Bleached Cross by Lowell Shaffer
Bleached Cross by Lowell Shaffer
New Music

Pushing the boundaries of the post-punk – an interview with Chicago dark wave rockers BLEACHED CROSS

6 mins read

Hailing from Chicago, Illinois, and featuring members of Frail Body, Crowning, and Pains, BLEACHED CROSS, a band known for their dark wave, shoegaze, and atmopsheric take on post punk, released their first full-length album in late June 2022. “Bleached Cross” showcased the band’s versatility and offered listeners relatable storytelling that we touched on in our special track by track feature HERE, and this Spring they are back with a special tape edition on Summer Darling Tapes, which is available at this location. To celebrate, we sat down with the band to discuss their inspirations, their unique style, lyrical content, and a lot more!

With many post-punk bands exploring dark themes and imagery in their music, BLEACHED CROSS sought to take it a step further by incorporating heavier and more intense elements. The band made a concerted effort to ensure their music felt cohesive, avoiding any clear separation between post-punk and heavy sections. Instead, they aimed to create an overall sense of foreboding and edginess, not limited to only the explicitly heavier parts of their songs.

Answers by ZM=Zak Maybaum (lead vocals, guitar) and AC= Alex Cegielski (backing vocals, guitar, electronic programming)

Infusing different elements from both ethereal and heavier genres into alternative music is a fuel that literally run through our veins here on IDIOTEQ. This definitely shines through in your self-titled album, so I’m curious. Was it challenging to find the right balance between the different elements you wanted to incorporate, and how did you go about achieving that balance? Tell us a bit about how you translate your influences into this unique blend of yours.

AC: The ideas we came up with when we first started the project had a little more of straightforward post-punk sound, but we pretty quickly started adding in heavier and more experimental elements. It wasn’t super intentional at first, I think we were just leaning on our experiences playing in heavier bands so those elements started to come out naturally. When incorporating elements from heavier genres we try not to force it, it isn’t really about having “heavy” parts, but more about infusing those elements in a way that compliment the darker elements inherent in the post-punk / dark wave genres.

The goal is to push the boundaries of the post-punk sound by creating a mood in the songs that feels oppressive and has a heavy “vibe” without having to be explicitly heavy. Achieving the balance takes a lot of trial and error, but I think we are getting better at understanding how to walk that tight rope.

Bleached Cross
Bleached Cross

Your album’s lyrical themes cover a lot of heavy topics, from grief and loss to religion. How do you approach writing lyrics for your songs, and what inspires the themes you choose to explore?

ZM: When I’m writing lyrics it really depends on if I have something personal to draw from or not to get things started. I think the first impressions I have on how a song sounds largely affect what I choose to focus on as well. For instance The Last Embrace…that song had a very wistful/mournful sound to me when we were demoing it, so I immediately knew that my lyrics would try to reflect and enhance that feeling it gave me. Grief and loss were something I experienced on a level I never really had previously in my life during the end of 2020, so I drew pretty heavily from personal experience when it came to that.

Other songs like Flesh Prison had a more ominous and creepy feeling to them, so I try to think of subject matter that can fit the feeling the song gives me and I usually start by building off of that. I very much do stream of consciousness writing and lines I write will influence where I go as I write, and then sometimes I need to revise heavily and keep trying to add stuff, other times what comes out is pretty close to what the final product is. I think our imagery we have used on merch and just our general aesthetic we have cultivated has also helped me get more creative from where I take lyrical inspiration and subject matter for songs now compared to before I was in this band, which I am super grateful for.

The band is made up of members from Frail Body, Crowning, and Pains. How did the three of you come together to form Bleached Cross, and how did your experience in different bands contribute into the creative process in writing and recording your debut album?

ZM: Alex and I played together in a previous band in Chicago from 2014-2017, before I moved out of state. We played shows with Frail Body and became friends with them through those experiences. Fast forward to 2020 and I went to go see Frail play in Long Beach literally the Sunday before Covid shut down the country.

I showed them the demos for Bleached Cross me and Alex had worked on and they were into them. Little did I know I would be laid off at my job within two weeks and end up moving back to Chicago that summer because of a work opportunity, so when that happened they all hit me up about jamming together as a full band for the project.

Bleached Cross by Angel Tumalan (@brittlebonesil)
Bleached Cross by Angel Tumalan (@brittlebonesil)

AC: I mentioned how we are all into heavy music and come from backgrounds playing heavier music, so that definitely had an influence on our creative process. We started out as a two piece and leaned a lot more on electronic elements in our original demos, so in a lot of ways we were still figuring out how to translate and enhance the sound we achieved on our early demos when we recorded the album.

We also wrote the album during COVID so we weren’t playing live shows yet, and we were still figuring out to be a “full band” with this project. So those experiences recording really helped us break everything down and refine the sound, find the balance between all the different guitar and synth parts, how to incorporate electronic percussion elements into a full band, and things like that. Now the album kind of serves as a benchmark and anchor point we can all relate to when we are writing new material.

Tell us a bit more about this new European re-release on Summer Darling Tapes.

ZM: Much like how things have gone with this band, we were hit up out of the blue for the opportunity. Since we hadn’t had a chance to put this on cassette yet, it seemed like a perfect chance to get to release it on a different physical format while having the added bonus of increasing our distribution of the album overseas.

Seeing that this label is just kind of a passion project with the ultimate goal of getting more bands names out there because someone believes in what they are making kind of says it all. That’s why we worked with Protagonist Music, and it’s why Protagonist as well as us gave them the ok to do these tapes for us…we’re really grateful for the opportunity.

When can we expect some new releases from Bleached Cross?

ZM: Sooner than you think, but we are also recording in June and planning on using that material for one or two splits to hopefully drop around the tail-end of 2023 and beginning of 2024.

Awesome. What live shows do you have planned for the rest of 2023?

ZM: We are playing a few local shows this spring and then for this summer we are working on finalizing some tour dates for July mostly in cities we have not played yet which we hope to be able to announce soon. Nothing booked beyond that, but I’m sure we will sort out some shows for the fall as well.

Can you give us your top records in 2023 so far, with a short commentary on each pick?

ZM: I really dug The True Faith’s “Go To Ground”. I am admittedly not a veteran of the post-punk genre, but it has everything I like about the style of music: super catchy vocals, driving bass and drum lines, and some guitar work that really weaves throughout the songs and gets stuck in your head.

I also want to shout out some friends who released cool stuff this year: Bosses put out a sick EP called “Jokes” and Jeff Schaller & the Long Way Home put out a LP called “For Keeps and a Single Day”.

Both albums are full of incredibly catchy vocal lines that will be stuck in your head for days.

AC: I am usually pretty behind on listening to new music, but the new Depeche Mode album is pretty cool and I enjoyed the new “Devil Music” video that Portrayal of Guilt put out. I’m excited to hear the full EP of that.

Karol Kamiński

DIY rock music enthusiast and web-zine publisher from Warsaw, Poland. Supporting DIY ethics, local artists and promoting hardcore punk, rock, post rock and alternative music of all kinds via IDIOTEQ online channels.
Contact via [email protected]

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