KAORU NAGISA DISCUSS THE LEGACY OF SCREAMO IN VIRGINIA, UPCOMING PROJECTS, AND THE SCI-FI AESTHETICS OF THEIR BAND’S MUSIC

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INTERVIEW BY JOE FITZPATRICK

PHOTOS BY NOORANN MATTIES

Founded on September 12, 2012 following the breakup of the Fairfax-based emo band STUDYING, vocalists TJ Whitehead and Chris Morgan, drummer John Crogan, and guitarist Ted Gordon started the band, which came to be known as KAORU NAGISA. The rest of the lineup, which includes vocalist Rebecca Lam, guitarist DJ Condon, and bassist Erich Brumback, was filled in by members of other emo and screamo bands from the Northern Virginia and Richmond music scenes. Though not all the members live in the same city, their passion for screamo and creating music together pushes them through. With a total of seven members, they are more like a small community with their own shared interests and ways of communicating. I sat down with Gordon, Morgan, Lam, and Brumback in Gordon’s Annandale townhome, while Crogan and Condon joined us from their home in Richmond broadcast over FaceTime on Gordon’s iPad.

What is “screamo” to you, individually or as a band?

DJ: Screamo means the world to me (laughs), and screamo is the music that basically got me into playing music, going on tour, and being in bands that I actually enjoyed.

Ted: I would say that screamo is interesting because obviously it’s a word that gets used to describe a lot of different things. I just call everything punk music, and I know not everybody will agree with that. But anything that carries on from the early rebellious attitudes and styles of American hardcore bands, like BLACK FLAG and whatnot, MINOR THREAT, and bands that I listened to in high school that meant a lot to me, that’s punk to me. Screamo means so many different things, so I use it to help describe the kind of music that we do, but it’s not always a very evocative phrase. … It doesn’t really work, so I just say “punk music.”  It’s loud and aggressive.

Chris: Screamo, to me, means an outlet for emotions, and I don’t feel like I can do that in a lot of other genres of music. I just feel like it’s a lot more genuine.

DJ: There’s no restraints with screamo music. There’s so many different kinds, and so many different mixes of it that it’s honestly to me one of the most creative styles of heavy music today because you can play any style of other music into it.

Why do you feel like other genres have restraints to expressing your emotions that screamo music does not?

DJ: In a lot of other types of music, you hear people talking about the main few bands that are that genre of music, and a lot of people feel like they need to make bands that sound exactly like those bands. I’m not saying that I don’t take influence from other bands, but I for sure draw influences from every style of music that I have ever enjoyed. I put that into music I make today.

Ted: I definitely think every genre has it’s constraints and themes it returns to. I say punk as an umbrage for everything because it’s easy to understand and easy to translate to people. But what I think “screamo” is are the bands that I started listening to in my late teens, like PG. 99, CITY OF CATERPILLAR, and MAJORITY RULE, and even European bands … that I really, really love. To me, there is something about a good scream song, especially one that carries on with tremendous dynamics that other genres don’t encapsulate it in terms of sheer emotion. To me, there are no songs that take you to really good highs and really good lows the way a good screamo song does.

Originally, you started the band with three vocalists, and it’s always a different mix of who’s doing it. What’s that like having multiple vocalists, and what’s the reasoning behind it?

Rebecca: Having three vocalists is cool, I think, because not many bands have more than two vocalists. So it is very cool to have a few voices, but it’s also chaotic sometimes, as you can tell. There’s enough vocals to fill the room for whatever type of music.

Chris: I think it also ties in with the live performance in that when you are playing a show, especially a screamo show, you want to have a lot of energy and get the audience involved, and having three standalone vocalists really contributes to that in that there are three “cannonballs” going in different directions into  the crowd and getting everyone involved.

Ted: Just to clarify, we have always had the same three vocalists from the beginning, but we do have other people [participate].  At this point a lot of people know the words so they’ll chip in, which is one of the unique things about what we do. Because we have seven people, we can do without sometimes one and even two members and have people fill in. We can have a friend who knows bass parts fill in, or a friend who knows vocal parts fill in. So we have had other people do vocals, but the vocal ensemble from the beginning has always been Rebecca, Chris, and TJ. That kind of happened by accident. I don’t think we meant it to be that way when we started.

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I know some of you guys also used to play in the Fairfax-based emo band STUDYING. Was the breakup of that band part of the reason why you formed KAORU NAGISA?

Ted: The whole reason we started was because STUDYING was breaking up, and I asked TJ if he wanted to be in a band with me because he was moving to Indiana. I knew I wanted to be in a band with TJ and with Eric, and then I asked John if he wanted to play drums because he is like “the drummer.” I think I’ve only ever been in a band with John as the drummer since I’ve been doing music for a long time now.

John: Naw man. I wasn’t in JAHAN.

Ted: That’s true; he wasn’t in JAHAN, my first screamo band. Then TJ said, “What about Rebecca?”  and  DJ said, “What about Chris?” So it started to feel like something I was cool with. … It ended up being a heavier band with three vocalists, which wasn’t something we set out to do. I just kind of happened. It;s kind of like our aesthetic.

You touched on it a little bit with TJ moving to Indiana, but I heard a rumor that the reason you started this band was to force some members to stay in touch after they moved to different states. Can you tell me about how your band got started?

Erich: STUDYING was breaking up, and STUDYING was a band that we have a lot of members from, like TJ, John, Chris …

Ted: And me.

Erich: And Ted. They were all looking for something new. So I think part of it was one ending begets something new. And SOLOMON [SOLOMON] broke up, which was Ted’s old band.

Ted: I was just trying to write new stuff and continue the same style. I think it is true that we did start the band so TJ would be forced to do something with us. He would have to come down to the area. I remember when we did our first EP, TJ hadn’t been at any practices or anything because he had been living in Indiana. So we would just send music and stuff. We did a whole bunch of demos. We would listen to them, and come back and rewrite. I remember when we came down to record for that, and that was a big event because he hadn’t been back in the area in a while.

Does your name come from a Japanese anime? What is its significance to your band?

Erich: Yes it does. It comes from Neon Genesis Evangelion, and I think we ended up picking that name because it was one thing that everyone in the band had in common.

Ted: Except for Chris (laughs).

Erich: Except  for Chris, everyone in this band had a love for that series. The other name we were thinking about was long.

Ted: We were trying to find common ground, and we were just talking about stuff that we  liked. We all liked Neon Genesis so one of the original names that we all agreed on for five minutes until somebody pushed against it was “Kawuro Nagisa died for your sins,” and then it was going to be the Japanese text. When the show was around, it was some kind of marketing technique they did.

John: It was a bumper sticker.

Ted: Right it was a bumper sticker, but we decided to cut it down to KAORU NAGISA.

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Your band used to be called “Kaworu Nagisa,” but about a year ago, you changed the spelling of it. Can you explain why that decision was made?

Ted: In most English translations there is a “W,” but we took out the “W” because I don’t know why. I remember that was Rebecca’s suggestion, but I don’t know why we did it. It works though.

Chris: I think we agreed it was more aesthetically pleasing without the “W” (laughs).

Who writes your lyrics? Is it a group effort, or is only one member responsible for them?

Ted: When we started the band, I had a very specific sci-fi aesthetic but not really science fiction in an of itself. One of the things that I really like about science fiction is its nature of being allegorical. One that I really enjoy is J.G. Ballard, an English author that writes a lot of short stories that are set in dystopian futures. They have a lot of “What ifs,” like what if the world was a giant city laid out grid-by-grid, and no one ever knew what flight was. Stuff like that. So I was like, what if we tried to be similarly allegorical and use sci-fi as strong imagery. I ended up writing the first EP’s lyrics, and I was cautious about it because I knew that I wouldn’t be doing any of the vocals. I was always sending them edits to make sure the lyrics were good, and eventually everyone just rolled with it. They picked the parts that they liked, and everyone took it from there. Pretty much after that first one, I have been hands off for lyrics.

Chris: For the split we did, we have three songs  so I thought it would be appropriate for each one of the vocalists to write about the main theme of what each song would be. So when the songs were in, I decided to pick one and then delegate the rest of the songs to the other two [vocalists]. So I just kept going with the sci-fi theme, and I wrote about some movie that I had seen called Doomsday Book.

Rebecca: I think we actually all wrote lyrics that had something to do with Doomsday Book because for the song that I picked, I wrote about being a robot and seeing how the world is from a robot’s point of view.

DJ: Will each of you say the song that you wrote on the split with SWAN OF TUONELA?

Chris: I wrote “A Six Part Seminar On Who Dies First,” TJ wrote “Will You Be Buried There?,” and Rebecca wrote … I forget (laughs) … “With The Same Eyes We Return.”

John: I named all the songs on Concessive (laughs)

Ted: Yes, that’s true.

Chris: And I named all the songs off of the split.

In November, you guys posted on Facebook that you will be writing two short songs, and you are “still in it to win it.” Can you tell me what they will be about and when you plan to release them?

Ted: We’re really behind in doing it, but it’s gonna happen. I’m just gonna have to force it through and make it happen. I don’t know what the songs are about because I’m not writing the lyrics.

Chris: I do.

Ted: I’ve written one of the songs at the very least. One of them is a split with COMA REGALIA from Indiana. We played with them over summer. … We had some wacky idea for a crazy 3″ record where we do a super short song, but now I think it’s gonna be a 7″

Chris: The idea came from Pat. He proposed a dual 3.5″ that would it side-by-side and be the size of a single 7″.

Ted: It’s still gonna happen, but we still gotta record. The other one is with Pat Bright, who Chris was mentioning. He plays guitar in GAS UP YR HEARSE from Illinois, and we also stayed at their house over the summer and played there. He is putting out a compilation called Swollen Lungs, and I think it’s his second one. We are also doing a very, very short song for that.

Chris: Being “in it to win it” has to do with still being a band.  Also, did you wanna know what the songs are about?

Ted: Sure. I don’t even know yet.

Chris: I’m pretty sure that one of the songs is going to be about a short online horror story called The Dionaea House about this sentient house that can change and morph and get people to do its bidding, and it eventually eats them.

Ted: Dionaea House is tight, if anybody hasn’t read it or seen it. I didn’t know it was about that, but that’s really awesome.

Was it made into a short film?

Chris: Actually, TJ just told me that the guy who wrote Dionaea House wrote a screen play for Dionaea House to be made into a film, and then the producers then asked him to write the prequel to The Thing.

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO KAORU NAGISA

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO KAORU NAGISA

 

Where are you potentially moving to?

Ted: We don’t know yet. I got married a year and a half ago, and my current job is ending. Our lease here is up so we have to find a new place to go to. I don’t know where that will be yet, but I’ve said from the beginning of this project that I have no intention of doing a “break up show” or last show. I think we did it when  STUDYING and SOLOMON SOLOMON broke up because people were moving and it sort of felt like it made sense. And I did it with my other band JAHAN too because one of our members was moving to California, but these are all some of my closest friends. Regardless of where I am, I want to keep making music with everybody, even if we are only together  once a year. … We’ll just keep going as long as everybody else wants to do it.

DJ: Forever.

Ted: I like how FUGAZI did it. They just went on hiatus, and they can put out a record whenever. Like who knows?

Since you guys have played in screamo bands for so long, and now there are more screamo bands than there have ever been, do you think screamo has a legacy in Virginia, or is it starting to have a legacy?

DJ: PAGE 99.

Erich: When you say screamo having a legacy in Virginia, it made me think of your first question, what screamo means to us individually. I remember being in high school and getting into screamo maybe more so than any other genre because I had been finding out about the legacy that it does have in Virginia. … There was something about what was taking place in Virginia so close to where I lived that it made it more real, or more relevant in a sense, which made me a lot more interested in it immediately. It’s cool that we’ve ended up participating in it. I think it definitely has a legacy in Virginia, and like DJ said, PAGE 99  and all the bands associated with it.

Ted:  To me, and I think everyone in the band knows, for me CITY OF CATERPILLAR is the top of the top. I think the fact that there were a lot of bands from here of the highest caliber [with] amazing musicianship, amazing songwriting, and wonderful lyrics, that is enough for me to consider it a legacy. And there’s so much going on now down in Richmond, and to think that any of us had anything to do with it means a lot to me for sure.

For more updates on KAORU NAGISA, be sure to “like” their Facebook page, and listen to their music on Bandcamp. You can also pick up their physical releases through VG Night, a tape label run by Gordon and his wife. 

SWAN OF TUONELA’S MOST RECENT TOUR BRINGS THE BAND CLOSER TOGETHER AND READY TO FINISH WRITING THEIR UPCOMING FULL-LENGTH RECORD

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INTERVIEW BY JOE FITZPATRICK

PHOTOS PROVIDED BY SWAN OF TUONELA

One of the few Virginia screamo bands making a huge mark in both the local and national scene is SWAN OF TUONELA from Richmond. Formed by members of other local bands, SWAN OF TUONELA includes drummer Will Neer, vocalist Gus Caldwell, guitarist Christian Marchant, bassist Chris Suarez, and guitarist Brian Russo. Since they began playing together in 2012, the band has toured across the country and as far south as Miami. Despite their van breaking down in Oklahoma City on their most recent tour, the band has progressed and made it home safely more tight knit and more dedicated to their craft. We spoke with Neer, Caldwell, and Russo regarding the band’s extended stay in Oklahoma, the origins of their band name, as well as the progress they have made on their upcoming full-length record.

I read online, that “The Swan of Tuonela” is an 1895 tone poem by the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius, and it is about a mystical swan swimming around Tuonela, which the island of the dead and the hero of the epic has been tasked with killing the sacred swan but he is killed and eventually restored to life. Why did you choose to name your band after this poem?

Brian: I heard the tone poem in high school, and it was something that kinda stuck with me. When we were in the process of trying to find a name that fit our style, we just went with it. Everyone was behind it. I showed the other bandmates the song, and they were about it and the story behind it.

Will: I initially hadn’t heard the tone poem and just had read the Finnish myth because it goes back way further than 1895. There is a lot of significance to it in Scandinavian culture. Tuonela is kinda like Hell for older religions there.

You guys just got back from tour. How did that go?

Gus: It went pretty well. We had some van trouble that ended up getting us stuck in Oklahoma City for a few days, but up ‘til then everything was really cool. We got all the way down to Miami, and then came up and over to Austin, played New Orleans, and then worked our way up to Oklahoma. Everyone was real receptive. Brian and I play in another band called KILGORE TROUT, and so, we’ve been to a few of those places before earlier this summer. But none of us had ever toured down to Florida before, so that was a good experience for everyone.

Do you have any memorable stories from the tour you can share?

Will: Definitely the van breaking down (everyone laughs). We’ve been on a few tours, and nothing that bad ever happened. We made the most of it though and ended up having five days in Oklahoma City, and met some really cool people and did cool things. And that was a significant chunk of our time out on the road, in the grand scheme of things. That was pretty memorable for me that we didn’t just waste those days away, and we were able to meet the right people at the right time.

What were some of the things that you guys did while you were stuck in Oklahoma City?

Gus: We ended up staying with this dude Leon, who was super welcoming to us. None of us had actually met him before. We just had a mutual friend who put me in touch with him, but he was really hospitable. We ended up at his mom’s, got some money. They had a real big pool at his mom’s house, and we all went up there and went swimming. And then another one of our friends works at this very awesome art gallery in Oklahoma City, so we spent a good couple hours there. Definitely got to see a lot more of Oklahoma than I thought I would. It’s actually a pretty cool place. I’ve said to some other folks in regards to getting stuck that I know bands who have broken down in west Texas or just out in the Midwest in the middle of nowhere and had nothing to do but sit in the hotel, and we just weren’t in that situation.  That was nice (laughs).

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How were you able to make it home?

Gus: We tried to leave on Friday morning and ended up finding out that day that our transmission was shot, and so we ended up just having to pay for a new transmission to get shipped in over the weekend and  then put in Monday. We left on Tuesday.

How much progress have you guys made on your upcoming full length?

Will: The four songs that we put out on the EP right before tour are definitely gonna be on the full length, and as for the rest of it, we are in the process of writing. We definitely haven’t all been in the same place in our writing setting for a while because of our other bands touring, but we’re about halfway through it.

So far, your band has recorded splits with a couple bands, such as WAR CRIMES. Do you have another split in the works as well?

Brian: I would say our main focus right now is putting out the full length and maybe touring, and as far as splits go…no.

 What are your thoughts on the Virginia music scene?

Will: I love it, honestly. I’ve certainly tried to make the most of it whether in Northern Virginia, the DC area, or down here in Richmond. It can get kind of cliquey at times, but it’s a lot of fun and I think people are generally supportive regardless of your sound if you put yourself out there and make it happen.

Brian: Virginia is also super diverse. You have a lot of cool pockets of bands. It’s pretty cool to see bands that come up from Virginia Beach, and they don’t really sound like bands from Northern Virginia. It’s pretty diverse

Gus: I actually ­– just this summer — moved to Richmond, and before that, I lived in Harrisonburg for five years. Seeing the difference between there and here, not like I haven’t spent time in Richmond or played shows here, but it’s a very different experience. Harrisonburg is much more of a college town scene, but definitely I had a lot of love for it. There’s a couple really cool spaces there. I lived at a house that has been doing shows for like three decades. Not too many people [in Harrisonburg] have an idea of how frequently shows are happening and how many bands come and go in Harrisonburg. It’s a pretty thriving local community, when all is said and done.

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Who are some of your favorite bands or musicians currently from Virginia?

Will: We are definitely all about a band from Northern Virginia/Richmond called KAORU NAGISA. They are very cool. For sure some Richmond bands, like TRUMAN and PAGE OF CONCRETE, that are in the screamo bands scene. I’m automatically drawn to people who are doing that in Virginia because there aren’t many.

For more updates on SWAN OF TUONELA, be sure to “like” their Facebook page and check out their music on Bandcamp.

CAUST RETURNS HOME TO NORTHERN VIRGINIA AFTER SUCCESSFUL DIY TOUR

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INTERVIEW BY SHELBY BAKER

PHOTOS PROVIDED BY CAUST AND ALLISON NEWBOLD PHOTOGRAPHY

Hailing from Northern Virginia, the band CAUST blends punk, hardcore and screamo into their overall delivery. Having been formed since late 2011, the band have two EP’s under their belt, with the most recent being Mass Graves (We Would Be Better Off), which was uniquely released though It’s a Trap! Records on cassette tapes.  In addition to the EP’s, they have also released a split with the band THIS IS NOT FOR YOU.  Recently, they participated in a summer tour which had stops throughout the country and furthered their fan base and prospective listeners. I was given the opportunity to interview their guitarist Phil, their drummer Will, and their vocalist Chris on their off day in Rhode Island and was given an insight on the band, their meaning, and future plans.

How is tour? Where did you go?

Will: Tour has been cool we’ve been out for about a month now. We went from the west coast, and are making our way back home.

CAUST is a very interesting band name. What does it mean and what inspired you to make it the band’s name?

Phil: I made it up, and I thought it sounded cool. It essentially comes from a suffix of a Greek word meaning to light a fire.

Will: it’s more of a made up word.

What inspired you to create music? Who are your biggest influences?

Phil: We all came from different backgrounds from metal and screamo. Collectively we are inspired by 90’s scream, such as the band ORCHID, JOSHING UP FOR BATTLE, and NEIL PERRY.

Were you guys excited to play in Rhode Island?

Will: Yeah we were. It was a lot of fun. We were playing with RAINDANCE.

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What do you hope your music means to your fans as well as future listeners?

Will: It’s essentially about raw emotion, straight up. Sort of just an outlet for anger and sadness and feelings of that kind. Sort of being expressed through fast music.

You guys released your music through a cassette tape instead of the common CD, what inspired you to release it that way?

Will: Being younger we can kind of see it cassette is just an alternate to that (a CD). It’s a physical release; it’s more of a personal release than a burned CD.

On your website the quote “no god, no plan” is displayed below your name. What does that mean to you personally as well as to the band?

Chris: A couple of years ago, one of my close friends was killed in a car accident, and I knew her since the third grade. I thought, “How could there be a god?” I wasn’t religious or anything; I was agnostic. After that experience of her dying, I had a break down and had a big talk with her friend, and I denounced god and didn’t believe that there was one. [I didn’t believe] that a God could do that to someone on regular basis.

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Are you guys working on new material, such as a full length?

Will: That’s what we’re doing currently. We’ve been writing two songs and that’s what we want to do right now. There might be as split later, but we are trying to do a full length soon.

What do you hope the future has in stock for CAUST?

Will: Definitely more touring and more vinyl.

Are there any bands or musicians from Virginia, or from surrounding areas, that you think people should check out?

Will: DIAL-UP and THIS IS NOT FOR YOU definitely.  Also, THE USUAL form Maryland. THE PESSIMIST HANGS THE OPTIMIST, I’d say that’s a good group. Also TRUST FALL.

For more updates on CAUST, follow them on Facebook and Tumblr, listen to their music on Bandcamp, and check out their merchstore.