After one of their sets at this year's SXSW, I pulled Andy Maddox and Aaron Neigher of The Saddest Landscape aside to talk about the current state of hardcore music. The band has been around for almost a decade now, and both men, especially Maddox, have been involved in the hardcore scene that brewed in the mid to late '90s. The following conversation is one of the best insights on the current state of the D.I.Y. punk and hardcore scene I've had the pleasure to have.
There's two parts to The Saddest Landscape. You guys have been around for a while, and nothing has happened and now everything is happening again. Can you explain the back story of the gap between making music?
Andy Maddox: We started about nine years ago. Cover Your Heart, the first 7", is approaching its ten year mark. We got together and just played because we loved to play. That went on for a few years, a number of records, did some touring. Then, at a certain point, people started going to school. People had other commitments. One of our guitarist couldn't do it anymore. We didn't necessarily break-up, we just stopped doing things. Aaron and I continued to play under Her Breath on Glass. On one of the European Her Breath on Glass tours, we were approached by a promoter in Austria to kind of headline a festival, called Transmission Fest. They were really excited to have The Saddest Landscape play, and we got the opportunity. A couple of friends who were in this band that was touring with us filled in. Then we decided to put the discography out on vinyl. From there the excitement grew and we continued to just want to keep doing it. I think first, we ended up hooking up with Mike, who is our bassist, and then Eric, who is our newest guitarist, and we've just been going ever since. [To Aaron] You want to add?
Aaron Neigher: Everything that Andy said. Another piece of the pie, for a while we kind of felt like we were on our own. The sounds that we had been playing, it kind of died down over the years. Just from me personally, and I can't say for the rest of the band, when we got back together, first and foremost we just wanted to play and it was so much fun. I was really inspired by all the other amazing bands that are considered in this sound. That kind of re-sparked my personal excitement - bands like Pianos and bands like Touche. Obviously that wasn't the reason, but it felt like we were kind of part of something again, you know?
That brings me to my next question then. One of the biggest splits you guys have done thus far is with Funeral Diner. It's a sought after split amongst my friends. There were so many years were things were happening, and on a personal level, I didn't really connect to, and now I feel it is coming back with these bands. How does it feel to get recognized among this new wave of bands as an already established one?
Maddox: I don't know if "growing up" is the right term. Even in the mid-'90s when this whole D.I.Y. scene started, and I was going to shows and even before The Saddest Landscape started, there was this whole network. There were bands like Funeral Diner and City of Caterpillar. We didn't feel so isolated, and there was this community. At some point it kind of died off in the mid to late 2000s I guess? It wasn't like it effected us playing, we just felt isolated. It was harder to do things. In the past couple of years, there's been this resurgence. It's not like it completely went away, but kids are excited about it again. Now there's a network of friends doing the same thing. Touche doesn't sound like Pianos who doesn't sound like Defeater who doesn't sound like Comadre. Everyone seems to support each other and is real excited about it. It's great to have that again.
Is it great to have that again, that sense of community?
Neigher: Absolutely. I think that comes down to the fact that all the bands we just talked about, it's a variation on a sound, but they're adding their own twist to it and adding their own originality. Music happens like that. It sort of dies off in waves. The second or third wave is kind of generic and clones and throwbacks to what it sounded like. In my mind, every band, like [Andy] said, is so unique and so good in their own ways. At the end of the day, they're taking something old and adding something fresh to it.
Maddox: Besides, not just for us, it's exciting for the kids. Kids might be excited for Touche, but they've never heard of us, but the energy is still there. It keeps things going. It's exciting for the interest it brings for not just the bands. There's labels supporting those bands. We're doing these interviews. It's a big community. It just wasn't there for a while. It was, but it seemed like Europe had a hold on this genre for years. It was all Diatro and La Quiete. Those were the most inspiring bands. For a while, we did well overseas comparatively. Venues we couldn't fill here, we'd pack out over there. It's really exciting to see that sort of response here now.
Is there any concern though, say in early 2000, when kids were getting into '90s D.I.Y. and bands were breaking like Thursday and Thrice and Poison the Well…well, I mean those bands introduced me to bands like Botch and Cave In and such, where do you think it came to a point in late 2000 where bands were making copies of themselves? Do you think that needed to happen first?
Maddox: There was a period, well, when Thursday really broke, it was exciting for that to happen. Somehow this whole scene came up around them. I call them the "Alternative Press bands," and I don't mean that against the magazine, but there was this whole scene that just felt alien to us. It just became "mall" or this mainstream version of what we were doing. Kids ultimately just got tired of it. They were force fed these little packages and the bands were interchangeable. At a certain point, they were like, "You know what? I don't feel anything from this anymore. The passion is not there. I want to be able to interact with the band. I want to be able to have a sweaty kid next to me. I want to feel like I'm more than a spectator. I want to feel like I'm part of something." I think that's what's really happened over the past couple of years. It's like people really got fed up.
Do you feel then that all of this is really just a backlash of that in a way?
Neigher: I don't know if it's a backlash. I totally agree with Andy that it was time for something new, and it was time for something real. I don't want to say "that Thursday sound," because we love Thursday…
But the community needed to happen again…
Neigher: Yeah. It got tired. From an outside perspective, the passion went away. It became more about aesthetics and a formula and not real music. Kids, I don't know if they consciously knew it, but they wanted something a little bit more real. The thing about all these new labels is that they're not pigeon holding themselves to a certain sound. These aren't all exclusive hardcore labels. All these labels [mentioned] will sign an awesome pop-punk band or an awesome indie band. Kids like it. I feel like a few years ago, it was more segmented. "If it's not a hardcore band. Fuck it. If it's not a pop-punk band fuck it." Now, kids are just as stoked on The Wonder Years on No Sleep as they are about Former Thieves. Those bands sound absolutely nothing alike. It's awesome, because it's introducing kids to a whole library of music.
Do you think that that's necessary to push out the regurgitation of things toward the end of the new hump?
Neigher: I don't know if it was necessary…
Maddox: I don't think it was necessary. I just think it was meant to happen. You saying it was "necessary" makes it sound like it was calculated. I think it more just happened as a gradual thing. These bands were always there, they were just in smaller sects. Now we can label it and group everything together, which just opens it up to more people one at a time. I'm sure, a couple of years from now, it's just going to go back and more underground and obscure. It's not just this genre of music, it's everything. Look when Nirvana broke. That changed everything before. Every ten years shit needs to get weeded out. Kids need to get inspired again. Bands need to step up and do that. We have a responsibility to this scene. You can just make kids come to shows, you have to make them interested in it. You can't half-ass this.
You guys saw the tail-end of the '90s D.I.Y. scene, and you are now part of this resurgence. How do they compare and how do they contrast each period?
Neigher: My real quick answer is, I feel there is a lot of similar parallels, but I think it's bigger. It's less contained. Used to be the same kids going to these shows. Now you have all these labels diversifying the sound. It spills over into all these things. Like Into It. Over It. will play with Defeater.
Maddox: It's on a different level though. Even bigger bands [talked about now] like Orchid or Indian Summer - within our scene they were huge. They would never get the media coverage [the bands get now] or get on a tour with Touche. It's not that either band is better or worse. Both bands influence me a lot. It was more contained within our scene. Now it's bigger. It's more across the board. Not to put [Aaron] on the spot, but when we first started this, a lot of those [older] bands you didn't particularly care for. It's reached a wider a net.
So it's really the Internet?
Maddox: It's definitely the Internet.
Is that bad or good?
Maddox: Depends on which one of us you ask. [Laughs]
Okay, well, let's get both sides.
Neigher: It's great. Nothing but good for the obvious reasons. People that would never in a million years be exposed to your music. There are people who will download your record, and if they like it, they will pass it along to their friends. It's the simple principle of social networking, but it's all digitalized now. From my perspective, it's great. It gets hard sometimes when kids are downloading and not paying for it, but I do it to. I go out and support the records I really like. In the grand scheme of things, I think, 110%, it has helped cast the net over this sound of music because of people sharing.
Maddox: I think there's definitely positives to it, but I think overall, the negatives outweigh it. If I could remove the Internet from the equation, I probably would. I'm speaking for myself, not the band. I got into this before the Internet. That didn't stop me from going out and finding bands and didn't stop me from buying records. If anything, I tended to latch on the ones that I did buy. I spent time reading those lyric sheets and making it personal. I wanted to go out of my way to support those bands, because I felt invested by it. There's too many kids now that won't even give bands a chance because they will read on a message board that a band is sloppy. They will move on because there's another band waiting to get listened to. Bands will get destroyed because the support isn't the same way. I have drawn lines. I will not download, period. I will buy an insane amount of records to even that out. That's not to insult anybody that is downloading our records. I understand that it is inevitable and that's how the music world works now. I will not support it. The Internet has helped us, so I can't hate it too much.
What was the better time, when you first started, or now? The kids that are coming to shows, the people who are now stoked on your band and didn't realize you've been around for some time? At the same time, realizing that what you are a part of now is what a revival of what you started out in.
Neigher: I would say, for me personally, it's something I'm more excited about now than I have ever been. Not to knock any of those bands back then, it's personal preference, but I wasn't as stoked on it as I am now. The peers in this scene...
Maddox: The bands now are more influenced. Then you were listening to bands outside of it. We could play with D.I.Y. screamo bands, but you could listen to a Botch record and get all excited. That wasn't a band we played with.
Neigher: Honestly...this is a really good question. It's tough. I guess it's the same.
Maddox: I think the interesting thing we notice now is that we have a new history. A lot of people don't realize our past.
Neigher: Yeah, they don't realize we've been doing this for a decade.
Maddox: I've been in bands and a part of this for almost 15 years now. People think You Will Not Survive is the first record we ever did. "That's a strong debut record sir." [Laughs] You thank them, because they're into it. We're very proud of this LP. When we decided to do this again, we knew we had to come out swinging. Part of that was, we knew the bar was set higher. When we heard Old Pride, we knew the game changed.
Neigher: We took half a year after hearing that record. We knew, for the kids who hadn't heard about us, we couldn't put out a mediocre record.
I feel like every interview has a question and response about the scene and the "bullshit" in it. That's not a knock on the band or you, Adam. I just feel like it's such a cookie cutter--even trendy--response nowadays. As admirable as their intentions may be, it's almost bland to hear it over and over.
I hope he wasn't calling Thursday a fake/copy band. Otherwise these guys are great, jamming out to You Will Not Survive right now, though Maddox probably hates me for downloading it (legally though, through Amazon)