Michigan experimental hardcore duo TERRIBLE AS THE DAWN incorporate elements borrowed from a broad range of influences, including the rawness and emotional intensity of bands REVERSAL OF MAN or ORCHID, and some of the heaviness of ISIS and BATTLE OF MICE. Their 2016 EP called “WEAK” was recorded by Andy Nelson (WEEKEND NACHOS, HARM’S WAY) at Bricktop Recording in Chicago, and it’s a one hell of an offering. At times it sounds like a wounded voice of a mourner, but it could just as easily pass for a soundtrack to an apocalyptic spectacle of the unfolding conflict of clashing cultures or the decline of our species. Either way, TERRIBLE AS THE DAWN feels as weighty as a work of literature and exists kind of out of genre. Unapologetically.
We have teamed up with Caroline and Stephen to learn more about their band, their view on Michigan DIY music scene, and a lot lot more. Read the full interview below.
Terrible as the Dawn began as the collaboration between two frustrated biologists, Stephen (drums, vocals) and Caroline Fukuchi (guitar, vocals). Both in the midst of personal strife, the two quickly became fully engrossed in their music after discovering their shared musical interests and uncannily similar worldviews. With both possessing broad musical backgrounds, the pair referred to their longstanding passion for hardcore and metal in creating the musical vision for Terrible as the Dawn to capture the emotional intensity and urgency that is fundamental to their personalities. Initially formed as a straightforward punk band, Stephen and Fukuchi’s strong compatibility and creative ambition quickly drove them to develop a unified musical vision incorporating elements of grindcore, post-metal, and indie rock. Their sound provides the foundation upon which the pair explore the intense emotional extremes and social discomfort underlying each of their lives.
Terrible as the Dawn’s music combines heavy, intricate guitar work, crushing blast beats and screeching vocals with a sense of melody, structure and texture that recalls 90’s indie rock. The sound they’ve cultivated references the heaviness of Botch, the frantic intensity of Circle Takes the Square, and the swirling, immersive guitar sounds of My Bloody Valentine. This gives a fitting backdrop for Fukuchi’s lyrics, which focus on themes of conflict, desperation, and guilt. Firmly believing that these feelings are universal but often left unconfronted, Terrible as the Dawn’s music begs listeners to connect with these feelings and the empowerment that stems from their recognition.
Hey Caroline! Hi Steph! How are you? How’s Ann Arbor?
We are both good! We’ve been working on writing new stuff and thinking about politics a lot lately
Ann Arbor is ok, but it isn’t really our favourite town in the world.
How come? Can you tell us a bit more about the city and your background in heavy music? Aren’t you satisfied with your local arts scene?
Caroline: The wealth in Ann Arbor has seemed to increase quite a bit in the past few years, and the cool underground culture has seemed die off quite bit as places to play (and even rehearse) have become scarce and the general attitude of the city administration has become less friendly to DIY music. There are definitely some remnants left over and good folks around, but more often than not, it feels pretty difficult to get people out to shows if you don’t play indie rock or EDM.
Stephen: Yeah. Despite that, we have found a good group of people to play shows with around town, although it is a small group. There are a couple venues that are great, especially the Blind Pig and Third Death Star. We also get to travel around to play some good shows as well.
Ok, so what led you to form this project? How did you become interested in creating music in the first place and where did the idea to structure it in that particular wild way come from?
Caroline: Stephen and I had known each other for years from working together, and would often geek out about our shared affection for things like Norwegian black metal or 90’s emo. Neither of us had played in any bands for a few years. I started writing some really straight-ahead punk songs in 2015 whilst going through some personal difficulties, and wanted someone with whom to play them and knew Stephen had a lot of experience playing drums in hardcore bands. Since we both have pretty broad musical interests, it became really easy to start incorporating and borrowing from the wide range of styles that influence our songs.
Stephen: Now, we’ve all but abandoned the punk, but still just generally play an eclectic style that reflects our tastes and what we want to hear.
Are there aspects of this experiment that you would like to explore further, or other styles, instruments, or perhaps additional musicians that you would like to integrate into TERRIBLE AS THE DAWN?
Caroline: I’d like to continue refining aspects of the sound upon which we’d started to converge on our first record. We also happen to share a similarly bleak worldview, and our first record really feels to me like only the very earliest stage of synthesizing our perspectives into a cohesive statement. The first record is very personal, both in lyrical themes and in each of our instrumental contributions, whereas I feel like we have a lot more to say as we become more comfortable as a musical unit and shift our focus outward.
Stephen: I think in terms of music, that describes it well. I’d say that we are a band that primarily enjoys playing live, whether we are recording (we track live) or playing a show. But while we’re building on the qualities Caroline just described, we’re really interested in exploring the sound from our first songs more deeply.
Caroline: I definitely agree. We like to play very raw music that challenges our abilities to fill space, but also allows us to back off and allow that space to communicate its own feeling. Stephen’s Virginian background has also allowed him to cultivate some pretty great banjo skills as well, but since we’re not Panopticon, I doubt we’ll be incorporating that anytime soon.
What themes do you explore in your lyrics?
Caroline: Like I mentioned before, the first record is very personal and largely reflect upon personal strife that I’d been experiencing when we wrote those songs. More broadly, we have a tendency to express our mutual feelings of discomfort and exasperation with aspects of the outside world through our music, and generally these types of feelings become the basis for a lot of lyrics.
Have you played a lot of live shows so far? Also, as you probably know a lot of local spots, are there some cool venues on top of the ‘to visit’ list for Michigan?
Caroline: We’ve played a fair number of shows around Michigan and out of town. We set up shows in Ann Arbor semi-regularly at a venue called the Blind Pig, which is sort of the local divey bar, and historically where a lot of the bigger shows in town would happen.
Stephen: There is also a local house venue called Third Death Star that is really good.
Recording-wise, what are your next steps?
Caroline: We are in the process of writing and refining some new songs that we’d like to record this summer. We took a bit of a break during the fall and winter, but have started playing shows again and synthesizing song ideas for the next record. We play a couple of the new ones live now, which has felt good.
Lastly, what were some of the most interesting records that you discovered in 2016? Which artists have changed your own understanding of the world through music?
Caroline: SVAALBARD made a really good one. I like the Frameworks record from last year a lot. Bosse-de-Nage had a really good one. WEEKEND NACHOS’ final album was really great. It might have been from 2015, but the BODY and THOU record was fantastic. For things that have changed the way I think about music, I would say that some intersection of early CONVERGE, CIRCLE TAKES THE SQUARE, and KRALLICE really represent the kinds of music I like to play. Also, a particular subset of old jazz made me appreciate the importance of really strong communication among musicians in developing the freedom to play in a way that is more improvisational.
Stephen: The new SUMAC, NEUROSIS, and Bosse-de-Nage records are really good. THE BODY/FULL OF HELL collaboration was really good. The new GNARWOLVES. MOUTH OF THE ARCHITECT had a really good one. THE VANUM one was really good. The new TRIBE. It’s too old, but PORTAL is really great. For bands that have changed the way I think about music, ISIS, BANE, and DEATHSPELL OMEGA have defined the type of music I want to play.
Great! Thanks so much for the recommendations! By the way bands, are you heavy gig goers? What cool shows did you attend this year?
Caroline: We like to go to shows as often as we are able. Probably my favourites have been MOUTH OF THE ARCHITECT, CITY OF CATERPILLAR, and BANE’s last Michigan show, which was rad.
Stephen: Definitely BANE.
Have you noticed any differences between your local shows versus other states’ offerings?
Not really. Most of the bigger bands come through Detroit or Grand Rapids on their tours, so we usually get a lot of those shows. But the local heavy music scene has been pretty quiet over the past several years, so smaller shows tend to be less frequent, although there certainly are still some great ones.
Thank you very much for your time and answering our questions! The last words are yours.
Thanks for having us! We really appreciate having the chance to talk about our music!