The Moth Club in Hackney is perhaps the perfect place for Ceremony to play the first UK date of their European tour. A former working men’s club repurposed into the East End’s newest music venue, complete with a gold glittery ceiling and a hidden drink den, the club bares the signs of its rough-and-ready history beside its new adornments.
Like the Moth Club, Ceremony have shed their gritty early days and emerged as a more polished outfit. After cutting their teeth in Bay Area hardcore circuits, the band have gradually evolved away from orthodox punk sounds.
Their latest album, The L-Shaped Man, develops the shoegaze and Joy Division-infused post-punk vibes first introduced on 2012’s Zoo that have gained them critical acclaim as well as new fans. Huck caught up with singer Ross Farrar and guitarist Anthony Anzaldo to discuss touring, new musical directions and the changing nature of hardcore.
How have your past experiences of London crowds compared to US crowds?
Ross: We haven’t played here in a couple of years, so we’ll see how things go tonight; it’s going to be an experiment. We’ve played the US so many times so we know what to expect from most of the cities but Europe has been kind of a gamble. We never really know where is going to be really good or where anyone is going to care, if anybody cares. London’s always been pretty amazing though. There’s always been a pretty strong hardcore scene here and we’ve had some pretty crazy shows. Last time we played a free show above a pub. Any free show’s good because people just want to come and party.
Anthony: Our first European tour was about 5 or 6 weeks long— it felt like a million years— and London was one of the few shows where a good amount of people knew about us and were singing along. We played at Underworld in Camden with Bane and Have Heart at 11 in the morning. We weren’t supposed to play that early but we had had a problem with our visas so we had to stay in France for an extra day and move the Underworld show to 11am. But there were still a lot of people there, it was really fun! And we were with Have Heart and they’re like the masters of the world.
How have audiences been reacting to the new record?
Ross: The L-Shaped Man has got more of a groove. We groove up there on stage, we feel the songs differently and so the crowd obviously feels the songs differently too because they’re not loud, abrasive hardcore songs. They’re moody, atmospheric, slow; they’re more dancey.
Anthony: They just promote a different sort of feeling, a different sort of energy. To an extent it’s really liberating to play these songs because you don’t have to worry if the crowd’s going to go crazy or not. I remember being a little stressed out when we were writing the early records because if you play a hard, aggressive hardcore song and the crowd’s not into it, it’s awkward. Whereas with these songs it doesn’t matter because they’re not going to be stage diving and they’re not going to be jumping off stuff, even if they love it.
Having changed your style so much how do you relate to the idea of hardcore as a scene now? Do you see yourselves as distancing yourselves from hardcore or is hardcore itself evolving?
Anthony: I don’t think we’ve necessarily distanced ourselves from anything, I think we just make the music that’s right to make at the time. I love hardcore and I love the community that I have from it, but I’ve loved a lot of different styles of music for many years of my life. It was never on the cards for us to keep making music for as long as we have and to not change. That’s just always how it was going to be. At the same time, hardcore itself is definitely evolving. I think within music more generally, so many artists are incorporating so many different styles of music into their art now. That’s the musical trend of this decade. It’s not as strict as it was in the 2000s, the 90s and the 80s— everything’s just cracked wide open.
Speaking of different styles and influences, lots of people have made Joy Division reference, is UK music something that has had a big influence on Ceremony?
Ross: Oh yeah, a lot of my favourite bands are English. The Fall are a particular favourite, I love The Fall so much. Also The Cure, Depeche Mode, the Smiths, New Order, Oasis, Stone Roses, Sex Pistols… The Stones [he lifts his shirt to reveal Stones tongue tattoo]! They were my first concert! It was the Bridges to Babylon tour in 1994, my dad took me to go see them at the Oakland colosseum.
So what kind of things influenced the album apart from Joy Division, Stones etc?
Anthony: I think all of our records are connected by this very minimalistic, very simple approach to making music. We’ve never been this very technical or complicated band, musically. Even in those early records we’ve always tried to let space be a big variable in the songs. We try to be very powerful in that way. So that’s obviously a very big part of the L-Shaped Man. It’s very simplistic, very space-oriented, and that makes it very intense.
Ross: We wanted to do simple guitars but we wanted the rhythm section to be more punk. A constant rhythm section with sparse guitars and vocals that we just wanted to have them fit with the music.
Ross, how did you approach this album lyrically? Does your passion for poetry overlap with writing for the band or is it something separate?
Ross: It’s very separate. Lyrically with this record I would just hear the songs and whatever words came to my mind I would just put them down. On [2012 album] Zoo, for example, it was constant writing and revisions, trying to make it poetic. With this record I wasn’t too concerned with the poetics of the lyrics. For example, ‘Can You Measure the Loss’, it’s just about losing somebody and right there on the spot when we were writing the songs I thought that’s what it sounds like to me. Usually I would go home, listen to the songs millions of times and write lyrics to them, but a lot of this record came to me right there in real time. I also wrote a series of poems that kind of connect to this record, so I made that my separate priority. We wanted to do something separate with the record and that was my contribution, the poetic side of things. But the lyrics in general and the songs in general were more there on the spot.
Anthony: They’re very stark. You listen to it once and you know the words and you know what they’re about.
Ceremony’s The L-Shaped Man is out now on Matador.