"I think we still stand on our own" - Jeremy Bolm
Touché Amoré have just released their fifth full-length album 'LAMENT' via Epitaph.
Following up '16's brutally honest and beautifully vicious 'Stage Four', 'LAMENT' finds the band at their most expansive, open and gripping. Allowing frontman Jeremy Bolm to exorcise, examine and update lyrically while the rest of the band push the boundaries of what a Touché song feels like, it's nothing short of a triumph of heavy music, sending shivers up the spine as much as it offers a helping hand.
We chatted to Jeremy about the often difficult process of following up a record like 'Stage Four' and how this new era of the band started to take shape piece by piece...
How does it feel having this body of work out in the world?
“Excited is the easiest word to use, but it’s been interesting. Usually that break between finishing and recording a record and it coming out is painful and it takes forever. But there’s so much work that has gone into getting all of this lined up. From the artwork to the music videos, it’s all been none stop. Also the pandemic is making this year the slowest year of our lives but also the fastest year of our lives too. I feel like September was such a blur and then all of a sudden here we are. Once we put out ‘Limelight’ the timespan just shrunk. I’m just excited for everybody to hear it. I’m nothing special in saying that it’s my favourite record but it is.”
So where did the first glimmers of this record appear from? At the end of the ‘Stage Four’ cycle were you even thinking about what was coming next?
“I think the starting point was the same as it is for most bands, where you just look at the years that have gone by. In the early career of Touché we had so much output constantly. We would do an album then the next year we would do a couple of splits and then we’re on tour the whole time. So it was probably the end of 2018 when we first had the conversation of, ‘Should we start thinking about a next record’, but we were so busy, with different tours and festival runs, that we thought that there was no point slowing down. We decided to wait until things slowed down and there was an opening and space to work on a record.
“It was early 2018 when we wrote the song ‘Green’, which was a one off single, and that was used as an exercise to see where we actually were and what we could actually come up with. That was stressful for me because it was the first song since ‘Stage Four’. What am I going to write about? What direction do I want to go? That song was built off a poem that I wrote and put out just because I simply didn’t know where to start.
“Then it was 2019 when we started thinking we should write a record so we put together a couple of songs. They were ‘Deflector’ and ‘Limelight’ and I’m pretty sure we wrote ‘Come Heroine’ as well. So we aimed to go into the studio in the summer, but then that was when we talked about doing the ‘...To The Beat Of A Dead Horse’ thing. That’s when we realised that there was no way that we were going to be able to put all of this off if we want to do it correctly. You want to be able to step away for a minute and give the audience breathing room without things overlapping. So when we re-recorded ‘…Dead Horse’, we did a bunch of pre-production demos. I’ve been asked if that re-recording informed any of the direction on this record and it didn’t because we knocked that out so fast due to being more interested in developing the album. I think we recorded that in a day, a day and a half. Then we did a few East and West Coast shows for the album and thought, ‘Well, we can go into the studio in the fall’, but then we got offered the Deafheaven tour in Europe. So we did that. Then we said, ‘Let’s do the album in the winter’ and we got offered the La Dispute tour in the US. So did that and pushed the recording to the start of this year.
“That was great for me because I was having a really tough time actually getting started. It’s such an intimidating thing to look at because I wrote, arguably, the most personal record that I will ever write. In my brain I’m always thinking, ‘I need to write some better and more impactful’ or, ‘I need to connect with people on that same level as that’, but there’s no way of going back and have that intense of a thing again, and to be honest I don’t want to. I don’t want another thing to happen in my life where I have to write like that again. When I was stressing about it I went to a bunch of my musician friends and got their advice, and the short of it was that I had to remind myself that I don’t need to write a record that is this or that. I just needed to write a good record. I just needed to write something that I could be proud of. That helped me out and allowed me the freedom to step out of the headspace of this album needing to be this or that or even one specific thing. ‘Parting The Sea Between Brightness And Me’ isn’t, ‘…Dead Horse’ certainly isn’t. I needed to embrace that freedom again.”
Well what you have written about more than anything is life and the different aspects that make up your life now. Though that in itself is half the battle, because so many bands struggle to get back to that level ground after going in as deep as you did on ‘Stage Four’…
“Yeah, that’s pretty fair. There were times when I was writing this record that I was pretty low because I was struggling simply to get started or to do anything that I actually thought was worth a damn. It’s sometimes hard for the guys in my band to understand that. Not that I blame them, they’re working so hard on the music and if I’m behind they’re like, ‘How’s lyrics coming?’ There are times when I have to remind them that I’m having to exist within the worse parts of myself all day for this, because that’s what I’m thinking about and that’s where all of my writing has come from. I have to sit and ponder all of the things that are not fun to thing about. Though there are also songs on this record that were easier to come out because they’re written about the better parts of what I’ve got.”
How much of an effect did those early moments of testing the waters have on the overall bigger picture? ‘Deflector’ for example…
“Anytime that you finish a song within the writing process and it feels good and it works, it does motivate you and make you feel more confident in what you’re doing. All those cadences land in a way that you feel proud of you get that feeling that you haven’t lost it. There’s a song on the record called ‘Feign’, which is literally about that imposter syndrome that so many of us feel. When I sit down to write, that’s always the thing that’s in the top of my head. ‘Can you still do this? This is your fifth record. Is going to matter as much?’ You convince yourself of all of these different things. So when you do get going and they do start to fall into place, it only helps to get you over to that next step more confidently.
“There are songs on here that went through so many changes. ‘Reminders’ was a cursed song straight up. It went through so many iterations when we were all practicing. It was a song that Nick [Steinhardt, guitar] wrote and there have been times throughout our discography when he has brought something that’s pretty poppy. It’s one of those things where I say, ‘Of course I like this, but what am I going to do over this?’ I deal with that often. The guys are their own beast and come up with some of the coolest stuff that I’m so honoured to be able to sing on, but there are times where it’s such a challenge. Not to drag myself down too much, but I’m just yelling. Those guys have grown in their own ways and become so interesting and talented and I’m still just yelling [laughs]. If you put a different vocal on ‘Reminders’ it could easily be a Jimmy Eat World song.
“When we went into the studio with Ross Robinson that was the first song we worked on because it was the one we were having the most difficulty with. Ross asked what song we wanted to start with and I was like, ‘Let’s do ‘Come Heroine’ because it’s the first song on the record and we all know that it’s done and have no problems with it’. That’s when he asked which one we have the most trouble with and when I said ‘Reminders’ he said, ‘Let’s start there, it’s only going to get better from there’.
“So basically, as each song goes on you start to feel a little bit better about it. So doing a song like ‘Deflector’ so early on and knowing that it was most likely going to be on the record made us feel as though whatever the whole thing turned out to be, we knew that song at least was awesome. That’s a good confidence booster.”
Working with Ross on that song must have helped as well…
“Yeah, his input on it really did transform it in a lot of ways. It added at least a minute and made it so much more interesting. So we knew we had Ross who was going to make sure that we were going to make something that we’re so proud of and if we’re able to pull off something like this in just two or three days with him, then we’re going to be all good.
“I would have conversations with Ross before we even went in the studio where he would remind me, ‘I’ve got your back. We’re not going to do anything that you’re not so excited about.’ He would say ‘If there’s a song that you think is pretty good, we’re going to work on it until you’re fucking psyched on it’. He reminded me that he’s always going to have my back on this, which was really nice to hear mainly because he’s such an intimidating person.
“We’ve never done an album to tape, you know? We’re in the age where the budget means that shit like that simply doesn’t exist unless you’re The 1975. Also we’re a band where the longest we have ever been in the studio was on ‘Stage Four’ and that was just under three weeks. With Ross, from start to when we had fully finished, it was two and half to three months. He just didn’t want to stop. Once the lockdown happened particularly, he was going in everyday and tinkering and adding things and calling me and asking if I wanted to do in and work on this one thing.
“What I’m getting at is that the budget for albums in 2020 is shot. We all know that Ross has been paid pretty well for records in his career and he told us early on that he’s fortunate enough to be able to live his life off the albums he’s made in the past. He just wants to make cool shit. We were renting the studio that we were recording at, so he was having to pay a daily fee for it, he was covering the cost of tape and all these other things that felt weird because in my heart I knew he wasn’t making any money off our record. I would say, ‘ I don’t want to be taking advantage of you’ and he would say, ‘You’re not, I’m living for this’. He simply didn’t want to stop.”
How do you feel as though your own relationship with the band and the process adapted over the years leading up to this point? How has the process of making this album shifted that as well, if at all?
“I think it’s like most situations now where you talk about how fast time has gone because of COVID, I think it’s the same thing with us. We just know each other so well at this point, and what I hope we never lose is the nervousness that comes with working on a record. There’s a million bands who are this far into their career who are comfortable going in and doing a record that they know has a couple of good songs and the rest are just fine. I could never imagine doing an album knowing that there’s filler on it. For us, we take everything so seriously that we won’t even consider it. I think, when I really consider it, that ‘Stage Four’ was the first record where we told ourselves we weren’t going to record it until all five us loved every single part and every single song. ‘Is Survived By’ was the first record where it felt like we compromised. I still had songs that I needed to write so I was writing them in the studio, and that’s something that I will never do again. It’s the worst sort of situation.
“One of the coolest things that I ever took to heart was when we first toured with Converge and got to know them really well. They would talk about how toured for just about a year playing the ‘Jane Doe’ songs live before it was recorded. They said that it helped them go in with such confidence in what each of these songs was going to sound like and that really resonated with me. Not to say that we have done that, but it made us rehearse a lot and get the songs to where we feel really good about them.
“So we went into the studio with ‘Stage Four’ where we trusted each other and every single part. We went in the same this time. I feel like over time that’s the biggest lesson that we have learned. I think what makes our band operate is how we are very transparent with one another. We all know which buttons not to push and we all know where people get sensitive when it comes to the writing process. For the most part we know how to communicate and that really helps.
“We also never go into a record with an actual vision, which I think can often be a band’s downside. They might go into a studio saying, ‘We want it to sound like this’. I remember saying to Tyler [Kirby, bass], and it didn’t end up sounding like this, that I wanted this record to be the exact point between ‘Displacement’ and Skyscraper’. I wanted it to be our most aggressive record but also our softest record. I don’t think that even happened though.”
If the band you were when you first started finding your feet heard this record, they would be thinking, ‘How the hell have they got there?’ Yet that’s what you want to be able to do, and do so in your own personal and special way…
“I think one of the biggest compliments that have circulated is that as soon as a Touché song comes on, you know it’s a Touché song. I think that’s the coolest thing that we have never thought about. We never went into this thinking that we were going to create this specific sound, but I feel confident with our fifth record that we do have a specific sound and I don’t think there’s any bands have come after us that have done it. I think we still stand on our own.”
Finally, what moment on this record sticks out as the one that defines what this record is for you?
“It has to be ‘A Forecast’. It’s me talking about everything that I want to talk about in one song. It would be like the director’s commentary on the album, if that was an option for records. That whole opening part is me updating the listeners, my friends, everybody. It’s the most straightforward that I’ve ever been. There’s nothing flowery about it. This is my life right now. This is what this record is about. Then tying it up with,’ I’m still out in the rain / I could use a little shelter now and then’, that is the whole entire message of the record. Don’t just assume everybody is fine. Don’t just assume because I went through this terrible thing all these years that time healed it and I’m fine now. It’s a reminder to check in with your people. Get in touch and look out for everybody.”