Touché Amoré is all about impact. The songs are short, the words are direct and the band is forever on tour. I'm not the only one who's pointed out that the hardcore band's live performances are wildly energetic, but, oh, they are unforgettable. Bodies pile on top of bodies to share the mic with vocalist Jeremy Bolm, a skinny and effusively gracious frontman who will get right in your face as he screams road-worn confessionals.
On an unseasonably balmy December night in Washington, D.C., I saw Touché Amoré hold the mostly younger Red Palace crowd in the palm of its hand. We had come to hear songs from the band's second album, Parting the Sea Between Brightness and Me, and we knew every single word. I suppose that's not hard given that its 13 songs last just 20 minutes, but not one riff, beat or word is wasted.
Parting the Sea is not, strictly speaking, a traditional hardcore record. Its melodic hooks come out of Built to Spill's best songs, its cathartic urgency comes out of D.C. bands like Rites of Spring, and, ultimately, Parting the Sea looks to the stellar '90s-era Victory Records catalog to get a sense of where it comes from, a sense of communal spirit. Touché Amoré is asking where hardcore was, is and where it wants to go. And that's why Parting the Sea Between Brightness and Me is my personal favorite hardcore album of 2011. Since its release in June, Parting the Sea has been my go-to record no matter what mood I was in, but especially when I wanted to be inspired.
When I interviewed frontman Jeremy Bolm in the band's van around the corner from the Red Palace, Touché Amoré had been on tour, more or less without stopping, since May. That echoes a theme that runs throughout Parting the Sea — as Bolm puts it: "finding the comfort in distance." We also talked about growing older in punk and Bolm's metallic pathway to hardcore and straight edge.
NPR: So I count a number of songs on the new album that deal with the emotional realities of living on the road. And you're really hard on yourself, I think. At what point do you make yourself numb to these distant relationships? Is this how you reconcile them?
JB: That's pretty much the gist of it, yeah. I mean, a lot of the record is pretty much about finding the comfort in distance, I would say. You get to a point where you get so used to it that this is what you consider home because you've become very detached to everything where you lay your head normally. So yeah, definitely a lot of the focus of the record is just about coming to terms with realizing that the nomad life has become the norm.
NPR: When I was listening to the album again today, one thing I noticed reading through the lyrics that I missed before is that you run straight through all the words — there's no chorus, there's very little repetition, there are no wasted words. What does this accomplish for you in Touché Amoré?
JB: The way we've always approached songs: Just to be very direct and very straightforward. And, obviously, there's not a lot of time in our songs — they're fairly short songs. I think half of it has to do with our very short attention spans; like if we play a part six times when we're writing a song, we'll be like, "Eh, it's too long, let's make that four," or if it's four, "let's make that two." Maybe it'll just be a part that just stands out as a really hard-hitting part that I know could have a really impactful line or something like that. And for me, personally, sometimes if you repeat a line it doesn't have as much strength the second time as it does the first time. So that's just where my head is a lot where it comes to lyrics. But then musically, like I said, we don't have a lot of repeating parts due to short attention spans and kind of just all-around ADD with the whole thing, like, "Eh, I think we're good! I think we're done!"
NPR: It almost seems like one long thought, just with different rhythms. Is that why the album is 13 songs in 20 minutes?
JB: Pretty much, yeah. It's getting to the point and getting out. That's the whole idea behind our band always. This is our first headlining tour, and I would say the longest set we've been playing, and it's only a 30 minute set, but we're playing 18 songs, I think, in 30 minutes. We've always been a band that would play a 15 minute set and just be done.
NPR: Those are my favorite!
JB: Oh, yeah! No totally, absolutely. Usually most bands that have blown me away that I've never heard from or seen before that I see that are just in and out I'm just like, "Holy hell!" This is different for us, playing a little bit of a longer set.
NPR: How do you structure a longer set now that you're headlining? What is the dynamic?
JB: I get a lot of fun and I get a big kick out of compiling set lists in a way that it's almost kind of mixtape-y, where songs go into each other creatively. So this set is almost the entire new record, plus about six songs off the last record, and then some songs off of a split 7" we did, but they all flow in a way where there's not a lot of stops. There's only like four stops in the set, and those are only for tuning breaks, basically. A couple of our songs are in different tunings. But it's just tried to be done in a way that it's like one after another and they're all the same tempo, to keep it fast so hopefully it doesn't get boring.
NPR: I interviewed the guys from pg. 99 a while ago, and we touched on how in the last four or five years that the screamo/post-hardcore thing has kind of reared its head, but with much younger musicians who are just coming to it, and Touché Amoré happened to come up...
JB: That's about the most flattering thing in the entire world because they're one of the reasons we're a band. I think I read in an interview with them that they saw us in Virginia and they even said, "Yeah, I could tell that it wasn't their best show." We played first, it was in the biggest room we had ever played, there was bouncer drama — it was kind of a hard night. And then when I read that one of the members of that band was there and saw that, I was like, "Oh, no! I wish he could have seen this in a small room!" But you were saying.
NPR: I actually did that interview! But my question is where do you see Touché Amoré in the span of things? Where does this music go from here? Because this is very youthful music, and I think the reason why it kind of fizzled out when it did about a decade ago is that a lot of those people started to get older, and their heart wasn't in it anymore. So where does Touché Amoré go from here once you've been doing this for a number of years?
JB: That's a great question, and not even just post-hardcore, screamo, whatever — I feel like just punk rock, in general, or hardcore, in general, it is for the youth, though you can always appreciate it when you're older, which is great. You notice a lot of bands don't make it past the second record. Most bands, if they do put out a third record, it's the record nobody wanted to hear because maybe they got experimental or whatever. So I'm sure that'll be our third record: we're going to get weird and call it a day. But I don't know.
I've said this before to the guys in my band, people we've worked with, to anybody, is we've had a lot of luck in the short amount of time we've been a band, with having people help us out, with the tours we've gotten, all this stuff. We've been able to do things that I never ever thought we'd be able to do. So honestly, if our band broke up tomorrow, none of us would be upset about it. I would be happy as hell that we ever got to do anything. It's impossible to put a time stamp on it, but the day this feels more like a job and isn't fun anymore, that's when we'll throw in the towel. That's when the band has to stop because I think sincerity is a very huge part of being in a punk and hardcore band, and the moment you lose your sincerity is the moment you need to stop playing. That is the most important thing, I would say. The day you walk on stage and you're just like, "Ugh, it's just another show," that's when it sucks. And we've been on tour for so long that it hasn't hit us yet, and I'm really hoping it doesn't because every night is amazing in its own way.
NPR: Here's an extremely general question, but I'm curious: What was your path to hardcore?
JB: Well, in junior high you're allowed to get away with having a very eclectic music taste, you know what I'm saying? In junior high only are you allowed to one day wear a Dead Kennedys shirt, the next day wear a Nirvana shirt, the next day wear an Alice in Chains shirt. You're allowed to get away with that. I got into music at a really, really, really early age — I was buying my own cassettes when I was like six. I loved Nirvana, Nirvana was my favorite band, made me want to play music at a really early age. I was born in '83, so I'm a lot older than some of the guys in my band. I'm 28, whereas the guys in my band are like 21-24. And then I got into like NOFX and bands like that later on.
And then I went through a huge metal phase, loved metal — all I cared about, like Sepultura, all that stuff, that was my jam. Through heavy music [I] found bands like Earth Crisis, and that's when I found out about straight-edge, came to straight-edge when I was 14 and found Earth Crisis. They were singing about what I want to do, like I don't want to do drugs, and this band is all about that, that's me. From there I got into the Victory Records' old catalogue, where it was like Earth Crisis, Strife, Snapcase, Deadguy, Bloodlet, opened up that door wide open, and then it kind of just grew from that, like I loved V.O.D., Will Haven, a lot of that stuff.
I still liked metal, but it was at a time where — I'm sure you agree with me — it was like I didn't even meet another straight-edge kid until I was like probably like 18. At that time, in high school, there were no hardcore kids for me. I was the one lone kid. Me and my best friend, who got into Earth Crisis at the same time, we were both straight edge and that we as just us, because no one knew what any of that was. I think it'd be crazy being young now, having it be so accessible because of the Internet, having music be so accessible, because then, as I know you agree, the only way I found out about bands was reading bands' thank-you lists, and then I would go find their CD and hoped it was good. So that's kind of the genesis of how I got into hardcore, was through metal and whatever. A lot of kids get into punk music, they have their Epitaph punk phase, and then it goes into hardcore, but mine spawned from metal and built from there.
NPR: What is next for Touché Amoré once you're done always being on the road? Do you have any idea?
JB: I have no idea, man. Like I said, when I get home we're going to try to write a couple songs, maybe put out a new 7" in 2012 if we can actually make it happen, then we go to Europe with Rise Against! in end of February, March, maybe try to do something towards the end of the year, but I think we're going to let Parting the Sea kind of hang for a bit before we try to put out another record. We're going to focus really, really hard before we put out a new record. I'm just going to assume we'll probably be on tour for most of 2012 too, knowing us. There's some places we haven't been before that we're really going to try for like Japan and Malaysia and places like that that have always been a dream for us. So we're really going to hope it happens.
Touché Amoré has a few U.S. tour dates left and will take a well-deserved deserved month off before the band hits up Europe again in February 2012.