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Misery Signals’ Jesse Zaraska: “We Really Didn’t Know What Sort Of Misery Signals We Would Be”

Jack Rogers
Jack Rogers 5 August 2020 at 14.08

"I don’t think anybody anticipated the desire to get back together would be so strong"

On Friday (August 07) Misery Signals will be releasing their new album 'Ultraviolet' via Basick Records. 

The record will be the first with the original line-up of the band since '04's 'Of Malice And The Magnum Heart' after the return of vocalist Jesse Zaraska and guitarist Stu Ross and bassist Kyle Johnson back in 2014 for a string of shows celebrating the album's 10th anniversary.

Punishing and harmonious, emotional and gutteral, it's an album of immense care and craft from a group of people remembering why they fell in love with making music together in the first place and a testement to the band's legacy that will appease both old and new fans. 

We jumped on the phone with Jesse to talk about his time away from the band, what it was like getting in the studio and what 'Ultraviolet' represents for him and the person he is today...

How does it feel to be at a stage now where this album is about to be out in the world after it simply feeling like an idea for so long?
Says Jesse: "It’s very nice to have music going out to people. It’s very nice to be able to share all of this stuff that we have been doing because it really has been a lot of years in the making. It’s been a lot of work to get to this point. Our age has a lot to do with that and the geographical situation of this band has always been challenging as well. When we were younger we were crazier and we had more time to do whatever. It didn’t matter that two of us were from Canada and three from America. This time around it definitely made things a little bit more challenging.

"It’s kind of a strange thing really because when I first got back into the band, I wasn’t even certain that I was actually back in for good. When we were writing songs we weren’t even certain for the first couple of years that it would be Misery Signals. It was a secret, weird situation, but now it’s nice to be able to talk about it all."

So let’s go back to those first few shows celebrating ten years of ‘Of Malice And The Magnum Heart’ where you were back on vocals. What was the feeling around then?
"I guess we just decided to get back together to do some shows, and when ‘Malice X’ went so well, it was just this hope that things could continue like that. The first year of us being back together was just super hopeful."

How had it been for you watching the band in its other form without you?
"Very surreal. Very hard on the heart. The first time I went to see the guys was when I went to Warped Tour down in Calgary. ['06 album] ‘Mirrors’ had been out for about a year at that point. Up until then I had just shied away from it. I didn’t listen to ‘Mirrors’ or talk much with the guys. I didn’t live in the Misery Signals world at all, and I very much did that on purpose because I was very hurt by what had happened. So to see them the first couple of times was really crazy and weird. As the years went on and we healed our wounds it became easier, but it was never normal. It was always a strange thing to see them performing. It was also hard because after I left was when they started to get bigger and have more success and do these much larger tours.

"So I was burned a lot of the time and it was hard. I always wished good things on the guys and I was happy that they were able to continue making music because they were musicians who I had always looked up even before I made music with them. I always appreciated what they created. But yeah, it was a challenging situation for sure."

It’s not just time that heals wounds but age does as well. Life away from band life helps you to see things differently. The space of time between you being in the band is huge, and there’s a lot of life that has lived in there…
"Yeah certainly. It’s not just two or three years of me being out. It’s a generation. They released three whole records without me. So it makes sense that there are people who came into the band in the Karl [Schubach, ex-vocalist] era, and there are other people who were around before as well."

So when you first started writing for what would then become 'Ultraviolet', what were the first pieces you put together like?
"It was kind of like throwing everything at the wall at once and then seeing what we all agreed on and what would stick. With me being gone for so long, that was just one part of the puzzle. Kyle and Stu had also been gone for a number of years as well. Stu and Ryan [Morgan, guitarist] hadn’t written together in such a long time. Also ['13 album] 'Absent Light’ was such a darker and more metal version of the band, so for us to come in then after was a challenge. We really didn’t know what sort of Misery Signals we would be.

"Early on, I knew that I wanted to have a more positive spin on the lyrics. I wanted to have a lot of melody and a lot of the stuff that was on ‘Of Malice…’. Not to say that the band didn’t do that as the years went on, but some of the more beautiful and dreamy stuff we did was some of my favourite stuff that we did. I wanted to bring that part back.

"So initially it was just Ryan and I emailing riffs back and forth between each other. The first song we wrote was ‘Some Dreams’, and at the time we called it ‘Morphine’. Then a version of ‘The Fall’ was another song written really early on. In the first year we wrote four songs and two of those songs ended up on ‘Ultraviolet’. It was hard to determine early on exactly what all of this was going to be. I think all five of us have different versions of what Misery Signals is, so there was a lot of give and take and communication about what exactly we were going to do. Ultimately though, we just kept on writing songs."

There’s something quite beautiful about being in a position where you didn’t have a deadline. It’s almost like making your debut album all over again. Time is on your side…
"There was some comfort in that, but there were also some different levels of desires that we had. With me being out of the game for so long, when we came back and did ‘Malice X’ I was like ‘Let’s go, I’ll quit teaching for a few years and we will tour’. Whereas that enthusiasm and feeling was not didn’t necessarily go around the whole band at the time. Much like any relationship, there are five different people in this band and there are five different opinions. Everyone has other things going on. Brandon [Morgan, drums] is working with Fall Out Boy and Stu and Kyle are doing Comeback Kid. I’m a teacher and a father and Ryan records bands, is heavily involved in Jujitsu and also has two children. There were all these other priorities that we had to work around to make this happen."

How do you feel your time away from the band and becoming a father affected what you wanted Misery Signals to represent? Does that positivity you wanted in the music come from those different parts of your life?
"I just think that it’s down to growth and age. I shouldn’t say that as people grow up they become calmer and wiser, but I think that with us that did occur. For Ryan and I, fatherhood played a huge part in changing us and examining ourselves. If you look at some of the lyrics that Ryan wrote on ‘Absent Light’, they are about looking at yourself. That’s a common theme. It’s about self-reflection and writing poetry about it.

"For myself, it was a long journey. I was a very angry and messed up young fellow when I wrote ‘Of Malice…’. Touring during those years after the crash, I didn’t have an awful lot of time to heal. I ran away from my problems and just jumped in the van again. Some of that was healing for me because creating art and screaming night after night is healing for me. Though there was also an element of hiding from the crash and from my past and stuff.

"So when I went back to university after the band, those years were very crucial to my development. I have a little brother who is twenty years younger than me, so in those years he was a young guy going to elementary school. The same way that my little girl is changing me now, my little brother was changing me as well. It all just helped me to grow. I’m also an English teacher so in university I was exposed to so much literature. I was forced to read so many great books and novels, and for anybody that does that you’re a changed person. I think every book we read changes us. So for me trying to be an English teacher, the amount I read was insane. It really helps the growth of us as humans. It helped me grow into a better person. When you’re really invested in literature, you really focus on what you’re reading. Those experiences can be just as impactful as regular life. You can learn a great amount from characters and books and movies and art.

"So by the time it came time for ‘Malice X’, I think I was just a much better person. By the time it came for us to write ‘Ultraviolet’ I was an even better person than that. With that came the desire to put forward this more positive and happy message."

The thing is that a lot of people who will have listened to you channelling your feelings into ‘Of Malice…’ all those years back will have done the same thing with their lives. Those people have gone through the same journey as you, albeit different circumstances. So ‘Ultraviolet’ is a record that serves the person you are today as much as it serves the people that listen to the band are today as well…
"I believe that those fans who have been with us for a long time will be able to appreciate it in a way that maybe younger fans don’t yet. I think someone who has been around the entire time can have this sense of joy and happiness for us coming back together and being able to fix these wounds. People who have grown with the band may be able to relate to what this record means on that deep level. There’s still room for angst and sadness in this world, but for me this time I wanted to push that envelope artistically."

So what does ‘Ultraviolet’ represent as a word to umbrella this body of work?
"It’s just the opposite of ‘Absent Light’ really. It’s actual light. We’re able to play those titles off once another and that’s a really cool thing. It’s just something that really happened though. Ryan came up with it and everybody thought it was so fitting."

So what does Misery Signals look like as you move forwards? Now that this chapter is written, where do you turn next?
"I think that Misery Signals is a thing where it felt so good doing it that we wanted to push it. But none of us had anticipated ‘Malice X’ being the success that it was and I don’t think anybody anticipated the desire to get back together would be so strong. So now it’s time to release this record, everybody sort of put everything else they had on their plates to one side. Over the next year we were supposed to be doing quite a bit of touring. The plan was to tour four months this year and four months next year and continue to write what would hopefully be another record.

"With COVID, things have changed drastically. All those tours have been pushed back and we don’t even know if we will tour next year. As fathers and as human beings, we have to think about the future and think about how we take care of our families. Doing the band thing is always a risk. Doing a heavy metal band thing is even more of a risk. So at this point I don’t really know what the future holds. All I know is we have been happy to complete this five year project. There are four or five songs left over from the ‘Ultraviolet’ sessions that we might release further down the line as an EP. That’s something we are discussing as a group right now. We love to play music though, so it’s our hope that life can go back to normal and we can go out and play heavy metal music."

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