If you've ever heard You And I, The Assistant, This Ship Will Sink, In First Person, Black Kites or Capacities, then you are already familiar with Thomas Schlatter and his unique sound. I had the pleasure of conversing with Tom Schlatter via email mid-late 2013. These are the answers to the answers to him, specifically. There is also another sizeable portion of the interview linked in the Capacities interview, which you can read here. I also stumbled across another Schlatter interview Scobonixxx with that asks some awesome questions and works pretty well as a pairing with this interview, so check it here. Time to get intimate.
What was the catalyst for the evolution of the Thomas Schlatter style of music? You definitely have one. It’s called “Amazing”. Please elaborate.
Well, thank you for the kind words. I started playing guitar around 14 years old, listening mostly to whatever was popular in terms of alternative rock and hair metal in the late 1980’s/ early 1990s. A friend let me borrow a minor threat cassette and I was pretty taken with it. After that I was listening to Uniform Choice, The Misfits, Bold, Subhumans,…mostly fast hardcore and punk. I played that style for quite a while until I was about 16 when I was at a show and purchased two records; Converge, Petitioning the Empty Sky 7” and Endeavor, Of Equality 7”. I got home and listened to both of those records and said to myself “Wow, there’s a lot more I could be doing with music and I have to start doing it”. The thing about both of those records that I loved was how quickly the parts changed and how different time signatures were mashed together; but somehow it all came across so smooth. It wasn’t until then that I really thought of myself as a musician of any kind.
You were the first guitar player that I knew of that stressed “Baritone guitar” in the liner notes? Can you explain why you used it?
I started using a baritone guitar when I played guitar in This Ship Will Sink (oddly there’s now one of those nu-metal bands from Milwaukee called This Ship Will Sink). I wanted to tune down to drop A and had been reading up on the best way to do it. The theory says that when you increase string size and tune lower, the neck of the guitar has to be longer to compensate. Regular guitars on average are about a 24 – 25 inch scale length, whereas my first baritone was 30”. I kept using the baritone for the first half of my playing in In First Person as well.
Do you feel like you’ve faced any pressure to change or go against what you believe in as this and previous bands have gotten more popular?
In terms of compromising my music or not feeling comfortable doing it…not really. I used to have a pretty strong all ages shows policy for playing, but there are towns/cities out there that just have no all ages venues at all. Given the choice I will always opt for the all ages show. The issue hasn’t come up in a while since we’ve been able to find all ages spaces in just about every city we’ve played so far with Capacities.
Your lyrics in “Playing Off The Story” from 1999 YOU & I are still extremely relevant, can you discuss that?
If I remember correctly that song was basically an expression of searching out alternative media and challenging the structures of mainstream outlets for news and information. Information transfer has changed an awful lot since 1999 and access to alternative news sources is much easier now. When the Occupy movement was at it’s full speed here people were uploading videos in real time to Youtube, Facebook, etc; from there the videos would end up on any number of alternative new sites, blogs, etc. It’s to the point where people on the streets can make the media rather than simply digest it. We see that now with the protests in Brazil and Egypt. It’s very different from 1999. Mainstream news outlets are practically forced to carry these stories when they see smaller, alternative new sources running with them.
Your piece in the You & I record is very personal. When I write something very personal, and read it later, sometimes I nod and agree with my past self, and sometimes I dream of rewriting it to reflect how I feel now. How do you feel about that particular piece?
A simple truth is that we all change as we age. Being in bands and putting out releases for the past 18 years just means that my change has been documented on some sort of physical media. If I was to read something I wrote 14 years ago and still fully identify with it I think that would be sad. It would show that I haven’t grown as a person. Sure, I still have some of the same ideals, but in terms of my priorities and perspective, I’m glad I’ve grown and changed. Those older writings just remind me of how far I’ve come.
What happened on Nov 29, 1997?
I wish I could remember.
Dog Knights recently released an ORCHID tribute album. How would you feel if someone wanted to do a YOU & I tribute album?
I would be honoured if someone would want to do that. Typically things like that really humble me. There are a lot of great bands on that Orchid tribute album and it seemed to have come across very well.
You must have a plethora of shows to choose from, but which one stands out the most in your mind?
It’s hard to say. There have been a number of moments where I finish playing a set and think of how much I really loved everything about…other times I can remember thinking what disaster it was. It’s really about what’s going on in your life and the context in which you play a show. At any point in my life there have been shows I’ve played that have played a major part in helping keep my sanity.
Capacities is a very ‘hard’ band, but in comparison to your previous bands, your current project (Capacities) sounds more melodic and a little less chaotic than, say, THIS SHIP WILL SINK or BLACK KITES. Assuming that what I’m talking about is objectively accurate, what do you think has influenced this change the most? Band members? Age? Natural progression?
Capacities was the first band I’ve ever played bass for. I do some of the writing on guitar and show the other guys, but it’s mainly a group effort. With This Ship Will Sink and Black Kites I was writing all the music, so it was really just my style/perspective on writing. Capacities is all four of us so the sound has a little more openness to it. When Eric and Chris sent me the first batch of Capacities songs that they had roughly recorded I really liked it. It was what I had in my head of wanting to play, but not knowing how to really go about it. The songs were short and to the point. They were melodic but had an unsettling quality. It’s been a great challenge; playing a new instrument, writing songs under a minute long, writing lyrics again. I really love it. Eric, Chris and Rob are all very talented so the textures and sounds that come out are much more layered and diverse than anything I could have done on my own.
Which of your past releases (anything prior to CAPACITIES) are you most proud of? Why?
YOU AND I – 7”. This was the record where I felt I had finally written something comparable to the Converge or Endeavor records I mentioned earlier. The sounds in my head were finally making their way onto tape.
THE ASSISTANT: the song from the takaru/tsws/assistant split. It was the last song we ever wrote. It was 7.5 minutes long and pretty much summed up the 3 years of the bands existence lyrically and musically.
THIS SHIP WILL SINK – s/t EP. These were the first six songs we wrote and they sum up exactly what I wanted the band to sound like. We recorded and mixed it in 15 hours, non-stop. All the music is totally live, there are no overdubs.
IN FIRST PERSON – “Lost Between Hands Held Tight”. The record perfectly documents that time in my life.
BLACK KITES – “Songs Written While Things Were Changing”. I wrote this record while I was getting divorced. It came out perfectly for what I was going through.
Are you still friends, although not physically close, with most of your former band mates?
I am friends with a good deal of my former band mates; some more so than others. Some bridges will never be repaired, friendships can be causalities of being in a band; so there are some folks I will probably never speak with again.
You’ve known Steve Roche forever, what’s he like?
Steve has recorded every band I’ve done since The Assistant. He’s a solid guy and a very talented musician. He has a sweet tooth and loves all things chocolate. I saw him last weekend and he’s doing quite well. He currently plays bass in a band called Xanax.
Talk about beards.
I had one for a while, it was too hot in the summer time. My girlfriend prefers me clean shaven.
How has the punk/hardcore/screamo/whatever scene changed regarding the inclusion of women? I’m thinking back to your days in THE ASSISTANT and IN FIRST PERSON.
There ratio of men to woman in just about every aspect of hardcore is pretty uneven. I was proud to be in a band with both Leigh and Vanessa. Their perspectives on situations were enlightening and challenging. Sadly, all these years later I think that the hardcore scene still has a lot of work to do in terms of becoming an all inclusive environment. I have no idea what the solution is. Just as hip hop is predominately black and male, hardcore is predominately white and male. Is it because these styles of music are born from those demographics? In that sense, is there a problem with having the music being homogenous in it’s demographic? Couldn’t any community benefit from diversity though? These are all questions that come up when thinking about this particular topic.
How do you feel about downloading/streaming music?
I love being able to make music available to people so quickly. I never would have thought the future would be like this back 1996 when I was dubbing cassette tapes and sending them out in envelopes to people who booked shows. That being said I have no problem with downloading, though I do prefer that people pay some respect to the small, DIY labels that putting these releases out…perhaps by buying a physical copy or making a donation for the download.
Can you discuss, in as much capacity (ha!) as you wish, your thoughts/feelings/recollections of your previous bands?
-YOU & I-
We did a reunion show for You and I a few years ago and it went really well. We were able to play the songs much better and as people we are all much more grounded and centered these days. Back when we were a band I was a mess. I was 18 years old and just not really the most stable person. I wasn’t treating myself or the people around me very well. The band was my anchor for that time and I would have been more miserable if I hadn’t pursued it. We played some great shows, wrote the music we all needed to write at that time. People often tell me that they really love the band’s output and it seems to have become the band that is most well known among my projects.
The Assistant was a rollercoaster. We started out as five people with very different musical ideas and backgrounds so every song was a mixed bag of sounds. We went through a couple member changes, though, myself, Ross and Leigh were always constants in the lineup. Leigh and I were in a relationship together throughout the course of the band, which sometimes was a great advantage (touring together, etc) and other times a disaster (extra pressure on me to fill two roles in the band). We were super vocal about how we felt and were often labeled that “PC band”. It led to a lot of conflict between us and other bands. A few years ago I listened to a few songs and couldn’t even make out what was happening musically. It’s such a bizarre mix of things. The band probably should have broken up a year or two earlier than it did. In a way I’m glad it didn’t since we got to tour the US twice and also do a 3 week tour of Europe; but in other ways the band was incredibly draining on everyone involved. I was pushing the band to do more than we were able to do and you can kind of hear it in the writing. Some of those songs are epics…I feel like we could have taken one of those songs and split it into 10 smaller songs.
-THIS SHIP WILL SINK-
I didn’t really know Jason or Steve that well when we started. They played in some local bands and we had met through going to shows. They were both very talented, but I don’t know how much we had in common. It was my first time really getting to experiment with and hone in on playing a baritone guitar through three amps. I wanted to do something similar to The Assistant, though, with no poppy parts, much shorter songs, and tuned down to drop A. When we initially started writing it came very easily and we found it incredibly simple to put songs together. We played shows almost every weekend and practiced twice a week. Within a year we put out 4 releases. Our first tour was a full US tour with Kodan Armada for 30 days. It destroyed the band and that was the end.
-IN FIRST PERSON-
In First Person can be broken up into three phases: the first would be the Vanessa/Tom/Jake phase. We started with no bass player, Jake and I were both playing through three amps. It was excessive and the songs just didn’t come out very well. We asked Jake to leave the band and Benn Roe joined to play bass. This second phase, the Vanessa/Tom/Benn phase; was how we recorded all of the records. Benn, though still excessive with amps, really refined the sound and we were writing music that sounded much more like what I had in my head. Benn was also living at a house in Philadelphia that did shows regularly so we were playing there on a regular basis. Benn stepped down from the band a year or two later and Rob (who now plays guitar for Capacities) joined on bass. The third phase of Vanessa/Tom/Rob was the exiting phase. We wrote some more songs, played some more shows, but the project had just run it’s course. Through the course of the band I had bought a house and then scrambled to sell it during the market crash. My job was outsourced after 5 years of employment. It was the most stressful time in my life. I think the “Lost Between…” LP is such a good documentation of that.
I started Black Kites during “phase 2” of In First Person. The idea was to do a band with people from New Jersey, since the commute to Philadelphia was kind of ridiculous at times. I felt totally out of touch with any drummers or bass players in New Jersey so I put up a post on a local message board that I wanted to start a new band. Jeff had responded and told me he would love to do vocals. I had met Jeff briefly and he always seemed like a good guy. We eventually got Jay on drums, Jeff had known him from going to shows. I wanted to get a bass player but Jeff said we should just do the three amp set up and start playing shows. The idea was to do something influenced by the 90’s hardcore bands that I grew up on like Groundwork, 108, Unbroken, Threadbare, etc. I guess there’s some of that in there with my usual guitar style seeping through. The band was a lot of fun. Jay and Jeff were a blast to be in a band with.