"'How are you?' is such a leading question," laughs Touché Amoré's Jeremy Bolm, even before pleasantries have been exchanged or the tape recorder turned on.
It's a devilish response to a gentle exchange – but considering it is lunchtime in California, the day has a long way to go to hit bottom for the vocalist. Donald Trump's already been up for hours warning about election fraud and whipping up followers into a frenzy about one nonsense or another. For people on America's West Coast, who've found themselves "waking up to crazy" for the best part of four years, it's no wonder Bolm jokes that such a gentle remark could be seen as entrapment.
Yet it also offers a telling insight into Bolm's easy-going nature. He may have a reputation for grappling with weighty themes on record, but in person, the good-humoured vocalist is a world away from the intense focal point in one of hardcore's most exciting acts.
While 'Lament' does away with the concepts which propelled 2013's 'Is Survived By' (legacy and leaving a mark) and 2016's Stage Four, where Bolm worked through the grief of his mother's passing, it's an album which shows his vulnerabilities in other ways.
It's not a record that came easy, either. Freed from the need to write a concept album – or even conscious of the fact that they didn't want to write a concept album – 'Lament' instead tackles broad issues of the human condition, meaning Bolm has had to world-build from scratch in every three-minute song. Such a challenge contributed to the worst writer's block of his career.
"I've suffered writer's block on every record but Stage Four," says Bolm. "'Stage Four' was the easiest record to write because there was an endless number of things to write about. I never found myself being like, 'Well, what topics should I hit today?' I look at 'Stage Four' as a necessary record in the sense of how I handle things. It wasn't a fun record to write, but it was an easy record to write if that makes sense.
"'Is Survived By', I suffered with it pretty bad, but this record was the worst yet because I'd put myself in a hole where I felt like I had to do better. I mean, I always feel like I need to do better or be stronger or more impactful, so there are all these limitations that I put on myself to do more. And I know in my heart of hearts I'm never gonna write a record that's more personal than 'Stage Four' – and to be fair, I don't want to. But it was tough because it was like, 'Where do I even start from here?'"
Part of the problem, Bolm says, goes back to the protracted process of writing 'Lament'. Initially, the group had planned to write and record in early 2019 but then realised that coincided with the 10th anniversary of debut '…To The Beat of A Dead Horse', which saw the group re-record the record as a deluxe edition.
Although they had no plans to tour the record – "That record's 19 minutes long – would it be worth anyone's time?" jokes Bolm – internet clamour told a different story. A few demos for a new record were put down during the 'Dead Horse…' sessions, but plans to properly record were pushed back, moving the tentative release date to autumn 2019.
Then tours with Deafheaven and La Dispute came along – tours that Bolm said helped the group out financially while also bookending this brief nostalgia trip. By the end of 2019, however, they were no closer to writing and recording a new record – not that Bolm was necessarily disappointed by the delay.
"I was actually kind of satisfied with that idea because I was having such a hard time getting myself started when it came to writing," he says.
"It was also really jarring for the music writing process because we were writing in such small gaps in between all these tours. And I don't think we're unique with this problem that, unless we have a fire under our asses to be like 'Hey guys, we need to write a record', we're all pretty non-committal about getting together too often."
While collaborators Nick Steinhardt, Clayton Stevens, Tyler Kirby and Elliot Babin might have been happy to go with the flow, Bolm knew he needed to pull himself out of the hole and get refocused. To help, he asked friends and colleagues for advice, leaning on the network and talent that he's befriended over the past decade to assist. One piece of advice – provided by Epitaph figurehead and Bad Religion icon Brett Gurewitz – helped unlock the process.
"He said, 'You don't need to write a more personal record; you just need to write a good record'," says Bolm. "And as simple as that sounds, it meant a lot because it's true. I think I got buried by the idea that every record needs to have a theme.
"That conversation allowed me to have a little bit of freedom, and with that freedom, I took a step back and thought about everything in my life at that time, and then I was like, 'OK, I think I could start slowly chipping away at it'."
It means 'Lament' focuses on a range of experiences – whether that's political distress, being a focal point for other people's grief or finding strength in the support of a loved one. Each song serves as an emotional and thematic reset, coalescing into a cohesive whole, rather than pushing the narrative through from first to last.
It also means there's far greater scope for experimentation, making 'Lament' the group's most ambitiously sounding record to date. Opener' Come Heroine' possesses a monolithic post-rock build that finishes in the clouds, while the five-minute-long 'Limelight' – an opus by traditional Touché Amoré standards – soars thanks to a sterling contribution by Manchester Orchestra's Andy Hull. It's a similar story on 'Reminders', where a cameo by Julien Baker adds colour to the album's outstanding 'pop' song.
But 'Lament' doesn't shine thanks to the strength of its collaborators. Take closing track 'A Forecast', which serves as a disarming insight into Bolm's psyche. In it, he admits to still trying to work out the meaning of the song: 'So here's the record closer, still working out its intent,' he ponders. It's a candid moment which emphasises that, for all the weighty themes and well-constructed albums Touché Amoré have behind them, sometimes Bolm doesn't have all the answers.
"That last song is one of the most brutally honest songs that I've probably ever written – right to the point of where I'm second-guessing myself even saying those kinds of things. But I had to say all that stuff – I'd have been mad at myself if I didn't," he comments.
This idea of second-guessing himself also comes through on 'Feign', where Bolm considers the concept of imposter syndrome – something with which he suffers.
"Put this on my tombstone; I don't trust a single person who doesn't experience imposter syndrome," he says. "If you put yourself out there in any capacity, if you're a woodworker or whatever, if you meet someone in that profession who is like 'I'm fucking great at this', they need to get knocked down a peg. 'Feign', is all about imposter syndrome. It's me fighting through that.
"I feel like, a lot of the times where I've maybe written something that connected with people, I've just considered it an accident. I feel very fortunate that anyone has ever taken anything we've done seriously."
Another reason 'Lament' hits a high watermark is the behind-the-scenes work of producer Ross Robinson. Synonymous with the rise of nu-metal, the producer also played a significant role in post-hardcore's transition from underground sideshow to mainstream attraction around the turn of the century.
Bolm first encountered Robinson as a youngster, after being struck by the intensity of Korn's 'Blind'. A subsequent appearance by the producer on the group's 'Who Then Now?' VHS gave Bolm the appetite to journey through his back catalogue, picking up anything with his name attached. It was through Glassjaw's 2000 release 'Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Silence" that Bolm was introduced to the burgeoning post-hardcore scene.
"That first Glassjaw record came out and just changed everything," he says. "I was starting to discover hardcore, and I had a few albums that were hardcore, but I didn't realise they were because I didn't know the difference between that and metal.
"But between the first two Glassjaw records, At The Drive-In's 'Relationship of Command' and then Blood Brothers' 'Burn Piano Island', I was like 'Oh my God, this guy that was a huge part of my metal upbringing has now become a big part of my life with hardcore and post-hardcore."
Yet Robinson brings with him an air of mystique and some outrageous working practice stories – some of which might have been embellished over time. With such a fearsome reputation for demanding the best – and Bolm's already established admiration for his work – it meant he went into the process with high expectations.
The vocalist acknowledges that he also did some "reconnaissance" before getting into the studio. This helped dispel several myths around working with Robinson, but also prepared him for what to expect – even if there were still some surprises which helped push some unexpected buttons:
"Before we even got in there to play, he got us all into a small room, and asked me to read the lyrics aloud to everybody and explain what every single line is about," says Bolm. "Then Ross would ask me a question about all the lines and then ask someone in the band how that made them feel. It was really involved.
"And for me, that was uncomfortable; I've never been great at talking about what I'm going through, I'm better at expressing it through music and writing. So, having to do that and my brain feeding into it; I was like 'The guys in the band don't give a fuck what I'm singing about'. We all have trust, they've never questioned my lyrics, the way I've never questioned their guitar tone – we just know what each other does.
"I thought it was going to be so embarrassing; but then, once I started doing it, everybody was really involved, and there were discussions, and genuine moments of vulnerability came from it."
This process colours every moment of 'Lament', with the lyrics and music working in tandem; soft when needed to emphasise Bolm's vulnerability and a maelstrom of noise when the rage warrants.
Robinson's knack for heightening emotion also destroys any notion that Touché Amoré are simply a hardcore band. Sure, it's a record that speaks well to their core fanbase – and they'll find plenty to love buried within – but it's also sufficiently aggressive for progressive metalheads and has enough points of entry for curious indie-rockers.
They may have been challenged by their label boss to produce a "good" record, but Touché Amoré have delivered so much more, concluding a legacy-building trio of records with one which should elevate them to an elite-tier of heavy bands. "I'm not unique being the vocalist of a band saying their new album is their best, but I genuinely believe this is our best album," concludes Bolm. He's not wrong, either.
Taken from the October issue of Upset. Touché Amoré's album 'Lament' is out 9th October.
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