Perhaps Frank Turner is not enough for your folk-feasting ears these days. Maybe he’s a little too country and not enough rock and roll. If your roots are embedded within the hardcore scene, craving to hear those heavy drum beats and echoing screams harmonizing along with the melody, then walk no further out into the field. This Glass Embrace’s Brothers, We Are Devils! fuse elements from both sounds, capturing raw emotions which question heavy-handed subjects like faith. I know – the word “faith” alone brings about a negative connotation, however, the more Christian-esque songs on the album don’t exactly correlate with the stereotypes of Christian rock. You won’t hear anyone singing the “Hallelujah Chorus” on this record.
But what you will hear is a lovely blend of acoustic guitars and Matthew LeFever’s fiancé’s, Jackie, singing gorgeously in songs such as, “Chase the Horizon.”
Luckily, I was able to catch up with the guys from This Glass Embrace to talk a little more in-depth about the new album, which was released last Monday. From faith to caffeine, we covered it all in our interview.
ASHLEY JEAN: Why split the record in two as opposed to writing and releasing two separate albums?
MATT: I never really plan what an album is going to sound like. Our first record was very acoustic, full of mandolins and flutes and stuff. Then the second (where Zack and Kenny joined the band) got kicked up a notch into almost post-hardcore. When I went to write this one it was heading in a very acoustic direction again. We had demoed out the whole track list when finally Zack stepped in and said something like, “what am I going to play on this album?” And I realized that we were neglecting an entire half of our sound. So we came up with the half-and-half thing, so that we could keep the folksy thing we were doing but have some songs that we would want to rock out on live, too.
KENNY: Initially, we knew right off the bat that we wanted this album to be more stripped down and shorter in length, limiting ourselves to only 10 songs. After the large and intimidating scale of our previous album (2008’s “A Ghost in the Photograph”) we aimed to do the exact opposite. After a few listens to the acoustic demos from start to finish, Zack, Matt and I talked about wanting a bit more of a hardcore representation on the album. Splitting the album was sort of an acknowledgement of the fact that our music is quite varied in terms of style. Personally, whenever I show somebody my band, I generally ask them what they’re in the mood for before I select a song to play. This was just our way of saying that we know that our music is impossible to fit into just one genre.
ASHLEY JEAN: As a sufferer from anxieties, including claustrophobia, what exactly is this “modern claustrophobia”? (I’m guessing it’s not exactly the feeling of one being trapped in an elevator or subway.)
MATT: The album is very much about leaving, about wanting out; or other people leaving and how that makes you feel. Here in Arizona, especially, people start to idealize other places, they get trapped in their nine-to-five or their obligations and feel like if they could just go, move somewhere, start over, it would all be different. I’m not sure I buy this, which is what the song “Chase the Horizon” is about, but you can still get to feeling caged by adulthood. I think by “modern claustrophobia” I mean the type of thing that Chuck Palahniuk wrote about in Fight Club… how sometimes you get trapped in this monochrome repetitive cycle and just want something, anything, to change.
ASHLEY JEAN: You mentioned the that there is an element of folk in your music, and the record itself sounds extremely raw, free of overbearing synths and whatever technology is used to make music these days. With that in mind, do you think folk music could be made and still sound “genuine” if it did start introducing elements of synths and what not?
MATT: I’ve struggled with that in the past, but at the end of the day I really love electronics. We did a few things on this album where we threw really artificial sounds into songs that were otherwise all acoustic (the latter half of “Somewhere With Seasons”, the intro of “Postage Paid”) and I feel like it meshed pretty well. There is a bias towards equating genuineness and indie cred with real, physical instruments, where it’s absolutely essential that you hire a glockenspiel player instead of sample one in Reason. I’m not sure that bias needs to exist, though.
ASHLEY JEAN: Relationship experts would argue that working with your significant other could put a significant strain on couples, but yet, Matt – you said you “like to have one song per album where Jackie sings the lead.” I find that sweet! But I’m also curious: Why (aside from obvious reasons) is her voice such a pertinent part of your music?
MATT: There’s a line in the secret song on the record, where I say “my voice always sounds better when you sing along with it”. The first time Jackie ever sang on one of my songs was in 2004, on a song called “This Glass Embrace” that ended up being the first song written for our debut album, and the source of our band name. Then the day after that was our first kiss. So our relationship and our musical collaborations have always been kind of entwined, but the truth is she is hands down the most talented singer I’ve ever met, and our songs are always improved immensely by her voice. She’s my other half, both musically and otherwise.
KENNY: Jackie Roche is the best singer that I personally know. The songs that she sings on in This Glass Embrace (as well as other Nodding Dog projects) are often my favorites. Also, Matt and I are big fans of dual vocals (from Taking Back Sunday to Lydia). It definitely shows in a lot of our work.
ZACK: I love the songs that Jackie sings on… anyone who sings with Jackie automatically sounds better. There is usually one song per album where I get to scream and have her sing over it, too (the end of “In So Many Words” is the one this time through), and the contrast sounds amazing.
ASHLEY JEAN: “Chase the Horizon,” as you mentioned, is kind of a response to a Stephen Crane poem. Are there any other literary allusions embedded within any of the other songs in, Brother, We Are Devils! ?
MATT: Yeah, there are quite a few. Jackie and I have another band called Your Forgotten Love where we draw all the lyrics from poetry and theater, and I guess that kind of spilled over. For a while I was naming all the songs after classic novels: “It All Cuts Both Ways, Now” is a line from Dostoevsky and “The Footsteps Die Out For Ever” is the last chapter of A Tale of Two Cities. There are ten Bible verses quoted between “Apple of Discord” and “Sleepers, Awake!”, and one line from King Lear in “In So Many Words”. Stephen Crane is the main one, though. The album’s title is even inspired by one of his poems.
KENNY: Matt is always pulling from books, poems, film, etc. for bits of lyrics and song titles. Random fact: the title of the song “One Thirty-Seven, Exactly” (from our last album) is a reference to a line from the movie Empire Records.
ASHLEY JEAN: If Brothers, We Are Devils! was wall art, which room in the house might I most likely find this painting?
MATT: Probably the bedroom. I don’t think this is a living room/foyer kind of album. Although now that I re-read that, it sounds more suggestive than I meant it to.
KENNY: You would find it in the room of the middle child who is desperately trying to discover his place in this world.
ZACK: On the threshold. And it should be a mansion, not a house.
ASHLEY JEAN: Why do you think it’s important for bands to tackle a heavy-weighted topic such as religion? What were you hoping that listeners would discover in listening to the most religious song on the album, “Sleepers, Awake!”?
MATT: I play music at my church, and I love doing that, but the types of songs that are usually considered Christian music are very relentlessly positive. That can be wonderful and there is a place for it, but I’ve always been drawn to the other side, the bands that aren’t afraid to write about struggles and doubts. I know it makes me feel better to listen to bands like As Cities Burn and Manchester Orchestra that are clearly strong in faith but are still shot through with fear and grief. I don’t think being a religious person means knowing the answers all the time, and never questioning. There are a lot of bands that challenge religion but there aren’t that many that challenge it from the inside. “Sleepers” especially is my attempt to dissect some of the problems and doubts I have, but back it up with a strong statement of what I do believe.
KENNY: I would say what is more important than doing songs about religion is doing songs about the “reality” of religion. Religion isn’t all bells and whistles. It is often ugly, dirty and challenging. Too often, I believe that bands try to sugar-coat their religion and make it seem like everything is okay, and that is simply not true all the time. Personally, my mother is a pastor and I have grown up going to church as far back as I can remember, but even I have struggles with faith (especially in the last couple of years). I can’t pretend that everything is perfect all the time when there are people out in the world doing disgusting acts in the name of my God. The thing that I would want people to get from “Sleepers, Awake!” is that it is not uncommon to have what is referred to as a “crisis of faith”. I think it is summed up really well with the line: “If Christ Himself can beg You from the cross, asking ‘My God, why have You forsaken me?’, then all hope must not be lost for one like me”.
ZACK: This album feels like a more realistic Christian album. Nobody is ever as positive as some of those praise songs are. Not everyone believes this but I am a Christian; but that said, I’d rather listen to religious music that I can relate to and not something that is all beams of sunshine and good will
ASHLEY JEAN: The lyrics in “Postage Paid” had me thinking: do you write songs about people you have yet to meet or hope to meet in places which you’ve never been to before?
MATT: My default setting is to write with complete honesty, about life and myself. But on the last record we did a concept album thing, with fictional characters, and that freed me up a lot to mix and match. One or two of the songs on this album are about hypothetical people, and some are about real people but not about me. I’m happily engaged, so you can be especially sure that if I’m singing about a breakup or a relationship falling apart, that it’s about a friend or a character I’ve written.
ASHLEY JEAN: “Coffee” and “caffeine” serves as motifs on the album. So – as a fellow addict – how do you like your coffee/caffeine?
MATT: I have a love/hate relationship with coffee. I can’t seem to live without it but I also can’t stand it straight, I’m always doctoring it with peppermint mocha creamer or some such. I’m terrible at sleeping and so I overcompensate by drinking way too much coffee, that’s what the references on the album are about. I’ve actually had to dramatically cut down on my caffeine since then because it started messing with me; I was grinding my teeth in my sleep.
KENNY: Tall white mocha from Starbucks. However, if I’m at Matt’s house, he usually has some sort of amazing seasonal creamer on hand.
ZACK: I typically drink two Rockstars, three cups of coffee, and probably nine sodas a day.
ASHLEY JEAN: Lastly, which 5 songs, aside from your own, do you think captivate wanderlust – making the listener crave to leave their town even more so?
MATT: My go-to for this is a one-man-band called John Says Sorry. He’s a friend of ours but his album was a big inspiration for this one… every song of his captures that feeling of escape. I guess my five would be:
1. John Says Sorry – “When The New Becomes Familiar”
2. The Weakerthans – “Left and Leaving”
3. Manchester Orchestra – “It’s Ok With Me”
4. Bright Eyes – “Weather Reports”
5. Death Cab For Cutie – “Passenger Seat”
1. Jimmy Eat World – “Work”
2. John Says Sorry – “I Lost Your Spare Keys”
3. Iron and Wine – “Such Great Heights (Postal Service cover)”
4. The Labors of Sisyphus – “At Least Loneliness Comes For Free”
5. Umbrellas – “Picture of Departure”
Originally published on August 16, 2011