Interview: Pianos Become the Teeth

Three months ago, Pianos Become the Teeth released their stunning followup to Old Pride. Refining the post-rock elements and sharpening the lyrical focus to be more direct, The Lack Long After is an incredibly weighty, touching and personal record with as much heart as its predecessor. It is a powerful, emotional record about the gut-wrenching challenges in confronting and subsequently accepting loss. It is also musical catharsis at its best, a testament to the transcending potential of the post-hardcore genre, and a record that will encourage you to remind your closest relatives of how much you love them. I spoke with the band in Hamden, Connecticut, to reflect upon the record’s completion and how it has informed the band’s perceptions of being engaged to such an absorbing aspect of their lives.

When you were writing The Lack Long After, you were concerned with how your peers would respond to the record. How did it feel to receive recognition and praise from such people as Geoff Rickly of Thursday?

MIKE: Weird.

CHAD: We were all excited about it, because Thursday’s one of our biggest influences, I feel, collectively. It was pretty cool to hear that somebody who’s influenced you so much respects what you’re doing.

ZAC: It’s pretty crazy.

It took six months to write “New Normal.” Was the writing process for The Lack Long After equally agonizing, or did it get easier as it went along?

DAVID: I think with “New Normal,” we were focusing on one song, just trying to pick apart that song. That was changed around so much. For The Lack Long After, we had a bunch of different songs that we were working on, so we were constantly going back and forth between songs. So it was definitely less painful writing the whole album. Plus, it was like three months before we were in the studio, right?

ZAC: We started before we left the Fest last October.

MIKE: But we didn’t really start until like January or February.

ZAC: It was hard getting it going.

DAVID: Once we kind of got into a groove…

MIKE: I feel like with Old Pride, we were like, we’ve got to write this CD, let’s just do it. Let’s just write it. And we wrote it very quickly. It only took a couple months. We were practicing all the time doing it. This record, it was more so we would go to practice, things wouldn’t come out, it wouldn’t be like we’ve got to force something to put in this part. It’d just be like, “Well, this practice sucks. Let’s go home.” So we’d go home and hopefully the following week we come up with something that would fit that part. It was definitely agonizing when we were like, “We definitely need to be in the studio by this point,” because none of us wanted to go on tour in the fall touring behind the same record we’d been touring behind for a year and a half to two years. So in order for that to happen, we needed to be in the studio by August, no if, ands, or buts about it. We had to do that, and so we had to book the time and pretty much work under that deadline, which I think is a good thing and a bad thing, but probably more so a good thing for us.

KYLE: That’s what I was going to say. I feel like if we don’t have a deadline, we’ll just, not take our time, but it’ll take a lot longer than it would if we had this thing in mind down the road, like we have to have it done by this time.

When I last spoke to you guys, you mentioned that because of the consuming nature of being in a band, there’s often a strain put on your relationships with friends and family, and yet The Lack Long After is largely a tribute to family. Have your families responded more approvingly of the band in light of the gratitude you express in the lyrical content?

KYLE: I think most of my family members who have read the lyrics and heard the music, they really appreciate it. It’s definitely a very personal record, so they take to it more so than just any other record, I suppose. I think they’re supportive of it because we’re pushing it so hard, and they know it means something to us. My mom called me after she read the lyrics and broke down because of how hard it was to read, but she’s happy that I wrote it. It’s a weird thing.

I’ve been interpreting the title as the overwhelming feelings of loss and regret one experiences after a loved one has passed away. Is that an accurate interpretation, and did you have the record’s title in mind before you wrote the first verse of “I’ll Get By”?

KYLE: We had written that song… we were pretty much done, close to being done with writing all the songs, and then we were trying to think of record titles, because we wanted to come up with the perfect name to summarize the whole thing, and that was one of the lyrics I had. We were writing down random ideas from lyrics, and that one seemed to stick a bit more. I feel like overall it summed up everything pretty well.

The photograph on the cover of The Lack Long After perfectly illustrates the themes of anxiety and immobility that have been prominent on both of your full-lengths. Can you talk about the art direction for this record, and how the photograph came about?

KYLE: Chad’s girlfriend Dani took all the photos for it. We had the idea in mind of what we wanted to do. The picture on the front, because my dad was bedridden, it’s supposed to symbolize his legs. The mirror in the window, my dad had a mirror outside of his window so that he could look in the mirror and see in the backyard. That’s more or less what that’s about. We wanted to kind of capture that. The other stuff, I feel like we just thought it looked really nice. It complemented everything really well.

CHAD: We shot that during, what was it?

MIKE: It was a hurricane.

ZAC: Yeah, it was a hurricane.

CHAD: It’s in my parent’s house. Those are Kyle’s feet in the picture.

MIKE: Yeah, we walked out in the middle of a hurricane on the middle of a jetty, and was just like, “This is a terrible idea.”

CHAD: You can’t really see it in the CD version… you can’t really even see it in the full vinyl version, but it’s raining so, so hard. I had to stand out. My girlfriend was squatted down taking pictures of him out on the rocks. I was holding an umbrella sideways because the wind was blowing so hard. It was getting onto our cameras, so we had to protect it.

KYLE: I was trying not to fall in the water the entire time.

MIKE: We were out there for like two hours, two and a half hours, and we were immediately soaked.

CHAD: Everybody’s freezing cold. Kyle was wearing a t-shirt.

KYLE: Yeah, so the front cover’s that, and the back cover’s supposed to symbolize what used to be there and isn’t now.

Musically, The Lack Long After sounds a bit more direct and immediate than Old Pride, which was built more upon some elements of post-rock. You’ve also done away with instrumental tracks. Were these decisions discussed in advance, informed by a change in predominant influences, or just the natural progression of the band’s style?

CHAD: I don’t think it’s conscious that you do that, you know what I mean? When we got together, that’s just what came out. It was more immediate stuff. We all had the general theme of the record in mind when we were writing, so we were like, “This record’s gonna be a very sad record. Let’s try to write music that’ll fit with the general theme.”

KYLE: For instrumental tracks, we talked about it, but there wasn’t really one track where we were like, “There should be an instrumental track.” I don’t think we’re still opposed to that, but at the same time, I feel like, if it’s not necessary, we weren’t really worried about it. We just wanted to write a full-length record.

ZAC: I feel like we in general wanted to go in a more straightforward, whatever we wanted… it didn’t have to be this or that. We wanted to be just straightforward, to do the record that we wanted to do, but no expectations.

DAVID: I think also we wanted to write a CD that was all songs that we could play live. Not have like “Prev,” that’s a song we’ve never played live.

ZAC: “Young Fire.”

DAVID: “Young Fire” we’ve never played. We wanted songs that we could rotate out and play live.

KYLE: We could play any of these songs.

DAVID: I think we’ve played them all so far.

CHAD: Yeah, we have.

KYLE: For our record release show in Baltimore, we played it from front to back. It was really neat, because we’d never done anything like that before. I think it proved that all these songs we feel comfortable playing live. On this tour we’re playing at least four songs off that record.

MIKE: I think it’s really cool too, about playing a record from front to back, especially at that show, being able to see the response that people had to the record as a whole, not necessarily the songs as individual pieces. It was definitely really cool. Especially personally, it was really a proud moment for our band, to be able to do something like that and have people receive it so well.

KYLE: As whatever as it is, it’s really an awesome thing to sell out The Ottobar. I don’t know if you’ve heard of The Ottobar, but it’s in Baltimore. It’s the venue that we kind of grew up to, grew up going to shows at. When a tour came through, you’d usually go to The Ottobar. To play there and sell it out and be surrounded by your friends, and play with other bands that you respect, it was a really proud night for us. It was awesome.

The video for “I’ll Be Damned,” which is comprised mostly of tour footage, premiered in October. Do you prefer tour footage-based videos to those that are concept-based, and would you be interested in doing either for another song off The Lack Long After?

CHAD: I think tour footage suits us much better than concept videos.

ZAC: We also have talked with Mitchell. There are concept videos that I feel like we’d definitely do, so we’re not opposed to it. Me personally, I always like tour-footage videos better anyway.

CHAD: They’re way funner to watch.

KYLE: I feel like I would be okay with doing a concept video if we had pretty much total control over the creative… we’ve done that once before, and we’re thankful and grateful, but at the end of all of it, it’s not how we wanted it, and you can’t take it back once it’s out. I feel like if we did something like that, it’d be like, “Alright, we don’t like this. We do like this. This isn’t us at all.” I want to be pretty much in total control if we did something like that again. I think videos are cool though. I’d love to do videos.

If you had to do a video for a song from The Lack Long After, which song do you think you would pick?

KYLE: I don’t know. We’re going to Europe soon, and there’s a guy who’s supposed to be coming with us to the U.K. to do tour footage. I don’t know if that’s going to be made into a video or what, and I don’t even know if that’s definitely happening, but we were talking about what song we want to do, and I don’t know.

CHAD: “I’ll Get By” would be cool, but that would be really hard to put tour footage to.

DAVID: I think it could work.

ZAC: I feel like “Good Times” would probably be a good one.

CHAD: That would be a good one.

KYLE: I feel like really any of them could work, I guess. Just pick a song, I guess. I don’t know.

Now that you have two full-lengths under your belt, critical acclaim for both, and a loyal fan base, do you feel that your commitment to the band has been in any way strengthened? Do you feel more or less pressure from having produced those accomplishments?

KYLE: These are really good questions. I feel like our answers aren’t adequate for the questions (laughs). I don’t think it’s made us any more committed. I feel like if you’re not committed in the very beginning, as cliched as that is, then it won’t last long anyway. Maybe the reason why we’re doing so well is because we’ve pushed it so hard from the beginning, and how much we care about it. I guess in a way maybe it makes touring a little bit easier when you have a handful of people who are excited about your band in each city. It makes it a little bit easier. But overall, I don’t know if the success of the records has made it easier to be in the band, you know what I mean? If anything, the more successful your records are, the more busy you become as a band, and the more stressful everything in your life becomes, because you’re successful.

CHAD: Especially with a small-time band like us. It’s not a lucrative venture to get into.

KYLE: And we still have a long way to go. I think we’ve definitely done a lot in a little time, but I don’t think any of us view our band as being like, “Man, we’re just blowing up, doing these huge things!” We don’t view our band like that. We’re just a bunch of turds trying to tour and have fun and make it become a little bit successful while we can.

After your Canadian and European tours, you’ll be returning to play a few dates on the East Coast with Converge. Is the prospect of traveling to so many different places in such a short amount of time exciting, or intimidating?

KYLE: A little bit of both.

DAVID: It’s going to be weird to kind of be all over the place in such short time, but it’s definitely really exciting.

ZAC: I think it’s really cool though, because those Converge dates are three areas that are three of the best areas to play on the East Coast, and on top of that, none of them are more than three and half to four hours from where we live…

DAVID: And it’s Converge…

KYLE: We’d drive to the middle of the country just to play with Converge.

ZAC: We got really lucky with that. We get home from Europe and it’s not like we have to drive to California to start another tour or something like that.

MIKE: I don’t think it’s really even sunk in yet that we’re on tour.

KYLE: Today’s our second day.

MIKE: Yeah, it’s our second day. We’ll be home in about two weeks for…

DAVID: A day.

MIKE: A day. We’ll be home for like a night, and then another night, and then we go to Europe, so realistically, we’re gonna be gone until like April, but it hasn’t really sunk in yet that we’re actually gonna be gone…

ZAC: It doesn’t feel like that, though. With the Touché Amoré tour, we were gone for like 54 days straight. I feel like this is like — 14 days? — a cakewalk. But then I feel like in five days from now, it’s gonna be like, “Wow. I really am gonna be gone for a month.”

KYLE: It’s almost a tease, too, to go home for a day and then go back out. We did that on the Touché tour. We were home for a night or two, and then went back out on tour for another ten days. We love tour, but once you get a taste of home, it’s like, “Alright, I’ve been out for over a month. I’m ready to stay home for a little bit rather than go even farther away from home just to drive back. With this one, it’s a little bit better, because we’re home and then we’re going to Europe, so we’re still on tour, but it’s a different tour, kind of.

ZAC: It’s like two tours.

KYLE: It’s bittersweet because you get to see the people you love and miss, but at the same time it’s like, “Cool. See you later!”

Mike, you recently opened up Up in Them Guts, a recording studio in Baltimore. Do you have any plans of engineering future Pianos releases?

MIKE: I’ll never record one of our records. I feel like I’m just around the entire process of us writing it, practicing all the time. I’d rather have somebody, like with Kevin (Burnsten), who’s the guy we’ve always gone to for the past two records and our split. He’ll hear the pre-production stuff, but that’s all he’ll hear, and then when we come into the studio, he’ll have a different vision as to what we want to do. If we want to make the record sound this way, he’ll find a way to do it, as opposed to me being like, “Well, this is how the song sounds, so this’ll make sense.”

KYLE: He has a very unbiased ear, which is good, and he typically doesn’t listen to or record bands like us. For the most part, he records heavier stuff. It’s cool to have an ear that like, he doesn’t care. These songs are what they are.

MIKE: It’s really hard to get the best result you can when you are there constantly, recording something. Kevin would be able to be like, “This part sounds really cool. Maybe we could try overdubbing another part on top of this,” or something like that, where it’s like, maybe I wouldn’t have thought of that. I’ll record all of our pre-production stuff anytime we’re about to record an album, anything like that. I’ll do that so we can all have a copy to listen to to hear if there’s anything we want to change or if everything flows okay, but as for something that we’re actually going to release, I feel like having somebody else that’s gonna be able to give an unbiased ear to is probably the best way to go. I mean, it works for some people. It works for Converge. At the same time, he (Kurt Ballou) also has an incredible studio and limitless time. If I had my own studio and it didn’t cost us anything to do anything, then yeah, I’d record us, because we would take months to do it.

KYLE: I feel like it’s easier for you probably, just to have to focus on recording or playing your parts the way it sounds.

MIKE: Exactly.

CHAD: It’d be extra stressful for you.

DAVID: It’s definitely good to have a fresh set of ears.

Do you have any new material in the works, or are you focused solely on touring for the time being?

CHAD: We’re starting to write new stuff now, but I think our main focus is going to be tour, for the next few months, at least.

MIKE: The record technically just came out like two and a half months ago. It’s weird because we’ve been writing and playing these songs for a while now, so it already feels older to us, but it’s still completely new to everybody else. I’m sure we’ll start writing. We’ve started throwing around ideas and stuff.

KYLE: We might do a split or something, but overall, we’re gonna let this record sit for a little while, just because we worked hard on it, and it’s still super fresh, and we’re gonna be doing a lot of touring. There might come a point where we write on the road, depending on how much we tour. The five of us, we have a very specific way of writing. Knowing us, we might come up with riffs on the road, but I doubt we’ll ever write anything substantial on the road. We have to be in a room together and be like, “No. Yes. No.”

ZAC: Stare at each other for 25 minutes.

CHAD: I don’t think we’ve ever written anything on the road.

KYLE: Never.

MIKE: (to Chad) Well, you and I wrote a very small part in “Sunsetting” in Europe.

CHAD: Which part?

MIKE: The part at the end. We wrote that in Europe. The part right before the heavy part at the end.

CHAD: I remember trying to do that on a U.S. tour and having it just be terrible.

KYLE: Right now we’re just focusing on touring, just trying to push this record.

Thank you to Mike, Chad, Zac, David and Kyle for speaking with me again. Pianos Become the Teeth is currently in the middle of a Canadian tour, after which they will head to Europe before returning to the East Coast for three dates with Converge. On top of this, the band recently announced dates in the Southeast, where they will be supporting Coheed and Cambria and Moving Mountains in May. Be sure to pick up The Lack Long After, out now on Topshelf Records.

About Anthony Glaser

Anthony Glaser is a writer, blogger, and journalism major from Long Island, New York. Formerly the interviews editor at National Underground, he contributes to Substream's web and print editions. He spends the average day working, writing, playing video games, listening to Converge, and watching The Sopranos. He likes cats. Follow him on Twitter. View all posts by Anthony Glaser

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