instead of trying to make this thing happen. And I made some missteps, major ones. I always joke that I George Lucas-ed Give Them Rope, because it’s like “Well I can’t make a new record but we can fix the things that we didn’t like about the first record,” and that was just a stupid thing of me to do. It’s like, dude, can someone go back and tell me in the past that like “Hey man, this error, this flaw, is a feature.” Once it’s out, it’s accepted. The best way I can describe it is that I mentioned earlier that growing up on skateboarding videos it’s how I listened to music. I’m 45 years old, and to this day when I listen to Dinosaur Jr I know where every kickflip, grind and powerslide is on “Freak Scene” because that's how I learned it, from Santa Cruz Speed Freaks. To hear it cleaned up and different, I don’t like it.
Again, like you said earlier, when you listen to it in your teens, everything about it, if you like it you like all of that, nobody wants to go back and hear it cleaned up, they want the original. But again, that’s just like an example of just not being able to let go, I just kept fucking with stuff, and I did my best to put it back the way it should have been, by just creating both because I realized that the band is so old now that like people heard the remastered version for the first time and they loved that one and they don’t want to hear the old one, it just created a whole mess.
“Changing art, why did they do that, that was really stupid!” I just wish I could go back and just slap my hand like a nun school teacher, you know? Just leave it alone, let it be as it was. And really where I learned that was, we got to do the BBC sessions. And on one of the songs Jes punched in on the wah paddle late and it totally fucked up the song. If you ever hear the sessions you can hear how it’s like *broken wah wah sound,*, it’s totally messed up. Jes was like “We need to go back and fix that” and the guy who was recording was like “Nope! This is a live recording, I’m not recording your next studio album! I’m not recording, you fucked up, it was cut by time, this is the way it goes.” And that was a really good lesson, I wish I would’ve learned that like twenty years earlier. Let the fuck-up be, leave it alone, don’t try to fix it. As an artist and I get George Lucas why he does things, he wants to make things perfect, but can you honestly say that the remastered editions of Star Wars are better than the first cut?
Do we really need to see Jabba in CGI? So, that came with Ox to where I could let go and do that, but even 0:12, the whole reason that it came together was we got this advance. The only reason we could have recorded and written it is because we got this advance for a van that we went on this tour with that blew up on the road and we owed Relapse something like six thousand dollars. Matt Jacobson, he’s the president, called me and he said “Hey it’s time talking about recording” I was like “Dude we’re not even on speaking terms” and he’s like: “Well I gave you the money so you’re gonna have to give me a record.” And he was just very upfront, and, rightfully so, not understanding. Just like: “Look you made a commitment to do the thing.” So I did call Jes and said “Look, we took the money, we’re under the contract, so what are we gonna do about it?” and he said, and I’m very much paraphrasing because my memory’s not that good, but I do remember him saying something like: “Fine, fuck it, we’ll write a record, we’ll get it done.”
And he made the arrangements and then we were in Kansas City when we wrote it. And I was there for some of the sessions to hear some of the songs, but it wasn’t like the old times where I would… For instance until we got back together after ‘99 I had never sung those songs live together as a band. The music was made and then I came and did all the vocals. So, nothing was cleared with anybody, no-one collaborated lyrically or art-wise, title-wise, it was just put together that way. I did care about that record very much, it wasn’t like a throwaway thing like “Here’s your record to get out of our contract.” I was ecstatic, because I got my win. I get to write another record, I love writing records, I would do anything to write another record today with anybody. So that was how that came together, even then, it was just pushing.
But my recollection is that was the last time I pushed for something in the band, or pushed to make the band happen with that group. You know what, I take that back: In 2002 we actually did a small tour because the internet was new and the internet changed everything, and when the internet was new people cared about Coalesce. We’re very much in the halls of remembrance now, in 2020, but in 2002, when bands like The Dillinger Escape Plan and Converge were getting huge money, were getting paid 8,10, 20 thousand dollar a show for festivals and things like that, that’s when we had this Coalesce message board and people were saying “Do another tour! Do another tour!” And of course I got that bug in my head and I knew somebody that could play Jes’s part, so we literally went out with just a replacement for Je. So it was Stacey [Hilt], the original bassist, and James Dewees on drums and me and a buddy of ours, Cory White, he played the guitar, he did a great job on it. But it wasn’t Jes. Coalesce is, for all his faults, Jes’s band and later on, Nathan Ellis’s band, because Nathan is every bit as talented as Jes. Again, slap the hand, Sean, you shouldn't have done that you know? I would not have appreciated Jes going without me and I know he didn’t appreciate us going without him. We worked it out, but still.
I have a kind of a difficult question, maybe an unfair question. One of the things that is a recurring theme in this interview series I talked to you about is bands not really making it together as a result of different opinions about what being in a band means. And certain members wanting to be in a band more, to be in a more of a full-time situation, and certain members wanting to keep it a part time situation or a hobby. That was the case with Isis ending, that was the case with Agalloch ending, and interestingly also related to cases that made it, right? So one of the bands that I talked to, called Cult Of Luna, had a moment where they kinda found out that if they pressed the gas pedal too much on the band thing, they don’t like it anymore, that’s not fun for them.
I hear that.
And everyone talks about the Neurosis model. The Neurosis Model is this kind of template for success and longevity. But the Neurosis model entails a lot of patience. Right? Because you need to be able to come back after tour and go back to do your day job and then kind of hook up again in a couple years and maybe start working on the album and being OK with not touring and being OK with seeing other bands get bigger than you and getting the spotlight and all that, and that takes a lot of commitment to not over-do things in a way, right? To not tour too much, not write too much, kinda protect your brand in a way, maybe in a conscious way, leave the people wanting more and all that. I guess my unfair question is – it doesn’t seem like it could have been the case for you guys because you wanted it. I mean, you’re saying it yourself, right? You weren’t able to be patient that way. Would that be fair to say?
No it’s totally fair. Dude, we wrote a fucking about it, it’s called Functioning on Impatience because we were so impatient for Give Them Rope to come out that we wrote another fucking record, and that’s what title of the record means. It’s like we are on fire and we need to get it out! So yeah totally, one hundred percent, I think that’s totally fair. You know, that’s never a discussion we ever had. Maybe we weren’t mature enough to understand if that’s a question that needs to be asked or mature enough to be able to hear the answer if it wasn’t what we wanted to hear, or what. My idea of a band now would be to soak up every minute of being out and just playing music and having fun. Enjoying every beer backstage, making sure I talk to every fucking stranger I see back there, because there were so many interesting people and I was just too focused on this or being too competitive. I’m sure you’ve heard stories of The Dillinger Escape Plan and Converge and like doing weird things and bands being competitive or whatever, Coalesce was a part of that too. It’s so dumb because, it’s like: “Doyou really own one record?” It’s just such a stupid thing, and like you mentioned earlier, seeing other bands get bigger than you. In retrospect it doesn’t make sense because people consume all media, it’s not like: “Oh the new Converge is out, I’m not even gonna listen to it because I have a six-year-old Coalesce record.” People just consume media, I consume books, I consume different things, like how-to manuals, or magazines, or stories, whatever your thing is, people would just consume. They’re not content with something from ten years ago just because something is similar. It was so stupid for any of us in bands back then to be like that. The way we should have been was: “Oh cool, Converge is doing very well, that means that they’re making headspace for the rest of us.” But instead it was: “Why am I not that big?” Well, I’ll tell you why because we’re not out there touring, we’re not out there working like they are, so yeah, I think it’s totally fair.
I don’t ever remember Jes saying: “Hey man I just want to party with this thing, I just want to hang out with this” but to me it went without saying that if you’re gonna write a record, you’re committed to this thing! But again, I’m an entrepreneur by heart so when I look at things, I look at how can I build them? I’m calling you from my merchandising company. Some of the bands we talked about I worked with on their online stores and tour merchandise, Steve Von Till being one of them. So, to me, this company, Merchtable and Blue Collar Press, is really kind of a symbol of how my brain works: “I love it so much, how can I do this for a living?” I don’t want to go working at Home Depot, you know what I mean? I don’t want to go work at Walmart or whatever. I want to work in music, with people I admire. So that’s how my brain was, of course that’s how I wanted to approach Coalesce, but the guys didn’t understand that about me either.
I remember one year Nathan Ellis came to me, we get along now obviously, but we had a falling out around 0:12 and he came by my work at one time to get something, and this is years ago, it was like ten employees or something like that, and my business was really dialed-in and they’re running around and stuff like that, and he wrote me this really nice letter and he said: “Man, I don’t know why I’ve always been so mad at you but,” and I’m paraphrasing it, “I don’t know why I was so mad but I don’t feel mad at you, now I’m jealous of you, because I saw your business and I see how you have like ten fifteen people buzzing around, and it’s cool you know and I want to do” or something like that. Basically he’s telling me that he admired what I had done, and I thought it was really nice of him but it showed me that, at that time I was like “Oh! He doesn’t understand me” because this is how I wanted Coalesce to be. To me the next logical step is that we would start a record label, and then we would start signing bands that we liked, and then we’ll have a management company, and so on. That’s how my brain worked, whereas their brain worked like: “We're gonna write this record, have some beers, meet some cool people and go home.”
So, I missed out on that because I didn’t let myself have fun on tour. They did. But they also didn’t make businesses out of the band like I did. We both ended with what we set out to do, in roundabout ways, but I think all of it was just that we were really immature and didn’t get it, didn’t get each other, didn’t understand ourselves, worst of all, and understand who we were. That takes time and therapy, so I don’t fault us for that, hindsight sure is 20/20.
Or 0:12 in this case. That was a bad joke, I’m sorry. Ok, so I wanted to ask you about the music on 0:12 but I guess maybe that’s semi-redundant because you say you had very little to do with that process, kind of intentionally but I was kind of struck by how groovy it was and at times it kinda sounds rock-y, like some kind of classic rock version of Coalesce. Have you ever noticed that?
Yeah, of course, I loved it. When I first heard the songs I was ecstatic, I was so stoked. Because some of the stuff that feels good to Jes is difficult for me, because I don’t have a musical ear – again, I’m counting up beats – but when this one was when the 5/5 started, and that’s where I hit my stride, I think, was on that. I think that some of it had to do with the Zeppelin record, going to do the Led Zeppelin cover album for Aaron Turner at Hydra Head. And again, that felt good, so I have a feeling that’s how it moved over to that.
In my warped mind I thought about how you’re this weird band doing weird music, very yell-y, very violent, aggressive, difficult music right? And then you make an album that just happens to be the album you make after you break up and it has all these grooves in it, other than the Led Zeppelin album coming along the way the same time. So I kind of thought that if I was in a band that was always on the edge of trying to be difficult, or not trying to be difficult, but being this kind of thorned-in-classic-rock’s-side, which is kinda like hardcore, since the beginning, so if I say “Fuck it let’s break up,” that might be the album I will play some grooves on. Because maybe I don’t feel like pushing back against something is my top priority anymore, does that make sense?
Yeah, it’s possible there’s a little bit in that. Again, I don’t feel like Jes ever wrote a record to impress anyone in his life. I think that Jes never read reviews, Jes didn’t give a shit if you liked his band or not. You can tell him that Coalesce was shit to his face and he would just laugh.
He didn’t care. I was the one who fucking cared! I was the one that took it personally and got my feelings hurt. So I think that if I was writing the record what you just said would have been very much true. But I think that, knowing Jes, I think that he just played Led Zeppelin and he was just in a Led Zeppelin mode at the time [laughs]. I mean, even in our most personal moments, have I never heard Jes talking in any way, shape or form about “Hey, the critics are really gonna have a problem with this.” I mean he was just like: “Check out this riff, I love it!” That was Jes. “Check out this riff, what do you think? How can you make this feel like this? I wanted it to feel like this.” That’s how he did and to me that was, that’s what I aspire to do now, it’s like in anything that I do. I was definitely the one that was just like “Well, how are the fans gonna take it?” or whatever. I mean, fuck dude, “Wild Ox Moan,” have you listened to that song? That was the song he demanded be the single for Ox. Does it sound anything like us? It's an old country bluegrass song that he rewrote. He thought it was the coolest song, so that’s the way it is.
I envy people like that.
It’s so cool, right? But he's just a weird dude so it’s easy to misunderstand him, it’s easy to be misunderstood by him, but he will always be in your corner. hH’s just a really unique dude. You know, like the old Apple campaign “Think different”? That was Jes. Again, that’s what I recognized about him early on, it was just like “This dude’s weird! He thinks differently, I love what he’s doing, I don’t understand it but I want to be a part of it.”
That’s incredible, That’s amazing. OK, so last question. Looking back at that album, at 0:12, is there anything about it, if you even listen to these anymore, looking back at it, at the process, even though it was a very difficult album, you said you would never want to go through that experience of you know, writing and recording an album with people you don’t speak with. But as a work of art, if you’re able to assess it, is there something about that album you’re happy about? Like a song or a choice or something you did? For instance, or a lyric?
You know, I’m actually really happy with it. That was one of the few records that my vocals actually came through strong without being painful. From the standpoint of my own performance, I was really happy with the way that it came together, the way that my stuff came together. I was also really happy with the way that when we actually got into the studio, there was no beef. That we were able to just get in and put it together. I do regret redoing the artwork, I think that Dan Henk’s artwork was just so weird and exactly what I wanted. And we took off the tabs that were on it. Because Jes was out of state he would send tabs to me to show how the riffs are put together and stuff, he wasn’t there to show it. But, again, that’s me George Lucas-ing things. I just really feel like as the record sat I was really proud of it when it came out. I remember when it came out and we got the package it wasn’t like “Oh yeah, this thing that I had to do” it was just like “Yeah I want to look at it.” I was really proud of it.
I mean, just being able to get through all the bullshit. Just a year prior he said “No i’m not gonna redo this” now i’m holding it in my hands, it was just a lot of hard work. And just seeing how people reacted to it, because I do remember at that time we were not active, so I didn’t care what people said about it or us or whatever, I wasn’t following or seeing if the record was doing well. And I remember getting a call from one of the Relapse guys and he’s like “Hey man, people are really liking this record! Can we put you on some festivals, can we start talking about playing again?” It just seemed that fans actually did respond to it, and I think it was more accessible, definitely more accessible than Give Them Rope! Give Them Rope was just a wall of noise so having those grooves probably got people, it was easier for em’ to digest. Yeah, it is definitely a weird one, for sure [laughs], no question. Definitely like this weird bookmark in our catalog.