If you’re familiar with gates’ debut album Bloom and Breathe, you may know that they specialize in operatic post-rock with pulverizing drum swells and cathartic releases of pent-up energy. Today, they bringing you something a little different. Last weekend, gates stopped by our Trenton, NJ studio to record stripped-down versions of a couple tracks. These songs take on new meaning as the emotional resonance changes entirely. You can hear those sessions below, as well as read an interview with the band, discussing the writing and recording process for Bloom and Breathe, the role cinema plays on the band’s music, and how the New Jersey music scene has influenced them.
The Garden Statement: Your debut full length album Bloom and Breathe came out in the fall on Pure Noise Records. What was the writing and recording process like for that album?
Dan King: Long, tedious…Rewarding?
Ethan Koozer: We were writing the record, the good chunk of it, for probably around 2 years. And then the recording we did with Mike Watts at Vudu Studios in Long Island and that was incredible. The recording process was a blast actually.
Kevin Dye: Yeah, super cool. It took us about a month to do that and then we went on a tour with Frameworks and Tiny Moving Parts, and then we came back and finished mixing the record after that. So it was definitely a cool experience.
TGS: And you guys had self-produced the EPs that came before it right? So how was it different working with a producer- I know, did you guys also do production work on the album as well?
Dye: Yeah, I co-produced it with Watts, and it was awesome. He was always someone that I looked up to and respected. To be able to work with him was a dream for me, and also to have him show me respect like that, where we would bounce ideas off each other. I would tweak the mix, and he would come back and tweak it some more. It was a very collaborative process, and it was definitely cool to have someone else there that wasn’t in the band to have some input and some control over things that normally I was having to stress out about, so that I could focus on performance- especially when it was my turn to go, to have him be there and bounce ideas for vocals. It was awesome, definitely wouldn’t change that at all.
TGS: A lot of people say that when you’re writing your first record, you have your whole life to write your first record, and then after that with your second record you have a more limited amount of time. So did you guys find that with your first record you were going back and tweaking a lot of things, to make sure that as your first product, first entire full length product, you were making sure it was the right representation of the band?
King: I think that’s very true because there were a lot of song ideas on the record that were five years old, so yeah we did have our whole lives to write for the record, and a lot of older ideas- from some other bands even- were coming back into play, and I thought that was cool because that stuff sounded a certain way, and the stuff we’re writing now sounded another way. It was cool because all the songs had their own identity, which was good for getting the variety on [Bloom and Breathe].
TGS: So was that lyrics that were done in the past, or was that riffs?
King: A lot of guitar parts were from years ago, and they just never ended up getting used for anything, and the parts were just too good to pass up, where we said “well, we have to put that on the record.”
TGS: So to transition from that, was it difficult finding out what guitarist was going to play when, and when to have one guitarist play the lead and one guitarist come behind.
Dye: Yeah, we’ve been working on that for the entire existence of the band.
Koozer: We definitely honed in on it when we were writing for Bloom and Breathe, because that’s when we actually figured out, not that that had been a problem- well it kind of was a problem in the past- but exactly how you were saying, just how to treat the part, who’s playing a lead here as opposed to Dan King and I playing a lead at the same time. When we were doing Bloom and Breathe, a lot of times Dan would have an awesome part, and we’d have to work around that to make that part sound better without stepping on each other’s toes, and vice versa. We definitely had an artistic approach like exactly how you were just explaining.
Dye: The other thing you wouldn’t think about is sonically how they all fit together. I feel like each person has a unique tone, just from an engineer’s head space. Ethan’s is kind of brighter, King’s is more mid-range-y and I try to have a little low end in my guitar. They all kind of mix together and mesh in a way. And even when you’re playing, you have to play in a certain register to fill certain frequencies while you’re playing, so that it doesn’t sound cluttered when you’re recording. That was another thing Watts really helped us with.
Koozer: Yeah, I didn’t think about that going into it, but it was cool how Mike would hear a part of a song completely differently than us. Like, what I thought would be a prominent lead part, he did mix tweaks and somehow put it elsewhere in the mix that I wasn’t even hearing, but it made the part a completely different part. That was one of the coolest thing about working with him.
TGS: I think he’s also produced a lot of other post-rock albums, like I believe he worked with Tides of Man last year, and I think that comes through on the record in terms of the cinematic aspect of it, sort of the wide scope, so, just out of curiosity, did you guys have any influences from movies on the record, because it definitely has a cinematic quality to some of it?
King: Definitely for lyrics for sure. Usually when I was writing, I would have movies playing all the time, just to get influence from them. Or I’d watch them, and I’d have a computer open and I’d just type out thoughts I have, or things I thought were cool, or lines from the movie that I liked. I was watching “War of The Worlds,” which you’d think that was a cheesy movie, but I thought that was really cool. “American Psycho”- I watched that like three times while I was writing the lyrics, and I didn’t actually end up taking any of the lines that I wrote for that into the song. I think that was in a different way then what you were thinking- I mean we do have visuals- visuals are huge in our band, and in that aspect, I do kind of conjure up imagery with the lyrics and the music, but I don’t think necessarily specific movies in that regard are something that I look at. It’s more of like a feeling or a place.
TGS: II’s more of a wider-scope type cinema.
Koozer: And recently, one of our songs, or a few of them, were used in a snowboarding DVD, from a group of Japanese snowboarders. They used an instrumental version of a song off You Are All You Have Left to Fear, but it was funny because without the vocals in there, it does bring a completely different cinematic feel to it. To see it, as a soundtrack to a movie, and something as incredible as watching as someone is snowboarding down these ridiculous hills in British Colombia, it was crazy to see it like that. That cinematic feeling, it’s really weird that you’re able to achieve that through music.
TGS: Yeah, I was going to ask about instrumental versions. I know you guys have played with Athletics in the past, and last year Athletics released an instrumental version of their record Who You Are is Not Enough. So I was wondering, if you guys paired it down without the vocals, because I know the vocals were a big, big part of Bloom and Breathe, but if you guys paired it down without the vocals if there was a different take behind the guitars and the music.
Koozer: I mean we’re about to do an instrumental master of Bloom soon right?.
Dye: I don’t think we’d put it out like they did, but we’ve been meaning to do a mastered version that doesn’t have vocals on it, specifically for these reasons. We did Fear that way, and that’s why these tracks were able to get used.
Koozer: Licensing opportunities and such.
Dye: So they can be background for movies potentially. I’ve scored- we’ve all done it- scored some of our little videos that we make, and we write original music for that, because we like to do that too. We’re looking to do that just so we can have the songs, so we can pair them with visual stuff like that, and if people are interested in using it (they can). I think without the lyrics to take the context for the song, the music can take the context of whatever visuals you’re putting it to.
TGS: Absolutely, so it changes the entire connotation of the song. That’s really cool. I guess going off what you said with the lyrics, I was wondering about the lyrical content of Bloom and Breathe. At least in the early portion of the record, there’s a little bit of a nihilism aspect, and then there’s a bit of a growing optimism as the record goes on. I was wondering if there was that approach going into the record- to go from a pessimistic to an optimistic tone?
Dye: Yeah, I tried to do that in two halves of the record, because after looking at the scope of the lyrics, I didn’t want to have the record be so brutally down. “The Thing That Would Save You” is a very optimistic message, so that was end of side one for me in my head. And to have that in the middle there to lift you up there, and then have something like “At Last (The Lonliest of Them)” that’s kind of more depressing. And then at the very end, it kind of brings you all back up again. The lyrics of the first song and the last song are tied together. “Bloom” is about basically the same thing, just looking at it from a completely negative point of view- just accepting defeat, and accepting that you’re not going to be able to succeed at something. Then at the very end of the record, we have the exact opposite message of “Again at the Beginning”- which is a whole hopeful point of view of the flipside of the coin. In that regard, I did try to do that, where the record starts in this way and end on a hopeful note. Same with the music that we wrote for it, with the intro and outro.
TGS: Yeah, I was going to say it loops back in again, with “Again at the Beginning” to the beginning of the album. I was going to ask, did “Again at the Beginning” come at the end of the recording session, in terms of coming back to the earlier part of the record and thinking about it that way?
Dye: It was just planned out that way.
King: Yeah, that was actually one of those older riffs that was like five years old, and it ended up being the outro to the record. The way we treated it, it just tied into the first track really well, and if you listen to it on repeat, it goes back into the first track sort of seamlessly. I like when hearing on repeat, it worked out really cool.
TGS: Yeah, sort of starts the cycle anew.
Dye: Those were the first lyrics that I had finished too. They were done before I even thought about it. That song was originally something that was parts King had written, and we jammed it a little bit, and I wrote a whole song out of it, with lyrics, but we never put it on Fear. So it was something we ended up bring back and putting on this record. It pointed the whole direction of the record. Once I had that and it was going there, and we kind of aimed it towards the end of the record, we could toy with everything that way.
TGS: The New Jersey post-rock scene is sort of growing rapidly right now. I know Athletics is from a different area and came to New Jersey. I believe some of you guys were from outside of the state as well. So what is it about the New Jersey area that is allowing the scene to grow in this way?
Dye: I don’t know, because for me, at least when I showed up, the bands that are most well-known around here, like Athletics, Vausudeva, and Owel, that are playing this kind of music, were here. So for me, when I walked in, I was like, “wow, what is this? Why are all these bands so amazing?” and I was just really excited to be a part of it. So I’m not really sure how it started or why it was here, but I was just happy to walk into it, and have so many friends of ours. I produced the Athletics record, I produced the Vausudeva record, I sang on the Owel record. So I’ve been this part of the community that I think is super awesome, and I’m just happy to be here.
TGS: I think it’s really cool because the New Brunswick punk scene was really big in the early 2000s and the late 90s, so it’s cool to see a different take on a different genre growing up in this same area.
King: I think it all stems from that too, because me and Mike grew up real close to New Brunswick, and our previous bands played there. Growing up I was super influenced by Thursday, Lifetime, Saves the Day, Bouncing Souls, and The Gaslight Anthem, bands like that all from that area. I think it comes from these younger musicians that listen to these bands, grow up and take that formula into a different direction, and I think that’s kind of what you’re hearing now. It’s cool that people are getting into it.
TGS: Yeah, whereas The Bouncing Souls were taking influence from the 80s punk bands, now you guys are taking influence from Bouncing Souls and Thursday, and spinning that into something different.
King: Yeah, definitely.
TGS: So, I guess to spin off that. You guys are playing the Skate and Surf Festival in May. Are you excited for that opportunity?
King: I’m really excited because I went to Skate and Surf 2003, and that was one of the first festivals I went to. It was just awesome, there were so many good bands, and it was just a good time. My dad had to drop us off there because we didn’t drive- we were like 14, you know. But it’s cool, years later the festival is back, the lineup is insane, and it’s just going to be awesome playing outside.
TGS: Yeah, I was just going to ask about that, if you guys were at all worried about how the big scope of your live set would transition to an outdoor stage
King: We played Warped Tour, we played a date in Massachusetts and that was outdoor. It was pouring. 100 degrees. The humidity was off the charts.
Koozer: Translated great.
Mike Maroney: 100 percent.
King: So yeah, I think that gave us a different experience. I think we know what to expect this time around.
Dye: I’m definitely excited to play outside. We played at 11 in the morning at Warped Tour. I don’t know what time we’re going to play at Skate and Surf, but I like the idea of our music carrying long distances.
Koozer: It’s the last date of our tour with Pianos Become the Teeth and Loma Prieta too, so it’s awesome that it’s ending sort of in our home turf area.
TGS: Speaking of that tour with Pianos Become the Teeth, you guys just went out last fall with Pianos Become the Teeth. So tell me about the decision to go back out with those guys again.
Koozer: I mean (laughing) the decision for us was a no brainer.
King: The second that opportunity presented itself- we’re all huge fans of those guys, and the second it came up we were like “yes, we’ve gotta do this.”
Koozer: When we went out in October, it was what? Five days, six days?
Koozer: We knew they were doing a Spring tour, and within the band, in our van it was just, “Man, I really hope they ask us to go out again. That would be awesome.” And then when they came back with the offer.
TGS: It was a big relief for your guys I’m sure.
Dye: Because five days is really short.
Koozer: Yeah, day five is when you’re getting into the swing of things, you know you’re comfortable with everybody. So it’s going to be awesome to do a full US tour with them.
TGS: So that tour starts up in a few weeks then I guess?
Koozer: April 17, I believe.
TGS: So I guess it’s a little bit longer than a few weeks then. As you said before, the tour ends at Skate and Surf Fest in New Jersey, so what band are you guys most excited to see this year at the festival.
Koozer: I’m bummed Thrice is on the day before us, I believe.
Dye: Yeah, they would’ve been my number one, but we’re going to be playing in Pittsburgh, so… for me it’s going to be Acceptance. I love that band.
Koozer: I would also say Acceptance. Acceptance and Gaslight.
TGS: It’s so cool that Acceptance is coming back just for- I mean they haven’t announced any other dates yet- so it’s cool to see that they’re coming back for Skate and Surf Fest and it’s becoming an event now.
Dye: Yeah for sure. I’m hoping we get to catch them, because I’ve always been a huge fan of that band. I think everyone knows that whatever Columbia copyright stuff was on their CD must have screwed that band over, because it was such a good record. How are they not the biggest band in the world right now? I’m really excited to see them
TGS: It’s really a shame that that (Phantoms) didn’t blow up the way it should have. So I guess to close out, you guys just recorded a stripped down session with us. Are there any plans for an acoustic EP or some kind of an acoustic session besides this?
Koozer: We definitely want to incorporate it more. There’s no real set plans. We just had that conversation last night in our basement when we were rehearsing and throwing things together. It’s like, “Man, we gotta do this more often.”
Dye: Yeah it’s fun. We did record an acoustic version of “Burned Us Alive” for the Japanese version of Bloom and Breathe– they needed a bonus track for it. So we went back to VuDu one night and recorded it, and I think it turned out awesome. I really, really love the way it came out. I wouldn’t be opposed to doing more of those in the future, just working on this. We worked on this last night, and put these songs together in this new way, and it’s cool to explore them in a different setting.
We’d like to extend a big thank you to gates for coming into the studio and recording with us. You can purchase their debut album Bloom and Breathe, out now via Pure Noise Records, by going to their merch store. The band will be embarking on a national tour with Pianos Become the Teeth, starting on April 17 at the First Unitarian Church. You can purchase tickets here!