“I really feel like it’s important to not perpetuate or enable toxic ideologies and attitudes when you see them…” – Beth (bass/vocals)
Cleveland, Ohio’s Pillärs have given the underground a real shot of adrenaline right out of the gate in 2018 with new release Abandoned. From to the battle cry d-beat attack of opener “Last Rites” to the eerie and solemn dirge of closer “Behind The Wall”, the eight tracks on the release defy apathy and display relentless chemistry between the band members . There is a real love for underground punk and metal here in most forms.
Released on Tape Haus cassette (thetruetapehaus.com) and self-released CD, this is one of the most buzzed about current records in extreme music circles.
It was our pleasure to check in with the band about touring new places, scene building, overcoming obstacles and personal goals for making the scene more inclusive and generally rad.
Check it out BELOW.
How are you today? How has it felt to be getting such positive reactions to the new record? You used three
ZG: Ha. I’m better today than I was for most of the fall and winter of 2017. The winter holidays are always a rough time for me. I’m blown away by the reactions to this record. It’s really a good feeling to see people, even those you’ve never met, feeling a sense of connection to something you helped create, especially something so personal and cathartic. The recording process on this album was insane. We didn’t have a lot of spare money between the three of us, so we had to be extremely creative if we wanted to get a good sound without spending like a thousand dollars on studio time. I don’t even know if “studio” is the right word because none of the spaces we used were “studios” in the traditional sense.
First, we worked with a local DIY community center just outside Cleveland called Blank Slate (and serious thanks to Eddy Marflak for his patience with us) that had a great room for drums and basic guitar tracks. We had initially booked a limited time at Blank Slate, and of course nothing went as planned, so after maybe two weeks I think, we were out of time there and stuck without a space to lock in the rest of the guitar and bass tracks. We ended up just bringing the recording setup into my basement for the rest of the instruments. There’s a really rough part of my house that my wife and I jokingly call the Murder Basement because before we bought it some previous owner built this walled off section and two really weird box-like rooms, and this red glass window and chain lock on one of the rooms and what looks to be child’s handwriting on the ceiling….it’s fucking weird for sure and I hope nothing seriously bad happened there in the past. But of course the band and our engineer Gheramy comes in and says “oh these are great isolation booths!” and we did the rest of the guitar tracks and bass tracks down there crammed in this room together. It was definitely a, um, bonding moment. Finally, we did vocals and mixing at our engineer Gheramy’s house aka Golden Ox Studios. We did vocals in the stairwell going up to his attic. That’s probably the closest we got to an actual studio on this record.
Beth: This is my first band that actually got to the point of ‘we’re playing shows!” or “we’re putting out a record!” so this whole process has been a new thing for me. It’s been humbling and overwhelming to have such encouragement and support both here and out in the rest of the world, and I appreciate it so much. I also can’t say enough good about Gheramy working with us and putting in so many hours and so much time, even letting me use his bass amp when mine bit the dust halfway through recording.
Were there themes or sort of experiential shared beliefs you wanted to capture in the songs ahead of time or did they kind of develop their own road and topics after the fact once you could all hear what you had captured? Some songs trade off vocalists.
ZG: Each of the songs is its own thing that reflects a certain moment in time. Half the songs on this record are actually re-recorded and I would say improved versions of songs we had previously released on our demo in 2016. A big part of the record for me is not only focusing on some pretty dark moments in my own life, but also events going on in the world. So it was strange to realize that, even though we hadn’t consciously written this with a theme in mind, we kept coming back to these overarching ideas of abandonment and loss. Those thoughts may manifest themselves in our lives psychologically, spiritually, even politically, but I think for all of us in some way it was a shared sense. And about the vocals, it was always my hope when I started this band to NOT have male-dominated vocals. I’ve always been intrigued by what kind of new ideas might come forth when you put female and male vocals together harmonically in this music and exploring the question of what that opens up.
Beth: I’ve always loved bands with strong dual vocals that play off each other (Neurosis, Fugazi, Sleater-Kinney to name a few), and as we played and wrote together more, one of my favorite parts of the process has been experimenting with that dynamic and seeing where it can go.
The tracks sound great, really grimy and alive. There is certainly a hungry animal quality to them. “When Towers Fall” is so stompy. It sounds like you really wanted to capture the moment or the chance to get the songs down and didn’t fuck around. Or is that a result of being really excited? I mean, it is obviously also cathartic. Or did you mainly want to capture your real live sound and who you are?
ZG: So ‘When Towers Fall” was actually one of the first songs that we wrote with Mike on board: most of the other songs on the record had been completely written and arranged with our first drummer and we just let Mike add his interpretation onto what had already been arranged. I think we were a bit excited for that song in particular because unlike a majority of the other songs on the record where I had mostly written the riffs and underlying structure in advance before bringing it to the band for final drafts, this was a song we all spent a long time collaborating on. It was one of those creative moments where all these different parts and different influences just came together in a really interesting way. For me, that’s the song that kind of draws the line in the sand from the first songs to where I feel we are heading with a lot of our newer songs now that Mike is fully integrated into our writing process.
Beth – As Zach said, that’s one of the new ones that all three of us worked on where a lot of our various musical influences come through, and it’s one of my favorites on the record just because of all the places it goes. This one’s also the first one I added lyrics to and wrote a lot more for, and it was really cathartic to be able to finally feel like I could articulate all these thoughts and feelings I wrestle with in a way that worked, and we put a lot of time into that one to get it where we wanted it.
How would you describe the musical scene in your hometown these days? There are famous underground acts
from there, of course. But what do you feel is currently the most happening aspect of things or the worst if
you want to go that route?
ZG: I’ve never seen Cleveland more diverse or musically active in the past ten or so years as it is now. People are showing up and supporting the bands. I went to two shows this past weekend and they were both pretty packed. I think that says something about what’s going on up here, and it’s across all genres of music. I’m not one to shit-talk in an interview about ‘the worst’ aspects of anything. Cleveland is like any other major city, and we’re not exempt from having to deal with racists, or sexual predators, or shady promoters, or hard drugs and overdoses. But I’m really happy to see there are a lot more people that are standing up to that shit than maybe in the past.
Beth – A lot of us are weekend and weeknight warriors here, we’ve got jobs, we’ve got other things going on, It’s not really an industry town so there’s a lot more people doing it as a creative outlet for the sheer love of it as opposed to trying to “make it big.” A lot of people have multiple projects and collaborations going on at the same time to explore different sounds and that also keeps things interesting. The college radio scene here is very good so there’s a lot of exposure to different music and also what’s going on locally, so there’s a lot of unexpected cross-pollination. I’ve enjoyed the camaraderie I’ve found with the bands we regularly play with and the way in which we support and encourage each other. Nothing’s perfect, but I’m very thankful for a lot of what we do have here, because that seems rare.
Good attitude. “Beneath The Ice” is particularly furious. What’s that song about? Was it recorded in a few or many
attempts? It is so frenzied sounding. Perfect lo-fi convulsive tune with disgusting tones.
ZG: Ha that’s a great compliment, because I really, really spent time on this record trying to get some really gnarly guitar tones, much to the frustration of everyone else involved. One of the things I’m really proud of in this band is that we are not totally beholden to the strict rules of “genre”. Sure, I love slow, doom / sludge style riffs, but we also have a deep love for faster music like thrash and hardcore punk. Part of the fun of writing is how to find ways to pull together different bits of our various influences together in something that doesn’t necessarily sound like a total ripoff of some other band, but still swimming in a river that’s already flowing, if that makes sense. On that song in particular, Beth at the time was jamming a lot of old school Sepultura, and we were all kind of feeling we should just write a straight up thrash song. The lyrics are pretty heavily influenced by Dante’s Inferno, because there’s just some classic imagery in that poem that goes so well with the music. The poem puts Satan in a frozen lake at the center of the Earth, which is a timeless metaphor for our world. From my memory, we spent a lot of time recording that one because we wanted to nail the timing and make it so it wouldn’t be an embarrassment to listen to later.
Beth: That was definitely a product of just listening to ‘Beneath the Remains’ on the way to and from practice in my car for a few weeks and it’s one of my favorites to play. For whatever reason, this was an easier one for me when it came down to tracking in part because they’d already put in so much time making it perfect…
Do you rehearse at super loud volumes? It seems like with your stuff you’d need some restraint in the close quarters of a rehearsal space or you would all be deaf as shit by now, hahaha.
ZG: We do rehearse pretty much at live volumes, which are very loud. We all wear earplugs at practice and live. Mike and I have both been doing this for a long time now, so whatever frequency loss we’ve experienced is already permanent. Beth is a bit more protective since she was a good kid growing up and didn’t blow out her eardrums in her teen years and early twenties getting fucked up at shows like we did. But in my opinion you have to practice as if you were playing live. It’s the only way to make sure your live sound is where you want it to be.
Beth: It’s incredibly therapeutic to play that loud at practice and it’s helped me really dial in my tone and get comfortable with my voice in a way that wouldn’t happen if I was doing this in my apartment by myself. I definitely didn’t wear earplugs to shows in my 20s but once I discovered ones that didn’t muffle everything it’s hard to go back to that feeling of being foggy the whole next day after a show. I love the way it sounds though. I do warn people if they come to see us play that they should consider it, because we did set off a car alarm during soundcheck once.
Any plans in the work to print this on other formats? I love cassette and digital and think that is punk, just wondering if you have the itch to expand to other mediums if the right offer or assistance of financial option presents itself. Also, any upcoming events you have in the works you wanna get people stoked about?
ZG: So right now we have the album out on tape, CD, and digital formats. We would love to work with a label to do a vinyl pressing, but that is still something we are going over. Our main focus right now is getting our spring tour finalized. We are very excited because we are exploring some new territory, including two stops in Canada. Last year our tour was basically a backyard run around the Rust Belt, which was great, but at the same time one of the most fun things about being in a band is the opportunity to explore new places. We’ll hopefully be making our formal announcement later this month on the dates so just find us online for the details there.
What do you, in all seriousness, think in 2018 would be things that would benefit the metal and punk/extreme music community most? I mean, a lot of stuff is great and going well. There seems to be a push for more representation on many fronts. Just wondering if there is any particular glaring thing you feel like people don’t really discuss or anything that comes to mind. Like, I love that I got to know Beth through metal twitter and that real connections can still sort of happen even in an impersonal way like that. It’s cool to me that some people are out there who really just want things to be cool and help the scene grow or whatever.
ZG: In seriousness? For me the biggest thing is drawing a line in the sand against white power music, especially in heavy music communities because heavy music flirts with the imagery of fascism more than any other genre and we need to be really aware of that reality. And the other thing, especially since really getting to experience what it’s like being in a band with a female member for a number of years and kind of getting a front row seat to some shit, is sexual assault and just generally being shitty towards women who are present for the music. I always find it funny that the people who complain about “the ladies” not going out to shows are exactly the type of people who any of the women I know wouldn’t want to be around in the first place. If you can’t tell the difference between someone who wants to get romantic and someone who just wants to enjoy the show, you probably need to talk to someone about that and take a break from shows until you figure that out.
Beth: I do think it’s essential to use your creative process for good, and also to be able to back up your craft and message with being a decent person. There’s a lot of good things happening right now, but also a lot of pushback too, and I’m always baffled by the people saying “why are you making this political” when this music’s been political for as long as it’s been a thing, it’s just that now it’s not all men saying these things? I really feel like it’s important to not perpetuate or enable toxic ideologies and attitudes when you see them, and not ignore it, or make excuses like “oh he’s a cool guy” or “I just really like the music so I don’t care that this person did or said such-and-such” or “I thought it didn’t bother you, why are you overreacting?” Also, I think of where I’ve come from and having some pretty wrongheaded ideas and I’m thankful that people were patient with me and articulated their views in a way that I could understand where they were coming from and that caused me to change for the better. We all start out in different places, and I think it’s important to remember that and help other people be more open-minded and compassionate and get to somewhere better than where they’re at right now.
On a similar but less serious note, sometimes it’s easy to get cliquish or elitist about what you’re into, and kind of duplicate that high school pecking order of who’s in and who’s out and that can be really intimidating if you’re just coming into something for the first time and maybe don’t know all the nuances. I used to stick out at shows for having the wrong haircut or whatever, and when I was younger, sometimes I was judgy of other people to make up for not feeling completely secure. I was really shy and didn’t go to house shows and those kinds of DIY venues because I didn’t feel like I belonged there. It felt like going to a party that I wasn’t invited to, and then suddenly we’re playing those kinds of gigs and I’m like “oh I guess I’m invited here now because I’m in the band?” I know I can’t be the only one who felt that way, so I really try to be friendly, accepting, and welcoming, the kind of person I would have wanted to meet when I was younger when I was coming up, if that makes sense! More of an attitude of “Be Excellent To Each Other” in general, not just in music, but all the way around.
Live photos were by Andrew Wells