Below is a 20-question interview that I had with CASEY BOLAND over about a month. It's long, in depth and very well articulated. If you ever listened to HOT CROSS and YOU AND I, Level Plane bands or screamo music in general this is a must-read. Many thanks over and over go to CASEY for being so positive and welcoming with the interview and my rabid fan-boy demeanor during our talks. Check out my review of the demo as well as download said demo here.
1) The blog this interview is for revolves around promoting obscure and underappreciated music, what bands would you like readers to know about?
I've been sifting through older music lately, so I'm oblivious to what's new and amazing. This question is inspiring me to break out of the same-old same-old and find new music.
2) Where do look for and end up finding out about new music?
When I discover new music, it's usually through friends. It's probably one of the few constructive benefits of Facebook. Sometimes I'll stumble across something in a blog, but I'm pretty out of the loop with contemporary awesome music blogs- besides yours of course!
3) Describe yourself.
Ha, I have no idea how to describe myself. I'm a low-key dude that prefers hanging out at home with the wife and the cat.
4) There might be a few readers who are unaware of you, so what should those readers know about your musical career? Style? Influences?
My "musical career" began in 1992 in the heyday of grunge with Blizzard of Sun (we did at least a dozen Nirvana covers). This mutated into Atypical, which became Sky Falls Down in 1995. That band played a lot with fellow NJ band Instil. We became buds and that led to my brother Chris and I to join You and I in 1997. You and I toured with Saetia in late '98. That would lead to me joining what became Hot Cross in late 2000 with former Saetia people. Hot Cross wrapped up in 2007. Since then I've played with many projects that died quick deaths. I've got things in the works that will hopefully get out of my basement.
5) How did your upbringing and surroundings affect you and your music?
My older brothers had a major impact on me musically. Both were hearty consumers of music. One was into blues, rock, bluegrass, soul, all kinds of stuff. The other was a classic 80s metal head. You know that movie Heavy Metal Parking Lot? That was him and all his malcontent friends. Not literally, but they fit the archetype. Both played guitar, so I naturally gravitated towards it. Because of them, MTV was always on in the 80s in our house. That led to my younger brother Chris and I to form our first band in 1984 (I was 8 and he was 6). We played with our neighbor Jimmy Kennedy and did pseudo covers of the hits of the day. But we didn't actually play any instruments. We did a performance for our families on Jimmy's picnic table. We would do this the next few years each summer. I wish this was documented, but sadly it was not.
6) What was the first album that floored you?
The first tape I ever owned was a cassette dub of the first Doors album (this was 1987). Somehow my friends were into The Doors, probably due to someone's older brother or dad or something. I got into some other late 80s bands, especially Guns N Roses and then Metallica. But the first album to really kick my ass was The Saints first album, (I'm) Stranded. If you aren't familiar, they were a seminal Australian punk band. They released two classic punk albums, then switched to a more bluesy style. In 1990 that album was available via import only, so it took a long time (and a lot of money) to track down. But it did it for me. That was my introduction to punk and a whole new way of looking at life.
7) What band first influenced your guitar style? Vocal?
I began playing guitar on my 13th birthday. I had been writing songs in my head and decided I needed a guitar to bring the songs to life (these were never recorded and were awful, I'm sure). I started writing songs on guitar in earnest after getting into punk and hardcore. The pivotal hardcore bands for me were Husker Du and The Replacements. Bob Mould really shaped my playing early on. Soon thereafter I fell under the sway of Nirvana (I was 15). So really, it was Nirvana for both guitar and vocals, at least when I was 15-16. When I was 17 I discovered that there was a whole scene of bands doing it themselves and that changed everything for me. That was 1993 and those bands included Avail, Policy of 3, Four Walls Falling, and in 1994 it was the classic crew: Indian Summer, Still Life, Ordination of Aaron, Julia...you know the names. All of that renovated my outlook on music, from sound to style to words to how to conduct myself as a musician in what I considered a community, not just a scene.
8) Talk to about the term "screamo".
I first heard the term in early '97. A friend was referring to a new band featuring members of Instil. I would end up joining that band and it was called You and I. At the time, I considered "screamo" interchangeable with "emo." This was just before the music press applied the "emo" tag to the Promise Ring and bands of that ilk (and way before 2000s Warped Tour bands were labeled "screamo"). As for "emo," I first heard about that in an early 90s Spin Magazine article that used it in reference to Rites of Spring and other DC revolution summer bands. I didn't take much notice until a friend raved about "emo" bands to me in fall 1994. "What the hell bands are emo?" I asked. He went on and on. "Dude, they're bands that will make you cry." He listed Indian Summer, Ordination of Aaron, Navio Forge, Embassy, Current, Julia. I immediately went to the local record store and luckily for me they had all of those bands' seven inches.
9) What would you like to say about You And I?
You and I was a crucial stage in my life. I never felt as connected to the hardcore scene as I did during the years of You and I. I met people I'm still in close contact with because of that band. When we did the reunion shows in 2011, I realized how much that band was about everything but music to me when it existed. For me, it was the friendships, the scene, the emotional/physical catharsis of the shows (and even the practices). Yet I also realized how playing in that band made me such a better musician.
10) How did you transition from You And I to Hot Cross?
You and I became friends with an NYC band called Saetia. We toured together in late '98/early '99. Saetia's drummer and then bassist began a record label called Level Plane and asked us to do a record. We kept in close contact, even after both our bands ended. I went up to NYC in September 2000 to jam with Steve and Matt (who both played in one of the many versions of Saetia and then formed Off Minor) when Off Minor almost ended. When Off Minor was definitely not ending, another ex-Saetia band invited me to trek up to the big apple for a jam. That was the beginning of Hot Cross. They had practiced a few times before I signed on. Our first practice was the day after Thanksgiving in 2000. We wrote "Born on the Cusp." Our next practice was February 2, 2001. We wrote "Putting the Past Right" and "History Fell in the Heart- whatever that song is called." Billy was still in England working on a master's degree. We did two shows without him- March 26, 2001 in Manasquan, NJ with The Assistant and Neil Perry and April 2001 at the Easton Fest with all kinds of bands. Rumor had it that Off Minor wanted Billy to sing for them. But we got him before they could get their talons into him. Billy returned to the U.S. and practiced for the first time with Hot Cross May 23, 2001. He played his first show with Hot Cross May 24, 2001 at the Rotunda in Philadelphia, PA with City of Caterpillar, Off Minor, and The Fire Next TIme (Steve Aoki's hardcore band, pre-DJ Kid Millionaire).
11) What would you like to say about HOT CROSS?
Hot Cross is how I spent the second half of my 20s. I got to see a healthy chunk of the world thanks to that band. Though we never lived off the band or quit our day jobs, it still occupied such a substantial amount of time and became the primary focus in all of our lives. I learned what real touring was all about during Hot Cross- for stories on that, check out an old blog I did at www.forfansof.com.
12) What did you do immediately following HOT CROSS? You were all over the scene for almost a decade and then...nothing. It seemed like HOT CROSS breaking up was the end of that screamy hardcore era with other Level Plane bands. It was fucking sad, as those bands are among my favourite of all time.
The weekend after we decided to put Hot Cross on "indefinite hiatus," 3/4 of the band got back in the practice space to work on new material. We decided to consider it an entirely new project and see what would happen. Depending on how things went, perhaps it would still be Hot Cross or something entirely new. We jammed on different ideas for a few months. But we couldn't decide where we wanted to go musically. We couldn't seem to create something new and have it not be like Hot Cross. And none of us wanted it to be Hot Cross. That project eventually fizzled out. At the same time that went on, I worked briefly on a project with another former Hot Cross member. That didn't last very long. I also attempted a third band with a friend of mine during this time. We wrote one song and practiced that one song for months. And that fizzled out. Since, I've worked on a few different projects that I hoped would exist long enough to earn a band name. So for me personally, I think being a recluse and an insane perfectionist kept me out of the public music eye, besides a lone solo show and the You and I shows in 2011. As for Level Plane and a lot of associated bands, I can't really speak to that. Well, I guess I will. Greg put a ton of time, effort, and financial resources into the label and distro. Seriously, that dude was a ridiculously hard, determined worker. After over a decade, I think he just decided to move on. There was a time where we felt so connected with Level Plane and Level Plane bands. We would tour with Lickgoldensky, Transistor Transistor, Holy Shroud, Kaospilot, Coliseum, and then meet up on tour with bands like One AM Radio, Bright Calm Blue, Breather Resist, Amanda Woodward, and a bunch of others across the world. Touring Japan with Envy and City of Caterpillar was probably the most absurd of our touring experiences.
13) What have you been up to lately?
Since 2011, my life has been mostly consumed by school and work. I'm about to finish a master's degree in education and I've applied to PhD programs. I am involved in two new musical projects. But most of the people involved are in other bands, have serious jobs, and have wives and children. I can't imagine much touring on the horizon. But who knows. Otherwise, I hang out with my wife in Philadelphia and enjoy the the amazing new vegan eateries that seem to be opening every other day. I've lived in Philly for nearly 15 years. It's incredible how vegan-friendly this city has become.
14) Considering you haven't been in bands that have toured or done the kinds of things that You And I and Hot Cross accomplished in the past, how often do you reminisce? What are some things that really miss?
Certain things will remind me of a moment on tour or at a show or recording. One thing that people who don't play in bands and especially those who never toured with a band probably don't understand is the sense of camaraderie that can develop. There were many times during the long Hot Cross tours where we felt like a united and isolated force against the world. Even back in the You and I days, we felt like an extremely tight-knit crew, that also included various friends and associates that hung out after shows or even at practices. So it's tiny, sporadic moments that I'll remember from time to time.
15) What are some interesting/amazing/horrible/funny things that happened on tour?
I can't imagine anyone traveling for an extended period of time and not encountering something someone else might find noteworthy. Standing outside a club in Hiroshima and having the show promoter warn us not to walk around alone was interesting. He said the yakuza knew American bands were there and that we needed to be extremely careful. And being in Hiroshima the day the U.S. began a military offensive against Iraq was intense. The Japanese take the 1945 atomic bombing very, very seriously, and made sure us yanks understood what our country did to their country. On the lighter side of things, hearing a meth addict attempt to rob a hotel and then get taken down and subdued by the hotel managers was pretty entertaining. Not to mention her yelling, "It's all a joke! It's for an MTV show, Punk'd! Ashton Kutcher is right outside. With Demi Moore!" And I think interesting, amazing, horrible, funny can all be applied to the Hot Cross Edgar episode. While driving in Arkansas, we noticed green liquid spurting from below the van. We drove to a Wal-Mart. As we relayed our story of woe to a clueless auto department employee, a bystander approached. He was Edgar. He said he could fix the van. We expected the dude to rob us. Instead, he began pulling apart the underbelly guts of the vehicle. We began to emotionally prepare ourselves for an indefinite period of stay in Arkansas. Within minutes, the van was running like new.
16) Any reader of this blog knows I'm a huge sucker for anything Stephen Brodsky touches. You know him personally. Whaaaaaaaaat?!?!?!?!
I can't claim to be besties with the dude. He's good friends with my wife. I've spent some time with him whenever he rolls through Philly. A fine chap. He earned serious points with me during a show he did solo in April 2011. Steve busted out a Still Life cover. Not one of the hits (whatever that might constitute for the few who might remember that band). No, instead he played a song of their first 7". I am fairly certain I was the only person watching that knew the song.
17) It sounds like you were brought up on MTV, what do you think about it now? What about the media, specifically or generally?
I don't know if MTV raised me as much as served as background noise until I was a teenager. I haven't really seen it since the early 90s. Discovering DIY punk and hardcore put an end to MTV viewing. I remember seeing bands whose members I was friends with appearing on MTV 2 in the early 2000s when I'd visit my parents, who had cable TV. That was pretty surreal. But I can't comment on that network now since I haven't seen it in at least a decade. As a former student of media, I can say that the media monopoly discussed by Ben Bagdikian way back in the 1980s has only increased. I interned at FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting) in the late 90s. They do great work analyzing media, though admittedly from a left/progressive perspective. What I learned then, over a decade ago, has only gotten worse. Fewer multinational corporations own most of the media. Very few cities or towns have local media any more. It's actually sobering to consider that most of what your average person knows about the world (or what happens just beyond their door) comes from a handful of media outlets largely owned by the same companies serving the same interests. It's hard to believe that I began college in 1994 fully expecting to become a journalist. After discovering progressive/leftist magazines like The Nation, In These Times, The Progressive, Dollars and Sense, and Mother Jones, I realized I could never become a reporter for corporate-owned media with my ethics intact. I did write for assorted zines and magazines, like Heartattack, Punk Planet, and Clamor as well as my own zine I Defy. I then tried my hand at rock journalism in the '00s, writing for Alternative Press, Decibel, and assorted blogs and websites. But grad school left little time for that sort of endeavor.
18) What would you be willing to talk about regarding the disbanding of HOT CROSS? I know Josh left the band prior to Risk Revival. Then you were hoping to record with Kurt Ballou, but your schedules didn't align. Then you guys recorded it and weren't entirely happy with the album so you had mix/record it again. Then the band dissolved, along with Level Plane Records.
We recorded the first version of Risk Revival with Mike Hill (of Tombs) in June 2006 for nine days. We had never spent that much time in the studio. Though we felt well-rehearsed, I think we weren't fully prepared. In the end, we weren't thrilled with the results. So we made the decision to re-record the whole thing with Josh Jakubowski at his home studio. We did that over the course of two or three weekends in October-November 2006. At that point, Josh was not in Hot Cross. Josh left the band in spring 2005. We had been touring like crazy and I think Josh had not been feeling the excessive traveling. We were all working low-paying jobs to subsidize our touring. Some of us lost jobs due to always leaving for tours. Josh left and worked at a high-end recording studio in New Jersey while continuing to record bands in his home studio (which also doubled as the Hot Cross rehearsal space for several years, not to mention the original Robotic Empire HQ). Him and his partner at the time Andrew recorded Fair Trades, as well as a slew of other Level Plane bands. Josh and I kept in touch after he left the band. When we decided to re-record Risk Revival, we knew he was the right choice. And it was such a great decision. He added so much to it. "Silence is Failure" was written entirely in the studio. It was a couple of riffs I thought would make for an instrumental. But Josh came up with that amazing vocal melody, and then Billy and Matt added some vocals too. Josh continued to record bands and then toured with Circa Survive as their stage manager. I wish he would've continued recording bands, because he was amazing at it. But he got burnt out on it.
Damn, I'm babbling! OK, I'll split the Hot Cross ending and Level Plane shuttering.
Hot Cross: Risk Revival was released by Hope Division, which was part of Equal Vision. EVR reached out to us early in 2004 I believe. We had no interest on being on any label besides Level Plane, so we declined their entreaties. In 2005, we finally decided to consider it and then signed with them later that year. Risk Revival was released on February 22, 2007. We did a couple of short tours in March and then in June. By that point, I was pretty burnt out. We were facing the prospect of doing these big package tours, you know, with like six bands. EVR wasn't forcing us to do them, but I think we collectively felt like we had to do everything possible to recoup what they had invested in us. I didn't enjoy feeling like I owed something to an entity outside the people in my band. I can't speak for the other guys. I'll just say that I was getting bored musically, exhausted physically, and uncertain existentially. I turned 31 and was wondering what the hell I was doing with my life. Routine miscommunication led to the band ending in July 2007. Greg, Matt, and I continued playing together. There was a tentative plan that Billy would meet back up with us and we might continue Hot Cross or start something new. But none of that came to be.
Level Plane: This is really Greg's story and anything I say is my perception. Greg continued Level Plane for a short while after Hot Cross ended. But he was getting tired of dealing with that label and his distro 29 North Records. He began a new label called Enucleation, which released several records. At some point, he decided to focus on non-musical life pursuits.
19) Josh Jakubowski is another one of my heroes. The two of you created some of the greatest dual riffs I've ever heard. What was/is he like? Can you explain what it was like working with him versus other guitar players?
Josh is one of the funnest/funniest people I've played in bands with. He's also amongst the most talented. He has great ideas and an ear for melody. When Hot Cross started, Josh played bass. He actually played bass on everything until Fair Trades, when him and Matt switched. I went into Hot Cross expecting it to be a fun, fast band like Honeywell. Early on, Josh brought these unreal melodic bass lines. I remember writing "History Fell" and thinking how it was unlike what I expected us to be doing. But that was the logic that guided us throughout our existence: write songs that challenge us and don't repeat what we did before. That was the goal, though we didn't always attain it. I don't think he's playing in any bands at the moment. But I'm sure he has hundreds of riffs and songs under wraps. I dearly miss playing with the guy and hope to reconvene at some point. For now, he's doing his thing somewhere in Asbury Park, NJ.
20) What does the future hold or Casey Boland? Kids? Another band? Plans to take over the world? Is there anything you'd like to get off your chest or talk about before we're done?
An incredibly busy few months at work, for starters (at the University of Pennsylvania). I've also been accepted to at least one PhD program and am hoping for acceptance to others. I'm working on two music projects. One is with other dudes and is on the heavier end of the spectrum. The other is me trying to wrangle other people willing to put up with my constantly shifting ideas for songs and sounds. I'm contemplating forcing myself to play solo shows, though this terrifies me. Otherwise, my wife and I will continue to enjoy Philly-living with our tripod cat (if anyone has to deal with a cat undergoing a limb removal, get in touch- we went through it. And the cat is fine).
I know I've yammered on and on here. But there is one final thing I'd like to throw out there. I just stumbled upon the brouhaha over at MetalSucks on touring costs and corporate-sponsored tours and fests (http://www.metalsucks.net/2010/07/19/trap-thems-ryan-mckenney-responds-to-sacha-dunables-metalsucks-column/). This is really interesting. I'm assuming most readers of your blog subscribe to the DIY ethic that was the underlying ethos to how my previous bands conducted themselves. This is a healthy and essential debate, because it begs the question- can you tour regularly, grow older, and not live in abject poverty (or move back in with mom and dad), while maintaining your ethics? I know things have changed immeasurably over the past decade. But I still cling to the arguably foolhardy notion that the Fugazi/DIY model can still function. That said, Hot Cross never made enough money for us to quit our jobs. I think we did fairly well, which had everything to do with managing expectations and keeping overhead low. We didn't embark on a long US tour until we were somewhat sure we'd at least break even. We didn't have a manager, booking agent, roadies, or venues stealing a cut of our merch. Despite constant van troubles, equipment repairs, flaky show promoters, and staying in hotels half the time, Hot Cross never lost money. But again, we weren't making enough to pay rent (though we actually did make enough on one tour for me to pay my rent and some bills). Part of the reason the band ended was due to us getting older and not wanting to be pushing 40 whilst playing a basement in Idaho to four bored kids. Maybe that's the mark of a band that isn't very good or isn't fully committed. Maybe truly amazing bands will draw kids and make a sustainable living (as Fugazi did) or soldier on in the face of unspeakable odds and uncertainty just for the love of the craft and the thrill of the road.