Today we have an very in-depth interview with Xerxes, a rising melodic hardcore band from Louisville, KY that is gearing up to release their debut LP, Our Home Is A Deathbed, on No Sleep Records in March. Singer and front man Calvin Philley gives Blow The Scene readers the inside scoop on the recording process behind the forthcoming record, as he touches on the band’s recent tour with Code Orange Kids and forthcoming tour with Pianos Become The Teeth. Philley also discusses life in Louisville, history of the band, upcoming plans, and much more. We also have a new streaming song available and new music video by Xerxes below the interview, so be sure to check those out. Without further ado, let’s here from Calvin..
Joshua BTS: Greetings! Thank you kindly for taking some time with Blow The Scene readers from around the world today! Let’s kick things off by having you introduce yourselves and declare your on-stage weapon of choice with Louisville hardcore band Xerxes.
I’m Calvin Philley and I sing.
Joshua BTS: We just received a copy of your forthcoming record, Our Home Is A Deathbed, set for release on March 13th via No Sleep Records. Sounds like the band is hitting a definite stride and further defining your niche sound by incorporating elements of thrashy punk with emotional and melodic hardcore. You recorded Our Home Is A Deathbed, with Kevin Ratterman (Coliseum / My Morning Jacket). Give us the skinny on this forthcoming record. Where, when, and whom did you record with? What was it like working with Kevin and what influence did he have on your writing as whole?
Calvin Philley: We spent a week at the beginning of September recording at the Funeral Home in Louisville with Kevin Ratterman. We had a couple close friends come in and help with minor details and preparations, but for that week is was really just us five and Kevin focusing on our record. It was pretty nerve-wracking to go into the studio with Kevin because it was essentially our first foray into recording in a professional setting. Most everything we had done before then (except for our debut 7″) was almost completely recorded on our own, so transitioning from our experiences in DIY recording to working with Kevin, who has been a part of creating some of our favorite records, was definitely intimidating. I will say he was definitely a calming presence once we got to know him though. Once we were a couple of days into the process, he had a lot of useful advice about the general atmosphere of the record. From a writing standpoint, the record is completely our own, but Kevin had a lot to do with the songs we wrote coming across as raw and full as we were hoping.
Joshua BTS: You incorporate a wide array of influences ranging from thrashy punk to melodic rock. Any special pieces of equipment or recording techniques that you feel were pivotal in capturing the overall sound of the record?
Calvin Philley: Evan (our drummer) was doing a lot of new things on the record. Using a violin bow on his cymbals, using obscure percussion instruments borrowed from his old high school. Even now, when we talk about what we’re doing next, he talks about how he wants to get even weirder. Our guitar player James was using a couple different pedals that gave some of the cleaner parts- a very dark, atmospheric tone. The way it came out reminds me of how it feels to dream you’re falling.
Calvin Philley: Our other guitar player, Dillon, does a fair amount of photography, mostly medium-format film. It’s his photo on the cover. The window is looking out from the living room of the apartment he and James live in. I mentioned the feeling of falling in a dream: When I put together the imagery of the title track, and really the imagery of the album as a whole, it looks like staring out that window and feeling that wild, dreamlike gravity pull you towards it and not having the control to stop it.
Joshua BTS: How did you come to link up with No Sleep Records?
Calvin Philley: We sent the songs from our split that was coming out Spring of 2011 to a couple of labels and Chris at No Sleep showed general interest, so that kind of got the ball rolling with setting up lines of communication. After that, we toured down to SXSW with our friends Former Thieves (who were preparing their debut LP on No Sleep) and Chris caught a show we were playing in Austin with them. The first thing he said to me after watching us was, ‘We need more hardcore bands and we’d love to work with you all.’
Joshua BTS: Xerxes the Great, was the fourth king of kings of the Achaemenid Empire. Does your choice of this band name relate to any historical significance that parlays into your lyrical motifs?
Calvin Philley: A long time ago, a friend was trying to start a band and was having trouble coming up with a name so he asked me to help him brainstorm. ‘Xerxes‘ was a name that I just randomly threw out there, maybe after just hearing it in a World Civ class. He didn’t take any of my suggestions and I kept Xerxes for when I started a band. I feel like I need to point out that I was maybe in the ninth grade when this happened. Its never been related to any lyrical motifs nor has any historical significance been purposely added into the overall aesthetic of our band.
Joshua BTS: You are just wrapping up a headlining US tour with Code Orange Kids and will be embarking on a supporting tour with Pianos Become The Teeth kicking off in late Feb. Do you feel this was a successful tour? And by what means to gauge the “success” of a given tour run? Do you foresee tour life becoming a main focus of the band?
Calvin Philley: Tour with Code Orange Kids was hugely successful. When you take into account that over half the tour was played in cities neither bands had ever traveled to and that when the tour started, we both were preparing to release what we consider to be our best work yet, expecting to play to full rooms for six weeks or even enough money from door to cover the cost of gas is nearly out of the question. But as it goes, we did play to some very large crowds, and we managed to come home in the black. So by my standards, tour exceeded our expectations. As long as there’s at least one person in every city we played in that would come up to me and tell me how much they enjoyed our set, my purpose for doing this is validated. As long as that’s happening, tour life will balance alongside writing and recording as the main focus of this band.
Calvin Philley: James always carries a tech deck skateboard with him so he can shred on a tabletop if ever we have an idle moment. We actually went to a Toys R Us on the Code Orange Kids tour so he could get a special one with a wood deck. A mom called me “weird” for looking at the stuffed animals while I was waiting for him to check out. Other moments that were memorable on that tour were being greeted by a herd of corgis when we pulled up at the house of someone putting us up for the night in Peoria, watching the entire first season of Workaholics while 13 inches of snow kept us from driving to Kansas City from Denver for a day, and going through police checkpoints in Southern California with our van on the back of a tow truck after breaking down in Arizona.
Joshua BTS: What are some of your favorite stops off of the beaten path? Any favorite food stops or leisure getaways you have found favorable on the road?
Calvin Philley: We are gas station connoisseurs. We don’t stop unless its at a Pilot, Loves, Wawa, Sheetz, Flying J, or comparable regional alternative. We got burgers and cheese sandwiches from In-N-Out in California, we call Chipotle every now and then to see if we can swing free burritos, I had the most ridiculous felafel at Sultan‘s in Chicago, we eat at Taco Bell at least four or five times a week, and last but not least, we swear by Walgreens. We probably go to Walgreens in every single city.
Joshua BTS: Louisville seems to be a growing hotbed for hardcore music at the moment. What are some of the aspects of the area that you find most appealing? Any aspects of the area you could do without?
Calvin Philley: Louisville is my favorite city in the United States. Some others in the band might disagree with me, but I wholeheartedly feel it defies regional classification. Its not Midwest and its not Southeast. It snows here, but it’s also hot enough to kill people with high blood pressure in July. The most appealing things about Louisville: There’s a reputation for solid, original, honest music that we are constantly challenged by, there’s a taco bell right down the street from Dillon and James’ apartment, and the punks refuse to go away. Local music in Louisville has taken a couple hits over the past few years, but we always find a way to make something happen. The attitude doesn’t change whether bands are playing on stage at a venue, or between shelves at a record store, or in the living room of a punk house. That’s just how its always been. As far as what I could do without- I’ve sat here and thought of an answer to that for a good ten or fifteen minutes and all I can think of are the kind of things I would complain about wherever I was. Corporate business threatening independent local stalwarts, infighting within the overall punk/hardcore community, you name a general annoyance about your city, its probably here too.
Calvin Philley: I hate to be the one to answer this question because I feel like out of everyone, my taste in music is the least representative of Xerxes‘ views as a whole. But I’ll try to channel everyone else on this one. Its no surprise, and its not like everyone else doesn’t think the same thing, but we all agree the newest Pianos Become The Teeth‘s record is too good. What’s most exciting about them, though, is that record seemed like them hitting their stride songwriting as an entire band. I have already heard that they’re working on new material. They’re hit machines. We’re jealous of how much Code Orange Kids have on their plate for the next few months, they just announced a split coming out on Topshelf and a LP on DeathwishThe Kids are out of control. Also, I heard Former Thieves are toying with the direction of their music and turning the dial towards accessibility. That could mean any number of things, but it’s exciting because the idea of them re-imagining their sound, but still building on the technicality and force that was their last LP, could mean they’re writing the best record anyone will hear this year.
Joshua BTS: Apart from your musical endeavors, do you have any other artistic outlets that you are passionate about, whether it is painting, design work, writing, etc? Any political or direct action involvement?
Calvin Philley: All I ever do is read and write. At home, or in the van. I know Dillon is pretty passionate about photography and cycling. James works out a lot. Will really likes the Misfits, I would say Danzig is a passion of his. I’ve known Evan to write on occasion. As far as political involvement, we’re all pretty outspoken when it comes to marriage equality and general human equality. We don’t really delve too much farther than that into ‘the issues,’ but if there’s one thing that really dictates our world views, its that no one person is above any other person for any reason.
Joshua BTS: When the band is not busy recording and touring, what do your daily lives look like?
Calvin Philley: We all work a lot. Will and James at Whole Foods, me at a local coffee shop, Dillon at a local pizza place, and Evan did work at Guitar Center for a while but that might have run its course for the time being. We’re all in generally stable relationships. We all have at least a year of college under our belts, but we put that on hold for touring. And when we’re not working or busy, we hang out together because we’re best friends.
Joshua BTS: How is the rest of 2012 shaping up for the band?
Calvin Philley: After we get home from Canada with Pianos we’re taking a short break to catch our breath, hopefully write a couple songs, and then its back to the road for whatever comes next. Your guess is as good as ours at this point.
Joshua BTS: Thank you for taking time with Blow The Scene today as we look forward to keeping up with your future endeavors. Final thoughts?
Calvin Philley: Its only been a couple days since we played our last show of this past tour and we’re ready to be back on the road again. We’re stoked to get out of the country and get the record out there on peoples’ turntables. Thanks for having us, we appreciate it.
“Tide / This Place Is A Prison” from the forthcoming LP Our Home Is A Deathbed on No Sleep Records
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Xerxes on tour with Pianos Become The Teeth:
Feb. 24 – The Studio at Webster Hall – New York City
Feb. 25 – The Space – Hamden, Ct.
Feb. 26 – 242 Main St. – Burlington, Vt.
Feb. 28 – Cafe L’ Agitee – Quebec City, Quebec
Feb. 29 – L’escogriffe – Montreal, Quebec
March 1 – Mavericks – Ottawa, ON
March 2 – Hard Luck – Toronto, ON
March 3 – The Mansion House – St. Catharines, ON
March 4 – Lounge @ London Music Hall – London, ON
March 6 – Sugar City – Buffalo, NY
March 7 – Carabar – Columbus, OH
March 8 – Bangarang’s – Covington, Ky.
March 9 – Smiling Moose – Pittsburgh, Pa.
March 10 – Altoona Masonic Temple – Altoona, Pa.
Interview by Joshua T. Cohen