PAINT IT BLACK
Dan Yemin discusses the central themes of new EP Amnesia, recording with Kurt Ballou and his loathing of macho hardcore posturing...
Dan Yemin and his band Paint It Black need little in the way of introductions. As guitarist for 90's underground heroes Lifetime and Kid Dynamite, Yemin is widely regarded as one of the most respected and influential figures in the melodic hardcore scene and over the course of their three studio albums, CVA, Paradise and New Lexicon, Paint It Black have only enhanced his standing. Taking a novel approach to following up 2008's acclaimed New Lexicon long-player, the Philadelphia-based outfit plan on releasing two EPs on two different labels this year. With the first of those, Amnesia, released in June on Bridge Nine Records, Dan Jones grabbed some time with the vocalist/guitarist while he was at home in the City of Brotherly Love to discuss the central themes of Amnesia, recording with Kurt Ballou and his loathing of macho hardcore posturing...
So we're speaking in the lead up to the release of your new EP Amnesia, what can you tell us about the record? Is it a natural progression from New Lexicon? I've heard it described as your fiercest work yet.
"It feels like a natural progression to me. Whatever direction we go in musically is by definition a natural progression as long as we stay true to ourselves and not worry about impressing anyone else or making anyone else happy but ourselves. In terms of how it sounds, I think that the aggressive songs are even more belligerent and unhinged, and there's a really melodic song that's pretty different from anything we've ever done before, but I think even that songs manages to be pretty aggressive as well."
How did the writing and recording progress go with this one?
"It went pretty smoothly. As usual it was a combination of obsessive analysis, second guessing ourselves and last minute panic. But the process was different in a lot of ways. I used to demo everything myself and give the demos to everyone else to learn on their own. We wrote more of these songs face to face than in the past, which I think was a lot more fun."
Why did you decide to record with Kurt Ballou this time around?
"I feel like every time we record we have a new agenda. This time I really wanted the drums to sound perfect. And Kurt gets the job done. Jared has recorded with Kurt for Hope Conspiracy records before, and those drums always sound crazy. Plus I have so much respect for Kurt as a musician and as an engineer, we've always wanted to work with him but schedules and circumstances just never lined up before..."
Amnesia is a fairly ambiguous record title to us outsiders, can you elaborate on the title a little?
"I feel like we're constantly making mistakes, learning, forgetting, and making mistakes again. A lot of times we need to make the same mistakes over and over again before we finally figure things out. That goes for us as individuals, for humans as a species, and for Americans in particular as a nation and a culture."
Are there any central themes running through the record?
"The "Amnesia" theme is an important one, but this record is also about getting older, about the uncertainty and anxiety that comes along with aspects of adulthood as I think about starting a family. It's about coming to terms with mortality and choosing hope over fear. It's also about the disaster we have in the U.S. known as religious fundamentalism."
So instead of a releasing a traditional album, it's said that you're releasing two 7" EPs via two different labels. What was the thinking behind that move?
"We've released three full-length albums that I'm very proud of, but I've grown tired of that format. It takes a lot of patience, and I'm beginning to feel like the process of creating an album slows us down in a lot of ways and might be more of an obstacle for us at this point. I feel like the 7" EP is the ideal format for hardcore punk, and always has been, but as a songwriter I've always been obsessed with albums for some reason. Instead of spending two years working on an album, we can spend a couple of months working on an EP and not keep everyone waiting for so long. I get frustrated with having so much time in between releases. This plan seems more spontaneous and it just feels right to us at this point."
What can you tell us about the second EP? Has it got a title yet and when do you think it will come out? Was it recorded at the same time as Amnesia?
"The second EP is just as good as this one. It will be out on a label from the West Coast in August of 2009. Both EP's were recorded in the same session."
So New Lexicon has been out for over a year now. Are you happy with the reception it got and what it has helped you achieve? How do you feel about the record listening back to it now?
"New Lexicon was successful on almost every level that I could have imagined. We accomplished what we set out to achieve sonically, and we learned so much about ourselves as a band, as songwriters, and as a group of friends in the process of writing and preparing for that album. There are a few things that I might change listening to it now, but nothing significant."
Even now do you still find people coming to shows having certain preconceptions of Paint It Black given your former acts?
"Not really. And I could care less. I guess I'm flattered that people care about the bands we've been in before, but I'm not interested living up to expectations based on those bands. Paint It Black earned everything we have by being original and working hard. That's it."
So how did you get together with Bridge Nine? Are you still going to be working with Jade Tree in the future?
"We had originally talked to Bridge Nine about doing a project together a couple of years ago. They were sort of overextended at the time and didn't have the resources to take anything else on, but they stayed in touch and they've always been really supportive. When the time was right we just made it happen. As for what happens in the future, I can't really say. We just going to take this one 7" at a time..."
Are you positive about the state of the hardcore scene at the moment? Are there many bands out there that you're excited about?
"There have always been things to be excited about in the hardcore scene, and there have always been things to be worried about, and things to be ashamed of as well. There are so many great bands right now, and so much innovation going on, and so many good positive people involved. D.I.Y. ethics are alive and well. But there's also the public health crisis known as "tough guy hardcore", which is a continual embarrassment. I heard there's a phenomenon in the UK known as the "Beatdown Scene"? Macho jock posturing has nothing to do with punk and hardcore as far as I'm concerned, and I'm always sad that this scene that I love so much hasn't outgrown it yet."
What would you say has been your best moment with Paint It Black so far?
"Too many great moments to choose from, but I always like creating a spectacle that creates some mythology around it, so playing to 1000 people in the street last spring in Philly was pretty amazing, and playing a surprise show out of the back of a truck in a parking lot at Fest in Gainesville last year was also really memorable, especially the part where the generator got destroyed halfway through the first song, and then the police showed up on horses to break everything up..."
So what are your plans for the rest of the year? Am I right in saying there's a UK tour this autumn? What are you most excited about the near future for Paint It Black?
"I'm just excited that our hopes for the year have worked out: We wanted to put out two 7" EP's on two specific labels in 2009, and that's happening. We wanted to do a UK tour with Ceremony and play on the BBC, and that's happening. We wanted to do an East Coast mini-tour with Naked Raygun, and that's happening. I'm excited that we can have all of these ideas and execute them and have things come out even better than I ever hoped for. I like proving that if you work hard and take risks, things can work out better than you ever imagined."
New EP Amnesia is out on 15th June on Bridge 9. Paint It Black return to the UK in September with Ceremony.