San Diego outfit Crasher got its start last summer when Exasperation drummer Dave Mead set out to front his own project as a guitarist/vocalist. The group's debut four-song EP, Traitor, was recorded as a duo with AJ Peacox on bass (Jordan Krimston has since joined on drums) and kicks out a really nice batch of alternative/indie rock tunes that are both jangly and restrained as well as punky and energetic. The vocal approach being half-spoken/yelled with hints of singing provides an intriguingly frantic edge, and everything works quite well within a lightly rugged recording aesthetic that perfectly accentuates the underlying atmosphere of the material. You might not catch just how much it's stuck with you until later in the day when you realize that you've got a little looped guitar riff, vocal snippet, or roving bassline acting as a secret soundtrack in the back of your mind.
Available digitally on May 8, you can pre-order Traitor now through Bandcamp. Check out opener "That Same Old Thing" below, followed by an informative chat with Mead to get some backstory plus details on where things might be headed next...
Having primarily been a drummer at first, I'd imagine there was some degree of confidence-building necessary transitioning into your work with Crasher—as a vocalist, of course, but also from a songwriting perspective. Talk a little about what it was like to come out from behind the kit and build up your own band.
I knew that there would for sure be some new nerves I would have to address. Being a drummer, I've felt like I've been the chef at a bunch of different restaurants and Crasher is me finally opening my own place. Even just the basic concept of standing while playing music instead of sitting behind the drums is totally new and revelatory to me. I've been a finger-style guitar player in the background of my life as a drummer for a long time—always writing these jangly, finger-picked folk songs—but my drumming style and my guitar style never really shared a bloodline until I finally started playing with a pick about a year ago. That was a total happy accident: it turns out the guitar pick is just like a tiny drumstick. I retooled one of my crazy-chord folk songs to work with a pick and I yelled it into the mic instead of singing it softly. The content changed as well, it got more intense, but I liked the feeling of pushing it there. Drums are naturally a form of therapy because they're so physically exhausting, but in comparison to lyrical songwriting it's more like going on a run than sitting in a therapist's office.
I showed the first few songs I wrote to AJ Peacox, who would become the bass player of Crasher, and I did so in a way that I had always wished that someone had shown their songs to me when I was in their rhythm section. Sometimes, the instructions you receive about the drums from a non-drummer are seriously like a Saturday Night Live sketch. AJ and I met up and we were able to use our shared language that came from the trenches of being in rhythm sections for so long. I still love the drums and I'm so glad I can play them, but Crasher is whole new part of my identity where I feel a new ownership over my relationship with music. It's like I went from crashing on people's couches forever to home ownership in the course of a few months.
Crasher definitely carries some similarities to Exasperation in terms of a certain "lo-fi" aesthetic and approach to the tone and feel of the recordings, though the songwriting is more straightforward and "catchy," in a sense, and your narrative ebb-and-flow vocal style is definitely unique. Do you feel like your work with Exasperation bled into Crasher at all—consciously or otherwise?
For sure, who I am now is definitely a collection of my past experiences. Garrett Prange is the main dude in Exasperation and he's definitely turned me on to a lot of bands that he is really into—namely Bob Mould and The Replacements. Garrett and I have been in Exasperation for a few years now and he and I were consistently together as the bass and drums for a few bands before that. Come to think of it, Crasher is the first band I've literally ever had that didn't involve him! I definitely think of him as a brother in music, but Crasher is my own thing just like Exasperation is kind of his own thing. If anything, me discovering Crasher has done nothing but help my relationship with drums and the band I play drums in. I have all my ideas, energy, and opinions that I can pour into my own project, and I can kind of just float at the pace of the river if I'm just the drummer. Honestly, with or without Crasher, I think it was to my benefit to adopt that more chill demeanor as a drummer. I've been a drummer with the personality of a frontman for a long time, and it's seriously gotten me in nothing but trouble.
I started doing some backup vocals from the drums in Exasperation before our last record, and that's where I got my first singing experience. It was just shouting, but I really dug the added involvement on top of the drums. Singing backups while playing the drums is like a super exaggerated crash course in singing where you're essentially running in place while your own sweat is burning your eyes and the monitoring sucks so you can't hear yourself. Singing and playing guitar at the front of the stage seems easy after that.
We're premiering the opening track, "That Same Old Thing," which you've referred to as a "folk song" at its core. It's also one of the faster-paced and more active tunes, with plenty of bustling bass work and additional bits of subtle layering with the vocals and circling guitar arpeggios, etc. Share some more detail surrounding this composition in particular.
The verse chords of this song were originally one of my way slower and chiller finger-picking songs, kind of like a Nirvana Unplugged in New York type of vibe. I liked the chords so much that I retooled it to work as a Crasher song, and I still felt like it kept its jangly core even though we brought it up to 190 bpm. I struggled with a few different choruses for it for a while, and then I picked up a Univox guitar that was hanging in my friend's guitar shop and I just played what became the chorus. My obsession with that guitar became absolute, because I then believed it had magic powers. I had to have it, so I traded him for some old ukuleles I had that he was obsessed with. We each got what we were obsessed with in the end. You know you have a good guitar when it just immediately opens some new doors like that.
This song is definitely like jumping on a treadmill while it's at max speed, or like if you're looking out the window of a train and the telephone poles are passing by at exactly the rhythm of the song. Maybe you're running on a treadmill that is on a moving train. I wanted to retain what I liked about it as a folk song as I brought it up to the tempo of a driving rock song. I would imagine that I was Bob Dylan with the rhythm section of The Clash behind him when we played it live. The world got a lot of different incarnations of Dylan over the years—some of which we definitely could have been spared of—but one thing we never really got which would have actually probably worked was him as the leader of a punk band in the '70s.
The guitar still has that folk jangle, as if I were playing it on an acoustic. A lot of the newer Crasher songs with Jordan Krimston on the drums have some quick changes and a lot of movement. This song, however, I wanted to be an embrace of repetition. AJ's bass is super busy and crazy, but he plays it so perfectly that it sits right where it should and it's just part of the scaffolding of the song. It's like you're riding a motorcycle on a salt flat and if one pebble hits the tire wrong, you'll fly off, so you just don't hit that pebble.
It sounds like the inspiration behind a lot of the lyrics might be pretty heavy, so I'm not asking you to go into detail or discuss any traumatic experiences, but your approach to the lyrics and vocals is interesting in its somewhat cryptic "storytelling" vibe. Nothing is all that "out there," per se, but there's a quirkiness that seems like it does abstract the topics a bit. How would you characterize your lyrical approach and the way that it may (or may not) tie into the vocal delivery?
I've played drums in bands before that seemed to focus a lot on the instrumental arrangements. Even before Crasher, when I was just a drummer, my idols have always been songwriters more than shredders. Tom Petty, Paul Westerberg (The Replacements), Neil Young, Jeff Tweedy, and newer people like Kurt Vile and Courtney Barnett. All those people can "shred" or whatever in their own ways, and their production is cool, but the focus is 100% more on the lyrics and the core of the song rather than the instrumental arrangement or the production supporting it. I love production and what makes things sound the way they do, but it goes the furthest when it's used on a song that has really good genetics instead of the other way around.
I've been through some kind of rough experiences with family illness and drama, there's literally never been a dull moment that I can remember. I guess an upside of that is that I have no shortage of experiences that can be mined for lyrics. I think a lot of my early coping mechanisms evolved out of the need to make those stories kind of funny, because they're the opposite of funny if you just tell them how it is. Ever since I was a kid, I've always been spinning dark stories into comedy just so I can tell them to my friends and not have them be an absolute bummer. I think it's a big part of human nature to do that.
I've been at a place with my life that's good enough now for long enough to be able to look back and process it all in a way that I never could have when it was actually happening, and to put them into songs is as healthy of a way I have to deal with them. I'll codify a lot of things, so what I'm talking about can intentionally drift in and out of focus, and sometimes I'll just say it just how it is. I enjoy being both literal and abstract at different times.
Since you recorded the Traitor EP at home, are you actively working on new material during the current pandemic "lockdown"?
Most definitely. The vibe is a little bleak with the weight of the world feeling so heavy, but I feel like I'm figuring out how to manage it and be creative. After I recorded the drums for what would become the Traitor EP, Jordan Krimston joined the band. He plays in Weatherbox (with AJ), Band Argument, Miss New Buddha, and his own project. He's the best drummer and musician on Earth. I'm sure everyone says that about their drummer, but in this case it's actually true. We've played about six or seven shows, we had a grip more booked, and were talking about touring when the news was like, "EVERYONE'S LIVES ARE CANCELLED." We were planning on going and doing the basic tracks for a full-length before this was even out—literally this week. It's all written and ready to be recorded. We were going to do basic tracks with Ben Moore at Singing Serpent here in San Diego. He's done the Hot Snakes records and a gazillion other great records. Singing Serpent is a great studio. We were supposed to be working on that literally right now, the dates were April 6 - 7. In the meantime, I've written some solid quarantine songs that I'm really pumped on.
We recorded the Traitor EP in my house, but even though it was literally recorded in a house, it's not totally fair to say it was a home recording. I had my friend Nate Vaughn, who recorded the Exasperation record, come over with a crazy rack of amazing preamps and compressors, and we ran all that into my Tascam 246 4-track cassette recorder. We did the drums, bass, and one guitar to tape. From there, we dumped it into Pro Tools and I would do guitars/vocals/percussion. In my experience, if the song starts on tape like that, then the whole thing will keep most of that feel. I love the subtle inconsistencies and organic workflow of tape. It can be a pain in the ass to work with a lot of the time, but it's worth it.
Even though I can play the drums, it is a decently serious undertaking and a lot of responsibility for one person. It's easy to drive yourself insane when you're working alone. AJ played the bass and totally killed, but most of this was just me alone. I'm such a collaborative person that I want to take Crasher into a nice studio, record all live together, and have the next record be this pulsating living thing that we work on together. I'm super happy and proud of the Traitor EP, and the new songs and who we are as a band now just show some natural evolution. I'm not exactly sure yet how we're going to go about getting into the studio in the age of coronavirus, but we'll figure something out soon!