Wednesday, August 26, 2020

9 songs: Tom Schlatter

Tom Schlatter (You & I, The Assistant, Hundreds of AU and a whole bunch of other bands) collaborated with 108's vocalist Rob Fish in a new project called Every Scar Has a Story. Their debut self-titled EP was released in June on Equal Vision Records. Here's the list of 9 songs that got Tom into emo.

Lifetime - Myself

When people talk about Lifetime nowadays they like to leave out the band's early melodic hardcore roots. However, I'd like to call attention to "Background" the band's first LP as a masterpiece, filled with some of the most emotional hardcore I had heard up until that time. It’s sort of like if Turning Point's "Behind This Wall" was a full album. Every song is so well crafted, it's like a blueprint for the "youth crew gone emo" sound that so many others tried to replicate. “Myself” is such a good representation of all the key ingredients; the somber bass line, the mixed tempos, the sing along chorus, it’s all there.

Ashes - Sometimes

Ashes was the first band that I remember being exposed to in which lovely operatic vocals surged over DC inspired hardcore. The band made the combination work flawlessly. I was a huge fan of the S/T release, so a friend purchased a copy of 1994's "Hiding Places" for my birthday that year. After rushing home with impatience from school that day I placed the slab of clear vinyl on my turntable. Instantly a movie sample from the television production of Stephen King's IT played, setting the stage for the LP. "Sometimes" started, showing that the band had totally mastered their craft. I think at that point I had decided that my goal was to be able to scream like Brian McTernan did on this album. It’s such a powerful, tortured scream, you can really tell that a catharsis is channeled in a very authentic way. 

Endpoint - Remember

One of the forgotten gems of the 90’s is a band from Louisville, Kentucky called Endpoint. Louisville during the 90’s was a hot bed of bands playing very unique emotive hardcore (Falling Forward, Empathy, Enkindel, etc) but Endpoint was the standout for me. Like Lifetime, they had that mix of classic hardcore with more melodic sensibilities, but Endpoint clearly took it in their own direction. “Remember” is a song drenched in emotional lyrics about growth and introspection. Even today, 25 years after hearing it for the first time, it still has such a strong sentiment. 

Lincoln - Sugarloaf

Around 1994 I was well deep in the hardcore influenced emo sound with the bands I’ve mentioned already. But there was a more noise driven, artsy take on the genre happening that I hadn’t discovered yet. Like all discoveries in the 90’s regarding music, trading mixed tapes was a huge way to find music. A friend of mine had made a mix tape with a lot of metallic hardcore bands, but the stand out on the tape was this artsy, noisy emo band called Lincoln. It was unlike anything I had heard before. It had the experimentation of some of the alternative rock of the 90’s, but also carried a sound that was very much influenced by hardcore. “Sugarloaf” was the first song I had heard by them and immediately I was drawn in. The panicked chord styles, the off key vocals, super impressive drumming; it all made for an amazing sound. This was the gateway into what people would later call the “Ebullition” style, even though this record was put out by Art Monk.

Dag Nasty - The Godfather

At this point I was going to shows pretty regularly. There was no youtube or wide internet usage just yet so we pretty much found out about bands from seeing what t-shirts people were wearing, trading mixtapes, reading liner notes and talking to friends. I was telling my friend about how I really liked bands like Lifetime, Ashes, Endpoint, etc. He looked at me and said “oh yeah, all the EMO stuff”. I had never heard this term before. He explained to me the root of all this came from Dischord records bands like Rites of Spring, Embrace and Dag Nasty. I ran to the store and picked up the first Dag Nasty record I saw, “Wig Out At Denko’s”. The opening track was “The Godfather” and it was immediately clear to me how this music had influenced what was going on today. The guitar work was very compelling to me, as it retained a level of somberness and aggression, but existed outside of the basic power chords of typical hardcore. It was almost clean enough for radio, but just raw enough to still be true and resonate outside of what top 40 music would offer.

Indian Summer - Angry Son

As I delved further into the genre and into the neighborhood of bands like Lincoln, Still Life, Franklin, etc, I found Indian Summer. “Angry Son” was the first song I heard to execute a specific formula that many bands after have tried to emulate. The first aspect was that the song is just one single chord progression. It’s played very quietly, then built up, then played with an intensity, then goes back down to quiet to start the cycle over again. It’s so basic, yet so powerful. The second aspect was the almost inaudible spoken word which sprinkles the quiet parts of the song. These two ingredients put together made for an experience that, rather than lean on technical songwriting, embraced the idea of creating an atmosphere and a mood with very simple tools. “Angry Son” is still so powerful to me because of the success it has in pulling this formula off. 

Grade - Weave

My introduction to grade was in the mid 90’s on their split with Believe. At that point Grade was playing your typically heavy hardcore, though every now and then you heard small springs of melodic efforts. “And Such is Progress” was their first full length LP and we expected more of what they had done before. We were totally caught off guard though. “Weave” opens the record with beautiful clean guitar, a flowing bass line and simplistic drums. The canvas the band was putting together was excellent. But, out of nowhere, screamed vocals interrupt the beauty and rage over the quiet music. I had never heard someone scream over a beautiful clean part. It was so disorienting to me at first. “Why is he screaming over the quiet part?” I thought because I had been so used to the Indian Summer formula over quiet talking over those parts. Within a couple years so many bands would start doing gut wrenching screams over clean guitar parts that it practically became normal. Grade was the first band I heard do it though, and because of that every time I listen to “Weave” I feel that same feeling of hearing it for the first time.

Mineral - If I Could

Few records really define the late 90’s emo for me more than Mineral’s “The Power of Failing”. When I first heard it I recall being floored by how each song was better than the one before it. From a sound perspective it was like what would happen if Sunny Day Real Estate was less polished, more raw and relatable. The intensity of “If I Could” was something that I think is still unmatched. As the verse gets more intense and builds there is a rising of emotion that explodes when the band goes all out into the chorus. The pauses around the 4.5 minute mark to allow for the vocals to lead the line “and I know I don’t deserve this” is songwriting engineering at it’s best. 

Penfold - I'll Take You Everywhere

I befriended the band Penfold in the late 90’s when my band played a couple shows with them. Their release “Amateurs and Professionals” put them on the map with an excellent take of what they could do with the Mineral/SDRE emo sound. In particular, “I’ll Take You Everywhere” became an anthem at many New Jersey DIY shows during the late 90’s and early 00’s. The song’s layout features a very subdued composition for the duration featuring clean guitars and floating bass lines. Abruptly the rhythm stops and a buildup of guitars begins just before launching into an upbeat anthemic vocal performance. Lyrically there’s a theme of realizing how much you miss what’s no longer present. As we screamed these lyrics in hot basements as young kids I felt like we were all acknowledging the present and expressing thanks for the moment. The notion of the lyrics making us more grateful for what we had in that moment was so powerful. “Is it too late to show you that I care, and I wish I knew ahead, because I think it would be better if you had never left at all”.

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