Why Touché Amoré may never be able to write a full love record
Touché Amoré aren’t a band known for delicacy. Despite the frequent counterpoint coupling of frontman Jeremy Bolm’s thumbtack-gargling vocals with lavish, delay-heavy guitar atmosphere, they’re a band on the attack. They cut their teeth on songs with ferocious bite and lyrics of sharp self-introspection that typically lean into pessimism. When Bolm initially began work on their latest album, Lament, he set out to write a “love record” devoted to his fiancé. However, he soon realized that their approach to making music doesn’t lend itself particularly well to professing undying affection. Simply stated—throat-screaming “I love you” doesn’t always come off as the most endearing.
Regardless, Lament features their poppiest song to date, an abundance of country-inspired pedal steel and actual bona fide lyrics of affection. But don’t you worry—the album is just as urgent and abrasive as anything in the TA catalog. And Bolm considers it to be a great gateway into the band.
“I think it's going to be one of those records that you don't have to feel like you had to have been initiated in 2010. I think it's a perfect entry point for us. I think that's a really cool part in any band's career,” Bolm says. “If you're new to the band, this is a fantastic entry point. And if you're already familiar, I think you're going to have a good time.”
Upon the album’s release, Bolm caught up with Alternative Press to revisit the intensely confessional nature of his entire discography. Bolm also explained the Lament track that is a direct sequel to Stage Four and how the pedal steel became prominent on the record.
...To The Beat Of A Dead Horse and Parting The Sea Between Brightness And Me lyrically feel like someone who's defining themselves in a stage of life that is tumultuous and decisive. Coming to terms with finding ideals and things that most people would write off as idealism. Is Survived By feels like someone accepting their mortality. Struggling with that feeling that the life you are leading now currently dictates the legacy you will be remembered by. Stage Four is the period of life in which you have to accept the mortality of the people that you love. Do you feel like your albums are a chronology of your life? And as importantly, your grasp of a deeper meaning and the eventual end of life? If so, how does Lament factor into your understanding of yourself and your own life?
JEREMY BOLM: Yeah, I certainly do. I started this band just as an outlet. As a way to deal with whatever I was going through in those periods of my life. So each one of these records has all been very time and place. I've always done my best to not write about people specifically. Because feelings about people change, and relationships change. And I never wanted to get stuck singing about something I don't necessarily think I'm going to connect to years later.
[...To The Beat Of A Dead Horse] being about everyday depression that I think a lot of people go through. And my understanding that I'm not doing anything about it other than complaining about it. Which is what I feel like I did throughout that whole record. I'm not looking for any sort of help. I'm just looking to get it out. That's why I'm beating a dead horse in that I'm not saying anything new. I'm not unique.
And then Parting The Sea... was the band getting to tour. The band are now on the road. The band are now on the road a lot. It's finding solace within that and learning how to handle relationships. Family-wise, romantically, all of those sorts of things.
Is Survived By, as you mentioned, is much about legacy. How I'm living and how I'm going to be remembered and all these sorts of things. I had turned 30 when that record was being written. I have to assume a lot of our listeners are, if they're not 30 yet, approaching 30. I think that record was a perfect thing for me to write about at that time. A lot of people say when you turn 25, you start to reflect on your life. I don't know that I necessarily agree with that. I think 25 is when you're starting to become comfortable in your own skin. But 30 is when you have to look at the bigger picture, which is what I was doing.
And then [Stage Four], I lost my mom, and I had to recalibrate my entire existence. Come to terms with my own fear of mortality. And obviously, the sadness of losing a parent.
And now we're at Lament, which is me reflecting on all of these sorts of things. What I've written and the relationships I have. And now I do feel comfortable writing about someone close to me because that person is going to be close to me for the rest of my life. All of these things factor into Lament and what that record represents and who I represent as a person at this time in my life.
Stage Four was devoted to the grieving process of dealing with your mother's death. Did the process of divulging so much grief leave you emotionally drained? Was it challenging to pour something new into this record? You touched on the idea of it being about somebody who you know you're going to be around for your entire life. Do you think by dealing with your mother's death through lyrics, it enabled you to now write about people who you have an attachment to in a way that you weren't able to before?
Yes. Stage Four was certainly emotionally depleting. In a lot of ways. I've been saying a lot lately that when I reflect on writing that record, I don't reflect on it as a fun time. For me, it was just necessary. It was my way of handling my own grief and what I was going through. It was the easiest record to write and the hardest record to write. The easiest in the term of there was never a moment where I didn't have some avenue I could take. Do I write about how I'm feeling about visiting her in hospice? Do I write about how I was feeling the day I found out about it? Do I write about how I was feeling today as I'm having to go through all her things and clear out the house? There was an endless supply of directions to write about. In that regard, it was easy because I can write six more albums about that. But I don't want to do that. And I don't know that our listener base wants that, either.
Taking all of that into account, now it's four years later, and I have to write a new record. And there was just a hard new understanding on how to approach a record. OK, so I just put out arguably the most personal record that I'm ever going to write. The most heartbreaking record that I'm ever gonna write, hopefully. I don't want to test the universe and try to have them give me something new to deal with. But I think what this did was it gave me an ample opportunity to reflect on what has happened in my life since releasing Stage Four. I'm with someone who was there for me throughout that entire process, who I'm now engaged to.
“Reminders” is arguably the poppiest song in our entire catalog, which was a fun direction to write. It wasn't meant to be that way. Once that song came to be and the chorus was in my head, it was a matter of taking it further than we've ever taken a song before. Let's make it big. And have fun with that and pull from the influences that we all have within us but we've never really explored. I always joke that there's only a handful of bands that we all agree on. We all listen to such different stuff. But one of those bands, of the five that we all like, is Jimmy Eat World. I think that cuts through a little bit in that.
That song is political in a way. I wrote it the day that Trump didn't get impeached, and it was just built out of that frustration. It was fun to take this record with different avenues. It was the most fun I've had doing a record because everything was exciting. Working with Ross [Robinson] was exciting. Writing the songs was exciting. For that reason, I look at this record as just a completely new experience. And it's nice to have that five records deep.
On Is Survived By, with the song "To Write Content," you’re wondering if you can write a song without channeling that pessimism. Do you think you're at a place in your life where you can do that now?
Is it hard to write a song without having to inject pessimism? Definitely. I think it's a mix of the impostor syndrome that I always feel. I think I'm at my best when I'm at my worst. When I was thinking about where to go with this record a long time ago, I went to see Turnstile play. Brendan [Yates] and I were talking. I was like, "I'm thinking about maybe writing a love record." And he got excited. He was like, "I fucking love that. That's sick. You should totally write a love record."
And then I was making a stab at that, which some of this album is. But at the same time, making the kind of music that we make, it's really difficult to write a love song. You're yelling in an aggressive manner. And it just feels incorrect. That was a bit of a challenge, which I enjoyed. But still, like I mentioned, impostor syndrome and just questioning who I am at every turn is always going to come through.
With the first song on the record, “Come Heroine,” I can't help it say "And I'm just a risk/A colossal near miss/Prone to resist what is best for me." Which is a short history lesson in a lot of my past relationships. I'm gone most of the year. I'm not great with my emotions. I bottle them up, and this is my way of always expressing them. I found somebody who has changed me in a lot of those ways and has made my life dramatically better.
Stage Four did a really great job of interjecting more soft moments. But you push it farther on this record. Specifically, the pedal steel. When I first heard Nick [Steinhardt, guitarist]'s cover of AFI’s “God Called In Sick Today,” it blew my mind. I was hoping to hear that sound on a Touché Amoré record. And then you did it. But was there trepidation behind doing that? You're not known for being a band who sound twinkly and delicate. But somehow you really made it work with this record. And there's a haunting element to that pedal steel. But were you nervous about incorporating those elements?
No. And yes. It was one of the things where Nick had told us he was picking up that instrument. He was learning how to play it. His best friend got one, and I think he played around with it and found that he enjoyed it. Both Nick and Clayton [Stevens, guitarist] have gone through a deep, very old classic country phase.
They're like super into extremely obscure, early, early country records. Nick has the funniest collection now of like 80-year-old men playing pedal steel records. Which is incredible. He goes to pedal steel conventions, where he's definitely the youngest person there. He had picked up this instrument, and he and I had a discussion when we started writing the record. I told him, "If you think you could write a song for the record on the pedal steel, I think that would be great."
If you reflect on all of our records, they have the weirdo track. On Parting The Sea..., we have a song with a piano. It's not exactly the most original thing, but piano and screaming felt like trying to do something a little different on that record. And then Is Survived By has a song called “Non Fiction.” It's a post-rock song, for lack of a better term. Stage Four has "Skyscraper," which you can tell is influenced by bands like the National. And then this record has “A Broadcast,” which was written on pedal steel. It has a chanty Arcade Fire chorus.
When Nick wrote the song, we were so stoked on it. It's so brilliant and really pretty. And then I had the thought of, "Shit, what am I going to do over this thing?" And that's what I'm often hit with. At the moments when the guys present something truly interesting, I'm always beside myself. Like, "Yeah!...Fuck! What am I gonna do?" Then I figured [I’ll] just take a step back from the mic. Just yelling, but not screaming. It'll come off in more of a loud poetry sense, which I think helped the song take full form.
I'm glad you brought up "Condolences" [The "weirdo" track on Parting The Sea...]. Is the Lament closing track, "A Forecast," a stylistic nod to "Condolences," with the minimal vocal and piano treatment? Lyrically, is it a direct sequel to Stage Four?
Yes, absolutely. I look at "A Forecast" as an open letter to the listeners who were there for Stage Four. The people who connected to it in a way that no one wants to connect to it. Someone who likely lost somebody or in any other way. You could have just enjoyed their record for what it was, and that's fine. And you understand the concepts. “A Forecast” is me not being clever. "A Forecast" is me just being very direct. And it was the last song I wrote for the record. I wrote it less than a week before we entered the studio. I had three more songs to finish before going into the studio. It was “Exit Row,” "A Broadcast" and "A Forecast." I had come to Elliot [Babin, drummer], who always plays piano on all of our stuff. I was like, "Come up with something not too intricate. Something ominous."
I think a really important message is that there's no time limit on grief. Having someone tell you "Just give it time" or "Time heals" is the most fucking toxic thing you could say to somebody who is going through something like that. I'm never gonna get over it. I don't think anyone who's ever gone through something like that ever gets over it. I think the message that I'm trying to really get out with the end of the track is basically saying that it's OK to not be OK. And don't assume that the person in your life that may have suffered a loss 10 years ago, five years ago, two years ago is good. Always check in on your friends and always be there for them, whether you think they need it or not. Just a simple text.
Have you ever had a point in your career where you were worried that you didn't have anything left to lament? Has it ever crossed your mind that maybe someday down the road, you won't have that pessimism? Is that a fear of yours?
Do I fear being completely depleted? Kind of. Yeah. I think that ties into the impostor syndrome thing. You sit down with a notepad and whatever it is that's in your head and can't come up with anything. You convince yourself that, you know, my worth. Is it gone? Do I not have anything left to say? And I think when you have the worst feelings of those moments is when you do start to shine. I think it's when you feel like you have nothing left is when some of your best material is going to come out.