Baltimore’s Pianos Become the Teeth is among several noteworthy bands said to be reviving the golden era of screamo. The band offers a notably dark, emotionally draining brand of post-hardcore, to which each member contributes a focused, dedicated approach. Mike, Kyle, Zac, Chad, and David, having driven several hours to play at My Heart to Joy’s recent record release show, were all extremely vocal in sharing their feelings regarding the pressures of being in a band, the process of arranging specific song structures, and in-depth details concerning the band’s current material.
You recently released a split record with The Saddest Landscape. Can you talk about how that release came to fruition? Furthermore, what made you decide to press it on nine-inch vinyl?
MIKE: We were on tour. We had seen that online that they had liked our full-length that had come out, and I was pretty stoked on that because I have been listening to The Saddest Landscape forever, so they contacted us later, the year after we came home, and asked us if we’d be interested in doing a split with them. We agreed, I guess, in August, and then it took us until February to write one song that we wanted to put on that split.
DAVID: They hated us after that.
CHAD: It took six months.
KYLE: We weren’t really being lazy about it, either. It’s just for some reason it took us forever to write that song.
CHAD: To write one song.
ZAC: We had just written a full-length, so every idea we had was like, “No, we just did that.” So it was really hard to write a song immediately after writing a full-length to do it.
MIKE: At least that we were happy with.
ZAC: Yeah, we were really hard on ourselves about that.
MIKE: I think initially it was supposed to be a seven-inch, and then this other record label, Just Say No, said “No, we’ll do a nine-inch. Something crazy. Do whatever you want for it.” It looks great. It took forever for it to come out because of pressing plant issues and stuff like that, but yeah, we’re stoked about the way it came out and the song that’s on it and everything about it.
I talked to Jeremy of Touché Amoré a few months ago, and he told me that putting out split records can be more exciting than putting out those that are singular. What are your own feelings regarding the split record format?
CHAD: I feel like a split’s cool if you want to kind of change the direction of your band. A split’s cool to introduce a new way that you’re going. I feel like a full-length is more…
CHAD: Yeah, more like a focused effort, I guess.
MIKE: Definitely. I mean, I think splits are fun, but I feel like you don’t really get enough out of what a band is doing out of a split. I think they’re awesome to do, especially when you do them with friends or bands you look up to, anything like that. Us as a band, we enjoy diving in and doing as much as we can with a whole record and trying to make an entire idea of a record as opposed to writing three or four songs for a split.
KYLE: On a full-length, you try to be as cohesive as possible, but with a split, you really have nothing to be cohesive with unless you’re trying to match the other band.
ZAC: It can be way more fun. Fun, as in having a good time. Writing, instead of where we do, like right now we’re trying to write a full-length and it’s more frustrating right now.
DAVID: It’s definitely harder to write a full-length.
MIKE: I think it’s because after — with Old Pride especially — when we had started writing that, we had no expectations of anything. We just wanted to write a record, and now we’re…
CHAD: Putting expectations on yourself.
MIKE: Exactly. We have a lot of expectations on ourselves to be like, “No, let’s try doing something like this.” That’s something that we didn’t do on Old Pride.
CHAD: Trying to expand your own sound, you know. Trying to reach outside your boundaries.
DAVID: But it was fun taking that six months to write that one song.
MIKE: We probably had ten versions of that song that we had before the final version.
ZAC: There was so many times we drove home completely angry from those practices, like, “Why can’t we do this?”
MIKE: Zac and I would be driving home, and we would literally not talk the whole way.
CHAD: The beginning of that song was fucking ridiculous, trying to come up with it. Everything was great, and the beginning of that song was terrible.
KYLE: The pressure of having a split ready in time was a big thing. Like with this full-length, we kind of want to get it out sooner rather than later, but if it’s not out when we want it to be, it’s okay, but with a split, another band is waiting on us.
DAVID: There were a lot of times where I was like, “We don’t have a song. Just tell them we can’t do it.”
KYLE: It’s almost like you’re putting something out just to do it and be like, “I really want to put this out.” We’re really happy with it, and we’re glad we put it out, but we don’t want to be forced to put something out that we’re not a hundred percent stoked on.
DAVID: But we’re stoked on it.
MIKE: Definitely stoked on it.
Jeremy also told me that there was talk of releasing a Touché Amoré/Pianos Become the Teeth split sometime in the future. Can you elaborate on the possibility of that split?
KYLE: We’d love to.
ZAC: Jeremy talked to me at The Fest in Florida and said, “We’re really into doing that.” So I’m gonna put that on record so that he remembers that, and that Deathwish was going to be putting it out, so write that down. I feel like we’d all be really into doing that.
KYLE: There’s no definites about it yet.
ZAC: I feel like as a band, they’re some of our best friends. That’s what we’d love to do.
DAVID: Definitely a possibility.
What inspired your decision to create a music video for “Houses We Die In,” and was there ever any talk of doing the same for a song on Old Pride?
KYLE: That song was real old. We wrote that when we pretty much first started the band.
DAVID: The only people on “Houses” originally was Kyle and…
KYLE: I mean, these guys have been in it forever now, but when we wrote that song, it was just me and Mike and some other guys. My buddy Chris approached me and said, “Hey, I want to do a video for you guys,” and we were just like, “Alright. Cool.” For free. The video looked professional, and it looks really well done, but we had a meeting and he was like, “Hey, I want to get together and come up with some ideas for the video.” I love music videos. That’s all I do, watch music videos on Comcast.
CHAD: That’s all he does. He doesn’t work. He doesn’t eat. He just watches music videos.
KYLE: Music videos are important, you know what I mean? So it’s like, I give a whole bunch of ideas. Some of my favorite videos, like, “This is really cool in this video,” or something like that. Really dark lights or whatever. And he put these bright lights in the back, and it’s a really well done video. I just wish we could be more proud of it, because the video was portrayed about a broken home, and that’s not what the song is about at all. None of us come from broken homes. So I guess it’s his portrayal of the song, which is fine, but if we could do it all over again, we would have done it differently, I think. But we’re grateful because it was free. I feel like it has gotten us exposure, and sometimes it sucks that that’s like the one song where people are like, “Oh, play Houses!” And it’s like, “Well, we’re a way better band now.”
DAVID: He basically did it to build his portfolio.
KYLE: It was a win-win for both of us, I guess. I would totally be down for doing a video for something off Old Pride, but I feel like now, the record’s been out for kind of a long time, and if we were gonna do a video, it’d probably be better to do something for one of the new songs on the new record or something like that. We’re not gonna pay for that. If someone approached us, but we’re not gonna go and spend a million dollars on it.
Topshelf Records re-released Old Pride early last year. What were some of the motivations behind re-releasing the record on a new label?
CHAD: I’d say more exposure, basically. We did it on Blackjaw Records. Releasing on Topshelf was more exposure.
DAVID: It was dealing with friends. And it was cool. They helped us out.
ZAC: We still owe them money.
MIKE: It was one of those things where like…
DAVID: Topshelf was way more motivated to put out the album.
CHAD: Topshelf paid for promotion. They definitely wanted to promote the album and get us out there.
DAVID: I definitely feel like they wanted to go the extra mile.
MIKE: They were as stoked on the album as we were, and at the time, too, when we had contacted them, it was such a long shot, being like, “Hey, you’re a label. Our CD is already out. Would you guys be interested in signing us?” And it was a really cool relationship from there. It was a really relaxed thing where they just kind of asked us, “What are your plans as a band?” I always got good vibes from them.
CHAD: Really great dudes.
MIKE: Yeah, really great people.
KYLE: It’s a legit label. Blackjaw, they wanted to help friends out, but they were kind of flying by the seat of their pants in a way, like “Hey, we want to put out records with our friends,” but not really, “We want to start a label.” Topshelf was already doing it. They’re gonna help us be the first band to play on the moon.
MIKE: You can put that on record, too. Fuck you, Muse! [laughs]
Some of your lyrical content seems extremely personal, while at times it comes across as more ambiguous and open to interpretation. When you approach songwriting, are you ever self-conscious or hesitant of sharing things about yourself or people close to you?
KYLE: Yeah. Our new record is very personal. I feel like for all of us, it’s going to be an extremely heavy, personal record. Apart from Old Pride, it’s very straightforward, like, “This is obviously what the song is about.” Select songs on Old Pride are very, “This is what the song is about.” I was trying to be very poetic about it, use metaphors and whatever, but I feel like the new record is, “I’m bummed out. This is what this is about, and this is how I feel.” I feel like before when I was writing lyrics, you try to write good lyrics, but if you focus on writing good lyrics so much, you kind of lose the point of writing lyrics to begin with. You can try to be clever as much as you want, but if you try to rework something so much, you’re losing what the song is about to begin with, you try to make it so good, you know what I mean?
DAVID: And the thing that he’s talked about for the new record, he wants to involve personal stuff for all of us, things that have happened in all of our lives.
ZAC: Being in a band is the best thing that has happened to me. I feel like it’s the most important thing, but also the worst thing of a twenty-five year old’s life. At this point, it’s something that we all gain so much pleasure from and love doing so much, but at the same time…
CHAD: It’s something you devote your life to. You get personal pleasure from it, but at the same time, at twenty-five, you want to be going towards your career.
KYLE: We’re at a point now where we’re not a big band, but we’re at the point now where it’s like, “Alright, we need to just really try to do it because we’re not going to get another chance, and we’d be dumb to stop doing it now. A lot of us in a way feel like this is our last run at making music that means something to us, playing shows, making music with our best friends, you know what I mean. I’m sure we’ll all jam around, but this, at least for me, is probably one of the last bands I really try to push hard with. This is the number one focus in my life. I’ll probably never get this chance again, doing something I love with my best friends. Once that’s over, it’s kind of an excuse to not get on with your life until it’s over.
ZAC: It’s so important to you but it drains on every other aspect of your life so much.
KYLE: It’s a very self-absorbing, kind of selfish thing to be in a band.
CHAD: Girlfriends pissed off…
ZAC: Your friends and family think you’re stupid.
CHAD: They hate you. Parents disown you. Shit sucks. Don’t be in a band.
MIKE: With Old Pride, we were practicing as much as four to five times a week, and it’s like with this new record, it’s starting to turn into the same. Chad and I will get together, write ideas one or two days a week, and then we’ll practice twice a week and after that you have three days a week left to work and do whatever else afterwards. It is a very consuming thing. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
CHAD: It’s definitely like another job.
ZAC: It’s more full time than my real job.
KYLE: Being in a band like this is so much work and there’s so much stuff that you have to worry about all the time. I mean, it’s worth it. It’s a good payoff, but at the end, it’s a lot of work.
DAVID: We’re getting so far off this question.
CHAD: Doing what you want to do in life is the most important thing anyway, so fuck it. If you’re not gonna meet your retirement quota, if you don’t make the amount of money that you want to make when you retire or whatever, if you’re not gonna get the job you want, fuck it. You did what you want to do in your early twenties.
MIKE: I feel like I’d much rather look back when I’m thirty-five years old and say, “I devoted my twenties to something that meant the complete world to me. I saw parts of the world that I would never have seen if I wasn’t in a band. I did it with my best friends in the world. I know people that I graduated high school with who have a kid, or who are going for their master’s program, or getting married.
DAVID: Not that that’s wrong.
MIKE: We just have a different view on how we wanted to go about things.
CHAD: Who thought that they would have been twenty-five and in a band?
ZAC: That’s the big ideal on this record, as far as just every day strains on all of us.
CHAD: When I was twelve, I thought I was going to be twenty-five and married.
KYLE: It’s also weird being in a band where you know, devoting so much time and money, your entire life to something that you know is going to end. It seems retarded when you think about it, like “I’m wasting my life right now, and this band’s going to break up in a couple years.” And I’m not hoping for that. If it happens, awesome, I’m sure we’ll all ride it out, but at some point this band will end.
CHAD: That’s fucked up, man. We’re gonna be the next Taking Back Sunday. We’re all forty-five in a band. Be the next fucking U2.
KYLE: That was way too long of an answer, sorry.
The song “Prev” is unusual from your typical work in that it’s stemmed in elements of shoegaze. As such, it’s hard to make out the vocals. Is there any reason why the lyrics for “Prev” aren’t included in the liner notes of Old Pride?
KYLE: That’s a really good question. No one’s ever asked us that. Thank you for asking that. That’s awesome. That song was… these guys had an idea of what they wanted the song to be like. David wrote the song on drums, and then they wrote the music to it, and that’s the first time we’d ever really done that. It was pretty much composed in the studio. The lyrics… I had them ready to go, but then for some reason… I’d like to say there’s a really deep meaning why they weren’t on there. There’s really not. I kind of came up with it at the last minute.
CHAD: What’s the song about?
KYLE: Not bettering yourself. There’s like four lines in it.
CHAD: I don’t even know what the lyrics are for that song.
KYLE: It’s been a while. It’s, “Start and end the same. Improving to just the way I’ve been. A sojourn in my life. I’ll be too late to sage.” It just means growing up and looking back and being like, “I didn’t do shit.”
CHAD: Well, we’re in this band.
KYLE: That’s what it’s about. I could probably make up an excuse as to why they’re not on there, but it was kind of last minute, so it was like, “Let’s just leave them off.” I never view that song as a full…
DAVID: It’s like filler.
CHAD: He had the drums when we went into the studio, and we didn’t have guitars for it at all. We wrote it in two days, basically.
MIKE: The end of that song was, chord wise, the original idea I had for the end of “Sleepshaker” and we didn’t end up using it. We had a different ending to “Sleepshaker.”
ZAC: When I joined the band in February, they had written the entire song “Sleepshaker” except the ending, and when we went into the studio in May, we had just finished the ending of “Sleepshaker” the week before, and every practice up until then, we’d play that song and then be pissed off about it the entire time, and we could not figure out an ending for that song.
KYLE: I will say that there might be a reference to that song on the new record.
ZAC: There were probably at least a hundred different endings to that song that we scrapped.
DAVID: I’ve heard a lot of people say that that’s their favorite song, which is weird.
ZAC: We’ve only played it live once, and that was with Pygmy Lush in that basement.
KYLE: We should open with that song at some point.
CHAD: We should never open with that song. We haven’t played that in like three years.
KYLE: That might just be the best question we’ve ever been asked.
CHAD: Yeah, you ask very in-depth questions.
When you were arranging the instrumental closer “Young Fire,” did you try to remain conscious of the album’s overall theme? In which ways did you try to implement this consciousness or thematic vision into the song?
KYLE: I feel like that song had a very distinct feel to it. I remember we were all a little weary ending on an instrumental, just because we have all this energy throughout ending on a slow note. Listening to the record now, I’m glad it’s on there, because that’s the way it ends.
ZAC: And those are the final notes of “Jess and Charlie.”
CHAD: The instrumental was also… We didn’t write that before we went into the studio. It was thrown together at the end.
ZAC: We basically wrote the shell of it, the skeleton of it. We had a riff to a certain extent that was kind of built around, that we decided we wanted to end the CD with that feel of it to a certain extent. I remember recording that, and I think all of us had to… Kevin had to put on a click track because it kept changing.
CHAD: Dave’s drums were ridiculous on that song. It was all basically written in the studio. That song and the other instrumental song, “Prev.”
DAVID: For me, it was kind of portraying an ability to be more dynamic, I guess, because for that song, I switched out bass drum beaters, I used different sticks, I switched out some cymbals, I used different brushes.
ZAC: You used the contra-bass drums, too. David works at a musical equipment rental company, and he had a bass drum about the size of this room to record on.
DAVID: I brought it in and everybody laughed at me.
KYLE: I will say for that song, I didn’t really have much to do with that song. Like, I’ll put my input in of what a song should sound like or whatever and change parts, but overall, pretty much just the vocals are what I contribute. I will say, though, that when I heard that song, I named it “Young Fire” because I feel that “Young Fire” is the complete opposite of “Old Pride.” When you’re older, you just have these things to look back on. When you’re younger, you just have this fire and you’re so angsty. Hearing that song made me feel the complete opposite of what the record made me feel.
I apologize if this question has been asked before, but I couldn’t locate an answer. What inspired the name “Pianos Become the Teeth”?
KYLE: Everyone hates our name. Our old drummer came up with it. The basic thing of it is just if you dwell on a problem so much, you become that problem. We get shit for our name all the time.
ZAC: One person — was it the dude from Reptilian? — told us that our name reminded him of in Loony Tunes, when a piano falls on a character, and they get up and they have piano keys as teeth. That’s what that reminded him of.
DAVID: Not because of the Chiodos song.
KYLE: Yeah, it has nothing to do with Chiodos.
ZAC: I have about twenty-five silk-screened posters at my house from that show in Utah, and it’s a skeleton face with pianos teeth and the guy at that show thought that that was so fucking cool, and that’s why we have twenty-five left.
KYLE: We’ve thought that we should just change our name to Pianos because I feel like most people just call us that anyway.
DAVID: We actually thought about that.
CHAD: We probably should do that.
DAVID: Once we all joined the band, we were all like, “Do we want to change the name?”, but then we just decided, “No.”
ZAC: At this point it’d probably be more of a hassle than it’s worth.
MIKE: I feel like people refer to us more as Pianos as it is.
DAVID: And it’s fun reading those blogs that are like, “Stupid-ass name! But the band’s good…”
MIKE: If I didn’t listen to bands that had shitty band names, I wouldn’t have loved half of the bands that I absolutely love. Jimmy Eat World? Jimmy did not eat the world.
KYLE: Archers of Loaf. All amazing bands, just stupid names.
CHAD: Such a good name.
ZAC: Korn with a “k.” That’s genius.
In May, you guys are playing Krazy Fest along with many other awesome bands. How did you end up on the lineup, and do you have any expectations?
CHAD: We have no idea how we ended up on that lineup. Our band is not nearly big enough to be on the lineup, but somehow we got it.
KYLE: The Kenmore Agency picked us up. A dude named Merrick, he books bigger bands. This is pretty much the first thing that’s big that he’s gotten us on. Plus, all of our friends are playing it, so it’ll be a giant party, but we’re stoked.
MIKE: We’re beyond stoked to be there.
KYLE: Plus, Krazy Fest is huge, and it’s the first one in a while.
I think that “New Normal” is a phenomenal song, and it makes me anxious to hear future material from you guys. In a Twitter post from January, you mentioned having a productive band practice. Can you share any details on the material you’re currently writing or working on?
CHAD: It’s terrible. You probably don’t want to hear it. It’s really bad.
ZAC: I’m gonna go ahead and say, because we had practice last night, and I showed up late because I work every Thursday. When I got there they had a song halfway done. This song and the last song that we did that Chad seems to think sounds like The Strokes, and we all disagree with…
MIKE: Completely. Alright, for the record, it doesn’t sound like The Strokes, but…
CHAD: It does.
MIKE: There’s a chord change that he thinks sounds like The Strokes, but it sounds nothing like The Strokes.
ZAC: In my opinion, a lot of it sounds like “New Normal” except there’s a lot more melody in the guitar writing.
KYLE: I feel like it’s not as abrasive as “New Normal.” I feel like “New Normal” is pretty…
ZAC: Boom, in your face.
KYLE: Yeah, boom, in your face the entire song. The newer stuff is very upbeat but a little bit more melodic.
ZAC: At the same time, we have two songs that are very upbeat and two songs that are very dark.
DAVID: I think that Twitter post came from when we wrote a really heavy, dark song.
KYLE: It’ll be a really moody record, I think.
CHAD: His lyrics are going to be very moody, I think.
MIKE: Instrumentally, when you listen to Old Pride, when me and Chad would write, we’d spend a lot of time trying to think of riffs that would coincide with one another, and try to come up with stuff like that. More so now, we’re trying to come up with interesting patterns and structures of chords and trying to make stuff sound full and more focused on writing songs than writing riffs to songs.
KYLE: We’re also getting more comfortable with our own abilities. We’re all at that point where we’re comfortable playing music with each other. It’s really nice.
ZAC: Kyle is… can I throw out the fact that you’re singing on a track?
KYLE: I’m singing on a track. The first take was pretty awful. Singing is way scarier than screaming. It’s just more honest, I guess, and very more open.
CHAD: But you have a good voice, though.
KYLE: Thanks, man. There will be more clean vocals on this record. Like “Pensive,” but a little more clear. I don’t know. Recording is always awful for me because I can never tell what I’m doing.
ZAC: Recording is awful for everybody.
KYLE: There will be more clean vocals. That’s all I can say about that.
DAVID: Back to that Twitter post, I feel like we went through a writer’s block where we weren’t writing, or felt like we weren’t writing good stuff, and then we had this practice where we were like, “This is sick.” And that’s kind of where that came from.
MIKE: It was the one after the intro song.
DAVID: An instrumental intro into a really harsh song.
MIKE: That’s one of the songs that I feel is going to be one of the heavier… For me, the way I feel this record is going to be…
MIKE: It’s going to be really moody. I feel like Old Pride had a certain feeling to it, but I feel like this record is going to be the extremes of both ends. The dark and heavy stuff will be much darker and heavier. The more melodic and catchy stuff will be much more melodic and catchy. People might hate it, but so far, what we have…
KYLE: It sounds like us.
MIKE: It’s not a huge departure.
CHAD: As long as we like it, who cares?
KYLE: Also, it can be kind of intimidating sometimes. This record is not going to be huge, but it’s going to be our most heard record, you know what I mean? Will people who like our band who really like Old Pride like the record? If it doesn’t sound anything like Old Pride, people are going to hate it. You can’t have that mindset when you go to write. You’re like, “I want to write what the hell I want to write about. We’re gonna play songs that we like.”
ZAC: That’s the biggest thing about this band. I came into the fold last out of everybody. When I joined the band, I expected to, first of all, play music with Mike and Kyle who I’d known forever, and never expected anybody to hear our band. Like David said, we wrote a record because we had songs. Like, “Hey, we’re a band. We should record a CD.” And then people liked it, so now it’s kind of weird thinking about writing a CD, thinking that people are going to hear this.
KYLE: It’s weird when you know at least that slight handful of people who are near your band are gonna listen to it and judge it.
ZAC: Also who you respect, too. A lot of people who are friends with us are in bands. Hearing it is a big deal for me. Not any of those people who are fans of our band. Don’t take that the wrong way, but I’m more worried about people who we’re friends with who are in bands.
KYLE: Our peers, I guess.
MIKE: I definitely feel like this is going to be a big year in our friends’ bands, because all of our friends’ bands are putting out albums, like La Dispute, Touché Amoré, Make Do and Mend just put out a record. Defeater. We have all of these incredible bands surrounding us that are putting out incredible albums. It is a lot of fun writing new songs and playing them at practice and thinking, “These are new songs. We haven’t played these.” It’s a really good feeling, and I feel like we are being more nitpicky in these songs just because…
KYLE: You’re gonna be stuck with them, you know what I mean? I will say, though, that we’re more worried about what our peers think about it because people who have never been in a band or talk shit about your band, it’s like, “You’ve never been in a band. You’ve never made music. Suck it. You have no idea how hard it is to write a record.”
MIKE: I’m definitely stoked on the new record. Hopefully everybody else is.
Thank you to Mike, Kyle, Zac, Chad, and David for all their time. Pianos Become the Teeth will play Krazy Fest in May as well as a return to The Fest in Gainesville this October, with a subsequent sophomore LP release that will hopefully hit shelves before the year’s end.