*BOTH SHOWS SOLD OUT*
People often wonder why Philadelphia's NOTHING are so damn loud. In the case of many artists, the volume stems from a preoccupation with negativity, misanthropy and the human condition. But while NOTHING's attitude lines up with these ideas, their personality isn't one
that the band picked from a list of cliches. Instead, it's one that's been molded by the band's own experiences, from family troubles and personal tragedy to a string of bad luck that Murphy's Law would balk at. And that volume, rather than a selling point, is the only way the band has been able to translate the difficulty of real-life events into musical form.
NOTHING frontman Domenic Palermo got his start as the brains behind the late 90s/early 2000s hardcore/punk act Horror Show in the crime-riddled neighborhoods of Frankford & Kensington in North Philadelphia. Unfortunately, Horror Show's existence was cut short In 2002, when Palermo was incarcerated for an aggravated assault charge (to which he pleaded self-defense) and subsequently served a 2-year prison sentence. After getting out of prison and working the next 5 years under watch of Pennsylvania parole board, Palermo took a lengthy hiatus from music, entering a period of personal reflection that led him through a maze of death, negativity and uncertainty. Nicky returned to music in 2010, and founded NOTHING with the release of the demo Poshlost (named for an intense and quintessentially Russian form of spiritual banality). Following the release of Poshlost, Palermo met Brandon Setta, who would bring lush, rich soundscapes and a fresh approach to Palermo's vision for NOTHING and to the band's next two EPs, Suns And Lovers (Big Love, 2011) and Downward Years To Come (A389, 2012).
NOTHING then signed to Relapse for their debut 2014 full-length Guilty Of Everything, which was inspired by the events surrounding Palermo's prison sentence. The album's genuineness and widespread critical acclaim (from publications such as Rolling Stone, NPR, Stereogum, SPIN,Noisey, The FADER, Vogue and many others) seemed to forecast a new, more positive chapter for NOTHING. The band toured Europe and North America extensively in support of Guilty, and performed at festivals including Osheaga, Roadburn, Firefly, Budweiser Made In America, and SXSW, but this period was unfortunately brief. In summer 2015, while on the eighth consecutive month of a non-stop tour that had seen the band performing with the likes of DIIV, Merchandise, Torche, Failure, Hum and more, Palermo was mugged and badly injured in Oakland, CA. The assault ultimately left Palermo with a fractured skull & orbital, nineteen staples, and a drastically re-shaped perspective about his music and life in a larger sense.
That new mindset, which the band hadn't been able to realize until Palermo's injury, forced them to come up for air from the endless touring - "Like when you're in a car going 100 miles per hour and connect with an oak tree and everything behind you comes smashing forward," as Palermo put it. That was the basis for the band's new record Tired Of Tomorrow, which was recorded over the course of a month at Studio 4 with Will Yip (Title Fight, Superheaven, Touche Amore, etc) this past October. Even since the completion of Tired Of Tomorrow, NOTHING have faced new challenges and difficulties that would certainly have sunk a lesser band. As NOTHING were gearing up to release Tired Of Tomorrow via Collect Records, the band discovered that the label had been funded by the now-infamous hedge fund manager Martin Shkreli. After Collect Records and their entire roster eventually dissolved under the weight of the controversy, NOTHING were left adrift. Former partner Relapse Records got on board with releasing the new album, but NOTHING were not finished with their trials - just this past November, Palermo's father unexpectedly passed away in a tragic accident, heaping the band with further personal difficulties on top of their professional ones.
Yet throughout all this, the band has always maintained a unique stoicism alongside its apathy, one that extends beyond mere riffs and reverb. All the band's music, especially Tired of Tomorrow and Guilty Of Everything, have managed to meld past, present and future simultaneously into their approach, both musically and thematically. Borrowing from personal memoir and external works alike, NOTHING have worked the deepest influences of their youth & maturation into a package that's ultimately at its most relevant in the present day. Case in point: Tired Of Tomorrow was written before the Shkreli debacle, but as Palermo sees it, those events only served to strengthen the sentiments and ideas behind Tired Of Tomorrow rather than confuse its message. It's a mess to think about, but as always, the contradictions and paradoxes of the kind NOTHING harnesses ultimately lead to the greatest revelations, and the band's personal and tragic path has nonetheless led NOTHING to produce deeply heartfelt and inspiring music. Whichever way you want to look at it, you can't deny that NOTHING feels good.
Breakup albums mark a turning point for a band: the moment when their sound completely changes and reaches a new level of emotional clarity. All that heartbreak and malaise condensed into any single record often makes for a defining piece of work, no matter the genre. The best records explore the nooks and crannies of sadness, learning it inside and out — celebrating it.
Ceremony’s fifth studio album, The L-Shaped Man, uses singer Ross Farrar’s recent breakup as a platform to explore loneliness and emotional weariness, but it is by no means a purely sad album. Rather than look inward, Farrar uses his experience to write about what it means to go through something heavy and come out the other side a different person.
In order to tell Farrar's story, Ceremony have almost completely stripped back the propulsive hardcore of their previous records, turning every angry outburst into simmering despair. “We’ve always tried to be minimalists in writing, even if it’s loud or fast or abrasive,” says lead guitarist Anthony Anzaldo. “It’s really intense when I hear it. Not in a way where you turn everything up to ten. Things are so bare, you’re holding this one note for so long and you don’t now where it’s going—to me, that’s intensity.” That intensity is apparent on “Exit Fears,” the first full song on the record. It meticulously pairs Justin Davis’ loping bassline, which pulls the track along, with Anzaldo's icy, minimal guitar work. It brings to mind some alternate version of Joy Division that hasn’t quite lost all hope. It gets close to exploding, but instead plays the shadows, never quite rising above a nervous simmer.
“A lot of the content has to do with loss, and specifically the loss of someone who you care deeply about,” Farrar says. “There is no way for you to go through something like this artistically and not have really strong emotions of loss and pain. There’s not really any way to hide that.” Farrar, for his part, is singing with a new kind of intensity, his baritone swooping and retreating from stressed angst to unsettling near-mutter as he sings, “You told your friends you were fine/ you thought you were fine too…” and later, “nothing is ever fine/ nothing ever feels right/ you have to tell yourself you tried.” It’s the first of many lyrically direct moments, and it should be hard to listen to, but Ceremony have so effortlessly nailed the sound of sadness that it feels great to live inside for awhile.
The sound is abetted by producer John Reis, who honed his sound in seminal bands like Rocket from the Crypt, Drive Like Jehu, and Hot Snakes. Much of the gravelly aggression he experimented with in those bands is present on The L-Shaped Man.
There's a story behind the title too. “I was speaking to our driver Stephen while on tour,” Farrar says. “We were talking about men in general and what shape they are…their body type. I said, ‘I guess men are in the shape of an L. The torso is straight. Vertical. And then you have the little feet at the end.’ There’s this painter named Leslie Lerner who was living in San Francisco in the ‘70s and ‘80s and made these beautiful paintings. He died on my 21st birthday. A lot of the record is about the similarities in our ideas. In what we’re trying to make. Things that have to do with love and losing love.”
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