I’m sure all of you already know, but here’s another shout out for one of our favourite bands out there. VERSE are streaming their new album “Bitter Clarity, Uncommon Grace”, out now via Bridge Nine records.
We’ll be doing an interview with the band very soon, so please stay tuned for cool exclusive content straight from the band![This article is a part of catching up after coming back from Fluff Fest 2012, so please don’t be surprised if it’s overdue and not as fresh as usual]
AMP Magazine recently conducted an interview with the band. Check it out:
Providence RI’s VERSE began their career as optimists. Debut album Rebuild was an earnest if not naively futile call to unity in a scene destined to be divided. The following LPs From Anger and Rage and Aggression explicitly depicted VERSE’s growing frustrations, not only inside the hardcore punk community, but also within society at large. Through segues and sequels, VERSE’s excelled instrumentation and experimental songwriting connected with a plethora of disillusioned youth, breaking the band out of The Ocean State and into much deeper waters. The realities of life combined with a stressful touring regimen led to VERSE’s premature dissolution in 2009. Two-plus years later VERSE gained some perspective. Regrouping and recording Bitter Clarity, Uncommon Grace, this reunited incarnation is more moody, melodic, and mature. Singer Sean Murphy, drummer Shawn Costa, and guitarist Zak Drummond reveal the reasons behind the reunion.
Guys, what were the main reasons for Verse breaking up and did you remain in constant contact with each other after the fact?
ZAK: I think at this point we can all look back and say that we were burnt out. We were touring heavily and ignoring our responsibilities at home. It’s a crazy feeling man, being disconnected from real life. So, when home life got out of control for us we needed to take some time and get our shit together. Focus on all of the parts of life that aren’t touring and being in the van. We all stayed in touch to different degrees. It wasn’t constant but, like I was saying, we were getting our lives together. Working hard, sometimes too much, you don’t always think to make a phone call to just say what’s up but we were never far from one another.
What were you doing in your downtime, music related or otherwise, and how did those experiences fuel the fire of a Verse reunion?
ZAK: Sean was playing in a band called Mouth of Flowers, who were really awesome. I was playing in a couple bands: Deleted Arrows and Wet Friend. You know, having fun, keeping busy, the usual. I don’t know if our other musical projects fueled anything relating to the reunion, but it kept us involved in music and making music with our friends. Besides that we’ve been working, going to school, ripping the sleeves off of our t-shirts, walking the dogs.
What was the initial impetus for reforming? Was it a, “Let’s see where it goes” kind of feeling, or did you know you wanted to do a record, go on tour, back in the mix type of thing?
ZAK: Jim C. from Soul Control. Give him all the credit for this craziness. You should ask him how he feels about what he’s done. He hit us up through a group text last summer asking if we’d play unannounced on an SC show, which never happened, but it got us thinking about the band, talking about playing, etc. It took awhile, but it happened. We wound up in a room together with some instruments and started figuring it out. I think we were pretty much down from the start. We started writing new material within the first rehearsal or two, not really thinking that we were going anywhere with it yet, but just because that’s what we do. You put us in a room together and we’re gonna crank out some tunes. It’s a pretty organic process for us. Oh, and plus Shawn Costa is a genius and knows how to write a song. As far as touring is concerned I think we’re on the same page with that; we’re going to take it easy. We’re not going to let touring all of the time stress us out or get in the way of the other things in our lives. We’re going to take it one day at a time and see what happens. We’ll definitely be playing shows and traveling but just not as aggressively as we were when we were younger.
Did you have a wealth of ideas for the new record, or did you start from scratch once you got back together?
Shawn Costa: I had the general composition/structure for at least four or five of the new songs completed before we were even technically back together. I’m constantly writing and recording songs, and those particular songs more so than any others I had written at the time had that “Verse sound” to ‘em. The first song on the record, “The Selfish of the Earth”, I actually wrote the music for that in 2010, long before the idea of a Verse reformation was even a possibility. It’s kind of funny because at the time I was writing real power pop/early 90′s alt-rock stuff and when I wrote that song it was just so different from everything else I was coming up with. After completing it I instantly thought, “man, if Verse were still a band this would definitely be a new song.” Little did I know that two years later that would actually come to fruition.
Who produced the album and where did you record? Why did you make those choices?
Sean MURPHY: Our friends, Keith Souza and Seth Manchester, have a wonderful studio called Machines With Magnets, which is basically down the street from us. We actually recorded Rebuild with them years ago in their old studio. We were going for a very natural sounding record, nothing overly processed and fake sounding. They have been capturing that sound for people forever, and it just made perfect sense to record with them. They’re great dudes and they know what they’re doing for sure. They were very open to our ideas, and also produced some ideas for us as far as how to make certain things sound better and maybe more heightened. They are great with sound layering and I really think they pushed us just as hard as we pushed ourselves to get the best record possible, without losing the quality of the natural sound we were looking for.
Was the recording process different than it was any other time, for better or worse?
SEAN M: Every recording process is different. Recording Aggression with Jay Maas was also a wonderful experience. We love that dude, and we had such a blast recording with him. It was a very similar vibe for sure. Those are for sure the two best experiences we’ve had recording anything musically I would say.
From hearing the album, it sounds like you took some time to grow musically away from Hardcore, was it difficult to put those new elements into this new VERSE?
Shawn C: Not really. Our motto as a band is pretty much “let’s not restrict ourselves musically or artistically in any way, shape or form.” When it comes down to it Verse is 100% a hardcore/punk band, but at the same time we’re not afraid of pushing boundaries and limits. One thing we’ll never do as a band is become stagnant or complacent. Our last record is four years old, and as much as I love that album, I’d like to think that as musicians/songwriters we’ve improved and grown. I think this new album reflects that. It’s the most organic progression we could have possibly made at this point and time in our lives.
“Silver Spoon Empty Plate” implements added elements to Verse’s sound, namely the clean poppy guitar. Is this an example of how you are trying to progress with VERSE musically?
Shawn C: I think Verse has always really had a penchant for melody. Looking back, I feel that maybe our youth and execution prevented us from really bringing that out properly. I think this time around, we really wanted to augment all the dynamics that make up the Verse sound. We wanted the heavy parts to hit heavier than they ever had before and we really wanted to let the melodies breathe and resonate in ways we hadn’t let them in the past. Verse is always in constant evolution and progression, so I wouldn’t say that this is the absolute direction we’re taking the band in for the future. If we ended up writing more material I’m sure it’ll be different in many ways to this newest record.
How about the few guitar solos that pop up here and there, even a slide on “Oceanic Tendencies,” is this an something that you have suppressed before, or did the songs just feel like they were calling for those textures?
Shawn C: There were songs written for Aggression that I had hoped to add guitar solos to, but it just never really panned out. I think the structure of these new songs certainly called for specific guitar solos/leads, so I was psyched that we were finally able to add that element to Verse’s music.
People are happy to see you back. How does it feel to be accepted with such open arms? Do you feel like you have something to prove to the hardcore scene that you can pick up where you left off?
Sean M: It feels good to pick up where we left off for sure. I don’t think we really have anything to prove to anyone, we’ve just always done our own thing. Since we’ve started up again, When we play a show I guess I have felt like we have everything to prove all over again, but it’s a different feeling then what I used to have. I haven’t quite been able to figure out what the actual feeling is. I feel more passionate about what we’re doing now more than ever, and that feeling is completely out of my control somehow. I almost feel like some strange force is guiding me at times. If anything, I would say that we are very understanding of people’s potential to be apprehensive about a band that just abruptly fell apart, and then comes back together just as abruptly after a two and a half-year hiatus. But that is the manic ride that has always been Verse. We still put everything we have into this band, no matter what the level of connection is, or the number of people there are.
Why the title: Bitter Clarity, Uncommon Grace?
Sean M: Well, the story is told from the perspective of a person that has experienced just about everything life can throw at you, a person that has truly lived a full life. I think with that comes a total sense of awareness, and knowing what move to make next to avoid the pitfalls that we all face time and time again. Her life was a life of living at the bottom, forced there, and also willingly put there. A lifetime of contradictions, fucking up, getting thrown away, being ignored, embraced, loved, hated, etc, all of these life experiences have a tendency to make us bitter and completely consumed with internal and external hatred towards certain things. All of these steps we take lead to nowhere if we stay consumed with all of the negative, which I am extremely guilty of, and I think most of us are. She’s a saintly being that has been able to shed all of that, and see things much clearer than most, even though the weight is still heavy on her back, like it is on most of us in this world. There’s something very beautiful about that, I’ve known people like this to a certain degree in my lifetime so far, and it is really such an inspiring thing to me to know that there are people out there that walk with their head held high, even though they’ve been through an unimaginable hell on earth. While trying to figure out what to title this record, I was reading “Notes of a Native Son” by James Baldwin (thanks Jordan). On the back cover there was a review of the book: “…This sheaf of personal essays, written with bitter clarity and uncommon grace…” The minute I read that, I knew it encompassed everything about this record’s storyline. I’ve heard or read that saying probably a hundred or more times throughout my life I’m sure, and it never mattered until that time. It was too fitting and the timing was perfect.
How does the new material, in your mind, compare to your old stuff? Was there a fear of revisiting old ghosts?
Sean M: Honestly, the only thing I was worried about was getting stuck in the same vocal patterns as previous records. It’s tough not to be repetitive when you’re just kind of screaming your brains out. Musically and lyrically I think we did a good job with progressing in a natural way with the new record. I don’t think we strayed too far away from Aggression, but I think there is a clear separation between the new record and our previous records. Every record we’ve done we’ve tried to challenge ourselves as much as possible for that specific time period of the writing process. Obviously the more you work at something, the more developed it becomes.
What did you learn about yourself in the time away from the band and how do you feel about Verse now that you are moving it forward again?
Sean M: I learned that I’m without a doubt, out of my mind. I had a good 3 years of self-realization and time to put my choices and my tendency to be an unreasonable dickhead at times into perspective. It was a low point in my life for sure, but I think I truly needed that time off to reflect on my life and how I interact with people and the ones I love. Towards the “end” of the band, I think I was at a certain level of arrogance that I think was really off putting for people. I still consider myself an anarcho-minded person, and I hold my social/political views very close to me, but there is a time and a place for that. I wasn’t really comfortable with who I was turning into. I understand that people have their own views, and I respect that (within reason, obviously I’m not willing to go hang out with the kkk). I have a new perspective on life and love, a little more patient than I was before. Maybe life just beat the shit out of me, whatever it is, I feel good about things now. Having Verse back in my life is truly a blessing for me, and I’m sure the same goes for the rest of our camp.
How much attention did you pay to Hardcore while you were away from the band? Do you think it has changed for better or worse?
Sean M: I moved to Harlem almost right after Verse split. Probably the worst thing I could have done, in retrospect. I had detectives looking for me (my bullshit graffiti writer past catching up with me) in Providence, and I fell in love with a girl that lived there. At the time it just kind of made sense to move there. I was working anywhere from 60-75 hours a week, so I didn’t really have a lot of time to go to shows. I went to a few here and there (blacklisted, defeater, bane, paint it black and a few other shows), but I didn’t really know anyone and didn’t have time to weave myself into the scene there. So for about a year I was semi-out-of-touch with what was going on. Once shit hit the fan in NYC, I came back to Providence and it was pretty much just the same old. I wasn’t booking shows or anything, but I had my ears open again locally.
You famously wanted to REBUILD the scene, do you think that is an attainable task or are the majority of kids just to naïve to realize how to be completely accepting?
Sean M: Things are very different now then they were when the band first started, for obvious reasons: the internet, fashion trends, accessibility etc. Things are a lot easier to find now, and also a lot easier to take for granted. I find myself guilty of the same things really, and it’s just part of being involved in something for a long time. You feel some sort of pressure to adapt to what is happening in some sort of way, even if you are the most defiant of the defiant. I think as with everything, there are pros and cons to the current state of HC punk, or music/artistic expression in general, and there always will be. I don’t really have the authority to say whether or not it’s better or worse, only that it exists, and that to me is very liberating.
If you’ve been involved in HC punk for at least five years, you understand that it is always in a state of rebuilding. That song was probably the most sophomoric set of lyrics I have ever written, but I still feel what I wrote 100 percent. It was written by a very optimistic and naïve Providence kid, who really believed in changing things locally. And I think for a time, we did. This music is for everyone; I don’t give a shit what people say. Yeah it might be annoying when a kid shows up to a show with a sweet Korn shirt on and acts like an idiot, but who the hell are any of us to tell that kid he doesn’t belong here without knowing anything about him/her? I’ve been that kid, I’ve also been the kid that told him to fuck off without even thinking about why he was there in the first place, and that was just entirely wrong of me. I can admit that, and I understand that it was totally out of my own insecurity and pressure to be the “cool” guy that portrays a “better than you” attitude. We have to be more open, and more accepting. And from what I know and what I’ve seen, that always comes in waves, and it’s a great thing when you’re riding that wave.
Hardcore is notoriously fickle, so what are you going to say when everyone says, “This album is ok, but it’s not as good as their old stuff?”
Shawn C: Well, first I’d say that I disagree with them, ha-ha. In all seriousness, it’s been quite awhile since we’ve released new material, and it seems as though a lot of kids have connected with Aggression, so I definitely expect some “backlash.” For the people who are expecting Aggression Pt.2, they’re definitely not going to get what they want. I just hope kids give this record the proper time of day. It may not sink in on the first listen and for some it may be down right jarring for them to hear initially. Without trying to come across as selfish or egotistical, as a collective unit we write music for ourselves, first and foremost. We’re not trying to tread water and rehash the same material over and over again. I’d love for everyone out there to be just as psyched on our new record as we are, but ultimately that’s just not realistic.
When you started VERSE you were a lot younger, and the kids at your shows were closer in age to yourselves. As you’ve grown up, and left the band for a while, do you feel like you can still relate to the younger kids because you once were them, or do you feel like you are out of touch with what’s going on today because of age? Or even further, do you feel an almost paternal sense of heightened responsibility to warn them of the pitfalls ahead in life?
Sean M: I certainly don’t feel out of touch. I’ve been following hardcore punk and been a participant in it since I was 14 years old. There are times that I stray a little bit, but it’s something that’s played a huge role in my life, so I can never stray too far. When I was younger it was a truly eye opening experience for me to escape what I had going on in my life at that time. So I’ve always held onto that feeling in some sort of way. When I see younger kids at shows, I instantly revisit that time in my life, and I think about what they might be going through in their lives at that very time, and how great they must feel having discovered a music scene that is made up of (mostly) people that are willingly participating in something that is completely accessible. From the bands, people running distros/fanzines/activist groups, to the people that are putting on shows etc, it’s all very empowering for a young kid who is just trying to find his/her way and searching for something outside of the social norm. I think all older people involved in the hc punk scene (humans in general, really) should be looking out for the younger kids and pass down any sort of life lessons they may have learned throughout the years. If I didn’t have the older cats looking out for me when I was younger, I would probably be dead or in jail by now. Of course the severity of life issues/choices that kids are faced with vary to a great degree, but I think it’s vital to set a good example, and at the same time be understanding of the ups and downs, mistakes and, stresses that come with life that sometimes make people lash out or react to things in a negative way. I was a real fuck-up as a young kid. Hardcore punk and the few kids from my hood that got me involved with it will always be my saviors. I felt totally free to be myself, I found a sense of belonging, and I felt like I was a part of an incredible collective of lost people that had found something to believe in, as corny as that might sound. I can see that same familiar look in the eyes of a young kid at a show, and that is something that I will always identify with.
What is the most important thing that you have learned since this band started almost ten years ago?
Sean M: NOTHING is permanent.