Hearing Hostage Calm's self-titled record was exciting. It had a message, it's execution of guitar work and energy was invigorating, it was slick and above all, it stirred a following. Just as it sounded like Hostage Calm had harnessed a musical tag among the dog race, they surprised everyone with "The M Word." When Christopher Martin and I talked a bit late last year, he said Hostage Calm was going to progress more. A few weeks before hitting the studio, I sent Martin a couple of questions about Please Remain Calm! and his and the band's political and social vocal stances that have been taken.
What's your ultimate goal musically as a statement with Please Remain Calm! in the end, and how did that develop from going into the studio with one idea and coming out with the final product now?
In April 2012, we all moved into a cabin in the middle of upstate New York to live and work on Please Remain Calm! before tracking. Our hope was to get emotionally inside these songs: to take our doubts, our fears, our triumphs and failures, and channel it all into every second of this record. The anxiety, the stress, the hungeróthere was an urgency that we needed to make an unmistakable part of the music. As a listener, you canít physically see the longing that defined some hard years in my life. But like a person who you canít see but you know is looking at you, itís unmistakably there.
What did J. Robbins bring to the recording process? I like the idea of specific engineers and producers working with certain bands, and I think J. Robbins sounds like a great ear for this upcoming album.
He has what young musicians like us often lack: wisdom. He understands that while digital recording is convenient and advantageous on a given take, the sum total of constantly digitizing and editing music is a complete loss of musical feeling and warmth. He taught us that our band was talented, and that we needed to trust in our ability to make great songs through getting great performances, instead of trusting in technologyís capacity to make our music sound good.
How much of a "message" do you see and not see coming across the bigger blanket of punk rock these days? Do you see Hostage Calm as a needed voice among the quiet or simply a voice that is humbly being heard because there aren't enough bands (not that there aren't more) speaking up for/against social and political issues?
I am just surprised that such a stagnant and painful time for young people hasnít come with an increased consciousness of youth problems in America. Iím not talking about the unemployment rate or home foreclosure statistics. Iím talking about the tangible loss of direction, of a future, for people our age. How do you study when thereís no job for you? How do you love in a place where nothing moves forward? I think a lot of people can feel this void, this heartbreak, but no one is really talking about it.
How have you taken your stances on certain issues into the lyrical process of Please Remain Calm!? Do you feel itís more of a first person view or a third person narrative?
Songs donít need to necessarily be about something, you donít have to set out to write about a topic. But, songs that channel the social environment are ones that truly become a force, that make people rethink their lives. If you can find that current feeling thatís also a timeless feeling, then you make a classic. Song-writing should start with true, painful soul-searching. Itís often subtle, but great songs are born from a place of honest understanding and realization.
What's the overall message of Please Remain Calm!, and do you think it'll be subtle or will it be easily picked up after the first listen?
Itís just an honest confession of how my life was falling apart and the things I tried to do in the face of my failures. I guess itís about being left behind. Itís about this broken, stalled time weíre all living in. Itís about wanting to go somewhere when thereís nowhere to go. But with this record, there are no slogans, no answers. Itís not a commercial or some public service announcement. Itís the sound of everyone giving up on you, and you trying not to give up on yourself.
What has been the hardest part of being in a band that has taken a stance on an issue as big as gay rights/marriage? What has been the most rewarding aspect?
There is nothing hard about defending justice. History is on our side and we feel lucky to recognize this historic moment in a great civil rights tradition. Playing benefit shows and working with other activists and kids in the scene is a lot of fun. It keeps me excited on punk rock and reminds me of the power that we all have when we can come together for equality.
You started a column over at PropertyOfZack. How did this come about? What's the difference in mindset between writing music versus writing a more formal letter about issues you feel adamant about?
When you write an op-ed piece, you get a chance to really explain yourself more exhaustively. You also get to speak to your audience through a medium that they arenít use to seeing from your band. So thatís pretty cool. When you write music, you donít cite sources or statistics. I think Iíve been more a songwriter than a writer, and while itís a nice change of pace, my true passion is writing music.
How much of Hostage Calm's success would you say has come out the underground "community" of bands such as Native, The World is a Beautiful Place, Such Gold and others? How important do you think it is to keep that up, but eventually branch out as well - like your tour with Anti-Flag?
We were born in the underground, and I think our music will always speak to the scene. Most of the shows that changed my life took place in basements and legion halls. I think DIY shows, word-of-mouth, indie music press coverage, and the ability to access our music online have all driven our bandís ďsuccess.Ē But, Hostage Calm has always been about inclusion and connecting with people and so we are always excited on an opportunity to tour with bigger bands. Especially a band like Anti-Flag, who had such a profound effect on us growing up.
Coming off the success of the self-titled, your RFC 7" and especially the growth with "The M Word," what are some elements from the past you brought into the studio this time? Where have you seen yourself as a band improve the most on?
Heavy touring taught us a lot about ourselves, including the importance of capturing our live energy. We definitely brought that into the recording session. This is also the first record weíve recorded with two guitar players IN the band at the time of tracking, and writing for two guitarists and just having a greater knowledge of guitar intonation definitely helped. Before, I think I envisioned songwriting in a very technical, theoretical way. But as I got more in-tune with the nuances of guitar playing, the arrangements