Further Seems Forever Talk "Penny Black"
Fri, 19 Oct 2012 12:46:45
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Further Seems Forever altered the course of modern alternative music for the better with their first album, The Moon Is Down. Now, they're upholding that tradition on Penny Black, the band's first album to feature singer Chris Carrabba—also of Dashboard Confessional fame—since their debut.
Penny Black sees the Florida outfit once again challenge convention with a delicate and elegant balance between post-hardcore catharsis and warm melodic wonderment. It's a balance that inspired a generation, but it's never been bested. Penny Black [Out October 23 via Rise Records] boasts some of Carraba's most vivid lyrical musings and impassioned delivery to date. It's a must-have this year and another seminal work from Further Seems Forever.
In this exclusive interview with ARTISTdirect.com editor in chief Rick Florino, Further Seems Forever Chris Carrabba talks Penny Black, writing, and so much more.
Did you approach Penny Black with one vision in mind?
Yeah, we did. By definition, the way we write and arrange records is really malleable. We don't songs in a traditional fashion like I do say for Dashboard Confessional. I write the song linearly from start-to-finish. I write until it's done, and then I move to another song. We generally write parts in certain keys and time signatures. Then, there's this floating free-for-all where we cherry-pick from everything and rearrange. It's like throwing all of the puzzle pieces on the floor and rearranging them arbitrarily. There's a vision, but it's not like the kind of vision where we know how it's going to end up. We hope for something and have a general idea of where we want it to go.
You build a foundation that leaves room for evolution and experimentation.
We also think in terms of, "Well, we want so many songs like this and so many songs like that". We'll try things in different keys. They almost seem like they're never done.
Is it painting pictures part of your intent with the songs?
I think so! It's a little hard to be analytical about that kind of stuff as I'm doing it. It usually takes me a little bit of time to figure out how I did that or what I was up to that got me to that point. I'm too close to know how it came to be or what the approach was. Basically, we write the music together. Sometimes, I write the lyrics or melody right then and there. Other times, I do it much later. One song leads to the other. At some point, there's some definitive moment where I say, "Okay, this is an anchor. This is a good template for the next couple of songs". By "template", I mean, "I'm telling this kind of story and using this kind of phrasing". In order for it to sound like an album as opposed to a compilation, it's neat to take what works from one song to the next and infuse that with something new and take it to the next song. It's tricky to write lyrics and melodies for Further Seems Forever, because we use such varying time signatures and key changes within the songs. That's not necessarily because we're trying to be high-minded or anything like that. However, the five of us together have unconventional tastes. That makes it hard to make melodies and lyrics that aren't really jerky. I concentrated very hard. The music is allowed to be angular. The time signatures and the keys are allowed to be weird. In order for it to be a song instead of a science project, the melodies have to anchor the listener in. I tried to be visual in the storytelling I did. That's the term I would pick too.
What's the story behind "Staring Down The Sun"?
I wrote the first few notes. Then, it went into the dark deep chamber of who-knows-how-this-is-going-to-go. For me, the earmark of that song is everybody knows Steve Kleisath is this great drummer. He's got this phenomenal ability to subdivide and make the weirdest rhythm choices. He can pack so many hits into such short bars. In this song, somehow, he channeled a John Bonham thing and I'd never really heard him do that before. Steve has always been this really flashy drummer without intending to be. It's relevant to the kind of person he is. He's so smart, and there's so much going in his head all the time. His playing is a reflection of who he is. Anyway, in terms of Steve, the maturity shows in his development of groove. He's still doing all of this crazy stuff, but there's a groove I've never heard him have before or choose to use. The second verse of the song is a great example. It's so meaty. "Staring Down The Sun" is one of my favorites because lyrically and melody-wise it's really passionate. It's funny you should ask about it! A lot of the record, I was skirting around. I thought about things I shouldn't choose to sing about, think about, or say. I've made a lot of records between Further Seems Forever and Dashboard Confessional. Nobody wants to be redundant. You want to have your own signature that's identifiable to people. You also can't be that one thing all the time. You have to choose certain things you'll say, "This is off limits for now". For the last two years, I've refused to use the word "love" in a song. This is the first time in two years I've put that word in a song. It seemed like a different use of the word. We're learning it now for these shows. I want to play it really badly [Laughs]. What makes that song so vital is I let it out. Basically, I was holding back and making some decisions about what barriers and parameters I would not cross. Then, I allowed myself to cross them once on "Staring Down The Sun". It's an outpouring of emotion all the way across the board because of that freedom. The playing is some of my favorite. Steve and Chad [Neptune, bass] have a phenomenal groove!
Where did "Janie" come from?
We struggled with "Janie" a little bit. Josh wrote that beautiful guitar part in the beginning during the verse on an acoustic. As soon as there's an acoustic guitar, we think, "Oh, we can't do that because people will think it's from me or it's Dashboard Confessional". We debated over it long and hard. Then, I said, "Nobody is paying attention. No one knows we're making a record". We recorded it, and it's the weirdest thing we've ever done. Our songs take a long time to write and record. I think we worked on this for two years. We didn't want to get in our own way here. We wrote, arranged, and recorded that in a day, and it was done. That's the only time it's happened. Josh has a phenomenal sensibility on guitar. There's no distortion on it, and it's amazing how he can voice a few chords with so much depth in just that. It was a big point of distinction. It gave us freedom. In another life, Josh could've been one of these great folk songwriters, and it shows off there.
It's one of the album's most evocative songs.
That's just the way it goes sometimes. He played the first four chords, and I was one-hundred percent physically back in a place I'd experienced before. I was like, "I know what this song is!" I wrote it as quickly as you could possibly believe. That's the best part when you connect with writers like that. The undercurrent of the feeling and song is reminiscent of some actual life experience, and you're able to get right there. I was locked in. It was very inspiring to work with Josh on that song. It sprung almost fully formed, which very rarely happens. Those are the songs that remain the most potent for me personally.
Do you tend to read a lot or watch many movies while you're writing?
I'd say so. I read a lot. I watch movies. I don't know if I watch a lot of movies anymore because I'm busy working on music. I'm sure reading influences my lyrical style. One book I was reading during the making-of this record was The Devil All the Time. Before that, I was reading a lot of Cormac McCarthy. Maybe the McCarthy had an influence on the way the words created something visual? Evoking visuals is probably something I was chasing being so inspired and getting into McCarthy obsessively. I read six of his books in a row [Laughs]. I imagine that had a big part in this record.
If this album were a movie or a combination of movies, what would you compare it to?
I don't know if I can answer that. I'm too close to the process of making the record. I don't know what the record feels like objectively. Can you tell me one? I'm curious.
Well, there's definitely a '70s vibe. There are moments where it could be a total adventure like Star Wars. Then, there are more pensive explorations like in Five Easy Pieces. So, perhaps a combination of the artistic, influential '70s indie flicks and the larger bombastic blockbusters. Does that make any sense?
It does totally [Laughs]. I couldn't pinpoint any movies though. I'm too close to it right now.
What's your favorite Further Seems Forever song?