Sweet news! Crusades have released a lyric video for “1713 (The Scorching Fevers)” off their upcoming This is a Sickness and Sickness Will End, out March 7th through Anxious & Angry (US) and Countless Altars (Canada/World).
Even better news! I was lucky enough to sit down (via e-mail) with Crusades singer and guitarist Dave Williams to talk about songwriting, heavy music, and cathartic art. Click here to check out the video and the interview!
Let’s get the introduction out of the way, I’ll save you the digital breath: you are Dave Williams and you write music, play guitar, and sing in Crusades. These are the facts. This is what we know about Crusades. The new album is This is a Sickness and Sickness Will End. Can you tell us a little about the record and where Crusades, the band, is at these days?
Dave: Thanks for introducing me! I’ll run down the technical stuff about the record for folks who are into that kind of thing: We tracked drums, guitars and bass with Mike Bond and our pal J-P Sadek at J-P’s incredible Wolf Lake Studios in rural Quebec. We did vocals ourselves at Jordan (Crusades’ drummer)’s studio Atomic Audio, and then sent the whole thing over to Matt Bayles in Seattle for mixing. It was then mastered by Martin Bowitz at Strype Audio in Norway (Martin and his partner Jørgen Larsen also helped with pre-production and arrangement ideas in the demo stage). Thematically, the record is about coping with loss of two parental figures in the same year, about mortality and time and mourning and (gasp!) religion. It’s also very much about music and art as catharsis and the common threads in grief-inspired art throughout history.
One of the things I love about the new album is how expansive it sounds. I was looking at the press release and I was seeing producers and mixers who have worked with the likes of Tragedy and From Ashes Rise. It clicked in an instant, and I think it would be fair to say that there is some common ground between these heavy, dark bands and Crusades’ melodic punk. It comes through even more on the latest record. Can you describe Crusades’ relationship with heavy music, and what inspiration it provides in composition and songwriting?
Dave: The four of us all have pretty different relationships with heavy music, but I’m the one whose listening remains, for the most part, within the metal/hardcore realm. Emmanuel and I both grew up in the late 90s/early 00s DIY hardcore scene (think Converge, The Swarm, Catharsis, Shotmaker, His Hero Is Gone, etc.) and so inevitably starting bands at that time had an immeasurable impact on our playing, writing, politics, wardrobe, and everything else. Personally, I was a metal kid and then a ‘grunge’ kid and then a punk kid and then a hardcore kid, and am still deeply indebted to and heavily into all of those worlds. And really, even the more pop-leaning music I dig typically has a sort of dark weight to it – for instance, Concrete Blonde, Peter Gabriel and Sunny Day Real Estate have always been HUGE influences on my writing in Crusades, and those examples all have a strong, somber current running throughout their work. Grandiose, dynamic, impactful music – be it Cave In or The Spectacle or The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – it’s songwriters who have mastered that art of tension and release that have the most influence on what I write.
For me, Crusades has always been a band driven by concepts and from what I’ve heard, this is probably the most personal you’ve gotten with one. On Perhaps You Deliver… there was the real life story of Giordano Bruno to buffer the intimacy of the songwriting– not to say, that album was impersonal, but the concept was not nearly as visceral, immediate, and relatable as the loss of a loved one or grief. Do you find it necessary to write within a concept or does it just happen naturally? I’d love to hear about your songwriting process, because Crusades has always impressed me with their incredibly cohesive albums.
Dave: I’d say that This is a Sickness and Sickness will End is undoubtedly the most personal Crusades record thus far, at least in that it is entirely personal. The Sun is Down and The Night is Riding In was also very personal at times – it was the first time I tried to write about a lot of the things in my life to that point that contributed to the often anxious and angry (shout out!) person I am now (which, I’ll add, I’ve gotten considerably better at managing in the past few years). But I also interspersed the deeply personal stuff with some vehemently anti-christian rhetoric and situations which, now that I’ve had plenty of time and distance to reflect on that album, likely served both to maintain some degree of comfortable detachment and to make the whole thing a bit more sensational and appealing.
I definitely took a different approach with Perhaps You Deliver, almost completely avoiding any personal ties to the lyrics and instead using Bruno’s life as a focus for what I thought had become Crusades’ raison d’etre: spouting even more pointed diatribes against the catholic church and christianity as a whole. But, and this is not only the first time I’m writing this but maybe even the first time I’ve boiled my thoughts down on the subject, it was ultimately unsatisfying. Certainly live, with the Perhaps You Deliver songs (aside from a couple that have some deep, personal parallels), I’ve found it difficult to stay completely connected and in the moment, which I attribute to singing about someone else as opposed to my own experience. And if it’s obvious to me that my performance isn’t coming from a sincere, feeling place, I assume it’s obvious to the people we’re playing for as well.
This is a Sickness… and the two years leading up to it changed how I feel about a lot of things, including the potential scope of this band. Being so immersed in illness and loss and grief for so long, I couldn’t help but write about it. From the day we learned the diagnosis up until the funeral and for some time after, it was essentially all-consuming. I dwelled on how my wife was feeling watching her mother die, how my young daughter was feeling watching her parents and family grieve, how my father-in-law felt as his whole life and future ground to a halt, how I felt as a husband and father to women who have the very real potential for this sickness hardwired into them, about how temporary all of this is. I couldn’t possibly have written about anything else. And I think to find some kind of comfort, I looked to lyricists and poets who’ve been driven to create after feeling something similar. And I found that so many people, for so long, have shared these same harrowing experiences and made something so incredible and cathartic and relatable out of them – I really wanted to do try and do the same thing. The idea that something we did as a band could in some way be a comfort the way those writers were to me, suddenly that seemed a lot more important than just still being pissed off about idiot christians.
Anti-Christian rhetoric is another key part of Crusades identity. For better or worse, satanist pop punk has sort of become the log-line of your band. Is Satanism as integral to your music as us music journalists make it out to be?
Dave: Ah, my favourite sub-sub-subgenre, ‘Satanic Pop Punk’. As I mentioned, we certainly played up the Satanist element on the first EP and LP, and I think that it fostered a decent amount of curiosity in our band when it was new, but I should clarify that none of us consider ourselves true Satanists. There are absolutely tenets of the Laveyan and Satanic Temple philosophies that I agree with, and Crusades certainly embraces atheist/antitheist thought, but I can safely say that none of our personal philosophies are entirely congruent with any established order. And while I dismiss the ‘Satanic Pop Punk’ label because I’d prefer not to be lumped in with any post-Misfits horrorpunk/psychobilly/cartoon camp nonsense, I’m more concerned that, at this point, it’ll either draw initial interest from people who won’t dig what they hear or serve to keep away folks who might really dig our stuff. But I suppose that’s the risk of intentional, significant evolution away from one’s early output. It all seems to find the right sets of ears eventually.
The songs on the new album are both longer (a couple of them even over the five-minute mark– not bad for a ‘satanist pop punk’ band) and more ambitious. There’s multiple ways to attack such grounded subject matter, you can go gritty or you can go big and baroque. How did the composition and arrangement of the music itself reflect the lyrical direction?
Dave: I’ve always been a fan of elaborate arrangements in pop music – I’m a total nerd about producers, be it Daniel Lanois, Flood, Scott Litt, Brad Wood, etc. – but Crusades’ songwriting never really allowed for anything too dense and/or grandiose. But the This is a Sickness lyrical content seemed to beg for a bit more mood-setting, more dynamism, more room to ebb and flow, and that certainly allowed for a natural incorporation of other instruments, longer sections, and further twists and turns. My favourite producers in recent years had been Martin Bowitz and Jørgen Larsen at Malabar Studio in Oslo (both who have worked with and/or played in The Spectacle, Cold Mailman, Kollwitz, Krakesolv, Lukestar, and a bunch of Norway’s best and best-sounding bands of the last decade-plus), and luckily they were very happy to work with us long-distance during the pre-production phase. Martin also mastered the record for us after yet another sonic wizard, Matt Bayles (who has worked with a few recognizable names, y’know like Pearl Jam, Tragedy, Isis, Mastodon, Minus The Bear, and countless others) did an incredible mixing job. Not to mention that our engineer Mike Bond and studio owner J-P Sadek happen to be goddamned tone masters. So while I’d like to say that we flawlessly executed a pretty expansive vision, we had some serious help from the best folks out there.
For one reason or another, I always saw you guys as part of the No Idea legacy, despite not being anywhere near Gainesville. There’s a certain kindred sense of melody between you guys and what I associate with No Idea Records. Anxious & Angry is no slouch though, and the new record is coming out through them. This is kind of a dual question, but it all has to do with labels, so I’m gonna forge ahead. First: how’d Anxious & Angry releasing the new album come about? Second: Do you guys consider yourselves a part of any larger idea or movement in music, and what place do labels have in 21st century punk rock?
Dave: Admittedly, I also always thought of us as part of the No Idea family. In its heyday, that label represented the perfect cross-section of hardcore, punk rock, ’emo’ and indie rock, of angry, urgent, political music and fun, fist-waving anthems. So many of what I consider ‘classic’ NIR bands: Radon, Annalise, HWM, Left For Dead, Small Brown Bike, Spoke, Gunmoll, The Swarm, PMFS, and even newer ones like The Measure/Worriers, OWTH… these bands left an indelible mark on how I play, write, perform and think about music. And it was/is an absolute honour to be mentioned in the same breath as many of them. But the fact is, without delving into unnecessary detail, Crusades’ relationship with No Idea had run its course and we chose to look elsewhere. Starting to ‘look elsewhere’ when we were around halfway through completing the new record proved pretty stressful, but we truly couldn’t be more happy with how it’s worked out. We adore Ryan and Ranae and have a ton of respect and admiration for how Anxious and Angry and OWTH operate, and so when they asked about doing the new LP with us, we were thrilled. And after considering some other scenarios, it also felt like the right move for me to have a personal stake in the record’s distribution, hence my starting up Countless Altars and taking the reins for the Canadian and overseas portion of the release. Luckily we have plenty of wonderful friends on the other side of the Atlantic, and Julian at Drunken Sailor and Franz at Sabotage agreed to handle the U.K. and mainland European distro, respectively. It’s gone incredibly well so far, with the first press almost completely selling out more than a month before the release date and the second press starting up as I write.
As for a place within a larger movement in music, as a band and/or a label, that’s a bit trickier. Perhaps a few years ago I’d have quickly called the extended “Fest” community our home, but so much has happened within general counterculture that what we align ourselves with isn’t so cut and dry. As a band, as a label, and as active members of our local and larger music/arts communities (specifically, Emmanuel organizes the annual Ottawa Explosion Weekend festival and promotes shows/events year-round), we strongly support an inclusive and passionate/compassionate community (and world) that our make-up of four straight, white dudes doesn’t necessarily represent, and that the rather narrow “bearded gruff beer dude” thing that we’ve often been lumped into doesn’t represent either. It’s of immeasurable importance to us that we use whatever platform we’ve attained over the past eight years to offer space for perspectives and voices that we, quite simply, don’t represent first-hand. I’m not discounting the relevance of what Crusades writes about by any means, but to the four of us, having initially cut our teeth on bands from the Dischord, Riot Grrrl, G7 Welcoming Committee, Ebullition, Dial House, Alternative Tentacles and Great American Steak Religion worlds (among others), punk rock remains a highly politicized and cerebral art form that should – before all else – serve as a voice for the voiceless, oppressed, undermined, victimized artists in our community, and so, again, as four straight, white dudes, we absolutely strive to recognize our place in that. And we try to keep learning every day how we can be better allies to those voices. I guess that’s the larger movement I’d like to consider us a part of.
I’ve become obsessed with this idea that the punk rock scene– on a worldwide scale– is filled with nooks and crannies of undiscovered bands that for whatever reason won’t be known outside of their region. For me, bands that I love to rep from Portland are groups like 48 Thrills, Pageripper, and Fools Rush– awesome bands that play are mainstays of the scene, but haven’t made the jump to the wider pond yet. What is the scene like in Ottawa? Do you have any favorite local bands that you wish had a wider audience?
Dave: There are absolutely some great Ottawa bands that are currently lurking in those nooks and crannies, either because they’re still relatively new or because that’s where they’re most comfortable. My favourite local band would definitely be DOXX: raging, political hardcore that just reeks of XClaim!-era Boston and early Dischord. They’ve got two killer demos out and are totally incredible on stage. Luckily they’re also some of the sweetest skids in town.
OMERTA is another relatively new hardcore band from Ottawa that absolutely destroys. Kinda early COC meets Sacrilege with some darker Dead Kennedys flourishes. Just furious and amazing. They’ve also got one demo out. I should also mention the band TOWANDA from Montreal, who I was fortunate enough to see at Ottawa Explosion Weekend 2016. Killer, upbeat Matt Pike-esque sludge riffs and vocals very reminiscent of Selene from Seven Year Bitch. Totally blew me away. They have a recent full-length titled Plaything that just rips.
Switching gears, we’ve spoken a lot about the intent and composition of the new record, but I wanted to touch on another key part of music and the scene: the live show. I’ve always considered seeing a band live the entertainment factor, whereas the album is the art– but every once and awhile I see those lines crossed. How would you describe your band live to someone who hasn’t seen you guys, and will fans of the new album be able to catch you on a tour in the near future?
Dave: This is actually a topic I’ve been mulling over quite a bit over the past year or so. I’ve always found our live show to be somewhat lacking when compared to the relative melodrama and seriousness of our records. I’m not proposing that we attempt some kind of elaborate flaming cathedral set or delve into post-Slipknot stage getup territory (even though that first record is siiick), but even just incorporating some simple lighting techniques – and we did just get a pretty slick banner/backdrop made of the new LP cover – could go a long way to making our live show a bit more engrossing.
There has also been some discussion on how to include some or all of the orchestration from the new record in the live set, be it with a sampler, pedals, or an additional member, but none of these things have been fully fleshed out yet. I imagine it’s something that will evolve over the course of promoting this album.
As for tour dates, we will be playing a handful of release shows in Ontario and Quebec in March, followed by a trip to the UK and Europe in April/May. We’re hoping to do some east coast US dates in the summer as well, but we’ll see how that all shakes out.
In regards to the lyrics on the record– they’re grounded– but there’s still an element of intrigue here that hints at the grandiloquence that has always been intrinsic to Crusades’ identity. All of the song titles follow the formula of a year followed by a more traditional title in parenthetical. For example: “1590 (Swiftness Never Ceasing).” I saw this on the track listing on my computer playlists of course, but what also struck me was that below these titles were the names of people. In the case of “1590 (Swiftness Never Ceasing)” it is George Peele and Alan Parsons (whose Edgar Allen Poe concept album I love). Could you explain some of the mystery behind these flourishes?
Dave: Yes! Grandiloquence! Okay, here goes – the year in the song titles references the publishing date of the poem I borrowed/repurposed lines from in that song, and the poet is below it (Boom!). The more traditional title (in parentheses) is said poet’s line that I feel best represents my lyrics and the song’s theme. Maaan, reading that back sounds pretentious and convoluted as hell. Let’s chalk it up to further grandiloquence!
There are also some more ‘secret’ nods to songs throughout the record (those musicians are listed in the PDF you have but not the record itself). Alan Parsons, for instance, was a favourite of Peter Thurston’s (one of the pair to whom the record is dedicated), and so I wanted to incorporate a particularly fitting line of from “Eye In The Sky.” I’ve always liked tucking others’ little lyrical nuggets into my own songs. Often it’s simply a case of “couldn’t have said it better myself.”
Crusades always feels like a band that has art on their mind. There’s an intangible sense that you guys are aiming for something higher. There’s a lot of punk rock out there, and it is all aiming at something different– some of it is aggressively blue-collar, some of its wistful and nostalgic, some of it overtly political, and some of it’s about throwing back beers. I was always fascinated by the dichotomy of high and low art in the genre, which I broadly define as a meeting of the immediate and accessible with transgression. Crusades is a band that works on both sides more than most. On the one hand, you guys write catchy pop punk songs. On the other, you have these grand concepts that are unabashedly intellectual. Is there an idea or short-hand that sums up the whole of punk rock for you? Does punk rock survive in a pocket between blue-collar factory shifts and art-school semesters?
Dave: It’s always been difficult for me to allow space for both ‘fun’ and ‘deadly serious’ in my personal summation of punk. While I certainly dig a lot of what might fall under the blue-collar umbrella – Cock Sparrer, Battle Ruins, Criminal Damage, etc. – there’s still an undeniable element of seriousness to those bands. It’s very rare that I’ll embrace say, a silly-hearted pop punk band. I do enjoy some purely bubblegum, sugary music, but it almost always falls outside of what I consider ‘punk’. To me, punk rock is a genuine art form and, to me, art is about catharsis. There’s no way for this not to come off as a snobbish rant and, again, there are certainly exceptions to the rule (particularly from my early teenage years), but to try and offer a direct answer to your question (after that soapbox rambling), I think that punk rock absolutely runs the gamut between the factory and the gallery, but what constitutes ‘punk’ along that line is entirely up for debate. There are hordes of bands, and popular ones, that folks would classify as punk but fall well short of my personal definition. I’d argue (and some might say ironically) that ol’ Mike Burkett summed it up best in what I think is his finest hour: “The notes and chords sound similar / the same forbidden beat but / the desperation’s gone.”