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Engine Down | Demure | interview | rock | Lollipop
An interview with theband
by Tim Den
From out of nowhere, Engine Down have writhed themselves out of the shackles of post-hardcore and emerged as DC/VA's brightest hope. Like an aged, articulate criminal recounting his violent past, Engine Down have left behind all the rage and lunacy for a more mature, broader personality, able to reflect on their primal beginnings with wiser descriptions. With this, their third full-length, they've learned to harness youthful energy toward a more focused purpose: To rumble your heart and steal your breath. Demure caresses you with bloody hands... and leaves red finger prints of melancholy all over your psyche.
What happened to Sleepytime Trio (Jonathan's previous band)?
JAW: From an unbiased viewpoint, Sleepytime did a U.S. tour right after a European tour, so everyone was together for over two months straight. I mean, our band's been going at it since September and we're doing fine, but when you tour that long, it makes or breaks a band.
JF: Brian (Lowit, owner of Lovitt Records) saw one of our early shows and was excited about putting out our record. But we were all still in school. And a year later, Jeremy couldn't play with us anymore. He couldn't tour. The three of us sat around and thought of who we could replace him with. Because this is a really close dynamic - we're really good friends - we were like "should we even continue to do this?" Jason and I had known Keeley for a long time, and I brought up his name as a long shot cuz he was living in Savannah, GA at the time (going to art school).
JAW: When we started Engine Down, Jonathan had never played guitar (he was the drummer in Sleepytime Trio), I had never played bass (I was a hardcore singer), and Keeley had never played guitar (he played bass), so we were like "bring it on!"
Demure is a much more vocal melody-based album than your previous works. It sounds as if you're no longer writing songs with riffs as the main focus, but rather Keeley's voice. Plus, Jonathan and Jason don't sing nearly as much on this record.
JAW: It was just more natural (to have Keeley sing). When we were writing To Bury Within the Sound, it was more "I want to sing here, Jonathan wants to sing there." But when we were recording Demure, it felt like it needed a singer upfront.
JF: We've been focusing on our own "sound" over the three full-lengths. And where we've arrived is having Keeley upfront delivering the goods.
It seems like most indie rock/post-hardcore bands ignore the importance of having a strong vocal presence.
JAW: I completely agree. With vocals, you're taking more of a gamble than just playing guitar. The audience is quicker to judge. So I understand why people would lay down the music first and tackle vocals later. I don't know how many bands I've heard that the first 45 seconds of the song is like "this is really good," then the vocals come in and (wrong-answer-buzzing noise).
There seems to be a trademark DC/VA style emerging lately - one that utilizes the rhythm section as punctuations rather than an undercurrent, a lot of stop-and-go rhythms...
JAW: I try to play in synch with Cornbread's bass drum a lot. A lot of my bass lines come from what he's playing. But yeah, bands like Burning Airlines (and their style) are a big influence on us.
It seems like you've been on the road forever...
JF: Until Cornbread graduated, at least one of us was always in school. But now that he's done, we're doing it full-time. Since September, none of us has unpacked our bags. We wash our clothes and put 'em right back.
CC: Every time I talk to my parents, they're like "Oh, you're going out again?"
Are you able to sustain yourself financially?
JF: Luckily, we're finally getting to the point where we can validate (to our parents) what we've been doing with the last ten years of our lives. I'm playing in a band, and it's actually paying my rent! Which is exciting and daunting at the same time. Cuz if you have a bad night, instead of being like "Well, at least we had fun hanging out," we're like "Fuck! I need rent money!"
JAW: When all your friends are "young professionals..."
JF: ...You're like "What am I doing with my life!?"...
JAW: ...They're working for their savings account, and we're working just to stay afloat.
CC: Luckily, we live in Richmond, which is a great (and cheap) community.
Jonathan and Keeley are also in Denali (on Jade Tree). How do you have time to juggle both?
JAW: Maura (Denali's guitarist/keyboardist/vocalist) is Keeley's sister and Cornbread's girlfriend...
JF: It's a tight little family.
JAW: Keeley, Maura, and I all live together. Cornbread's over all the time cuz he's dating Maura. We never leave our little cocoon.
How have you all not killed each other by now?
JF: That's the thing... one person gets a thorn in their foot, we're all fucked.
KD: Maura is still in school, Engine Down's out on the road all the time, so (for now) Denali goes out when she has breaks.
JF: She's taking the Fall off. Since Engine Down has had this super concentrated time period, the Fall is dedicated to Denali with Engine Down filling the gaps.
Who do you see as your peers in the midst of all the artier-than-thous and kiddiemo pissaways?
KD: We've always been into the DC bands...
JF: Q And Not U... but we also love bands like Shiner and Cave In. The Mercury Program from Florida...
KD: A lot of the bands that we play shows with, like Ted Leo... We're sort of in different scenes, but sometimes it all comes down to the personalities.
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