Friday, June 9, 2017

A Chance for Communion | An interview with WAY OUT

© Rebecca Adams

 Your self-titled debut first came out in 2015 and is now being reissued by Portland’s Cercle Social Records and following this they will be releasing your new EP "Arc of Descent" in summer this year. It must be a humbling feeling to have interest renewed in your work and have the opportunity to unleash your first release to a wider audience? How did this opportunity arise and what has the reaction been like? 

Derek: In 2016 we played with Soft Kill and Underpass when they toured through Providence, and the show ended up being super fun and everyone kind of hit it off. We stayed in touch online, particularly with Tobias from Soft Kill, and so when his partner Nicole eventually started Cercle Social Records they reached out to us about working together. It’s definitely humbling to have someone put faith in our art like that and for them to be as excited as we are about sharing it on a bigger scale, so we’re very grateful.

Nick: The night we met Soft Kill there was a surreal moment of recognition between Toby and I after our set. I thought we were meeting for the first time when he said “we know each other”, and that moment stuck with me. It wasn't until months later, after having remained in contact online, that he remembered why we knew each other-- he lived in Providence once and we had some conversation outside of a Drop Dead show maybe 10 or more years ago. I am consistently amazed at how small the world of music can be. There is something comfortable and familial about Toby and Nicole, who together are working to build a network of like-minded musicians. It really is very nice to be thought of in this way, and to be on the receiving end of genuine interest in the band. Looking forward to seeing them soon.

 I’ve read that your combined love of WIRE was one of the things that initially brought the three of you together. Did you know each other prior to forming the group and can you tell us about the evolution that led to WAY OUT’s formation? 

Derek: That’s kind of funny because now that I think about it, I didn’t really know Anna or Nick at all prior to playing music with them. Providence is a small city with a lot of cross-pollinating bands, so I don’t think that’s very typical! I moved to Providence from western Massachusetts in 2011 with no real plan besides trying to start a band, and I was just writing a lot of songs and making demos in my tiny bedroom. I started doing music as WAY OUT with some other people I was playing with at the time, but the sound was still forming and eventually we parted ways. Someone recommended I reach out to this drummer Anna who had recently moved to Providence from Arkansas, so I did, and it was pretty clear off the bat that our musical sensibilities clicked. She was already friends with Nick, and after her and I had been playing together for a while she suggested we ask him to play bass. I think it was pretty obvious to all of us after the first time we practiced that it was a perfect fit.

Anna:   I moved to Providence from Arkansas a few years back, mostly for grad school but also because I knew maybe 2 people that lived in Providence who were amazing artists and musicians.  Drumming has allowed me to travel and meet people all over the country, so I feel really lucky that I was able to find a community of like-minded weirdos on the East Coast.  When I first moved here, I shared a practice space with Doomsday Student for a while, with my drums in the corner of a red-carpet walled warehouse space filled with their crazy awesome gear.  I practiced my drums solo for almost a year in that space, and when I heard Way Out might need a drummer I practiced everyday to build speed and stamina.  I put the word out that I wanted to play in a group and was introduced to Derek.  I had connected with Nick at this point through our mutual friend group, and reach out to him after playing with Derek for a while. The rest is HERstory!  

Nick: I met Anna briefly when an old band I was in toured through Arkansas with The Chinese Stars in 2010. It was very brief. Years later, at work, a friend showed up with Anna and I had another mystery moment of trying to figure out who this person was and why I knew her. I invited Anna to my ex's party along with our mutual friend. As she was leaving the party, an image of her hanging out in this make-shift greenroom in Arkansas struck me. We agreed that was it. Anna being the outgoing person she is ended up infiltrating my immediate friend group at that time. As a result I went to a handful of her first shows with Way Out – which is how I met Derek. I liked the band from the get-go; they had pretty straight forward but well done songs that I liked, and I have always been a sucker for dramatic melodies and guitars drenched in reverb and chorus. At some point when Anna told me they were looking for a new bass player  I jokingly offered myself (I did not play bass at the time), which became a real invite. So I learned the 6 or 7 songs they sent to me, and luckily for everyone it seemed we had some immediate form of chemistry as a group. Just clicked. Derek and I became closer cohorts after I was invited to join the band. For me, the deal was made at the first practice when I foolishly already had changes I wanted to bring to the table (potentially insulting – maybe not a great idea for day one) and they were both not only open to it, but encouraging. That is the hallmark for me – I have to be able to contribute creatively or I lose interest. Way Out gives me the freedom within the context of our project to remain interested, and I am grateful.

 Of course its impossible not to address Nick’s other bands particularly ‘Daughters’. Has that notoriety helped or hindered WAY OUT’s progression and what ways if any?

Nick: I'm not sure it has helped very much, if so, perhaps negligibly. I have been able to bring the band to some folks' attention simply because I know them, but nothing other than sharing and maybe spreading the word has come of it. I mostly prefer this. Way Out stands well on its own, and it's nice for me to have another world to participate in outside of Daughters.

Derek: I think everything has unfolded pretty organically. The three of us have been playing together for over two years, and now we're working with a label connection we all made together. 

Was there any uneasiness or apprehension about re-issuing your first ep in light of your new ep about to drop soon after in summer? How do you handle the nostalgia and then approach the future at once? 

Derek: I’m nothing but excited about re-issuing the first EP. Our live sound may have evolved a bit since the time we recorded it, but I’m still proud of those songs and psyched to get to share them with a wider audience. We put out the first run of tapes ourselves and sold them out, so having a label offer to do another run was a no-brainer to me. I also think it’s nice for listeners to have that extra context available when they approach the new EP, both to get a wider idea of our sound as well as to realize that we’ve been playing together as a band for a long time.

Nick: I'm glad that Cercle Social decided to take on the first EP. I was worried that it would fall through the cracks otherwise. We don't exactly sound that way now, but I like those songs, we still play 2 or 3 of them from time to time, and I think it shows that there is a breadth of approaches we are capable of taking to the music over time. We often talk about branching out, or specifically, not allowing ourselves to feel confined to one aspect of ourselves, so between the two EPs there is a promise of no-holds-barred progression that is important to me.

6. What is the biggest difference and evolution from the sound on the self-titled versus the upcoming? And what are you most proud about with ‘Arc of Descent’?

Derek: Compared to the upcoming EP, I’d say the self-titled has a cleaner and dreamier sound overall, kind of more like a ‘Seventeen Seconds’ vibe, as opposed to the more driving and aggressive sound of the new one. I think Arc of Descent captures the more urgent energy of our live shows, so that’s probably what I’m the most proud of. We’re definitely not like a gloomy, foot-shuffling type of band, so I’m glad that’s been recorded for history.

Anna: My favorite thing about playing in Way Out is our live set. Drumming in this group is very physical. I have to keep up with these speed demons, which is a challenge I really enjoy! Arc of Descent captures the frenetic, driving energy of our live performance. We also were more open to experimentation in the recording process this go around, with added percussive and synth sounds woven through the record.

Nick: We recorded the first EP pretty quickly into my time with the group. I see it as us learning how to be Way Out together. Arc of Descent is almost 100% a group effort in one way or another ("A Presence" was reworked from a version that Derek wrote for an earlier incarnation of the group). I am very proud of that. Any record I've been involved with that was more a group effort than that of primarily one person has always felt like some of the best stuff I have been a part of. These songs are a lot more driving and maybe a little more aggressive than the self-titled and I think that came out of some kind of collective necessity we unconsciously needed live.

 I’ve always kind of been a fan of the 3-member band dynamic. How would you explain the group dynamic in WAY OUT? And how does the writing process work? Is it Derek primarily lyric writing or is it more a collaborative thing with Amy and Nick? 

Derek: It’s always been collaborative to some degree, but at the outset I would write the songs primarily by myself, whereas lately the writing process is mainly collaborative. When the three of us first started playing together, I would bring a song to practice that was basically structurally complete-- vocals, guitar, all the chord progressions -- and then together we would take the song and build it into the best possible live translation, with Nick and Anna writing their own parts and everyone giving input on dynamics and sonics etc. Nowadays, I still write the lyrics, but otherwise we tend to just dive into riffs that excite us and see where we can take them, eventually chiseling down our raw energy into a song. I guess that’s another big difference between the two EPs-- the self-titled is all songs I mainly wrote and then brought to the band, whereas Arc of Descent is the result of our current, more collaborative dynamic, and I think the energy of the record reflects that.

Anna: Songwriting! Agh! I am truly a drummer, through and through. I like to think I am the brawn of the group while Nick and Derek are the brains. I love playing drums and singing, but I have never had any sort of drive to write music. I write my own parts and work hard to keep an open mind for any ideas the guys have about my drumming. I can hear something and have ideas about structure, but lyrics and melodies elude me. At the heart of it all, I really don't wanna work, I just wanna bang on my drums all day! (sorry for the Todd Rundgren joke, but ain't it the truth?)

Nick: There's always some riff. Way Out is constantly sifting through a list of melodies, drum hooks, vocal lines, and hunks of music that we started recording live since I joined. We don't tend to latch onto things we cannot perform directly live. That could change, but as of today it's usually the group finding something that catches our ear – could come from anywhere – and spending several weeks slowly creeping up on it. I have noticed us taking more chances and stepping a little further outside of our comfort zones. One thing that is consistent about our process is Derek's knack for vocal melodies, hooks, and lyrics – there is usually something in this department I can find a grievance with in other bands, but not so much in this one. Anna and I are nearly uninvolved in this process outside of helping get the recording down through observation, so as a spectator to that part of the band, I am always struck by how easily these vocal parts seem to come to Derek. Even if I have some music for Way Out that I've made at home and am showing to him during the car ride to practice, he will improvise excellent and natural feeling patterns, and turn of phrase. It's very impressive – like he was made for this kind of music in particular. I don't know how Anna feels about this, but I would say that we focused on and have done reasonably well in crafting a solid “rhythm section” for Way Out – we match up well and tend to push for things together that the band may not usually be accustomed to. Anna has a great ear for what sounds useable vs what sounds corny, and does a great job drumming for the song, which is of utmost importance in any band. She is very amicable in that respect, able to put aside things she would like to do as a drummer to focus on what we feel is best for the music. 

You’ve played with loads of bands from A Place to Bury Strangers, Wavves, Mannequin Pussy, Chain of Flowers and Doomsday Student. Who are you all listening to at the moment? And who has been your favourite to band to play with?

Nick: I have been listening to Raime a lot in the last fews months, keep going back to it. I like so many of the bands we play with, but a stand out really was Soft Kill. That was a kind of an epiphanic moment with respect to what Way Out was doing, and really what many post-punk bands are doing – there are reasons why Soft Kill sticks out a little more than others. I could go on.

Derek: We've played with so many amazing bands that I could never pick a favorite. I certainly echo Nick's sentiments about Soft Kill. Chain of Flowers also really blew me away recently, and Ed Schrader's Music Beat always mesmerize me for their entire set. I guess I'd have to say a personal standout for me was getting to play with Prince Rama on their most recent tour, as they're a band I've had huge admiration for for a long time as visual artists and performers as well as musicians. 

Lately I've been listening to a lot of Ennio Morricone, Blonde Redhead and the Ventures. Summer is just arriving so I always go pretty crazy with surf rock and beach pop jams at this time-- my "Pebbles, Vol. 4" record gets a lot of play. R&B and hip hop tends to make up the majority of new music I keep up with though-- Metro Boomin is definitely one of my favorite artists around. 

Anna:  I listen to A LOT of podcasts.  The night after our show with A Place to Bury Strangers on Halloween in NYC, some friends we were staying with hopped in the car with me and as soon as I turn it on, they hear my fave podcast, Stuff You Should Know, blasting through the speakers.  Because isn't that how everyone gets pumped up for a big show?  I learned a lot about bonsai trees en route to the show that night.  I really enjoyed playing with A Place to Bury Strangers because their drummer, Lia Simone Braswell, was super inspiring.  I loved her drumming and her energy!  In general, I really like watching amazing drummers, especially if they are women.

If I'm not listening to a podcast, I listen to such a variety of music it's hard to even begin to pinpoint what I'm into currently.  It's been grey and cold this Spring in Providence, so I match my introspective bummer mood with introspective, beautiful music by Angel Olsen, or if I'm feeling like myself then I'm jamming and singing along with the B52's, or trying to drum along with Can records.  And of course, Wire is my all time favorite group.

 In fall, you will on tour supporting Soft Kill and ChameleonsVox. Are there any plans sooner or later yet to see WAY OUT expand their touring outside the US? 

Nick: We are going to be doing some shows here and there, some long weekends. We have a few irons in the fire right now, but nothing drastic at the moment. We plan to do longer bouts once Arc of Descent is out. No plans for anything abroad now, but that is certainly an interest and goal of ours. If anyone reading this feels compelled to help us get to their town or country, please reach out.

Derek: Touring outside the US would be a dream. I'd especially love to play England, Sweden and Japan.

Anna:  I'd love to travel abroad!  Time will tell!

© Dave Dvorchak

10. What do you listeners to come away with after hearing the Self-titled? And is the message different with ‘Arc of Descent’?

Nick: I rarely think seriously about listeners – there are a few ideas with respect to an audience that come up, but making music is mostly for me, and my friends (bandmates). Audiences come and go for reasons both related and unrelated to the music – it's not a very reliable relationship. Really the only thing that can be done is to try to make the music that sounds best to you. That way, when your aesthetic ages as you do and perhaps dies off or becomes unpopular, the core feeling of the songs you tried to make as good for yourself as possible will always be there. The right listeners will always appreciate that and come around to support when you need it – those are the people you want to enjoy your music (not that I do not love or even covet aesthetic as part of the modern music mythos – see: my feeling of Andrew Eldritch as the near perfect visual (and aural) distillation of the core of long-standing rock music tenets. Or – The Cramps). If anything, sharing the music is still fun and interesting for me, and I would be happy to know that anyone enjoyed any of it, but that's about it with respect to listeners.

Derek: All I can do is make music that comes from a place of personal truth and feels cathartic to play, and I hope that whatever it is about the music that resonates with me can resonate in the same way for a listener. I think that's always the intent, regardless of whatever themes or sounds might be on this or that record. Something is communicated during those experiences that feels realer than language. That chance for communion and understanding is what has always drawn me to music and what makes it continue to feel like a worthwhile pursuit.