Glassjaw talk new album ‘Material Control,’ the soundtrack to our demise
The planet is falling apart, the government is preparing to mortgage our future, and hostile countries have the technology to immolate us in our homes. So it makes perfect sense for legendary Long Island post-hardcore unit Glassjaw to return with the soundtrack for our demise. Material Control, the proper full-length follow-up to the post-hardcore luminaries’ revered 2002 release Worship And Tribute, is released today via Century Media/Sony, just in time for the world to embrace the chaos and add to a roll call of the year’s best records. Assuming there will be anything left on the planet to notate such a list before year’s end, that is.
For Material Control, the GJ braintrust of vocalist Daryl Palumbo and guitarist/bassist Justin Beck enlisted Dillinger Escape Plan drummer Billy Rymer to record the most furious addition to their canon. Rymer ably powers the duo to bring a sophisticated (but hardly less dense) menace to the proceedings, one that’s constantly shifting. Palumbo’s vocals are in top form, whether he’s delivering full exhortation (“Pompeii”) or being a sweet soul angel over fractured desperado blues (“Strange Hours”). Beck shores his partner up with charging riffs and corrosive harmonic noise that gives the proceedings a hyper-contemporary awareness. (“Hyper-contemporary” defined as an awareness that a building could fall on you when you’re walking down the street and not giving some “hot new producer” points on your album.) Material Control is a rare document of a band not interested in revisiting its past, but still succeeding in remaining vibrant, alluring and (at a few junctures) caustic.
Prior to their record release show at Brooklyn’s St. Vitus this evening, Jason Pettigrew spoke with Beck and Palumbo regarding their current headspace, the sins of their past and their indifference to the whims and whelms of the music business—as well as a special message for fans whining about merch prices.
Mr. Beck has a very successful merch company, and Mr. Palumbo always has a number of irons in the greater rock fire. You guys aren’t on any kind of five-year plan, so pay attention to my vernacular: Do the two of you fit Glassjaw into your lives, or does Glassjaw exist when there is a need for it?
JUSTIN BECK: When she calls us.
DARYL PALUMBO: [Laughs.] Yeah. We exist when she calls us. I feel like it’s not so much about fitting [Glassjaw] in as much as that when it happens, it speaks really loud.
BECK: Some of our best stuff happens when it’s not planned. Some of the stuff we do, we’ll pontificate on, and it’ll sit on a hard drive or in the ether forever, but then there’s an idea we have at 11 o’clock at night, and by 12 o’clock it’s live. For this record, we had an idea at the eleventh hour and then on the twelfth hour, it was done. It’s not like we started this 15 years ago and we’ve been massaging [this record] since then. I think there were two riffs from long ago, but the other 90 percent of this record was executed in a very short window. It was very organic and natural.
How long did it take you?
PALUMBO: I think it was two months of Sundays. One day doing drums, maybe three in-person days with the guy we did mixing with. That’s a really short record.
BECK: Part of the social experiment [occurred] when we had done the last two records. We were used to doing an EP—guitars, drums, vocals—in 24 hours. That’s the world we were used to…
PALUMBO: We’d do a whole record in a sleepover…
BECK: Those two records took us out of that realm, and now with the beauty of technology, which allows you to edit in perpetuity, you can mindfuck [the process] and take [the music] somewhere else. We went into making this record with the spirit of how it always should’ve been and how we always wanted to do it. We just felt we had to keep it going and maintain that quickness.
PALUMBO: None of these ideas got so beaten that we had forgotten the original first idea. You get bogged down in “make the fuckin’ tune,” and you overthink everything, and then you forget it so much, you completely lose the creative spark you had in the first place. A lot of the magic of this is that it is super-spontaneous with the kind of post-hardcore music we were doing. Not much overdubbing, affectation or time over-thinking things—especially for Glassjaw. We came out of that “sign to a major label and scrutinize every fucking idea you’ve ever had forever,” and that’s why this sounds so much more urgent…
BECK: ...and perfect with its imperfections.
To define the new record as “some next-level shit” would be a disservice. You mentioned how major labels bureaucratically slow down a project’s process. The name of the album, Material Control, even sounds like internal corporate-speak for a project that sounds like it’s been focus-grouped up the ass. What did it take for you two to get where you are now, psychically and artistically, for the record?
BECK: All the anxiety and adult dealings and frustration. Family. Work. The cycle of life. All of that is fuel. In your adulthood, where else are you going to vent? You can’t vent to a toddler or an 8-year-old. Your wife has her own issues. Who do you vent to? Making this record was therapeutic. Fuck it, this is where we’re at—psychologically, at least.
You guys have been buds forever—which explains why you’re officially the only two people in the band. Is there fighting? Are there major compromises? Like, “I don’t want that fuckin’ lyric on the record” or “That riff is a piece of shit.” Are there moments like that?
PALUMBO: [Laughing, along with Beck.] The way you just phrased it, I don’t think it ever got to that…
BECK: We’re more passive-aggressive with each other. [Laughs.] Easiest, no-frills, no-fuckin’-drama kind of record.
But there are only two of you. Do you know where I’m going with this?
PALUMBO: [Laughs.] Maybe! Maybe that’s the best way. You have a lot of ideas [in a band], and Justin and I aren’t the only in the history of the band who’ve had ideas. We’ve had dudes in the band who were heroes—one guy who was a literal musical hero. After a while though, maybe you figure out the codes, and you don’t need to add more stuff into the pot, just for the sake of doing it. Justin and I are really peculiar. Actually, particularly curmudgeonly-type dudes.
BECK: Daryl’s being very diplomatic. I’ll be the dick, shut the fuck up. [Palumbo laughs.] Honestly, we’ve been the contributors to the band since 1993. We’ve had friends who were players, and sometimes they didn’t want to be players, and then you have to dance around fucking emotions. [Imitates studio boss.] “We have things to do; we need to eat dinner. Could you please play this the way we told you? Thanks.” Because the band was never titled the Daryl Palumbo & Justin Beck Experience and that we came up through the hardcore scene, there are expected rules of engagement. The New York hardcore scene was very diplomatic and very much a democracy. Everyone from the bands to the fans to the guy selling vegan cookies were considered equal. We kind of took that ethos and that was the chariot that we rode. And then when you start leaving the New York tri-state area and start giving interviews, you say, “This is the squad.” You don’t need to go into the semantics like an old Metallica record of “this guy wrote 90 percent of this riff” and “this guy wrote 5 percent.” That was never important to us. We never touted it or bragged about it. Why would we brag about it? Our musical is atonal garbage to some degree. [Palumbo laughs.] But, in the same breath, motherfuckers shouldn’t get it twisted, and they get salty in their revisionist history. I’m almost 40 now, and I’m still pretending that some dude, some year, had some input. You like it? Good. You hate it? Blame the two of us. We’re the authors. [Laughs.] I’m not afraid to say that anymore!
Will you be participating in the proverbial grind, with lots of touring and promo appearances? You’re on a Sony subsidiary, so one would assume there would be expectations to be managed.
BECK: Not really. The record had been done before we did the dealing with the label. We’re really freestyling it. We’re not going to do the traditional means of touring 300 dates when it’s excessive and not fun and not spontaneous. We are so hand-to-mouth with everything, whether it’s signing or doing some kind of event. We’re proud of the record, and if people want to hear us, we’ll come do it. A nailed-down agenda with dates, no.
PALUMBO: We won’t be on the road for a year-and-a-half. This isn’t the KISS tour.
Thank God for that. Wondering: Religious references come up frequently in the lyrics of the new album. God, the devil, savior, kneeling, Golgotha. Where’s your head at these days, Daryl?
PALUMBO: [Smirks.] There’s some religious stuff and what’s going on in society right now, but I don’t think I went too deep. It’s the same sort of stuff that’s on everyone’s tongue, trying to deal with it—everything from terrorism to evangelical references. I’m 40, and that’s when you start breaking down your crazy formative years with an adult mind. Lots of current events. Nothing too intense. Well yeah, pretty fucking intense but… [Laughter.]
North Korea has the technology to blow you off the face of the Earth in your home. Just sayin’.
PALUMBO: Right! It is pretty fucking intense.
Which has always been an element to Glassjaw. In this hyper-politically aware climate, there are things artists can’t touch. How long will it be until the guy who wrote the lyrics on Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Silence has to apologize for them?
PALUMBO: Oh, I have.
BECK: During that Matt Lauer interview we did the other day. [Laughter.]
PALUMBO: It’s come up. It came up in a short Pitchfork thing. And it should come up. Those are some absurd things to say. The sentiment was frustration. I was a young guy, and I was supposed to be a man and I was not. I apologize for saying any of that. You can be frustrated, but I really wished I had written better lyrics. I wish I had better taste; I wish I wasn’t so insensitive. As a son to a widowed mother, a husband to the most amazing woman I ever met and as a dad, I feel idiotic for saying that stuff. Coming from a place in punk rock—to get those sentiments off of my chest—is ignorant. And acting like that isn’t punk-rock at all, because it’s not all inclusive. I was small-minded when I should’ve been a man.
Glassjaw’s scope of influence in the underground is significant. Since you’ve been away for awhile—in a culture that demands constant updates—do you feel like you have to gear up for it? I get this mental image of old Joe Pesci-style gangsters having to beat down the young new jacks who want to take their status and power like wolves.
BECK: We’re not trying to compete or reclaim anything. The state of what’s going on nowadays in music is so foreign to our ethic, we’d look like fools trying to compete with a group of 18-year-olds. Every 12-year-old has two million followers on any social media platform and drinks fuckin’ Robitussin as their schtick…
PALUMBO: ...and happens to be a guitar phenom. All of it together. Hey, go for it. I just think we’re really confident when we do certain things. That thing we do on this record, we’re doing at a thousand. I know it’s our heaviest record. It’s what we do. Even though we don’t sound like a European metal band or whatever else is popping now, a trap group or whatever. [Laughs.] I’m sure we’ll fit in there…
You’ll get to it. It seems you two are in a good headspace. Isn’t there anything pissing you off right now?
PALUMBO: It all feels fascinating. Nothing’s pissing me off. I’m taking things as they come.
BECK: We don’t have an agenda, and we don’t have an expectation. This feels like a bonus round for us. Every event, show, party, record drop happens in a week from conception to drop. If two people tweet at us and say what we did is dope, we win.
You two seem too well-adjusted. If we were talking before I heard the record, I’d think the record would be lame.
PALUMBO: It only took us 25 years. Once you hit the 25-year mark, everything is fucking great. And it helps you become more intense and angry in the right way. That’s real. Absolutely.
You’ll like this, then. I ran into someone who went to your Cleveland show and were pissed off by the price of your hoodies. The guy complained that “Glassjaw should be a band and not an upscale streetwear brand. They must think they’re Supreme.”
BECK: From 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., I make merch for the entire fucking globe. So if we’re going to make it for ourselves, that guy can fucking blow us. Based on the amount we sell, we probably don’t make enough merch.
You sound very defensive. Maybe your heads aren’t on that straight.
PALUMBO: Aw fuck, I thought I was doing so good! [Laughter.] alt
Listen to “Shira”:
You can purchase Glassjaw’s Material Control here.