Interview: Ascend/Descend on hardcore, the concept of home and “Murdock Street”

Posted by Morgan Y Evans - Walking Bombs on Wednesday, February 3, 2016 at 5:36 PM (PST)


As soon as you hear “Murdock” from Boston area extreme hardcore band Ascend/Descend you will likely be rocked the fuck out but also sort of checking your metal and punk data banks to see what it reminded you of, in a good way. I discovered the band via a feature over at Nefarious Realm a few weeks back and have since become pretty enamored of their fierce and fiery sound. Vocalist Michelle Dugan sounds almost like a female version of Black Tusk’s members various howls sometimes, charged up with a punk edge over music that roams between Nausea-esque crusty battery to more streamlines Converge/Coalesce/Deadguy “Pins and Needles” territory to cool twists and turns all the band’s own.

I knew I had to pick the band’s brains about new release Murdock Street and get situated in their world a little bit. It is more exciting for me to cover a newer band with heart like this than some jaded old rockstar farts or scene kids who bought amps on trust fund money and will be out of the picture in a year. This band is def one of the bright new underground lights to follow in 2016! The incredible record sounds hungry, lean and mean. Fans of everything from Immortal Bird to Kylesa to Starkweather can find something here to love. But don’t just take my word for it!

Read more BELOW.

all photos are by Reid Haithcock

MD- Michelle Dugan, vocalist MH- Max Holbrook, bassist AL- Alex Garcia Rivera, drummer

How are you today? Record is fucking pounding. And very timely. I feel like you have influences from some stuff that’s popular but you aren’t like, milking anything. There is a clear sense the band want to be yourselves.

MD) GREAT. Stoked. We’re generally either stoked or pissed, currently stoked.

Do you write songs for the overall feeling of…say, the charging end riff of Consequence is so physical. Or do you worry more about the finer points of the lyrics having depth. Some bands are very kinetic or clobber crowd but have jack shit to say. Not case here.

MD) A little bit of both. They usually start off with Nick and Al building a skeleton of a song, then we all kind of shape it from there as far as what parts should hit heaviest or how to make parts catchier. I have piles of writing that I keep on hand and will fit one to the music based on the overall tone of what the guys produce. I take my writing seriously and aim to create lyrics that are personal yet relatable for most.

What were the reasons this band came together?

MD) I’ve had a hard time keeping a roof over my head for years. The concept of home (or lack thereof) is a big part of my work both in art and music. Last August I lost my home again, to a fire that displaced myself, my friends, and killed one person. I was so fucked up over it that I was just depressed and furious every single day. Wolf and I joked about starting a band to let me get rid of some of the overwhelming hate. Then being the rad pal that he is, hit up Al about a mini studio project. As soon as we had two songs done we knew it had to keep going. Max is the most recent member, and a friend I’ve known since first grade. The group dynamic is like none I’ve ever experienced. So grateful for them.

AL) When I first came onboard, I thought we would just do a couple of songs as a studio project and that would be it. Initially, I had no intention of starting a new band, but I did not anticipate liking both the music and the personnel as much as I do. I was wary of even just trying to record Michelle, since she has never sang in a band before. We decided to go to a practice space and run through the songs live so that Michelle could try singing (i.e. screaming) for the first time before heading to the studio to commit it to tape. Honestly, she was so damn good at it that I was totally taken aback. I just had to keep it going and see how things panned out. I’m super glad I did because I love my bandmates to pieces and we really enjoy creating music together.


How has it felt to see more support start to kick in for the band after your hard work as a group?

MD) Haha, well, like Al mentioned, this is my first real band. I’ve been a part of the heavy music community for a good chunk of my life, but never on stage. We were all kind of shocked by the immediate support of the city, but the guys all have experiences with other bands. I think I was a little blindsided by the positive reaction. Every time I get on stage I am really, really stoked that ANYONE is interested. Hopefully it shows through my stage presence and not through my shit-eating grin.

Do you feel more inclined to play with “certain” types of bands? Or is it whatever is clever?

MD) To a certain extent we do aim for other hardcore or thrash bands, but honestly the scenes here in Boston have become pretty cliquey, I think blending more influences could really do a lot for the bands around here as well as the people in them. Too stagnant.

Word. How was it recording the release? Not all bands are able to capture live energy and yet make it sound like a proper recording as well. I think your band or recently, despite tragic story, Enabler also managed that. All Pigs Must Die is another example. How do you settle on a take in the studio? The cymbals sound like crisp as fuck!

MH) Al is a wizard in the studio. We tracked in a number of separate sessions, I don’t think there was an instance when we were all there at the same time, but the people in this band are so communicative and supportive of one another, it was really great to have the entire process be internal and went very smoothly. Deciding on keeper takes was always at the very least collaborative, and there was definitely an element of trying out new things we hadn’t gone over in practices or writing as we tracked, and a lot of those moments are some of my favorite parts of the record. Everyone in this band knows what they’re doing and what they want, but isn’t upset when an alternate suggestion is put forth – as far as I know, everyone is happy with every choice we made along the way, which is really great, and unusual from my experience.

MD) Al is a fucking wizard

AL) I think that the overall sound and vibe of this recording could simply be a result of my recording style (Note: We have heard rumors Al is actually a wizard) . People have a tendency to over analyze recorded performances and make them too perfect, especially with all the modern technology available in the recording studio. To me what that does is take everything that I find attractive about recorded music and remove it. For us, deciding on which “takes” to keep was simply a matter of thinking “how does that make me feel when I hear it?” For instance, there were times when Michelle’s vocals straight-up gave me the chills, and those were the keepers. To my ears, each instrument has moments like this throughout the record and it really draws me in each time I listen to it.

Your songs have a feeling of forward motion to me. I love that in bands. Is that , perhaps, an outgrowth of just sort of trying to channel a lot of passion? Does this music contrast or mirror your “daily” lives?

MD) Ascend/Descend has helped me grow a lot, personally. Overcoming the barrier of self-criticism and allowing myself to yell shit that has been in my head for years. There are some topics we hit that are always going to strike a nerve for me, but it’s not as painful as it was when they were hidden away scribbled on paper. So, yes ! You hit the nail on the head with the sense of forward motion.

AL) I’m not sure there is an answer for that….the music seems to come without much thought or preconception. Michelle may have something different to say about that, because lyrics are different, but musically, it just seems to come out of us and if it sounds good, it IS good. There were a handful of song ideas that were thrown away because they just didn’t feel right. As far as it being a mirror of our daily lives, that’s hard to say. There is generally a lot of positivity when we get together and so perhaps we bring out the best in each other, both musically and otherwise. Like most people, we all have our darkness, and yes, the world is very fucked up and maybe that’s where this aggressive music comes from, but I think that it’s the release of that, through the music is what helps us to be healthy and happy.

What is up next on the horizon? Hope to see you live or share a stage sometime.

MD) So many shows. We’re spoiled to live in such a big community of heavy music. We have a few long weekends, mini tours, and national tours slowly evolving. Til then, we’ve got a few lined up between MA, CT, and NY.

Is it daunting coming from your area where such greats have already tread? Or more of an honor to step into the scene?

MD) It rules. It’s so easy to be inspired and motivated by Boston’s history of hardcore. We practice at Studio 52 and I just regularly run into heroes of mine. Even seen some at our shows, which is fucking unreal. The bar is set high, which is great. We’re up for it.

MH) Personally, having lived in Boston for a decade now, I’m super happy that we’re labeled as a Boston band, and that people seem to like it. There’s a long tradition of hardcore music from this region, so while I’m not assuming we will be considered a canonical band or anything, I’m very honored that people are responding well initially. Boston can be a jaded place, having such a firm history, so it’s incredible to feel welcomed by the scene as a newcomer.




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