Young Widows Old Wounds

Young Widows Old Wounds
When metallic hardcore juggernauts Breather Resist parted ways with singer Steve Sidoni in late 2005, guitarist and songwriter Evan Patterson took up the mic and the band became Young Widows one week later. Ditching the boundaries of aggressive hardcore, and with Evan on vocals, Young Widows were more of a noisy indie rock band on debut Settle Down City. Their sophomore effort, Old Wounds, however, takes their evolution even further. Still built on slowed down, Jesus Lizard-inspired riffs and murky dynamics, Patterson’s vocals are front-and-centre, leading the songs through their sludgy depths. Uniquely produced by Converge’s Kurt Ballou, the record mixes studio and live recording for a textured sound that matches studio fullness with live spontaneity. From the driving plod of "Took a Turn” through to the heavy fuzz of "Lucky and Hardheaded,” Nick Thieneman’s grubby, distorted bass works with Jeremy McMonigle’s hypnotic drumming to form the record’s backbone, leaving plenty of room for Patterson’s commanding vocals and thoughtful guitar. The diversity between tracks is astounding, where songs like "21st Century Invention” and "The Heat Is Here” use melodies comparable to early Fugazi, while tracks like "Delay Your Pressure” stay pissed off. Truly post-punk in its innovative approach to songwriting and production, Old Wounds is the sound of a band pressing forward without ignoring where they came from.

Did you change the way you write songs for Old Wounds?
Evan Patterson: With the new album, I wanted to use more of an organic approach to songwriting. I used verse-chorus-verse-chorus but I tried to do something really memorable. Ten or 30 years from now, I want to listen to it and it won’t be dated. That’s one of the main goals of mine; I want someone to be able to listen to it and enjoy it for the rest of their lives, rather than, "Oh yeah, remember this hardcore record I used to like?” There are very few punk records that come out today that I think will hold up to the test of the time, because I feel like it’s unexciting to hear the same drum parts, the same chords, the same vocal patterns, the same vocal style, the same melodies. It’s always been important to me to not do stereotypical melodies.

Why did you decide to record some of the record live?
I’m a huge fan of live recordings. A good live recording, in my opinion, always has more energy than a studio recording. I’ve never heard a live record and said, "You know, I really wish they hadn’t played that part as heavy as they did live.” I love all the fuck-ups and all the characteristics of a live recording way more than this modern day, precise bullshit that we’re all listening to now. It’s just lifeless to me. It’s just really important to me to put something real on the record that’s not slaved over, and have the live energy mixed together with the studio sound. People have asked me if it’s cohesive and the answer is yeah because we wanted it to be that way. It’s not like it accidentally happened. It was a cool idea and we set out to do it and did. I think it’s the best recording I’ve ever done. It has the most personality. There are fuck-ups on there and there are vocal bits I don’t like but it has character and I really think that comes through.

Are you currently in any other bands?
I’m actually in another band called Black Cross with my brother [Ryan Patterson]. We haven’t played in over a year and a friend in town asked if we wanted to play a show with them, so my brother, who’s in Coliseum, just got back from Europe yesterday, and we’re practicing every day this week to play a Black Cross show on Saturday. It’s a pretty hectic week.

Did you come up in punk and hardcore?
Yeah, it was through my brother and skateboarding. I was 11 years old when I first started skateboarding, and with the help of Thrasher magazine and xeroxed skate rock tapes to seeing all the bands ads and T-shirts. The whole culture of skateboarding back then was based around punk rock and it’s changed a lot but that’s where all my roots are, with classic punk like Minor Threat, Misfits, Black Flag, Dinosaur Jr., Lemonheads and Wire.

Did things naturally evolve towards the shift away from punk with Young Widows?
Honestly, I feel like I’ve been playing the same music for my entire life. Breather Resist were a little bit heavier but I feel like that’s because I was writing based on everyone’s interests in the band. With the singing, one of the guys wanted to scream, and the other guys were in metal bands before. Now Nick, who used to play bass in Breather, is in Young Widows. He has more of a Nirvana and Melvins background, that’s how he got into music. But he’s also into a lot of the progressive post-punk that I’m into.

Still, a lot of people would think the sound has changed. Have you had to deal with any backlash?
I wouldn’t say "backlash” but people have said, "Oh, this isn’t heavy; it’s not metal anymore. It’s boring.” I don’t really care what people think about my music though. That’s been my attitude from day one. I just want to write music that I don’t think is boring and that I find stimulating, and hopefully it’ll relate to someone else. If I wasn’t playing music I’d be creating some other kind of art, sculpting or painting or something like that. That’s kind of what I mean when I say I’ve been playing the same music for my whole life. If you go back and listen to every song and break it down to drum, bass and guitar parts, all of the ideas been pretty simple. I guess it’s just in the way it’s executed. It’s pretty simple. Breather Resist were obviously way, way heavier than Young Widows are, and at this point I don’t think it makes any sense to write heavy music the same way I did three years ago because I’ve already done it. There always has to be progression. Otherwise it’s just going to get boring.

How exactly did Young Widows form?
It kind of just happened through our frustrations with the singer of Breather Resist. When you do a band with someone for three years, it’s not that you grow to hate someone, it’s just that when you’re on tour for almost 200 days year, and the next 150 and it keeps slowing down, it gets to the point where you’re like, "why do we keep slowing down?” And you realize it’s because we don’t want to be around each other. That was the start of it. And we were always trying to get our singer to go in different directions and progress with the band and he just did his thing and screamed. He never really changed a lot. Breather played our last show in December of 2005 and from there we started practicing the next week and it took off. We didn’t know what we were going to call the band or if we were going to keep the same name or any of that. So now it’s almost three years later and I feel like the band have progressed and come into their own. I still feel like I’m playing the same songs but with a different progression.

Do you find that you have to fight to make sure you keep progressing and don’t get stagnant?
Not really. I hear other guitarists and musicians say that they have to do different tunings or do something weird. Granted, I love guitar pedals and weird amps and all that but I’ve never felt like I needed to jump into a new tuning or get a drummer to play a different way. I feel like that’s naturally going to happen with songwriting. Every time I write a song, I have a really hard time using a drumbeat if we’ve already used it before, even though bands use the same 4/4 drumbeats. It’s almost ignored in the music world how generic so many things are — so many records have the same exact songs, the same drum parts. With that, I really want every song to have its own life. If the next song comes on and you don’t know it’s the next song, I don’t think it’s a well-written song or a well-written record.

Have you always lived in Louisville? What’s it like to play music there?
I actually grew up in Elizabethtown, you know that movie Cameron Crowe did? That’s where I was raised for 16 years, and then when I got out of high school I moved to Louisville. But it was always a second home. When I was skateboarding and going to shows I would always go to Louisville. Louisville doesn’t have a ton of people. The biggest indie rock or punk bands would attract 300 or 400 people, and that’s a huge show. And then the major label bands can draw 700 or 800, maybe a thousand. It’s such a small, tight scene that bands like Slint, Shipping News, Rodan and Evergreen, all of those old bands work together and know each other. I feel like we’re not too far away from what’s going on. Our approach is a little more unique and melodic. I don’t know where we would live and the kind of music would be the same. I feel like it fits in the best here.

So you feel that it’s more tightly knit community?
Yeah, because it’s such a small scene. Of the active bands in town, the number that have gone out of town and are still touring is very small. There are maybe six or seven bands in Louisville that tour the States at all. That’s not very many bands. But then when you think about how many people are here, it’s pretty good.

Do you look forward to coming back to Louisville after tour?
I’m always really excited to be home. The summer’s a little brutal because I work in a screen-printing shop and it’s 115 degrees, so I’m mentally and physically exhausted every day, but beyond that I love coming home. It’s super laidback and you just know everyone. That can also be a bad thing because you get dependant on the few people you know that have similar interests. It’s so small that they can’t all always come to your shows. But then you are pushed to figure things out on your own. In a bigger city there are so many people. I put on a Russian Circles show yesterday and they played here to 65 people, and that was a really good show. But they can play Chicago, which is their hometown, and draw 600. That’s a really good example of how small Louisville is. We can play some weird city I’ve never been to on tour and play to 300 or 400 people. Louisville has a great reputation for being a great music city, and it is, there are just not very many people.

I’ve read quotes from Fucked Up about how Jade Tree is sort of falling apart. Is that why you went with Temporary Residence?
I don’t want to talk badly about those guys because they’re nice guys. They just went from being almost a semi-major label with a few bands that got too big for their britches to having huge offices and making it their only job. It just kind of seemed like they were going to keep putting out all these records that would sell 50,000 or 100,000 copies. They were always talking about the digital record industry, you know, that thing that everyone always talks about. It seemed like they were prepared for it but then when it actually happened everything just fell apart when it came to getting a hold of them or trying to see what the money was being spent on. It’s hard when you run your record label like too much of a business. It’s cool to run it as a business and have it be financially secure but not when you lose track of the passion behind putting out good records or something that means a lot to you but might not sell tons of copies. That seems like that has always been the goal for punk or indie labels: just put out good records. I feel like they stopped thinking about putting out good records and started thinking about what’s going to sell and all that bullshit. I think they’ll be a back catalog label. They’ll exist, maybe in a basement. I think they have some classic records.

How did you end up working with Temporary Residence?
Jeremy, who owns the label, is from Louisville. His mom is from Sheldonville, which is 20 minutes east of here. While Breather Resist were still a band, I read an interview with him in a local paper and it was really inspiring. He talked about going to shows in Louisville as a young kid and being involved, seeing all these bands that I saw. I met him when I was 13, and then he went away for school. I read this interview and it was really inspiring so I wrote an email saying, "Hey, Jeremy, I met you when I was 13. I read this interview and I just wanted to say it’s really fucking inspiring to meet someone in the music business who isn’t too cool for their history.” He wrote me back and he was really positive and from there we started a relationship. When we wanted to leave Jade Tree, he was the first person I asked. It took him a while because he said he’s very weird about signing bands. He didn’t do a contract for us. He talked to me for a long time and he was like, "I really want everyone at the label to be like family. It’s more important to me that the relationship is good than the record sales.” It was exactly what I was looking for.

Did you write the album as a whole or as individual songs?
We wrote them as individual songs. We recorded 15 songs. Temporary Residence is going to put out four split seven-inches at the beginning of next year with the other songs. One’s with Bonny ‘Prince’ Billy, one’s with Melt Banana and one’s with Pelican. We’re still working on deciding who’s going to do the fourth one. It was really an honour to find out that Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy wanted to do a split. He’s from Louisville and he has so much music history here. I think he’s an amazing musician.

Is there a particular track on the record that’s important to you?
The whole record is probably the most important thing I’ve ever done. I invested so much time lyrically and got really involved with the songwriting. This is only the second time I’ve ever sang on a record, so it was a really big step for me to get comfortable as a singer and as a lyricist. The first song is a stepping stone song for me because I had to really push myself to get confident with the minimalist style of our new songs and embrace that there’s not a ton of shit going on with our songs anymore. It’s more based around the vocals now.

What is the song "The Heat is Here” about?
That song is about how everyone you know is constantly thinking that there’s somewhere else or something else that’s going to make them happy. It’s a really unique situation. I was in the car with my wife singing "California Dreaming” by Tupac because it was on the radio. I pulled up at a stoplight and there was a license pate that said "CADRMR.” I was like, "what does that mean?” Then it clicked: "California dreamer.” That’s a really strange situation. I incorporated that into the lyrics. People think they can go to California because everything will be so nice and they think everything where they are sucks. The bands we meet on tour, the people we talk to, everyone’s always trying to get away from a problem. But the problems are always going to be there no matter where they go.

I can see "The Guitar” being about growing up in Louisville…
Actually, "The Guitar” is about my father, because he’s the one who got my brother and I into music when we were kids. He’s a suit-and-tie kind of guy. He got out of being a hippie when he was a kid right when he graduated high school and went into college. He got his shit together so he could make money and have a family. You know, the same thing we’re all scared of so we’re still playing punk music. He had such an impact on our life. He had an acoustic guitar that he was always playing around the house but he literally did not know how to play it in anyway. Even today, he’s still not a musician, but he probably goes to more concerts than I do. So it’s kind of like, no matter how you try to escape the things you’re passionate about and move on, you’re always going to be passionate about certain things.

You recorded the album live and in the studio with Kurt Ballou?
Yeah. Kurt met us in Northern Indiana at our friend’s house. We demoed a few songs there, recorded five drum tracks and then we played Chicago, Cleveland, Brooklyn and Cambridge, and he recorded all four of those shows. The best thing about it was demoing the songs. We got to hear the songs every night, so we got to nitpick them. By the time we got into the studio, we had a better vision of what the songs were going to sound like. And then along the way we captured some amazing live moments that are better than anything we could have ever done in the studio. (Temporary Residence)