Comadre Interview with Jack Shirley
We are very excited to offer Blow The Scene readers around the world an exclusive interview with guitarist Jack Shirley of the Bay Area’s high octane, emotional hardcore punk band, Comadre. For the better part of the last decade, Comadre has carved in irreplaceable niche within the ever expanding sub-genre of emotional hardcore, having just dropped their third release for Vitriol Records and eighth release in all on January 8th as a self-titled LP. In an environment that eats up and spits out many who enter, Comadre have retained their original lineup through an entire decade of prolific musical work and tours. The anomalies don’t stop there either. The band consists of two sets of brothers, Jack Shirley and his brother Steven Shirley on bass, with frontman Juan Gabe and his brother Kenny Gabe on guitar, and drummer Wes Ellsbree rounding out the mix.
On this most recent effort, Comadre have offered up a unique and infectious punk rock album that will almost certainly find itself amongst the year’s best releases. Comadre sees the band wielding anthemic melodies, infectious structures, and the introduction of such instruments as trumpet, piano, organ, accordion, and tambourine. In this exclusive interview, guitarist Jack Shirley takes us through the creation and recording process behind Comadre, secrets to the band’s longevity, top picks in the Bay Area music scene, upcoming plans for 2013, and much more.
Without further ado, lets hear from Jack.
Joshua BTS: Greetings and thank you kindly for taking time with Blow The Scene readers from around the world today. Let’s get things rolling by having you introduce yourself and declare your musical weapon of choice with Bay Area’s practitioners of emotional hardcore, Comadre.
Jack: Hey there! Thanks so much for having us. My name is Jack and I play guitar.
Jack: Comadre: We actually do all of the recording ourselves. We always have. I’ve been running a studio for nine and a half years. Its always been a great way to go for us. We can take our time and try new things, etc. We started demoing for this record almost 2 years ago. Wow, thats crazy to say, but yeah, its been in the works for a while. The actual recording was spread out over the summer of 2012.
Joshua BTS: What did the music writing process look like leading up to the recording sessions?
Jack: This was definitely a different process for us. We wanted to take a new approach to the way we were writing and recording our music. There was a big focus on grooves, simpler song structures, and the idea of alternate instrumentation. I really wanted a recording with more air in it — more space. And it is hard to achieve that with constantly roaring guitars and loud, washy cymbals. So we started exploring other possibilities. This was also the most collaborative writing process in terms of everyone bringing something to the table. Some great stuff on the record was contributed by Juan and Wes (not our typical “riff-writers”).
Joshua BTS: Once in the studio- What does your recording formula look like? Do you track live or individually to a metronome?
Jack: In the past, we’ve tried every method available: All live in one room, live in different rooms, one at a time, etc. This time we had to do it differently. Other than the bass and drums, there was nothing really set in stone. We had other parts, but we hadn’t decided how they would be presented and integrated.
So, the bass and drums were recorded live. There was a big focus on the rhythm section. And the drums were recorded without any cymbals except a tightly closed hihat. We did this tracking in the space next door to the studio that has this huge, expansive open room that sounded great for the drums. and without all the loud cymbals, we got the air that I was looking for. as an added bonus, for all the times Wes would normally be playing his crash-ride, he played his floor tom instead. this made the drums that much more driving and rhythmic.
There was a metronome on hand, but strictly for the count-off into the songs. We had decided on tempos we the best fit for each song, so it was important to try to nail that. But to clarify, no Comadre song has ever been recorded to a metronome. Its way too rigid.
After the rhythm tracks were all laid down, we got into the fun process of deciding what would be best for the remaining instrumentation. Mostly, we ended up subbing out either Kenny’s or my guitar parts with organ or piano. Then the “missing” drum pieces were filled in with shaker, tambourine, and accent crash hits.
Also, the record was tracked to 2″ tape with hardly any editing. So, between all of the creative decisions we had to make and getting all of the takes right, the process got pretty drawn out.
Joshua BTS: This record, now the eighth in your decade-long history, features some new elements for Comadre including the use of organs and accordions. Including these new instrument additions- How much did you step out of your comfort zone during the creation process of this record and experiment with new things?
Jack: I would say that all of the new elements were a step out of our comfort zone. And it was a great experience. None of us are well-versed in any of the new instruments that made it onto the record. We bought a piano specifically for the recording because I had a 110 year old craigslist beater in the studio, and it definitely wasn’t going to cut it. You couldn’t even tune that beast. And a friend of mine had actually given me this 60′s Hammond M3 organ that he found (thanks Ed!!!). So we’ve got all this cool stuff, but none of us can really play piano or organ! Kind of silly, I guess, but luckily all we needed was some rock and roll style banging away. Nothing too pretty, you know? This is a punk band, after all.
Joshua BTS: Now that the record is complete and you’ve had time to reflect. Do you feel you achieved your sonic goals with record? Or too soon?
Jack: I think its safe to say that we are all very satisfied with the outcome. We gave ourselves plenty of time to make sure we got it right. I don’t think I’ve ever spent so much time on one record, but all the effort was well worth it.
Joshua BTS: What are some of the lyrical motifs listeners will find on the record? And what does the lyric creation and application process look like for the Comadre? Does everyone contribute?
Jack: Comadre lyrics have always been Juan’s thing. And a lot of times they are purposefully vague and open for interpretation. Juan has a BA in English Literature, and I’ve always felt like that is somewhat apparent in his lyric writing. He can give you just enough of a look at what he’s thinking without letting you feel like you’re invited in for a discussion about it. He doesn’t really want to talk about them — just make up your own meaning:)
As far as motifs, I know there are a lot of film and moon references throughout this record. Juan’s really digging the moon lately. Metaphorical? Not sure. I know there is a lot of pondering on the making of art and being part of an art community. “Hack” is about Picasso and his initial rejection by his peers. And “Binge” is about Amy Winehouse.
Jack: The art for the record is a collection of Juan’s photos. And getting to the end product that you see was very much a collaborative effort. We saw and argued over many different art options, but ended up wanting something that felt like the record and didn’t just look cool. “Texture” was the word we kept going back to. The recording was about getting the right textures and so was the art. The inside is a lot busier than the outside. Lots of textural photos – mostly of nature. We wanted it to feel organic and representational of the music.
Joshua BTS: Now a decade strong in the game- How have you come to redefine your goals as a band? Finding an active band with a 10-year history is hard enough, but to have all of the same members for the entirety of that run is uncanny. What do you think are some of the elements around and within the Comadre camp that have made for such a stable run thus far?
Jack: The consistency in our lineup over the years has a simple explanation — every one of us plays an irreplaceable role in this band, and without these five people Comadre would not exist (also, there are 2 pairs of brothers in the band — kind of hard to sever those ties:)). But seriously, that is the truth. And we have always known that the band would not continue without all five of us.
And our goals as a band haven’t really changed much in 9 years: make music, play shows, have fun, etc. Everything else is kind of just a byproduct of what it takes to achieve that.
Joshua BTS: We’ve said this before, and we?ll probably say it again in 2013- The Bay Area is just chock full of musical talent being home to Deafheaven, Loma Prieta, Punch, and countless others, all exciting up-and-coming bands in your backyard. What is about The Bay Area that makes this area such a hotbed for compelling hardcore across a such wide swath of niches?
Jack: I have always loved this scene. There is so much going on here and so many good people. I think you’re bound to get good, creative art out of such a culturally/socially rich area.
Jack: I just finished working with No Sir on their new LP and it is awesome. definitely keep an eye out for that. Also bands like Wild Moth, Joyride, Nervous, Acid Fast, Cannons and Clouds, No Babies, ++++, Baader Brains, etc. All great people doing great things.
Joshua BTS: How much emphasis do you put on touring as a band? Having just seen your special appearance at Fest 11, with that great crowd response- it looks you boys are primed for more touring. And on that same note- What do you guys have lined up for 2013?
Jack: We all love traveling and playing music, but we’ve always kept a reasonable balance between touring and our everyday lives. We know a lot of people who are on tour more than they are home and that’s not really for us. We love it, but we also have a lot going on at home. Some of us work in education, child care, social work, or run our own businesses, so there’s as much to stay home for as there is travel for.
2013 is looking like it will be on the busier side for us. We stayed home last summer to record this album, so its time to get out and tour for it. This is all still tentative, but we’re talking about nine days on the west coast in April, three weeks out to the midwest and east coast in June, and a month in Europe in July. And I would guess The Fest in October.
Joshua BTS: Speaking of touring- With so many years and shows abroad under your belts- How do you stay sane during those long tour outings? Its seems tour will always have that dichotomous relationship with artists- While being a great experience and opportunity, tour is often the stress that causes the yarn ball to unravel.
Jack: I think our sparse touring has kept us relatively sane. We’ve never really done more than three months in a year and theres usually a few months between those long trips. Its a great balance. When you’re itching to go out you get to go, and when you wished you hadn’t left you are home.
Jack: Juan and Kenny are part of a group called Dark Arts. They’ve been doing DIY and gallery showings for a couple of years, and they’ve been getting a great response. We’re all into art on one level or another. We’ve got some big movie fans, tattoo collectors, art school grads, etc.
Joshua BTS: When you are not busy playing music with Comadre and your other various musical endeavors- What does daily life look like?
Jack: Running the recording studio is kind of an all day/everyday thing. It keeps me super busy and I love it. I do need to get better at taking days off, though.
Joshua BTS: Apart from touring, which discussed already- What does Comadre have on the plate for the rest of 2013?
Jack: Besides touring in 2013, there aren’t any other plans for Comadre. Once this year of touring for this record is done, we will have been a band for ten years. Pretty Crazy. I think we’re just gonna get there and see hows its all looking.
Joshua BTS: Thank you for taking time with Blow The Scene readers today as we look forward to keeping up with your future endeavors. Any closing thoughts?
Jack: Thank you all so much for your interest and appreciation for what we do. Making art can be therapeutic and rewarding enough, but getting to share it with so many enthusiastic people is really amazing.
Interview by BTS’s Joshua T. Cohen
Order Comadre’s new self-titled LP at Vitriol Records
Fest 11 Photos by Genna Howard