I’ve wanted to dissect another concept record for a while and one of my favourites is The Earth Sings Mi Fa Mi by The Receiving End of Sirens (TREOS). I asked Brian Southall a question about it in my Trainwreck interview, since he worked on both albums. He quickly deferred to TREOS bassist and vocalist Brendan Brown, as the mastermind of the complex concept behind Mi Fa Mi. Luckily, Brendan was kind enough to answer a few questions for me, but I would be remiss if I didn’t offer a few of my own thoughts on the album in question and give a quick history of my thoughts on a band that left us far too soon.
I’ve been a TREOS fan ever since I heard their seminal début, Between The Heart And The Synapse. The opening riff after the prologue track for ‘Planning a Prison Break’ is an absolute monster. If you can avoid bobbing your head to that track, you are either a zen master, a robot, or dead. That album had incredibly layered and technical music that only got better with subsequent listens…and then there were the lyrics. I had never heard such advanced lyrics in my life, and by advanced I mean that they had depth and merit without being vague. They also chose to forgo writing about heartache, girls, and relationships, instead writing about philosophy, jail breaks, and anatomy. A lesser lyricist would say, “I’m going to die tonight,” whereas TREOS says, “This is the last night in my body;” others would say, “You’ve betrayed me,” while TREOS says, “We have tested the buoyancy of loyalty, You’ve used our lungs for canteens, You used our ankles for anchors.” There’s literally 100 or more of these little gems spread throughout the album alongside my personal favourite, “We are the corps of corpses,” where the poetic value only becomes obvious when you see it in print. TREOS always went the extra mile. If they repeated a chorus, they did it slightly differently the second time around, or they tweaked a lyric to alter its meaning. They also frequently sang two or three vocal melodies that never followed each other, yet interwove perfectly. Most bands would have been happy to write just one of those vocal lines, and would have saved the other for a different song. TREOS also re-visited themes, and sometimes lyrics, in different songs throughout their début, making Between The Heart and The Synapse a concept record of sorts. But it was all just a warm-up for the immense concept that was to follow with Mi Fa Mi.
My love for TREOS grew even more when I saw them live in ’07 with one of my other favorites, Hopesfall, at the Chain Reaction in Anaheim. I almost didn’t want to go to the show since I loved both records so much; I was afraid of the band letting me down live. After all, with SO much going on, how could a five-piece band pull it off live without just playing to a pre-recorded track? They pulled it off flawlessly. Most impressive to me was how each band member was always doing more than one thing. If they were singing, they were also playing, if they weren’t singing, they were hitting keys or twisting knobs on boxes that did only god knows what, but it sounded good. Fellow staff writer Matt and I didn’t even move during the whole set, we were so in awe. I’m not joking, it was the most impressive musical act I’ve ever seen live, and I’ve seen Muse – TREOS was better.
That brings us to The Earth Sings Mi Fa Mi. This was definitely not Between the Heart and the Synapse Part II, and that was just fine. Everyone knew there would be a change, since founding member and co-songwriter Casey Crescenzo had left and formed The Dear Hunter, and no one knew what musical direction the band would make. When I first heard ‘Swallow People Whole,’ I didn’t like it. I liked about 3 tracks on the album and thought, “Oh well, just another sophomore slump.” Then I saw songs from the album played live. My perspective shifted and it all made sense. I went back to the album and kicked myself repeatedly for not seeing that everything I loved about TREOS, everything, even the monster hooks, were all there; they were a bit below the surface, but every bit as powerful. And now, after diving into and revisiting the lyrics over the past few days, I realized that there’s an awful lot going on, and should you choose to put in the effort, Mi Fa Mi will reward you kindly.
The Earth Sings Mi Fa Mi is based on Johannes Kepler’s work Harmonicies Mundi, which roughly translates to, ‘the music of the spheres.’ Without getting into too many specifics, the idea is that each planet’s orbit relates to a tonal scale in music. The Earth’s tone changes as it revolves and rotates, between mi, fa, and mi. Kepler theorized that these could stand for Misery, Famine and back to Misery. Not a cheery topic, and TREOS delves into it with a full head of steam to deliver some unrelenting bleak and dismal themes. From my own analysis, there are a few major themes going on in the overall story of Misery and Famine.
First, the road to sin/nothingness/discontent (whatever you choose to call it) is a slow and gradual process that we bring onto ourselves. The most obvious case for this is ‘Obuilette’ (French for prison or dungeon). The lyrics directly quote C.S. Lewis from The Screwtape Letters, where the Christian author talks about the road to sin being a gentle slope rather than a steep drop off. These ultimately unfulfilling pleasures are referred to throughout the album as sweet songs that are attractive, but like many drugs, they only leave us addicts that crave more rather than truly satisfying us. ‘The Crop and the Pest’ has a man giving into temptation and turning from “The bounty of his right hand, for the hunger of his left” which seems to represent earthly desires. The evil of the world also notes that turning men into shrivelling shells of themselves is an easy task requiring little effort, since “what won’t ever sink, will slowly swim to the bottom.” As men, we see all that we could have been, and wear masks to hide our shame (“Just promise not to see me as I am”) but slowly man turns into a “pestilential scab” as he sees his “shining shield and armour rust” and “posture bow and fall to dust.” In ‘Wanderers,’ a faithful child lets the light of God shine, as the track references an old Sunday School song. Despite the hopes of the faithful, the Earth is so effective at snuffing out truth and happiness that Satan needn’t even worry about it; the Earth will do his job for him. Even though the subject longs for God, (“I long to glow like your embers, bright halogen embers”) we must still suffer misery, as the subject is made to “bear this cross…and wear these thorns.” ‘Heir of Empty Breath’ has man looking back on his life and realizing that it’s all been a waste. He longs for God to “Come like a thief in the night and take [him] away from this place.” Man is seen as nothing but wasted potential, and he longs for God to be a crutch to help him stand so that he can continue on and still try to capture what he craves. It’s heady, heavy, and dismal stuff here in the album, but it is executed flawlessly.
Also present throughout is the theme of disappearing or vanishing. The Screwtape Letters mentions that “Nothing is very strong,” meaning that man’s temptation, and often man’s ruin, is not simply earthly pleasures, but wasted time. Sitting, staring at a dead fire in a cold room, or having a conversation about a topic you care little about, is the slowest type of death, and although it often goes unnoticed, it keeps you from truly gratifying experiences. One song states, “Don’t let me disappear, don’t let me fall apart, don’t leave me by the wayside, just don’t let me go.” The theme is every bit as relevant today as it was upon the album’s release, as I personally see people constantly throwing away their lives on mini-games, phones, faux social interaction (in lieu of real conversation), and staring at various screens while receiving ‘nothing’ in return. TREOS and CS make a very relevant collective point.
The last story that permeates the album is a personal one. It brings these themes out of the realm of metaphor to specifics that hit home. The author of the lyrics has experienced this famine and misery personally to some degree, and has gained an intimate knowledge of it. ‘The Salesman, The Husband, The Lover’ has a father who leaves his family to pursue selfish interests and lusts while the mother tries her best to raise her son properly. The sins of the father remain with the son, and soon the poisonous seed grows as the son has his own family and he perpetuates a cycle seemingly without end. ‘Stay Small’ has a father begging his child not to grow, since it will mean being raped of innocence and losing all that they have ever loved if they choose to become part of the world itself. The album ends with a subject talking of the garden of guilt he has grown within his soul and the seeds of shame he has spread. The album closes on a haunting note, proclaiming that even amidst all of this misery, “there’s no place like home.” We, as humans, crave misery and famine; the result of our separation from God with our selfish desires. This final act is called ‘Pale Blue Dot,’ referencing the photograph taken by Voyager I from 3.7 billion miles away. The photograph shows the Earth all alone in the vastness of space.
It is a compelling album, both lyrically and musically, and it stands tall as one of the best concept albums ever written.
INTERVIEW – Brendan Brown
All of this analysis left me with plenty of questions about the writing and production of the record musically, lyrically, and conceptually. Brendan Brown was kind enough to talk to me about all of this and much more.
TIS: With Mi Fa Mi specifically, you were obviously very key in the creation of the concept and the lyrics. Was anyone else involved, and if so, in what capacity?
Brendan: As far as lyrics go I was blessed with having some very gracious band-mates who fully entrusted me to the lyrical end of things, and didn’t really ask too many questions…well there was a few things that they requested that I change, which I did. But as far as lyrics go, I wrote them all and didn’t put them through too many filters. Concept-wise, we were demoing some ideas when Andrew Cook [drummer] stumbled across some reference to Johannes Kepler’s concept of the Earth singing mi, fa, mi, and had highlighted the quote and sent it over to me, and I had no idea what it meant, but at that point we were beginning to develop the record and were looking for a concept to play off of. As soon as I read that line, I knew that was it, I just didn’t know what it was going to be about yet. Obviously I did some due diligence and researched the concept and what his theories were, and that’s where the plot and the overarching theme for the record began. It developed internally and we mulled over it and batted it around back and forth. So concept-wise, at the beginning before anything was solidified, we were all just digesting the idea and that was my favourite part about the band – our real openness and great communication. We were usually on the same page, and if we weren’t, we had no problem having healthy debates over things. I’ve always gotten a healthy level of enjoyment out of debating things. Musically, as far as writing the songs, we were very collaborative and all played a role. There was no I’ll-write-all-the-songs-and-you-guys-can-play-on-the-record [attitude] and we worked well together. Even lyrically, while I sat and wrote all of the lyrics and melodies, all of the songs were individually written before the lyrics. I had a bunch of keywords that I liked, and phrases and concepts that I thought were interesting, but I never fully developed any lyrics until we felt that the song was done. I felt that it was a disservice to the music to write lyrics autonomous from the theme, setting, or sound of the song. The work that we put into writing the layers of the music was what influenced a lot of the writing.
TIS: If we are able to step back to Between The Heart and the Synapse, do you consider that record to be a concept record as well?
Brendan: I know we always have read a lot, and I’ve heard many times that BTHATS is or was a concept record. I would say it’s a very thematic record and it’s just because we had a style to our writing. We had written those songs and the name of the record came out of the lyrics, so it wasn’t like we started with ‘Here’s the name of the record, here’s the concept of the record, lets write some songs to it’, it was a little more of an afterthought. We did do some interesting things with returning to themes, melodies, drum patterns, and vocal patterns to make it cohesive, and with BTHATS we did a better job of binding the songs together thematically. But with The Earth Sings Mi Fa Mi, we looked at it as a whole and said let’s write a record with this theme behind it.
TIS: Between the Heart and the Synapse was an album that was very special to a lot of people, and I’m sure you picked up on that when talking to your fans. Was there any pressure on you after this strong fan response when writing the second record?
Brendan: There are two sides to it. No matter what band, there’s always this special feeling around it because you’re mostly surrounded by the people who like it. If you’re playing a show, there are not going to be people paying money to see a band they don’t like. It’s almost questionable; you’re not sure if it’s really good or if it’s just that you’re surrounded by the people who always like it. So unless you go on Absolutepunk or a message board or something…
[Interviewer interrupts to gush a bit about how that album meant quite a bit to a few people]
Brendan: … but we felt we had put together something special, and the people we were surrounded by thought so as well. It was a labour of love, so going into that situation we were feeling that pressure because we didn’t want to be like that one hit wonder. The amount of time and effort we put into that first record almost seemed insurmountable in our new situation where, one, we didn’t have Casey in the band, and two, our lifestyle had changed. When we were writing BTHATS we had all the time in the world and didn’t have a record label yet. We could practice, refine, and continue to groom that record as long as we wanted to because there was no outside pressure, because no one knew who we were yet. Once you’re in the touring cycle and the record cycle, we only had a finite amount of time we could take off before it seemed…too long. There was definitely the pressure to live up to the first record, whether that was from outside or internally, we felt it just as much and put that pressure on ourselves. We had less time to do it and a timeline is certainly not helpful in producing writing. So a lot of the writing happened while on tour. But then one of the bigger factors was that we had lost Casey, and he is, to this day, the best musician I’ve ever played with. It’s fascinating to play with him and he comes up with things I would never consider. We knew we were good, and we knew we could write music, but then again it was like ‘How good are our songs without him and how much did we rely on him?’ There’s this pressure that we knew…you put out your first record to try and prove yourself, and your second record is to hopefully settle into your fan base and your sound, but now our second record…we were put into the position where we had to prove ourselves again. We didn’t get that sophomore ‘settled in’ record. The guy who recorded our records was always saying, “I wish you guys just had a third record” so we could just have proved to people who we were and what we sounded like.
TIS: Where is the band physically and mentally at the point where you are coming into writing and recording The Earth Sings Mi Fa Mi? I know Casey leaves, but at what point does Southall join?
Brendan: After the touring cycle finished for Between The Heart and the Synapse, Casey had left, and I think we had a month off until we did a Circa Survive tour across the US, and then to Canada for a month, and then to the UK for a month or three weeks. It was one of the harder…well we had a lot of hard times in the band…we had lined up one of my best friends, Cody Bonet from As Cities Burn.
TIS: Oh nice, I just got tickets to see them in Reading, out here in the UK. I’m really stoked they’re coming over!
Brendan: You’ll have to tell him I said, “What’s Up.” He is one of my favourite people ever and I feel like we’re just kindred spirits personally and musically. As we were talking about parting ways with Casey, I had had a really great friendship with Cody, and him and I had talked about him joining the band [after Casey had left], and it became a solidified thing, and we were writing and sending stuff back and forth. We were in Nashville, TN and I got a call from Cody and he was really upset, and said he wasn’t going to be able to do the band, and that As Cities Burn were going to stay together. All of us were wondering, ‘Do we break up?,’ ‘Do we try and make a 4-piece band?,’ and Brian Southall was our tour manager at the time. The whole time…he likes to pester [jokingly]…and he was saying, “You don’t need Cody, just have me in the band. You just need another big guy with a beard, that’s all you need.” [laughs]. At that point we just weren’t sure. We had wanted another singer; we didn’t know he was that good at guitar yet. So after a ton of pressure [to find a new member] we got off tour and asked him to be in the band. And his reaction [laughs] was really anticlimactic. He was like, [jokingly smug voice], “Yeah I knew you were going to ask me to be in the band guys” and I laughed and said, “You’re a jerk.” It was like throwing a surprise birthday party and you bring the person in and they knew the whole time. We went on tour with our friend Ross who filled in and was a good sport about it and played guitar for us. We always make fun of him because he popped into the band after we had worked for years and years to get where we were and he got to see the entire US, all of Canada, and all of England and Scotland over the course of two months and then left when Brian [Southall] started with us. Mentally it was a wake-up call where we were doing this thing that we loved and we’d made it a job and it was difficult, but we had this break and it opened our eyes and we realized, we’re not in school, we don’t have jobs, we’re just playing music and touring. So we took those few months of going all around the world and I really just enjoyed it, [and thought] don’t take this for granted, and took it all in and by the time we finished touring and started writing, we were just in an incredible head-space and relaxed. And we had learned to rely on each other a whole lot more when it came to writing the record.
TIS: Were you writing on that tour at all?
Brendan: I had not done that much writing on that tour because I wanted to take it all in and I didn’t want to be playing BTHATS every night and then go to writing and have it sound the same. I wanted to let it breathe a little bit. As soon as we knew Brian was in the band I started writing on my laptop using Reason, so I did a lot of initial structures and skeletons to the songs using piano and drum machines. I also started to write a bit on the 30 Seconds to Mars tour in November 2006, so I did a lot in hotel rooms, in the van, or on days off, just me coming up with ideas, and all the other guys are doing the same thing. As soon as [that tour] finished we just all came together and shared what we had been working on.
TIS: When does the idea for putting in the work of CS Lewis and also the more personal, family-type stories come into play?
Brendan: Johannes Kepler had some metaphysical aspect [to his ideas] but a lot of it was scientific and had to do with the ratios between orbits, and how things would resonate together, and it would have made a boring lyrical record. But I thought about just the idea of the Earth singing “misery-famine -misery” and I’ve always thought that as a human, I’ve always found myself trying to attach myself to something really finite only to figure out that that was not what I was after, but just a dim reflection of what I really wanted. I’ve been reading CS Lewis for a long time, and the older I got the more aware I became of how CS Lewis took those feelings I was having, that were difficult to grasp and wrap your head around, and precisely state why you were feeling them. I would just read and laugh, or cry, or smile because, how does he metabolise all of that and say it in a common way, and I’m always thinking ‘Why didn’t I think of that?’ because he’s exactly right. So CS Lewis had always been an influence, and I think [it was natural to add it to] the idea of writing a record around the shortcomings of the love of something temporary and the basic human nature to long after something so finite, when we have the need of something infinite. I always liked that idea, and I started writing a lot of lyrics that were more esoteric in nature. On the first record, there are a lot of lyrics I’m proud of, but a lot of it was still very guarded. We could be talking about a concept or idea, but for the listener there was really no insight into who the person was who was singing, and what they were talking about. I owed it to myself and the people who liked our band to be a bit more transparent and personal with the lyrics. I feel that while people could’ve connected with BTHATS, there was only a certain level of connection that was possible with the lyrics, and I wanted to make something that people could hear and say, ‘Thats me, that’s my life,’ something that people could truly feel grounded in and relate with. I don’t think there’s too many lyrics on the first record where people could say, ‘He’s describing me’, it’s more ‘That’s a cool lyric, that’s good writing,’ but there’s no deep rooted connection. By nature, I would always write these things that were like, ‘If you can figure it out, and scrape away far enough, then you deserve to know what I’m talking about’, because it was my defence mechanism to protect myself in a way. It was fun, but with the second record I wanted to make the themes and concepts more accessible.
TIS: And even these, you don’t necessarily grasp the true meaning, and that they are spiritual in nature unless you really go through and read along with it. I don’t know if you’d pick it up so easily if you just sing along.
Brendan: That’s also the product of the fact that on the first record, the lyric writing was between Casey and I. I would write a lot of the lyrics, but he would add in things. And going into lyric writing, knowing you are going to have to bounce them back and forth with someone else, you have to be a bit more vague. I wouldn’t want to write something that someone else would read and wouldn’t be able to relate to and not write lyrics to; they would always be more universal concepts. Whereas with The Earth Sings Mi Fa Mi, I knew that all the lyrics were going to be for me and come directly from me. There wouldn’t be a group feeling. This was my stand point.
TIS: So out of curiosity, were the lyrics that the band didn’t really like ones that delved even more into spirituality that maybe they didn’t agree with?
Brendan: You know what, there was never any push back on the spiritual element because even if the other guys in the band weren’t Christians I think the fact that it was so personal and revealing, made it endearing to them. The one particular one they didn’t like was the word semen in ‘Stay Small,’ which no one liked. I remember changing that after fighting everyone for two days about it. [laughs] I remember saying, ‘When the egg met the semen’ and I changed it to something about, ‘reason.’ They were right in the end, I was almost writing it, well not as a shock factor, but as an if-you-weren’t-paying-attention-well-now-you-are and wanted to be a bit edgier. The point everyone else made was that it was just taking away from the song. There’s no point in drawing attention to one word when we have 4 minutes of a song we want people to listen to. People could be talking about how I said semen instead of just discussing the song. They were right.
TIS: On ‘Stay Small’ as well as ‘The Salesman, The Husband, The Lover,’ the lyrical content seems very personal. Is there a lot of truth in there? Also has your perspective changed since becoming a father yourself?
Brendan: Oh man, so ‘The Salesman, The Husband, The Lover’ was really far from my upbringing. I grew up with great parents who are still married and I think I saw my dad drink his first beer this last year. None of it was anything that I had ever gone through personally. It’s twofold: One, I wanted to write lyrics in a very story-telling way, where this was…actually I had seen a picture on a book that said ‘The Salesman, The Husband, The Lover” and it was a book from the 1950’s, and I was just thinking it sounded cool. Then I started thinking about it more deeply and if it was in order of priority, and then I just started envisioning this family. Just looking at that picture, it was more of a writing exercise for me where I wanted to paint a lyrical picture from what I had seen. We had written the song and I sat down to listen to it and it was formatted really strangely. We had written it with a lot of ambient space and wanted the song to kind of feel like a story. A lot of times our songs were so busy with the music, that there was less room for the lyrics, whereas this time I felt like there was so much room to breathe and the vocals would be showcased. I want to make sure that the lyrics told a striking story. At first run, the words were almost making themselves, and I had no idea where it was all coming from and then I saw that picture not long after, which I thought was confirmation that I was on the right path. The actual lyrics and the inspiration came from having a lot of friends go through that situation…well maybe not as drastic, but living through divorce. I also did a lot of research on the effect of divorce on children and ended up drawing from a lot of different sources. It’s not a reflection of my actual life, but certainly things I had experienced vicariously through other people. ‘Stay Small’… I had just gotten married and we were talking about having children, and knowing all the things that happen and all the pain you go through growing up, and in the direction I thought the world was heading, would I want to put them on the way to hell in a handbasket or would I love them so much that I would never have them at all. Since then, my viewpoint has changed, but at the time I thought it was an interesting concept and I wanted people to think about it. While I do wish everyday that my children wouldn’t get old, and that they would stay small, it’s only because I’m enjoying it so much. The idea of not having children to protect them from the world is a very one sided perspective. Having children now I see all of the joy they have and all the things they love and are getting out of life. I’m learning a lot from it, and I think that as we have grown, our ability to have divergent thoughts is systematically removed from going to school and adapting to society. Having children has rekindled that creative spirit and freedom to think that anything is possible. It has really rounded out my perspective.
TIS: Conceptually, Smoke and Mirrors, seems the odd one out, since it does fit the theme, but it does have more of a hopeful message of fighting against the misery and famine. How did that come about?
Brendan: ‘Smoke and Mirrors’ was essentially written about being in a band and writing music and having conversations with larger agencies and larger labels and the tactics they used. We talked to A&R guys who told us we were the next big thing and if we could just write these types of shorter and poppier songs we would have chicks all over us and the world would be our oyster and that was a very direct and immediate source of inspiration for the song; the carrot at the end of the stick. Why would we even want to be a big band if we were enjoying what we were doing, what’s the point? A lot of the people we talked to were just reminding us of the concept of our record. If you write this way, you’re going to be huge, make money, be on TV, and get girls and those are all symptoms of the concept of the record. Those are all modern day real life examples of the misery, famine, and misery. A lot of those things will leave you unhappy, and at first glance they are fulfilling, but they leave you empty and hungry at the end of it.
TIS: Do label execs actually say that? That you’ll get chicks?
Brendan: [Laughs] Yeah, a couple people were, just for lack of a better term, douchebags, and thought that was what motivated us, or inspired us to be a band. There’s a lot of people that I knew, and were friends, that just thought they’d start a band to have sex, do drugs and that stuff, but that was never a motivation for any of us, so it was just like they were trying to pull the wrong strings with the wrong people. Our motivation was always to just write music, do something we loved, and hopefully something people would connect with. Droves of females were never the driving force for us.
TIS: What was the fans’ response to The Earth Sings Mi Fa Mi? Was it different to what you were expecting?
Brendan: It was really tough to gauge the fans’ response to Mi Fa Mi. I think it could have very well been a case of improper expectations on our end, but generally speaking we were met with less excitement around Mi Fa Mi than we had anticipated. If you think about it, we had spent months intensely writing this record, and years were spent anticipating our sophmore release. Internally, we totally “got it.” We knew what it all meant, we understood what it took to write each song, and each subtle nuance of that record was like a piece of our own bodies. Naively, I think we assumed people would hear the record and digest it in all of its meaning and subtlety immediately. In hindsight – what a ridiculous expectation. That said, I think we put out Mi Fa Mi thinking it was going to be a huge success. We thought the majority of our old fans, who had matured since BTHATS‘s release, would love Mi Fa Mi, it remaining a bit more easily accessible on the surface, with a more transparent lyrical approach and stronger, more solid song writing structure and skills. I think we were wrong.[laughs]. Both of our albums have not been easy first listens. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve heard – “I hated your band when I first heard BTHATS or Mi Fa Mi, but then I just kept listening and now it’s my favorite record.” I suppose that should be suspected, since we spend endless hours adding in little hidden musical, melodic, and lyrical gems. These are things that take time to rise to the surface. It could take five,ten,twenty listens before a listener has scrubbed off the surface layers to allow the true essence of the songs and albums to shine through. In the end, I think we were a bit surprised, disappointed,
TIS: So now that you’re 7 and 5 years removed from both albums respectively, looking back, how do you feel about them?
Brendan: Well, I’ve been listening to them a lot more lately since I have to learn the songs again, which is weird. When you write the records and you are playing the songs all the time you are just so close to them that you just get used to it. You start just hearing, ‘Oh, that guitar should have been mixed higher’ or focusing on a part that you wrote rather than taking the song as a whole. I feel like the person I was then is not who I am now, so I feel like I have an outsider’s perspective now. I can just enjoy the music and take it in a lot more. It’s a unique experience. Underneath it’s really enjoyable to listen to the records, and almost listen to it like I’m a fan of the band now rather than being in the band. Listening to Between The Heart and the Synapse, I enjoy parts of it like ‘This Armistice’ and ‘Flee The Factory,’ stuff we wrote towards the end of writing that record. I was thinking, “How did we write that, I don’t remember the writing process, how did we think of that?,” almost like that was a song I wish I had written [laughs], so that was kind of cool. Also lyrically, I still have emotions attached after living through writing them. It brings me back to a really young, innocent, almost naive point of being in a band. As far as being moved and being connected, The Earth Sings Mi Fa Mi has more of an emotional effect on me. That’s the record I’d listen to today, if it wasn’t mine, between the two. It’s closer to who I am now. I feel it’s lyrically and musically more mature and a bit more subtle, which is why I think it’s more mature.
TIS: This might be hard to answer, but looking back on both albums, if you remove the emotions attached, which songs are you most proud of from a pure musical standpoint?
Brendan: Man…From BTHATS, I guess ‘This Armistice’ is really complex, and the syncopation, and Im just stoked we figured out the verse parts and it worked so well. And melodically, and lyrically, and structurally, that song was very strong. I also feel some sort of pride in the lyric, “This is the last night in my body”, which is something that resonated with me, but also seemed to resonate with a lot of other people, and made me feel connected in the sense that I’m a human and feeling things that other people feel.
TIS: I remember hearing that lyric…and like I said, the riff in that is a monster…
TIS:… anyone writes that and you have a great song, but the “last night in my body” lyric…I had just never heard anyone mention death in that way.
Brendan: That was actually written when the band was regrouping. Casey, Alex, and myself were all in the band, but we were auditioning singers left and right trying to find a front man, while fielding pressure from Nate and Andrew, and kind of Casey, that we should just be the singers, but Alex and I were saying, “No way are we singing in the band. We do not want to sing.” One night with Casey and Alex, we went to the studio and we were playing the ‘Epilogue’ and that lyric just popped into my head and I started singing. I was singing, and Casey started harmonizing, and that whole epilogue, all the lyrics and the melody just happened organically, on the spot. We brought the demo back and the other guys just told us we were singing – no auditioning other people, we were singing, and we just said “Alright.” So that lyric, to me, isn’t actually about dying as it is about dying to yourself. It was about kind of indulging yourself in physical things of the flesh, whether that’s sex, drugs, shopping, work, or any of the things that people get addicted to. It was about being the last night in my body, the last night I’m going to live a life just to reward my physical being as opposed to living a fulfilling life. I think that’s kind of what I meant, but it can be taken a bunch of different ways which is also why I like that lyric. On Mi Fa Mi there’s parts in ‘Swallow People Whole’ and ‘Pale Blue Dot’ that are a couple of my favorites because those are songs that I had written all electronically and had the structure there, and now hearing them fully blossomed, I love where they went. And we weren’t afraid of dynamics there. If we were rocking loud and riffing all the time, then people were going to get bored, and with those we just let the songs create themselves and I’m really proud of those. There’s moments, like the second verse of ‘The Crop and The Pest,’ where I love the melody and I got a really good vocal take. I also really like the jam on ‘The Heir of Empty Breath’ because I got the bass riff the whole time, which was a tribute to Cave-In, one of my favorite bands. I really liked those moments.
TIS: You and I have similar tastes, because I also love Cave-In. Well since you are from Boston, did you ever get to see them back in the day?
Brendan: No I didn’t. I heard of Cave-In back when they were super heavy and a lot of screaming and never liked it. When our band came out it was real prime for punk/emo/indie/hardcore rock bands…well there was a time when a lot of great bands were coming out of the Boston scene, like Converge, Hope Conspiracy, Cave-In, Piebald and then there was a real drought. When I moved up to Boston I was unaware of that [previous scene] and when we started our band, started playing and got signed, we would come back and were almost kind of like the ‘Fathers’ of a new scene since there were all these bands coming up under us and starting to get signed. And someone referenced that we were the ‘new Cave-In’ of Boston, and I said, “Who is this Cave-In band that everyone keeps talking about?” I listened to them and was blown away with how good they were. So yeah, that got referred to me and I just thought it was really good music. There was a point in our band where we were at our biggest and a booking agent came to us and asked if we would want to have Cave-In as direct support on our headlining tour. And while we all wanted to, we unanimously decided not to, because there’s no way we would ever let Cave-In open for us out of not only respect, but also because, who would ever want to go on after them?
Brendan: [Laughs] Yes…Way Different. It was different in the fact that we wrote the basic concept when Nate, Andrew and I got together and wrote some stuff. Alex came in and made a few changes, and I settled in on the chord structure. We sent it to Brian and he put his riffs over what we had, and then sent it to Casey who changed some of the riffs and some of the chords. We didn’t all sit in a room and write it, we just all kept developing it autonomously, so it’s really strange. I really like the song, but I wish we would have had the opportunity to actually write it together, and even though everyone did their best to put something on the song, and I think it came out pretty good, I just feel it could have been way better. There was just no chance to do that, but for the situation we were in, it came out very good. So yes, the process was incredibly different, really strange. None of us had ever written a song through email before, so it was an adventure.
TIS: Anytime The Receiving End of Sirens is mentioned on a message board, it tends to light up with hopes of DVDs, reunions, and new music. I know you keep things close to the vest, but are any of these things likely in the near future?
Brendan: I don’t know. Every once in a while someone will email me…actually one of my friends just called me and said, “I didn’t know you were playing next Sunday in New York”. I said, “Neither did I, I hope we aren’t.” So a lot of these things, they just start and are just rumours. I don’t know where people hear them or come up with them, but it’s kind of exciting to have people speculate things. As far as there being any truth behind it…I don’t know. The DVD was started and then we got the final cut from the director and all hated it, and didn’t want to put it out, so that was our fault. Since then we’ve started talking about filming some more, because we feel like the DVD and the footage we had previously was enough to tell one story, but I guess in discussing what we’ve done since the last time we filmed anything, the story of our band has really changed. So I think it would be a disservice to put out a DVD that isn’t a fully painted version of what the band is today. So we are working on that.
TIS: So there’s a definite possibility…
Brendan: Yeah, well if we can get enough footage and make something worth putting out. I just don’t think any of us want to put out a boring DVD that doesn’t paint an accurate portrayal of the band and who we are and what we are doing now. But it’s something we would definitely love to do if we have enough content to put something good out.
TIS: I know you guys are broken up, but then you keep playing shows, and I think your fans, myself included, keep hoping to see some new music from the band.
Brendan: I think the way that we look at it at this point is that for a long time the band is really what we did and now we’ve all kind of moved on to doing different things. Any time we get together…I don’t know if this sounds really bad, but it’s for selfish reasons in that we miss each other and want to play music again and it’s really for us now. No stress or pressure of having to ‘sell this place out’ or ‘sell this many tickets,’ or ‘sell this many records’ and be gone for long periods of time. So it’s really like an enjoyable experience for all of us. So as long as we’re still all friends and love writing and playing music together and hanging out, and if some people will still come out to see us and pay for a ticket, we’ll probably keep doing it until we’re too old or don’t feel the need to. As far as putting anything else out, we’ve all said a few times now that we don’t feel there’s any reason to put anything else out unless it’s new. There’s really no point in getting peoples’ hopes up or re-purposing anything, so if we were ever going to release anything again it would certainly be new music. It’s something we’ve talked about for a few years now saying, “Hey we should write again, we should put out an EP, we should write a split, we should put out a full length, we should collaborate.” It’s really just difficult with all of our schedules being so all over the place, and all of us busy doing our own things right now. No one would love anything more than to write new music again. We don’t want to write something at the detriment of the output because we’re limited by time or the fact that we haven’t been able to all get together. New music is not out of the question, but we’re not on any timeline, or even sure that we will do it. If we can find a reasonable amount of time to get together, I think we’ve all got plenty of ideas that we could encapsulate into a record. It would be nice to put something out for ourselves, and if people buy it, great, and if the don’t, it doesn’t really matter at all.
TIS: To end, what have you been listening to lately?
Brendan: I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately and I feel like I’m just a washed up old man. I remember being young and hearing people say, “There hasn’t been a good band since Zepplin…There hasn’t been a good band since the ’70s, everything nowadays is crap,” and while I don’t feel that way, I just feel that I’m too busy or that I love what I listen to now enough that I don’t have any desire to find new bands. I feel really really out of touch, but I bet if I took the time to go on my computer and went to a message board or something, I’m sure I could find a bunch of bands that I love and say, “How could I live without them?” Right now there’s not a bunch of new stuff, but I will say everyone should listen to The Dear Hunter, The Company We Keep, and A Rocket To The Moon because those are all TREOS guy’s bands. For me all I listen to is David Bazan or Pedro the Lion because I just love him. I listen to a ton of Peter Gabriel, Radiohead, Bjork. My son, he’s 4 and is obsessed with music, so I’ve been exposed to this world of dubstep and electronica that he likes. As far as my own musical tastes, more people should be listening to David Bazan.
. . . . . .
And with that we ended an amazing interview. Brendan talked to me for over an hour, in the midst of a busy day for him, and I couldn’t be more thankful. Brendan could not have been more kind to put up with all my questions, and he genuinely seemed to love talking about all those great songs and albums he had a hand in creating all those years ago. The Receiving End of Sirens has been one of my favorite bands for a few years, and I imagine that they always will be (plus, they are on the short list for a desert island Top 5). I sincerely hope that they are able to find the time to get some of that new music recorded because I know quite a few people out there would love to hear some more from a band that broke up far, far too soon. I know I certainly would.
If you like what you’ve read here, all we at Type In Stereo ask from you – the reader – is that you help us out by going to our Facebook (click here) page and giving us a like, or following us on Twitter , or dropping us a line at our Email. And keep coming back. Don’t forget to support you local music scene and the musicians who put it all out there for you to enjoy.