The San Francisco post-hardcore experimentalists in Loma Prieta have wringing caustic emotions out of warped punk structures for the better part of a whole decade now, but for their fifth full-length album Self Portrait, things are a little different. Down to the very name the quartet chose for themselves — which translates to “Dark Hill” — and to their austere album art, they’ve always steeped themselves in a sort of creeping gloom.But alas, this newly introspective record begins with “Love.”
That standout’s still as bleak as ever, a wonderfully tortured take on the art and archetypes of any number of downcast brainiacs who grew up as hardcore kids, but for the first time the sun’s peeking through the clouds. That happens later on the momentous riff that draws “Roadside Cross” to an end is a beautiful burst of hope and light that’s all the more potent because of the darkness that surrounds it.
Like their fellow San Franciscans in Deafheaven they’ve finally settled on the right balance between hopelessness and openhearted aspiration, a combination that at full album length feels truer to life than anything else they’ve released to date. Listen in full here in advance of the record’s release on heavy institution Deathwish on October 2. And be sure to read a brief email conversation with singer/guitarists Brian Kanagaki and Sean Leary about the record’s origins, edited and condensed for clarity.
Lets talk about album opener love “Love.” It’s pretty bold to name such a tumultuous track after a such a vague metaphysical concept.
Sean Leary: It’s always been part of our aesthetic to keep things fairly opaque, but with Self Portrait we made a conscious decision to be more literal. Along those lines, I decided that I’d give that song the most literal title I could.
Basically love is a double-edged sword because it’s paired with hate and insecurity and is tethered closely to all of the negative human emotions. Anyway, my goal is always to write music that is honest and urgent, if you’re going to try and write songs that are sincere and talk about people’s deeper meaning or purpose, it’s all gonna come back to love and hate in some way or another. We already had enough songs about hate.
So down to your name you’ve always steeped yourself in darkness, but there’s an almost hopeful bent to some of the songs that make up Self Portrait. Was that a conscious aim?
Leary: Songs like “Roadside Cross” or “More Perfect” are way more posi and ecstatic than anything we’ve written before, but it came very naturally. With each record we make it our priority to allow ourselves to go places we never have before, to write whatever feels right and edit later. I think the songs that are more melodic on this record have the same level of intensity as anything we’ve done before, they’re just subjects we hadn’t talked about yet.
Brian Kanagaki: When writing for Self Portrait I thought a lot more about how playing a riff makes me feel. Those rough and angry songs make you feel that way when you play them, playing them feels like work and leaves you really drained. Playing riffs like the one at the end of “Roadside Cross” and the main riff on “More Perfect” make me feel good. Maybe its the major key or maybe its the tempo, whatever it is, it’s a good feeling and its nice to listen to.
You’ve said that your last record I.V. was made during a time of “a lot of transition,” have things calmed down a little bit?
Leary: Our last LP was more about anger and Self Portrait is just more contemplative. It comes across in the music and the lyrics. “Self Portrait” is just as urgent, but talks about a range of emotions beyond anger and disappointment. So yes, things must have calmed down a little because there’s been more time to think.
Kanagaki: Our music has always been about growth and coming to terms with who we are, both as individuals and as a band. I feel like there is a lot more clarity in all of our lives and maybe that resolve has made its way into our music. It’s more about looking forward than it is about being caught up on the past.
Though it’s hard to make out the lyrics entirely, it seems that this record is more personally focused than before. Can you talk about that decision?
Leary: The lyrics are more literal, and the delivery is a little more intelligible than any other record we’ve made. Like I said before, we consciously tried to be more literal with this record. It just seemed to fit the music better to have less obscure lyrics. Thematically, aside from not just being all hate all the time, the lyrics are similar to our past records. They’re just less veiled.
You’ve always been labeled a post-hardcore band, is that something that you guys relate to?
Kanagaki: I think once you put a label on something you start conforming to that way of though, subconsciously you are putting yourself or an idea in a box. We’ve never known what kind of band we are so we have always written whatever felt right at the time. Its something that has worked for us but has been both beneficial and problematic.
Everyone always wants to be able to label you one way or another, that way they know who you are and if they are allowed to like you or not. I think that since people can’t label us easily that they don’t know what to think about our music and sometimes don’t give us a chance.
Leary: We definitely have the intensity of a hardcore band. The thing about punk and hardcore as genres, they are pretty limiting. There are things you just can’t do as a “hardcore” band, you can only go so far before you aren’t neatly fitting into that genre and that never really interested me. So yeah, post hardcore, art hardcore, etc. We’re a tough band to tag as one genre or another. We take pride in that.