End You, “Widowed”: Track Premiere + Interview

End You is a solo outing from Eric Smith, former guitarist/vocalist of The Catalyst, and the debut 12-song/45-minute full-length, Aimless Dread (pre-order now digitally or on cassette) has been one of my most-anticipated releases of 2021 since yapping about the project's first single back in November. The material won't sound too unusual to anyone who's heard The Catalyst in the past, but should strike you as more focused and potent; though certainly no less diverse in its seamless transitions from churning, chunky rhythms to sludgy swagger to atypically catchy/grungy fusions of post-hardcore, noise rock, and then some—all peppered with effects-laden quirks that texturalize the outcome in its own unique fashion. It's a dark and despondent journey through both the personal and the political, yet in some ways acts as a beacon of perseverance in and of itself.

Check out the latest single, "Widowed," below; followed by an interview with Eric to gain some insight as to how End You came to be, and where things might land moving forward...

I'm a total hermit and am not super connected to the Richmond scene, so I wasn't terribly aware at the time that The Catalyst came to an end. How did you end up relocating to Philly and working on the solo material that would eventually become this End You project?

When The Catalyst split-up in 2013, I still had a ton of shit in the pipeline. I was convinced I'd hit the ground running. I had probably a dozen different projects ramp up and fizzle out in the years that followed. Even if nothing got off the ground, that's when a lot of these tunes started getting fleshed out.

In that same period, my life had gone into kind of a flat spin. I had gone back to school and gotten a degree, like you're supposed to. I was still stuck in a dead-end job. The monotony of that is much more palpable in the absence of gigs, touring, recording. My friends were growing up and moving on and drifting away. I had a long relationship come to a sudden and brutal end in 2015. I was in a black cloud, and part of me wanted to stay there forever. But I had to bail.

I loved Richmond. I still do. I lived there for 20 years. But trauma can color a place. Take memories you've treasured and twist them until they're all raw and jagged and painful. There's a whole song on the record about this called "Old Haunt." When a friend of a friend had a room open up in Philadelphia, I jumped at the chance to fuck off and try something different. I didn't have a plan. It was a big risk that just happened to work out.

I certainly pick up on characteristics that remind me of The Catalyst, but End You is moving in a direction that feels to me more focused, while at the same time drawing from a wider set of influences. Something that I find really curious about your songwriting is the manner in which effects gear and the textures that they provide really act as key components of your audial aesthetic.

Oh, this is closer to what I was hearing in my head all along, for sure. Kind of inevitable when you're just one dude zoning out in front of a practice amp and a laptop, I guess.

It's weird not having those guys around to bounce ideas off of. They had a huge impact on our sound back then, not to mention my development as a musician. They're all very present on this record, even if they don't all appear on it.

And, yeah, I've always leaned pretty hard on my pedals. I'm usually the only guitarist in the band. There's only so much you can do, and most of this shit has been done and done. I like how various stompboxes and effects have a way of deconstructing the instrument to its base sounds. Turn the guitar into a percussion instrument when you've gotta. Also, a lot of it's just establishing a mood. Like, there's a slight detune effect on my guitar which I never turn off. Makes things feel slightly off, vaguely menacing.

Aimless Dread is clearly a dark album. Given that the writing took shape pre-pandemic, it's interesting that both the personal and the political aspects of the material are so fitting for what the following years became. I'm not sure how literally to interpret the album title as it might apply to your personal mindset during the process, but if I proceed with that assumption, it's also interesting that out of "aimless dread," you created this killer album.

You know? It isn't lost on me that the two overtly political songs on this record could have been written in the past six months. But both are several years old. I was recording a song about the 2016 murder of Philando Castile last summer, while the George Floyd protests were raging all around me. There's a song on this record written in response to the 2017 Charlottesville neo-nazi rally. Six months ago, those same neo-nazis stormed the U.S. Capitol. Shit keeps getting worse. Who knew?

But, yeah, you're not wrong, this is a depression record. No doubt. A lot of that is the product of the time this material was coming together. It was a pretty fucked up year or two there. "Aimless Dread" was a phrase that had been rattling around my skull for a while. Seemed to fit. I use it to describe a sort of generalized, low-level but constant panic that seems to be common to people my age.

I mean, we watched thousands of people die on live television when we were just teenagers. We've been at war ever since. The entire global economy shit the bed right as we were hitting the job market. No one ever got punished for this; we paid for it with our futures. We lived through the false hope of the Obama years and came out on the other end in possession of an unregenerate cynicism and little else. Now we're in our 30s and watching the creeping resurgence of international fascism in real-time. When you have to watch the bad guys win over and over, it's easy to start thinking of joy and hope as nothing but distant memories.

The song we'll be premiering is "Widowed," which you hadn't planned as a "single." It's one of the tracks that immediately jumped out at me during my first listen, and apparently I'm not alone. Talk about this particular track a bit. For instance, you mentioned to me that a few lines of lyrics were borrowed—try as I might, the only one I could spot was [REDACTED]. What made this particular composition a fit for that type of artistic license, etc.?

This is one of the first songs I wrote for this project. Actually, I planned on it opening up the album. But as writing and recording went on and on, it kept getting pushed further back in the tracklist. It's track 11 now. I guess I kind of grew jaded with it. If y'all like it, you're probably right and I'm probably wrong. I am unable to be objective about any of this.

I don't know how other folks do it, but I always know the patterns, the melody—what I want the vocals to sound like—long before I ever put pen to page. Think of it like an audio lorem ipsum. Placeholder text. If I'm lucky it's a nonsense phrase that ends up being central to the lyrics. Usually, it's just nonverbal grunts and yelps. But every so often, it's someone else's line I'm borrowing because it happens to fit. 99% of the time these end up on the cutting room floor. But not always.

"Widowed" is a song that, at its base, is about growing up and growing old. The "borrowed" lyrics are all from bands that were of profound importance to me at different times in my life. Since the rest of the lyrics are pretty dreamlike and ethereal, leaving them in this time seemed like the move.

There are a few of these lines scattered throughout the record, three of which are in this song. Two are pretty obvious if you've heard the records. The third might be kind of tough even for a fan of the band in question. Can YOU find them all?

Sort of going back to my "texture" comment, part of what makes that so evident is that the production is fuckin' great. I'm always blown away when someone can perform all this stuff solo. What was that process like for you? And, are the drums heard on the final album the ones that were "painstakingly programmed, stroke by stroke, using live samples"? If so, that's insanely impressive. I never would have guessed.

Man, it's been a pretty long process, actually. I had been sitting on a lot of this material for five years or longer. Long enough that I knew exactly what I wanted these songs to sound like, and bringing in another person would be frustrating for the both of us. I'm not a shit drummer, but I'm not a great one. So, I dropped a pretty significant chunk of my savings on a pretty sophisticated suite of drum programming software, and I went the fuck to work. This was early-2019.

I banged out most of the drum parts on a desk or my steering wheel. Once I got the hang of it, programming went pretty fast. From there, I built a crummy little recording setup in my studio apartment and made demo after demo after demo. It was weird hearing this music outside of my own skull for the first time, but it sounded okay.

I was trying to suss out how to record the vocals without my neighbors calling the cops, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and I lost my job. Steve Roche is an old friend. He recorded my old band's first album way back in 2009. He had just moved his studio, Permanent Hearing Damage, into my neighborhood and we were practically neighbors. I figured, "Why not?" Everything was boarded up and nothing good was on TV.

I had all the parts and arrangements worked out by then. Re-recording the instruments was no sweat—we wrapped in a couple of days. The drums you hear are more or less the same ones that came out of my laptop. Steve tweaked the kick and snare a little bit, and his mix really brought them to life. I was blown away when I started hearing the first roughs. Steve is a wizard.

Cassettes are shipping now, the digital will be up in a few weeks... where do things currently stand with End You otherwise? Apparently you're already working on new tunes, and it sounds like there are plans for a live lineup if that aspect of life experience can ever make a halfway stable return...?

Steve is a monster drummer and has expressed some interest in performing with a live version of the band, if and when the world stops ending. I'd love that. I have no clue what that would look like, though. Time will tell. In the meantime, the pandemic has been raging and I've had a shitload of downtime. I've crafted demos of probably six to eight new songs out of sheer boredom. It's interesting stuff. More experimental, maybe? I don't know yet how much of this will survive to be on the next record, but—I don't know. I've got to believe I'm getting better.


Aimless Dread will be out digitally on May 21 through Pax Aeternum, and can be pre-ordered via Bandcamp. Cassettes are available and shipping now from The Ghost is Clear Records. Keep up with End You on Instagram and Twitter.