We just caught up with New Jersey outfit Torchbearer, who has announced their new full-length The Dirty Swagger will be coming out this October via All Ears Music. Made up of veterans of the hardcore and metal-core scene, Torchbearer includes Amit Sharma on vocals (formerly of Mother Night), Chris Ross (formerly of Nora, The Fire Still Burns & Ensign) on drums, Sam Patterson on guitar (formerly of The Low End Theory), Will Karakowski (also in For the Love Of) on bass and Dan Brennan (formerly of Mother Night & Hellhole) on guitar.
The sum of it’s parts and it’s influences, Torchbearer has created an alchemy of hardcore, noise-rock, sludge and metal while giving a tip of the hat to pioneers like Deadguy, Kiss it Goodbye, Burnt by the Sun, Converge, and latter-day Unbroken. In this interview, the band discusses the writing and recording process behind The Dirty Swagger, formation of the band, tour plans, favorite bands, and much more.
Below the interview you will find brand new track “Living Disorder,” which premiered on Noisecreep earlier this week. Without further ado, let’s hear from the band.
Joshua BTS: Greetings! Thank you for taking time to answer a few questions for Blow The Scene readers around the World! Let’s begin by having you introduce yourself and declare your onstage weapon of choice with NJ’s own hardcore practitioners, Torchbearer.
Sam Patterson– guitar/sonic alchemist
Chris Ross– drums
Dan Brennan – Guitar
Amit Sharma – Vocals
Will Karakowski – Bass
Joshua BTS: Torchbearer recently announced a new full-length, The Dirty Swagger, will be coming out this October via All Ears Music. Awesome. Can you give us the 411 on the forthcoming LP? When, where, and whom did you record with?
Sam: It’s definitely our strongest effort to date and way more cohesive than our previous releases. We recorded @ CDR Studios which is our home base. We tracked and mixed it ourselves and it was mastered by Carson Slovak (Atrium Audio, Lancaster PA) who really did a phenomenal job.
Chris: I own and operate a small studio called CDR studio part time, and we recorded the record here, (as we did the 7” and the demo) over the course of winter 2010-spring 2011. It’s been an interesting process, and apart from the fact that I feel like the songs themselves are probably our most consistently cohesive and unique this time around, I also feel like this is the closest we’ve come to date at capturing what we sound like in a live environment. Sam and I partnered up on mixing this one, and I think that compromise really helped us nail a sound for the record that represented the band’s sound well.
The record is coming out digitally through All Ears Music, with the pre-order beginning on September 20th, and the release date being October 4th. Toby has been great with helping us get this out in a fashion we feel it deserves.
Will: The writing process was slow. We wrote the record between October 2009 and September 2010, and then started recording in winter 2010.
Joshua BTS: What are some of the lyrical themes listeners will encounter on the new LP?
Amit: Everything I write is very personal and specific to the circumstances of my life while the record was being written. We started writing what eventually came together as The Dirty Swagger as I was coming out of a long period of depression and taking a look at the cycles in my life. I can’t speak for anyone else, but in regards to my personal interactions with people, and my jobs, and my time spent in college, I’ve noticed that everything that has happened to me has fit certain patterns. The people and places change, but the cycle would hold true. I thought about how much of making the same decisions and getting myself into the same situations must feed into my recurring bouts of depression and I knew that I had to find some sort of way take a step in a different direction. Lyrically, the record is an exploration of that process. I found myself writing from an almost clinical perspective, looking at my anxieties and depressive tendencies. One of the hardest things for me to do was to accept that my internal narrative, my reflections and reactions to everything around me were a distortion of what actually existed. I wrote about the disconnect I felt between what I was and what I perceive as normal in the world around me. Some of the songs touch on how some of my friendships with people who were very dear to me eventually dissolved, and I tried to keep an honest perspective on feeling betrayed and abandoned, as well as acknowledging some of my own tendencies towards being emotionally distant that led to those break downs in communication. Yes, anger at those who I felt hurt me, but also the guilt I felt knowing that I contributed to it as well. Listening to it after it was finished was a very cathartic experience. I’m pretty proud of how it all came together.
Joshua BTS: You have members from several prominent bands on the East Coast, including Nora, The Fire Still Burns, Ensign, The Low End Theory, Mother Night, For the Love Of, and Hellhole. Quite a history of great bands. When approaching the writing for Torchbearer, and this forthcoming LP specifically- Do you write the music with the notion that fans of your former bands will be listening? And does this dictate the direction of the music? Or is Torchbearer aiming to wipe the slate clean?
Chris: I don’t think that any of us consciously were attempting to appeal to anyone in particular. One thing of note in the prior list of our past accomplishments is that the bands we’ve been in run through a pretty wide spectrum of sounds and influences. I think that since day one, we’ve been building on the things that each of us brings to the table from these past experiences and attempting to create a sound that is both a combination of and the next step to all of these different elements. As for what dictates the musical direction – I can say with complete sincerity and a smile on my face that I suspect that none of us has a really clear road-map for our direction musically, which in my opinion, is a great thing. It keeps the floor open for surprises and prevents us from getting locked into a “we can’t do that, because that’s not part of our sound” mentality.
Amit: In terms of writing music I’m always more concerned with keeping myself engaged in the creative process rather than concerning myself with what people on the outside want to listen to. I’ve been around the local hardcore/punk scene in NJ since 1998, and playing in bands since 2002 and I’ve noted is that this is primarily a youth culture, and by and large the makeup of the people actively involved in the culture turns over completely maybe every three years. The kids who listened to Mother Night five years ago by and large aren’t around and paying attention to Torchbearer in 2011, so I’m writing for myself.
Sam: Torchbearer is definitely wiping the slate clean. There really hasn’t been much of a deciding factor outside of the 5 of us as far as song writing goes. We pretty much aim to make things as uncomfortable as we can make it for our audience. More so than not, we’re the black sheep on the bill because we’re not falling into any specific genre. That can be a little uneasy from a band point of view. I think we’ve made it a goal of sorts to project that uneasiness back onto our audience. More so than not the reaction is one of uncertainty which to me is the best reaction you can get.
Dan: It sounds selfish and petty when put down on paper, but from a writing standpoint there’s almost an implicit desire to flat out surprise and maybe even disappoint people who come into this band with preconceived notions based on anything we’ve done in the past. Music is an artform, and the most effective art is made by pushing oneself out of one’s comfort zone and into new territories.
Will: I don’t have FTLO in mind at all writing with Torchbearer. FTLO is groovy and heavy while Torchbearer is noisy and chaotic
Dan: The writing on The Dirty Swagger was a lot more organic. Much less “here’s a song, here’s how it sounds, let’s play it” and much more “I have this riff, let’s just work it out and see where it takes us.” The addition of Will on bass on this record has played a pretty major part in that, as his playing style is very different from mine or anyone else’s, so the group dynamic changed dramatically and it shows when the songs from each release are put side by side.
Chris: We definitely concentrated on making the dynamics really work for us this time around. We’ve always been a hodgepodge of discordance and noise with some groove, but this time around we wanted these elements to really work together smoothly. Will joining really helped in this regard, he ‘s got a great sense of groove and feel that let us really lock things down underneath.
Sam: This time it was a bit different being that Will had just joined as we were beginning the writing process for this lp. I think the feel of the songs and how we approached them instantly changed when he came into the fold. Rhythm and timing became more essential than before as well as dynamic and flow. This time around we specifically set out to write an album as a sum of all parts as opposed to just having songs to release.
Amit: This is the first record that we worked on with Will as our bassist and I think he was the last piece we needed to break through to write a record that I feel is finally our own sound. It’s hard to articulate, but everything just clicked. The difference in the writing process is apparent in the end result.
Joshua BTS: What were the circumstances surrounding the Torchbearer’s formation? Were you all acquainted through your previous bands?
Sam: We had all just come out of bands that we wanted more from and for whatever reason it just didn’t happen. For me a lot of it was just wanting to do something completely different from anything I’d ever tried before. We pretty much all knew each other through our little scene. Some of us longer than others.
Chris: Dan and I got together initially and did some writing after both of our previous bands had wound down, and brought Amit and then Sam in. Sam and Dan are very different kinds of guitar animals, so to speak, and the combination of songs that were interesting rhythmically and texturally was something I was really interested in creating. Our first bassist, CJ came in shortly thereafter and stayed until after the Soul Rebel record was done. He’s in a great band called Big Eyes now, and is pursuing something style-wise that I suspect was simply more to his tastes. He is a great player and a great dude, he just was interested in other things after a while. Will brought a different dynamic, and I think him stepping in has honestly really tightened the whole band up.
Amit: Dan Brennan and I were in Mother Night together from late 2002 through spring 2008, and as we announced that the band had run its course, Chris Ross got in touch with me to let me know that The Fire Still Burns and Nora were slowing down a bit and he wanted to keep occupied drumming for a new band. Right around the same time Dan mentioned to me that he wanted to do another hardcore band, but heavier and more along the lines of Deadguy and Kiss it Goodbye. The three of us got together, and soon after Chris recruited Sam Patterson to come play guitar as well. Sam was a familiar face around the scene. I’d seen the Low End Theory a bunch of times over the years. Our friend CJ Frederick, who released the Mother Night Lifestyle/Deathstyle CD on his label Off the Books wanted to play bass, and we all got to writing. Eventually CJ wanted to focus on other projects, and Will Karakowski hopped on board to play bass. He’s one of Sam’s closest friends and he fit in really well off the bat. I didn’t really know him, but I used to mosh a lot at For the Love Of concerts, so I’m glad things worked out.
Sam: The band was originally a joke band of sorts with me, Chris, and Ryan from Poison the Well. It was just a fun little punk project. We recorded a couple of songs and threw them out there for shits and giggles. So fast forward about 5 years later and here we are; a band without a name. It just made sense to call ourselves Torchbearer being that we already had a page up. I’m sure if you really wanted to analyze it there’s meaning and significance behind our name, but I’d rather just let our music speak for itself.
Chris: In 2004, Sam and I and Ryan Primack started a fun band and recorded some songs under the same name, during a period when we all had some down time to kick around and have fun. When we started doing this band, we were nameless up until when we started recording, and we figured that it would be a nice continuation of a good name and a good theme. While the name may not have a lot of meaning to us as a whole, it certainly carries some weight for me. I’m also in another band called The Fire Still Burns, oddly, and both names really resonate with the same concept. I’ve been doing this for a long time now, and the urge to make music that stands outside the norm (whatever that may be) and carries a message and a tone that reflects the noise in my head still remains. Sorry, ma, I guess it really wasn’t a phase. Regardless, the name really relates to the band attitude nicely – we may or may not be making music that is the “in” thing at the moment, but it’s something we create for ourselves and from the heart, rather than just finding an easy format and playing by the rules of a genre.
Joshua BTS: What is in store for Torchbearer as we head into 2012? Any tour plans in the works?
Chris: Playing shows, as much as time will allow. We took somewhat of a hiatus to concentrate on the record, and now that it’s about to be released, we’re back to playing regularly, which makes me a happy man.
Sam: We’re just trying to continue to get the name out there and push our new record. Touring is definitely tough due to work and families and what not, but we’ll definitely be getting out as much as we can and bum out as many people as we can along the way.
Amit: Lots of weekends. We want to play as much as we can on the weekend as possible. Please get in touch if you’d like for us to come play your town. Any extensive touring seems unlikely due to job and family obligations, but maybe if the stars align just right we’ll be able to hit the road for a week or two at some point in the future.
Also, this seems as good as a place as any to point out that we’d love for a label to help us realize a vinyl pressing of The Dirty Swagger to compliment the digital release via All Ears Music.
Joshua BTS: What bands out there are currently exciting you?
Dan: Today is the Day just put out a new record that is awesome. Argonauts (new band BBtS/DEP band) sounds promising. Tiger Flowers from NYC is a relatively new favorite, as is Divider, and I’m also always on the lookout for anything new out of Louisville from the Young Widows/Coliseum guys.
Sam: The forth coming Argonauts records is gonna turn a lot of heads when it comes out. I’m definitely looking forward to playing some shows with them too. Dave and John have been really good friends to me for a long time and Brett and Dimitry really round out the lineup nicely. Awesome band and even more awesome guys.
Chris: A couple of bands locally have been really interesting. Benny from Gaslight’s new band with Corey from Let Me Run , called Bottomfeeder just released a great EP. The new Banquets record is great, and I’ve been recording a band called Les Trois Chaud (The Hot 3) that I really like. Also, the new Century record is a monstrous, lumbering beast of a record, and I wish they’d do some shows and play so I could see them pull it off live.
Amit: The last band to come out of nowhere and floor me was Gaza. They had probably been a band for quite some time by the time I heard them, but I tend to be a bit behind the times when it comes to new releases. I’m always amazed by anything that 108 and Coalesce produce since they’ve resumed writing and recording new music. Locally, NJ has a ton to offer. Black Kites and Seasick are turning heads wherever they go. Everyone should check out the new Less Life EP. This weekend we played in PA with my friend Nick’s new band Unlearn, who have a really nice almost Resurrection meets Absolution vibe going on.
Chris: I have 2 kids, a wife, a job, a dog, and a studio. Basically I’ve given up sleeping. It’s a busy life, but I love traveling, playing and creating music, and I honestly couldn’t imagine not finding time to continue doing it.
Sam: I’m at work 40 plus hours a week, I play guitar in another band called Sydbarrett, and I also dabble in some electronic music production. Thankfully, I have a super supportive wife that puts up with it all.
Amit: I’m currently a temp doing largely assistant level clerical work in an office full of accountants, lawyers, and engineers. My liberal arts bachelors degree hasn’t put me in a position to make the kind of money they do, so I’m taking some accounting classes at night and trying to get paid. I’m sort of a nerd and spend a lot of time playing video games and reading comic books alone in my room.
Will: I’m home hanging out with my wife playing NHL 12
Dan: I work in museums, so I spend most of my day staring at art. It’s not so bad.
Joshua BTS: Where is the best place for fans to keep up with the band online?
Chris: At the moment, the best place to catch up to us is http://www.facebook.com/torchbearernj , although you can also reach us directly for info/booking/etc. directly at email@example.com. We have a couple of songs up from the new record, as well as an extra non LP track up as a little present on the facebook page, and we’re pretty regular about keeping it current. Dan, Will, and Amit also spend time on Twitter under the tag “torchbearernj” trading interesting and strange comments about life. Hell, even if you don’t like the band, they’re worth following for the commentary alone.
Joshua BTS: Thank you kindly for taking a few moments with Blow The Scene readers from around the world, as we look forward to keeping up with your future endeavors. Any final thoughts?
Sam: Thank you to Blow the Scene for the interview, thank you to anyone who’s listening, and peace to the Gods and Earths.
Chris: Thanks for reading, thanks for listening, and keep an eye out for us wandering around your neighborhood. We’ll probably be lost, and someone will be talking about the Mets or the Devils. Also, special thanks to Jeff Zorn for the phenomenal photography and design work, Rick Barnhart for making our site and helping us with things that need doing, and Jerry Graham and the Syndicate for putting up with us as we navigate new waters with the band.
Amit: I think I’ll make a sandwich. Thanks for having us.
Listen to new track ‘Living Disorder,’ which premiered on Noisecreep earlier this week.